Back to the basics

“Belief? What do I believe in? I believe in rock, in sun. I believe in the dogma of the rock and the doctrine of the sun. I believe in blood, fire, rivers, women, eagles, streams, drums, flutes, banjos, and Broomtail horses.” – Cactus Ed

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I got on some RMNP ice, top-roped some mixed stuff near Hidden Falls, attempted to climb some snice route on the first Flatiron, got sick, got lazy, and now I’m resting at home while I should be out earning turns – (it dumped 30+ inches this past week in the Northern Mountains!)

The First Flatiron (right) and the obvious corner system that occasionally ices up after a good snow.

The First Flatiron (right) and the obvious corner system that occasionally ices up after a good snow.

Oh well, that’s life, and it’s moving along at its usual clip. It turns grey, gets dark and snows. It turns blue, gets warm, and the snow melts in a flash. Jackets to t-shirts in the blink of an eye. At the same time life stands still with the monotony and boredom of routine. To combat the despair of such a synthetic academic existence I meditate often, attempting to shed illusion and to feel present… More often than not though I end up dwelling hopefully on future events that have yet to occur. I plan, I imagine, and I waste my time in the present. I imagine that ocean of colorful rock and that ski across the frozen lake during a blizzard. Like many, I long for an escape back to wilderness. A yurt with a little woodstove, a dog for companionship, a pair of skis for transport, a rifle to hunt with, a stockpile of tequila, limes, coffee, and a shelf full of good books. Simple enough.

Yeah! A few good sticks up thin snice/ice on the first pitch of Silk Road.

Yeah! A few good sticks up thin snice/ice on the first pitch of Silk Road.

When I was a student in the ORL (Outdoor Recreation Leadership) Program at Colorado Mountain College’s Timberline Campus in Leadville (10,200 feet! Definitely the highest college campus in N. America – in more ways than one) the thing I excelled at academically was the “out courses”, which were backpacking trips that focused on the study of group dynamics, leadership, and experiential learning. I partook on several of these trips and they were always amazing experiences. Lately I’ve been thinking back on these trips, recalling lessons learned and realizing that some people, myself included, simply function better in that natural environment. It’s the only time I’m organized, directed, and feel a sense of purpose. It’s really the only time I feel self aware and natural.  I’m desperate to build a future where the mountains will be my office, my classroom, and my home. Until then these little backyard alpine missions are keeping me sane and focused.

Bailing after the ice dissapeared.

Bailing after the ice dissapeared.

And no, I didn’t plan on taking this post here, and I don’t know where it’s headed… My buddies who are getting out are reporting stellar skiing, so get after it if you can!

Climbinglife RMNP Conditions

Powderbuzz – CP Conditions

Time flies when your having fun...

Gimme gimmie gimmie, give me some more

Gimme gimmie gimmie, don’t ask what for.

– Black Flag

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity: bouldering, sport climbing, trad climbing, ice climbing, and ski touring. Ah, the Front Range with its mild climate, sunny crags, Cabernet powder (?), and dripping ice… Oh yeah, sometimes it just all comes together for a brief fleeting momement of multi-sport bliss. But anyways, today it’s bitter cold (though sunny), and that Wyoming wind is rolling through town, rattling windows.  I’m hunkered down in a cozy coffee shop, sipping an Americano, savoring a blackberry muffin, and studying up for first quarter exams which are quickly approaching. My thoughts drift to wind, spindrift, and plastic ice. The Park is calling. I haven’t been climbing enough ice… The relatively warm sunny weather was a nice dream of the coming spring, but looking outside I realize it’s early February and that we’re still in the midst of winter.

Ryan Malarky scoping out the crux on the RMNP classic Jaws Falls. Unfortunately thin conditions, warm temps, and running ice had us back off this South-facing line.

Ryan Malarky scoping out the crux on the RMNP classic Jaws Falls. Unfortunately thin conditions, warm temps, and running ice had us back off this South-facing line.

This has been my first season climbing water-ice. I was introduced to alpine ice this past summer in the French Alps and was amazed by the dynamic nature of that terrain. My amazement was magnified this winter with water-ice. Ice in general is a very brittle medium that is constantly changing. Observing ice and climbing it, I’ve realized just how little I know, and how far I have yet to travel. It’s an incredible pursuit and I’m thouroughly hooked.

Daniel Yager powering through the opening moves on an amazing V7ish boulder problem at Iceland. This is frozen-river bouldering at its finest in a spectacular setting and on beautiful river pollished rock.

Daniel Yager powering through the opening moves on an amazing V7ish boulder problem at Iceland. This is frozen-river bouldering at it's finest in a spectacular setting and on beautiful river polished rock.

I usually don’t get too excited about bouldering and sport climbing, and that’s a bad thing. I’m going to destroy that “I’d rather climb a multi-pitch 5.4 gear route than clip bolts or go bouldering” mindset. It really is a defeatist attitude and one I’ve harbored for too long. If I want to step it up in the alpine I need to suck it up down here and start climbing harder, start pushing grades, start working problems… So much of climbing is mental and it’s easy to sell yourself short and limit your growth because you (I) lack the patience and discipline required to progress towards a goal.

Cameron Pass is... to quote one of my homeboys: knee deep and blower, bra.

Cameron Pass is... to quote one of my homeboys: "knee deep and blower, bra".

The ski-touring has gotten a lot better lately. I’m still saving my ski-stoke for the Spring though… something about facet wallowing on my skinny touring skis for months on end kind of burned me out. I think I’d be a lot more excited about skiing if I got to wear a harness with ice screws dangling from it, ski lots of straight forward vert, descend powder covered glaciers, wear tight stretchy rando clothing, and not have to worry that every 30+ degree slope is scheming to slide and kill me.

If you haven’t done so yet, check out the impressive (and free) Poudre Canyon Route Climbing Guide just released by the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition.

Spring Break is rolling up though, so I’m tossing around various ideas: Fisher Towers? Black Canyon of Gunnison? Hmm… car camping, juniper fires, cold beer, BO, miles and miles of open road, not to mention I might actually end up climbing something!

Psyched on The Palace. Ive been spending some long cold days up there clipping bolts and trying to get strong. Im really liking it up there.

Psyched on The Palace. I've been spending some long cold days up there clipping bolts and trying to get strong. Here my buddy Pat is warming up on the classic 10b Monstrosity.

Sheesh… well, that about does her; wraps her all up… it was a pretty good story, don’t ya think?
“All I have to offer others is my own confusion.” – Jack Kerouac

Cameron Pass Conditions Febuary 9th

A couple of friends and I made it up to Cameron Pass on Tuesday and found great conditions. A couple weeks worth of mild weather allowed for the consolidation of the snowpack’s upper layers while the weak storm cycle that came through this past weekend dropped several inches of low density precipitation with little wind. Unfortunately the winds picked up Monday night and began their usual cycle of destruction. By Tuesday morning the face was a blank slate with few tracks from the weekend visible, (though soft sastrugi –like wind runnels were obvious on most exposed slopes). Another party of backcountry enthusiasts were skiing the slopes of South Diamond that slid back on January 10th and it looked like they had triggered a small slide near the summit ridge. Other small pockets of natural activity were visible on the center of the face as well.

Note the snow being blown off the ridge.

Note the snow being blown off the ridge.

We lapped Ptarmigan Run several times, enjoying fast and soft turns in boot-top, slightly wind-affected powder. The winds gradually increased and changed direction (from W/NW to due North) and the low-density snow was being stripped off the exposed faces at a rapid pace. We also found some good turns on the SE shoulder of North Diamond. With its exposure to sun and wind this face is best skied immediately following a period of fresh-precipitation and low winds and we got to it just in time. Down in the trees the snow was deep and dreamy.

Derek skinning up N. Diamond. Wind ripples evident.

Derek skinning up N. Diamond. Wind ripples evident.

Pits on E and NE slopes revealed little bonding between the fresh precipitation (which is quickly being re deposited and forming touchy pockets of wind slab) and older layers. The long period of warm weather created a melt-freeze crust (good bed surface) on aspects exposed to the sun, so be weary of what’s below you. That 90cm layer of hard-slab is still down there, resting on nothing but depth hoar, so slides (especially on steeper, unsupported slopes) have the potential to rip big and deep. We’re not out of the woods yet, but good skiing is to be had!

Were not complaining.

We're not complaining.

Tour safe and have fun,

Kevin L.

– And if you’re thinking about heading to RMNP check out Eli’s site. It looks like he’s been skiing some sweet lines lately and has some cool viddies up highlighting the action.

Cables Route Attempt

Climbing is the lazy man’s way to enlightenment. It forces you to pay attention, because if you don’t, you won’t succeed, which is minor – or you may get hurt, which is major. Instead of years of meditation, you have this activity that forces you to relax and monitor your breathing and tread that line between living and dying. When you climb, you always are confronted with the edge. Hey, if it was just like climbing a ladder, we all would have quit a long time ago.” – Duncan Ferguson

The Cables Route: so called because the NPS once had steel cables threaded through huge eyebolts strung down the N. Face and the route was the standard ascent before the Keyhole Route was pioneered and the NPS painted all those little bulls’ eye markers to guide the way. The cables were removed back in ’73 (because they were perfect lightning rods) and the route remains the second most visited on Longs Peak.

I woke up at 3:00 am to the usual doubts and heartache I face the morning before a planned outing… “I’m so sleepy, this bed is so warm, why not sleep in and then go out for breakfast? Maybe go gym climbing after that?” On Saturday morning I managed to overcome myself. I got out of bed and brewed up a fat cup of coffee. The adventure beckoned.

The dark, early morning hike up to the Boulder Field always induces a state of deep introspection and hypnosis: one step after the other. On this occasion I’m graced with a remarkably beautiful alpenglow illuminating the peaks while a near full moon sets in the west. OK, it’s already been worth the alpine start. The slog to Chasm View is another story, (snow covered talus sucks!), but kicking steps up towards the Cables Route was relatively painless on good styrofoam snow. I couldn’t ask for better weather. It’s cold, but clear and the wind isn’t too bad.

The route’s technical pitch (5.5, M2) is about 60 meters in length, followed by several hundred yards of class 4 and 3 scrambling to gain the large flat topped summit of Longs Peak. I usually feel pretty comfortable on this type of terrain – fourth and low fifth class rock in crampons – but right off the bat I began flailing on the powder-covered granite. The route had appeared to be relatively clear from below, but I found the right facing corner that the route follows to be drifted over with wind deposited snow. I attempted to clear holds with my gloved hands and tools, but thirty meters up the little pockets of wind-slab were consolidated and began cohesively sliding off the rock slab when I attempted to climb (swim) through them.

I threaded my 7.5 dynamic tagline through the second eyebolt  and began self-belaying (revolving loop belay) out on a clove-hitched biner. After wallowing through more steep, snow-covered slab I reached a large drift guarding the last couple feet of technical ground. I didn’t want to climb through it, fearing it would have enough power to take me off the rock if it slid. I looked for gear-placements but found the cracks to my left iced over. I could have climbed around it on the bare slab to my right, but with no gear (lack of courage) in between me and the eyebolt below, I decided to down climb to the bolt and then made two thirty meter rappels down to the base of the climb.

The slog out is always fun… But hey, I didn’t see another soul all day. How often does one have Longs Peak to themselves? I am feeling pretty self-conscious about being shut down by 5.5 groveling but shut down I was. I didn’t know what to do – climb with gloves, tools, or maybe I should have brought a snorkel and just scratched my way upwards through the drifts? – it was probably just the thought of more 3rd class scrambling up to the summit of Longs that turned me back… Yeah, that was it.

Things I learned this day:

Unconsolidated snow over rock is a whole new game to me. I suck at it, but I want to get better.

I’m not nearly as fit as I’d like to be and would benefit from more LSD hours, hiking and cycling.

The hike back to the Boulder Field feels like it’s getting longer and longer each time I do it.

The N. Face of Longs Peak can be an avalanche trap (the Diamond below) in winter conditions and even small pockets of wind-slab can take you off your feet and get you rolling. I had been studying the Longs Peak Webcam and noted fresh coverage on the N. Face following the storms last week, but I also knew the face was practically bare for a couple of weeks before that. I figured the fresh precip would be whipped away by wind by the time I got up there, and for the most part it was, though chimney systems and corners seem to hold onto the snow pretty well.

Take what you can get!

In this modern age very little remains that is real. Night has been banished, so have the cold, the wind and the stars. They have all been neutralized: the rhythm of life itself is obscured. Everything goes so fast and makes so much noise, and we hurry by without heeding the grass by the roadside, its color, its smell and the way it shimmers when the wind caresses it. What a strange encounter it is then between us and the high places of our planet! Up there, we are surrounded by the silence of forgetfulness.”

– Gaston Rebuffat

The N. Face of the Triangle Du Tacul, Mt. Blanc Range.
The N. Face of the Triangle Du Tacul, Mt. Blanc Range.

I aspire to be a well-rounded climber. What’s a well-rounded climber? Well I believe it’s someone who holds a sense of adventure and an appreciation for nature above all else. In the most recent issue of Alpinist Magazine, Jim Logan describes how he and Mugs Stump prepared for their successful first ascent of the Emperor Face on Mt. Robson: “We’d spend the whole summer doing whatever it took. We hiked in, set up camp and simply observed it [the Emperor Face] for a few days, learning.”

I believe respect and admiration for the rugged beauty and power of the mountains is paramount. If I can’t go climbing, I’ll go ski-touring, trail-running, cycling, whatever. Just being outside in a landscape I love is enough to refresh me mentally/emotionally. And when I do end up just skiing, running or hiking, it’s a great opportunity to get fit, get psyched, and stay sane. Not to mention all the routes I can scope out from a quick run or ski up Glacier Gorge, Loch Vale, or Notchtop area!

My tracks on the ridge, Mt. Bancroft - Indian Peaks.
My tracks on the ridge, Mt. Bancroft – Indian Peaks.

I’m currently taking an EMT Basic / Clinical course at Front Range Community College in hopes of upgrading to WEMT (Wilderness protocol) and broadening my employment options. I’m enjoying the course and spending most of my free-time studying, so I’m not getting outside as much as I should be. In the mean time I’ve been logging some miles on the road bike, gym climbing a lot, running after school laps on short/easy Big Thompson Ice, and going for trail-runs and power hikes up Poudre Canyon.

So when the time comes (AND IT WILL COME) I’ll be ready for it! Apparently the Cameron Pass snow situation is improving, and I’ll definitely head up there soon. I’m stoked and looking forward to a great spring! (More sunshine, steeper lines to be skied, alpine ice in the Park, more sunny cragging, alpine rock in the Park, longer days = longer ski tours, more sunshine, new seasonal beers from the breweries, more sunshine…).

Another trail run up Hewletts Gulch! Great place.
Another trail run up Hewlett’s Gulch! Great place.

Cameron Pass Conditions January 21st

No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place. – Zen saying

A small cell over the Never Summers has allowed for some light and varied accumulation. Winds have been whipping around and redistributing what has fallen. I skied up Seven Utes on Tuesday and found decent skiing. Though the area had been heavily tracked out over the weekend, enough new snow had fallen to partially cover the old tracks and allow for some pleasant skiing.

An un-named peak appears out of the clouds in the Silver Cr. Drainage.

An un-named peak appears out of the clouds in the Silver Cr. Drainage.

Digging pits on N/NE aspects at tree line revealed the now familiar scene of 90+ cm of fresh precipitation and decomposing/fragmented particles on top a 60+cm bed of large facets and cup-shaped crystals. Compression tests revealed moderate results: CT-15/ECT-20, propagation appeared less reactive, and shears were Quality 2+ at the facets.

Decomposing/Fragmented Particles and Precipitation Particles form a slab over a bed of facets.

Decomposing/Fragmented Particles and Precipitation Particles form a slab over a bed of facets.

Reports on Powderbuzz indicate steeper lines are being skied without consequence, but be mindful that the current issue of depth-hoar is rooted in the base of the snowpack and the overall snow-depth on most slopes is still relatively shallow. The trend of light precipitation and moderate winds is forecasted to continue through the weekend. Be wary of fresh windslab on N/NE/E aspects above tree line.

And it never hurts to pray for more snow.  :)