Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Californication 2013

After a summer of hard work up on the North Slope it was high time for a vacation to keep my sanity. Eddie was on an extended road trip in his Alaskan Adventure Support Vehicle and I seized the opportunity to meet up with him for two weeks of rock climbing in California. With much anticipation for hot bluebird Californian weather I set off for Reno where he picked me and transported us to Tuolumne for the first of our adventures.

Topaz Lake 
Super old trees

Coffee addict
Tree + Tenaya Lake
Amazing bakery in Bishop

Mono Lake

Random climber at Clark Canyon

Although I had been dealt a lesson a few years ago on my first excursion to Yosemite (I shivered under a sheet marveling that it got cold even in California until I admitted defeat and asked Lexi to please share her sleeping bag) I was still surprised at how cold it got. After watching Eddie disappear into the bowels of his warm queen size bed in the Support Vehicle I would hop into my tent where I would either freeze, have the tent blown over by hurricane force winds, have my tent poles break, get snowed on, or a combination of the above. Luckily for me Ricky-Bobby of cold-blooded Fairbanks pedigree had met up Eddie immediately prior to my trip down and had failed to complain (in my opinion a wonderful pastime, and if not wonderful then at least well practiced), a fact that Eddie would constantly remind me of from his plush perch in the Support Vehicle.

What the heck Cali!

All complaining aside, Eddie and I worked through a mess of climbing during our first week in Tuolumne. We climbed two routes on the Mendlicott Dome (one of which topped out and we got to walk off with rock shoes, a lesson my toes remembered well), two routes on Harlequin Dome, the “50 Classics” Regular Route on Fairview Dome, Phobos, and a superb route on Eichorn Pinnacle. A week into the madness we were in need for a bit of rest and ready for a bigger challenge.

Excellent Smithers, Mendlicott Dome

Phobos, Harlequin Dome

Shagadelic, Mendlicott Dome

Top of Mendlicott,  Half Dome in background

Regular Route,  Fairview Dome

Fun climbing!

West Face Cracks, Eichorns Pinnacle


After getting snowed out Saturday night we decided to hike into the Incredible Hulk Sunday evening despite fresh snow and a warning that all the cracks were iced up. On the approach Eddie realized he had forgotten his sleeping bag but by then the ship had sailed and we pressed onward with a tent, tarp and hot water bottle to separate him from a cold few nights at 10,000’. Monday dawned clear and cold and somehow I got cajoled into leading the first pitch with socked crammed into my shoes and frigid fingers. As the day progressed we made slow but steady headway up the wall and as the light was fading crested the ridge where two snow chocked cracks separated us from the summit, and more importantly, the easy decent off the south side. The reality of single rope rappels off snowy icy granite in the dark with our tennis shoes set in and we hastily built anchors with all our most important and valuable gear.

The Incredible Hulk

Tricky pitch on tricky gear

Entering the Red Dihedral

About to gain the ridge

Early winter
Eddie's tarp sleeping bag

Growing weary of stuffing our scabbed hands into any more crack we took a rest in Clark Canyon to clip some bolts. After a fun day chillaxing and bouldering we woke to snow and immediately made the slip and slide trip over the hill and through the woods back to the safety of asphalt.
Now one thing is worth mentioning, Eddie loves his sport routes. Giddy with anticipation he piloted us towards Owens River Gorge where we spent a day climbing long steep slick bolts. I somehow ended up enjoying the dirty canyon spending the day studying pump management.

With the trip almost over we managed to have the wind help us shatter a window on the Support Vehicle and in true dirtbag style opted for plywood over glass for its replacement. For my last day we headed to Pine Creek where we climbed amazing granite sport routes in a clean beautiful canyon and didn’t stop until it was too dark to see the holds.

Amazing granite sport climbing at Pine Creek

Many thanks to Eddie for the transport/rope gun services and keeping the stoke high for fifty some odd pitches!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

AK Range 2013

I have been too lazy to actually write anything up about my April trip so here goes. 

I had unfinished business on Shaken not Stirred on the Mooses Tooth but as luck would have it Eddie and I flew into the Root Canal on April 18th in during a massive high pressure system. We immediately made plans to climb the next morning and were up at 4 am skiing to the start. This year the route was fat and we made easy progress up the cut steps. We didn't climb rock at all; a huge difference from my previous attempt. The crux pitch was by far the best pitch of the route and surprisingly steep! We decided to turn around at the Englishmans Col and were back to camp by 4 pm.
Classic Ham and Eggs shot

Night before the send!

Lots of ice

Eddie stemmin the crux

Practicing snow humping

 Eager to capitalize on the amazing weather window we called TAT and bumped over to the Tokositna on the 20th for our main objective, The Harvard Route on the iconic Mt Huntington. After taking a second rest day we set off early on the 22nd. Once again we found the conditions to be perfect and followed steps cut by a Polish team that had just returned the night before. Originally we were going to do the standard route but decided to follow the steps up the Westman/Puryear variation. While the wall looks big and intimidating we found the route snaked its way through all the difficulties and the climbing was never sustained. One thing is for sure, the Nose pitch reinforced my hate for aid climbing, belaying someone aiding is the perfect way to ruin a perfect day! 

Huntington - the central ridge up the face is the Harvard route

Snow climbing always seems to grab ones attention

Eddie crushing The Spiral

The Nose aid pitch

Nose bivy

Gaining the summit ridge

Summit photo - Denali with 11,300, Isis Face and Reality Ridge in the background 

Kinda scary downclimbing off the summit

Psyched to be back in camp

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chamonix, France


Finally while packing for my next adventure I am making time to post on my latest adventure over to the birthplace of Alpinism, the Alps. I have been psyched to go to Chamonix, France ever since my ginger friend flew over several years ago and returned with pictures of the world class climbing to be had.

When the same ginger (AKA Joey) called me up one day while I was busy at work and told me he was thinking of buying a ticket, I made up my mind that this was the opportunity I was waiting for. Within 12 hours I had booked my ticket (many thanks to my understanding boss for letting me disappear during a busy time and to my beautiful girlfriend for not driving one of my tent poles thru my temple while I slept for going to France without her…still trying to crawl out of the doghouse!) and two weeks later found myself on the long flight across the pond. It wasn’t too bad actually; there were enough movies and wine (managed to choke some of the stuff down, Maark would be proud) to make it bearable.

We landed in Geneva, Switzerland and from there took a shuttle to Chamonix where we settled into our little flat we had rented for copious amount of money (American money is some cheap stuff!). Next on the agenda was to buy ski passes and check out the area. Here came my biggest oversight. Somehow I booked a flight to Chamonix and decided it would be an excellent place for me to do alpine climbing although I had no idea how to ski. Terror, frustration, embarrassment, absurdly sore muscles and a change in our strategy dominated our first week there. Renting a snowboard for a day helped replenish my spirits that had gotten severely batter both literally and figuratively.

Finally I learned the motions of skiing and we managed to climb partway up several mountains, which was fitting. I haven’t been to the top of a mountain for two years.

The crux of the routes (for me at least) was the decent from the base of the route. The lifts close at 4pm so the only alternative was for me to ragdoll down Vallee Blanche, a 10,000’, 20km ski run while carrying 40lbs of climbing gear and dodging crevasses; by headlamp. Luckily the ginger was more often than not sympathetic to my cause, while he constantly waited for me at the bottom of all steep areas.

Surprisingly there is a strong British presence in Cham and it is quite easy to manage without knowing any French. There are as many British bars as French! Not surprisingly it is somewhat embarrassing to be thrown into the “American” lot. Luckily we had the Alaska card to play. 

Just as I was getting acquainted with the area the dreaded Foehn wind came in and disrupted our last plans. Didn’t much matter though as the ginger had become enthralled with the Finnish subculture present in the area.

My time in Chamonix was wonderful; the mountains are brimming with world-class alpine faces, huge ski runs, exceptional bakeries, a fun town atmosphere and the underlying mentality to push the boundaries.  The mountain culture felt like home and on the plane ride home I was busy hatching plans of returning with my woman to live for a few years with the French, like the French.

Check out the video, hopefully you find it somewhat entertaining.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hollow Icicle

Well I recently got a GoPro and after much learing and some frustration I have learned the basics of video editing. Fun toy tho!

I headed out to Hollow Icicle at Echo Bend in Eagle River with Mark last Sunday. The pillar wasnt hollow at all this time around, although it felt steeper that the last time I had climbed it in the hollow condition. Note: never use those second handles you see in the video for ice, they suck!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Early Winter Cragging

The snow has finally come once again and sent me hobbling out the door on my ski pole crutches to get my fill of ice, freezing belays and the screaming barfies. First off Eddie and I headed up to Ptarmagian to perform the ritual of being molested by dozens of angry moose all the while being harassed by his out of control demon dog, Morgan. We decided to climb Only the Hookers Get the Blues so we could quickly remember how strenuous and scary steep ice is during the early season. After feebly hobbling down the knee busting coulior to our bikes on the way out, I realized I had forgotten my headlamp and was subsequently treated to blind biking over the ice and around the moose while attempting to keep on the hard packed trail. Alas more recovery time will be needed before I can make that hike again.

Eddie following the first ice step - by John G

The goods - by John G

Hookers in all its glory - by John G

Next up was my annual pilgrimage to Nabesna. With four days off and plans of grandeur on my mind I found myself at the base of the thin, reverberating pillar that is Wing and a Prayer and a sudden change of mind that left me paying out rope as Eddie gently tapped his way upwards. Evening chatter with the other climbers at the cabin left us with the knowledge that it was a dry season in Nabesna so we set off on an exploritory mission Saturday. Not finding anything worth climbing we pointed my truck towards home and hit town in time for some sleep.

Wing and a Prayer - by John G

Cool stemming action higher up - by John G

Can you spot the mud volcanoes? - by John G

Back in town I made a quick trip down to Portage and ran a few laps on Five Fingers. Narrowly avoiding Marcos engine exploding we enjoyed nice warm temps and plastic ice.

Five Fingers - by Marco Carter
On Monday, my last day off, I headed out to Hatchers Pass with Eddie to try to redpoint a mixed route at Hillside Pillars I had previously attempted. The creek was now nicely frozen up and soon I was racking up. After much soul searching and encouragement I made the irreversible traverse step facing a highly unpleasant fall opportunity over marginal gear. Thankfully I found a good cam and finished up the bolt line pumped out of my mind. Many thanks to Eddie for the long cold belay!

Whirlpool - by John G

Bear Hug - by Eddie Phay

Yay for bolts - by Eddie Phay