Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guillaumet Solo

Aguja Guillaumet from the east, showing the Amy Route.

Much of my time in Patagonia is spent waiting for a large weather window to try a difficult objective, and I often let pass many mediocre but nonetheless climbable days, which are suitable only for smaller objectives. However, after festering for a while, and with no properly good weather in sight that could be potentially compromised by not being well rested, I figured I might as well head up to Aguja Guillaumet with a mediocre forecast for Dec. 20th. I had already climbed Guillaumet, one of the easiest summits in the range, three times before, so to make it more challenging I opted to head out alone. I chose to attempt the Amy Route because the first half is a snow, ice and mixed gully, and there was no doubt in the forecast that it would be far too cold to wear rock shoes.

Thus, I left El Chalten in a taxi to Rio Electrico early in the morning, and started the approach up to Paso Guillaumet. After spending a while at Paso Guillamet to eat, drink, and rack up, I finally walked up the short bit of glacier to the bergschrund, and started climbing around 10am. The bergshrund was gaping, and required a bit of tricky climbing up some snow and ice plastered to the right wall of the couloir. The couloir itself was easy, however, with a bit of steep snow, easy ice and blocky mixed climbing.

From the notch at the top of the couloir, I took off crampons and headed up the easy rock ridge above, occasionally taking off my gloves for harder moves. The crux pitch is a short 5.9 dihedral, which with rock shoes I would have been happy to free-solo, but with boots and gloves I decided here to use a rudimentary self-belay. Since I knew I would be rappelling down the same route, I could leave several nuts and cams on this pitch for my self-belay and retrieve them on the descent. I re-donned crampons half-way up the last rock pitch because a wide crack was ice up, and soon was walking up the summit snowfield.

I topped out at about noon, and made quick work of the descent - on schedule for an afternoon return to El Chalten, and a nice, relaxing day in total... However, at the notch at the top of the couloir I found an inexperienced climber, by himself, who was very confused as to the whereabouts of his partner, and did not have means to descend, considering that he had with him only two carabiners, a belay device, a single 50m rope, but no hardware whatsoever. After a lot of shenanigans looking for his missing partner, we rappelled the couloir together and began the hike out. His missing partner was soon found, and no harm done except that I ate a much later dinner!

On this climb I experimented with a new toy: a helmet cam. Through my first, laborious experience of editing video footage, I put together a video of the climb for the Black Diamond website:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poincenot Solo

I arrived in El Chalten, Patagonia at the start of a several-day good weather window. Unfortunately, the cold that I had caught right before leaving Seattle had not been cured by four days of stressful travel, and I was forced to pass two good weather days in town. Since I wasn't healthy to take advantage of the full weather window I told Rolo he ought to find another partner, and I made solo plans for myself to use what remained of the good weather. The Whillans Route (650m, 5.9, M4) on Aguja Poincenot was the first route I ever climbed in Patagonia, and would make a good solo I thought. It is an elegant and classic route, winding up an amazing spire but with moderate climbing.

On Monday I hiked from town to a bivy at Laguna de los Tres. It is typical to hike up the glacier and bivy at Paso Superior, but temperatures were much higher than normal, and I hoped that if I waited until early morning the glacier would re-freeze from the sloppy condition it was in. Thus, I left Laguna de los Tres at 4:30am yesterday morning, but to my dismay the glacier was still in terrible condition, with lots of slushy post-holing. I arrived at Paso Superior at 6:00am, and rushed up the glacier above as quickly as I could, because the 300m meter snow ramp that comprises the first half of the Whillans Route was already bathed in sun.

I decided to attempt the route in what I call "Yosemite Style" - that is, without a backpack and instead just a few bare essentials clipped to my harness. Thus, with one liter of water, six GU packets and a windbreaker I crossed the first of three bergshrunds at 7:30am, in rapidly deteriorating snow conditions. The ramp was in terrible shape, with knee-deep slush on an exposed 60-degree angle. From climbing in the Cascades I am very familiar with all sorts of bad snow conditions, so I still felt comfortable with the climbing, but nonetheless the ramp was much slower and more tiring than normal. At the end of the ramp is a mixed chimney, that was dripping with water in the exceptionally hot conditions. It is also the crux of the route, and in this section I made two "back-loops" (a rudimentary form of self-belaying).

Above the mixed chimney the route follows broken rock for about 300m to the summit. Conditions were just barely dry enough to climb entirely in rock shoes, and this allowed me to comfortably free-solo sections that would've required a self-belay in boots. I reached the summit at 11:30am and began the long descent. I had hoped to down-climb most of the ramp, particularly since I had brought only one rope, but given the increasingly slushy snow conditions I was concerned about getting swept off in a wet-slide, and opted to rappel all of it. After rappelling and jumping over the bergshrunds, all that was left was to swim down-glacier through the slush and then batter my knees on the hike back to town. Fortunately I arrived just in time for an asado de cordero...

My moment of fame - an interview on Radio FM Chalten. It seems that at 7pm on a Sunday the radio is run and listened to exclusively by teenage girls.

Aguja Poincenot from Laguna de Los Tres. The Whillans Route climbs the diagonal snow ramp across the East Face, a mixed chimney to gain the left-hand skyline, and then broken rock just around the skyline to the summit.

Looking down from half-way up the ramp:

At the entrance of the mixed chimney:

Looking down from the top of the mixed chimney:

Splitter 5.9 on the upper rock portion:

On the summit, with the Torres behind:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fall in Yosemite and the Halloween Linkup

I'm posting this a bit late, but here is a summary I wrote a few weeks ago of my fall pilgrimage to Yosemite:

When most climbers ask me what they should do to prepare for a Patagonia trip, I recommend winter climbing in the Cascades. However, because I come from a snow, ice and bad-weather climbing background, the best preparation I can do is to climb a lot of steep granite, and Yosemite is a perfect training ground. I drove down to Yosemite in early October, and first spent a couple weeks free-climbing. I soon decided though that it was time to finally climb my first El Cap big-wall route. As a warm-up, and to refresh my memory on short-fixing techniques, I first climbed the West Face of Leaning Tower with a friend from Squamish, Nick Elson. Next up was an enjoyable day-trip up Lurking Fear with fellow Seattle-ite, Graham Zimmerman.

Lurking Fear had gone quite smoothly, and so I decided I ought to finally climb "the best rock climb in the world," The Nose. Several of my friends had already just recently climbed The Nose and thus weren't interested, so I scanned the Yosemite Lodge cafeteria in search of a partner. Big-wall soloist Dave Turner has already climbed El Cap countless times, and rarely climbs with a partner at all, so I doubted he would be interested, but nonetheless I offhandedly asked, "Hey Dave, wanna climb The Nose tomorrow?" A pleasant surprise, Dave agreed immediately, and a few hours later we were racking up.

To take full advantage of Dave's superb aid-climbing skills, we decided to break the climb in two lead blocks: mine the longer but technically easier block to the base of the Great Roof, and Dave's the steeper block from there to the top. Starting by headlamp at 4am, we weren't dilly-dallying but also weren't especially trying to climb fast. Thus we were nicely surprised to top out in bright afternoon sun eleven-and-a-half hours later. Considering how easily the route had gone by, Dave suggested on the hike off that we try the Half Dome - Nose linkup a few days later. I hadn't ever heard of anyone doing the linkup so late in the season, with such short, chilly days - but what the hell, at least it'd be good Patagonia training! I agreed it was an excellent idea, and a few mornings later, on the last day of October, we were hiking up the "Death Slabs" to the base of Half Dome's Northwest Face.

There were spots of water-ice on the "Death Slabs," and so considering the chilly air we decided to start Half Dome at the warmest time of the day, and started our linkup at 3:58 pm. Like on El Cap, I led the first half, and Dave took the trickier upper half. I had only climbed Half Dome once, four years ago, but Dave knew the route well. Topping out at 9:30 pm, we were enthused to be ahead of schedule, and scurried down the cables, back down the "Death Slabs," and to our bikes at Mirror Lake.

By midnight we were parked in El Cap meadow, blasting Ace of Base, MC Hammer and other appropriately cheesy music to psyche up for The Nose. After cramming in some food and chugging water, we walked up to El Cap, and started The Nose at 12:30 am. Since our previous climb of The Nose was my first I had taken some extra time to find the route, but now that I knew where to go I could climb a bit faster, even by headlamp. I finished my last pitch, to the base of The Great Roof, at 6:30 am, thankful to finally take off my rock shoes and headlamp.

Dave blasted off, efficient-as-ever, and soon I was jugging up behind him. As the upper pitches flowed by, I began to look at the watch more often - Our intention was to complete the linkup in under 24 hours, but I began to make 20 hours the new goal in my mind, and yelled up to Dave that it ought to be our new goal, although it was hard to say if it would be realistic or not. As Dave started up the final bolt ladder I yelled something like, "Fifteen minutes to twenty hours!," and he yelled back, "Well, I'll make it under twenty, but I don't know about you!" When the rope was fixed I jugged as fast as possible, and then ran up the final slab with a huge cluster of rope and gear hanging off me. At the tree I immediately pulled out the watch: 11:58 am - 20 hours to the minute!

Serious climbing? NO. Are these Yosemite linkups and speedclimbing just fun and games? YES. But it's certainly good Patagonia training! Dave is en route to El Chalten right now, and I will be a couple weeks later...

Climbing "Butterballs" at the Cookie Cliff.

Butterballs is a spectacular splitter finger crack. Still though, the Cookie Cliff is no comparison to The Lower Town Wall at Index.

Tom Evans shot some photos from El Cap meadow while Dave and I were making our first Nose warm-up. This is me leading near the end of my block, in the grey bands.

The beauty of short-fixing: Dave already thirty feet up the next pitch as I finish the last lower-out on the Great Roof.

Dave beginning the third pitch of his block, as I'm jugging the second.

Powered by MC Hammer, Dave in El Cap Meadow, half-way through the linkup.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Slesse, East Face Attempt (or why Sean Easton is badass)

On Wednesday through Friday Dylan Johnson and I made an attempt on Slesse's East Face route. Established in July 1997 by Sean Easton and Dave Edgar, the East Face of Slesse is most likely the hardest route in the Cascades, and like most of the Cascades hardest routes (pretty much all the rest were established by Pete Doorish), it remains unrepeated, despite several subsequent attempts. The most recent attempt was by Squamish climbers Will Stanhope and Andrew Boyd, who decided after 3.5 pitches that the rock quality wasn't up to snuff for their free-climbing ambitions. Dylan and I similarly made it only a whopping 7 pitches up the wall. Hat's off to Sean and Dave for climbing this beast! (And for those who aren't familiar with it, check out the 2003 AAJ for another Sean Easton route, Blood from the Stone, which, in my opinion, is the best route ever climbed in Alaska).

The mighty eastern walls and buttresses of Slesse, from the trailhead:

Dylan on the polished granite slabs of the Pocket Glacier cirque:

Further up the slabs, with the East Face directly above:

Dylan starting up the second pitch:

And starting the fourth pitch, which gained a bivy terrace:

After arriving at the bivy terrace, I headed up the most obvious feature above, which we thought to be the route. I led and fixed one long pitch, which was the hardest aid pitch I've ever led (a scary basalt dyke), then returned to the terrace for the night's bivy:

Colin jugging back up the fixed pitch the following morning:

I led another aid pitch up the basalt dyke feature, which turned out to be technically easier than the first, but even more terrifying. After gingerly negotiating many loose obelisks of basalt directly above Dylan's belay, I finally found an anchor worthy of lowering off of, and headed back down. Starting up this scary pitch:

Realizing we were off route for sure, we rappelled back down to the bivy terrace, and decided it was time to bail (although on our way down we found where the correct route continues, on a much less obvious feature, but on better rock):

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Expedition Fails on the Choktoi...

Despite 30 years of expeditions by many of the world's best alpinists, Pakistan's Choktoi Glacier maintains a 0.0% success rate on the magnificent objectives that are accessed there (Latok 3, Latok I, Latok 2, Ogre 2, Ogre I). The snowpack this year in the Karakorum was the biggest since 1976 according to the locals, which made glacier-travel easy and ridge-climbing difficult. Here is a report on the most recent Choktoi failure, in the words of Dylan Johnson:

Funded in part by a Mugs Stump Award, Josh Wharton (with his fiancé Erinn Kelly who would stay in base camp), Colin Haley and I left the States on 9 June to attempt the North ridge of Latok 1 in Pakistan’s Karakorum. After a week of traveling in Pakistan, we arrived at base camp on the upper Choktoi Glacier at 4560m, below the North Ridge.

We completed three acclimatization trips on nearby ridges and peaks. First we spent one night at 5000m on a ridge immediately above base camp. Our second trip involved three days retrieving Colin’s gear cache at 5700m at the Ogre/Ogre II col, left behind during his 2008 attempt on the Southeast Buttress of the Ogre with Maxime Turgeon. Our third and final acclimatization mission took us to the summit of the High Sister at 5800m and an adjacent high glacial plateau where we spent two nights at 5850m.

At midnight on 8 July, with a forecast for three good days followed by a minor 24 hour storm, we started toward the base of the north ridge with three 32 pound packs. Our intended line climbed snow and ice on the east side of the ridge, intersecting the ridge at 6000m above the lower sections of heavily corniced and mushroomed ridge. We reached the base of the technical climbing at dawn and began belaying a 250m water ice step. Colin led the first block of grade 3 and 4 ice topping out on steep snow at 5450m. I led the following block of 60 degree snow and ice to the base of a steep mixed step at 5750m where Josh would take over. Our intended line continued up the steep mixed terrain above, which looked reasonable from base camp, but now appeared exceedingly difficult. We opted to climb a short mixed pitch followed by an arduous snow pitch (courtesy Colin, our unconsolidated snow master) to reach the ridge and a bivi near 5830m.

After stamping out a platform on the narrow double-corniced ridge we discussed our options. The ridge itself was impassable due to the sugary mushrooms and cornices, our only option for ascent was to traverse west off the ridge. From his 2008 attempt, Josh knew the terrain to the west was complex and difficult as well. We decided the climbing was too slow and difficult and the chances of summiting were too slim to justify continuing. We rappelled the lower northwest face the following day and returned to base camp and called in the porters. On our trek out from base camp, we met the Spanish alpinists, Alvaro Novellon and Oscar Perez hiking in to attempt the North ridge as well. May they have better luck than we did, inshallah!

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to the Mugs Stump grant program for their generous support of our expedition.

The North Faces of Latok 3 (left) and Latok I (center), taken from our basecamp in 2008. The red line shows where we climbed to on our 2009 attempt. We descended on the northwest face (out of the photo, past the North Ridge).

Our awesome and amazing cook, Abdul Ghafoor, who is from the Hunza Valley.

Dylan and Josh during our first acclimatization venture, at 5,000 meters. The words at the top of the Scrabble board are indicative of Expeditionary DSB (Deadly Semen Buildup).

Colin bouldering on the glacier near basecamp. Photo by Dylan.

The Ogre 2 (left) and Ogre I (right) from the Choktoi glacier. Our second acclimatization venture took Dylan and I to the col between the two. Photo by Dylan.

Dylan and Josh hiking up a tributary glacier during our third acclimatization venture.

Acclimatization camping with Latok 3 and Latok I behind.

Josh and Dylan nearing the summit of the highest of the "Three Sisters."

A massive serac avalanche pouring onto the Choktoi Glacier from more than 2,000 meters above on the north face of Latok 3. It dusted our basecamp, on the opposite side of the glacier and past several moraines.

Josh and Dylan following the opening ice pitch during our attempt on Latok I.

Dylan arriving at the top of the ice runnel, a couple hundred meters higher.

Dylan leading a pitch of snow flutings and easy mixed.

Josh on a tiresome 60-degree ice field.

Colin filling bottles during our brew stop at the top of the tiresome 60-degree ice field. Photo by Dylan.

Dylan traversing towards the North Ridge.

Josh arriving on the crest of the North Ridge after the unconsolidated snow pitch.

Dylan belaying as Josh starts stamping a bivy platform.

Our bivy the following morning. We started rappelling towards the left.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mt. Hunter!

I have just returned to Seattle from a three-week trip to the Central Alaska Range with Norwegian climber Bjørn-Eivind Årtun. The weather this May was significantly better than average - Apart from a few days of snow showers and a wind storm that lasted for a few days, the weather was consistently mild. The weather forecast on the other hand was consistently pessimistic, and was dead wrong about 85% of the entire month (we slowly learned to ignore it).

We first warmed up with a climb of the "Mini Moonflower," (a sub-peak off of Mt. Hunter's Northeast Ridge) via its North Couloir. Bjørn-Eivind leading in the couloir:

And arriving at the sunny summit:

Next we climbed Kahiltna Queen (aka Humble Peak) for a bit of acclimatization via its West Face. This day was actually fairly snowy, which made for a lot of spindrift avalanches during the descent. Bjørn-Eivind down-climbing up high:

We brought a small rack and two ropes, but never ended up using any of it during the ascent or descent. Colin during the descent:

Next we geared up for an attempt of the Bibler-Klewin on Mt. Hunter's North Buttress (commonly and erroneously referred to as the "Moonflower Buttress"). First climbed in 1983 by Todd Bibler and Doug Klewin, this route snakes up an aesthetic line of ice streaks on the crest of the North Buttress.

We crossed the bergschrund at about 8:30am, simul-climbed up the initial ice slopes to the base of the first steep pitch, and I began the first block. Colin leading the second of the "Twin Runnel" pitches:

Bjørn-Eivind following the same pitch:

Bjørn-Eivind following the "Leaning Ramp" pitch:

Colin beginning "The Prow:"

Colin on "Tamara's Traverse:"

We switched blocks at the top of the first icefield, and soon Bjørn-Eivind was leading the "Death Mushroom" pitch (it was this snow mushroom that tragically collapsed and killed Steve Mascioli during his attempt on the route with Alan Kearney):

Bjørn-Eivind leading the first pitch of "The Shaft:"

Colin arriving at the belay mid-way up "The Shaft:"

Bjørn-Eivind leading "The Vision:"

We switched blocks once more at the top of the third icefield, and soon after it became dark as I led through the "Bibler Come Again" exit pitch. We simul-climbed most of the way up the final icefield until arriving at a nice crevasse/bergshrund which was a perfect resting spot. Bjørn-Eivind arriving at our rest-stop:

After resting and melting snow for several hours we left our wind-protected nook as it was getting light, and headed towards the summit, unfortunately amidst worsening weather. Bjørn-Eivind on Mt. Hunter's upper Northeast Ridge:

As we climbed towards the summit the weather deteriorated more and more, with the forecast winds getting stronger by the minute (After finally learning to ignore the weather forecast, it was right for once!). At first it didn't seem to be too much of a problem, but soon we were unable to stand in the gusts. It was painful to abandon our attempt on a high plateau only 100 meters below Mt. Hunter's summit, but as soon as the decision was made we realized that simply getting down would be a big worry in itself. Without goggles we were almost blind while down-climbing back to the top of the North Buttress, taking twice as much time as the ascent had. Descending the buttress itself was a long, tiring affair of 1,300 meters of rappelling, but fortunately more sheltered from the wind. Colin at our high point:

Back in basecamp, our climb on the Bibler-Klewin felt bittersweet. Sweet because the route was beautiful, and we climbed well in a fast, lightweight style, taking about 16 hours from the bergshrund to our brew stop. Bitter because in alpine climbing the top is the top, and our climb was never finished. It didn't take long to decide we wanted to go back on Mt. Hunter's North Buttress and climb to the summit. Since our strategy of no bivy gear had worked so well on the Bibler-Klewin, we decided to apply the same tactics to a slightly harder route, the Grison-Tedeschi (aka French Route, aka North Couloir). First climbed in 1984 by two French alpinists, I personally think it is the classiest line on the North Buttress, first climbing the obvious couloir and then tackling the upper headwall that the other routes avoid.

After a few rest days we were back at the base of Mt. Hunter's North Buttress. We simul-climbed from the bergshrund to near the top of the couloir before pitching out a couple steeper ice pitches. Bjørn-Eivind on the first belayed pitch:

Bjørn-Eivind leading the second belayed pitch, which gained the top of the couloir:

Bjørn-Eivind following a short, corniced snow arete above the top of the couloir:

Bjørn-Eivind leading an ice runnel above the top of the couloir:

Colin traversing up to the base of the "Black Band:"

Colin beginning a steep ice pitch through the "Black Band:"

Bjørn-Eivind starting the first pitch of the upper headwall:

Colin following on the headwall:

Colin leading near the top of the headwall:

Bjørn-Eivind following a pitch near the top of the headwall in the last rays of alpenglow:

Above the headwall we simul-climbed up ice slopes until the top of the North Buttress, and then took shelter from the wind in a bergschrund. It wasn't nearly as comfy as the crevasse at the top of the Bibler-Klewin, but nonetheless a nice spot to sit down and melt snow. Bjørn arriving at our brew-stop:

Colin at the brew-stop:

After a few hours we headed up towards the summit as it was getting light, this time under beautiful, blue skies. Colin arriving at the summit:

On the summit of Mt. Hunter after the fourth ascent of the Grison-Tedeschi:

We had originally planned to descend the North Buttress, but since we had already rappelled all of the North Buttress following our attempt on the Bibler-Klewin, we decided on a whim to descend the West Ridge instead in the name of seeing more of the mountain. The descent via the West Ridge did not take significantly longer than rappelling the buttress, but was much more tiring. Bjørn-Eivind after our descent of the West Ridge, before the soul-destroying hike back to basecamp:

We had hoped to make one more climb, but with one week left on the glacier and a poor weather forecast we opted instead to fly down to Seattle and climb sunny granite on the Index Town Walls.

The North Buttress of Mt. Hunter saw a lot of activity while we were in the range. Other ascents:
-The Swiss team of Simon and Samuel Anthamatten climbed the Bibler-Klewin, making by far the fastest ascent to date. They climbed from the base to the crevasse-bivy in approximately 14 hours, and made a roundtrip time from basecamp of approximately 36 hours.
-A Canadian team of Dave Edgar and Jay Mills made a fast ascent of Deprivation, and climbed several variations to the original route, making a more direct line of ascent.
-A team of three Scottish climbers made an ascent of the Bibler-Klewin.

Other strong attempts:
-A Canadian team of Dave Edgar, Jay Mills, and Jody Sutherland made an attempt on the Bibler-Klewin to half-way up the final icefield.
-Americans Kyle Dempster and Nate Opp made an attempt on the Bibler-Klewin to just above the "Bibler Come Again" exit pitch.
-Japanese climbers Genki Narumi and Katsutaka "Jumbo" Yokoyama made an attempt on the Wall of Shadows to the top of buttress. From the bergschrund to their highpoint they took NO BACKPACKS(!), just a small waist pack each.