Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Loch

Yesterday after a great conference call with a client Molly and I decided to celebrate with a quick afternoon hike up to the Loch in RMNP. The weather here has been pretty fantastic. Yesterday it was sunny, calm and in the low 60's. Perfect weather for a little hike.

We busted out after lunch and left the TH around 12:45. We didn't know what the trail would be like so we packed our ice axes and crampons. I was secretly hoping to find a nice snow gully to climb but it did not come to pass.

Here is a shot of Molly gearing up at the Glacier Gorge TH. It was strange to see this lot so empty on a nice afternoon. To get a spot here during the summer you either have to be lucky or early.

The trail was about 80% snow covered. Unfortunately, the snow was hard packed and slick, making progress somewhat slow. This was also my first hike of the season in actual boots. I have been wearing my Inov8 trail running shoes almost exclusively while hiking. But because of the possibility of deep snow and/or strapping on crampons we had to switch to heavy stiff boots. Oh how my feet longed for the soft comfort of my tennies!

We quickly passed Albera Falls, which was nearly completely frozen and silent, and made it to the Loch by about 2:30. I think we only met 5 other people out there.

We walked down to the far end of the Loch and shot some pics. We considered hiking up to Andrews Glacier but ended up heading down because it was getting close to our turn-around time of 3. Here are some shots around the Loch.

The hike out took a little over an hour. By the end my feet were aching and I was tired of slipping on hard snow. Plus the temps were falling. By the time we got to the truck, it was probably in the 30's.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And the Winner is...

Well, my bout with leg cramps seems to have come to a close. I think I have gone about 36 hours with out a cramp now. Hooray! I tried several home brew remedies thanks to the internet and suggestions from friends and family. Most did not seem to have an effect. The strangest came from my own family...sleep with a bar or Zest soap! Unfortunately, we could not find and single packs of Zest up here in the mountains. We could only find them in bulk. Plus it could take 30 days to start working, so I kept my options open. What did seem to work though (besides constant application of a heating pad) was Cod Liver Oil, as suggested by Holly Peterson. Thanks Holly!

Now, I must admit, I am still a little skeptical that the Cod Liver oil is what made the cramps go away. It seems more likely that my cramps just ran its course. I also started taking a multi-vitamin, which makes me feel really old. Last time my parents came to visit, they would take a fistful of vitamins with breakfast, which I found amusing. In the past week I went from not taking anything to three horse sized pills every morning. Karma.

So, the bottom line is I spent $14 on this liver oil, it doesn't seem to be hurting me so I am going to keep taking it until the bottle runs out. A day after I started taking the oil, the cramps went away. Your mileage may vary....

Good Times with a Good Buddy

There are some things in life that are so good, they defy description. Dark chocolate on a windy summit. Tuna and bagels on a three day backpacking trip. A steaming hot shower after skiing all day. Crusty scabs and sore muscles after a good day of climbing. Today I got to savor the sore muscles. Unfortunately, there are no scabs to pick at.

Last week, my old buddy Eric called me up to see if we could climb together over the weekend. Eric and I have been friends since middle school. In fact, he and I started climbing together way back in the day. I am not even sure why we started to climb. We certainly didn't know any climbers. We bought a rope from Farm King, fashioned a swami belt out of old blue jeans, and began exploring the chossy river cliffs of Burlington. 18 years later we are still at it, albeit with a much better rope!

So, after trading a few e-mails, we decided on meeting at Clear Creek Canyon outside of Golden. It was a nice halfway spot for both of us and neither of us had climbed there before. The girls had better things to do so it ended up being a guys day out. I cannot remember the last time just Eric and I went climbing.

We met in Golden at a local coffee shop, loaded all the stuff into Eric's car and headed into the canyon. The canyon was tight and the rock looked chossy but was actually quite solid. I think it is called schist. Blocky with nice cracks and edges but generally ugly. It reminds me of the rock up high in RMNP, like on Notchtop and Hallet. Since our parking spot was only about 6 miles outside of town and it was a warm November weekend, I was surprised to see we were only the 5th car. Still plenty of room!

After a quick discussion about who had the better clipstick we shouldered the packs and started off down the road, which was quite busy. Cars and trucks constantly zoomed by a little too close for comfort. Just before a tunnel we crossed the road, hopped the barrier and started a steep climb up to the base of the climbing area. Man was it steep and loose! It almost felt like you needed a rope. It would be tough to bring little kids here but I did see some dogs. Here is Eric getting up some of the steps

We got to the base of our wall (the High Wire wall) and were surprised to find only one other party there. The sun was still about an hour from hitting the base but it wasn't bad. Probably mid 50's.

After a little discussion, we decided to come out swinging and get on a 5.11d (or 5.12a if you check the internet) called Road Kill, which is getting pretty close to my limit of difficulty. Eric took off and lead a great slab section to a ledge, then up some vertical rock to a pair of anchors below a roof. At this point we were a little confused as to where we were so he clipped the anchors and lowered off. After a little more guide book consultation, we discovered that this route was actually two pitch route. Well, who could pass up a two pitch sport route? So, we pulled the rope down, and I re-lead up to the anchors. Wow, was that lower section hard! It was a little less than vertical but very few holds. As Eric said "if you breath wrong you will fall off".

After reaching the two bolt anchor, I rigged a belay and brought Eric up to me. Here is a shot of Eric on the vertical section, below the hanging belay.

And here he is at the belay, getting ready to head off into the next pitch.

About 20 feet above the belay was a intimidating stacked roof. This would definitely be the crux of the route. It started with an awkward mantle onto a ledge. Here is Eric setting up for the mantle

And here he is getting psyched for the upper roof. You can also get a good view of my sweet but uncomfortable hanging belay. I am hanging that green and red sling, attached to the bolts.

Here is a shot of Eric after successfully negotiating the roof

After the roof, Eric clipped into some anchors and I lowered him back to the belay. I was too chicken to lead the roof (plus I was worried that it would be hard to clean) so I did it on top rope, cleaning the draws as I went. Here is a shot of me getting into the meat of the climb. The dreads to a good job of indicating steepness.

Here I am after the roof desperately trying to shake out my pumped arms.

Once I got to the anchors up top, I was able to rappel down to Eric and we both got down to the base.

Next we decided to try out Peoples Choice, 5.10d. It was a decent route. Mostly fun easy moves with a section of really hard slab climbing in the middle. Here is a shot of me on the easy part.

Next we hopped on Double Deuce. Super sweet route! Very long. I think it was 140' to the anchors and had 17 bolts. Very awesome. Because it was so long, Eric had to belay me from the top because we didn't have enough rope to lower him to the ground. Here is a shot of Eric way up high. This shot was take well past the halfway point on the route.

Here is a shot of me just below the belay

Looking down to the road

Eric rocking out at the hanging belay


We had to use two ropes tied together to get down. Here is Eric on the rappel


I tried to get a shot of Eric rappelling with me in the frame but all you can see is my melon. If you look close you can see our backpacks at the base.

After that route, we climbed a short steep 10c that was pretty much a one move wonder (Passing Lane, I think) and then capped the day off with a stellar 5.9 called 5th of July. Excellent climb. It was long, had good holds but still made you think a bit.

By now it was starting to get dark so we packed up and headed down to the car. Back in town, Eric and I got a quick bite at Ali Babas and then parted ways. It was an excellent day. I will definitely climb there again. It was also great to climb with Eric again. It always amazes me how deeply friendships are formed when you go climbing with someone. Personally, I have many acquaintances but I can count my true friends on one hand, all of whom I have shared a rope with.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Back to the Begining

Well, it is another sleepless night of fighting off leg cramps. I actually went to see a doctor today. Over the past few weeks my leg cramps have grown progressively worse. Yesterday, they were almost constant. I searched the web for ideas and tried everything including chocolate milk, dill pickle juice, bananas, stretching, Ibuprofen, vigorously beating the offending muscle, gently massaging the offending muscle, gatoraid, ice, and heat. For the record, heat was the only thing that seemed to work. I think Molly was finally fed up with me jumping out of bed, hollering and beating my thigh every 20 minutes so she scheduled an appointment. I explained to the Dr my symptoms and his actual response was to shrug. For good measure they took some blood. I suppose there is a price to pay for living "hard and fast", not that I am very fast. The doctor helped me to see the (obvious) answer to my pain. Park it on the couch for a few days. Easy for some, but hard for me.

So, tonight as I tried to force my self to sleep I started thinking back. While wandering down my foggy memory lane I realized that I probably had some pictures somewhere that needed to be put out on the internet. Couple that with my new found addiction to blogging and here we are.

When thinking back over our adventures one thing that strikes me is the number of failures we've been through, and I don't mean that in a negative way. People tend to see failure as a very negative thing. These people don't hang out with me very long. I have found that my addiction is adventure. Adventure, by its very nature, is laced with failure. I mean like 85% failure rate. I find that failure is what makes success sweet. Which brings me to a story....

In 2003 I discovered (through the internet) a mountain called Pingora. This thing is a beautiful tower of white granite that can only be summited via a technical route (ie you need rope, harnesses, etc). The name is Shoshone for a "high and inaccessible place". If that wasn't enough, it is buried in the middle of the Wind River mountains. It is situated in the center of a circle of granite spires, aptly called the Cirque of Towers. To even get into the cirque you have to hike 8 miles one way, crossing Jackass pass (I have seen on the internet that it is called that because that is the only person that would cross it). The first 5 miles are relatively easy until you reach Big Sandy Lake. The last 3 are a grueling trudge with massive elevation gain. To make it even more remote, one must drive 40 miles of rough dirt road to even get to the trail head. And the dirt road starts about 70 miles from the nearest major town. Oh, and its bear country. To a young, Iowa climber with no backpacking experience and a relentless addiction to adventure, this was irresistible.

On July 26, 2003 the plan was set into motion. Molly and I found ourselves bumping our little Corolla down the 40 miles of wash boarded roads to the trailhead. The plan was to camp out at the TH and then head in the next day. We figured we could bust out 8 miles in a day, climb Pingora on day 2 and head out on day 3. Oh, where we in for a cruel surprise.

Here is a shot of us on the road. You can see the mountains we were headed for in the background.

After a restless night of sleeping (we were not used to sleeping in bear country) we packed the bags and prepped for glory. One of the first things we noticed was the incredible amount of mosquitoes. Of course, I convinced myself that the mosquitoes were simply attracted to the cars and as soon as we leave the TH we would leave the mosquitoes. Molly was not convinced but I had the keys.

We packed the pack with everything we had. We were set for anything. I think we even had down jackets. While this approach follows the boy scout motto of "be prepared", it does have a downside... very heavy packs. Now, most seasoned backpackers will have a story about how crazy heavy their bags were on their first trip but I think we have most of them beat because this was not only our first backpack trip but also our first serious alpine climb attempt. So we had ropes, cams, biners, stoppers, etc. Furthermore, being a somewhat chicken climber, I packed plenty of climbing gear.

Here is a pic of Molly posing between the packs. Note the mosquito net and, of course, the smile. I think she is starting to realize what my plan really means.

So we shouldered our pack and set off. Another bad sign was that we had to help each other lift our packs to get them on. Word to the wise, if a pack feels heavy when you start your 8 mile up-hill walk, you are in trouble. Here is Molly on the trail. Note that my theory on the mosquitoes doesn't seem to be holding.

So the trudging began.

After a bit we reached a nice meadow with a beautiful stream. I was sure we had gone at least halfway to Big Sandy. Afterall it is only 5 miles. I checked the map. According to it we hadn't even gone 0.5 miles yet. I somehow convinced myself that the map was wrong. Here I am before checking the map.

We stopped for a drink and a snack. We watched fish in the river and took picures of the flowers. We pretty much did everything we could to avoid putting our packs back on. Eventually though, we had to. And off we went. We walked and walked while the mosquitoes bit and bit. At one point I collapes onto a log and was immediately swarmed. I decided to try a little experiment. For one minute I killed only the mosquitoes that landed on my water bottle. Here was the result

We kept walking. After a while my hips started bleeding from my pack but we kept walking. Later a friend used a saying that seems to describe that walk. "It was like I died but they wouldn't let me." I think it took us over 8 hours to walk the 5 "easy" miles to Big Sandy lake. I vividly remember collapsing on the banks of Big Sandy. I was done. Full on bonk. If it wasn't for Molly, I probably could of died. Fortunately, she had enough juice left to cook up a warm dinner.

That day I felt the sting of failure in a physical way that I had never experienced before. I had pushed to my physical brink and yet we were supposed to do 8 miles that day but only did the 5 easy ones. I wanted to hike out the next day but my hips and feet were too sore to let me carry a pack. We talked of abandoning our gear or stashing it and coming back later. This is the price for adventure.

It took two day for my hips to recover enough to let me wear a pack again. But in those two days I found the things that really talk to my soul. Things like hand washing dishes in an icy mountain river

The joy of living simply and quietly with my wife

How much I miss a warm shower

or a bathroom with no mosquitoes

How good a Slim Jim can taste

But most importantly the joy of a difficult dream. The day before we headed out, we started up toward Jackass pass with just daypacks and I got to see Pingora.

It was still more than 3 hard miles away but that was as close as I got on that trip.

The hike out was not as bad as the hike in but was still rough. I think it only took 5 hours.

This is the first year (2008) that I have not been back to the Wind River mountains. We have headed in there 5 times now with the intent to climb Pingora and I have yet to even touch it. But the dream still lives! I am already planning our 2009 trip, just don't tell Molly.

Here are some random pics of that 2003 trip.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Brick in the Wall

Finally, it is finished! We wanted to spruce up the front yard a bit so we got a crazy idea to build a couple rock walls. We built two walls, one was a large semi-circle around a tree in our front yard and the other was along our driveway and sidewalk. Two months, 4.5 tons of sandstone, and way too many wheelbarrows of dirt later we are finally done. Here are a few pics of the journey...

Here I am prepping the site for around the tree. You also get a nice view of our lovely stump. No one knows where it came from but it has been there for years. Someone hauled it in and dumped it. I started hacking on it with my ax and whittled away some of it before Tom (the neighbor) took it for an alter and pulpit he was building.

This was just after the first 2 tons were delivered. This was when it still seemed fun to build a wall.

Getting the perfect fit

Starting to see the shape

And the final product for the wall around the tree

Starting on the wall next to the driveway. We also replaced the steps, which were originally railroad ties. We put in three large slabs of sandstone instead. Here is the hole

Here you can see the stairs and the wall starting

Excavating along the driveway. I really like how this pic makes it look like I am bending the handle.

Progress on the driveway wall. I didn't get a picture of it but we had another 2.5 ton of rock delivered.

Displaying my dominance

Rounding the corner

Nearing the end

Me hating rock walls

The last rock!!

Out of 4.5 tons of rock, this is all we had left. In fact, the dark rocks were ones we dug up in the yard.

Some pics of the final product

One final note. In putting the pictures up I noticed they were mostly of me. While I would like you to think that I did most of the work while my photographer shot pictures, the opposite is true. Molly logged probably four times as much work on the wall as I did. I think most pictures were of me because she was amazed to see me doing physical labor instead of clicking the mouse. In fact, most of the neighbors now refer to her as Molly the mason.