Monday, March 16, 2015

Zeus gave Moses a Charlie Horse

Aphrodite, Zeus, the Ark, Moses, Thracian Mare(left to right)

I've made several trips down to Canyonlands now, and every time I am still amazed at the remoteness and beauty of the landscape. Whether is rafting Cataract Canyon or biking the white rim, every aspect is stunning. While hoards of folks were out jeeping, road biking, mountain biking, and roadside cragging around the adventure mecca that is Moab, Steve and and I never saw more than a few folks down in the barren but beautiful Canyonlands. Sure Castleton and Ancient Art are desert tower classics, but I'm not interested in waiting in line. I can do that at Disneyland. The classics of Taylor Canyon and the surrounding area have some of the best climbing I've done, and we had them all to ourselves.

Steve and I have very supportive wives, and with 3 kids between us they were gracious enough to let us go play by ourselves over a long weekend. This trip kicks off the last week of work before I quit my job for the next few months before PA school starts in July. We set off in the blue 4-runner around 7pm, and arrived below the mineral bottom switchbacks around 11 pm, threw out the bags, and enjoyed a miraculous star gazing night well outside the park boundary and potential camping fines.
Zeus from below Dunn route. Sisyphus ascends the obvious corner(squeeze)

Friday morning our first priority after chocolate muffins was Zeus, a 300' tower up Taylor Canyon. Its right next to Moses, which I had summited before, so I knew the logistics. Sisyphus is the route, and it has 3 5.11 pitches to its summit, including one that is R rated. Steve manned up and took the first pitch, and did quite well through the insecure stemming section with old desert hardware for gear. He took a whipper on a piton, building his confidence in the security of the mank, and with smart use of the piton as a foothold managed to finish the pitch. I attempted to follow it clean but alas, the piton received a 2nd climbing shoe imprint. One pitch down.
Steve in the thin of things on pitch 1

I led pitch 2, which included mostly finger crack and then a tips lieback which got french freed after desperation set in. The squeeze chimney made me dust off my very rusty wide technique, and after some futzing around right side/left side in, I thrutched up to the belay. Gotta love the squeezes.

Fingers off the belay. This was the easy part

Pitch 3 was the 5.11 R pitch. The first 3/4 is amazing fingers with great gear, and the R part turned out to be a sporty boulder problem, which suited me much better than the 5.11 insecure stemming of pitch 1. The gear was a little low to avoid decking if I fell, but after resting and scoping it the move went off without a hitch and I was on top. Steve struggled a bit, but managed eventually and the raps off the old summit anchor went smooth.
Steve's face says the 5.11 R move is hard. 

Classic desert rap anchor

We ate lunch and then headed over to Moses to do the Dunn route. I had done the ultra-classic Primrose with Annie back in 2011, so a different route sounded fun. Steve led a shorter 5.9 OW pitch off the deck that was easier than it looked due to face holds. My camera wouldn't turn on for awhile so I failed to acquire any pictures.

I took pitches 2-3, which was a  Burger King whopper of a linked 60m pitch, which just kept going and going, but allowed for great belay ledges. My triple cam rack was gone when I arrived at the belay, but it was by far one of the best pitches I've done. Lots of well protected 5.8-5.9 climbing. Nothing stressful, tons of variety, just good fun, though Steve said my last two pieces were garbage. I admit a nut in a parallel crack usually isn't ideal. Mental pro is better than none.

Pitch 4 is the crux 5.11 fist pitch. Hand crack gets to you a #4 camalot roof, then mostly fists and arm bars for another slightly overhanging 40 feet. Way harder than any 5.11 sport pitch at the gym where its just your finger tips that hurt. My whole body hurt after this one. My skills were far from adequate, and despite hundreds of watts and precious skin expended from my frail boney body, I managed to only move half a body length at a time before exhaustion set it, so much hangdogging ensued. Sometime later than hoped I arrived at the belay cave. Steve seemed to have similar issues as me, but after much effort got up. "Take!" and "tight!" echoed many times throughout the empty canyon. Steve had some weird severe cramping in his abs and had to lie down and arch his back in the small cramped cave to appease the pain. It abated in time for the hole squeeze.
Attempting to stem to relieve pain in my forearms

Pitch 5 was a short vertical squirm through a tiny hole, but our caving experience gave us proficiency to dispatch this one without much effort. 2 easy pitches led to the top.
Go steve go! 

When the wifer and I did Moses back in 2011. It was windy this time too. 

Steve stoked to be on top of Moses. The Pocatello 50 arm sleeves look dirty for some reason

Horrible hanging belays but easy pulls led us down Pale Fire and to our warm Dr Pepper. Fantastic day in the desert.

Another night under the stars and a whole lot of condensation brought us to Saturday. Charlie Horse Needle was up next. Steve got the wide 5.10 fist pitch this time, and did well despite his soreness from the previous day's activities. He managed to bypass the huge belay ledge despite my apparently unclear directions, but set up a fine belay slightly higher.
Charlie Horse is the highest tower of the 3 spires

Splitter fists! I'd try the 5.12 finger crack next time

I did 5.10 fingers with stemming into yet, another squeeze chimney, and flopped onto the belay ledge after a much shorter time than Zeus' squeeze took me, though I still needed some proactive self talk to get started.
splitter fingers before the squeeze

Exiting the squeeze 

The 5.11c pitch was last, which again got french freed through the initial .5 camalot acute corner flare(say what?) then a beautiful long red camalot section. A short wide section created some anticipated stress from below, but wasn't too bad, then a final chimney to the top! 3rd tower of the trip.
Thin hands master enjoying the red camalots 

Bomber rock on the summit

After rappelling safely we headed back to the car and up to Island in the Sky. We were both pretty tired and sore from climbing, but wanted to take advantage of the remaining afternoon. We finished the trip off by doing a fantastic run from the mesa down to the White Rim road via Lathrop Canyon, around 12 miles and 3k' vert in 2.5 hours. The NPS sign said it was 5 miles from Island in the Sky to the White Rim, but the sign at the White Rim indicated it was 6.8 miles back to the road. The guy making the signs must have been watching March Madness while engraving. Gorgeous and almost no one on the trail. The 24 mile full escapade down to the river and back will have to be done another time.
Fantastic views to the East side of Canyonlands

Similar only color

Really cool singletrack ridge running 

I didn't have compression shorts or a tech shirt, which resulted in horrific inner thigh and back blisters due to chaffing, but it was worth it. Steve didn't have a water bottle or a pack, so he just ran with his dr pepper bottle sans Bottleband. Where is Court and Nick when you need them? Oh yea, Atlantic City.

The trip couldn't just end peacefully with delicious Arby's curly fries, as Steve had to pick up a scary hitchhiker in the dark just outside of Price("he had a pack on, I though he was an ultrarunner!"). I had already talked him out of a previous opportunity at Crescent Junction, so I guess he needed his good turn done for the day. "D.C." had a rich history of being in jail, being medically dead in the hospital, brain damage, prior residences in 2/3 of all the US states, and apparently had just escaped from his mental institution. Curse you generous and extroverted Steve! Way more dangerous than desert towers. Luckily we dropped him off in Spanish Fork unscathed(us, not him), though we did a quick check of our belongings after he left.

This lead to a lukewarm discussion about how Steve was too friendly and needed to be more like me, the antisocial introvert who thinks giving out Oreos to strangers at the crag is a bit weird. Like most of our opinionated social conversations, we agreed to disagree.

Another great trip!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cindy Crawford is my Guardian Angel

South Guardian Angel

Contrary to my own beliefs and likely the beliefs of all those who enter Zion National Park, many if not most of the giant walls and peaks that tower above the Virgin River can be summitted by less than technical means, i.e you don't have to own a helicopter or be a super hard free or aid climber to access a lot of what appears to be untouchable terrain. All it takes is some googling, astute route finding skills, moderate fitness, a distaste for directness, and a love of slickrock scrambling and manzanita thrashing to get to some pretty dang remote and seemingly improbable locations. We were lucky enough to experience two new such adventures this past weekend.

With the addition of little Timbre to our family, hiking has become one of the easiest and best activities we can pursue together. We may have pushed the envelope of what would be considered normal "hiking" with a 7 month old child in a backpack, but who wants to hike Angel's Landing for the 15th time? While thousands of folks summited the place where the angels land, we were off all alone with the actual angels. 

Our first objective was South Guardian Angel, a peak on the Kolob Terrace side of Zion, separated from North Guardian Angel and the Northgate Peaks trail by the uber classic must do canyoneering route, the Left Fork, aka the Subway. 

superb if not overly specific route beta:

If you know anything about canyoneering, generally the premise is you access the canyon from the top, and emerge out the bottom, and rarely is there an escape from its bowels anywhere in between due to hundred or thousand foot walls on all sides. So if a slot canyon separates you and your objective peak, chances are you'll have to find another way around, which may or may not exist. Luckily for us, some creative and ingenious pioneer created a fantastic and suprisingly direct route that descends into the Subway and back out the other side with nothing more than a short 4th class section. No ropes required! Really cool. The route itself is almost as intriguing as the peak. 

Pete, Court and Steve hadn't done any of the other peaks in the Wildcat Trailhead vicinity so they opted for the longer, 5 peak linkup while the Weiler clan departed for SGA, with hopes of meeting up at some point. We had some minor trouble finding the correct path into the Subway, but inevitably found it, though it took quite a bit longer than expected. Joe's directions state that there are many cairns that leads you down, but we failed to find very many on either the up or down journeys. The boys met up with us just as we entered the canyon proper, having summited 3 peaks already(they did not have a kid) and we all fought our way up the escape gully together. An hour later we found ourselves on the summit after some cross country thrashing and slickrock calf burners. Very cool summit.
Me and Timbre in the Subway

View of North Guardian from SGA

The girls on top
The entrance and exit to the Subway is definitely "off trail". Heck the whole route is. 

The boys took off to bag the 5th peak while we embarked on the identical return slog back. Timbre had been doing ok for most of the day, despite being whipped from time to time by sharp branches that I did a poor job of avoiding. We had to employ what we are now calling a "Timbre Toss" on the 4th class section descending back into the Subway, which is essentially handing Timbre down a short obstacle for fear of slipping and killing the child while downclimbing. This is just good parenting. 
Riding the log

It was a long day but we arrived back at the van 8 hours after departing, 15 miles, 4k', and a bunch of scratches later. Annie and I alone no doubt could have done it in half the time and it would have been way less stressful, as anything is a little more committing with a child, but we managed. 

Sunday after the most crowded sacrament meeting I've ever attended, we went out and found the once-secret-but-now-the-locals-don't-care Utah hills crag, Sunset Alley. Looks fun. 

Monday we set out with Pete and Court to find Crawford Arch, a very subtle but easily seen formation( if you know where to look) high on Bridge Mountain. Despite being visible from the visitor center and within 1 mile of the tunnel road, it ironically takes either a 10 pitch 5.10 or a 10 mile, 4k' totally indirect scrambling route to access it. Court had done the route before, so we recruited him to guide us which was nice of him considering the ample opportunity Zion holds for non-repeatable adventures. Whoever discovered this route to the arch is even more ingenious than the SGA dude. 

More great beta:

The author's description starts off by saying, "this is NOT a hike for the entire family!". Well you don't know our family Joe. We started from the tunnel around 9 am and took our first break down near the entrance to Hepworth wash after Annie had an unfortunate accident jumping off a log into the sand with her back extended, causing acute sharp pain in her back.

Navigating down the canyon to Hepworth Wash
We continued on despite her discomfort(tough mother) and made a slight mistake picking the wrong notch(the correct one is the furthest left) to ascend but corrected without too much delay. This next part of the hike is the craziest. We descended down a steep brushy gully towards the tunnel road, using our full arsenal of Timbre Toss skills, then wrapped around on a ledge to a 5.6 chimney.  The chimney requires the only climbing skills of the outing and allows access to a flat saddle of sorts, then some mild loose sand traversing lands you improbably at the arch.Timbre didn't make it up the chimney, so we took turns watching her while the others went up and saw the arch. The chimney was fun and easy with a fixed handline, and we all escaped without injury. The return trip went well, with only minor Timbre face whippings until a serious one pushed her over the limit, so we took her out of the backpack and carried her the rest of the way. 
5.6 chimney

Under the arch

Looking down towards the visitor center

Court doing what Arches National park won't let you do

This was a 10 mile, 3800' vert adventure that took us about 8 hours. 

We aren't sure if our current justification of what is considered "hiking" in the form of Zion peakbagging with Timbre will increase or decrease the likelihood of her enjoying future outings as she gets older. Maybe we'll tell her she doesn't have a choice. 

The next question we face is whether we can convince ourselves an easy slot canyon like Orderville isn't considered child abuse. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Sweatin' it up White Pine

Shreddin the Gnar, or whatever (all quality photos courtesy of Jake)

Ski season is upon us. After last year's debacle involving a massive avalanche and my life almost ending, I seriously debated whether I should continue skiing. Despite my hesitations, I retrieved my lost skis, poles, hat, goggles, etc once spring arrived, enjoyed a summer of running and climbing, and sure enough, winter arrived and I'm skiing again. I didn't do a good job at getting rid of my bad skiing influences, i.e my friends, so they inevitably peer pressured me back into, although it didn't take much to bring me back from sobriety.

I haven't had a plethora of ski days already like some folks out there, but have had some very enjoyable outings so far. We had a great powder day up Beartrap fork after Christmas skiing the trees, and a boney but still quality day up on Kessler though Court's lost ski in the depths of the East Couloir did put a damper on moral, mostly Court's. Luckily he has like 9 pairs of skis.
Court skying off a short drop in the East Couloir before losing his ski in the Bermuda Triangle

Court skiing in Beartrap

Managed to capture the stumble. 

Today was the best day of the year so far, despite the unpredicted sweltering temps. With this last week being terribly cold and windy in the valley, I was prepared for severe bone chilling skiing as we headed up to ski some safe south facing terrain, another one of the classic north side LCC chutes, White Pine. White pine couloir is the last of the major couloirs on the north side I have to ski. Needless to say there was some confusion among the brethren when I said I wanted to ski "White Pine", as that can refer to the trailhead, drainage, the actual lake area, and countless other minor chutes all bearing that name. After clarifying, and making a somewhat annoying pit stop for Pete, we found ourselves skinning up the appointed couloir.

However, after about and hour, and after booting a steep tight section(much exertion), Jake, Pete, and I were baking in the hot sun and being blinded by the solar flare reflection off the snow. We trudged on and up, skinning through lots of firm and breakable crust. Despite us whining as we sweated our guts out and pondering whether this adventure was worth the loss of our future eyesight, the snow ended up a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge: quite crusty at first, but softening significantly with time.

The turns ended up being a lot better than expected, and we enjoyed mostly soft, dense turns down another aesthetic line.

Whenever I get tired and hope someone else will break trail, Jake is conveniently a ways back

Pete with his usual "coat around the waist" stylish skinning 

Boys navigating a short steep choke 
The straight leg technique is an excellent way to break your legs upon impact

What Pete lacks in stylish gear he compensates for in jumping grace.

Does it get much better? Maybe a burrito and Dr Pepper at the car

White pine is another classic, easy access, 3000' "out of the gate" couloir that has a bit of everything. Some steep tight chokes, some open mellow terrain, and a big cliff at the bottom that must be negotiated via a quite narrow chute to the west. Fun!

In other news, little Timbre is 6 months old!

A few weeks old 

Cute little kid. 6 months. When she isn't crying she's a treat. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Random Chossy Zion Peaks

The three peaks we bagged

South Guardian Angel.  I didn't climb it yet.  But it looks cool. 

Great photos like those above here from joe braun. For crappy iphone photos continue reading on.

My immediate family minus the Burningham clan headed down to St George over the Thanksgiving weekend to enjoy some hiking. I decided to test their skills on some Zion choss to see who would be victorious on the sandy sugar hills.

We headed out from the Wildcat Trailhead on the Kolob Terrace Rd for the Northgate Peaks, with my internal intentions to bag North Guardian Angel and both East and West Northgate Peaks somewhat unstated. I'm not sure the family really knew what we were doing. We scrambled through the pass between the Northgate Peaks over to NGA and proceeded to climb the 3rd class slabs to the base of the east ridge. Most people didn't find this too difficult. The East Ridge itself however is 4th class and looks kinda steep from afar, which means nothing too terribly difficult for a climber, but for those unaccustomed to scrambling without  a rope it can be quite unnerving. I led my dad and Caroline (my mom and Rachel decided it looked a bit sketchy for their liking) up the ridge and they did really well considering how loose some spots were along with the exposed sections. They gained expert skills in crabwalking, carefully weighting loose jenga blocks, and trusting feet pasted on slickery slabs. My dad knocked a grapefruit sized rock down which hit me in the arm, but that's part of the game. Annie fed Timbre and then bagged the peak herself. We felt taking Timbre up 4th class was not good parenting.
North Guardian Angel's East Ridge from West Northgate

Great to see this chick out having a good time since most of her time revolves around feeding monster kid

View of the where the 4th class starts, head way right, then way left

Halfway up the ridge with West Northgate behind. I wore my Xmas colors in honor of black friday
Coming across NGA's summit ridge. "It just keeps going!"-Caroline

View across to SGA with Subway below. Next time! 
NGA saddle, with great view of Rams peak on the right

We then schwaked over to East Northgate peak. We lost my dad to the tired crowd but Caroline conceeded to do another one(little did she know there were 2 more) and we bagged that one via some pretty crappy rock on the west side involving pinching some brown sugar while mantling into manzanita with some fairly high consequence fall zone below with Timbre on my back. Bad parenting, but she was asleep. We descended the 2nd class trail on the North side(less fun) and back up to the Northgate Peaks trail. Annie and Caroline seemed a bit tired and Timbre was asleep, so they told me to go ahead onto West Northgate on my own. However, I showed them the cool 3rd class North Ridge and they changed their minds quickly.

Family photo on top of East Northgate. Yes our child can breath

West Northgate slabs

We downclimbed through some volcanic rock and enjoyed the final peak's fun solid scrambling, then headed back to the van. South Guardian Angel is now the only major peak on the Kolob Terrace side I need to bag to accomplish Jared and Buzz's 5 peak linkup, which sounds really cool since you have to descend the complicated ridge system into the Subway from NGA. Maybe later in the Spring my ambitious plan would be to climb all 5 peaks plus descend the Subway IAD!

Map of our peaks and how to get to SGA

Day 2 of my hiking tour took us to Water Canyon outside of Polygamy town Hildale. Jared had done a loop up Squirrel and down Water, but that 11 mile RT was a bit heavy for our group. We hiked up Water Canyon which was interesting, not very adrenaline packed but cool scenery. It was 2.5 miles up to the mesa where we consumed a large amount of Chex Mix. Later we fought over dinner about whether to watch "property brothers" or football.
Water canyon

After church the family headed home and we went back to Zion. Annie was tired and so was Timbre so I bagged Tabernacle Dome on my own. Tabernacle is located near the Left Fork trailhead, and I started directly across from "True North", a vacation rental house. I would not recommend this. It involved heinous bushwaking on volcanic rock through 3 separate gullies. The better approach is up the road another half mile to a big open flat area with a gargoyled NPS road. Its a bit longer but way less horrible, unless you like that sort of thing. I came back on this and it was very nice. 2.5 miles RT with around 900 feet of gain.

Access through the bottom cliffs was puzzling and required adept route finding, something I am not good at. I eventually found a cool tunnel/slot/rain runoff feature that I could stem up. Not sure if this is the only way up but it would be pretty neat if it was. More sandy manzanita winding through sandstone blobs provided access to the quite steep 3rd class friction of the North ridge. Like many Zion Scrambles, various trees with webbing appeared along the way for those who find descending a bit too scary for their liking. The view was pretty cool and my watch showed 27 min to get to the top, which would be far faster if you knew the route. Surprised to see 6 people had summitted in the last month since this peak seemed fairly obscure, though close to the road. We drove back to St George and slept at the Chuckawalla TH in our new van.
Tabernacle Dome from nice flat approach

Looking down the 3rd class friction. Mangled brown access rd visible

Standard Zion anchor
The weird slot thing that allowed passage to upper terrace

Van life!

I'm slowly learning climbing is any respect with little Timbre is a nightmare. She just won't sit by herself for any length of time without screaming, and praise heaven if a nap ever occurs. We went out to Turtle Wall so I could try my luck on a 13a called "the actual parchments" but it did not go well. Luckily some other folks were out there and gave me a catch on it while Annie patiently attended to Timbre's needs. I've never seen a kid so tired that refuses to sleep. No send but one day of effort on a 13 isn't really realistic at this stage for me. Maybe I'll be back in the future. I'm hoping maybe by next spring season Timbre will be walking and maybe that will be better so she can roam around. But who knows. Multi pitch trad climbing is essentially done for Annie and I till our kids are like 10, but I was hoping sport would be doable. It hasn't been so far. But she's pretty fun so I guess we'll keep her.