September 21, 2013

Mountaineering in Cerise Creek, BC

Pierre H on the East Ridge of Matier looking over at the Twin One Glacier.

It's been a few years since I worked on the coast and did a full week of instructional travail. So when the opportunity came up to spend a week getting pounded by rain with 13 of my favorite mountaineering students, I figured what the hell. 

The location was Cerise Creek off the Duffy Lake Highway and when the sun is out, it's hard to imagine more perfect alpine scenery. But Lord knows, the sun does not always shine in British Columbia. After four days of blue skies, the weather turned and transformed our dry camping spot into a swamp. The upshot to this was that it made my Thermarest feel more like a water bed. The downside was, well ... do you have an hour? But in all fairness, the blueberry picking was really good and the west coast vibe reminded me of the many years I spent working in and around North Cascades National Park. Plus, the students were great and the other instructors - Pierre H and Matt V - provided good comic relief.

The early part of the week brought perfect weather.

Ice climbing on the Twin One Glacier.

Mirror image.


Heading below Mt. Matier on our way to Mt. Hartzell.

The summit of Mt. Hartzell

And then the rain. 

Student belay on the East Ridge of Matier.

Swamp camp

Heading up Matier.

Wandering around in the fog.

It's hard to trust a guy who doesn't drink coffee or alcohol.

Team work

The berry picking in Cerise Creek at this time of year is A+.

Making pancakes is a great way to pass time on a rainy day.

Be gone!

September 11, 2013

Climbing Mt. Athabasca and a Return to Flight

Mike A descending Mt Athabasca in wintry conditions - "I'd rather miss the summit and have an adventure than make the summit without a challenge."

Last year, Mike A came out to the Canadian Rockies from Texas. We had a great trip and managed to scrape our way up Mt. Assiniboine. This year,  Mike came out for the East Ridge of Mt. Temple but unfortunately, the weather was off. So we drove north up the Icefields Parkway in hopes of better weather. The chimera of  sunny skies turned out to be just that, but we did manage to grope our way up Mt. Athabasca's Ramp Route in less than ideal conditions. After battling it out on the mountain for 9 hours, we got back to the car and drove to Canmore. I fell asleep instantly but kept waking up sporadically to make sure that Mike wasn't falling asleep as well. "Don't worry," he assured me, "I could drive for 10 hours straight right now." I guess they make em tougher in Texas.

From last year's trip up Mt. Assiniboine.

First flight in almost 7 months. Thanks to Rich Jagger for lending me his wing! A couple of mellow sled rides in Golden, BC was a good way to get back in the air. 

September 06, 2013

Climbing Takakkaw Falls Route, Little Yoho, and Climbing Back

Ferdl Taxbock on the NE Ridge of Ha Ling in June 2013. This was the first and only time I met him. He was guiding a friend up the route while Aaron B was guiding me up the route. When he saw the IFMGA sticker on my helmet, he asked where I got it and I told him that they were pretty cheap on EBAY. Two months later, Ferdl took a big lead fall in the Bugaboos and did not survive. RIP.

Here's a photo of Arrak from NYC climbing the NE Ridge of Ha Ling 2 months later. By this point, I'd healed enough to guide some moderate outings. This is one of my favorite local routes:  50 minute approach, 10 excellent pitches, and a 1 hour descent. Some people might think it gets tedious repeating the same route numerous times, but I appreciate the familiarity and intimacy that comes with it.

It's been almost 7 months since I hit the ground and broke the bejeezus out of my pelvis. When I think of where I was back in March, it feels surreal to be guiding and climbing again in the mountains. Things are not perfect and the body is still healing (and probably will continue to heal for at least another year), but I feel pretty good all things considered. I still haven't gotten back in to flying but I'm looking forward to that day. 

Ironically, I'm climbing more these days than last year at this time. When I got in to flying, I became obsessed - manic even (imagine that) - and spent every spare minute trying to get in to the air (like when you start climbing and everything else becomes secondary). It got to the point where if I didn't or couldn't fly, it was a bad day. But working in Europe was great for this as I would often drag my wing up the telepherique, stash it in the rocks, and fly back to Chamonix at the end of the guiding day. On really good days, I would find myself guiding a peak with a wing in my pack and a surfeit of other guides around to take the the clients down. I would then lay the wing out on or near a summit, and fly back to camp or the valley. This happened on the Gran Paradiso in Italy and on Russia's Mt. Elbrus, and were some of the strongest experiences I've had in the mountains. Between June and November 2012, I logged over 200 flights and other than work, there wasn't much else going on.  But lately, I've fallen back in with climbing and am enjoying the movement and the effort in a whole new way. It's sad to say, but in many ways, it's not until you lose something (or lose the ability to do something) - that you fully appreciate the significance of what you had. Here's a great blog about someone trying to make it back after a big wreck:  Pretty inspiring that she says she is now climbing stronger then ever. 

Looking over at the Vice President and the President above the Little Yoho Valley.

Shaun K belays clients up the final ice step on Mt Mcarthur.

Jim F from Colorado on the Takakkaw Falls Route. The climb is mostly bolted and you can get away without anything more than 8 quickdraws. That said, I did place a 0.5 and 0.75 on the 1st corner pitch after the traversing.

Climbing up to the cave.

Jim F entering the cave.

The cave is about 80 meters long and gets pretty tight. It reminded me of being inside an MRI Machine and I had to retreat almost immediately due to claustrophobia. After a few good breaths, I was able to go back in the cave and finish the crawl.

Jim F at the base of the final pitch after the cave.

Not a bad place to spend the day.