Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I'm a little behind.  It's been a hectic few weeks, but in the midst of the chaos there were three beautiful days in the snow in the mountains with good friends and food and beer.  This year Bert and I returned to the Hemlock Butte Cabin, bringing our own additions to the "Parking Lot People," Max and Peter.  This year we knew what we were getting ourselves into.  We had our party clothes, overpacked sleds, plenty of food, 30 rolls of toilet paper, a pinata(!) and high expectations.

 Eric out on the range

 The snowpack (or lack of) was fickle for most of November.  Luckily, right before the weekend a respectable amount accumulated in the higher elevations; enough to get us into the cabin and up Bailey.  Once all 80 lbs of turkey were distributed amongst the sleds, our train of determined skiers slogged up to the cabin.  Once I was there, I completely forgot about the last ten straight days of work and the impending conference for which I was not yet prepared.  Sitting on a bench in front of the stove with a hot drink in my hand was all I cared about.

Bert and Max

That night we ate deep fried turkey and candied yams and mashed potatoes until we couldn't eat anymore.  We drank porter and whiskey and swung our ski poles around at a pinata with "Happy Thanksgiving" printed pleasantly on the front.  We danced to keep warm in the soft glow of the christmas lights strung around the room.  And one by one we retreated to the warmth of our sleeping bags.
Porter manning the deep fryer

Some agressive elbows

The next morning, groups made their way up Mt. Bailey.  The weather was clear and windy, Thielsen's spire cut the sky and Crater Lake sat on the horizon to the south.  We dodged rocks and stumps on our way down, then skied right up to the door of the cabin where the kegs sat, offering the perfect apres-ski.

 Kate at the top

 Jack barely makes it

 Brooke is still smiling though

 Mt. Thielsen

A cold Jimmi

That night, we donned our onesies and some brave souls took off down the luge course.  

And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I must say that I am thankful.  I'm thankful for these people that I get to spend time with, all so enthusiastic about life and adventures.  I'm thankful for the beautiful state that I live in and the opportunities I have to explore its backcountry treasures.  I can't wait until next year!

Monday, October 29, 2012

When the rain comes

When the rain returns to western Oregon we have two options: duck and cover or make a run for clear skies.  At Smith it was clear, sunny and bitterly cold overnight.  We sat around with hot drinks all morning; willing the feeling back into our toes.  Once we walked out to the rock, it was warm enough to strip off the layers.  Perfect.

That weekend, we got to climb in some areas we've never been before.  The Monument area is closed for eagle nesting most of the warm months, but in the fall it opens up again.  We warmed up there and then moved to a small crag called Adit Rock after lunch.  At Adit we found fun moderate sport and trad climbs that we shared with a group of Mazamas.  The next day, we visited the Christian Brothers area on our way to the four star rated "Screaming Yellow Zonkers" (5.10b).

 The Monument Base Area

Lauren on a climb at the Monument Base Area

5.10a on Testament Slab

Screaming Yellow Zonkers, 5.10b

Amber belaying at Adit Rock.

The following weekend I had a field trip in the Painted Hills of eastern Oregon. We spent the night camping right in the middle of Mitchell, Oregon, circled around a roaring fire built into a lofted barbecue pit. I was convinced we were the only people in town.  Saturday was spent conducting geomorphology experiments in the badlands.  I'll spare you the details as dirt is somewhat of a niche interest.

Steaming hills

 As it was raining on the west side, I stayed east and spent Sunday at Smith again with Peter.  We climbed a 3 pitch mixed route on Phoenix Buttress called White Satin (5.9).  I took the first sport pitch of steep 5.7 knobs as well as the second 5.7 trad pitch.  Two-thirds of the way up, I found myself slightly off course and had to do an unprotected traverse around a flake.  The rope drag was too bad to continue, so I had to build a hanging belay to bring Peter up to me.  I had never done this before.  Of course I have built a trad anchor a number of times, but always on a ledge.  I'd never actually hung on one of my anchors, or on any placements for that matter.  Given the situation, it took me far too long to build the anchor.  Suddenly no placement looked okay and I was sure I had no options.  When I finally got the anchor made and gingerly weighted it, it shifted and creaked and (luckily) held.

 White Satin, Pitch 1 (5.7)

 White Satin, Pitch 2 (5.7)

The flake traverse, pitch 2

I belayed Peter up to me and we moved the anchor a few meters higher to some bolts.  The last pitch was a beautiful arching dihedral (5.9) that Peter lead.  As I belayed him I was as alone as one can be at Smith.  Typically, there is always someone ahead of, behind or next to you in one way or another.  But this time we had the wall all to ourselves.  It was quite up there, but voices from below echoed around me.  Amongst the sounds of laughter, frustration, accomplishment and failure I was a lurking eavesdropper.  I followed Peter with ease (I'm getting better at this crack climbing thing!) and topped out to perhaps my favorite view yet at Smith.

 View from the third belay
Peter leading pitch 3 of White Satin, 5.9

Following pitch 3 of White Satin, 5.9

After a leisurely lunch and beer we wandered over to Phoenix (5.10a).  I would say that, in general, I have a good lead head.  When I get scared I don't freak out and I tend to climb more confidently when on the sharp end.  Apparently the ceiling for this confidence is at the 5.9-5.10 boundary.  The minute I'm forced with the number 10, I get scared.  Outside, in a gym, it doesn't matter.  I can climb them fine on top rope, but that doesn't matter either.  So I've been on a mission to stop being a wuss and lead some tens.  Phoenix is a highly rated climb at smith and Peter thought it would be a good one for me to lead.  Despite the fact that the first bolt is about 20 ft off the ground, I sent the first half with relative ease.  I wont go into the details (because I don't want to admit sobbing softly against the wall), but when I got to the crux, things went poorly.  I'm irrationally afraid of taking a "safe" fall and couldn't bring myself to make the moves.  Eventually, Peter climbed up to clip the next bolt so I could finish the lead from there.  It was a disappointing show, given my goal, but not a disappointing effort.  Despite my fear and frustration, I got back on the horse.

We drove towards the sunset into a wall of rain and clouds.  Back to the west where there was no sunset; just a darkening sky of gray that faded into black.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Valley

A few weeks after I returned from Kyrgyzstan and rid myself of the parasite, Peter and I hit the road for a climbing trip.  First stop: Trout Creek, Oregon.  Trout Creek is a hidden gem of Oregon climbing just outside of Madras.  The climbing is steep and stout and only trad, but I happily flailed away for a weekend.

The training wheels wall.

After that nice warm up we drove all day to Yosemite in a packed car with no air conditioning.  After stopping in Redding for groceries, we had a near disaster.  While loading the case of Tecate into the car, one can escaped and burst open on the ground.  Peter bravely jumped on the grenade and drank what was left in the can.  I promise this is relevant for the next part of the story . . .

We entered the park after midnight and drove the narrow road down into the valley.  We passed gorgeous vistas and heart-stopping views without seeing any of them.  As we rounded a bend in the road, two large SUV's sped by, startling us.  They turned out to be Yosemite Rangers, who then came up behind us with their headlights off (kinda creepy?)  Peter slowed down and immediately we were being pulled over.  A ranger came to each window, shining lights in our faces and asking the usual questions.  When asked if he had anything to drink that evening, Peter responded, "Half a beer, around 5:00 . . ."  Satisfied by his answer, the officers returned to their car for a minute.  In moments, the second one returned, stuck his head in the passenger window and asked, "why'd you only have half a beer?"  We explained Peter's valiant rescue of the fallen Tecate and the officer nodded and said, "You're a good man."

At 7am the next morning we woke to the sound of a generator coming from the neighboring Winnebago.  The camp ground around us was full of people clustered in their homes on wheels, only a handful of tents sat perched between the wheeled residential monstrosities.  We escaped quickly to the Church Bowl climbing area where we got in a few lazy pitches.  In the afternoon, we dropped by Camp 4 hoping to get in the next morning.  Luckily, we got in that very afternoon!  No more RV's and generators for us.

 Church Bowl Lieback, 5.8

Dan on a 5.10a

The next day Peter, Dan and I climbed the classic Royal Arches (5.7, A0).  At 15 pitches it was a long day of climbing followed by 3 hours of rappelling.  The climbing was clean and varied.  Some cracks, slab, a tension traverse; the best part was all the shady belay ledges.  On the way down I got an amazing rope burn on my neck from pulling the ropes one pitch.  Ouch.

 Glacier Point

 Sturdy little trees.

The only hot belay ledge.

 Looking up at the tension traverse, under one of the arches.

Just after the tension traverse.

One of 11 raps.

We took a much needed rest day after that climb.  After waking up early to do a trail running photo shoot with Dan, we had a nice lunch at Curry Village (sans Hanta) and hit up the rope swing next to El Cap Meadow.

 Sunrise in the meadow 

The Rope Swing, Photo Credit: Dan Holz

Our next climb was Nutcracker (5.8), the first route in Yosemite to be climbed with only nuts.  Peter and I did it with Sam, a friend we made from the neighboring campsite.  Once again the climbing was awesome!  Sustained clean moves and good stoutness for the rating.

Following P2 of Nutcracker, 5.8

We had plans of waking up early for the 6 mile approach to Snake Dike on half dome the next morning.  But the idea of a long walk followed by hot rock didn't sound appealing enough.  Instead, we got a wilderness permit, drove the hour and a half to Tuolomne and hiked in to the base of Matthes Crest.  We awoke to a layer of frost on our bags and once the sun had crested over the ridge and begun to warm us we dragged ourselves out and up to the base of the climb.

 Cathedral Peak

 Echo peaks

Matthes Crest is a long jagged ridge slicing through a sea of granite domes and spires.  The route is a south to north traverse with a few 5th class pitches amongst some great exposed 4th class.  We did a little adventure climbing up an unnamed line to get around 3 rather slow parties.  Once in front we were treated with a few hours of awesome 4th class simul climbing before reaching the rap stations at the twin summits.

 Peter on the traverse

 The high Sierra

 Peter works around a precarious flake.

 Matthes Crest

 Echo Peaks

 Cathedral Lakes

Peter in front of Cathedral Peak

We hiked out as the sun set and drove through the dark until we found free camping outside of the park.  In the morning we made the long drive back to Eugene with, have I mentioned it yet? No air conditioning. 

Over the next couple of days we made it to Washington and climbed in Darrington and Index before heading back to Eugene.

 Total Soul, 5.10b

 Total Soul

 Total Soul

 Leading P1 of Total Soul

 Total Soul

Leading P2 of Great Northern Slab, 5.7

 Hiking to Lake Serenc