Friday, February 21, 2014

Patagonia - Mojon Rojo and Aguja de l'S

With a prediction of a small good weather spell before I had to fly home, Blake Herrington, Scott Bennett and I teamed up to do a couple of small peaks on the Fitzroy massif above Laguna Sucia. 

L to R - Mojon Rojo, de l"S, St Exupery Raphael, Poincenot, and Fitzroy
On Sunday February 2nd we hiked up to Laguna Sucia with spectacular views of the glacier calving off into the lake. 

Climbing to our bivy above Laguna Sucia
From the lake we headed straight up the hill to a bivouac cave at the edge of the glacier.  Our camp had beautiful views to the east of Laguna Sucia and Laguna De los Tres.

Mojon Rojo
After setting up our tent and eating lunch we made an afternoon ascent of Mojon Rojo.

Scrambling up Mojon Rojo
Climbing on Mojon Rojo was un-roped class 2 climbing.

Scott Bennett on the summit of Mojon Rojo
On the summit tower we roped up for about twenty feet because the exposure on the other side was huge! 
View of Cerro Torre sticking through the clouds from the summit of Mojon Rojo
We descended from Mojon Rojo back to our camp and prepared for an early start the next day.
Aguja de l'S
We got an early start up the glacier with the original intent of trying a route on St Exupery.  But the condition of the glacier and signs that the weather may not hold led us to switch to the east face of Aguja de l'S which is a shorter and easier climb.

Climbing on the Baby Face Route on the East Face of de l'S
We made a rising traverse across the east face on the Baby Face route.  Conditions were near perfect - climbing on firm narrow snow ramps that led over to where we joined the Cara Este Route.

Blake Herrington leading to the top of the summit block
It was easy going and we made rapid progress mostly simul-climbing until the summit block.  Here we encountered what would be easy 5.10 climbing if it was dry.  But all the weeks of bad weather had coated the rock with rime and ice making it a slower and more difficult process of climbing two short pitches to the top.

We rappelled down the Cara Este route and descended back down the glacier to our camp and enjoyed another evening in the mountains before hiking to Chalten on Tuesday February4th. I caught my flight in El Calafate the next day.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Patagonia - Cerro Stanhardt Exocet

The weather in Patagonia this year has been more like the "Old Patagonia".  In recent years there have been periods of extended good weather that, according to the long time Patagonia climbers, were uncharacteristic of the range.  This year there have been only a few brief 1-2 day good weather windows with lower wind speeds and no precipitation.  In many cases climbers have waited for over a month without getting even one of these marginal opportunities to go climbing.

I arrived on January 4th and within 48 hours caught a cold/flu bug that seems to have infected much of the climbers here in El Chalten.  After skipping one marginal window to recuperate, I felt well enough to take advantage of another window on January 17th when Dan Aylward and I hiked just beyond Niponino in the Torre Valley on an attempt to climb the route Exocet on Cerro Standhardt.  Unfortunately I would soon find out that I really hadn't fully recovered from the persistent bug that infected me.

Left to right - Cerro Torre (tallest peak), Torre Egger, Punta Heron, Cerro Standhardt, and the Standhardt Col.  Exocet follows the deep chimney system to the right of the summit.
Walking up the Torre valley we had spectacular views of Cerro Torre that I climbed via the west face last year with J Mills.  We walked past the usual camping spot at Niponino for another hour to the rock island directly below the Stanhardt Col where we placed our tent on a wind protected ledge with great views of Fitzroy across the valley.  We shared the ledge with two Austrian climbers, Gery and Simon who had just come down from an attempt on Exocet.  The first day of warm sun had loosened the rime ice that had been plastered on the rock walls in all the bad weather creating slides of rime into the chimney system making it impossible for them to climb.  They still had energy to make another attempt so we agreed that they should go first and we left our tent at 2:30AM on Saturday the 18th about 30 minutes behind the Austrians.

Steve climbing the short pitch out of the Standhardt Col on rime covered rock
Dan and I climbed by headlamp and reached the Standhardt Col in blustery conditions at dawn.  I climbed a short pitch to the top of the large chockstone wedged in the rick just above the Col.

Dan leading the crux rime covered 5.10 rock pitch above the chockstone
Dan led the crux rock pitch above the chockstone that was a difficult and run out rime covered slab.  There were sections of tenuous friction like climbing with crampons scraping on featureless granite.

On the traverse under the East Face towards the Exocet Chimney.
After a tension traverse at the top of Dan's pitch we moved on easier ground across a long traverse on  snowfields perched above huge walls that dropped off into the valley below.

Dan leading the first pitch in the Exocet Chimney
At the end of the traverse I led a WI 4 slot up to the base of the Exocet Chimney.  The pitch was pouring with rime ice that was melting off the upper walls and I thought we would be turned back by more of the same when we got to the Chimney.  But when I reached the belay off to the side of the main chimney, the rime stopped.

Dan at the first belay in the Chimney.  Note the narrow section in the bottom of the photo.
Dan led the first WI 5 pitch in the Chimney which was narrower and more difficult than I expected.  Unlike waterfall ice climbing, it was hard to move in the Chimney and there was only one way to go.  One section was narrower than the width of our shoulders making it hard to swing our tools into the ice at the back of the chimney.

Steve leading the 2nd pitch in the chimney looking down on Dan at the belay.
I led the second pitch in the Chimney but now I realized that I wasn't really over the cold/flu I had been fighting for the past ten days.  I moved slowly, placing too many ice screws low on the pitch so that I didn't have enough at the top and forcing me to run it out to the belay.  At one point I stopped to make a V-Thread cord of rope in the ice so I had some protection to finish the pitch.  As I finished the pitch the Austrians rappelled by after having reached the summit.  I admired their strength and efficiency in getting up the route in this tight window of good weather and conditions.

View of Poincenot across the valley from the 2nd belay
As Dan climbed up to my belay, I was coughing up phlegm and feeling weak.  When Dan joined me it was 7PM and I felt we were going to slowly, there were still four long difficult pitches above, we could see the wind above us up on the ridge was now raging, and I was sick.  I suggested that in spite of being a few hours from the top that we should go down.  I didn't want to get to the top depleted from being sick and be facing a long unknown descent in the dark with the high winds that were now hitting the mountain.  

 Soon after Dan and I started rappelling it got dark.  But with minimal problems with the rope getting hung up we made the dozen or more rappels by headlamp to get onto the glacier and follow the Austrians tracks to our last rappel over the bergschrund.

We reached our tent around 3AM and three hours later our camp was hit by high winds that signaled an abrupt end to our weather window.  We tried to sleep a bit more, but the severe tent flapping kept us awake so we packed up in the storm and headed down the glacier. 

As we walked down the Torre Glacier the wind gusts of up to 100mph would knock us off our feet.  We would have to hunker down low to the ice to wait for a lull between gusts and then run to get as far as we could before being forced to stop again during the next gust.  We eventually got off the glacier and into the forest where we were protected from the wind.  After a leisurely walk on the Laguna Torre trail we reached Chalten in time to order take out pizza and watch the Seattle Seahawks defeat San Francisco and head for the Superbowl.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Back for Canadian Rockies Ice

I headed back to Canmore Alberta in November for my annual winter ice pilgrimage.  Here are some photos of highlights on early season ice.

Tanya Scherer at the Ciniplex

Matthias Scherer on Oh Le Tabernac

Clark Gerhardt descending from Bourgeau Right

J Mills on Fearful Symmetry

J Mills toping out - Fearful Symmetry

I'm headed to Patagonia after the holidays and I will be posting from there in January!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Utah Desert

I'm several months behind with my blog so I will try and get caught up with some photos and stories of our hiking trip to various locations in the Utah desert in October.

Our first stop was in Castle Valley to visit Greg Child, his daughter Arianne, and Shannon O'Donnell (Greg and Shannon are now the happily married couple).  One of our first hikes was to the Fisher Towers.  Heaps of mud first climbed by Layton Kor, Huntley Ingalls, and George Hurley in 1962.

Fisher Towers
Fisher Towers are a series of towers made of Cutler sandstone capped with Moenkopi sandstone and caked with a stucco of red mud located near Moab, Utah. The Towers are named for a miner who lived near them in the 1880s.

Hiking with Greg, Shannon and Ari near Arches National Monument revealed some great native art on the sandstone and natural caves.

Cave near Arches National Park
At Goblin Valley State Park we hiked amongst thousands  of hoodoo rocks formed in the shape of mushroom like pinnacles.  Their shape comes from an erosion resistant layer of rock on top of a softer sandstone.

Ann hiking in Goblin Valley State Park

Ann and I made the 6 mile round trip hike to Calf Creek Falls.  The 126 foot high falls is one of the most well known and unique features in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

On the hike to Calf Creek Falls

Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

We were there around the time of the Federal Government shutdown and all the National Parks were closed.  I won't say exactly when we were there, but we did manage to get in a nice hike in Bryce Canyon National Park.   The red, orange, and white hoodoos in Bryce were formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of river and lake bed sedimentary rocks. 

Tower Bridge Bryce Canyon National Park

Fairyland Loop Trail Bryce Canyon National Park
One of the most spectacular places we hiked to was a rock formation called "The Wave" in the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.  The Wave is a set of troughs eroded into sandstone layers that exposed ribs formed by differing rates of erosion amongst these layers.

"The Wave"   Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

"The Wave"   Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

Lizard -  Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
 Again I won't say exactly when we were there, but we also managed to get in a nice hike in Zion National Park with great views of the canyon from Cable Mountain. The mountain gets its name from the cable system that was used for transporting timber into Zion Canyon. Ruins remain from the cable works that shut down in 1930. 

Zion Canyon from Cable Mountain

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wakhan Corridor

After abandoning our attempt on the north face of Karl Marx Peak, we decided to do a reconnaissance trip to the Wakhan Corridor along the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.  The Wakhan Corridor is the valley in the narrow neck of northeast Afghanistan that connects that country with China.  It separates Tajikistan to the north from Pakistan to the south.

Wakhan Corridor is the valley connecting China with Afghanistan
Wakhan Corridor is the big valley separating the Pamir Mountain Range to the north from the Hindu Kush in the south
We drove south from Khorog to the Tajikistan side of Ishkashim.  Across the Panj River is the other side of town that is in Afghanistan.  We did not go into the Afghan side of the Wakhan Corridor as we did not have multiple entry visas that would enable us to come back into Tajikistan and our way home.

The north side of the corridor separating Afghanistan from Tajikistan was created by an agreement in 1873 between Britain and Russia separating the two empires.  The agreement put an end to the Great Game which was a rivalry between these two countries for control of Central Asia.  The south side of the Corridor was created by the Durrand Line agreement in 1893 that created the boundary between Afghanistan and what was British India at that time.

Historically the Corridor was used as a trade route along the silk road to bring goods from China through what became Afghanistan and destinations further west.  Adventurers such as Francis Younghusband, Lord Curzon, Aurel Stein, and John Wood traveled through the Corridor, following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, and Ghenghis Khan.  The Communist revolutions in Russia and China in the twentieth century sealed the borders and with the current war in Afghanistan and the Pakistan tribal areas, the Corridor has become a dead end.

We stayed our first night at a clean and refreshing hot springs and walked around a 2000 year old fort that was part of the Kushan Kingdom that ruled the area from about the 1st until the 19th Century.

Looking east up the Wakhan Corridor and Panj River from 2,000 year old Kushan fort

Looking west down the Wakhan Corridor and Panj River from 2,000 year old Kushan fort
Confluence of Pamir River on left and the Wakhan River into the Panj River.  I think Koh-e-Safed (6513m) is the big mountain above the Wakhan River on the right.
As a climber I was very interested in the peaks we could see along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border south of the Wakhan Corridor.  These peaks are part of the Hindu Kush and could be easily approached from the Afghan side.  This area is isolated from the war in other parts of Afghanistan and at this time it is safe to travel there.  A number of international trekking companies were crossing into Afghanistan from Tajikistan and taking clients into the Wakhan to hike up the valley beyond the end of the road.  My understanding is climbers do not need to get permits from the Afghan Government to climb peaks there and like the trekkers, access to the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush would be easy and safe from Tajikistan.

Unknown peak in the Hindu Kush on the Afghan side of the Pakistan border south of the Wakhan

Unknown peak in the Hindu Kush on the Afghan side of the Pakistan border south of the Wakhan

Unknown peak in the Hindu Kush on the Afghan side of the Pakistan border south of the Wakhan

Unknown peak in the Hindu Kush on the Afghan side of the Pakistan border south of the Wakhan
From the Wakhan we drove back to Khorog and then to Dushanbe.  From there I flew home on August 10th.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The North Face of Karl Marx peak

On our climb of the Southwest Rib, I got a good look at the north face of Karl Marx Peak and after we got back to base camp I examined it further with the binoculars.   Based on my inspection I decided to inform Doug and Rusty that I would not to go up on the route.  I had several reasons for this;
  • The rock is not good - loose in places, and very compact with no crack systems in other places.  
  • The route is too steep, technical, and big to do in the lightweight style and minimal gear we had with us.  
  • It was hot and much of the north face was running with water during the day which combined with the loose rock meant there could be a lot of rock fall.  
  • The route we have chosen up the weakest line on the face had a big traverse halfway up.  If we got past the traverse and ran into terrain that we couldn't climb, or if someone got hurt, it  would be nearly impossible to retreat.  We wouldn't be able to rappel the traverse where we had come up.  The rock wall below the far end of the traverse looked overhanging and if we tried to go straight down from there we would be rappelling out into space away from the wall.  We also wouldn't have enough rock gear for anchors to get us all the way down.  
Rusty, and Doug were disappointed at my decision, and Doug came by awhile later and asked me to think about another option.  He  proposed that I could lead the ice pitches and they would lead all the mixed pitches.  They wanted a third person to share the work.  I said I would think about it, but the issue for me was not having to lead hard pitches - I just thought the route was dangerous and we are logistically not prepared for it.  But I thought about it and came up with a compromise which is to do a one day reconnaissance first.  We could go light and fast just to get a sense of whether the route is feasible.  I proposed this at lunch and at dinner we all agreed to do the recon as a threesome.

Approaching the North Face
On July 29th we left base camp to do our reconnaissance. Our goal was to camp that afternoon at a beautiful spot we found when we came down from the summit.  It was just off the glacier in a little pocket of soil that we called Shangri-la -  it was flat and full of wildflowers.  We got there about 10:30 as it was starting to get hot.  Rusty and Doug were looking at the face through binoculars while I was digging a tent platform in the dirt.  Rusty asked if we thought it was too hot to go up on the face.  He could see through the binoculars that there was water running everywhere on the face.  Doug mentioned that if we left at midnight we would be above the ice face in a sheltered spot at the base of the rock wall before the sun hit the face.  If there was any rockfall once it heated up, we could hang there under an overhang and wait till the sun went off the face which was around 1 or 2 PM.  Doug didn't think we would get stopped by rockfall, but he thought we might get stopped by technical difficulties.  I agreed with Doug, and we decided to go up.  It was a decision that we would soon regret.

Our camp we called Shangri-La
We left our camp at midnight anticipating that it would take 1.5 hours to get to the bergschrund (crevasse that you have to cross at the base of the wall) and then 5 hours up a 70 degree snow and ice face to the rock wall.  That would get us to the base of the rock wall by 6:30 when the sun hit the face.  We had explored the glacier approach from our camp yesterday afternoon so we didn't have to do that kind of macro-route finding in the dark.  As we went by in the dark, our headlamps illuminated a dead seabird frozen into the ice.  It was strange to see that kind of bird so far away from its natural habitat.  I should have taken it as an omen and walked away.

We made it to the bergschrund in a little over two hours, but we used more time to find a way across it.  By the time we got onto the ice face we were behind schedule by a couple of hours.  But we didn't anticipate any real problems if we were still on the ice face a little after 6:30AM as it should still be cold enough to climb for a few hours after the sun hit the face.  I already had the lead and the ice screws and rack so I took off.  Our system was I would lead as fast as I could, placing 2-3 screws in a 60 meter pitch and then set up an anchor (belay) and bring up Doug and Rusty.  They would quickly give me the gear they collected from the belay anchor and running belays and I would go again.  Once we were on the wall it was hard to tell where the upper snow and ice features were that we could see from below so we had to look at pictures on our cameras taken from Shangri-la.  We kept pitching it out and had gone about 5-6 rope lengths when the sun started to illuminate the upper wall in an orange glow.

Looking up the 6000 ft wall as the sun hit it.

I was leading about 20 feet past my last screw and Doug yelled “rock”. I instinctively looked up to see some giant boulders bouncing down the ice slope straight for me.    One in particular looked to be the size of a small hotel refrigerator.  I had been angling up and left so I thought Doug and Rusty would be safe, but that I would get clobbered.  I hunkered down with my head into the ice gripping both tools that I had planted firmly in the ice.  An small avalanche of small rocks, snow, and ice hit me, with one rock knocking my ice tool out of the ice but I didn't let go of it.  I planted it again in the ice as best as I could with the avalanche pouring over me .  It finally stopped and other than a few bruises from getting hit by small rocks, I was OK.  I looked back at Doug and Rusty and they appeared OK and I said, “shall we get out of here”?  They yelled yes so I placed a V-thread of rope in the ice and rappelled down to them.  

Doug and Rusty climbing up to the belay before the rock fall.
Doug had been hit in the shoulder by a rock and had limited use of his right arm.  There were more rocks coming down the the face so needed to get out of there as quickly as possible.  As we rappelled there was more rockfall, but nothing like the first one.  Doug got hit again in his other shoulder and one time in the face with a small rock when he looked up.  We were all worried about his face injury because there was blood everywhere.  But it was not such a big cut and luckily just missed his right eye.

Doug after getting hit in the face by a rock
We finally made our last rappel over the bergschrund and roped up for the glacier walk back to Shangri-la that we reached around 8AM.

Back on the glacier headed back to base camp
We were beat up and spent a couple of hours resting; packing: and doing a preliminary cleaning of Doug's face wound.  We reached base camp around 1PM, tired, hungry, and feeling lucky.  I felt like I should have paid more attention to my earlier instincts and to Rusty's concern about it being too warm.  Wandering past the dead seabird in the dark all by itself on the glacier also seemed like a warning.  We should have known better, but now everyone is convinced that this is not a good place to be.

Dead sea bird on the glacier far from home.  I thought it was a bad omen