Sunday, July 26, 2015

Searching the Winds: Possibility #2

Three Hikes to Midsummer Valley

The Falcon's Lair has the finest granite that I've seen in the Wind River Range.  So after being disappointed by the rock quality at Moss Lake, I decided that it would be a good idea to see how far the high quality rock extended past the Falcon's Lair.  Davin, Jamie, and Ben were also interested in checking out a canyon known as Midsummer, just north of the Lair, so it jumped to the top of my list.  We made plans, and got out early.  The air was cool, with a nice breeze.  We hiked past the Falcon's Lair, and headed north across the tundra.
A large snow field dropped us right into the valley.
The approach is a mile and a half longer than the Falcon's Lair, but it was really nice not having to cross a lot talus, and the majority of the approach is on a trail.  It's a little too long for a bouldering day trip, but much easier to get to than the other expedition destinations that I've visited in the Winds.

The stone quality we found varied from good to excellent with the large boulders being a little spread out and usually found in the talus fields.  The ambiance of the area really impressed me, with multiple  canyons holding bouldering possibilities, clean walls, and even a few waterfalls.
We hiked up canyon to the west, exploring the boulders along the way, and found a twenty-five foot tall calving snow drift!
Midsummer Valley impressed me.  So much so, I immediately started making plans to get my family up there.  The only way I could make it work was to hike my large pad, packed with two tents and four sleeping bags, up there in advance.  It was a lot of work.  I stashed the gear in a small dry cave, hiked out, and repeated the hike with my family up a couple days later.  Based on the two hikes I'd made, I expected cool temps and few mosquitoes.  During the hike in with my family we had good temps, but the mosquitoes were relentless.

The girls handled it well though.
We set up camp, had dinner, and I hung the bear bag with our food just before a stunning sunset.
I slept well, awoke at sunrise, and scoped more boulders before we started climbing.  This time I explored down canyon from the camping ledge rather than to the west.  I found small, but climbable boulders, with amazing stone and good landings.  I also looked again at the large boulders within talus fields just west of the camping ledge.  Since this was a family trip, with only two pads, we stuck to the small boulders with good landings just below camp.  A constant challenge while alpine bouldering in the Winds is getting enough pads back to these areas to be able to safely climb the best lines.  Often it just isn't possible, and the best lines remain unfinished.

Despite staying on the smaller boulders, it would have been an amazing day.  The rock was incredible.  But heat and mosquitoes detracted from the experience.  Our day up there happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer, without even a hint of a breeze.  But we couldn't get anywhere else, so we climbed in the heat.

Ashley warming up on some of the perfect stone.
"Midsummer Sunshine" V2/3 was my favorite line of the day.  It starts on a good edge and virtually campuses up the arete, due to a lack of foot holds.  The arete has just enough friction to make it go.
We worked on a difficult project for a while.  I'm still not sure if this one goes or not. The bump under my right hand can barely be called a hold.
One nice line that Ashley put up is "The Columbine Traverse." She did both a shorter V2 and a longer V3 version.
To get home by sunset we stopped bouldering by 2:00 in the afternoon.  We took down the tents, and everyone helped me by packing out more gear than they carried in.  But my large pad was still excessively heavy, stuffed with so much gear.

Autumn sitting on my stuffed pad.  If only you could actually see how heavy it was.

Hiking out under all the weight, with burning shoulders and aching hip joints, I had a chance to consider the trip in it's entirety. We'd gotten full work outs, put up quite a few new problems, and spent some time in an incredibly beautiful environment, but it had been so much work to do it. Including my trip to stash gear, I'd spent a lot more time hiking than I had bouldering.  Once all the factors were considered, I decided that it's better to spend summer days at the Rock Shop with my family.  It's considerably easier to get up early to beat the heat, or camp up there, than it is to get all the necessary gear up to and out of the alpine areas.  By the last mile out of Midsummer Valley, my legs and shoulders hurt so bad that I was questioning my own sanity.  Optimism usually serves me well, but this trip was too much.

Reflecting on it now, I learned quite a bit my three trips up there.  I stopped pushing alpine bouldering on my family, and we've had really great sessions at the Rock Shop instead.  I know that Midsummer Valley really is an amazing place.  I'm sure that I'll get back there, but a couple things keep it from being ideal.  It doesn't have a concentration of big blocks with good landings, and it doesn't have the extensive views of giant peaks or walls that can significantly add to the alpine bouldering experience.  It's one of the most beautiful valleys that I've ever seen, but the view is limited by the sides of the valley.  I imagine an alpine area with big blocks of bullet hard stone, all sitting on soft tundra, surrounded in all directions by amazing scenery.  I've felt for a long time that an area like this must exist somewhere in the Winds.  Hopefully it would only take one more hike to find it...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Searching the Winds: Possibility #1

Before summer even began, I decided that I wanted to spend the last week of my summer vacation alpine bouldering somewhere in the Wind River Mountains. The Cirque of the Boulders was a possibility, but there were other places that might be easier to get to, or have higher rock quality, or have better landings.  So before I settled on a destination, I decided I'd check out some other places to see if anywhere might beat the Cirque for a week long expedition destination.  My first trip happened in mid-June.
An Exploratory Trip to Moss Lake

It was Jamie Emerson who first brought up Moss Lake as a potential bouldering area.  After I took a look at Google Earth I was kicking myself.  How could Jamie, in Colorado, find such an amazing looking boulder field in my backyard before I did?  Part of it was that I had avoided looking for areas that were on, or accessed through, the Wind River Indian Reservation.  But this area looked so good, and it was only a six mile hike, so it jumped to the top of my exploration list!

I hiked in from Moccasin Lake, which had a disappointing amount of trash around it for a lake so high in the mountains.  A trail took me to Mary's Lake and old signs pointed to a time when this area received more governmental attention than it does today.
After Mary's Lake, the trail shown on the map doesn't exist half the time.  I was on it occasionally, but downed trees forced me off frequently, and the trail disappears for long stretches.  I got excited when I saw a bridge, but it turned out that it isn't much of a bridge anymore.
The "trail/wandering somewhat lost in the woods" took me past many boulders, but I didn't spend time exploring them.  I'd learned that the boulders in the Winds just get better as you get higher, and I had a boulder field at Moss Lake that I needed to see.  The Moss Lake Cirque came into view, and I got really excited.  My pace quickened.

Soon perfectly sized boulders came into view.
I could see the upper boulder field, which was my final destination.  Unfortunately it was at the top of a steep slab which was covered in soft deep snow.  I couldn't safely get into the boulder field to get my hands on these rocks, but I did get up to a few boulders that fell out of this zone.  Big crystals, few features, and the features I found would flex and break when I pulled on them.  This area was lacking high rock quality, a good trail, and didn't have the full alpine ambiance that I was searching for.  The most amazing place I'd seen on Google Earth, didn't turn out to be that amazing.
On the hike out I noticed that the rock was actually getting better as I descended.  Some of the best looking boulders were near the small lakes just northeast of Gaylord Lake.  The patina is slippery, but the stone is solid and featured.  This area could offer some good bouldering, but it's harder to access than Roaring Fork and isn't substantially better.  With so many other areas that I'm more excited about, I doubt that I'll ever get around to developing it.
The rocks above are a five mile hike in.  The much better rock of the Falcon's Lair (seen below) is only a 3.5 mile hike, most of it is on a good trail, and it still has many undone lines that I'm interested in climbing.  
So Moss Lake wasn't what I was looking for.  The search would continue.  Possibility #2 was Midsummer Valley.
And I'll tell you all about my two trips up there.  Sometime soon...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Reporting From The Rock Shop

So much has been going on at the Rock Shop, that it's time to write up a report.

Yesterday was very exciting for us, because Ashley finished a project that we've spent many days on over the last three summers.  At the end of last summer we'd given up on the line, but we've both felt stronger this year, so we started working on it again.  The line uses a set of slippery slopey crimps to connect the V5 opening moves of "Boulder of Montana" into the start of the painfully crimpy V6 "To the Pain." This creates a long line that requires good power endurance, and strong core strength to take advantage of high a left foot smear and a heel hook on a small edge.

Here is the uncut video of the hardest first ascent that Ashley has ever done.

The Rock Shop also saw a lot of activity due to the International Climbers' Festival.  Alex Johnson lead a bouldering clinic out there with Kian acting as the tour guide.  And Carlo Traversi lead a clinic that I helped out with.  During Carlo's clinic I witnessed what I believe is the first flash of "The Giving Tree" V10 by Carlo.
 It was interesting to watch how Carlo used his core strength to try out different foot positions before making the hand moves.  It looked like he had power to spare until the last difficult move.  He barely caught the swing, but he did catch it!
 It was exciting to see!  Nice work Carlo!

During the clinic I showed Carlo three undone projects that were nearby.  One of them was the tall line that Mike had put some time into.
 Carlo didn't have time to work on the projects that day, but he came back the next morning and sent the line above!  He's rated it V11, and is still deciding what to call it.

After the clinic officially ended, quite a few people stayed to get a tour of Nexus and the problems around it.  The conditions were alright, but Nexus is a fingery problem to try at the end of a session.  Progress was made, but it didn't see any repeats while I was there.

Nexus V6
 Outside of the festival, and the most difficult first ascents, there is even more activity to report.  Chris did a lot of landing work below the Lander Wall and it's now one of the more popular boulders at the Rock Shop.  El Moreno Right is a great warm up at V2 if you hit the lip and exit right.
 I tried the original heel above your head left exit once but was just too scared.

Working on "Philanderer" is reasonable now that Chris has built a deck of sticks and string below it.  But no one actually falls on the deck, because it's still scary and the top out holds of "Philanderer" are actually pretty good.

Steve working out the top out over the deck.

Quite a few other first ascents have been done too.  Stephen did a new line called "Money Train" near the "Grave Wave." On the way there you can climb Charlie's first first ascent called "Against All Odds" V4.  And Jesse recently put up a new compression line out the overhang on the Swan Boulder.
Kian and I spent time cleaning all the holds and cracks on the warm up boulder next to the UFO.  Then we climbed every variation we could think of.
 Kian's put up a bunch of moderate lines recently, and is working on some harder ones.  One of our favorites so far is "Havana Daydream" V1/2.
 Some of his other lines include "High Stakes," "In Tents," and "Moon Rocks" which we haven't gotten a chance to climb yet.  In one of Kian's new sectors Ashley added a surprisingly fun little roof problem called "Bikini Bottom" V3.
In other news "Lord of the Flies" has changed significantly for climbers shorter than 5'6", but it still goes with new beta at about V6.  
 Also a new variation climbs diagonally from the start of "Piggy" to end of "Lord of the Flies." Devlin told me about the line, but I'm not sure who climbed it first or if it's been named.

I almost forgot to mention a new V3 called "Jet Stream" that Ashley added just west of "Pain and Perfection.

Our daughters have also been enjoying the climbing there.

And we've been getting out there with many friends.

Ben working on "To the Pain."
We've been having so much fun at the Rock Shop that it makes me wonder sometimes, why I bother climbing anywhere else during the Summer!  Well, we'll save those other places for the next post.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Very Close Call

Yesterday, something happened that I'm still grappling with.  I'm hoping that by writing about it, future accidents can be avoided, and that I'll be able to mentally move past it. But it isn't something that I'll be able to forget.

I'll start with the fact that my family is safety conscious. My daughter wears a helmet when she leads.  We always double check our knots and systems.  We discuss our plans before the climber even leaves the ground.  But despite all that, my daughter was just inches from death yesterday. I thought for a few moments that she was going to die, and there was nothing that I could do to stop it.

I was at the top of "County Ten Gunslinger" 5.12c on the Erratic at Wild Iris.  Ashley had already toproped it, and wanted me to set up something harder.  But I was saving my energy for a redpoint attempt. So to set up a toprope on "When I Was a Young Girl..." 5.13a, I decided not to climb it bolt to bolt.  Instead, all I needed to do was mantle onto an easy slab above my climb, and make my way to the other anchors, up and to the right.  I started to mantle, using an undercling to the left, but the entire undercling immediately started to slide.  In a fraction of a second a slab of rock 18 inches in width and length, and six inches thick, slid off the top, bloodied my hand as I tried to stop it, and went sailing towards the ground.  I screamed "Rock! Watch Out!" and then saw that it was falling straight towards my daughter, Autumn, who was sitting on a large log below.  She didn't have any time to get out of the way.  The block hit, exploding into pieces, eight inches from where she sat.  Her chalk bag sitting at her feet was crushed by a piece, and if she had been sitting just a bit to the left, she would have been killed.  My life, Ashley's life, and Sierra's life would have been tragically transformed in an instant.  Unhurt, but surprised, Autumn has taken the event much better than I have.

It was a beautiful day yesterday.  The wildflowers are amazing at Wild Iris right now, and in the shade it was cool.  It didn't feel at all like a day that could go horribly wrong, and we were too complacent.  We've always told the girls not to hang out under a climber.  We always make sure that they aren't under anyone at Sinks Canyon, and we're usually careful about it at Wild Iris too.  But we hadn't been paying attention this time, and we almost paid the ultimate price.  I've accepted the possibility that I could get injured or even die while climbing.  But I'd never considered that one of my daughters could be killed because I choose to climb.  We read about the deaths of climbers doing dangerous ascents in the mountains, free soloing, or flying wing suits.  We get the sense that you could die in this sport if you push things too far.  We feel the fear of falling, lightning, and possible grizzly bears.  But until recently I didn't think enough about rock fall.  In addition to my family's close call, Chris recently pried a three hundred pound block off the problem "Piggy" at the Rock Shop.  It's a block that people have used as an undercling for a few years now, and it came off the boulder quite easily.  It's easy to imagine how it could have killed someone, warming up for the day, just pulling into the sit start, crushing them instantly and undramatically.

Don't forget that it's possible to be killed on a nice day at the sport cliff or at the local boulder garden. Keep yourself and your kids well away while someone is climbing above.  Be especially aware of loose blocks and flakes when putting up first ascents, and don't be afraid to test any questionable ones with a crowbar.  On February 21, 1992 Robert Drysdale died while bouldering at Priest Draw, Arizona. A one hundred pound block at the top of an established problem, loosened by the winter's freeze thaw, fell as he grabbed it and hit him in the back of the head on his way to the ground.  It's the only death I've heard of caused by bouldering, and it happened because of a loose block.

So if you notice me keeping my distance while you're sport climbing, or yelling at my kids to take their lunch into the woods, I hope you'll understand. I've had a close call. It's made me paranoid.

And I hope you'll be careful too.  Stay safe out there.