Beta from Rick

Hey everyone,
Fall is here, or so it would seem up at Chaos Canyon. Temps when I was up a few Thursday’s ago were crisp and the friction was good. The monsoon weather pattern that’s been haunting Front Range Climbers seems to be changing. Come up to the Park for send season. The next month will be the best conditions to try and send your projects. Check out Autobots for one of the best and boldest V5 on the Front Range. 

Beer pick of the week:

For an outstanding beer, one of the best in the world, check out the Grand Cru from Brasserie de Rocs. It scores a 100/100 from BeerRate! This an outstanding ale in the Belgian Strong Brown Ale style. The alcohol content is 9.5 % ABV, so one is usually enough. It’s not overtly hoppy, with a fantastic malt balance and a wonderful spiciness that comes from its unique yeast. One drawback, be careful not to stir up the yeast in the bottom of the bottle. It affects the taste of this beer more than others. I hope you like it as much as I did!

How to Enjoy…and Survive, Your First Mixed-Ice Climbing Experience | Part 2

[ See part 1 of this article ]

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of climbing, let’s go over what options you have for tools.  There are leashed and leash-less tools.  Leashed tools have straps that go around you wrist.  The leashes help take some of your body weight off your hands and distributes it on your wrists.  A few problems that you may face when climbing with leashes are cold hands from the leash cutting blood flow, difficulty placing screws and you really can’t match or switch hands.

Climbing leash-less allows for a full range of movement and allows for a more “free” style of climbing.  Just make sure not to drop them because they aren’t attached to you, but on multi-pitch climbs you can attach them to you or your harness via cottontails.  Cottontails are long pieces of cord that you attach to your person so if you drop them they don’t fall to the ground.

Now it’s time to climb!  Before you go swinging your razor sharp tools and crampons into that virgin ice, make sure your hands and feet are nice and warm because if you leave the ground with cold hands, the chance the screaming barfies will catch up with you.  Once your extremities are warm, it’s time to start climbing.  Just like rock climbing, over-gripping and foot work (or lack there of) can affect your performance on the climb.  Learn how to take rests and shake out your hands…a major advantage to climbing leash-less.  Placing the tool over a shoulder, clipping it to your harness, the pirate, or having a solid hook or stick in the ice can allow for these arm rests.  When you are rock climbing, look where you place your feet.  This technique transfers over to ice and mixed climbing as well.  Don’t just bash or scratch your way up the climb.  On ice, look where you kick your feet and make sure your heals are down.  If you don’t take anything else away from this post, just remember to keep your heals down.
Mixed climbing has a few similarities to ice but dry tooling is a different animal all together.  When you get to that rock section of the climb, its time to hook.  Dry tooling allows the climber to be as creative as you want; side pull hooks, dynos, caming the tool, and anything else you can dream of.  Remember to keep constant angle and pressure with the tool otherwise it will poop (slip) off of that tiny edge that took you so much work to get to.  DO NOT look at the tool when you move on unless you enjoy the hammer end of the tool smacking your dome! (It always finds a way to get between your glasses and helmet) Just like ice, keep your heals down, place your crampons on holds and keep your feet still keeping the angle constant because the crampons will poop off the holds.

Now it’s time for the hike out.  Ahh yes, the day is over.  It’s dark, you’re tired and all you can think about is making it to the pub for a nice hot plate of food and some cold pints to reminisce your day and plan your next adventure.

Stop.  Don’t get to far ahead of yourself.  You still have some mindful work to do.  Focus on getting down to your car safely.  The trails are steep and can be very slick, so just take your time, enjoy the quiet, keep warm and get down safely.   No matter the conditions, get out there.  Climb and have fun!

Mike Caputo

Here are some great products to check out for you next mixed-ice climbing adventure.
The Black Diamond Fusion Ice Tool
Black Diamond Fusion Ice Tool
Osprey Packs Variant 52

Osprey Packs Variant 52

How to Enjoy...and Survive, Your First Mixed-Ice Climbing Experience

[ This article is part of a 2-part series about Mixed-Ice Climbing, by Mike Caputo ]

Fall and winter are coming up soon…here is some advice for winter alpine climbing.

For the past few weeks, I’ve turned to the dark side of climbing and have experienced all of the side effects of higher altitude cragging.  The reason I say dark side is because mixed-ice climbing takes place in harsh, wet and generally un-savory places.  However, don’t be dissuaded from trying this amazing discipline of climbing.  Winter in the backcountry can be a very awe-inspiring and magical place.  Here are some tips to stay warm, dry, and most importantly, have fun.  This means, of course, to do whatever you can to avoid the “screaming barfies,” (Over-gripping the tool; your hands above your head for too long; just being out in the bitter cold until they are numb.  Once you have a chance to thaw your hands, blood starts flowing again and your fingers start to tingle and burn with such intensity, you just might be compelled to scream your head off and feel like vomiting…the “screaming barfies”.)
Every climb has five parts: planning, the approach, sitting around (going over the climb or just trying to stay warm), climbing, and the hike out.  Doing this helps you organize how to layer your clothing and what order you want to pack your gear.  I pack my bag so that my crampons, harness, belay gloves, and jacket on top to increase accessibility and minimize the exposure of my hands.
Every time you go out climbing you should follow the seven P’s; Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.  That is an easy way to remember that every thing you bring should benefit your climbing experience, and avoid epics.
It’s very important to choose the right footwear and clothing, especially for the hike in.  I choose to wear my mountaineering boots that fit my crampons so I can just step in my crampons and climb when I get to the crag.  Some of my climbing partners choose to carry their climbing boots and hike in pack boots such as Sorel’s.  These options have their own advantages and disadvantages.  Carrying climbing boots take up space in your pack and add more weight, yet this option may be easier on your feet.  Hiking in your mountaineering boots saves on weight and leaving more room in your pack for food, clothes, and gear.
Layering for the hike in (approach) is also very important because you don’t want to over heat and sweat resulting in being very cold when the sweat freezes.  The pants you have on for your approach are most likely the ones you will climb in (changing pants presents it’s own difficulties such as getting them on and off over your snow covered boots.)  Your outer layers will help regulate your body temperature.
Once you get to the crag, it’s time to rack up and get ready to climb.  Make sure to plan for the time you aren’t climbing as it can get very cold…so be ready to add more layers if need be.  For just standing around, I like to have a fleece jacket and vest (wind stopper is nice as well) and a down or synthetic jacket.  Down will keep you warmer if you can keep it dry…which can sometimes be problematic on ice.  Just as much as proper clothing, gloves are the key to happiness: cold hands mean no fun!  Before you head out to the backcountry, try different gloves with different styles and find the ones that work the best for you.  If your hands get cold easily, try mittens or heavy gloves that still allow for dexterous movement.  Last but not least, make sure you pack some hand warmers such as Hot Hands for belaying.

To be continued…

Slow and Light (ish)

That's me trimming the fat, mid expedition. Even the zipper pulls had to go. I mean, really, this isn't Boy Scout camp, after all.

That's me trimming the fat, mid expedition. Even the zipper pulls had to go. I mean, really, this isn't Boy Scout camp, after all.

Fastandlight! Let’s face it – it’s sexy. When you open up that Backpacker magazine at the Dentist’s waiting room and see some youthful, vibrant Caucasian couple leaping across a flower-crested, gurgling alpine brook, and their packs are all tight, tidy and petite against their backs, and their clothes are colorful and clean, and – get this – they’re smilling! They’re smiling even though they’re backpacking, and so they must be traveling SO light. So light and so fast! Don’t they just reek of freedom? Doesn’t it just make you want to buy a hybrid Subaru, get all hopped up on Mochaccino and go places? Quickly? With very little weight? Mmmm….

That’s a nice little day dream, as I stare down the business end of a summer filled with 70+ nights out in the field, instructing and directing courses for Outward Bound. So take that above image and flip it a little: yes there’s gurgling brooks and flowers a plenty, but clean? Ha! Secluded? Sure, for me and 12 of my closest friends for the moment. Light? Oh god, not between the satellite phone; Armageddon-style medical kit; and a small bible of policies, procedures, and lesson plans. And fast? Forget it. One to two plodding miles per day. I love every minute of it, but I love it more if I’m not breaking my back under a behemoth backpack.

So, while Fastandlight is not in my immediate future, Slow and Light is (you know, “Light” relatively speaking). Despite some non-negotiable professional weight, and some luxury ounces for a bit of backcountry pampering, I do a lot to par down my pack – if you carry an overnight pack for three months a year, you’ve got to be weight weary (save the knees and such). Here are some packing and gear tips I use for my Slowandlight system:

The Pack

Pack accessories are just free-loading hitch hikers with crappy stories. Here are my hitchhikers post the mid-expedition pack surgery. Take that, ounces! I basically floated the rest of the trip.

Pack accessories are just free-loading hitch hikers with crappy stories. Here are my hitchhikers post the mid-expedition pack surgery. Take that, ounces! I basically floated the rest of the trip.

A true ultra-lighter would snag one of those sill-nylon type tube packs without a frame, stuff their sleeping pad in and call it good. Because I want a pack that has many season’s worth of bushwhacking in it, has the integrity to be a camp chair and climbing step, and has plenty of space to load up clients’ and students’ gear if they’re bonking, I use a sturdy old Gregory Shasta that I scored from the CSU OAP’s rental clearance years ago. But I cut all the damn danglies off of it, and never use the lid. That saves me close to a pound. I never was too interested in cutting superfluous crap off my pack until the middle of a 33-day traverse in Alaska with the most god-awful heavy pack I’d ever toted around. Half way through at our fist airplane resupply I suddenly became VERY interested in trimming superfluous crap, so I got out the medical scissors and my Leatherman and downsized!

Note the sleek, lid-less pack (somewhat off-set by that heavy nalgene...that and the pounds of smoked oysters and technical glacier gear).

Note the sleek, lid-less pack (somewhat off-set by that heavy nalgene...that and the pounds of smoked oysters and technical glacier gear). If this were an REI catalog I'd be leaping that creek.


I go for the Platypus: 37 grams for a 2.5 liter capacity. A 1-liter Nalgene weighs in at 175 grams, and a 2.5 liter CamelBak is  around 212 grams. No filter, no water treatment tablets or drops. Just a good ol’ hearty immune system. When I do carry treatment I use a tiny bleach dropper (a couple drops will do). Then I let the bleach evaporate out of the bottle a couple hours later (theoretically speaking, anyway). Sometimes I hose myself, though, by carrying a 1/2 liter thermos (311 g.) – I just love an afternoon yerba mate session!

Sleeping Bag

No need for a stuff sack. Just stuff the sucker down  in the bottom of the bag. Stuff sack = 2 oz. I use a big, light trash bag to line my whole pack instead of individualized stuff sacks to keep everything dry.

Sleeping Pad

When I’m feeling rugged I go for a half-length ensolite pad or ThermaRest. Then I combine it with my pack, or climbing ropes, or flattened clothing to insulate the rest of me.

Ice Axe

Yeah, I hate to admit it, but sometimes lightening the load means buying new gear – I swapped my sturdy, tried and true Black Diamond Raven with Grip (505 grams) for a BD Raven Ultra (348 g.) for a net loss of 157 grams. Aw, snap!


Mega Light mid, midnight light. Comes with a sexy, light trekking pole adapter. View optional.

Mega Light mid, midnight light. Comes with a sexy, light trekking pole adapter. View optional across the northern Wrangell-St. Elias National Park optional.

For it’s size and weight, I like BD’s circus-esque Mega Light. There are certainly lighter shelters out there, but for two people the Mega Light is downright luxurious. Plenty of space to organize your odds and ends before bed (which, if you’re like me, is very important). The Mega Light comes with a sleek, trekking pole adapter for the middle. What my community affectionately calls the “Chastity Pole” also serves to keep everyone’s ducks in a row, so to speak. You know, no smelly wads of clothing skewing the center line or unexpected midnight spooning. Or, if you’re into that kind of stuff, one side of the pole can be the gearage, and the other can be snuggle town. But still, there are categories and order. This is America, after all.

Well, friends, this is my last Tale From the Midcountry for the foreseeable future. Not too much internet access out in the bush (at least not for a guy with a circa 1999 cell phone). So, until next time, I bid you bon voyage, happy trails, smooth sailing. May your pack be light and your pace slow.

Mmmm...ultra light, ULTRA tasty. Even Joe agrees, food weight can make or break your back.

Mmmm...ultra light, ULTRA tasty. Even Joe agrees, food weight can make or break your back.

'Al Descanso!' Spanish for 'Offwidth'

Max, getting all froggy on the lower crux.

Max, getting all froggy on the lower crux.

I learned how to crack climb in the land of the off-width: Vedauwoo. I can still remember taping up for the first time, and sinking those first painful but thrilling jams into Edward’s Crack. I still have my tape gloves that my climbing partner gave to me that day (thanks, David!). On some autumn weekends during a particularly car-less fall semester at CSU I’d stand on the side of 287 by Ted’s Place with a sign: “Going Climbing.,” and I’d hitch my way up to Laramie to grunt in the Woo with a Wyoming friend.

Since moving out of FoCo I haven’t climbed much off-width stuff, but I was inspired by off-width fiend friends the other day in Moab and we made the 15-minute, .8-second approach to some 5.10 splitter offwidth on Wall Street above the Potash Road. Vedauwoo gets a bad rap (you know, bring tape, advil, and plenty of thrift store clothes to shred). But after chicken-winging and road-runneering on slick sandstone, I realized that I’d been a little bit spoiled by the Woo. At least there the crystals are so big that if you can’t hang onto them, they’ll at least hang on to you, and just about everything is a foot hold. Sandstone off width is nothing by squirming and squealing. Less painful, for sure, but a little trickier.

Adam enjoys the security of a chimney after working hard in splitter offwidth.

Adam enjoys the security of a chimney after working hard in splitter offwidth.

My King Fisher Tower partner, Adam, hopped on the sharp end after we warmed up on “30 Seconds Over Potash” and “Lucy In The Sky With Potash.” The route is kind of like the Generic Crack of off widths: spliter, pod; spliter, pod; repeat. As he reached the size-6 Camalot parallel crux, he writhed up, set a cam, and down climbed to rest before the final push. “A la muerte!” I yelled from the road, trying to evoke the macho magic of our favorite cri d’guerre. Seemingly inspired, Adam arm-barred, side pulled and thigh-mastered up toward the cam, sending slow and ferocious, and just at the apex of the effort….he down climbed again. “That wasn’t very ‘a la muerte,’” yelled Max, Adam’s belayer. “More like “Al descanso!” I yelled. “Al descanso!” When Adam finished his descanso, however, he saddled up and rode that wide horse all the way to the chains. “A la muerte, después del descanso!” That seems like a fitting new war cry, not to mention a worthy modus operandi, especially in the desert. Especially in the desert in the spring. So, once the TR was hanging, I put on the patched-up Carhartts, with long underwear, and ½ size too big Sportiva high tops with thick socks, and got back to off-widthing.

Then, Max’s climbing partner got on the thing and proved once again that 5.11 face climbers can hike right up – or rather, around – 5.10 offwidths. I guess even crack climbers benefit from a little crimp strength, eh?

Got any favorite off-width climbs or off-width stories? Share your grunt and glory in the comment box below!

Max, placing deep and clipping off-width style: with his teeth!

Max, placing deep and clipping off-width style: with his teeth!

Learning to Be

Yellowstone traffic jam.  In addition to the ever-present bison, we saw herds of elk and pronghorn, a coyote, and, according to the ranger, the season's first black bear.

Yellowstone traffic jam. In addition to the ever-present bison, we saw herds of elk and pronghorn, a coyote, and, according to a ranger, the season's first black bear.

It’s a recent and welcome development that I’m able to derive a legitimate enjoyment from things like animals, waterfalls, sunsets, and wildflowers.  This progression comes on the heels of a prolonged period where I mostly faked caring about all of it; I could intellectualize the reasons people provided when they talked appreciatively of nature’s simple gifts, and I parroted them appropriately.  I just didn’t much find much inspiration in it myself.  Nature was basically a peripheral concern – if the approach trail happened to wander through a pristine rhododendron grove on the way to the crag, awesome; if not, you know, whatever.  The joy was always in the doing, not the being.

Because of this, I’ve long had a dismissive attitude toward most of our national parks.  I considered them to be, on the whole, places where people went when they didn’t really want to do anything; rather, they just wanted to be.  They wanted to be near animals, they wanted to be near waterfalls, they wanted to be near sunsets and wildflowers.  Because the officials knew this to be the case, they made it pretty easy to visit most of the parks’ major attractions without having to do anything other than drive.  If I had a free week to spend somewhere, that’s precisely the opposite of the experience I was after.

The preternatural blue of Glacier's McDonald Creek.

The preternatural blue of Glacier's McDonald Creek.

Certainly, there are exceptions – Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Grand Teton, Denali, Grand Canyon, Zion – all of these are places where it’s very easy to do; but, for every one of those, there’s a place like Acadia or the Everglades or the Great Smoky Mountains where being is, as far as I can tell, the dominant activity.  Again, I have no trouble understanding these parks’ places among America’s jewels (the Everglades is clearly a unique and remarkable environment, and GSMNP boasts more than ten thousand species of plants and animals), and there’s no doubt that a measure of action-sport elitism is an ingredient here.  I recognize that the point of the national park system is not to collect the country’s best climbing and rafting spots, even if it often succeeds in doing so.  Still, those are the experiences I was looking for when I went into the wild, and I wanted to do them in places that felt more like parks and less like museums.

Michelle and me in snowy Yellowstone.  Only one of the major roads was open, but we had plenty to explore for one day.

Michelle and me in snowy Yellowstone. Only one of the major roads was open, but we had plenty to explore for one day.

Lately, though, I’ve found myself more satisfied with the being, and I attribute that, in large part, to the amount of doing I’ve been, well, doing for the past few years.  The majority of days I spend outside are either at the end of a rope or at the back of a raft.  The same things that make these activities so fun and attractive for me also guarantee a high-stress experience.  Practice and diligence can lessen the stress to an acceptable level, but there’s nothing I can do to get rid of it completely (and I wouldn’t want to even if I could).  Over time, though, all that stress takes a toll, and it’s refreshing to grab a light pack and a camera and not have to worry whether or not this will be the day I come home with a broken ankle.  I’m not even close to ready to bury my climbing rack for good, but, for the first time, I can imagine a situation where I might be.

Given all that, I was eager to test out this new-found fondness for being when Ben and Rachel, two of my best hometown friends, flew out to help Michelle and me celebrate our last week in Montana.  The high points on our agenda (other than the NCAA championship/Braves opening day/Masters trifecta) were trips to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks – places that I had heretofore placed squarely in the museum category.

Ben and Rachel at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Ben and Rachel at Mammoth Hot Springs.

I’m sorry to report that the results of the experiment are, as yet, inconclusive.  I had a blast at both parks, but it’s hard to say how much my expanding interests really contributed.  There’s a certain population of people that can make most any situation fun for me, and my companions on this particular trip more than qualify.  For instance, we walked five miles of closed-off park road in Glacier, only to be diverted by a prohibiting sign a quarter-mile shy of our destination.  We walked the same five miles back in the rain and laughed the whole way to the car; no amount of maturity and quiet meditation will bring me to a place where I can enjoy that scene on my own.  On the other hand, the young black bear who chose Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs as the ideal spot to spend a lazy Friday afternoon was thoroughly entertaining and exciting, and I can think of no qualification that might detract from how much I enjoyed watching him play around in such a setting.  By contrast, the dominant emotion during my last encounter with a black bear was annoyance at the mother and two cubs whose trail occupancy cut short one of my fall training runs.  That seems like progress.