January 28, 2016

Fall and Winter Climbing at the Red and Potrero Chico

Margot's highly evolved fingernails actually change color depending on her mood. Here she is en-route to demolishing an honest-to-god Mexican Burger. 

Over the past few months, Margot and I made a few short trips to some classic sport climbing destinations. Making use of some gaps in the schedule, we were able to pull off two two-week trips to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and Potrero Chico in Mexico. We kept the trips as low-budget as possible while still maintaining a good sense of hygiene. In the Red, this meant avoiding the feral pit of Miguel's and spending an extra $3 / night to camp at the ever pastoral Lago Lindas. In Potrero Chico, it meant camping amongst the XMAS hordes at La Posada. Who says that alpine climbers are the only ones who suffer?

This is what suffering for $7 / night looks like in Potrero Chico... 

And this is what $5 / night will get you at Lago Lindas in Kentucky. 

Just because you're in Mexico doesn't mean you can't celebrate the spirit of the Lord!

My favorite climbing trips are ones where I can walk everywhere. In Potrero, the camping is only minutes away from the climbing and there are numerous places to rehydrate after a sweaty day at the crags. 

Classic fall day climbing at the Red River Gorge.

Tracy W just givner in fading light at Muir Valley.

Onsighting is a healthy mix of luck, intuition and staying power. Or so I'm told. This was my hardest flash of the trip, a soft 12C at the Red called Belly of the Beast. It was a real surprise after falling off all the 5.11 warm-ups. Thanks Christina B for the photo!

Climbing Wildfire at the Curbside crag. Thanks Christina B for the photo and Jeff for the beta.

Our mountain of gak in Mexico included: blankets, pillows, 2 tents (one for gear and one for us), tons of snacks and coffee, lavish ground pads and a newly purchased ARMAID

Red nails mean: "I'm working while you're taking photos."

Preparing for a solid rogering at the Surf Bowl, Potrero Chico.

Day 1 and already things are getting loose.

I managed to send Surfer Rosa on the last burn of 2015 and avoided taking this whipper for the umpteenth time.

January 11, 2016

Bugaboos Skiing 2015 - 2016

Flying out with Dani and Captain Morgan and headed to Mexico. 

I've been remiss in posting lately. Sometimes life gets busy and it's hard to find the time. Sometimes I get stalled out thinking that I need to have something entertaining to say. Sometimes the camera always seems buried at the bottom of the pack. Sometimes I just get lazy or distracted. Before you know it, months go by and nothing happens and then it dawns on you that the things in life which always seemed like a given are no longer a leitmotif. Sometimes this is intentional and sometimes it happens by a gradual drift. But the result is the same - when somethings gone, it's gone. It can be a relationship or a hobby or a skill or anything else for that matter. If you let something go, it might not come back.So without having anything much to say, here are some photos from the season so far. 

Dani Lionheart enjoying himself in Rory Creek.

Allow myself to introduce... myself. I gave Lilla my camera and she proved to be a natural.

And one of those days in the Spires... Thanks Dave C for the photo.

Lilla just givenr!

J-Mac the sack!

Lilla is always on point and in focus.

D-Lo out for a rip in Rory.

Skiing the moraine on Crescent. Dave C. photo.

October 16, 2015

A Real Bit of Speed Flying

Swiss Hutt from Jamie Lee on Vimeo.

Maybe the most impressive piece of proximity speed flying I have ever seen. Even after watching the video, there are still a few moments when I'm sure he's going to crash! 

October 03, 2015

Mont Blanc Paraglide

Looking down at the Mer de Glace and the south side of the Chamonix Aiguilles.

Flying from the summit of Mont Blanc is something I've wanted to do since I got in to the sport. Although the feat has been done many times and is not technically difficult, it does require a bit of luck and good timing. Mont Blanc is closed for flying from July 1 - Sept 1 every year. The reason for this is because the local rescue group, the PGHM, does not want to have paragliders getting caught up in their helicopter during one of the numerous rescues that are performed during the summer months. So for an itinerant guide, this leaves a few days in June and September to accomplish the flight. After work, unsuitable conditions and sloth are accounted for, this leaves very few opportunities to fly from the summit of Mont Blanc.

On Friday, Sept 25, I found myself with an unexpected day off from work. The forecast was perfect for flying so I decided to head up the Aiguille de Midi for a flight. I hadn't flown the Valle Blanche for a few years and I was keen to make the flight. I set up for a south take-off  and decided to go for the very shallow launch with a super light tailwind. The consequences of blowing the launch were not serious so I went for it and... after skimming my belly an inch above the ground for a few meters, I eventually nosed into the snow and stopped abruptly. After cleaning the snow out of my eye balls, I waited a while to see what the wind would do. By 10:30 am, there was a light, consistent breeze out of the NE, so I set-up over the North Face of the Midi and launched. My goal was still to fly the south side though, so I hugged the mountain and was able to pass through a low point in the ridge - granting access to the Valle Blanche and the Mer de Glace. When I landed in the valley twenty minutes later, I was so stoked about the beautiful flight that I started thinking about Mont Blanc. My flight back to Canada was scheduled to leave in a day and half so I'd have to get up to a hut that afternoon and fly off the summit early the next morning. The thought of spending my last day in town casually drinking coffee and cragging was tempting, but I figured that there'd be plenty of cragging and coffee in Canada but not a lot of 3800 meter sled rides! So I packed up and took the bus to the telepherique, transferred to the train and made the  hour and a half hike up to the Tete Rousse Refuge. The next morning, I left the hut at 5:40 am and four hours and forty minutes later, I was standing on top on an impossibly perfect day for flying. My kit was quite light since I only carried some warm clothes, a light-weight axe, crampons, a light-weight glider (Gin Yeti 19 meter) and a light-weight harness (SUP Air Radicale). After some deliberation, I decided to leave the 1.2 kg reserve behind. In general, I fly with the reserve whenever feasible. However, there are times when I believe that  drawbacks of the extra-weight outweigh the added weight. At the end of the day, we all approach risk differently, and while some believe that they can manage risk away, I can't help but feel that luck plays a significant role in every story of success. 

I took off from the summit around 10:40 am. The wind was light out of the NE and I opted for a forward launch. Although it would have been nice to go with crampons on, I decided to remove them to have more options when landing in the valley. Of course, I managed to screw up the gopro and missed all the footage from the launch and upper mountain. 

The flight lasted about forty minutes and I landed in a field about three minutes from my apartment. I put the wing away, walked to the bakery, and enjoyed one last pain au chocolat and cafe allonge before heading home to pack for home. A+ Chamonix!

I spliced this video together from a south side flight the day before Mont Blanc and from the actual ascent.

The Chamonix Aiguilles as seen from the apartment.

Waiting for the train to Nid D'Aigle.

The Tramway de Mont Blanc.

Looking out at the Aravis from the Tete Rousse on Mont Blanc.

Evening light at the Tete Rousse.

The Bionassay.

The Gouter Route and Grand Couloir in evening light. If you look close, you can see the Gouter Hut in the center of the upper ridge.

The Tete Rousse Refuge.

The Gouter Refuge at 7:15 am.

Looking out at the Aiguille de Midi, Verte, Droites and Courtes.

I took this photo from the summit of Mont Blanc the previous year while guiding. Needless to say, I was jealous.

Flying the Valle Blanche the day before. I took this same route off Mont Blanc.

Looking over at the south side of the Chamonix Aiguilles.

My buddy Tim C took this photo one afternoon while playing around at the Brevent launch.

This video does a good job of capturing what it's like to fly beneath a few kilograms of nylon.

September 17, 2015

Climbing The Matterhorn - Hornli Ridge

Eric L. guiding the Hornli Ridge on the Matterhorn in late July, 2015.

Every summer, droves of people flock to the Alps hoping to climb the Hornli Ridge on the Matterhorn. The peak lies above Zermatt and is even more stunning in real life then it is in post cards and photos. In the 150 years since its first ascent, the mountain has lost some of its fearsome reputation and can now be ascended by any fit climber with a guide and a decent amount of rock climbing ability. That said, the route does present certain challenges and just because someone has bobbled their way up Mont Blanc or Mount Everest, that doesn't mean that they will crest the Matterhorn. Unlike other snow plods where you can sleep walk your way to the top, the Matterhorn does require a certain deftness of foot. The route is essentially 1200 meters of exposed, 4th class scrambling with the odd bit of low 5th class climbing. If you are reading this and you don't know what 4th class scrambling and 5th class climbing is, then you are probably not ready to climb the peak.  

On the Matterhorn, most guides will have a cut-off time to make the summit. In general, a good time from the Hornli hut to the top is between 3 - 4 hours. If  a client can't make it in 5 hours, I think that most guides will turn around. The reason for this is that the route up and down are exactly the same, but the journey down generally requires more focus and often takes as long or longer then the ascent. If someone makes the top with little energy left, the descent could take a very long time and become quite unnerving.

Earlier this summer, I found myself on the Matterhorn with an extra guide and only one client. While the other guide roped the client to the summit, I had the opportunity to float around and capture most of the ascent with my camera. Here are some photos from the day.

This is what Uber looks like in Zermatt.

The new Hornli Hut with the Monte Rosa Massif in the background.

Not cheap, but very nice.

Early morning on the Hornli. Everyone leaves the Hut at 4 am so this must be after about 2 hours of climbing. 

Eric L wondering how to get around the hoards of people above.


Pulling on the boat ropes in the early morning sun.

This photo really shows the number of people on the route. Conditions were excellent and the hut was full. There were atleats 100 other climbers on the mountain this day. We managaed to get near the front of the pack and found ourselves alone for most of the descent.

Nearing the top on a rare day without crampons.

Summit Ridge after about 3.5 hours of climbing.

On the descent.

Back down and ready for the return trip to Chamonix.

But not before having a shandy on the deck of the Hornli.