250,000:1

(ed. note: click on the panoramas for larger versions)

250,000:1 was the scale of the map I spent most of last week looking at. It’s how I feel trying to write about it- I need 250,000 words to describe just one: Alaska

ANWR, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park

Only this place.

This trip, I went to celebrate one of my favorite couples tying the knot. I got to introduce my special lady friend to my special friendly place. I got to see a pile of other wonderful people and places that have shaped the scale of my mental universe.

Margaret and Michael- your partnership is a blessing to all of us.

Margaret and Michael- your partnership is a blessing to all of us.

After celebrating in Palmer, and having the honor of playing my cello as my good friend Margaret walked down the aisle, Abigail and I took the rare chance to get into the Brooks Range in Gates of the Arctic National Park. One extremely generous friend loaned us an appropriate vehicle, another collected our soggy selves on the return.

Getting soggy.

Getting soggy.

A few notes about visiting the Gates of the Arctic National Park:

  • There are no trails.
  • There are no trailheads
  • There are no roads that actually cross inside the park boundary
  • There are no medical or rescue services
  • There are no other visitors
  • There is a gift shop

The Brooks Range is the most pure, wild place I have ever been. I love it for the unique depth of its wilderness. For the steep price of commitment and effort it requires to visit. For the singular vibrancy that only tracing the edge of the unknown can reveal.

alaska river crossing

Into the wild.

Maid of the mist.

Maid of the mist.

We also had a pile of fun. Since there are no trailheads, we started our trip based on identifying major topographic features from the road, crossing a major river, and walking into the woods. On our second afternoon we discovered we had, yet again, underestimated the scale of our map, and started our trip 15 miles south of our original itinerary.

caribou, antlers, caribou shed, gates of the arctic national park

Signs of the locals.

The mistake allowed us to let go of the arbitrary goal we had picked on the map and accept the spectacular place we had found ourselves.

Full grown bull moose at 300 yds.

Full grown bull moose at 300 yds.

Hammond River Valley, Alaska

Hammond River Valley

Just after snow, smile.

Just after snow, smile.

Our mistake also allowed us to play our hand against typically Alaskan weather. We set up base camp, drank coffee while it rained and dashed out when the clouds broke. Thanks to Abigail for her wisdom in making the most of the alternate path. Intermittent rain followed us down the road home, but broke up south of the Alaska range, just in time to see Denali before we met friends and flew back to Seattle.

The Great One, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Great One, Denali National Park, Alaska

Goode Glacier Gone Bad

8 years ago I read a trip report about Mt. Goode from my desk in Portland. It inspired me, and made me realize how much I had to learn about climbing. Other objectives lured me away over the years and the out of reach dream didn’t stick. I haven’t often really bit off more than I could chew in these climbing adventures, and there is only one way to fix that.

“Car to car” typically means that you don’t carry sleeping gear- you just expect to be on the move no matter how long it takes. The risk of spending a cold night out is off-set by packs made lighter without sleeping gear. It is also a good way to guarantee an adventure.

trail running, maps, brooks running shoes, stretching

Something Goode is happening.

Running has always come naturally to me, and given that I’m nursing a shoulder injury, it makes more sense to combine long days and more moderate climbing to get my adventure fix. Doing the standard route on Mt. Goode car to car seemed like a laughably audacious goal. A 30 mile round trip with 3,000ft of gain on the approach, a glacier crossing, and a 3,000ft rock buttress? If I wanted to fail, at least I picked something worthwhile to fail at. I wasn’t so sure myself, so I picked a partner that has always inspired the best in me. In both climbing and life, Ky has shown me how to be stronger than I think I am- and he was just as game to find his endurance limit as I was. The goal was just to keep moving.

PCT, pacific crest trail, north cascades national park, stehekin

This is a cool sign. But it was the wrong sign.

We left Bellingham at 8pm, and got to sleep at 11pm. Up at 430a and jogging down the trail at 530a. There was already more than enough daylight. Confident, we raced the warming day until we reached the trail junction from the Pacific Crest down to Stehekin. We pounded a little food and I checked the map. Despite both reading the route description to each other while looking at the map, we had mistaken which trail led to the North Fork of Bridge Creek. Our elation from the fast travel faded into disdain for having added an extra 5.4 miles onto our already marathon day.

We kept moving.

Mt. Goode, North Cascades National Park, Storm King Peak

At first glance.

Back to the previous junction and up the correct drainage. We continued to put down miles and race the heat. Due to the location of the route on the massif, you cannot see any of the route or approach until you are standing directly below it. The guidebook says “cross the creek, ascend the talus slope, and gain the glacier to access the bottom of the rock buttress.” Somehow, I think we both figured the 21 miles of approaching was the hard part, and we were wrong. Even from the creekbed 2,000ft below, just getting to the base of the cracked up, barren glacier was going to be the real adventure.

We couldn’t bail without taking a look, so we slathered on some sunscreen and- kept moving. The east face baked as the clocked ticked past noon, then 1pm. Slick granite slabs gave way to vertical bushwhacking through head-high alder. It got hotter as we climbed. Despite plenty of daylight, mid-afternoon is a terrible time to cross a glacier, especial one with many cracks and not much real snow. We found a single unlikely lead up about a 1/2 mile east of the rock route we were hoping for. Any remaining hope of rock climbing was instantly swallowed in the enormous, complex bergschrund crossing that guards the entire face.

Welcome to the shutdown.

Welcome to the shutdown.

Worked and sunburned, downclimbing the approach was nothing to look forward to. Shaky legs make downclimbing even spicier, and we started setting rappels as soon as we hit the lower granite slabs. Thank you to the others that have obviously done the same and left some rappel tat for us.

Not the time nor place to rush.

Not the time nor place to rush.

Our tiny rope set up gave us just enough to work with. We kept moving.

River crossing, or foot icing?

River crossing, or foot icing?

We made it back to the creek at 545p. Once on the trail, it was just a mental game to keep turning the legs over. Blood sugar dropped, blisters rose, and nightfall set in. We kept moving.

It was a push to make the car, but that was the point. At 1045pm we tore into the maple bacon potato chips and sat heavily on the tailgate of Ky’s Subaru. Bailing didn’t honestly feel like much of a failure at all. We had covered 38 miles, used almost everything in our packs, and enjoyed an authentic Cascade experience. It was my longest day in the mountains to date, and I do think it’s possible to summit with a little better preparation and conditions. Many thanks to Ky for the amazing day out, and powering through the drive home so we could have cooked breakfast the next day- I couldn’t ask for a tougher, or better partner.

Zero or Two for Two

“I just want you both to know that I did not really think that was fun.

Mt Rainier, weather, whiteout, Mt Rainier National Park.

Rainier summit #2.

12 hours prior I had loudly exclaimed “I love mountaineering,” after 6 hours of hauling a heavy pack up to the Ingraham glacier on Mt. Rainier. I was psyched for the adventure of tying into the rope, showing new friends a beautiful mountain, and sleeping on snow. After a beautiful sunset and a few hours rest, Abigail, Paul, and me summited in a 40mph, freezing rain whiteout. It was the second time I’ve summited Rainier, and my second time being totally shut out of the view. On the way up, we had been led to believe otherwise.

Splitter.

Splitter from the car.

At the beach.

Paul at the beach.

Baja, Washington. A' rocking her brand new AT setup.

Baja, Washington. Pink tights aren’t just for running.

We got started under clear skies and warm weather. The forecast looked in our favor, and we got some of the last un-reserved permits to get up high on the mountain. While we regretted the longer walk, I was happy to camp away from the crowds at Camp Muir, and show Abigail a proper snow camping experience. The view from camp didn’t hurt my case:

Mt Rainier National Park, Little Tahoma, climbing Rainier, mountaineering, Ingraham Flats

Little Tahoma from camp.

Makin' water.

Makin’ water.

Mt Rainier, like the rest of Washington (and the west coast) is way below average snowpack this year. The route is much more in late July conditions and made for scrappy climbing. We were more than happy to follow the guide service flags up the long walk to the summit. We left much earlier than I expected, at 1am, and I made a point of watching for stars against the black sky. All seemed well.

Seattle traffic.

Seattle traffic.

We passed and got passed by various parties, and started the last 1000 vertical feet around 445am. The wind was picking up and the high grey cloudband caught my attention- and I didn’t choose to bail. So we walked, and the guided parties walked, and we all ended up at the top around the same time, and it was whiteout. Whiteout like a golf-ball, and windy like the inside of the ductwork I design. Paul ran off for a quick trip to the true summit and Abigail and I hunkered down to try and stay warm. It was not a fun summit experience.

Huh, my water doesn't want to come out of there...

Huh, my water bottle doesn’t perform in these conditions…

We raced for lower elevations, only to find the storm chasing us down the mountain. Just above the Cleaver, the clouds flattened their descent and we rested to take in what little view we got.

Respite from maelstrom.

Respite from maelstrom.

Further down, we found loose slush and snuck past enormous cracks we hadn’t noticed in the predawn black. We collected our camp and despite dreams of hot drinks while up top, the impetus to beat the heat on the way down prevailed. Travelling downward, your pack gets heavier as the crampons, then rope, then skins get piled on, but once we picked up our skis at Muir we made good time.

Driving back, the satisfaction of hard work and sweat mixed with the simple dejection of a bitter summit. Kudos to Abigail for absorbing a huge amount of new information, gear, and harsh conditions. I can’t honestly say that it gets easier with time, but I want to believe that it does. Kudos to Paul for charging into the next phase of his outdoor skillset and making all the water for our crew. There’s more to be done on this particular bump, but that can wait for next year.

Room with a View

Sunset on the Olympics

Sunset on the Olympics

So I’m here now.  The project I had hinted towards at New Years is largely complete. New job, new house, new city, same girl (thankfully). From the skylight in my bedroom I have a view of Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle, the window opposite frames a skyline of the Olympic Mountains. It’s a good place to keep perspective on how substantially life has changed in the past few months. My instruments are neatly at the ready in one corner, and my gear is stacked waiting for the next adventure.

In the city now.

In the city now.

Being official.

Being official.

I stand behind saying my employment in Missoula was a worthwhile time that has served my career well. I also say that the folks at McKinstry & Co. are as smart, hardworking, and innovative as any group of engineers and contractors I’ve found anywhere. I’m working hard, learning a lot, and pretty damn happy about it. They have a commitment to their people, and their community, that I’ve seen rarely in the private sector. We “design, build, operate, & maintain” company, and they do it for both their buildings and their people. I’m already looking forward to being here for a while.

A company-wide day of service got us re-landscaping a low income neighborhood.

A company-wide day of service got us re-landscaping a low income neighborhood.

The local recreation is more than adequate, people are largely friendly and unpretentious, and I am regularly blown away by how beautiful the city is. My house on the hill is a wonderful place to come home to, and the two friends I’m living with seem like an ideal fit. While I miss Missoula (and my incredible friends there most of all), the landing here hasn’t been nearly as hard as I feared.

One last day of a season that didn't happen.

One last day of a season that didn’t happen.

The local hill ain't too shabby.

The local hill ain’t too shabby (@Mt. Rainier).

I came for my career but suddenly the options seem wider, the opportunities deeper, and there is nothing so refreshing as breaking all of your habits and reforming your life one more time.

Not So Red

“It’s totally beautiful, but they aren’t that red.” Abigail said to me.

Greg- crushing. It is kinda more brown than red...

Greg- crushing. It is kinda more brown than red…

I had no retort. We were hiking back to Brownstone Wall, deep in the Red Rocks National Conservation area. You can see the massive, completely brown wall, almost as soon as you leave the car. Given the name, I could understand her surprise, especially after the Wingate sandstone I had just been climbing in Utah.

Tess, crushing. It gets more red in the evening light.

Tess, crushing. It gets more red in the evening light.

I left Indian Creek on a Wednesday morning and took slow roads down to Flagstaff, AZ to spend the night with Jody, Deb, and their amazing baby Elston. It had been a few years since I had seen them, and I was glad to catch up. They are full on masters of balance careers, parenting, and adventures. Hopefully I can tempt them north.

Me.  I don't know... I think it's pretty red.

Me. I don’t know… I think it’s pretty red.

Thursday I poked around Flag, then boogied to Vegas to meet Tess and Greg. After the severity of the Creek, I was excited to enjoy the relatively mellow climbing in Red Rocks and enjoy the company of close friends. That said the sport climbing flexed an entirely different set of muscles. We got after it pretty well.

Lovely lady in the desert!

Lovely lady in the desert!

I had invited Abigail to join us as soon as the dates were solid, and she flew in Friday night. I couldn’t have been more excited to see her, and share climbing in such a fantastic place. We got after some sport climbing on Saturday (many crowds), and hiked back to “Armitron” (III, 5.9 5p) on the Brownstone on Sunday.

Abigail, not looking down like a pro.

Abigail, not looking down like a pro.

Getting a good moderate route to yourself on a weekend day in Red Rocks is no small feat, and I was relieved to find the wall empty after the 90 minute walk. The climbing was excellent, but I did a poor job of managing exposure while leading a beginner. Abigail did a wonderful job of facing her fears and trusting my leads while we dispatched the 500′ face. Once we were on the walk-off though, her running legs kicked in, and she led all of us back to the car.

Psyched to know these two.

Psyched to know these two.

Tower top out. Worth the hike.

Tower top out. Worth the hike.

I’ve done bigger, longer climbs, but after climbing 11 out of 14 days, I work up on Monday completely worked. We shared a leisurely breakfast and a quick tour of the absurdities of the Vegas strip before we said goodbye to Tess and Greg, and I dropped Abigail at the airport. She had work on Tuesday, and I was suddenly thrown into the mission of moving to Seattle.  After the trip last year, and this short stay, I’m really starting to like Red Rocks, red enough or not.

Amazing walk off.

Amazing walk off.

Hiko, NV. Worth taking the backroads home.

Hiko, NV. Worth taking the backroads home.

Indian Creek – The Breath

Creek Life is the best life.

Creek Life is the best life.

"Green Eggs and Ham" (5.10) at Second Meat Wall. A nice wide workout.

“Green Eggs and Ham” (5.10)

“Breathe Skander, breathe. Then fight.” Damian called up to me for seemingly the fifteenth time. His words had inspired me up the route, so I didn’t mind the repeated commands. Earlier on the climb I was sitting on a #5 Camelot fighting to catch my breath, having just violated the first rule of offwidth climbing: it’s an endurance game of endless small movements that each add up to something beautiful.

Offwidths have long been strangely attractive to me, and despite being tired late on my sixth day of climbing in the Creek, “Green Eggs and Ham” is a beautiful, short 5.10 off-width crack that inspired me for the lead.

Rest day art shot.

Rest day art shot.

My rest day and the arrival of Damian and Darcy on Saturday, March 14 bolstered my confidence to get back into the teeth of Indian Creek climbing. More on the two of them later, but they know me from climbing and working in Montana, and were not going to let me get away with anything less than giving my best to this incredible place. We went back tot he cliffs, and I got on the lead end of the rope. I got scared, I fell on my gear, and I bled. It was awesome, and it changed my entire experience of the place. My technique improved, I started having more fun, and suddenly being in the place just clicked. It is some of the most spectacular climbing I have ever done.

Dave and I, cracking the whip at Pistol Whipped wall.

Dave and I, cracking the whip at Pistol Whipped wall.

The evening lights were spectacular.

The evening lights were spectacular.

Vicki, another Missoula friend and newbie to Indian Creek also showed up on Sunday, and with Dave, Damian, and Darcy, we continued to sample a variety of spectacular cliffs. After a few more days, I could tell my body was spent. I had just a little bit more, and I had always wanted to do the Easter Island tower in the Bridger Jack formation- it is short, classic, and fun.  The spine of towers boasts a huge variety of routes, and Easter Island is the easiest of them all.

It's up there!

It’s up there!

We met Ben and Mark from Grand Junction at the bottom, and they followed us up to make the rappel easier. I led both pitches and despite some very sporty climbing on the second pitch, we all had a pile of fun. It was Vicki’s first tower, and fun to have another party on top with us.

Strangely, the crux is on face holds with bolts...

Strangely, the crux is on face holds with bolts…

Easter Island summit party.

Easter Island summit party.

So much fun in fact, that Mark and Ben trailed a rope up Sparkling Touch Tower to let us draft off their lead. I didn’t have the lead in me, but was happy to follow and look forward to repeating the route- it’s burly.

Sparkling Touch summit party.

Sparkling Touch summit party.

Sitting in Seattle the desert feels far away but the lessons are close at hand. Grab the things that scare you and hang on for the ride. Many thanks to Dave, Damian, Darcy, Vicki, Mark, and Ben for being exceptional and inspiring partners.

Goodnight Indian Creek. See you again soon.

Goodnight Indian Creek. See you again soon.

Indian Creek, UT – The Squeeze

(Before all the house-moving madness started I went on a sweet little climbing trip. The posts are past dated to get them in the right order on the blog. Enjoy.)

View from tent. Not bad for finding camp in the dark.

View from tent. Not bad for finding camp in the dark.

I’d like to say I am basically competent at traditionally protected rock climbing. After my first few days in Indian Creek, Utah, I was not so sure. “The Creek” is popular for demanding excellent technique, harder than reported climbing, and a style that is painful and physical. Vertical wrestling might be more appropriate. I wanted to visit exactly because it was hard- it’s hard to get to, hard to learn, and hard to succeed. That is to say, I wanted the beatdown. My first few days felt like a real squeeze.

The Gash, Indian Creek Utah Climbing, rock climbing, Nice and Tight, Offwidth climbing, Squeeze chimney

Leon from Ouray feels the squeeze as well on “Nice & Tight” at The Gash.

By luck alone, I didn’t get into the Creek until after dark, but managed to wander into a little backcountry campsite with a couple of great people and one absolutely climbing legend. Not sure if it helped or hurt but I spent by first day at the Creek sharing a rope with Jim Donini (probably one of the best, most legendary, most old-school badass alpine rock climbers on the planet), and his 17 yr old mentee, Mickey (who has 7 El Cap routes under his belt). It takes some time, technique, and practice to get the style of hand and foot jamming dialed- I was deeply sore and deeply humble after the first day. I walked it off up on the mesa in the evening and resolved to try again.

The master and apprentice. I am neither.

The master and apprentice. I am neither. Note the approach shoes on both, and the splitter behind.

indian creek utah, desert light, wingate sandstone,

Mesa top out.

I am very grateful for the variety of camping and climbing partners I had over the next few days. They led. I followed, and struggled. Things came together. On day 3 I knocked on the window of Dave, who was reading his guidebook at one of the main parking lots. Asking someone to climb is a little like asking someone out on a date, except that going on the date means putting your life in the hands of someone you just met. I guess that makes it more fun?

Dave, fortunately, was an ideal partner and fast friend. Encouraging and insightful, but very humble and very strong, he hung the rope on many hard pitches and belayed patiently while I slowly started to figure things out.

Dave firing the upper section of SuperCrack (5.10c). Nice lead, sir.

Dave firing the upper section of SuperCrack (5.10c). Nice lead, sir.

I only climbed 3 or 4 pitches per day those first days, and that was enough to leave me completely humbled. Even my first few beatdowns in Yosemite seemed gentle compared to Indian Creek. Friday, March 13, I headed back to Moab to lick my wounds and re-think things.