October 17, 2014

First Flight on Ozone Firefly 2 From Ha-Ling, Canmore

Looking up at Ha Ling, Mt. Lawrence Grassi and the Ship's Prow from the Dog Park at Quarry Lake - aka the LZ.

The shoulder season is a mellow time of year in Canmore. The days are short, the mornings are cold, and the weather is always a dog's breakfast. I was hoping to have a productive hike and fly season this fall, but the high winds have contributed to as much walking down as flying. On the rare occassion that I have gotten in the air, I've been reminded of how amazing it is to fly amongst the local peaks. 

An amazing photo by Gery Unterasinger with the rainbow slicing right through Ha Ling.

Ha Ling is probably my favorite local hike and fly as the peak sits right above the house and takes about 45 minutes to hike up and 6 minutes to fly down (on a 16 meter wing). Here is a short video from a flight off  the peak. It was a beautiful, calm morning and was perfect for a first flight on a new Ozone Firefly 2. Granted, I used to have the first generation Firefly and logged about 50 flights on it before it met a most unfortunate end. It's hard to say too much about the wing after only one six minute flight, but here's what I found:

1) Really nice leading edge with rods and mylar re-inforcing each cell. This is very confidence inspiring!

2) Risers are thinner and more user friendly than the original wing.

3) Felt very smooth, responsive and predictable in flight.

4) Noticeably slower to come up over head on launch than lighter weight wings.

October 06, 2014

Life, Death And Mountains

Climbers on the Rebuffat Route, Pointe Lachenal, Chamonix.

Near the end of August, Dylan T and I climbed a combination of routes on Pointe Lachenal. We started up Harold and Maude for the first few pitches and then drifted left to the aesthetic 2-pitch variation of A L'Oree du Bois. It was a great day out with an old friend. It's not always easy to find a climbing  partner in the middle of the guiding season, so it's a real treat when it happens.

Over the years, Dylan and I have done some good climbing, skiing and flying together. In 2006, we traversed Alaska's Neacola mountains, and in 2008 we skiied across the Tordrillo Range. In 2012, we smartened up and went on a much more civilized paragliding trip to Olu Deniz, Turkey.

Despite the fact that we all know working and playing in the mountains is dangerous, when accidents happen, there is still an element of disbelief. When Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair, and Liz Daley died in two separate avalanches in South America last week, I was stunned. Andreas and JP were masters of the sport and although I didn't know them personally, their online presence was so strong that it was hard not to know them. 

Whether we think about it or not, those of us who have made a lifestyle of being in the mountains, are part of a community. When the community suffers a loss, it's important to honor the individuals involved. It doesn't have to be a big show. At the ISSW (International Snow Science Workshop) in Banff last week, the participants took a minute of silence to honor the fallen skiers. Although the act is small, the statement is large. People often say, "It's only climbing... It's only skiing." But what they are really saying with this statement is that the acts are not meaningful - that somehow, in the great hierarchy of meaningful acts (you tell me what they are), climbing and skiing are low on the list. Well, I suppose that if we allow the lifestyle to be meaningless, it will be. But if we make a conscious effort to glean meaning from experience, it won't be. To take from David Foster Wallace, the capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

Here is a blurb that Dylan wrote about an incident earlier this summer:

One month ago today I had my closest brush with death. I’d often figured that a climbers' worst nightmare would be getting avalanched into a crevasse then buried. Then it happened to me, and somehow I survived the hour-long, 2-meter burial with severe hypothermia, a helluva lot of bruising, a relatively un-injured body, but a lot of heartache for the one who didn’t make it. It’s been a month of recovery and reboot. Thanks to all who’ve helped along the way, and apologies to all who have called and written - I haven’t been the quickest to respond over the last couple weeks.

Our lives hang by a fragile thread and it can all come crashing down in an instant. Ten days after I got out of the hospital, a drunk driver side-swiped three of us as we were driving up the autoroute blanche. Fortunately, I regained control of the car and drove away without serious harm - just a dent and an insurance headache.

We spend our lives taking risks (some of us more than others). Maybe we toss that word “managing” around a little too much? Shit happens to us in seemingly asymmetric and random ways, and luck, being luck, is applied to us unevenly as well. What hurts one can kill another, and can give a memorable “close call” to yet another. I escaped what I was convinced would be certain death with scratches, bruising, and some psychological trauma. I’ve lost friends in the mountains to events seemingly more benign than my own. I don’t understand why I’m still here, alive, and walking and talking. But i'll take it. I saw my life flash in front of my eyes twice in two weeks. I can’t find a satisfying conclusion to take from this, other than that Life is simply cruel, unfair, yet beautiful, unique, and shorter than we wish. Don’t take it for granted, no matter how cliche that statement sounds.

A couple weeks after the accident I made it back outside into the vertical world again. In the process I’ve had a couple of excruciatingly vivid, unforgettable moments of clarity. To describe them here would not do them justice. But they couldn’t have happened to me in a risk-adverse lifestyle. These moments alone make life worth living. Add these moments of punctuated stimulation to everything else we love in life and we’ve got something pretty damn special.

I hope to see you all around in Life, part II.

Climbing the A L'Oree du Bois variation on Pointe Lachenal back in August. Dylan Taylor Photo.

Dylan back in the element and wearing his best rock camo gear.

Hanging with DDT in the Aosta Hospital .

October 01, 2014

Climbing the Kuffner Arete, Mont Maudit

Sunrise on the Kuffner Arete, Mont Maudit. Photo: Chris Wright

On Saturday, Sept 13, Chris Wright and I left the Torino Hut at 5 am and headed towards the Kuffner Arete. The Kuffner is not an overly technical or difficult climb, and it seemed like a fun route to simul-solo with a buddy and a wing. I teamed up with climber and photographer extraordinaire - Chris Wright - for the adventure and he agreed to indulge me with the plan of flying off the mountain. Since I was carrying about 11 extra pounds of  gear (harness 1 kg, wing 2.5 kg, reserve 1.1 kg), I warned Chris that I would have to pace myself.

I really struggled with the decision of whether or not to carry the reserve. Before crashing last year, I was more inclined to leave the reserve behind. But nowadays, I feel that if I'm strong enough to carry the extra weight, I should make the effort to do so. Plus, I looked at this mission as an experiment. The route was easy enough that a few extra pounds wouldn't kill me, and I was curious to know how I would feel with the added load. 

Five and a half hours after leaving the Torino, we summitted Mont Maudit. Although we carried a rope, we only used it for the approach, the bergschrund, and a short rappel while weaving around Pointe L'Androsace. Since Chris is a beast, he agreed to carry it for most of the route and I'm sure that he could have topped out an hour before me had he wanted to.

Unfortunately, I never flew off the mountain. The wind was a little stronger than I'd hoped for and I decided to walk down. It was a frustrating end to an awesome day. With things like this, timing is everything. The forecast showed that the following day (Sept 14), would be the ultimate fly day, but unfortunately, Chris had to work. So we went a day early and I blew my chance at combining the passions. Oh well. 

One guy who took full advantage of the forecast and conditions was Julien Irilii. On the Sept 14th, he took the 8:10 lift up the Aiguille de Midi, launched the north face on his Ozone XXLITE, crossed the ridge back to the south, flew to the Grande Jorasses, soloed the Colton Macintyre, and flew back to Chamonix from the summit. Oh man, I cannot imagine a much better expression of excellence in both flying and climbing than this feat. Massive respect, props, and awe for this beautiful link-up. Here is a link to video of him on the flight home. 

Morning approach. Photo: Chris Wright

Lookibng back at he Dent de Geant Massif.

Crossing the Schrund. Photo: Chris Wright.

Topping out the approach couloir. Photo: Chris Wright

The Brenva side of Mont Blanc.

The traverse leading to Pointe L'Androsace. Photo: Chris Wright

The crux of the route traversing around Pointe L'Androsace.

Some steeper climbing higher on the route. Photo: Chris Wright

Heading for the top.

Cumbre! with Mont Blanc in the background.

Descending the Maudit face.

The kit: Gin Yeti 19m, Sup Air Radicale harness, Sup Air extralite reserve.

Well, I did get a short flight in from the Plan de L'Aiguille back to town. Better than nothing! Thanks to Chris for the great adventure!

September 19, 2014

Mountain Flying - Aiguille de Midi North Face, Chamonix

A short video of some flights from the Tacul and the North Face of the Aiguille de Midi. I had been wanting to fly the North Face for some time and was stoked when the work schedule and weather aligned to enable it. Even though the flights were short (about 20 minutes), the visuals from skimming the Bosson Glacier were sublime. I could hear the Ice Sirens calling "closer closer closer." But I've been intimate with the ground before and she is a cruel mistress!

After three months of living, working and recreating in the European Alps, I arrived back in Canada yesterday. The place I rented in Chamonix was an 18m2 shoe box. When the fold-out bed was folded out, the apartment became practically non-navigable. And when the one big window was open (it opened inwards on a side-ways hinge), the chances of smashing your head and collapsing on to the bed or floor were about 100%.  Oh, and did I mention that the 18m2 apartment was more expensive then a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom place in Canmore?? But it worked great even though it was expensive and packed with three wings and a ton of climbing gear. On days off when I didn't have a climbing partner, I'd make some coffee on the micro-burner in the micro-kitchen, and head off to the Brevent or the Midi for some flying. I didn't have a car so I biked or took public transport everywhere.  After one night back at the Canmore Chalet, I feel lost in all the space. A good reminder that you don't need a huge shoe-box!

September 15, 2014

Climbing and Flying the Frendo Spur, Chamonix

Joe Stock never misses a burro shot. The Frendo Spur climbs the rock buttress just left of the beast's left ear.

For many years, I felt like the only person in Chamonix who hadn't climbed the Frendo Spur. Between work and flying and utter laziness, it just never worked out. But this year, the ducks rowed up enough for Joe and I to climb the classic route. I did a fair bit of internet trolling before getting on the climb. Afterall, the lift hours are short at this time of year and we didn't want to lose the route and suffer the indignity of not making it back to town. What I found was that most of the route descriptions were useless but that the photos were invaluable. The route was climbed in the 40's so if you follow your nose, look at some photos and take the obvious weaknesses, the route finding should work out. Unless it doesn't. In which case, call for a rescue.

The route was dry when we did it on September 11 and we climbed it in rock shoes with not more then 25 meters of rope between us. A single rack to Camalot #3 worked well with a few ice screws for the upper slopes. The most heads up section was probably crossing the bergschrund at the start of the climb. 

Photo from the camp to camp website.

I cheated and scoped the route from the air the previous day. The transition from rock to snow is in the sunshine at bottom right.

Close-up of the bivy sites and the start of the snow arete.

Low down on the initial low angle ramp.

Somewhere on the buttress.

Climbing the crux pitch just above the exposed col.

Going for the snow.

Finally on the snow arete.

Hey wait for me!

When we got to the snow, Joe took off like a weasel!

Putting those BD picks to good use.

Second to last pitch.

Joe on the second to last pitch before the steepish ice.

The Aiguille de Midi needle in atmospheric conditions.

Trying to pull the ice cave down.

September 08, 2014

Ten Days Guiding in France, Switzerland and Italy

Day 3. Mike A climbing the Entreves Traverse , Italy.

After a summer of wet and stormy weather, the sun finally decided to come out. I'd say that Mike A brought the clear skies with him from Texas, but after climbing with him in Canada over the past few years, I can say that Mike and good weather do not always go hand in hand. In 2012, we fought our way up Mt Assiniboine and then got pummeled at the Abbot Pass Hut. The following year, Mike and I took the beats on Mt. Athabasca. So I suppose we were due for a little sunshine.

Over the past ten days, we climbed a great assortment of rock, snow and ice routes between France, Italy and Switzerland. Mike's main objectives were to a) climb as much snow as possible because they don't have snow in Texas! b) photograph the flowers and c) never trod on the actual summit of any peak. 

Many thanks to Mike for being a great climbing partner over the past ten days! 

Day 1. Quiet day on the Arete de Cosmiques. The moody weather kept the crowds away.

Day 2. There were six parties on the Chere Couloir so we turned our attention to Pointe Lachenal.

Day 3. Taking the Helbronner to Italy with Mt. Blanc de Tacul, The Grand Capucin and the Tour Ronde in the background.

The Aiguille Noire as seen from the Torino Hut.

Day 3. Entreves Traverse.

Still on the Entreves.

Day 4. One night at the Torino Hut (3375 meters) was too much for us to handle so we walked down the 228 steps to the cable car and returned to Chamonix via Courmayeur and the Mt. Blanc Tunnel.

Day 5. A mellow climb on the Index at Flegere,

Day 6. Looking back at the Aiguille de Midi from the Midi Plan Traverse. 

The Midi Plan Traverse was much steeper and icier than when I did it one month ago! In this section, heading down to the Col de Plan, Mike and I dropped on to the steeper north and south faces in order to have the ridge act as protection between us.

We opted to climb the steeper but more secure rock whenever we could.

Avoiding the icy slopes just past the Col de Plan.

Climbing back up the steep, exposed ridge with the North Face of the Midi below.

Day 7. Buddy tries to fly his speed wing into the open door of the Brevent Cable Car.

Day 7. Mike and I climb the Frisson-Roche (6a) on the Brevent.

Still day 7. We top out the Frisson Roche to behold this holy spectacle.

Day 8. I don't always take pictures of food, but when I do, I make sure to post them on the internet. After seven train transfers, we arrive at the Monch Hut in Switzerland.

The Swiss take their signs seriously.

I never knew that Pissoir was a word. 

Day 9. Climbing the Monch!

Day 10. The Monch and Eiger as seen from the Jungfrau.

Mike A as close to the summit of the Jungfrau without actually touching the summit of the Jungfrau. We topped out at 9 am and, seven train transfers later, made it back to Chamonix by 7:30 that evening.