Holiday Reflections

Mt Rainier Dec 24, 2013

Sunset views from Mt. Rainier, Christmas Eve 2013.

Wow, it’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post. I’ll try to keep this brief but so much has happened since the last post that I want to capture some highlights and share the best of

Christmas Eve Feast

The eve of Christmas feast

my moments with you starting with my first Muir attempt on Mt. Rainier Christmas Eve, which was beautiful and adventurous–the perfect way to start the Holiday.

It’s strange this year to know when to say Merry Christmas to my family. We have always celebrated on the eve of Christmas but it was my grandparent’s generation that held that tradition. Christmas Day was always for the immediate family and extended family visitation. Vigilia, a long held Eve tradition, has changed over the years as

Anne and Carol Sniezek
My grandparents, together again.

the family has grown but seemed to hold in my family as our central figure, my grandfather, towed the line. It is with sadness that earlier this month we said our farewells to our stronghold and changed our traditions forever more.

This was a rough fall for me knowing my grandfather would pass at any time and trying to spend as much time as I could with him and selfishly hoping he wouldn’t pass when I was traveling for work. The stress from everything weighed heavy on me and I got really sick, sicker than I’ve been in a long time. It was enough to give me pause to rethink where I want to focus my energy to prevent myself from reaching a breaking point. Happily, I can report, changes are underway.

SOAR audience

SOAR audience

Meanwhile, I’m impressed for what I have been able to achieve during this time. One of my primary focuses this year has been the success of the TEALS (teaching and literacy in schools) in Lee County. We have had some real progress with the program growing it to both the Intro to Computer Science and AP Computer Science course offerings. Increasing enrollments from 6 in Intro last year to 22 this year and 8 in the new AP class. 45% of the enrollments are girls! We have the State department of education working hard on how to take

LCHS AP Class
AP CS class, LCHS

this offering into other schools and I was invited to speak in front of some KY legislature about the program and my involvement. I m excited for the interest spawned from the talk. I want to share it with everyone so people hear the story and hopefully are inspired to do something like this in their area or help us with our initiative. You can hear the talk from an archive of the event at minute 82.

Snoqualmie tunnel
Former railroad tunnel up Snoqualmie pass in Washington State.
Photo by Luke Humphrey

While climbing is usually central to my activities, I’ve been struggling with an injury most of the fall, which has led me to explore other activities such as cycling and running. I have enjoyed road biking the Appalachian hills of Kentucky while I was there as well as reigniting my love of the NW terrain.

Another memorable moment was summiting the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart.

Mt. Stuart summit

Summit of Mt. Stuart from the complete North Ridge.
Photo by Luke Humphrey

another memorable alpine adventure was Forbidden Peak and experiencing the Alpine-scape and climbing through the eyes of a photographer.

Boston Basin

Boston Basin
Photo by Luke Humphrey

During the summer I was fortunate to train a group of enthusiastic climbers. We had a lot of fun and called ourselves the Dawn Patrol for training at 6 in the morning.

Dawn Patrol

2013 Summer climbing training team Dawn Patrol

Hot air balloon ride
Bill Ramsey inside one of the hot air balloons
hot air balloon

views of Red Rocks

The hot air balloon ride over west Vegas and right over my apartment was definitely a treat and well shared with a fellow Vegas-ite.

Moab Corona Arch exploration and rappelling in the dark was quite the experience.

corona arch

Rappelling Corona Arch at night. Photo by Luke Humphrey

The students from LCHS came to visit Microsoft, Facebook, and more. I was and continue to be really proud of these kids as they pursue further education.

Student MS visit

LCHS students visit Microsoft Corporate campus

My trip to China feels like it was another adventure in another time, far in the past, already. Still the memories will never be forgotten. That trip was an absolute one of a kind experience. Ice climbing was only a fraction of what I enjoyed there.

Ice Climbing China

2013 Ice Climbing in Western China.

The year has had many more memorable moments with family and friends. I can’t possibly highlight them all but I have appreciated what everyone has brought to my life. My KY family was the most pleasant surprise. I will miss them until I can visit again in the spring.

I love that I can connect with so many people from all over the world and I appreciate the time I spend and what I learn from them. I am looking forward to the adventures of the new year with old, new and yet to be discovered friends.

Have a wonderful Holiday, everyone, and thanks for reading this post!

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A Brave New World

This is the bravest thing I’ve come across in a long time and I nearly cried watching this (yes, I’m a softie). J

From this video I became curious about ‘because I said I would.’ The idea of keeping promises to myself and to others. I fell instantly in love with their message; it’s so simple, yet why does it feel so hard??

I believe the saying ‘what you put out (into the world) comes back to you.’ I have been contemplating big changes in my life and acknowledging some areas of neglect or areas of just plain sabotage. I was pondering how to get myself back on track (let alone pick a track) and not surprisingly I suddenly begin to see themes that could help me achieve just that.

Yesterday, for instance, a fb entry caught my attention and gave me pause. The message was clear, ‘Withdrawal is the chief form of self-sabotage. Get Support!’ I’d been feeling like I should crawl into some dark hole somewhere lately. Resisting the urge to slink away into my van and hide from the world from feeling overwhelmed with the decisions I have to make, the direction I have to choose, and my ability to make lemonade out of the lemons I’m facing daily. Sometimes, I just want to escape and pretend it will all ‘just go away.’ But, I get up, get dressed and get going every morning and while the lure of the hole lingers, I have yet to indulge. Instead, with this well-timed post catching my attention, I decided it was time to take action.

Step 1. I made a phone call.

In that phone conversation I was reminded of how important it is to take responsibility for myself and hold myself accountable. Like Mathew, who enlisted ‘because I said I would,’ maybe I shouldn’t do this alone.

Step 2. As soon as I thought, ‘maybe I don’t have to do [it] alone, I was reminded that I had a team I could connect with whose sole purpose is to help each other. I made a meeting with an old friend and started some research on re-connecting our old Advancement of Excellence group.

Achieving life goals does not have to be hard and you do not have to do it alone.‘ 

Step 3. I found ‘because I said I would’ and am pondering a set of meaningful and achievable promises I can make to myself that I would want to be held accountable for and actually see results from doing. I guess my first promise is to rethink what’s important to me. I’m hoping step 2 will help me with this.

Nothing on my list will be as life changing as Mathew’s, so if Mathew can take this huge step, then what is holding me back from taking any one of the steps in front of me? 

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Dawn Patrol, exit stage left

Where did the summer go?

I wake up and it’s no longer bright out. The rain has been pounding the pavement outside of my window and it’s been torrential all night long. I’m driving in the dark to the last morning training session at Stone Gardens (SG) in Bellevue, WA. Sunrise is nearly half past 6 and I’m wondering has summer really ended already? I can hardly believe I’ll be ending this 3 month long training class I’ve been leading.

Dawn in July

Dawn in July

My summer long stints in WA have been a mixed experience for me. Leaving my home in Las Vegas for this long means I lose touch with friends and begin to miss the many things I have come to enjoy about living there. Seattle has long been my home and with it’s familiarity comes the reminder that there are just some things I wish I could never return to–such as the epic and constant rain, the hour long congested commutes combined with the increased number of bad drivers on the road, and the short days and long nights of winter (coupled with the rain and you can see why suicide rates are so high here). Climbing in a gym takes the edge off but does not replace my desire to get outdoors. 

The need to be in the NW for long stints is because of my job. With yet another restructuring of our team, it behooves me to be in the office regularly to get to know the new structure and people. Also, the new work I am doing encourages face time to gain rapport and build a foundation I can take with me when I leave. This is nontrivial, takes time and has been the number 1 inhibitor to my ability to get outdoors much this summer. That said, I’ve made the most of it by creating this summer training program to help keep me engaged and psyched. Now that it’s over, I’m sad to see it go.

Dawn Patrol, missing Jacob, Pawel, Marcin, Gavin, and Clare

Dawn Patrol, missing Jacob, Pawel, Marcin, Gavin, and Clare

Today was the official last day of Dawn Patrol, the name given by SG employee Jeremy Bowler when he ran the adult morning training session this past spring. As with any new program, there is usually a large uptake then a slight ebb as people’s interest wane or the morning commitment wears in. I was fortunate to have a particularly committed group of people throughout the entire 3 months of training.

Having fun

Having fun

more fun

more fun

The program was setup to take them through a strength and foundation building phase to a power then power endurance phase. I had mapped out the program from day 1 with minor tweaks along the way based on their progression and feedback. It was meant that everyone should stay the entire time but since I had no idea if that would happen, I left enrollment open to make sure the class was full. When I realized everyone was moving forward month to month, I had to take the newcomers and adjust to the larger class size but cap further enrollments. Only three people dropped due to circumstances. Even though the class size grew, the curriculum adapted and I found the forethought training plan effective in that people simply knew what they needed to do and set about it straight away. I only needed to be sure they knew what was coming and how to get that information. It worked beautifully! Further, I am impressed by the adaptability of the new comers late in the program.

Intent on the exercise

Intent on the exercise

Jumping straight into boiling water, these newcomers had to adapt quickly. They lacked the foundation work we had done prior but were able to hang in and do what they could. That’s the beauty of the training; you can get the most out of it by participating through the full cycle but you can still get gains by coming in mid or late cycle–although you probably take a beating and have to temper your ego as you watch others climb circles around you to start. By the end, I saw vast improvements in everyone no matter when they joined.

Testing skills

Testing skillz

One challenge with training is skin. Another is measuring your success. Because they had me guiding them the entire time, I was always challenging them and pushing their limits. First, that meant using gloves whenever possible to protect the skin. We’re not taking down proud sends, yet, so why waste skin on plastic or workout equipment? Gloves really helped make achieving the climbing and training mileage possible. Next was the gauge for improvements.

When training and climbing, you get tired. You feel a little more worked coming into your regular, ‘fun’ session. It’s expected but it’s also the breaking point for most people. Climbing tired is a skill that is widely overlooked. Tearing yourself down to build yourself up is a skill that is not easily attained. It feels hard, it’s hard work, and the reward is not immediate. Further, when you have someone like me always making success fleeting by changing the elements to push your limits even further, you can finish the training and wonder ‘how much have I really improved?’

Hard at work

Hard at work

The good news is that once the throttle is pulled back, all of that strength and power become available. The last piece of the puzzle is mental. Unfortunately, unlike the physical training undertaken all summer, the mental aspect varies widely from person to person. Bringing the two together is when you see the biggest gains. This means testing yourself past pre-conceived limits. As you do this and you realize what you are capable of, your confidence will improve and you will naturally begin to migrate towards these more challenging climbs. Btw, more challenging could mean climbing angles that you are not good at vs. just climbing harder grades on angles you are really good at already. Success might look like holding smaller holds with more confidence and making moves off holds that were difficult in the past. Now is the best part of the training–when you can begin to learn or refine your climbing technique, which takes you back to June—the start of the class where we started with technique and foundation building.

Keen observers

Keen observers

This is the endless spiral of training. To keep it fun one cannot and should not attempt to train back-to-back. Now is the time to put the training into practice. Have a maintenance plan but go out and climb…a lot! Test your new skills and keep the psyche high to return to training in a few months. This time your foundation will be elevated and you can begin your work from this new level. With this in mind, the ending of the class is a good thing.

My signed shirt

My signed shirt

My time in the NW is coming to a close. I hope I had an impact on the people I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the last few months. Their enthusiasm and commitment have been contagious and I’m proud of their hard work and excited for their progress. This class definitely made my mornings and lack of outdoor climbing more than bearable. It’s time to run free, get some sleep, get outdoors before the rain settles and daylight escapes you. I’m hoping for the same.

Farewell summer and the Dawn Patrol, a new season awaits.

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The return to Mt. Stuart, complete North Ridge

Mt Stuart summit, photo by Luke Humphrey

Mt Stuart summit, photo by Luke Humphrey

After getting shut down on the initial CNR attempt, I was skeptical and hesitant yet intrigued to sign up for a second attempt. I knew the previous retreat was circumstantial and I really wanted to experience this climb. It was, afterall, claimed to be one of the top 50 classic climbs in America (Steve Roper and Allen Steck).

Luke getting the last fill of water for the next 1.5 days

Luke getting the last fill of water for the next 1.5 days

My friend, Luke, was spearheading the effort and was completely obsessed with another opportunity. Apparently this climb was high on his list to achieve for the year. I agreed to reconsider and set two weekends as options for late August. As luck would have it, a friend from Las Vegas, Jack, was spending time in Squamish and was coming into town with a few extra days to spend climbing locally. Coincidentally, a weather window opened that same weekend and Luke was eager to arrange another attempt. I was able to persuade Jack to join me though neither of us had done anything in the Alpine at this scale before. We had, however, climbed together quite a bit and done some adventurous outings. With Jack’s trad experience and our strong rapport, the summit odds (barring anything unusual) would be near certain.

Jack on ice

Jack on ice

Our plan was to take the full weekend to summit, including spending the night there to capture photos and time lapse footage. (Luke wanted more mountain-scape footage for his movie project that he’s working on.) Despite being faster on the hike this go and getting our systems down after the lower ridge, we didn’t bivy on the summit as planned and ended up sleeping at ~7300 ft just beneath the notch leading to the upper ridge. The next day, we summited with a bit of daylight left to make it most of the way down the Cascadian Couloir before dark. Overall, we were slower than we thought we would be and therefore did not have a lot of time for pics. Still, I think Luke captured some impressive shots, see his writeup on Cascade Climbers or check out his blog.

Also on the original plan was that Jack and I would swap leads. After the first few actual pitches on the lower ridge, it was clear that to optimize for time, Jack should take the helm and lead the team for the rest of the summit attempt. Luke would bring up the middle and I would clean and come behind. This system worked well, especially on the 2nd day. There were some surprises on the route that made me grateful Jack was in the lead. He is fearless and bold whereas I’m more cautious and hesitant, esp in unfamiliar territory. Jack did an impressive job route finding, protecting the team on the simul climbs that turned into pitched out climbs and bravely tackled terrain with his backpack that I would have been terrified to lead and attempt to place gear at the same time, esp on the lower 5.9+ pitch.

On the approach, Jack for the first time experienced crampons and an ice tool to navigate some glacier ice. There was a stretch that we had to cross where rock fall had been seen periodically flying down. This was super scary because by the time the rocks made it as far down as we were, they had gained momentum and speed. We crossed the ice gingerly while trying to rapidly escape the line of fire. Fortunately, only small stones periodically hailed down around us, which turned out to be nothing serious. We escaped unscathed and that was a huge relief.

Ice Cliff glacier when we arrived at the base of the complete north ridge

Ice Cliff glacier when we arrived at the base of the complete north ridge

Navigating to the base of the start of the lower ridge took some time and while we had made good time on the approach, we lost a lot in this search. As we were making our way to what we thought was the start of the climb, we heard this large rumbling, like jets coming to pass through. All of a sudden we see this huge ice mass cascading down the ice cliff gulley. It was impressively large and seemed to run on forever. While we continued our navigation and as we continued our climb up the lower ridge, we continued to witness the ice cliff fractures in various scales avalanching beside us. The power behind these avalanches was impressive that I tried to capture some on video.

Here is an outline of what existed of the glacier when we arrived.

Here is an outline of what existed of the glacier when we arrived.

Ice Cliff Glacier remains before it went out of view

Ice Cliff Glacier remains before it went out of view

Hanging around

Hanging around

Here are two videos that show just before the large shelf goes and after the lower bit gives way.

After ascending the 5.9+ pitch the continuous run of avalanches became less audible to stopping for the night only to pick right back up by mid-morning the following day.

Back to the climbing. Everything about the preparation and actual climbing for this route went smooth. The only issue was water conservation since our last water station was on the Stuart Glacier and we’d be without it for the next day and a half. Luke, in particular, consumes a lot of water and was suffering half way down the Cascadian after having been out since prior to the summit. Fortunately (or not), I don’t consume as much and my 1.8L had enough to quench his thirst here and there and get us off the mountain where a stream could be found for a refill. Jack had also at some point finished his water source but would not drink unfiltered water from the stream until half way or more up Long’s Pass when out of desperation, he imbibed. Neither got sick from the water and both were able to hike out on their own– read: I was definitely calling for a rescue team to haul them out if they couldn’t. ;) I had a flash back to the previous hike out where I had strained my leg and the pack had pinched off the circulation around my hip. That was a long stretch  back to the car when I thought they would have to call for a rescue team or hike back up to haul me out. I was definitely better prepared on this trip and have no epic hiking tales of desperation to share. :)

Jack on the Gendarme offwidth

Jack on the Gendarme offwidth

While it was challenging to do the climb with full pack carrying gear and about 2L of water per person, I’m not sure we would change anything except try to go faster to get to the summit and get off before dehydration or heat exhaustion became an issue. Or, take more water and go slower. :) Now that we know the route and the descent it would be faster, I think, in any future attempt. Below are some notes from my perspective of the climb. For a better, more thorough take, see Luke’s blog.

Luke Gendarme first pitch
Luke Gendarme first pitch
  1. The 5.9+ pitch was said to be a finger crack. Maybe I misheard but I swear I could put my whole hand in it. Also, I had to lay back this pitch because my ability to hand jam appeared limited.
  2. The 5.8 just before the 5.9+ had an awkward section in it that I could not navigate easily with a pack on and to my disappointment had to climb the rope to get a better perch and keep forward momentum.
  3. All other pitches were great! Until I got to the Gendarme pitch. I got myself wedged in the lower to mid-section on the 2nd pitch (offwidth pitch), before the fixed piece and couldn’t figure out how to go up. I got tension on the rope that took some weight off of me and I was able to free the pitch (pack on). I was able to do everything else clean as a follower with my pack, half the rope and any gear from cleaning. I was proud of that because I was super tired after hauling myself up 30 pitches to the summit! J

    Gendarme taken from the original route (bypassing the offwidth). photo by Jason Shin

    Gendarme taken from the original route (bypassing the offwidth). photo by Jason Shin

  4. The Gendarme offwidth pitch was awkward with great exposure. We were lucky another group who had taken the original route that bypasses the Gendarme took some photos of us so you can see how exposed it is. Jack was lucky to have gear he used to aid and walk up the offwidth pitch. Everything else, he led clean.
  5. There was one super exposed (maybe campus) move that might go at 5.10 (based on second hand information from a friend who had been up there this season) and with our groups skillset, Jack thought it might be smarter to rappel down and go around the move, which added another pitch to our set. This was fine but it did contribute to more lost time on our bid for an early summit.
  6. The Cascadian at this time of year was no trouble to get down. Most of the glacier ice had melted off the bottom and sides making it easy to circumvent. Except for a part where we thought we went off route, the descent was quick and mostly straightforward.
  7. Meeting up with Long’s pass was not straightforward, however. This took a little bit of trial and error before we found the actual trail and there were no markers or signs until a little ways in that confirmed our path.

    The north ridge, looking back on our path to the summit

    The north ridge, looking back on our path to the summit

Overall, this was the most strenuous thing I’d undertaken but I’m glad I came back to appreciate the climb. Everything came together and our summit is one I am not likely to forget anytime soon. At the very least I now understand why this climb is listed in the top 50 classics. A definite must do.

down the Cascadian

down the Cascadian

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Mt. Stuart summit attempt

Mt. Stuart and some mountain goats

Mt. Stuart and some mountain goats

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to climb the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart, noted as one of the top 50 classic climbs in America. I was intrigued and excited for the opportunity. I’ve only done one other real Alpine climb in the Cascades and that was Der Sportsmen on Prusik Peak in the Enchantments with Jens Holsten back in 2009. From that experience, I kind of had a clue what I was in for on this climb but as I’ve come to learn, Alpine climbing has an element of surprise to it that can impact any planned summit attempt. The compounding effect of our situation and decision making led us to retreat and reconsider the summit for another day.

Sunrise behind Ingalls Lake

Sunrise behind Ingalls Lake

As I reflect on the experience there are some definite lessons learned. First, we were a team of 3. I was the wild card, since I have the least experience in the mountains and least experience climbing with either party outdoors. The other two had done numerous climbs together and I suppose that is why I conceded to let them drive the coordination. By not participating more fully, I did not sanity check our gear, passes, or mindset for the climb. This led to several things like 1) me leaving my hiking pole, which killed me not to have it on the hike since I had strained a muscle earlier in the week, 2) one person in our team did not bring proper snow gear (no ice axe, crampons or prusik). This could have been a team decision, though I was too preoccupied to understand if this was a poor choice or not. I did think everyone had the impression that the complete north ridge would not entail any snow so the idea of leaving it behind or swapping it out with lesser gear (micro spikes and hiking pole) would have been sufficient. Finally, 3) our driver got a ticket for not having the parks pass, which while not impactful for the climb, was simply annoying when a $75 fine was found on the windshield. My point is that as a team we should have been checking these things or rather as a team member, I now know that I have to be more participatory in the prep, pack and park logistics.

Mt. Stuart shadow

Mt. Stuart shadow

After the hike was underway, things went relatively smoothly. We had great navigation (thanks guys!) and found ourselves on the Stuart Glacier with minimal impact and still with plenty of daylight for the climb. We were, however, in need of water. After finding water low on the glacier, we imbibed then reconsidered our approach to the climb. It looked like we could tackle just the North Ridge and forego the initial climbing pitches which also boasted the hardest pitch. In a climbing party, it is important that everyone be on the same page and feel comfortable with the undertaking. Given our group, time, and etc. it seemed like a good idea to cut the climbing down. Our goal was to get to the 4th class gulley that leads to the North Ridge climb, then bivy on top. The glacier is on the north eastern side of Stuart and the snow was soft and easily approachable from having been in the sun for a few hours that we each agreed on the new direction.

Stuart Glacier

Stuart Glacier

What we didn’t understand was how crevassed the snow was and how difficult they would be to navigate around. Our micro spikes climber was leading and checking the ice with an axe all along the way. The glacier angle was getting steeper and the crevasseless paths narrower. I looked nervously down towards Stuart lake as we traversed higher, unroped and unprotected. This was my first glacier travel experience and I trusted my team completely. Therefore, I continued along as cool and calm as I could (a little naively) muster. When we started having to consider jumping the crevasse or finding a bridge, we had to plan for potential rescue should one of us fall through (most likely it would be the leader, but…). I have read about these kinds of things, been prepped by fellow climbing friends (since I had this idea of doing Mt. Rainier this year) and had a basic refresher course there on the glacier, but the reality was that I had no practical skills in this area. I just hoped we wouldn’t have to test my textbook knowledge.

Mountain goat enjoys the glacier

Mountain goat enjoys the glacier, note the crevasses in the background

We made it through the crevasse minefield and approached the gulley. I could feel the tension ease up in the team with the idea that we were very close and this scariness could be behind us. I know the feeling of easing up or losing focus too soon and since I was still out of my comfort zone was still very aware of the danger I was in on this ice. We were now roped but there was nothing but a self arrest to save me (that would be using my ice axe and my body to dig the spike into the ice and hope it will arrest a fall, preventing me from sliding all the way down the mountain (and finding myself in Stuart lake!). J This last bit of ice was in the shade and seemed steeper than the 30 – 35 degree ice we’d just been traveling through. This posed new risk. Thankfully, my other climbing partner is overly cautious and questions our motives and moves every step of the way. In this last stretch I hear him ask what the plan of approach is and warns that the leader needs to remember to take my skills into account. There is an ice bowl that we need to either navigate around or go through. The leader must decide. As a team we agree to set up some sort of belay using our axes (we didn’t bring ice gear like ice screws or a picket). This was the safest way we thought someone could go out to scope out the terrain. As we set about this, we realized that if our leader were to fall, he not only would pendulum but there was a crevasse below us and he might end up in it. We made sure the leader had a prusik and he agreed to set about the scope with this risk in mind. While he was motivating, I was dealing with the rope. It had gotten into an uncoilable mess.

I’m standing on a flattened spot on the ice, with no axe, in crampons, trying to uncoil the rope so we can belay. I am now feeling even more apprehensive of our direction and decision. I’m aware that compounding risks is setting a team up for disaster. I did not want to jinx us, I actually wanted to get to that gulley, but I was scared. I knew that retreating had it’s own element of danger, but I didn’t know which was safest. It seemed retreating was at least a known problem, except after we decided to retreat, I was told that because of the crevasses, we couldn’t just go back the way we came. We had to forge a new path. I swallowed my fear and set on our way, slowly. The sun was now hitting the ridge line and would soon be behind the rock, which meant the snow would only harden making our descent even riskier. We had to hurry, but go slow enough to be safe.

retreat

Retreat, see the bowl in the background and my friend on the ice below

Though our retreat was going slowly, we were making progress. All of a sudden our leader slipped. I watched him in somewhat slow motion. He had fallen and turned in my direction such that I could see his expression on his face, his eyes were wide, he was grabbing his axe and at that moment, in that split second when I realized he was falling, I self arrested. No hesitation and not even a thought about what I should do. I just did it. I went down and I saw his axe dig in and he caught himself as well. I looked behind and our follower was on the ground with his hiking pole in the snow. We were ok. Everyone could recover, but I was now terrified. I knew that had this approach been decided before coming out here, had they known glacier travel would be in the equation like this, I would never have been invited to join. I was not prepared for this and having no experience on this terrain kept me on edge until we found ourselves back on the lower boulders. I feared another slip by our leader or myself. We had to move quicker if we were going to get down. Quicker meant more room for error and the need for more confidence. I was not sure I could compose myself enough, at first, but there was no other option. I did my best to stifle my fear and concentrate on my ice technique. Thank goodness I had some ice climbing experience! I had to down climb the ice, stabbing the front spikes into the snow and leveraging the one axe I had and my other bare hand to balance and hold myself as I gradually made my way down. As soon as we made it to the boulder fields, I took the crampons off, ate a little, drank a little then nearly passed out on the rocks with exhaustion. Our goal at this point was to get to the base of the West Ridge and regroup. This meant a few more hours of hiking, back tracking and that meant I had to dig deep and keep my cool because some of the terrain was not stable and had high risks.

sunset on Rainer

sunset on Rainier from our bivy

Nothing overly adventurous, compared to the glacier travel, ensued. I was sick to my stomach from the prolonged stress and when we finally made it to the pass, I immediately crashed. I had to decompress and the 20 minute rest was enough to rejuvenate. I was ready to tackle whatever plan the group was up for, but the group had only just decided they needed to rest. Therefore, we set up a bivy for the night on this ledge and everyone fell fast asleep. The winds kicked up during the night, the temps dropped, but at least I had enough layers to keep me warm. Morning came and we considered doing the West Ridge to the summit, but the wind and the temps did not inspire us. There had by this point been several parties headed to the North Ridge. We cautioned them on the approach, but everyone seemed keen to do the complete north ridge and we figured no one would have any trouble if they did that.

We packed up camp, determined to come back another day (armed with this new information) and try the North Ridge, again. Taking our time out, I had plenty of opportunity to ponder Mt. Rainier and my preparedness and willingness to suffer on a mountain like that. I was told there was nothing as technical as the glacier on Stuart on Mt. Rainier, but I worried nonetheless that I would not enjoy it. Slogging to the top of a mountain just to make a summit isn’t appealing to me, but adventurous, technical approaches hold my attention and make the summit seem like a worthy goal. We may not be the right team to take on such an adventure, and I might not be up for it anyway, but I have a new found appreciation for the skills required to tackle such peaks. I’m eager to go back to Stuart and see what the fuss is all about on the climb. The photos look spectacular and I feel like I missed out. Even so, this trip was worth it. I learned and experienced a lot more than I thought I would, had fun with my climbing companions and enjoyed the stunning views all along the way.

This will be a trip I will not soon forget.

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International Climber’s Festival, Lander, Wy

Wild Iris View

Wild Iris view

I’ve never been to Lander, Wy but I’ve heard good things about the climbing there. Having friends who live there or nearby made this an anticipatory trip. I arrived eager to meet up and explore the local rocks. I had only one commitment, which was to teach a clinic on that Saturday. This left me plenty of time to work, climb and socialize.

Lander is a reasonably sized town of about 7500 people. It’s surrounded by pastures, canyons, and ranches with vast expanses. This land of extremes impressed me –not for all of that beauty and contrast — but more for the condition of the roads and the town. Everything was very well kept up, roads looked pristine and the new High School gave the town a very clean and modern, somewhat urban feel. Despite that observation, it was still clear that this town was still a cowboy’s town. Huge tractors took up the freeway from time to time and horses, boots and cowboy hats were seen on numerous occasions as the locals went about their daily business.

Wy Flowers

Wy Flowers

When I asked a local business owner and climber what people do in this town for work, other than ranching, she noted that many come to town already with money in-hand.  These people tend to open businesses to service the tourists that come through. I really had no idea Lander was a such a tourist spot but looking at the landscape and the multitude of outdoors options, it kind of started to make sense to me. The lack of a larger hub (like a real airport) did not appear to affect travelers.

Sunset on the plains

Sunset on the plains

For logistics, everyone camps in the city park, which is really spacious and close to many events. Nothing is really too far in town so carpooling to crags and walking to events is not out of reason. I highly recommend stopping in the Wild Iris Mountain Sports store. They were super helpful to me the entire trip. I even made a new friend there, hi Lindsey! :) If camping doesn’t suit your needs, there are very nice hotels reasonably priced. Again, everything is pretty close to everything so you really can’t go wrong on a selection.

5yr old cranking out pull ups

5yr old cranking out pull ups

The festival had an array of common events: film series, speaker series, games, demos, races and clinics. This year, I learned, was the first attended by a large number of high profile climbers, one of which was Tommy Caldwell who was signed up to speak. He is, without a doubt, one of my all-time climbing heroes. It’s not just that he’s talented, bold, brave and relentless that has me looking up to him. Rather, it is his humble stature and good naturedness. This combination makes him easy to admire, and after his speech, reflecting on his time in Kyrgyzstan (for the first time, on stage, in public) he instantly became my hero.

It takes an event like this to bring people together. Otherwise, we are all pocketed in some

I <3 J *

I <3 J *

region, climbing and occasionally crossing paths. I always look forward to these ‘mini-reunions.’ Meeting old friends, making new friends, teaching climbing skills and being in the outdoors up 9k feet bouldering on a rope…well, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather have done these past few days.

If you want this experience, look for an event in your region, sign up and show up. It’s nothing but a good time and you won’t regret it. Even the crowded cliffs made for more social engagements and good times. Despite the commute, this is one event I may attend again next year!

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The Battle of Power Windows 8b/5.13d, Mount Potosi

Power Windows

The start to Power Windows (8b/5.13d), Mount Potosi

From short 6 bolt beasts to mega-long enduro roofs, Mount Potosi has some fantastic, powerful climbing. Power Windows is one of those short boulder fests made up of some awkward and spanny moves with decent holds. For 4 of the 7 bolts, you climb a series of tiered roofs. Only the start and the finish are just off vertical. Nearly every move from the start to the finish is tenuous and for me, there were distinct cruxes all the way through to the actual crux. This cliff has never been my strong suit but I looked at Power Windows a few years ago and knew it was a climb I wanted to do eventually.

Euros at Potosi

Random climbing partners enjoying a day at the cliff.
Pascal, Ronnie, Alex

For me, the entire opening sequence through to the crux was the most challenging to unlock, link and consistently repeat. I suppose the time between attempts didn’t help. Some days it seemed I had to re-learn how to do the lower moves because I’d find myself suddenly falling in the roof, or falling at this block at the mid-way point. I called these moves ‘faith-based moves’ because I could not pin point what specifically I did to stick the move that would work sometimes but seem to fail me others.

Partners thinned, conditions deteriorated, and my mental psyche started to ebb. I began to question my ability to send this route and not because I was not strong enough to do it but because of the probability of my actually making my nemesis move.

Hiroshi

Hiroshi on Countdown to Ecstasy 7c+/5.13a

The block move, mentioned earlier, drove me crazy. 80% of the time I would fall there and I couldn’t figure out why. The hold itself is blind and the move is big. It seemed that it was possible to scrounge up a partner, have good conditions and waste my day falling on that move every single time. Temps began spiking up to 100, which meant the weather window was closing and I was disheartened but not prepared to step away. I would continue to seek out partners but I was losing the obsession.

Climbing is about fun. Climbing is my stress relief. Climbing is what I do that brings me great satisfaction from the experience. To continue to try this route if an opportunity arose, I had to change my mindset and accept that walking away was a real possibility.

The idea of leaving this project for another time was not about the lack of climbing partners or the lack of good conditions or the question of my ability to perform, but more for my sanity. If the stress of finding people to go up there, have the timing sync with good weather conditions and then make no progress on the route was getting to me, then I realized maybe it was time to step away.  After all, if I couldn’t enjoy the route, then I shouldn’t be climbing it or putting my heart into it like I was. It was time to step back and take stock, maybe this route would have to wait for another season.

Corona Arch
Fun in Utah, hanging out at Corona Arch

With this in mind, when the opportunity arose to explore some rock in Utah, I went. I rappelled this beautiful arch twice, at night. I got to hang out with 2 fun friends and had an incredible weekend that included a quick jaunt over to Rifle. After another week away from Power Windows, I had resigned myself to accept the limitations I have with that route: limited climbing partners, lack of time, weather window closing, and my 20% luck on that block move.

With a bit of effort and a lot of support from my Vegas peeps, I was able to recruit partners and get back to Potosi. The long holiday weekend afforded me an opportunity to head out there and with very little idea for what would come of it, I found myself pleasantly surprised by feeling incredibly solid on the warm ups. I actually knew this was my best, possibly last, day to go for it. Trying not to put too much pressure on myself, I worked my psyche to focus on each of my mini-cruxes until I found myself at the top!

My first go was solid, just as I had predicted based on the warmups. I stuck the block easily but hesitated into the undercling, which marks the last move in the crux. I clipped the hold too short to latch and fell. Two thoughts crossed my mind: 1) I’ve done this before on all of my hardest routes – fallen on the last notable move that makes or breaks the send of the route and then sent the route on the next go and 2) what are the chances I can stick the block, again?

Clear Light Cave

Clear Light Cave, Mount Potosi

Second go: I rest, tie in, pull the roof moves and fall throwing to the block. Dangit! I lower, pull the rope, leave my shoes on, re-tie in, wait a few minutes then get right back on the route. I’m a little more fatigued (the lower half of the route tires me out, a lot) and that means I am fighting harder for the moves. Nothing looks solid, but I stick the block and I’m psyched! The crux boulder problem doesn’t go smoothly but this time I don’t hesitate to the undercling and finally find myself with my newest high point.

Multiple times I had linked from the block to the top and had been doing that as the last burn of the day so when I found myself at this junction, I knew I could do the last section tired. While the last move is just another big Potosi throw, I had no trouble going big and snagging the finishing jug.

I was both excited and relieved when I clipped the anchors. I knew it was just a matter of time for things to come together for me, but time was running out. Now, I was finally free. Free of this route, free of Potosi partner scrounging and free to wrap up my Vegas life and migrate North to focus on new adventures. J

Thank you to everyone who supported me on and through this journey. I had a blast and will miss the good times.  Bye, bye Vegas. It’s been fun!! Until next time…

Sunset

Sunset

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