Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Return to Woodfords

After getting his lips wet with a first ascent, Laine was eager to climb those routes we had scouted a few days earlier.  See previous Post.  Being unemployed and the like I was totally up for the challenge.

Laine on the approach.

Our first objective was to complete the chimney I had partially climbed on our last excursion.  The rock was superb and the climbing was really fun too.  Laine told me he had been dreaming about climbing this route since our last visit. 

Karsten scopes the chimney, the off-width is the prominent crack to the left

This time Laine took the lead going up a more obvious approach to the climb than I had.  He cleaned a few dead bushes from the cracks and was quickly at the ledge below the chimney.

Laine likes gardening and long walks on the beach.

Amazingly, the chimney has a fine handcrack at the back that will take protection making this a great introductory climb for an aspiring leader seeking an easy chimney.

Beginning the Chimney Section

I was curious how Laine might fare since I tend to think of him a stout chested guy but am not sure if he's actually "thicker" than me there.  I found the crux of the route to be where the chimney narrows down and forces you to go out of it's cozy security.  He ended up climbing it much the same as I had however or even smoother.
A climb you can really get into.
Getting spit out of the chimney.

Laine found the top out on the climb more difficult than I but I guess that is what makes it all fun.
Past the Squeeze

After Laine, I followed with a small hammer and a brush.  I excavated what seemed like a ton of dirt and small debris as well as a few death blocks wedged in and above the chimney section.  We both agreed that the route might actually be better with some of the annoying blocks in your way removed.  Our consensus was the the route might be a stout 5.7.

A Yosemite Squeeze Chimney 
With the warm-up complete, we set up a rappel station to lower off the wall.  Now it was time to set our sights on what I had been thinking of for the last few days . . . . a beautiful off-width.  Now, to those of you not in the climbing world, that word may seem innocuous.  I assure you that even some of the best climbers out there shudder at the mention such things.  When climbing cracks you usually wedge your hands, fingers, feet, or whole body into the crack in very specific ways.  Only second to cracks where you can't even get your fingers in are offwidth climbs.  These are climbs using cracks that are wider than your fist but too small to shove your whole body in.  This means you have to use some kind of hand stacking, chicken-winging, arm-baring finaglry to climb them.  Oh, and did I mention core strength.  Some of the hardest climbs I have ever done have been offwidths.  I can remember feeling like I was going to vomit after climbing one.  A climber once described them as like fighting a grizzly bear while being dragged behind a pickup on a gravel road.  If you need further visualization see my photo to the right (ok technically its a squeeze chimney but it really captures my sentiment of what OW climbing is like) or click this Google Images page.

Our offwidth however didn't look too burly and the true hard section only looked to be about 15 feet but when your moving a half inch at a time that can be an eternity.  We had come prepared with the big cams and a healthy amount of machismo.  Laine scoped and fondled a few sections while rappelling the previous climb and decided he was up to the challenge.  Reloaded with the big cams, he started up.

Making quick work of the bottom section, he was soon to the business.  A good ledge gives you a nice place to stop and collect yourself for the difficulty above . . . or allows trepidation to morph into full blown finger-tingling fear.  I am not sure what was going through Laine's head but he seemed calm and collected.  After placing a cam as high as he could reach, he came back down, paused for a moment seeming to visualize his movements, and then launched into the wideness.
Entering the Off-width section
Let the grunting begin

He squirmed his way up, sliding the cam as he went.  I was impressed with his poise and was blown away when he began to stem his feet out and come out of the security of the crack.  He was climbing like there was no risk of falling and pressing his feet into previously untouched lichen-coated granite crystals.  This take juevos my friends.

Laine stepping out of the Crack
The famous Christman Stem

Looking for the top
Another 10 feet up he placed the largest cam we had.  He had passed the most difficult part now but I was still on edge knowing that sometimes the building exhaustion can lead to falls on even the easiest terrain.  As the crack narrowed to a more comfortable hand size the rock simultaneously also became more gritty.  Glued together kitty litter comes to mind.  It was hard to see but I thought I heard a bit of grunting and heard little pebbles trickling down the rock.  Only after the climb did he show me that the shoes he was wearing already had holes in them.  Nonetheless, Laine made it to the top of his first offwidth first ascent successfully! 

After lowering Laine and exchanging the traditional high fives, I knew it was my turn.  Sure I could have toproped the climb but then again I have my ego to feed.  So, we pulled the rope and now I would get the full experience too.  I must admit that I have done an offwidth or two and felt that this one looked to be a cruise on calm waters.  Climbing has a way of slapping you in the face when you get thoughts like this.  I made my way up, placed my first cam, and began to thrutch up the crack.  I reached the section where Laine came out of the crack and I thought, "there is no way in hell I am doing that."  I stayed in the crack and undulated my body up.
Trying to look casual

Not so casual anymore, eh

Though not as elegant as Laine, I made it through the crux and finally to a welcomed rest.  Glad the hardest was behind me, I moved up the last wide section more casually until my foot slipped.  I instinctively braced my body and luckily caught myself but the scare was enough to let my ego know that I can't levitate.
Just fun climbing!

I topped out and felt that rush of achievement along with that feeling of having stolen a cookie from the candy jar and not getting caught.  We had just done two really quality routes!

The day was not quite over yet however.  The last climb of the day was up an interesting corner.  Laine had looked at it more than I had but it was now my turn to lead. 
Red dots indicate route

With the sun getting lower, I climbed up an easy ramp system in the corner.  The climbing was fairly easy but unnerving because two trees near the route had dropped so many pine needles onto it.  The climbing slowly got harder.  I was trying to space out my gear and make it to the top in one long pitch.  Doing this means going for big distances between protection pieces and a heavy rope.  The crux came near the top as the climbing became tougher and it seemed loose blocks abounded.  Knocking off one of these microwave size behemoths could cut the rope or worse injure the belayer.  Luckily everything held and the route was pretty good.  Laine followed easily as well but we both agreed that before we put anyone else on the route there should be some trundling of those death blocks.

Overall it was another great day out.  We rated the chimney a 5.7+, the OW around 5.9, and the corner also 5.9 to 5.10 depending on which variation you take.  Can't wait to get back up there.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First Ascents at Woodfords

After living in Reno for over a year I heard of a place simply known as "Woodfords." Marissa and Laine Christman first introduced me to this unique climbing area over the last year.

Woodfords Main Climbing Area
A few crude online topos exist but many routes are still not recorded in any guide. The climbing is on a series of granite towers and ridges that form a series of couloirs. The routes tend to be stout and require climbers to be accomplished at the climbing grade in general. Though primarily a cragging area (most routes are less than 2 pitches), the alpine feel and the 1/2 hour uphill approach in loose sand make outings not for the faint of heart.

On a couple of cold days this November Laine and I began to explore what we believe is previously untouched rock. The first day we explored a couloir on the eastern side of the formation.

Laine and his new Tacoma.  Our first ascent can be seen in the background.

After slogging up the sandy slope on game trails we spotted several potential new climbs. Ultimately we decided to try to climb a section of rock that appeared to be about 200 feet of good looking granite. I asked Laine if he wanted the lead but he stated that I had spotted this particular line. As I roped up the excitement of climbing previously untouched rock filled my head. Although I have now climbed many first ascents all over the west there is still that tingling in your fingertips and a tinge of fear in the back of your head. More than once I have found that things up there don't always go as they look from down here.

The Route

The line that we had decided on would climb a chimney section then I would have to traverse on what appeared to be knobs on a face to another crack system that we hoped would take us to the top. Would the rock be solid or like potato chips glued to the face? Would the cracks be full of death flakes that could cut my rope or injure Laine on the ground? Forgetting the thoughts of doubt I headed up with a full accoutrement of gear.

Preparing for takeoff

Heading up the chimney at first was not as easy as it looks but soon I was at the knobs where I was to traverse. They looked big enough but I was still not comfortable with the rock quality here and knowing that if one broke I was going to take an exciting ride. Luckily they looked quite solid. The move proved fun and exhilarating and I had made it across to the crack.

Traversing on face features

I jettisoned a few loose flakes from the hand size crack and then continued up interesting cracks. Above a large pillar made up the left side of the crack. I decided to climb this pillar which had nice face features but also had a hallow sound to it. It ended at a yellowish band of rock with some large blocks. I gently made my way through these hoping not to pull one loose that could sever the rope or pummel down on Laine below. As I continued up I moved through the crux of the climb, a short offwidth section (a crack bigger than hands but not big enough to wedge your body inside). The rock quality was superb here and mercifully the rock provided a key foothold to make the moves easier. This led to further hand size cracks above and soon I was on top of the feature.

I was climbing on a 70 meter rope but still didn't have much rope to spare. I am guessing the route to be about 200 feet tall. Laine followed the route with no problem although he felt the pillar was a scary feature. After high fives on top we explored the next couloir over. Like two school boys viewing their first porn magazine we were giddy with excitement for what we saw before us. At least 2 more great climbs probably never done before!

I wanted to take a closer look and scrambled up the easy terrain to get a closer look.

Exploring new climbs

Overcome with excitement I dove into a fun and secure chimney sans rope. Squirming my way up I reached a constriction in the chimney.

Entering the Chimney
Deep in "Don't blow it" land

I paused. . . . not really wanting to downclimb this section I committed to coming out of the chimney. A few insecure moves and I latched a nice jug of a hold. Mantling up I continued up the crack and into an alcove. Two apparent exits to the route appeared. I chose a steeper but more solid looking exit to the left that led to a tight squeeze through a slot. Probably not the kind of thing my mom wants me doing but this was a fun side endeavor for the day.

Laine and I vowed to return to climb this route from a more obvious start and several other appealing climbs.

Friday, August 13, 2010

On the Gringo Circuit

With the high adventure portion of the trip behind us Andrew and I met our girlfriends in Lima. After a couple of days there we headed to Machu Picchu. A taxi, a plane, a collectivo (group taxi), & and train later and we were in Agua Caliente. This town at the bottom of the valley where Machu Picchu lies is quite a tourist trap. Just to get out of the train station, which is the only way to get there, you must navigate a maze of trinket and baby alpaca sweater vendors. Everything was about 4x the cost of Huaraz.

We lucked into some extra tickets to MP and so we were able to spend 2 days seeing the ruins. AMAZING! The ruins are set in one of the most beautiful jungle valleys you will ever see. The intricate stonework and massiveness of the place blew me away. On our second day we went up Wayna Picchu. This is the mountain that you see in background in all the pictures. There are ruins near the top of it and it gives amazing views of both the main area and the surrounding valley. There are now only 400 people per day allowed to go there. We were numbers 180 and 181 and were even in line at 4:50AM!!!!! Anyway we had a great time.

Last night we left Agua Calientes and today are taking the night bus to Arequipa in the south of the country. We hope to go to Colca Canyon which is said to be twice as deep as the grand canyon. Also there is supposedly a place where you can reliably see condors there as well.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Last Huaraz

Andrew and I are back in Huaraz, the Chamonix of the Andes. Our initial plan was to climb la esfinge then do a first ascent of some stretch of virgin rock. However we became enamored with the huge peaks here in the second largest mountain range in the world. As a result we decided to attempt a 6000 meter peak.

Our objective became Tocllarahu at 6035 meters (that is 19,800 feet). After getting supplies together we headed into the Quebrada Ishinca or Ishinca Valley. Unlike everone else it seemed we hiked our loads up to the valley basecamp. Most everyone else hired arrieros or burros drivers to pack in their supplies on burros. Still we maded it in a little tired but intact. The basecamp is just over 14,000 feet which would be at the top of all but the highest peaks in the US. The Ishinca Valley is a beautiful place with huge peaks jutting to the sky in all directions. Ishnica is a popular place for climbers and trekkers. I counted 40 tents there on the day we left. There is also a refugio there that you can stay in and even be served food and beer. We were on the cheapo climber budget however and did the more traditional tent camping.

Our second day we hiked up to a higher camp at 5000 meters (>16,000 feet). There we got our equipment ready for our summit push. We saw a girl we met in town coming down. She was happy but tired that she had summitted on this attempt, her 3rd. Andrew and I boiled water for what seemed like all afternoon. About half way through hydrating and filling our water bottles a guide came over and informed us that where we were getting our water from had 2 piles of shit just upstream. I couldn´t believe it since we were getting the water not more than 40 feet from the glacier itself! We began getting water from higher up (the glacier´s edge) but thought we might be ok since we were boiling it. Unfortunately boiling temps at 5000 meters are not enough to really kill everything - so we found out later.

That night a party of 4 left at midnight, a party of 9 at 1AM. We had planned on getting up at 2AM for our summit bid. I awoke with the first party at midnight and noticed I couldn´t see very many stars - aka there were clouds. We had been observing a weather pattern consisting of clear skies in the morning with clouds slowly forming and overtaking the peaks around 9AM. Now that there were clouds at night was concerning. Andrew had acquired a cough a few days earlier that seemed to have turned into bronchitis but he was still gung-ho on going up. So at 2AM we got up and were out of camp in about 15 minutes.

From the glacier we hiked up in the cold morning air following a path stomped into the snow by the hoardes before us and led on by many twinkling headlamps stretching up the mountain like a string of christmas lights. As we hiked we noticed in the moonlight that the summit was already covered in a boiling cloud. Still we carried on since all parties in front of us were guided. Maybe they knew something we didn´t. As we ascended a few people had already had enough and were headed down.

We met the party of 9 at steep section where you must cross the bergshrund (the place where the glacier is ripping away from the mountain). The section had about 15 feet of near vertical ice and the guide was having the 9 Austrian climbers use and ascender on the rope and pull up on their ice picks with the other arm. The men seemed to be able to muscle through but the women were having much difficulty. The guide was even pushing them up by hand to no avail. Andrew and I asked to pass but were denied and sat there for at least 45 minutes getting very cold. I searched on both sides of where they were climbing for another way. There was none. Finally the guide said to let the Americans go past. I easily climbed the section in about 30 seconds and Andrew followed quickly too. Now up on the summit ridge and totally encompassed in clouds we followed the broken bootprints in the snow slowly up through the haze. We had almost turned around below the party of 9 but now had renewed vigor that were moving again. Maybe the clouds would clear?

At a slow but steady pace we inched up the mountain with Andrew occasionally checking his watch for our altitude. Above us through the fog I saw two men rappelling. They had summitted and said we were pretty close. The next section required both ice tools as it was good solid snow but was fairly steep. I led the way and clipped a few fixed protection pieces in the snow as I climbed. Andrew´s watch said we had 200 meters to go as we topped another ridgecrest so we trudged on. Surprisingly we reached the summit in about 5 minutes. Andrew´s watch was not calibrated correctly. Surrounded in clouds the view was . . . well. . . all clouds. At almost 20,000 feet we were skirting the "death zone" where no human can survive for extended periods of time. We both felt great however.

Descending went very quickly as each step down brought more oxygen to our lungs. Rappelling off of snow pickets (aluminum stakes stuck into the snow) and cords threaded through holed drilled in the ice we descended by rope and of our frozen feet. We did not make it out of the clouds until almost at our high camp at the edge of the glacier. Andrew had to stop almost every 2 hours with loose stools. Evidently the water was getting to him. By 1PM that afternoon we were back at the basecamp and exhausted. Andrew, with his bronchitis and no intestinal bug was worked and he promptly fell asleep outside the tent not moving even as it rained throughout the day. I was pretty worked as well but at least managed to sit in the tent and read.

Unfortunately I too got the intestinal bug either from Andrew or the same water. Luckily the thick air at 14,000 feet felt comfortable ,) We decided to bite the bullet and hired an arriero to hike out our equipment. I had mildly injured my knee on the descent and Andrew who had amazingly climbed a 6000 meter peak with 2 illnesses was not really begging to carry a heavy pack either. Leaving the valley was kind of sad. I have never been in such impressive mountains before and knew that this would be one of those landmarks in your life that you would never forget.

Back here in Huaraz we have been nursing our sickness with antibiotics, rest, and cleaning up our gear. Tomorrow night we head back to lima on a night bus with fully reclining seats - NICE!

Friday, July 30, 2010

La Esfinge

Our route follows red dots.

As we hiked out of camp and over a small rise my sleepy legs reminded me that we were at altitude. The crisp morning air and sight of Scorpios red heart (the star Antares) straight overhead seemed like good omens for the day. The approach from basecamp was about an hour long by headlamp winding through a sea of refrigerator size granite blocks.
Huandoy from La Esfinge Basecamp

We had awoken at 4:30am to the quiet beeps of my alarm. Since we had been going to bed early for the last couple of nights this was not as alarmingly early as you might think. Adrenaline competing with morning grogginess is familiar to me but this day would be a unique one. We began methodically preparing our clothes and equipment for a climb we had been thinking about for days. I got the stove started as Andrew put on 4 layers of Patagonia clothing (I did as well). The previous day we had dropped packs off at the base and so all we had to carry was our freshly heated water and food.

Andrew and I had left Huaraz in a collectivo which are local taxis that run up and down the mountain highways. They are actually just vans with homemade racks put on top that they stuff as many people as they can into (think sardine can). We took this for a few hours north to the town of Caraz where we got a taxi to take us up to the trailhead in the Paron Valley.  Dirty children and oxen pulled plows lined the way in a lifestyle that reminded me what I have read of medieval pastoral life.  The road ends at the edge of a majestic aqua colored alpine lake with frosty white peaks cresting the skyline.

From the trailhead we hired a porter to help carry our gear up to our basecamp at 4600 meters. FYI, 4600 meters is over 15,000 feet (higher than any mountain in the continental US).

At the trailhead
Porter and Karsten hiking to Basecamp

Looking up canyon on the approach
The Sphinx comes into view

We spent a few days there acclimatizing. One day we hiked up a ridge to 5100 meters to see how we would feel.
Welcome to the 5000 meter club

5000 meters
This basecamp was one of the most impressive places I have ever been in my life. We were on the north side of a valley full of huge glaciated peaks. Many were like perfect pyramids and then there was Huandoy. The massive Huandoy is one of the largest peaks outside of the Himalaya at 6340 meters (20,800ft) tall. We saw and heard multiple avalanches coming off this thing every day. Imagine blocks of snow the size of a 8 story building caving off! All I can say is, "awe inspiring."
The Kitchen
Chillin in camp

Home sweet home

We also saw a red fox lurking around our camp at one point but had no other visitors until our last day when several parties of climbers arrived.


Cordillera Blanca at its best
As we reached the climb the sun gently touched the base and we felt its warm arms surround us. Andrew began climbing. The rock warmed quickly and we shed several layers of clothes as we climbed. The climbing was not too difficult in the beginning but protection was very sparse. DFU (Don´t F$%& Up) land is a place that Andrew is familiar with and he made it look easy. About 300 feet up he stops and continues to belay me up. I am very warm now and shed even more layers.
The blob pitch
Karsten following the second pitch

I go up several interesting sections of rock and come to what is supposedly one of the 2 hardest sections or cruxes of the route. I climb into a corner and then must traverse out a thin crack. Imagine the position you are in when reaching down to pick up a heavy couch or box. . . then turn that 90 degrees and you get an idea of what this would be like. Now imagine carrying that couch up 3 flights of stairs while holding your breath. I traversed out, put in a camming device for protection, and then started moving as fast I could toward the edge of the roof. I could feel my heart beating and I was breathing as though I had just run the 100 meter dash. With a few technical moves I made it to a stance and took a few seconds to catch my breath. The rest of the pitch wasn't too bad and I felt exhilarated to have not fallen. Andrew climbed the section so smoothly I didn't even know he had done the crux until I saw him way past it in the easier section.
Andrew making it look easy

Next up was his equally hard climbing section. Andrew floated over the rock making it look quite pedestrian. I noticed it to be not as easy as he had made it look when I followed.
Andrew turns the lip on the big roof.

With the hardest section of rock behind us and making good time we were sure that we had the route in the bag although maybe we shouldn't have been so cocky.

Above on an easier section of rock a small foothold broke and Andrew took a 15 foot fall onto a 25 year old rusty bolt. Exciting! Besides that short moment of excitement we continued to move steadily upward. About 1:30pm the route went into the shade. Though we were moving well we still had about 1000 feet of climbing above. The difficulty of the climbing eased but there were sections of rock where there was no protection and route finding was arduous. I remember distinctively a couple of times where a fall would have been well over 100 feet! Toward the top our fingers began to get cold at belays and the map simply stated, "find the easiest way to the top." Well the easiest way ended up not being that easy. Andrew lead up and around a corner for a long way. We were out of earshot of each other but I knew he must have stopped because he pulled up a trail rope and then pulled in all of the lead rope. I began climbing around the corner and reached him. I had hoped that he was on the top or near but my heart sank when I saw that this was not so.
Andrew climbing high on the route

With the temps getting colder I took the rest of the equipment and continued up since I was warmest from just climbing. I weaved through several sections of crack and then saw the golden light of the sun on a rock on a ridge. Excited by the sight of the summit ridge I climbed faster only to have mother nature remind me that there isn't much air available at 5000 meters. I topped the ridge and bathed in the warmth of the sun. Andrew quickly followed and 10 hours after beginning the route we were on the 17,400 foot summit! High fives and hugs ensued and we took the obligatory summit photos. Even more mountains were visible from here. We took a few pics and short videos and then began the descent with the sun setting.

A half hour later we began rappelling as the sun dipped below the horizon. Three rappels later we reached some water polished slabs and were able to hike off. Though extremely tired we knew that we must get back to our camp with sleeping bags and water. Both of us were fairly dehydrated. On the walk back adrenaline finally was wearing thin and exhaustion was setting in. Like zombies in the night we stumbled through the boulders with headlamps. We saw people 1000s of feet below around the lake with their own twinkling headlamps probably drinking warm coca tea and with bellies full of food. 14 hours after leaving camp we were back. I was so tired that I could barely eat a few morsels of food and choke down some hot water. I wondered if the night had the usual cramping groins and hamstrings that I usually face after such an event but this night I was spared.

As fresh as Guinea Pig gets
Andrew and I awoke to another beautiful day. Though there were now 3 other tents in the camp everyone was up starting their own epics on La Esfinge. We, on the other hand, had just finished climbing a majestic face in the second highest mountain range in the world. Feeling much better we polished off a few shots of rum and scotch that we were too exhausted to drink the night before. Catching a small buzz at 10:00am in the morning there and having the most complete feeling of contentment was more than one can imagine. As we hiked down more avalanches came down off of Huandoy and I was sad to be leaving such a grandiose place. At the bottom a traditionally dressed Andean woman made us fresh Cuy (guinea pig). I know it was fresh because I saw her slit its throat, pull it fur off, and cook it for us. Yes, a little chicken-like but tasty. A fitting end to another grand adventure.


This trip has been amazing so far! Full of firsts:

1st time in Southern Hemisphere
1st time in South America
1st time in Peru
1st time above 5000 meters
1st time in the Cordillera Blanca Mountain Range
1st time eating Cuy (Guniea Pig)
1st time seeing a Guniea Pig get its throat cut
1st time being in a bus with 18 other people (in a bus for 12)
1st time seeing southern cross (star constellation)

Back here in Huaraz at the lowly altitude of 10,000ft we feel back at home. Yesterday we went to Chavin to see some impressive ruins. Interestingly we drove in a tour bus over a pass that was over 14,000ft. A team of archeologists from Stanford are there excavating. It was a really unique temple with interesting half black and half white staircases and an intricate labyrinth of passages beneath that the ancient Peruvians ate peyote and performed ceremonies inside. The outside of the building was adorned with large half cat half man heads that are very unique. The ancient people thought that this is what happened when they ate the peyote they believe.

We have treated ourselves to some nice meals and beer and now have our eyes set on a 6,000 meter peak. We have snow and ice gear but want to do an easy "walk up" climb. Tomorrow we are getting the necessary supplies and hope to go back in the mountains the following day. If weather cooperates we could be on the summit in as little as 4 days from leaving but we have a few days to play with as well. We are attempting to climb Tocllaraju (toe-ka-rah-who) in the Ishinca valley. Tocllaraju is 6032 meters (19,790 feet).

Afterward (August 6) we take an overnight bus back to Lima to meet Sarah Zane and Marissa. From there its off to the infamous Cuzco and Machu Picchu!