Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ames Ice Hose

Ames Ice Hose, WI5 180m.
   The flood this year, for many families and individuals, was tragic.  For me, as an ice climber, it was the best thing imaginable.  The groundwater in the high country was unreal, and almost everything is in all-time condition.  I had some good experiences in October and November, getting up on Pikes Peak for Blind Assumption and doing Alexander's Chimmney on Longs. I regret missing out on Smear of Fear, my confidence and conditioning still had a way to go, and now that I'm in the depths of an ice bender and in better shape, it's sublimated away.  So it goes.
   David Fay and I headed out to Telluride and crashed at a ski bum house with some CC alums.  It was quickly clear to me that I could never live like them(alot more partying than skiing), but having a place to stay was rad.  We took a look at Bridal Veil.  It seemed chandeliered and in difficult early season condition.  Saturday was spend cragging at Bear Creek.
   The next day we decided to push ourselves a bit and get on Ames.  It turned out to be less than a stretch for us.  Usually the first pitch is an unprotected mixed climb, serious and technical.  Instead we found a great pillar of steep ice.  I led the first pitch and then David led 2 and 3, taking us to the top of the route.  All the pitches were pristine, no signs of traffic and great ice.  They all required about a WI4/5 effort, each being difficult in a different way.
Pitch 1.
The first pitch was a short, 40 foot curtain of vertical ice.  I picked my way slowly up it.
Pitch 2
The steep chimmney had filled in completely.  David stemmed it out for a nice lead.
Pitch 3, smooth and blue.
Pitch 3 had sustained sections of brittle blue ice.  David led the rope stretcher quickly.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fall in the springs, and back in Lander

Mike the fresh G on Good Luck Mister Gorsky, 13b/c.  Moss Cave, Sinks Canyon

I've been in some harder classes, and basically all my time has gone into studying.  Keeping up sport conditioning is a small time commitment, and I've been able to get outside enough to keep the psyche. We ended up spending alot of time at Thunder Ridge, and also making a couple of trips to Lander. 
David Fay on Starlight, dynoing for the manta ray flake.  Sent this rig for my first 12 dogs.

Julian Kraus-Polk flashing Killer, 12c.
Managed to get up on Pikes Peak with Jack Rodat and do Blind Assumption, III M6 WI5.

Hanson gives it a naked lap at Thunder. 

Killer Cave

I got a cat in October. I went so soft.

mostly I've been doing this, sending Schrodinger's equation for the Hydrogen atom.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Black Canyon

 We took a trip to the Black for first block break.  Until we got shut down by snow, the climbing was good.  This was my second time doing Comic Relief, so we decided to throw in the variations.  The next day we all ventured down the Cruise gulley and found our way up some short routes on the far side of the Chasm View wall.  Brett and I had a nice lap on A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.  We got the chance to shoot photos of friends on Leisure Climb, which incidentally was not leisurely.

The Black Corner, a great 5.10 variation with technical, thoughtful climbing and protection.

Onsighting the 5.11 variation to pitch five: Lightning Bolt Crack

Brett Bakey, aka pump bandit,  beginning his send of the .11 crux on a Midsummer Night's dream +  Sex Comedy = A midsummer Night's sex Comedy.

Following a sweet dihedral higher up.
The Pump Bandit, ie. complete fool.

Loose Ragamuffins leading some runout face.
Following P.1 on Midsummer
Skye climbing on the route next to midsummer.

Our friends Mike and Nick crushing Maiden Voyage.  Spot them.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cathedral Traverse

Cathedral Traverse

Erik Rieger (2012) and I met up in Lander and drove to the Tetons. Fire season had the peaks choked in blue smoke and gave a sense of distance. We set out with light daypacks and plans to make it as far as we could in a day.  By this point in my year, I was sick of long days, midnight wake-ups, 24 hour pushes, and sleep deprivation in dangerous places. I just wanted to sport climb in the sun, never too far from a beer, stick clip in hand. Somehow, Erik managed to rally me for the traverse.  A relatively late 4:30 start saw us at the top of Teewinot just after dawn. This is one of the most dramatic summits I can imagine. It’s hard to believe it exists here. We made it up and over the summit of mount Owen via the East ridge, moving ropeless on it’s golden arête.
    When you drop into the gunsight the rock quality goes to hell. Between Owen and the Grandstand the bulletproof, twisted gneiss reminescent of frozen smoke gives way to utter choss. We got tangled with another party when we tried to share ropes on rappel.  We wasted hours as they missed the rap point and had to prusik back up half a ropelength. It is of course easy to blame things on other people. Whichever way that encounter had gone, we were already slow and off track to complete the Grand traverse in a day.
    We made it to the base of the North Ridge. If you asked a child to draw a mountain, in one way or another they’ll draw the Grand. As a kid I always looked on that steepest aspect with gut-wrenching intimidation and sweating palms, imagining hanging belays, harrowing epics, and clean exposure sweeping down to the crevassed glacier. After a time, doing walls leads to comfort in the face of big air and a loss of innocence.  While we did finally get the rope and rack out, the climbing was not quite as mean as it seemed from the valley 7,000 feet below. But it was serene. I had dreamed about this ridge, imagining a climb through a sea of clouds and into blue sky.

    Erik led the sandbagged crux, stemming an open book with glassy edges. In good style, he protected the steep moves with only a hex. I led a golden face to the summit slopes. I couldn’t help but imagine Alex Lowe soloing in running shoes, casually making record time with a big grin. In the smoke, we could barely make out the silhouette of Moran to the north. When we topped out the Grand, we were greeted by a deep red sunset. This proved our timing was not so bad.
    I had the Owen Spalding descent wired from previous years on the Grand, and in the dark we began what felt like endless scrambling, hopping, and eventually painful peg-legging. We successfully avoided the Idaho Express Couloir, so called because it’s the fast way down, in the worst way.  At the lower saddle there was no question of whether we would continue up the Middle Teton through the night.  Having completed the Cathedral Traverse, we called it a day and booked it down to trailhead as best we could on battered knees and feet. We hiked well into the night. Our friends John Collis (2013) and Cole Kennedy (2013) sent the Grand Traverse later, also avoiding August’s clockwork thunderstorms with splitter weather. 

Cathedral Traverse, Teton Range  5.8  (This story appears in the Colorado College Alpine Journal, 2013)

On Teewinot just after sunrise.
 The Teton glacier below in August heat.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cordillera Blanca

On El Escudo, Huascaran Sur.

Nicknames, a trip to the Cordillera Blanca   

    Carl has many. Rambo. Vampire Slayer. Carl-house-vinceanderson-twight. Meat locker.
    Carl has no connection to CC except that he is now banned from campus.  On Halloween he showed up as Rambo.  He got blackout drunk, roamed barefoot, and kicked in some windows.  He was easy to find after he left half a mile of bloody footprints zig-zagging across campus. Needless to say, he climbs like he parties.
    I trained all year, doing the incline with weight and climbing tons of mixed in RMNP.  Carl walked onto a D1 wrestling team.
    I heard the Cordillera Blanca would be ‘fun’.  I was inspired by the beautiful photos of steep fluted snow and blue ice. But I knew it would hurt. I promised some significant others that I wouldn't ‘touch the void’. In Lima, I got mugged.  I was already punting, and I hadn’t even stepped onto a glacier.

SW face of Piramide de Garcilaso.

    I met up with Carl in the dark and loud streets of Huaraz. He had previously been in the Quebrada Santa Cruz.  Him and his Canadian and Kiwi friends tried a route on the infamous Taulliraju.  They made it up a few pitches of rotten vert ice before it became too much.  Suffering from problems with constant rainfall and aggressive cattle, he hiked out.  As we packed up to go to the Ischinca valley, his friends got sick and would complete no further climbs.  I somehow managed to keep from puking all trip. 
    So much garlic.  Taking some Mark Twight advice way to seriously; Carl had tried to acclimatize faster by eating whole cloves. I just acclimatized like a normal person not battling vampires.
Descending back into the Paron valley, looking at the glacier below Chacraraju Oeste.
    We started to feel good. After a couple of days I could run hard continuously at 4800m, expecting headaches that never came.  Each morning we woke up higher than Pikes.  We pushed it a bit higher. Ischinca(the mountain) was uneventful but offered mind-bending views of intricate faces in every direction. The faces of the high peaks are beautiful in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The snow sticks to near vertical faces and builds structures that seem to defy gravity. After about six days on high we did the North Face of Ranrapalca in a quick one day push, climbing fantastic névé grooves and short vertical rock steps at 6000m.
Below the crux rock band on Ranrapalca, that was my lead.
Ranrapalca, N. Face, 950m. Our line threaded hourglass couloirs right of center, breaching the upper rockband at it's thinnest point.  A good warm up climb.

    Back in Huaraz, we wolfed down ice cream filled crepe wraps and read cold copies of Polar Circus that some Canadians must have left. We met some swedes that spoke better English than us.  They were jet-lagged but immediately began probing us for beta.   We explained that someone died skiing the east face of Tocllaraju earlier that week and that skiing in the range was particularly hard this year. We slowly learned how good they were, and his partner explained that he made the first descent of the south face of Denali.
    Even in South America, in spanish, people still ask me if I watch Scrubs.  Fuck Scrubs.  “JD de la tele?”, they ask.
    Our cabbie from Caraz explained that he spoke no english but did speak Quechua.  the farmhouses we drove by, he explained, were occupied by pueblos indigenos who spoke no spanish.  i found this hard to believe as i watched a skinny Quechua kid in a basketball jersey and shiny jeans feed his brown and white spotted furry pigs.
    We showed up and handed the cross eyed park guard our papers.  He let us in and told us about the guided parties allready in the valley, at Artesonraju high camp, waiting for the storms to abate.  We hiked in and decided to attempt the southwest face of Piramide de Garcilaso. We pronounced this garlic-slayo. This was probably because its alien lacework of snow flutes, mushrooms and gargoyles. It would likely scare the dead back to life.
    We had a pleasant forecast for a one day storm followed by a week of splitter skies; courtesy of some shit computer algorithm. Instead what we got was a one week storm.  We had a one day sucker hole that allowed us to make a carry to the base of the face and sleep at 5100m, only to wake to more new snow and constant avalanches ripping above.  We went back to Paron base.
    For several hours, as I sat in my tent reading about the first domestications of animals, being strafed by violent wind, rain, and snow. Vampire slayer occupied himself by standing at the banks of our base camp stream and hefting the largest rocks he could.  He threw them into the grey-blue glacial water and screamed “BOOM”.  He has a genius level IQ, but he prefers to remain unmedicated in the backcountry.
    When 7 days of horibble weather hit us, he had no book.  I ripped my book in half and he read the beginning while I read the end.

It became hard to keep track of days in the undefined white space in the clouds. Our sanity glue started to melt.
Things got desperate. We started to eat our high energy climbing food to pass the time. We filtered our coffee through a used sock.
approaching Piramide de Garcilaso.
    Then things got more desperate.  I sang in my graveliest Tom Waits voice while Carl took selfies in the tent. We drank coffee all day and then got cross-faded on chamomile. Andean Cows became the enemy.  They wanted to take things from us.  Shelter, food, our brains, sock-coffee. Even the salt in our piss. They would lick the grass we peed on. They were clearly loved by someone, they had weird little hemp bow ties on their ears and around their sharp horns.
        As the storm intensified, the cows grouped for a final assault. We left. The local guides are superstitious: they say that these storms settle in with the new moon. There’s no real evidence for this, but incidentally the moon was just a waxing sliver once the clouds cleared. I was willing to entertain the idea for a few seconds.
A church in Musho, this is where we started hiking.  12,600' vert below the summit.
    We dreamed of doing the French Direct on Chacraraju. Later on we would get some beta on a hanging serac threatening the route. Our fragile, restless egos were sore from 8 days in a tent.  We were feeling weak but light. So of course we picked a high objective with easy climbing. We would attempt The Shield on Huascaran Sur, the highest peak in Peru.  Peaking at 70 degrees, a blue ice arête soars up the west face, and the standard route provides a simple descent. I imagined a sky so dark and clear at nearly 7000m, like you could see stars in day.
Carl Pauses.  You can make out this church in the valley below if you look closely.
    I looked at my homemade antibottes. They drink yogurt out of gallon jugs in Peru. The left crampon had a makeshift plastic snowgaurd from such a jug.  The right one was made out of a whisperlight screen. It all looked Jingus as hell. So basically I felt ready.  Estaba nacido listo putamadre.  Or something to that effect. We were given perfect weather.
    We climbed long simul-blocks of good alpine ice, sinking screws in places and pickets in others.  We stayed roped together more as a safegaurd against crevasse fall on the upper portion of the route and the summit plateau.  The postholing at the top seemed to drag on for an eternity.
The never ending snow arete above 21,000

On the summit of Huascaran Sur, 22,205, having topped out El Escudo.

    We made it to the top and caught our breath. Without much pause, we turned around and descended into the long hours of the night.  Everything hurt a bit.  This would surely be a good memory.

Our climb had nicknames too.

Huascaran Sur, 6768m (22,210’). El Escudo/the Shield/West Face ice arête. D/TD
Ranrapalca 6162m, North face. D+
Ischinca 5530m, Northwest slopes.

The north face of Chacraraju Oeste.

Hatun Machay.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Evolution Traverse

Evolution Traverse: Sierra Nevada, 2013 from JD Merritt on Vimeo.
Evolution Traverse video edit

Niels Davis (2015) and I were in Bishop and it was too hot to think. Through May we climbed in a persistent rhythm; 2 days on, one day off. It was too hot for the captain but we managed to do the RNWF of Half Dome in a day. The heat chased us out of the valley and up to Tuolumne. As it got worse we tried to come up with a cool plan in the High Sierra. We tossed some routes around, Dark Star, Sun Ribbon, Positive Vibrations... but then the long traverses started to look good.  At the end of our trip we still felt motivated to take on long days. The Palisades Traverse would be good, but we had no mountain gear. Evolution Traverse? I had no beta, just that it was high and long.  Really long.  I could wear myself down until I felt like an animal.
    We did some research in an uncomfortably clean coffee shop. The route begins with a 9 mile approach over Lamark col.  Once you hit the jagged granite ridgeline, miles of technical climbing take you over nine 13,000 foot peaks all named for naturalists. The traverse ends at mount Huxley, and the John Miur Trail offers a 15 mile hike back to civilization.
 The visionary Peter Croft pioneered the route in 2000, first climbing it in sections with partners, then linking it up from a base camp, and then, much later, soloing it in a day from a base camp.  He calls it one of his favorite climbs. As of June it had not yet been climbed in a push and car to car.
    That was not our burden to bear. It was June 5 but snow conditions were typical of august after a hot and dry spring. We loaded up a jetboil, one sleeping bag, two space blankets, approach shoes, and a light rope and rack. We planned to solo as much as possible. The approach went quickly, and we cracked treeline sweating in the morning heat. Darwin canyon was surreal.  The bright granite shined like snow while the bare dark ice of the Darwin glacier looked vulnerable in the heat. 
    We started the climbing in Kings Canyon National Park.  The first few unnamed fifth class peaks went by quickly.  We scrambled with no plans to get the rope out.  We were still full of energy, and it felt good to move fast together.  It was just after noon when we hit the brutally gendermed ridge to mount Mendel. I grew up scrambling over Gendarmes in the sawtooth mountains of Idaho, but never had I seen ridgeline this cryptic. Route finding became complex, and Niels and I rarely agreed. We lost time rapping over pinnacles that we could have soloed around. The perennial question became whether to stick to the pure arête or to drop down and bypass its limitless undulations.  We eventually hit a golden headwall on Mendel.  On the way up it presented vertical sections where we soloed some memorably exposed cracks.  The golden face gave way to perfect, bright white sierra granite.  Big diorite knobs and chicken-heads presented sporty face moves.
Speed Tactics: Taking a DIRT NAP!
    Mendel offers a sweet flat perch of a summit, dropping sharply on all its faces.  We enjoyed the sunset and made some food. Our summit bivy was sweet, but it limited our water options. We had to burn canister fuel to melt snow, which would bite us later.  Our beds were backpacks and flaked rope, with the one sleeping bag draped over both of us.  We woke up cold and drained from shivering, and got ready to take down more of the ridge.  Breakfast was gu with caffeine and a split clif bar.  As we traversed to the highpoint at Mount Darwin (13,837’), the terrain grew more complex.  We used the rope mainly for rappel, weaving a twisted path through the spires.
    We reached the broad plateau of Darwin only to realize that the true summit was a detached spire on it’s southeast end.  We scrambled a steep pitch.  I felt naked for a few seconds as I mantled onto the true summit block.  At the top we found a register with years of records and beautifully weathered pages from Origin of Species. Looking through the register, we found the names of some soloists, among them Alex Honnold, Matt Samet, etc.  I even saw the names of some Wyoming friends, CC Grads, and others. Feeling that we needed all the good karma we could get, I wrote some shit down about peace and love and we moved on. We were a part of irrelevant climbing history. 
    Things got rowdy. The technical crux of the traverse is usually found on the mile of wild ridge after Darwin. Even soloists bring a rope to dodge natural selection on several pitches of chossy 5.9 downclimbing. At this unfortunate crux, the rock quality deteriorates as the difficulty mounts.  We were gripped, rapping off of wedged blocks, horns, and flakes, most of which didn’t flex or move. We kept moving, finding no snow to melt on the consistently steep ridge. Exhausted and out of water, it was impossible to eat during the day. This made it hard to find the pure focus that the terrain demanded. We had a 10 second discussion about bailing. It was hard being dry all day above lakes with crystal turquoise hues. Routefinding was heinous at this point, and each time we got out the rope we lost valuable time. Unable to build a rap anchor, Niels down-led a pitch of 5.9 cracks and face.  Following on the down-climb with no gear below, I was facing an ankle-breaker at least.  It would have been psychologically preferable to just solo. In the mountains, I’m learning to rely less on the false security of a rope. As the rock got better, we should have enjoyed some of the fantastic pitches, but I just remember being tired. We were able to simul on the true crest, weaving the rope in and out of features as protection. We found the golden triangle, a perfect pitch of face climbing on the arête.
    Niels has a good mind for soloing.  At crags, I’ve seen him hiking serious pitches in approach shoes, relaxed while smearing on a dime. That ability was essential. I was tweaked following him at times, and became stretched to my mental limit as we ‘3rd-classed’ for hours in full-consequence terrain. I often was the one to call the belay. 
    Getting from Darwin to Haeckel was the most difficult part of the traverse. The sun was low in the sky. On a steep unnamed peak we finally found a drip of water and drank what felt like gallons. We heard a low hum in the air and looked around.  We saw a huge bird, with wings unmoving, flying over the ridge.  A Condor. 


The Ginjer Ninja on top of Clyde Spires

Mount Darwin at first light


Our First Bivy

    We crashed for another bivy. This one was colder and really took it out of us.  Our last day, though technically easier, would be a suffer-fest.  My approach shoes were shredded with large holes on their sides, and my socks had also worn through, leaving me to grind my bloody bare feet with each jam. 
    On one summit register we left a shout-out to our CC people.  Cole Kennedy(2013) and David Fay(2013) would later return the message on their attempt. On the summit of another we wrote, “the first Jamaican Team to summit Clyde Spires!”.  As we knocked out the remaining peaks, we were able to keep the mood light and the rope in the pack until Mount Huxley.  After some steep pitches and false summits, we topped out at 3pm. Niels immediately got naked on the summit.  In the register, I wrote, “Primate ladies get at me, we devolved”.  The Evolution Basin was perfect, but I deleted the painful de-proach from my memory.
     Later on this summer I met Vitaily in Peru.  I shared some beta with him and he went on to make the first car to car solo. He dedicated his climb to his friend Ben Horne, who was killed in the Cordillera Blanca last year.

Evolution Traverse, VI 5.9.  35 miles.
Mendel, Darwin, Haeckel, Wallace, Clyde Spires, Fiske, Warlow, Huxley, and countless unnamed summits. 16,000 feet gain. 
On the summit of mount Huxley.  no comment