Sunday, February 15, 2009

BC Tour up towards Longs

I sit here exhausted on the couch looking forwards to an evening of electronic entertainment after a good afternoon out in the mountains. It is days like these that I am glad I have a TV. I often threaten to get rid of it but these are cheap plastic threats. I am so tired right now that if I didn't have a TV then I would go to bed even though it is only 5:45 and I haven't had supper yet. Reading is definitely out. I supposes I could probably just listen to the radio and watch the fire. Obviously I have enough energy to Blog but I feel myself fading quickly. Anyhow, let me attempt a short TR about what wore me out today.

I had planned on working most of the day today but with a combination of getting a lot done in a little time, having a new exceptionally good idea to mull over, and bright blue skies, I quickly grew tired of my desk and began to scheme. It was too cold to climb, or at least to enjoy climbing. Plus there was some of the heat sucking wind. I had a few hours so running was not ideal. I guess that left skiing, even though I just went yesterday. Molly was out because she wanted a quick workout so she could work on stuff around the house. So I threw a king sized Snickers and a liter of water into the pack, grabbed the gear and peeled out of the drive.

The plan was to see how far up Longs I could go before my turn around time of 4pm. I hoped to at least get above the treeline but was really shooting for the Boulder field. As usual I was grossly overestimating how awesome I truly was. On the drive to the TH I got a clear view of Longs. You can see by the haze that the wind was whipping up there and really moving snow. Both Longs and Meeker looked like they were steaming. But it was nice down by the road so the plan was still a go.

Pulling into the lot I was surprised to see so many cars. I ended up encountering about 10 snowshoeers up there. I starting huffing up the trail around 2:30, giving me 1.5 hours to see how far I could get. With the help of the iPod I quickly found my rhythm as I started covering ground. 15 minutes to the first junction, another 15 to the sharp turn by the creek, and then 10 more to the camping area. I had covered this far a few weeks ago but turned around just past the camping area because the trail disappeared into deep, soft, demoralizing drifts. Today, thanks to all the snowshoeers there was a great hard path slicing through the trees making progress much easier.

At about 1 hour it began to catch up with me. I stopped for a few and ate my giant Snickers, now frozen. If I chomped down on it I could break off a piece in my mouth and then essentially gum it down like an old man without his dentures. I tried to build a little seat in a local drift but soon realized that sitting with skis on would be problematic.

Rested, fueled and starting to feel cold, I cranked up the iPod and took off for my last half an hour. The song "Wolf Like Me" by TV on the Radio gave me the motivation to set a sweaty, gasping pace. From here on out it was some pretty steady climbing. As I gained on the mountain the wind gained on me. Right around 4 I was into the scrubby bush that marks the transition from forest to alpine tundra. Without the trees the wind was free to roam as it pleased, stinging the face and making the snow thin and hard. The Boulder field was still a long ways off, it was my turn around time and the sun has already sunk behind longs. It was time to turn around. Here is my high point.

The snow up here was rock hard so I tried to head down with my skins still on. That proved to work poorly so I stripped them and began to snowplow like it was going out of syle. On a high note, I have learned how to strip my skins without taking off my skis. It involves a lot of balance, which is a strike against me. I may of ended up in a bush but I didn't have to take em off!

I think the most challenging feature about BC skiing (at least the actual skiing part) is how quickly the snow consistency changes. I had settled into a nice snow plow, scraping along a rather steep section of rock hard snow when it suddenly turned into a nice soft slab, pitching me headfirst down the hill into 2 feet of loose powder.

I am sure it is funny to watch me crash in the mountains. When I crash and I am alone in the backcountry, my first reaction is panic. I thrash, swear, panic, and generally wallow for a good 25 seconds. After about 25 seconds I begin to wear out, pull a muscle in my neck or the back of my arm, and rational thoughts start to get more attention. By this time, my skis (and therefore my feet) are pointed in opposite directions, a pole is probably missing, and I am kind of sitting/laying at an odd angle in my custom snow recliner. Oh, and the thrashing tends to completely cover you with snow, including your goggles, which are steamed up by now. Now I generally force myself into what I will call system reboot. I sit quietly and do a check for pain, look around to make sure no one is looking, try to pinpoint why I am freaked out, clean out my goggles, and generally come up with a plan. 5 minutes later I am back on my feet swearing to give up skiing forever. Repeat until you get back to the car.

On a positive note, I am noticing that I can now get down the packed trails without much problem. I really only get into trouble when I venture off the trails into the trees.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hidden Valley Skiing

Molly and I started out Valentine's day by first sleeping in, then walking down to The Egg and I for a late breakfast, and then heading up to RMNP for a little BC ski session. Oh, I bought her flowers too! Anyway this blog is about the skiing.

Quite a while ago, there used to be a small ski resort called Hidden Valley. I am not sure when, but at some point the land was reclaimed by the parks department and the ski area was shut down. Now it is part of RMNP. I have heard from several people that this is a great spot to learn to BC ski. This is because the slopes are not very steep, making them easier to ski plus greatly reducing the avalanche danger. So, with a plan we grabbed our stuff and headed out.

As it turns out, Hidden Valley is also one of the few places they allow sledding in RMNP so it was packed with kids and families. However, we quickly left the circus behind and were soon skinning through the quiet woods while fresh snow fell all around us. Here is Molly trying to catch some snowflakes on her tongue.

We followed a skin track up a fairly wide drainage. Because of the falling snow, it was difficult to see where we were headed but we figured we would just head up until we ran out of energy. Here is Molly getting smelly

After about an hour we decided that we had enough climbing, so we found a flat spot and stripped the skins off our skis.

Here is Molly getting ready to drop in

And here she is showing me up. She made it back to the car with zero crashes. I dug in twice.

We made it back to the car in about 10 minutes. I know I had a big grin on my face. Molly is still not quite convinced that it is worth all the work but I'll keep working on her.

So after a hot shower and a quick nap, we are getting our fancy duds on and heading out to the Dunraven for a fancy supper. So far, it has been a Valentines day to remember.

EDIT: It is now the day after Valentines day and I just wanted to finish the story. We ended up taking a 26 minute nap (Mikey told me about the 26 minute nap and it works!) and then heading out to the Dunraven Inn. Wow, what a great restaurant. Wine, steaks, seafood, bread, pasta, salads, and finally black coffee. Outstanding. Too bad it costs so much. I could eat there often. The ambiance there was perfect, romantically dark with candles and really friendly staff (but not the fake friendly or cheesy friendly). According to the menu, there has been some form of a structure on this location since 1907. Plus, they have this strange tradition of customers stapling one dollar bills on the wall. Odd but really cool. The bills are each decorated by the person who stuck 'em up. The foyer is completely covered in one dollar bills, even the ceiling. They estimate there is more than $16,000 stapled to the wall. Awesome...

Friday, February 13, 2009

BC Ski tour up towards Notchtop

A few days ago I needed to get out and it was too cold to go climbing so I decided to head up into the mountains for a little ski tour. After checking the internet for current conditions, I landed on a plan to go from Bear Lake up towards Lake Helena and Notchtop. I thew some things into a pack, grabbed my gear, hopped in the car and was off. Molly was busy working on the fireplace so this was going to be a solo mission.

Pulling into the Bear Lake TH parking lot I was surprised to find a mere four cars in the lot. I guess it was a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. It was a bit cold (low 20's) but the wind was absent so I knew once I got moving, I would warm up quickly. I clipped on my skis, cranked the iPod and was off and by the time I hit the first junction, I was roasting. Here is a shot looking back at the junction.

As you can see by the sign, there was plenty of snow. This side of Flattop is well known for getting piles of wind transported snow. Along the way, I stopped and chatted with a friendly snowshoer who had been out since 6 am (it was 3:30!). As I gained altitude, the snow got deeper and the tracks got fewer.

The snow was generally light powder for about 8 inches and then a hard slab. After a bit I broke out into an open meadow under the east slopes of Flattop. I had heard that this was a pretty good spot for some easy, safe skiing so I decided to check it out. I picked a safe route to skin up the hill and was soon huffing and puffing my way up. At a nice little patch of trees about halfway up the slope I dropped my pack and took off my skis. I was being very conservative and decided this was high enough for today. Below me lay a wide open 25 degree slope of untracked snow. 25 degrees is important because it is very uncommon for avalanches happen at that angle. For fun I dug a snow pit and checked out the layers. I dug down about 5 feet and still didn't hit anything. I guess those little trees sticking out of the snow are bigger than I expected. I poked around the snow a bit, trying to get a feel for the layers. Understanding the layers of snow it a critical part of understanding how avalanches work. I tried to perform stability test where you cut out a column of snow about 2.5 feet square and them pound on the top of it with your shovel. I ended up smashing the column without any fractures or sliding, which is a good sign (I think!). After sipping some hot tea, I decided I had better start back. I stripped the skins off the skis, packed back up and clipped back in. I made it down the hill, making wide turns and only crashing twice. The first crash taught me a very important back country skiing lesson. When going down hill, make sure you zip everything closed. Crashing out there is like diving under water. That snow is deep and it gets everywhere! My first wreck left me completely buried and snow packed into everything. Oh, and dreads are like a snow magnet.

Safely at the bottom of the hill and now quite wet, I decided against a second descent and began the quick ski back to the car. Skiing the trail was fast and fun. What took me at least an hour to slog up, I covered in about 10 minutes. I arrived back at the car with a huge smile on my face. I think I'll go back out tomorrow....

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Handy backup software

Recently I came across a handy piece of free software called SyncBack. It allows you to setup a schedule for syncing folders on an external hard drive with folders on your computer, making it really convenient to back up important files on your computer. For example, I have it set up to back up all my work files every night at midnight, it backs up my photos every Monday night, and it backs up my music every Tuesday.

Anyway, I found it very useful and easy to use so I thought I would share my experience with the world. If you want to check it out, here is where you can download it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cyber-Anatomy gets $70k grant

Good news on the work front. Out little company (Cyber-Anatomy) just received a $70k grant from the state of Iowa. Hard to argue with that! Here is a link to the article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Some rocking music

So I am sitting here clicking the mouse trying to desperately get some work done. I am working on adding a quizzing module to our software and it seems to be fighting me every step of the way. What I thought would take a day has stretched into 4 now and there is still a lot to do. But on the bright side, I have recently found a new band to listen too while my work hates me. I am currently rocking out to Kings of Leon. I have heard a few of their songs on the sat radio and really like this guys voice. I finally got around do downloading a few of their songs and am loving it. I did not buy a whole album but instead bought a few odds and ends songs. If you are interested in checking them out I consider their best songs to be Fans and Sex On Fire. Here is their MySpace page


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Projcet: Day 1

So after watching too many videos on the internet of people climbing hard trad cracks, I decided that I needed a project. Something really hard. After a little poking I found the perfect candidate. A 70' finger crack on the Little Twin Owls in Lumpy. It was perfect because it was:
1) Hard! Desperate, insecure, painful, slick, overhanging finger crack. Rated 5.11b but generally accepted as a sandbag so probably closer to hard 11.
2) One pitch and I could scramble to the anchors, so I didn't have to worry about leaving gear
3) I saw a picture of Lynn Hill on it
4) I could aid it and have enough cams that size to keep the "freak out" level low
5) Approach, while about a mile long has a minimal amount of hills.

So we packed the gear and headed out to receive our beating. I knew that there was going to be a lot of hanging on gear, aiding, and top roping. But as usual, what really happened was quite unexpected.

After a brisk 20 minute hike we dropped packs at the base and took stock of what we were in for. Here is a pic. The route is the obvious crack arching towards the left.

After some discussion, I racked up and got ready to start off. Here I am realizing how much this is going to hurt.

I reached up and placed a small cam as high as I could and clipped it. I managed to find a sloppy hand jam and reached up, desperately looking for a finger lock. I found a rattly layback kind of hold and moved my other hand up for what looked to be a sinker lock but was not. The crack is kind of back in a groove, making it hard to get any locks in. Then my feet popped off and I was sailing back towards earth. Molly caught me but I was just a few inches off the ground so she lowered me. This was going to be hard and painful.

Then something strange happened. Molly asked if she could lead it. So, after getting only one piece in (which I placed from the ground) I gave the sharp end over to Molly and we racked her up.

And up she went! She mostly aided the crack but she made headway. After about 25 feet she came back down and let me have another crack at it.

I took the rack, tied back in and took off. Even on top rope, the climbing was desperate and I ended up grabbing gear through much of it. I got to Molly's high point and realized that I was not having much fun. Over Christmas I jammed my finger climbing with Joe. The finger is still swollen and sore at times but I thought it had mostly healed. In hind sight, perhaps a finger crack like this was not good for it. It was throbbing and hurt to bend. I managed to place another stopper higher in the crack but could not clip it. Disgruntled, I asked for the dirt.

We discussed our options. I was ready to scramble up the back of this thing and clean our gear on rappel but Molly wanted another go at it. So she racked up again and hoisted to her high spot. I am not sure how long it took her but she made it up another 20 feet or so before the sun started threatening to set.

So, after a valiant effort Molly asked for the dirt and I set off to scramble up the back of this thing with a rope and something to rappel with. This also turned into somewhat of an epic. We were climbing on what was essentially two towers of granite, each about 70 feet tall. On one side there were a series of ledges that one could negotiate to get near the top. For the last 15 feet or so, you actually climb a widening chimney between the two towers. As you get higher, the towers tend to round over, making the chimney wider and wider until you have to make an exposed move to get on top of one or the other. The tower I had to get on top of was no wider than the back of a horse. Once you mount this stone horse, you have to scoot along the ridge for about 10 feet before you reach the safety of the anchors. Now if this scooting was only a few feet off the ground, it would be no big deal. However, when you are looking at 70' of air on either side... well, it is a big deal. I sat in that chimney between the towers for a long time, thinking about my options. To go back down and finish aiding the crack would put us well into darkness. Between me and all the scooting to the anchors, there were absolutely no cracks or any form of protection. Freaky. In the end, I hatched a plan that was shaky at best. I tied into one end of the rope and threw the other end down to Molly on the ground, where she put me on belay. However, between her and I there was nothing but a sickening arch of rope. No gear so a fall off her side of the tower was not an option. However, if something were to go wrong during the dreaded scoot I could bail off the opposite side of the tower and Molly could catch me with the rope, assuming the rope stays crossing over the top of the tower. It was the best we could do so I pushed down the dread an climbed onto my stone horse.

It was actually quite casual. The scoot was over in a few seconds, there was plenty of stuff to hold on to, and at the end of the scoot there was a nice place to sit and leisurely hook into the anchors. Next time I could probably do it without a rope, as long as there is no wind! After a quick rappel down the crack and some cleaning of gear, we were packed up and headed back to the car.

The day did not really go as planned but I would still mark it as a success. I was hoping for a couple day project but this one looks like it could take much longer. Plus, I'll have to wait for my finger to heal a bit more. I was thrilled to see Molly volunteer to hop on the sharp end of a hard trad lead. It shows me that her confidence is growing. Plus aiding hard stuff is a great way to learn how to trad climb.

Until next time....

The Golden Cliffs with Eric

Last Saturday E and I hooked up for a little climbing down in Golden. The weather forecast looked decent for Saturday (sunny and mid 50's) so we planned on hitting Clear Creek again. There was some scheduling issues at first because Eric was supposed to cook for Tracey's parents on Saturday evening so we settled for an early start. Then Eric came down with a nasty cough. It was so bad that Tracey's parents canceled dinner! But did that deter Eric from climbing? No way! He called me Friday night and with a groggy voice routinely interrupted by fits of hacks, told me the good news. He could climb all day! So we angled for a more civilized meeting time of 9am at Noa Noa for some breakfast and java.

Saturday dawned clear and bright. I could tell it was going to be a good day on the rocks. Eric was a bit late for breakfast but made up for it by picking up the tab. He downed two burritos in the time it took me to finish a bagel. That boy is a machine. His cough was better and once fed, we were set to jet. We dumped the gear into his car and roared out to the canyon. Unfortunately, we weren't the only thing roaring through the canyon. We pulled into the pullout for our cliff and the car literally shook with the wind. We could see where we were planning on climbing and although it was sunny, we could see trees fighting to stay rooted. A couple climbers hopped out of the car in front of us in full puffy jackets with hoods and hopped around trying to stay warm while they loaded up. Eric looked at me and said "I only brought shorts" and then broke into a fit of coughs. I looked down at his legs to verify his story. He was not lying. We needed an alternate plan. We discussed heading to the Spot in Boulder (a bouldering gym) or a climbing gym in Denver but we ended up settling on checking out the Golden Cliffs instead.

The Golden Cliffs are a cliff band at the top of a big hill overlooking the town Golden and the Coors brewery. They face south and literally cook in the sun. I had climbed there a few times before but never had much fun. The rock always seemed kind of strange. But it looked warm and out of the wind. With the help of the internet (iPhone!!) we found the parking lot, which was already nearly full. Apparently we were not the only ones looking for warm rock. Looking up at the cliffs we could see many groups either already up there or making their way slowly up the long hill.

Packs were quickly thrown on after stripping down to t-shirts and sandals and an uphill slog ensued. It passed quickly because we had plenty to talk about and before we knew it, we were at the base of a cliff already crawling with other climbers. With no guide book we just picked a route that looked good and racked up. Eric took first go and easily fired the first route of the day, after which I re-lead and cleaned it. We repeated this cycle all day. I was amazed at how liberating it was to climb without a guide book. We just climbed whatever looked fun. Fortunately, the Golden Cliffs are packed with routes. Throughout the day we climbed about 8 routes and didn't wander more that 50 yards from where we started.

The weather was to die for, especially considering it was January. Sunny and still. I spent half of the day without a shirt on and got my first sunburn of the year. By the time lunch rolled around the crag was packed with your typical sport climbing scene. People and dog everywhere. Someone had a banjo. All the stereotypes were represented. The 10-year old leading routes that were too hard for me. The guy yelling beta for every move. The couple completely outfitted with all the latest and most expensive gear, all of it shiny, new and matching. Regardless, the vibe was fun and festive. Everybody was there to climb and have a good time.

Around 4 the clouds started to build, the temps began to fall, and I was feeling worked. I could tell Eric was feeling it too so we bagged one more route (which turned out to be the best one of the day) and headed down. I ended up only taking one picture that day. Mostly because the climbing wasn't very picture worthy. Here is a shot as we were packing up to head down.

Eric dropped me off back at the truck and we parted ways, both feel exhausted. It was a great day of relaxed climbing with an old friend and no guide book. And the rock was much better than I remembered. Excellent!

The Six Shooter

Sorry about all the vids today but I came across another video that I really liked. This is a route that I would love to get up some day. I am gonna need to train some more though...

Sick crack climber

I first watched this video a few years ago but recently came across it again. This guys is pretty awesome! I wish I could climb crack this well. Someday, perhaps...