July 30, 2009

Climbing The Mount Rundle Traverse

Spirit Totem.

The problem with people who work full-time is that they don't make for good weekday climbing partners. So since everyone in Canmore seems to be working these days (aren't we in a recession, shouldn't you people be unemployed and collecting EI?), I decided to go on a solo quest.

The Quest took me up the road to Mount Rundle - the ridgeline that runs from Canmore to Banff. According to the GPS, The Traverse (from the EEOR Trailhead to Aardvarks Pizza in Banff) covers about 15 miles, 10,000 feet (the GPS might have overestimated this??) and took 14 hours. Like all good Quests, the crux comes right at the end and involves mid 5th class climbing on less than perfect rock

Looking west from the the top of EEOR.

A sure sign that you are on a Vision Quest... The Sun Halo.

If the Mountain Goat is your Spirit Totem, it means you are a miserable recluse who likes high, cold, rocky places.

Halfway up the main peak of Mount Rundle, I crawled into an exposed nook and came across this. Unbelievable. Probably about $200 worth of booty. Despite being on a Vision Quest, this was not a spiritual illusion.

Rappelling on 6mm chord is both terrifying and complex. It is a great way to enhance visions on your next Spiritual Quest.

The Mount Rundle Skyline from Canmore.

July 23, 2009

Climbing The French Direct on Alpamayo

Looking back at a busy Alpamayo High Camp (5400 meters). The yellow specks on the far looker's right are our tents. Last time I guided the peak in 2006, we were the only team on the mountain. If you look close, you can see a member of the German Team doing his business in the snow toilet on the extreme looker's right.

In just over 24 hours, I'll be back on board an Air Canada Jet heading for home. Man, the time goes fast. Admittedly, I feel a little stupid for not scheduling some extra time for personal climbing. Whenever I plan a work trip, I usually think that I'll be ready to go home when the work is done. Of course, this is never the case and I always wish that I'd given myself extra time.

But time is a funny thing. As fast as it may seem to go in the big picture, it also tends to move like the continental drift when discomfort or suffering is involved. Take summit days for example. When the alarm shocks me in to low-grade consciousness at 11:45 pm (like it did on Alpamayo a few days ago), I'll be damned if I don't find myself repeating the words, "This too shall pass. This too shall pass." At this point, I would pay many Nuevo Sols for time to speed up and for the day to be almost over (with everyone having reached the summit of course!). But no, time plods on and we are all forced to deal with it's untimely nature (sometimes too fast, other times too slow) in our own way.

The correct question at this point would be "Why in God's name were you waking up at 11:45 pm to climb Alpamayo?" I guess there are two answers to this question. 1) The Local Guide I was working with totally sandbagged me and set his alarm 15 minutes ahead of schedule (We were supposed to wake up at midnight). For this infraction he shall never be forgiven. 2) At exactly 2 am, there would be a group of about 12 hard, vey severe, Germanic Mountaineers gang-banging Alpamayo via fixed ropes. In order to avoid the melee, we opted to out-start them. I am still undecided whether or not we would have been better off getting shelled by falling ice than waking up at 11:45 pm.

As usual, the Southern Hemisphere has been a good time. I'm sad to leave, but stoked to thrash around at The Back of The Lake in 48 hours.

This photo was taken in 2006 and shows the Basque-French Route (orange) that is commonly mistaken as the Ferrari Route, and the French Direct Route (red) that we climbed in 2009.

Approaching Alpamayo Base Camp (4350 meters).

Moraine Camp (5000 meters).

Approaching High Camp. Notice the spacing of this team's rope. This short-roping method insures that should a snow-bridge collapse, all members of the team will plummet into the same creavasse. This is the ultimate expression of a team's commitment to one another.

Preparing for war at Campo Alto (5400 meters).

Although the weather was relatively stable, there was a fair bit of precip for Peru. Of course, like all major events on the planet, the Locals related this entirely to the Lunar Cycle.

Belaying the fnal pitch of the French Direct. 6:30 am. Light snow. And a whole bunch of pissed off German climbers to my immediate left.

Me and Anne on Alpamayo's summit.

Laguna Ayuacocha (Lake of Shadows) that sits just above Base Camp. This is an excellent spot to recite poetry, have a picnic, and attempt to woo an unsuspecting mate. The Lake's beauty, combined with the dizzying effects of altitude, will almost certainly impair the judgement of the opposite sex.

If the scenery in the last photo doesn't work, try turning 180 degrees and gazing out upon Artesonraju.

If you can't score with this backdrop, the love was not meant to be.

As a last resort, you might want to try going black and white. This lighting tends to lessen the effects of age.

July 05, 2009

Climbing Dreams of Verdon Ghost River Wilderness

Sonnie Trotter approaches Dreams of Verdon in the wild Ghost River Valley, AB.

In a few hours, I'll be hurtling through space on my way to Peru. As always, I am stoked for the Latin vibration, the madness and the work. The only thing that I am not overly excited for is returning to Canada in three weeks and falling off all the climbs that I now warm up on. Ahhhhhh, but I'm used to it. Unlike some people, I can barely climb a flight of stairs "off the couch," and the coming migration of mass from my upper body down to my already rotund haunches will only make things more desperate. Oh well, it's not the end of the world. And besides, didn't I write something a few weeks ago about how my buddy Chris Brazeau spent most of the winter on his ass, baking bread and researching conspiracy theories, only to come back stronger than ever? Of course, the main difference here is that Chris is actually a good climber whereas I am a total thug who relies on a ridiculously high strength to technique ratio. So basically, I'm screwed.

The other day, while driving back from Lake Louise, some friends mentioned something about rock climbing in the Ghost River. I'd been into the Ghost a bunch for ice climbing, but apart from a maniacal stag party last fall, I'd never been in there sans snow. After flipping through the guidebook, I decided that the six pitch, three star, Dreams of Verdon (12a) would be a worthy intro route.

Luckily, Canadian ace Sonnie Trotter was in town and was also keen. The forecast wasn't great, but we decided that climbing the route was worth the risk of getting fried like Peruvian Guinea Pigs in an electrical storm. Of course, with Sonnie as a rope gun, I figured we'd be up and down the thing likkity split.

In order to give us an extra margin of safety from the afternoon thunder heads, we decided to suck it up and get an 8 am alpine start. After sessioning the coffee shop, blowing the driving directions, and completing the 45 minute approach, we were climbing at the crack of noon. With dark clouds all around, it would take a small miracle for us not to get toasted...

Waving my arm in hopes of shooing away the clouds.

Sonnie's expression after he realizes that I loaded his pack with fifty pounds of rocks. It took him four pitches of climbing before this became apparent.

Nearing the top of pitch four as a squall unleashes. The route was steep enough that we didn't get soaked.

Just kinda floating up the thing.

Sonnie throws a punch after I accuse him of using a fifi hook on all his hard sends.

Getting higher...

Sonnie starting the final pitch (12a). I dared him to climb the pitch with his eyes closed, which I'm pretty sure he did.

Climbing by braille.

T-minus ten minutes before the skies unleash furious vengeance.

We ended up touching down just as the skies opened for real.