Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hunting Squid on the Winter Solstice

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
 whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;
 whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses,
 and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet;
 and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me,
 that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street,
 and methodically knocking people's hats off—then,
 I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
 This is my substitute for pistol and ball.
 With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword;
 I quietly take to the ship.

-Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The sun bleached ice of the rarely formed Squid

The words of Captain Ahab are often the thoughts I find myself having, but instead of the ship, I am drawn quietly to the ice.  On this day of the Winter Solstice 2013 Gordon and I were fortunate enough to find the Squid and it's neighbor Tentacles in marginally climbable condition.

I had often thought about climbing the Squid but always felt a certain trepidation for the infamous steep ice route.  My fears and apprehension were quickly put to rest as I started up the line.  Although the ice was rotting on the surface, good screws could be found in the solid runnels behind.  And though the route was straight on vertical, good stems and occaisional secure hooks could be found.

Starting up the fore-shortened route

Good stemming to be had

Decent stances to place protection

Topping out the main flow of the Squid
Gordon followed the line and finished the short upper pillar to the tree anchor.  We rapped the route and discussed which line to climb next; Calamari or Tentacles.  Calamari was a bit overripe, rotted and looking precarious.  I think we missed it by a week.  However, Tentacles, though also a little rotted, looked doable.

Gordon setting up his camera for the time-lapse

Gordon starts up the mixed route Tentacles

Insecure thin ice required careful protection
Onto the hollow pillars
The right side proved to be better ice, but steep

The final steep pillar, a pulled tool and a nice save
The route looked to continue up a dry crack to a ledge system that likely reached the upper cliff band, but time was running short.  Gordon put in an anchor and lowered off, giving me a toprope as I seconded and cleaned the pitch.  I would have liked to have tried the final dry tooling, but didn't want to be scratching around in the dark, so I put in a couple nuts and rapped to the base.  

For the shortest day of the year, and in RMNP, it was rather easy-going.  Cold temps at 10F, but little wind and a short approach of under 2 hours made for a nice outing.  We each got a lead on routes that were new to us and the hike back was quick.  My appetite temporarily satiated, I could now return to the world of men...

Deep Freeze Direct

Close the doors, put out the light
You know they won't be home tonight
The snow falls hard and don't you know
The winds of Thor are blowing cold
They're wearing steel that's bright and true
They carry news that must get through

They choose the path where no-one goes
They hold no quarter,
They hold no quarter.

-No Quarter by Led Zeppelin

The Deep Freeze gully hiding it's jewel

The Lyrics of No Quarter had to be inspired by Rocky Mountain National Park alpine climbs.  Darkness, heavy snow and arctic winds are the typical winter conditions found as we search for those obscure paths where no-one goes.  My good friend Dick Stone was recently feeling the pull and enthusiastically agreed with my suggestion of Deep Freeze as a worthy objective.

With the traditional early start we marched up towards Loch Vale.  Wearing the steel that's bright and true, in this case Black Diamond Stinger's, I made my way into the cleft of Deep Freeze.  The climbing was not terribly difficult, but certainly bizarre.  Dry tooling the east wall and soft steps across a snow mushroom put me in a perfect belay position at a large chockstone.  We hauled the single pack up to the chockstone directly, as there was not room for it in the narrow chimney.

Looking into the void from the first belay as Dick dry tools to the level of the snow mushroom

Past the snow mushroom, Dick prepares for the long reach towards the chockstone
No good shot of the start of the second pitch, but Dick, pretty much off the couch, lead up the awkward chockstone and continued into the rising snow-covered rockslab gully with surprising dexterity.  With dual point crampons and leashed straight tools Dick made short work of the steep cruxes that followed.  Gear was somewhat scarce but I couldn't hear any wining from above, only a quick comment of 'looks a little thin here.'  Stopping to excavate around a snow mushroom, Dick was rewarded with the slings of a hidden anchor.  Who knew what they were attached to, but clipping them gave him the confidence to quickly move on and finish the odd runnout pitch.

Dick completing the short steep approach ice, the hidden jewel just around the corner

Leaving the lower gully behind us we simul-climbed the upper Deep Freeze gully leading to the steep approach ice.  Dick took us into the Deep Freeze ampitheater finding the brittle cold ice easier to climb than to protect.  I took the lead on the stepped out pillar.  The climbing was easier than the first time I'd been up it, but I was a bit knackered so it was still an even battle.

Dick finishing the thin steep section of the Deep Freeze pillar

Dick pulling the ropes after his rap from the pillar
We made the rap out of the gully and scrambled to the top of the Necro raps as the sun was fading away.  The wind kept blowing throughout our descent and pushed us hard from behind as we recrossed Loch Vale heading back to the trailhead.  The gusts had to have been close to 50mph as we struggled to keep from loosing our footing on the frozen lake.  The well-packed snow trails quickly brought us back down the roughly 3 mile journey to the awaiting car.  

A long day, darkness, snow, wind, cold and a place hardly no one visits.  It was another grand day in the park... and a reminder that RMNP gives No Quarter...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ahhh Hot Dog!

"Hot Dog"

Well I just got into town today 
To find my girl who's gone away 
She took the Greyhound at the General Store 
I searched myself I searched the town 
When I finally did sit down 
I find myself no wiser than before

Led Zeppelin

The object of our obsession, rising into the spindrift mists of the North Face of Notchtop,
ahhhh, it's just Hot Doggies! 
A well-compacted snow trail quickly brought Billy and me to the snow slopes below the North Face of Notchtop.  We had come to give ourselves a go on the Park classic Hot Doggies.  I had followed the 70+ foot pillar a year earlier on a frigid February day with Gordon.

Feb 2012
Nov 2013

Hot Doggies has been given as high a difficulty rating as Grade 6 ice by Jack Roberts.  The Pillar was first climbed by Alex Lowe, Erick Winkleman and Jeff Lowe

It's the difficulty of that "unbelievable stuff" that drops his colleagues' jaws. At the tender age of 22 he cramponed his way up Hot Doggies, a radical new line of rock and ice in Rocky Mountain National Park รน a feat that inspired climber Jeff Lowe (another example of the weird plenitude of mountaineering Lowes; also no relation to Alex) to introduce a new "M" (for mixed) difficulty rating- Bruce Barcot (Outside Mag)

Comparing my own experiences and the ice conditions of 2012 and 2013, I'd call it a solid Grade 5 pillar.  Feb 2012 yielded it's own unique conditions; bulletproof, brittle, steep with full winter weather adding to the grade.  Nov 2013 conditions were much different in many ways.  Melting in the early morning sun, the route was crumbly down low (single points slicing through the ice), but soft in the middle.  The route was just as steep, but one had to contend with funky, hollow, and fragile ice.  Climbing below a free hanging 'dagger' and the constant stream of water falling from above added it's challenges.

Our first view of route sitting below and left of Notchtop
We chose to approach the route via the Grade 4+ ice sheet below and right of Hot Doggies seen on the top picture.

Billy leading on the Steeps
Stemming to cure the pump
Billy finished the pitch in excellent style and brought me up to his tree belay. I led up some easy ice and across a bench to below Hot Doggies.  No excuses now!

Here goes nothin' (photo by B. Clapp)
A little over-hanging here (photo by B. Clapp)
Short rest just ahead
As I started up the next section I noticed I was running a bit low on ice screws with only a stubby and a 19cm remaining.  A little more runout than I would prefer, I stopped halfway up the free hanger, put in a V-thread, and backcleaned the screw behind me.
The free hanger on the left, though fragile, allowed a nice stem (photo by B. Clapp)
Ringing the water out of my saturated gloves I could see my hands were blue from the leather die.  I quickly brought Billy up to the belay.

Billy is drenched like a wet rat as he tops out
Walking out after another great day
Billy had his hardest lead to date, as did I.  I look forward to returning to the area soon for further ice adventures

Another project?
And yet more??

Climbing into Darkness

The rains of Fall 2013 continue to deliver rare works of frozen masterpieces.  The G-man and I enjoyed a reprieve from our usual long slog to Long's for a pleasant hike to the south side of Loch Vale and the Thatchtop-Powell buttress.
Necrophilia vanishing before our eyes

With a full compliment of gear I started up the sublimating face.  This was my consolation for backing away from the Smear of Fear.  Here was a climb I could deal with; thin ice, but decent rock protection and only short runouts.

Geared out (photo by G. Laurens)
Driving through Necro (photo by G. Laurens)
Eyeing the Necromancer (photo by G. Laurens)

Gordon following the sexual deviant
Approaching the thin line of the Necromancer
Only smears remain of the Necromancer 'Pillar'

Pulling hard through the crux
Gordon continued past the belay and on to the start of the buttress bench.  With some easy scrambling we made our way to the Deep Freeze approach ice in the next gully to the left.

Gordon leading the approach ice with anticipation building to what we will find
Deep Freeze as big as it gets!  No free hangers here.
On the Pillar (photo G. Laurens)
Moving through the middle (photo G. Laurens)

Steep ice approaching the crux

Precision swings on thin ice

Sunset at the top of Deep Freeze

A clawed hand appears from the Darkness!

Thankfully it's attached to Gordon.
A rap down Deep Freeze pillar, the approach ice, some scrambling in the dark, and a long rap down Necrophilia brought us back to the base and the usual apres climb gear sort.  A great day in the mountains...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Field's Chimney to Broadway

On Saturday November 2nd, Gordon and I got a really early start headed for the Long's Cirque and Field's Chimney.  We were passed by a couple guys headed of course to Field's Chimney as well.  With no reason to rush now that we were 2nd in line, we took an easy pace that put me at the base 3:45 after leaving the Long's Trail Head.

Donning extra clothing for the exposed hike out of the trees

After waiting until the 1st party was well above the 1st pitch, Gordon started up the chimney.  The leading party kept the ice fall to a minimum.  I quickly followed the pitch and started leading up the 2nd.

The guys above were nice enough to catch this shot of the WI4 section

Gordon following P2
The lead party rapped from just above the ice of P3 and we continued on.

Gordon setting up for the crux move
The final stem and hook before pulling over
I following the tricky roof and continued up the next 300' of varied terrain.  Quite an interesting pitch with easy to funky M5 rock, ice pockets and frozen turf.  We simuled the last 100'.

Gordon arrives on Broadway
Looking over to the Window and the new route Window Pain
Gordon traversing to the Broadway Raps
Gordon starts the 1st of 3 raps to the upper snow field
A long hike out in the dark made for a full day of adventure!