Climbing a first ascent on A-Peak, Cabinet Mountains, Montana: “Unprotected four-play” Grade IV, 2000′, AI4+, M6
Ben Erdman and I had both returned home from South America from yet another season of climbing and vagabonding along the eastern flank of the Andes. I had flown straight to El Calafate in November only to hit a wall of poor weather conditions in the mountains. After three weeks of festering, sport climbing, and bouldering in Chalten, it was time for me to fly north and prepare for leading two expeditions on Aconcagua. The nightmare had come true – I went, I tried, I left empty handed. But so goes the saying, you won’t know if you don’t go old chap! All said Patagonia is so beautiful and inspiring that I came away with so much more than I arrived with. New friendships, a finer appreciation for Argentinian folk dancing, killer runs on perfect trails, and some proud sends on big yellow rocks around town. I am young, and I will be back. A farewell empanada party at Ben’s house sent me off in style. I made stops in El Bolson and Bariloche to climb and visit old friends before busing up to Mendoza to work. El Bolson will always hold a special place in my heart. We spent a week in the mountains above town exploring the fantastic hut system that makes this place a true gem. When I landed in Mendoza the hot dry air reminded me that I was back for another season on one of the planets chacras: Aconcagua. The season was a cold one with big snow falls at base camp, but I managed to summit the big stone and with a group that truly loved to be in the mountains. Thanks to my beloved friend Pilar, a trendy professional from Santiago, I wasn’t four days off the summit before I was sipping a beer at a reggae concert in Pichilemu, Chile. We woke up on the beach after the concert and all was tranquilo with the heavy air and crashing waves. We walked the sands of punto de lobos and talked about our lives and our loves, how wild they had been and what the future might hold. I left a day later for home with no plans, simply to be, and digest the last three months. My friend Scott Coldiron called me a few days into a jet lag time warp. He raved about ice conditions in a little known range called the Cabinets in NW Montana. Scott had just put up several ice lines in the area and his grin suggested infinite possibilities. So the four of us went up to see what was possible on the un-climbed NE face of A Peak. What we found was a new 2000′ ice and mixed line accompanied by splitter weather. For more on the route and the area click here.
We climbed as two teams of two with long run-out’s between belays plus huge blocks of simul-climbing. I think that’s why Scott named it “un-protected four play”- no, I am fucking sure that’s why;)
A big Adventure and a stout climb with great company. Thanks guys!
Tad and I returned to El Chalten for a well deserved meal and some story swapping with friends. We felt great about being in this place in what seemed to be an uncharacteristically good weather season. Everyone was getting out and going for it. But the warm temperatures seemed to be putting the ice routes out of condition. My long time friend Jess had just made a good attempt on the Exocet Chimney on Cerro Standhardt, but what is typically a sustained 500m WI5 turned to a cold shower and they turned back. So when we jumped on the computer and it looked as though the climbing gods were opening the gates to yet another three day weather window, route selection was a point of great attention. Tad and I had left a cash at Paso Superior with the intent of returning to climb Poincenot if the weather would allow. Now that it was definitely allowing, we rationalized climbing the route in warm temperatures by getting a very early start and avoiding any kind of soft snow on the ramp as well as the possibility of getting caught in wet slides. How the mixed pitches would look was to be left to mystery. We departed town the next day in beautiful weather for the Whillans – Cochrane 5+, AI3, M4, 550m
We arrived at Paso Superior with light packs and the temperatures were quite warm as expected. We hoped the ramp would harden up during the night for easier and more speedy climbing in the morning. The night was calm, and pretending to read in my sleeping bag, I felt a world of gratitude for being at the foot of such an amazing climb. Doubts swirled and faded and an overriding calm settled in. I was anxious to climb for sure!
The alarm beeped at 1 am an hour later we were on the glacier and approaching the giant bergschrund that guards the base of the route. We chose to begin to the far left and gain the ramp directly. Stepping out with a lot of vert below was rad. Once on the ramp, we encountered good snow and ice conditions quickly making it to the mixed chimneys. The chimneys have great stone and awesome cracks to place cams and picks. The warm temperatures had made only rock protection a real option but the climbing was good. After the second pitch we went right and found M4 climbing all the same. Once at the shoulder we switched to rock shoes for the fun rock pitches to la cumbre. It was a dream!! We began to rappel from the summit around 6:30 pm and reached the shoulder above the mixed chimneys at dark. Then we rappelled through the night with only a couple hold ups with the ropes reaching the glacier at sunrise.
I felt very strongly the bond of partnership that night rappelling the rock, ice, then finally over the bergschrund to the comfort of the glacier. I never forgot that it was just the two of us out there going for it, and it was incredible. Some people get stoked on solo ascents of scary routes. I would have to agree that they are bold, even genius in there self reliance. But for now I am content with sharing my experiences in the mountains with great people. Inspiring people. In this way, the memory is not simply mine to cherish, but shared. And if there is one thing that I walked away from my time in Chile and Argentina with, it was the realization that to share is to fulfill at least one of our true purposes here on this floating sphere.
A big thanks to my larger than life friend Tad McCrea
Tad put together a VIDEO of the climb Here
After five months of good times in a far off land, my friend Tad finally arrived to El Bolson, Argentina. We cruised out to the farm where I had been working and settled in for a few days. A week later, food and gas taken care of, we departed for El Chalten and the Fitz Roy Range. Unbelievably, we arrived just in time to catch a three day weather window. So we hopped in a taxi for the Rio Electrico and made camp beneath the puma of granite, Aguja Guillaumet. Our plan was to carry over our gear to Paso Superior for an attempt on Aguja Poincenot later in the week. And on the way over, climb the Amy Route on Aguja Guillaumet.
Check out the VIDEO Tad put together Here
Somehow, we managed to summit our first peak not three days after arriving in El Chalten. Needless to say, we were jazzin hard all the way down to town. What a joy to combine so many technical aspects of climbing in this dream of a setting. I was so impressed with the beauty and quality of rock on the route. We felt handed a gift.
Colchuck Lake is an incredible place to be. It was made even more incredible by the perfect weather and climbing conditions we found on 2 days in early May, 2012.
Taking advantage of the cold snap, my good friend Nick Gaddy joined me to climb the Triple Couloirs Route on Dragon tail Peak. The road was still closed and we giggled that it would probably open the day we left due to the lacking fluff on the way up. After hiking the 8 miles up to Colchuck Lake, we decided to scurry off to the North Buttress Couloir of Colchuck Peak for our first day in the area. On this climb, Nick and I shared a wonderful sunny day in such a beautiful place. I think Climbing in this time of years is especially beautiful. Youthful snow lingers in every crack and corner of the towering Giants. Summers rapid approach reminding you that with every days sun the alpine environment is changing, much like in the rest of the world. And as so often happens when I climb and sleep in the mountains, I begin to perceive the planet as another world entirely, the scale, the life force energy, The calm that surges after a day out among Giants. I see clearly what I am always on the look out for: the beauty.
Triple Couloirs was next, so we made dinner and listened to the waves of wind swirl above our heads.
The next day we woke at 3am to catch the first of three Couloirs on Dragontail Peak in cold shape. It turned out to be a really fun alpine ice climb in an unforgettable setting. I just kept imagining that some gnarled hard-skinned creature was going to pop out of his cave to stare blankly in our direction. A Perfect day for our intentions, and a great spring trip to start the summer….Or at least the next 10 days living out of my car in Icicle Creek before I depart for Chile!
Illumination Rock is located just above timberline lodge ski area on Mt. Hood. In winter, the routes are mixed rock and ice climbing. The route we climbed was 4 pitches of M4 – AI4. The protection was mostly rock in splitter cracks. For April, the climbs seemed quite winter-esque making the placement of gear even more fun than usual. Moving among sugar gargoyles put me in a total dream-like head space.
I had only seen fluffy mushrooms of ice in magazines, so it was great to touch them. Stoke seemed to be running through my veins….
Below is a topo of the rock with routes:
The East Face of Mt. Hood, just above the Meadows Ski Area, is becoming well known in certain climbing circles. It’s no secret that climbers have been flocking to this beautiful Volcano for a century to climb the more standard routes. However, the East face, or “Black Spider”, has seen considerable attention from the alpine ice climbing world in the last few years. Two first ascents were done in the winter of 2010. One of which was the “Center Drip” WI3, III, 1000′ by myself and partner Wayne Wallace. And the second was the “Frick-Amos” AI4, by Bill Amos and Dustin Fric.
Our new route ascends the rock wall directly on beautiful moderate alpine water ice. It had taken my partner 23 years to climb the line, it was a pleasure to accompany Wayne on this classic ice route. We were stoked after seeing a picture of the wall in ill-sick-nasty condition in a CC.com post. After the quick scenic drive from Pullman we parked the Prius and packed our sacks. We walked past the Meadows Ski Resort, chair lift, and right up towards the wall. On the way up, the ski patrol (or “red coats” as I call them) were very adamant that we needed to exit the resort terrain, which we assured them would happen once we got high enough. They finally let it be, and we set up a camp in time to watch the sun slip behind the Planet. It all went really smoothly the next day. Perfect weather and an early start are all an alpine climber needs, right? We stumbled onto the summit by around 10am to the surprise of some really awesome Oregonian south side climbers. Where the hell did you come from? they asked. I pointed my pelvis to the east and told them, “the fucking black spider!”
The wall produces climbs nearly every year, and I do feel that one day it will be considered “classy” for its aesthetic alpine ice climbs. It should go without saying that this hunk of ice and rock would be crossed and circled with climbing routes if it were located in reach of European ice tools….but its not, so lets keep going up there and climb some mixed routes!
You can see the climbing Video by clicking here
The alpinist.com article here
The Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary on” Climbing Mt. Hood” by clicking here
Here is a topo of the wall:
COLONIAL PEAK – NEW ROUTE 2010
On a perfect weekend in February 2010, I met up with Geoff Cecil and climbed a new route on the North Face of colonial Peak in the Cascades of Washington State. We felt lucky to have climbed in such perfect weather in the middle of Winter. The temperature at night was right around freezing making for a pleasant night on the face. I wrapped myself in a tarp on the ledge we stomped out, humming with delight.
This climb is a good alternative to the more sustained Watusi-Rodeo Route. Below are some links to more information on the climb. Get Stoked for Winter in the Cascades!
North West Alpine Journal Report Here
Geoffs Report Here
Short Video Here
The Snake River is home to some challenging sporty rock climbs, but few realize that every year when the temperatures drop, Ice climbing can be had on either side of the water. The climbs are conveniently locate in the vicinity of Granite Point, a popular rock climbing area in the Palouse. For the climbs on the South side of the river, a boat can be launched just opposite of the climbs making for a pleasant paddle on calm water.
One Winter day in 2010, departing Pullman during the calm that so often inhabits Saturday mornings, my two partners and I made the 40 minute drive to the Snake River. We hauled an aluminum canoe, planning to cross the river and explore the unclimbed ice that could be seen from the north bank of the river. We crossed a quiet flow of water and landed beneath our first climb. Ben Herndon, a local photographer set up to take some shots, while Craig Pope and I climbed “Wilma’s Life Jacket” 20m (WI3+). The climb was the most likely prospect during our gentle paddle, and it was a cool single pitch climb in a Fjord like setting with the huge expanse of water below. We then hopped back in our canoe and paddled west to climb “No Wake Zone” (WI3+). This particular climb is wide, and would be great for a large party (outdoor rec. group) of people looking to hone there skills. I had crossed water, or ice rather, to climb on the seldom reached west side of Banks lake in the winter of 2007. I remember how much more out-there it felt than the climbs with the road right below. These climbs on the snake feel so much better than that. The setting. The beauty.
Since this day on the Snake, I have wanted to make apparent to WSU or UI students, and residents of the Palouse area, that there is in fact ice climbing in their part of the world – a place that is all too often labeled baron of such activities. During my time at WSU I climbed ice in Elk River falls, ID. The Snake River area, and unsuccessfully on the misty walls of Palouse Falls. More First ascents are a sure thing for those willing to get out in the still air Palouse winters.
To see more of Ben Herndon’s photography click here.
Banks lake is so under the radar. The season is usually short, but on occasion the great climbs form up nicely. I have been climbing here since the beginning, and every year since. In six years I had climbed nearly all of the frozen drips I had dreamed possible. But the awesome thing about ice climbing is that the climbs change every year and new ones pop up where you thought they never would. I once had a partner/mentor give me sound advice about the formation of frozen water falls. Explaining that there must be a combination of: water feed from snow or another source, freezing temperatures, thawing temperatures, and all of this with the magical ingredient – Time. But, every year I am surprised by the unpredictability of these things. This year, the sure-thing climbs that always form up at Banks Lake didn’t. There just wasn’t enough snow on the ground to feed the drips. But what blew my mind was the two big ones (The cable WI5+ and Zenith WI6+) formed to the ground. I had never seen the cable reach so close. And in a year when not 5 climbs formed for more than 3weeks.
I only top roped The cable, but it proved as long and sustained as it always appeared. Craig Pope lead Zenith in crazy conditions and it was amazing to follow. The climb was so chandaleer’ed at the middle pillar that it should get a mixed rating – Craig used a .75 camalot in a basalt pocket 20 ft. run-out, and the first 30 ft. of the climb would not take protection. The uniquely talented climbing photographer Ben Herndon was able to take some amazing photos as usual. I was very happy to finally be on both of these beautiful ice climbs.