Friday, March 24, 2017

Middle Teton, North Glacier ski

Looking up at the Middle.

At the end of March, my friends Eddie and Anna came up to the tetons from Boulder to do some skiing.  Conditions up high were stable but still very soft, and it would be a great time no matter what we chose to do. Since the North Face of the middle is one of the all time classics and none of us had done it, we decided to give that a go. 
   I was 5 weeks out on a broken arm, so I climbed up and skiied down with a brace on.
Eddie and Anna just as we got on the glacier.

in the soft snow we were able to skin most of the
way up the "couloir" portion of the face.
looking into Idaho through the rimed notch
 where we descended from. 
Anna with a watercolor phone, way above the valley.

We enjoyed good conditions on a classic descent!
Looking down the upper face at the Dike Pinnacle
Eddie skis the upper face. Super classic and exposed.

Eddie at our safe zone.
Anna and Eddie below the grand teton.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Here is some of the music I've been enjoying this winter, and especially during my time living in Europe. 

This is probably my favorite metal album of the year. Totally incredible Belgian band. The riffs are reminiscent of some black metal, but with more hooks and alot of rhythmic complexity. This song reflects on terminal illness and the fragility of life, and manages to be simultaneously enraging and uplifting. The standout quality of this band comes from the vocalist: Caro Tanghe. Her diverse vocal abilities are on display here, mastering the full range and depth of sounds you could imagine a human voice making, and some you probably can't, such as on the track Second son of R

Their name derives from a Neurosis lyric, from the song (of the album of the same name) 
The Eye of Every Storm (2004)

I love Neurosis, so here's that whole album. It's one of their slower ones, but every track explores a different idea and does it to perfection.  It's produced by Steve Albini of Big Black and Shellac.  It has more clean (undistorted) vocals than most metal, and many more moments of reflective tranquility than earlier Neurosis albums. as such it is probably my favorite. 

This is an interesting and hypnotic track. Really no few bars are the same here, and I love where it goes through the middle.  This one is loud enough that I could follow it well even in some crowded mass-transit situations. Consistently experimental, but delivering enough hooks to stay fun. Every Krallice album I've listened to has been varied and interesting, with 2016's EP Hyperion being one of my favorites. The Lyrics are thrououghly scifi, no deathmetal cliche's here, just a wonderful, scientifically informed reflection on our place in the universe. I'm not sure if any of this is in reference to the Dan Simmons Novel, Hyperion, but if so that is one of my favorite reads lately. Like with most of my favorite metal, you're not going to learn much about the songwriting without looking up some lyrics. 

1. Hyperion

[Initiation: Mick Barr, lyrics: Nicholas McMaster / Mick Barr]

Solar arch of vast expanse
Core of innumerable forces
Unconquered Sun

Hyperion's voice travels--
Sol Invictus--
1,000 years to find me

Let breath guide thought motion
Surreality forgone assemblage

Speed the passage to stellar debris
This soft tissue must serve
A greater immortality
Immolation grant me Helios' steed

Awaken to blood and frustration
Next lamb be the tyrant
Move slow, land moves fast beneath

2. The Guilt Of Time

[Initiation: Mick Barr, lyrics: Mick Barr]

Let the somatic cosmos
Sink over this wave of reasoning
And let the time pass with dignity
The guilt of time surrounds

Observations amidst the carriers
Wave back like the ocean of leaves
Rejoice in the change
Forever alter the course

Reasonless Aliant!

3. Assuming Memory

[Initiation: Colin Marston, lyrics: Mick Barr / Nicholas McMaster]

Saviour Crusader Soul Saver
Kept out, prison chapel ways

Though functions through
Cheep chatter, hyenal assumption
Judgement not of henge

War temperature
Greed of grazing
Twisted strokes of psychology

Celestial Ossuary
The ancient dead devour

All life eroded
Civilization transmuted to the substance of ether

and.. a Great band on Neurosis' label. The whole album, released 2016, is great, bass driven, relatively angry yet still life-affirming, and perfect for hard training for high-torque activities.

How about something soft? This is just some typically relaxing electronic pop music, except that it's Milosh, so the production is subtle and perfect, the song evolves throughout, the textures are unparalleled. This is about as soft as it gets, with smooth jazz/R&b falsetto vocals over drum machines. And it's about a sexy as love-songs can get in good taste. I had to try and limit myself to once a day on this one, and I didn't entirely succeed. I've followed Milosh and Rhye for a while, but this song is the one that encouraged me to look back through his whole catalog. His first three albums are brilliant as well.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Zermatt, Matterhorn.


After going to spain, I decided to meet my friend John Collis in Zermatt. He has a Swiss girlfriend who graciously offered to host Kurt and I for a few days. Unfortunately John blew out his ACL a few days before in a skiing accident and he couldn't climb with us. It was good to hang though. We all discovered the healing and bonding power of drinking (way too much) wine, and watching doubled youtube videos, typically a video in 0.5x slow-motion of someone explaining something technical and making ambiguous gestures, played simultaneously with 80s porn soundtracks. We had only 5 days in Zermatt before we were due to move on to Courmayeur to stay at the Grivel apartment.

At first we borrowed (sketch) ski passes, and got some good turns in on the piste. The avalanche danger was through the roof; this was the first really big snowfall the alps had seen so far this year. It would be best to attempt a route with the relative safety of ridge geometry.

The Matterhorn (4478m, 14,692') is the archetypal mountain, both aesthetically and in the realm of lore. Of course we had to try it. It is visible from everywhere around Zermatt, and towers above all it's nearby neighbors. The weather was horrible, with snowfall every day and significant wind. It would be unsafe to try a face, and we though not much would be in condition. We decided to try the Hornli ridge, the easiest route up an otherwise complex and enormous mountain. The ridge ends up being technically about as hard as the Owen-Spaulding route on the Grand Teton, owing to the presence of fixed ropes and essentially via ferrata grade fixed gear taming some sections that could potentially be around 5.7-5.8.

For us, the challenge would be plowing through the new snow and dealing with extreme cold, exposure to weather, short days, and for me: the potential to develop altitude sickness having only been above sea level for 3 days. The forecast and the snow totals weren't giving us much of a chance, I silently put an estimate of our probability of success at 10%. We gave it hell anyway.

some wierd russian shit left in the winter room at the HornliHutte
on the way to the Hornlihutte, complete whiteout and wind. 
a view of the north face.

after the approach to the hut. it was around -20C

We approached the hut in the afternoon through a heinous snowstorm. In the night things did managed to clear, and the next day we were greeted by about 4 hours of clear weather. The forecast had predicted only 1-2 hrs of clear, workable climbing and routefinding conditions, so we were psyched!

The hut was actually very restful, and free. 
our pre-dawn start on the upper ridge.

feeling and looking super shitty

Kurt breaking through waist-deep snow. 

The windstorm arrives.

In the end what shut us down were the slow conditons. We had a train to catch to Geneva at 7am the next day, and we would have needed another day above the Solvay hut. We turned around at about 4000m. In hindsight, this was a good call. We shouldn't have attempted it at all in these conditions.  It was so cold that we were moving in all our layers, and carried no stove or fuel. Perhaps in good conditions we could blaze up a route like this, even in winter. But this time we walked away humbled, cold, exhausted, and empty handed.

Kurt hides his face from stinging ice. 

Monday, February 6, 2017


walking the razor's edge between order and chaos: this is where beauty is found.
in the words of the songwriter Chelsea Wolfe: "Pain is Beauty"

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Spain: Siurana

Siurana is a beautiful mountaintop village, completely isolated and surrounded on all sides by massive cliffs of perfect limestone. Climbers know it well, but what intrigued me is it's human history. In 1153 it was the last Muslim enclave to fall to militant Christians in Catalonia. It was remote and defensible due to it's natural terrain barriers. After a long conflict and the fall of major villages in the area, invasion was imminent. The Moorish Queen, Abdelazia, chose to ride her horse off the cliff, taking them both to their death. The horse, though terrified, was obedient. As the story goes, there is still a hoof-print in the rock from it's struggle.

I was hesitant about spending a lot of time climbing here. The prevalent style is very similar to what we find on Wyoming dolomite, with an even mix of thin pockets and crimps, but very little of the flowstone found in other parts of Spain. The rock, from a distance, often looks flaky and banded.

After sampling some of the routes, I thought this was maybe the best climbing I've done here. The rock is perfect, bullet hard, and has great features. It demands power, contact strength, but also supreme balance and technical ability owing to it's thin features. It demands quite a bit from the skin. This is perhaps not the most popular style these days, but I found it very rewarding.

one of very few tufa routes in Siurana

After our time in spain was up, Erik and I checked out the Mediterranean beaches on our last day.
I hope to return again soon!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Spain: Villanova de Meia, Roca Del Arcs

the center of La Cupula, with Rey del Mambo at left. 
As I was finally starting to get over my cold, we checked out Villanova de Meia, where one finds some of the best multi-pitch sport climbing, as well as a few wonderful small sport crags. I wanted to onsight El Rey del Mambo, 7b (12b), but settled for a 2nd go redpoint.  There was a tiny sleeping bat in one of the key positive holds just after the powerful deadpoint crux. I had to adjust my beta and skip this hold, not wanting to disturb the animal or create the need to go get a series of painful and expensive rabies vaccines. On a power-endurance route like this, sometimes skipping holds is actually a benefit, and gets you to the good rests more quickly. At the good rests higher up, I was still so pumped that I almost managed to fall off.

La Cupula (which i think means dome) was a small crag (15-20 m) but was stacked with beautiful tufa routes and steep horizontal jug rails. As far as I could tell the first few layers of rock were some kind of calcified sandstone, which gave way to perfect limestone. While the sandstone (or quartz conglomerate or something) would have been a bit friable normally, it was coated with colorful tufas and climbed like an absolute dream. This is an old and forgotten crag, and while some of the routes haven't been updated for 30 years (the bolts are getting pretty rusty), they are not polished since this spot isn't on most visitor's destination lists.
Erik on El Rey del Mambo, 7b, winding up for a deadpoint
Erik leading a 5.11- pitch up on Roca del Arcs

After our day of cragging at La Cupula, we decided to do a really long (220m?) route on Roca Del Arcs. This wall has a ton of great multipitch routes from 5 to 7c. These routes were amazing, with long sections of steep jug climbing, and some sporting runouts over safe air. I'd highly reccomend this cliff to anyone in the area. And this is one of the best camping scenes we found in Spain, with lots of free spots with great views, clean springwater, and quick access to the cliffs.
Roca del arcs, one of the best bigwall sport cliffs. 

Erik leading off into super-steep jugland on a 5.11- pitch somewhere on Roca del Arcs
Erik following
some of the calcified sandstone, or fine quartz conglomerate, or something that appeared in repeating bands aroudn Villanova de Meia. It sometimes climbs like sandstone or quartzite, with steep horizontals of jugs or patina crimps appearing frequently. Then it would quickly depart from that style, giving way to tufastone and finally layers of limestone with perfect pockets. One of the strangest and best cliffs I've been to. 

at La Cupula, steep horizontals and tufas gave way to slabs with some of the most PERFECT limestone i have seen..

the Pyrenees from the top of Roca del arcs

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Spain: Terradets, Bruixes

infinite rock around Terradets
It started to rain everywhere, and we had a forced rest day where we spent 8 hrs in a cafe in Tremp, mostly binge watching streamable shit.  We discovered an abandoned railway stop with an awning to keep the tent dry. This has been a classic (sketchy) free camp spot for climbers for a long while.

Our next stop needed to be steep, because given another day it was still raining. We showed up at the Bruixes cave. My friend Lucas told me about this spot, one of the best for Tufa climbing in Spain. Many of the world class areas in Spain don't feel that unique for myself, being fortunate enough to live in Lander. If you visit Margalef, you'll encounter steep, powerful pocket climbing, or if you go to Siurana you get good edges and pockets, and technical face climbing. These styles are prevalent at wild iris and sinks, and while the walls in these classic Spanish areas are generally steeper and taller, I wasn't in the kind of shape to experience that difference, which really only becomes apparent on Grade 8 (13b and up) routes. What I really wanted to experience was tall endurance climbing on Mediterranean flowstone, something really special that climbers often need to travel great distances to find.  we weren't in shape for that either, but that didnt stop us from sampling some of the best 7as and bs at Bruixes.

Erik in awe at the living wall. We don't have alot of Tufastone in america, so for us Bruixes was really special. You pretty much have to climb 5.12 all day if you come here. The routes are typically 30-40m and don't let up at all, Tufas often give way to perfect sculpted edges and great vertical face climbing at the top of routes.
the cave at Bruixes. routes here basically start at 8b+
Many routes in spain with names along the lines of "fuck the system", maybe there's one here. anyway I share the sentiment thoroughly...
selfie on the approach. still feeling sick. 
we found free camping in an abandoned train station, where we pitched our 20€ Spanish tent.