Sunday, November 5, 2017

Death of a Cowboy

My first time trying the route, 3 years ago.

Sometimes you've got to bite the curb. I sent Death of a Cowboy by headlamp, late on Haloween, with my friend John Collis. This is my first 5.13 in the creek and my first .13- redpoint on trad gear.  Behind the fallacy of difficulty as objective or numerical, my subjective experience was that of prolonged beatdown. I have .5 sized fingers and despite some wear to the crack this still climbed like a tips crack roof for me. It goes through multiple changing corners and roofs with a short and painful crux. Afterward 100 feet of overhanging hand crack is the reward.  Lisa Gnade and Steve Petro are Wyoming climbers and put up some of the best hard cracks in the west. I'm psyched to do one of their routes and one of the best cracks in the creek. Quite a few to go...

I lost a good friend on Haloween years ago. He was trying to break up a fight on his front porch and got hit in the temple. In a senseless act of violence he was gone. His name was Joe McGowan. Since then I haven't celebrated this holiday. For years I haven't gone out, gotten drunk, worn costumes, or raised hell in the way youre apparently supposed to on this most unholy of holidays. It wasn't really a conscious decision, I just realized after a few years that I hadn't wanted to. By all accounts this should be my favorite holiday. I have always loved creepy, occult, discomforting shit. I believe thethings that make you uncomfortable are the things where the most self-discovery and growth are to be found.

Every year I came to the creek I tried this route at least once. It gave me an enormous beat down in 2014. I started just before dark and forgot a headlamp. I had to tag one up after dogging the crux. I spent some time dejected, hanging on the rope with my shoes half off, blind and in the dark.
The next year I was able to try it a couple of times and do all the moves, but placing the gear proved difficult and no-one seemed interested in spending a day at scarface after that, despite the long stint I had in the creek that fall I only spent two hours at the route.

This year, I've made it through the worst year of my life. serious injuries through no fault of my own, broken bones, betrayals and erosion of trust. The disintegration of relationships, an endless depression, and total hopelessness seemed to crescendo right as my physical body was the most fucked up. I wouldn't wish a year like this upon anyone else, ever. Right when I thought I was the most broken, something else would happen, something unthinkable. And after that something else would hit, something unspeakable. It took a while, but I overcame because I had no choice. In a moment of catharsis I burned every last thing she ever wrote me and made the decision to move on and stop feeling bad for myself. Despite spending time in casts, boots, neck braces, and all manner of other bullshit, I worked through the physical therapy. And after the last two injuries I got creative, finding ways to train anyway. Every time it seems like too much work. returning to form involving too much pain. you lose faith in your ability to heal. But it happens anyway. I was breaking new ground in training almost immediately, finding new PRs in every cycle. I got into woodworking last year and built a crack machine. And this fall I built a campus board and some portable hangboards. I'll post some info on this later. All year I've doubled down on studying physics. The only way to fight entropy creeping in was to work harder at everything. And I had to fight the tendency toward bitterness that this life seems to give us. Despite being so full of hate, I found ways to express love.

When I sent this route it was a relief and not a surprise. I worked hard on it this year, giving probably 6 goes this fall and 11 in the last three years. I sent a V8/9 tips crack /seam  in the summer, so the raw power was there, I just needed to keep it together for a link. It's a beautiful crack and I'm thankful that people got out to support me on it and kept the spirits up, even when I lost faith in myself.

 The Dusk In Us  lyrics:

And at night they come, when protectors are gone
Not in waves, but in shadows
Prancing on the wall, creeping up the bed
It's there they thrive and nest within

Dear frightened little boy, it's time to rise above all of their noise
Ghosts are merely shadows, you are flesh and bone
The grudge does not have regrets when there is no past to forget
Our denial it speaks in tongues, there's monsters among us

And at dawn they'll go with the last shred of hope
Someday it'll change, or so they say
Just bide your time and try to stay alive
Revenge will come with the rising sun

Dear shattered little girl, this is not the end of your world
It's the beginning of the rest of your life where you do, or you die
It's not a trial but a test, just a broken mirror to reflect
Our denial it speaks in tongues, there's monsters among us

And at night they come, when protectors are gone
Not in waves, but in shadows
Prancing on the wall, creeping up the bed
It's there they thrive and nest within

I ask from within my heart, where did our failures start
If we must imagine ourselves as someone, somewhere else
And what does the future hold, if we're running low on health and hope
Our denial it speaks in tongues, there's monsters among us

Dusk lives within us
Dusk lives within us
Darkness won't give up
Darkness won't give up

Dusk lives within us
Dusk lives within us
Darkness won't give up
Darkness won't give up

Dusk in us
Dusk in us
Dusk in us
Dusk in us

Arkhipov Calm

Vasili Arkhipov is someone we should all be familiar with. If not for his actions, it is likely that none of us would be alive. During the Cuban missile crisis, he cast the one dissenting vote onboard an isolated Soviet nuclear submarine, preventing a nuclear strike against the US Navy which would have precipitated all out nuclear war.

Fresh faced oligarch we have grown far apart
My arkhipov calm will serve me in due time
Turbulence shakes the teeth from the chaos that you speak
With every barb that you threw, I saw you list to the side
And I won't sink with you, I have so much more to do
Promises, the lost cause, but the bones will heal in time
My arkhipov calm will serve me in due time

Fresh faced oligarch we have grown far apart
My arkhipov calm will serve me in due time
Turbulence shakes the teeth from the chaos that you speak
With every barb that you threw, I saw you list to the side
And I won't sink with you, I have so much more to do
Promises, the lost cause, but the bones will heal in time
My arkhipov calm will serve me in due time

You see the patience is a test, it separates boys from men
And my arkhipov calm will serve me in time
It's the fires that we quell that save us from our hells
It's the wars that we don't fight that keeps love alive

My arkhipov calm will serve me in due time

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Fins

Jonas Abdo before his send of Al's Diner. Photo: Angelo Roman
Fall was a short lived and feeble season this year. But I made the most of it in the Fins. This remote spot in Idaho has only one style. Vert Limestone. But damn is it good. This has got to be the best limestone sport climbing in America, at least if you like the angle. The quality matches the best stuff at the French Cattle Ranch in Ten Sleep, or the best at Wild iris, except that it is often 140-160 feet tall, with consistent difficulty and featuring throughout on the standout routes. The pockets are rimmed with flowstone, and it is uncommon to actually find a downpulling hold. What results is an incredible flow of dancing movements, with all manner of underclinging, sidepulling, step throughs and foot matches. What looks like a blank slab can become bouldery compression, and what looks like a dyno can be subdued calmly with balance and strength of mind. Everything places a high demand on finger strength and footwork. Some routes have just enough holds to be possible. Others allow for your choice of creative sequences. The moderate routes have some of the best flow I've ever experienced. A guy from Utah said "this is as close as it gets to skiing powder when youre rock climbing". I agree.

 I've known my friend Angelo since I was around 12 years old. We grew up bike racing together, and independently of each other became obsessed with climbing.  I met Jonas in the Fins. He grew up in Boise, and we instantly related based on a shared love of physics and rocks.

Photo Angelo Roman
I made a quick redpoint of Al's Diner, five-point-one-three-apples. perhaps it's soft for tall folks, having several cruxes with extremely long moves from marginal holds, with good footholds being just a bit too low to be useful(for normal sized people). For me at 5' 9" it felt full value. When I sent 4th go, I managed to stick several moves that were thwarting me on the dog. I just barely held it together for some marginal .12+ slab climbing and then I was there. This is definitely the hardest vertical route that I've done, and I'm beginning to believe that it is the style I naturally gravitate towards. Jonas is pictured at the crux deadpoint,  where I went from a 1 pad sloper and a left mono to a 3 finger mini-jug. I used a hand-foot match at head level way out left, and static-d through with an improbable layaway. sneaky ninja-kick footwork unlocked the move for me, and I'm glad because I may be the worst dynamic climber I know. I had time to check out three other 5.13s, but it started to snow and we had to bail. I want to go back. This is a style where hard work during the projecting process really pays off. On technical vertical terrain, moves can feel impossible at first but then with a tiny change of footwork or a subtle hip twist the moves flow like butter. In the future if I want to test my limits I would love to do it in a place like this.

Photo Angelo Roman

Monday, September 4, 2017

Art of Freedom

Image result for voytek kurtyka
Art of Freedom may be the best biography of an alpinist ever written. Bernadette McDonald gives us a deeply human and insightful portrait of a man who was at once a hero and a reclusive enigma. In the mountains Voytek was one of a bold generation pioneering "night-naked" alpinism, bringing next-to-nothing, surrendering everything to the will of nature, and through the act of survival raising suffering to a spiritual, artistic level.  On rock, he became the greatest free-soloist of his era. Yet all the while he exercised extreme discretion verging on paranoia, caring for the safety of his partners, frequently retreating, meticulously rehearsing his solos, and taking an almost neurotically conservative approach to risk and reward. His development of an intimate connection to the mountains and his partners led to a deep intuition that kept them safe and guided him to seemingly prescient decisions, averting disaster time after time. He is a mystic, believing that a creative energy pervades all acts, from living and breathing to artistic creation or the depth of suffering. More than a typical exposition of achievements, this book exemplifies the way mountains can give us true presence of mind if we approach the act of climbing with pure intention.

Voytek on  compassion "if true compassion for others is awakened, you start ignoring your own misery"

On perfectionism "I dont like perfectionism, I am a perfectionist"

On self-aggrandizement "I now see clearly that climbing is Art. I also see that advertising is poison, while self-advertising is the oldest disease of the human soul."

On grades "The nefarious cult of the number took the art of ascent and made it one-dimensional, robbed of its soul and artistry."

On bottled oxygen: "thou shalt not blame thy neighbor for using spectacles, condoms, or oxygen."

On guiding: " the relations between man and woman and the relations between man and mountains are better without guides."

Erhard Loretan: " when he descended from Gasherbrum IV, Voytek had become a living legend.  That is the outcome that mortals reserve for those who have cheated death."

on aging: "First commandment: thou shalt not pass by a toilet without due consideration. Second comandment: thou shalt not waste a hard-on. Third commandment: thou shalt not trust your own farts."

on ambition: "If the dream turns into public ambition, it's very bad for the dream."

With Chinese Maharajah, he was likely the first person to free-solo 5.13. He established a new route on Trango Tower. His high point on the great West Face of Makalu in 1981 with Alex Macintyre has never been surpassed, despite numerous attempts with superior equipment and training. The ability of his generation to suffer and overcome technical difficulty with rudimentary tools is without equal. The late great Todd Skinner met Voytek in 1988. After seeing Todd's presentation about free-climbing the Salathe wall, Voytek showed him a picture of Trango, igniting the fire that would eventually see Todd establish the Cowboy Direct in 1995 with a 4 man Wyoming team.

Source: Steve Bechtel

""What I remember most about that fortuitous meeting with Voytek Kurtyka was the wild look in his eyes," Todd said. " I recognized in him a kindred spirit." Voytek hauled out several photos of the East Face of Trango and spread them on a table. Todd was stunned. "Beautiful sunlit granite, laser cracks, extreme exposure," he raved."

While his great climbs are numerous, his great failures are perhaps his crowning achievement, most notably the Shining Wall of Gasherbrum IV.

Along with with One Day as a Tiger, the brilliant biography of Alex Macintyre by his friend John Porter (which features Voytek prominently), this is as good as mountain literature gets. I've had a long period of burnout with mountain stories. It seems all I can read anymore is Literary fiction and Sci-fi. I used to devour the classic mountain stories, but after editing the Alpine journal at my college, writing a few halfhearted pieces, and being inundated by the climbing media and it's commercially pumped nonsense for my entire adult life, I can no longer make it through an AAJ or even a story written by a friend. the events and challenges blend together and the combination of descriptive cliche's, a self-conscious dynamic between danger and reward, guilt and privilege, man and mountain, and uninspired pseudospiritual bullshit make it all blend together for a nauseating combination. What I wanted to read was a human element, a portrait of someone who is a genius in both climbing and life, a truly unique, iconoclastic character unlike anyone else. Alex was that unique character in One Day as a Tiger brought to life by a friend who lived it with him, and Voytek is a intriguing character without equal in Art of Freedom.

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