Sunday, April 13, 2014

No Tiger Woods with this wedge

Utahs Grand Canyon

My dad's side of the family are pretty big golfers. I got introduced to it fairly young and played quite a bit in my high school years before my recreation desires moved to slightly more adrenaline type sports, though I still enjoy an occasional round. With the Master's going on this weekend without the controversial yet likeable character Tiger Woods involved, the Lindsay and Weiler clan headed to the Swell to pay honor to that great short range, high angle golf club, the sand wedge.

The Wedge Recreation Area of the San Rafael Swell contains a fantastic 21 mile singletrack/dirt road loop through sand, dirt, and slickrock for mountain bikers and runners called the Good Water Trail. It winds its way in and out and around the many tentacles of the Wedge canyon formation. It takes a very inefficient, indirect, but beautiful course of 16 miles around these canyon arms to reach the opposite side, and then a short more direct 5 mile dirt road brings you back to the start. The map below should explain this apparent paradox.
The light red is the trail, a full 16 miles, then the dark red is the 5 mile dirt road return

We camped pretty close to the rim of the Little Grand Canyon overlook Friday night after trying Code Red Mountain Dew for the first time(I'll stick with DP) and enjoyed a night out sans tent, though a critter or two did find their way into Annie's territory.

Steve and I headed out around 7 am the next morning and busted out the 21 miles in around 3:20. The elevation gain and loss on this trail is pretty sad, a whopping 100 feet(not sure on exact numbers, but it felt this way). I get more vertical on my lunch break walk at work.  Its pretty dang flat. Not a good Hardrock training run. We enjoyed the views of  "Utah's Grand Canyon" and made it back to camp where our families were waiting. Overall it was pretty fun, though I do enjoy a bit more variety in the vertical realm.
Steve is a fast flat runner, so I didn't take many pics since I was struggling to keep up on the 8 min/miles

We spent the rest of the day cragging on the Indian-Creek-Wanabie cracks. Fun, but not the Creek. It is nice to climb some splitters though without the 6 hour drive it takes to get to crack paradise.

Annie is 7 months pregnant, but she can still bust out hand crack

The Teeter Totter, 5.10 X. The pillar here creaks and moves a little as you climb it. Its only moderately scary. Annie put on her helmet while she belayed, as if that would help if the 1000 lb pillar collapsed on her. 

You've been warned. Do it anyway

Nice 5.9 crack right off the road. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

From Snow to Desert

Can't beat Canyonlands country. Standard view from Deadhorse Pt. 

I think as much as we all enjoy snow and winter activities, there comes a time when its time to halt the skiing and embrace spring by heading south and forgetting about all that white stuff, though the skiing is still excellent. (near death avalanches help speed this process along)

However, I guess I need to almost kill myself more often as I had a record number of page views on my last post. Normally my five friends, some family, and some random people bored on the interweb view my blog posts, so I get somewhere in the 30-60 page view range on average for every post. I got 512 on the avy post. Watch out Six Sisters, I'm gaining! Sponsors are flocking like seagulls to a garbage dump!

My family had planned a nice weekend in Moab and it was just what I needed after last weeks debacle(despite having visited the desert two weeks prior. You can't get enough desert). The desert is fantastic in April/May, and since Annie and I usually end up sleeping in the dirt illegally or in the back of our Hyundai when we visit Moab, its always nice to have an alternative to that dirtbag lifestyle and have the parents pay for a luxurious rental home where beds, movies, and large quantities of delicious food are available.

My folks and Annie were nice enough to let me go to my own thing in the morning, then join them for some lighter hikes in the afternoon. However, my dad, Caroline, and Annie joined me for an early run Friday. They ran for about an hour up Hidden Valley and back and I did a nice loop by heading up the Hidden Valley Trail, then down the Moab Rim, back on the Kane Creek Rd(crappy, but unavoidable) where I hopped onto the super nice Pipedream trail back to the car. Overall it was a great 14-15 mile outing with around 3k'. I was lucky enough to see only a few folks in the 2:20 it took to run it as all of those trails are fairly popular with mountain bikers and the evil jeeps/dune buggies/OHV unpleasantries.

Hey look! A hidden valley with a buffed out singletrack! 

Fun slickrock running down Moab Rim to the river
Colorado River

That afternoon I took the family on a tour of my favorite mud towers. The Fisher towers are pretty crazy formations, and the 5 mile out and back trail was enjoyed by everyone. The family got to witness some poor climber struggling to mantle the diving board on Ancient Art for about 5 minutes while the usual conga line present on the route waited impatiently.

Ancient Art Headwall. Look at all the Mud! 

The Titan, aka "the big dirty". Inspired me to take up aid climbing, though both major aid lines have now been freed at the relatively pedestrian grades of 5.13 and 5.12c with large portions of  "5.11 sketch" according to Will Stanhope. 
A cool video of Mr Stanhope enjoying some "mud-aneering" and the Smileys doing the standard aid practice

Free the Titan from paul on Vimeo.

Finger of Fate, The Titan from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

More mud. Cottontail and Kingfisher
For once it wasn't me making funny faces

Saturday I embarked on a great run I had mapped out in Canyonlands on my own, thinking I was pretty clever, then discovered many a folk had already done it including Ted and Christy Mahon of  "stuck in the rockies" (they've done everything) so I felt stupid for a sec then got over it. Its a 20 mile loop starting at Alcove Springs TH, down to Taylor Canyon, out to the WRR, over to Upheaval Dome TH, and back up via the south Syncline loop to Island in the Sky. The National Parks do not disappoint. Click on the "bigger map" link below for a more detailed view.

Running down Alcove Springs

Loved running around the corner and spotting these guys

Yee Haw! Solitary singletrack down in remote Canyonlands

Need to get back and climb Zeus, Aphrodite, the other two lines on Moses, Charlie Horse much to do

Don't miss the cutoff from the WRR or you'll be running a lot longer than 6.9 miles back to the rim

Slime Oasis in the wash. I've drunk/drank/drunken from worse

Lots of wash running. Not too sandy but not exactly efficient either

It turned out to be a fantastic run, and I finished in 3:15 with about 3k' again. The family then went and hiked Delicate Arch, which was a bit of a cultural shock going from seeing 5 people all morning during my 3 hour run to seeing the entire population of Rhode Island in the parking lot. We aren't huge fans of crowded places. Speaking of destroying mankind, we rounded out the day with a viewing of the new movie release Noah, which was nothing like the Biblical story whatsoever(Giant rock fallen angel creatures that behave like Lord of the Ring Ents?), but entertaining nevertheless.
License plate shot

Sunday we packed up and headed out to Corona Arch as neither of us had ever been out there. No rope swinging ensued(the sabbath), but we did climb on top to check out the setup.
Corona Arch. 

Can't wait to get back and do some climbing.

Steve and I have plans to run the Zion Traverse at the end of April, so this week was my first real week of serious running. I managed 65 or so miles which I think was pretty good. He's already run a 50 this year so I'm behind in the miles category. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cheating Death: An Avy Report from Coalpit

It was a fantastic day, until we almost died

It might sound cliche or overdramatic, but I really feel like I could have died today. Considering the circumstances, I think my odds of survival were low. Like really low.

Jake and I headed out from white pine at 7:30 sans everyone else due to tardiness(steve,nick) and sleep deprivation(court) and I think we just forgot to invite Pete. Regardless, we skied up to the summit of the Obelisk where we found gale force winds and hard snow. Luckily the turns got way better down in Hogum 200 and we skied to the base of the Hypodermic Needle apron.

We both felt a little lazy but we both wanted to ski Coalpit Headwall pretty bad. We thought it should be pretty good from the previous storm and not sun affected. We skinned up the apron and hit the ridge around 11:30. We booted up to our entry point which was just below the summit on the east part of the headwall.
Really windy on the coalpit headwall ridge

Cool cornice

I dropped in first and did 2 fat ski cuts across the face, jumping pretty hard on the slope to test it out. We had skied the Hogum 200 just an hour earlier and it had looked quite similar to this line in nature, wind blown snow. Feeling OK about it, I skied down the line a few more turns and tried to get out of the way so Jake could come down.

Coalpit Headwall via the interweb. our line was far left

Jake ski cut the exact same line as me, and WHUMP! the whole thing slid. I yelled AVY! and pointed my skis downhill(why I'm not sure) and was immediately caught in the slide. I proceeded to get carried all the way down the headwall onto the apron below, getting tumbled around but mostly staying "afloat". There was one really scary part(the whole thing was scary) where I got turned upside down and couldn't breath for what felt like 10 minutes(likely 3 seconds) but then I reemerged on top as I violently tried to swim.

The avy came to a halt and I found myself on top unscathed, minus lacking my skis and poles. I immediately yelled up to Jake(way up there) that I was OK. He saw me and proceeded to ski down. He had gotten caught as well, but luckily had been able to self arrest on whippets and not get carried too far. We both were extremely happy at first to be alive, then as reality set in that we weren't dead I think we both became very angry. Angry at ourselves, the mountains, the snow, the whole situation.

After the fact. I slid from way up there at the top till where I am taking this photo

So scary

I found one pole, but my skis were gone. Jake skied down next to me as I booted my way down Coalpit. We navigated the small downclimb and made it back to the car happy to be alive. Jake said the F word quite  a bit. I'm not a fan of swearing, but I too used some language I'm not proud of. This ends my skiing season, one because I almost died, and two my skis are buried who knows where.

The next question is, "do you give it up?" Does a near death experience like this make you quit?

Backcountry skiing has become a ridiculously fun activity for me this year. I had dabbled in it before, but this year has by far been my biggest ski year yet. With two base jumping deaths in the last week, I had already been reflecting on the risks of the sports we pursue. I felt quite sad and angry at Sean Leary for doing such a stupid sport like Base Jumping and leaving behind a wife and unborn child. Now it seems like I am the stupid one, participating in a sport where the objective hazards can be high and I have a wife and unborn child.

 I refuse to be the guy who leaves behind his family because he insists on skiing.

I refuse to die young.

I refuse to make the news as another avalanche death and give the non-skiers another reason to criticize us "adrenaline junkies".

I think the mantra, "he died doing what he loved" is garbage. If we think life isn't worth living without backcountry skiing, base jumping, paragliding, etc. then I think our priorities are mixed up. It is imperative that if we decide to participate in these dangerous sports, that we don't give ourselves 1:100 odds of dying. Those aren't good odds for people who ski 100 days a year/two years/three years. I need 1:1,000,000 odds.

 I don't want to give up skiing. But I certainly had a wakeup call today.

My life would still be fantastic without skiing should I give it up. I have running, climbing, biking, and of course family. Maybe I'll consign myself to skiing Beartrap Fork trees forever, but somehow I don't think that's gonna happen. I certainly won't ski the resorts, that's for sure. Some might say I am overreacting, that avalanches happen all the time, but until you have felt that petrified feeling of being trapped under cement hard snow and you feel like you are going to die, don't talk to me about overreacting.

If you head up Coalpit before me in the summer and find my Dynafit Manaslu skis, I'd love to have them returned. Maybe I'll use them again. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Big East

Great view of Dromedary and Sunrise from East Twin. 

The Big East conference had a decent representation this year in the NCAA tournament. I picked #2 seed Villanova to win the tournament, which was obviously a stupid choice since they lost last night in the round of 32. What a garbage fire my bracket has become.

Regardless, Court, Nick, Jake and I set out to ski a few lines in Broads Fork on Saturday, the big one being the East Face of Twin Peaks. We started up Tanners at 7 am in a blizzard, which quickly dissipated 15 minutes later, and 3 of us topped out around 9 at the Drom/Sunrise saddle to bright sunshine looking down in to BCC. I had attempted to get a head start from the car since I never seem to handle the technical skinning very fast but still managed to get passed by Court halfway up.
Looking down Tanners. All the west facing stuff had huge avy debris. 

Looking up to the top of Tanners 

Court enjoying his 3rd outing of the week

Nick wasn't feeling super hot and was an hour behind us, so we unanimously decided to ditch him(he understands) and skied down the North couloir of  Dromedary opposite Tanners down into Broads. We then decided to boot straight up the East Face rather than take the southeast ridge since it seemed more efficient.

Jake enjoying some soft snow off Drom

Jake with the Big East behind

95% of the time when someone is out front breaking trail, its Court. 0% of the time, its Jake

Great skinning conditions and shadows

Court setting the booter up East Twin

We topped out on East Twin around 1030, and enjoyed another winter summit. The East Face skied really well, and the aprons were outstanding.

Court on upper East Face
Lower East Face fun
Court practices his Karate to get him through the tight stuff
Yee Ha! Thats what Steve would have yelled if he was here. We did it for him

Jake bailed down Broads to get back to the wife and Court and I booted and skied the North couloir of Sunrise making for another 3 line day. Its becoming a trend in my outdoor excursions to do triples. No longer is one couloir, tower, or peak enough.
N. Couloir of Sunrise. Another gooder
Lots of squiggles from us and others throughout the week. Our two couloirs are center
Nick went up and over to ski Tanners since he really wanted to tick that one off(I did not envy his ski conditions we found on the way up) and Court and I skied out Broads. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be though I did tomahawk over a log in the thick woods trying to avoid the death pizza pie skintrack. Skiing dirt and ice led to hiking out and hoping not to garage sale on the ice. We hitchhiked down and grabbed some hot dogs at 7-11 whereupon Court was chastised for wearing his ski boots inside by what appeared to be a 16 year old 4'11" girl with the title "shift manager" on her name tag. Guess we didn't read the "obvious sign" on the front door.

Annie and I hiked Mt. Wire that afternoon, creating a 8k' day. I was very happy with that. Then I read Sherpita did 15k on Timp and I just got depressed.

Congrats to Stevo for finishing his 3rd Buffalo 50 in a PR 8 hours, and Pete for finishing his first 50 miler in whatever time he did it in.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Otto's Long Dong and Medicine Man

Independence Monument, the jewel of the park 

Desert towers become somewhat of an addiction after having summited a few. Just ask Steve "Crusher" Bartlett who compiled a book full of them ironically entitled, "Desert Towers", and who has topped out on well over 100+. They range from classic crack routes like Fine Jade(loved that one) to obscure aid nightmares like Death of American Democracy(have not nor ever will do this one). Most of the time towers require a unique blend of skills you may not have developed at your neighborhood gym. Squeeze chimneys, sandy rock, poor anchors, runout face climbing, offwidth, complex routefinding, and a large quantity of cams and adventure usually accompany such climbing. After months without a desert tower summit, depression starts to set in despite what cool ski lines have been tagged during the winter months.

Annie and I, joined by Court, Pete, and the Lindsays, set out to explore Colorado National Monument, a more off the radar tower destination with nearby Moab being the epicenter. Court and I set out to climb 3 towers in one day, which would be a new record for us mortals. The towers and routes in order were:

1. Medicine Man on the Sentinel, 4 pitches, 12b
2. Long Dong Wall on Kissing Couple, 5 pitches, 11a
3. Ottos route on Independence Monument, 4 pitches, 5.8

Tower 1. Sentinel Spire. Medicine Man goes straight up the face

We rapped in off a tree near the Book Cliffs Viewpoint and hiked down to the base of tower 1.

The big daddy was Medicine Man, with two 5.10 pitches, one 11+ pitch, and one 5.12 pitch. I led the first fun 5.10 pitch which was funky juggy face climbing to a nice handcrack. Court took the 11+ 2nd pitch which involved hard .75 liebacking to a flared chimney thing, to a finger bulge. He almost sent but slipped out near the top. I took the 12b thin hands pitch which sucked up 6 reds, 1 yellow, and 1 blue cam. It was sustained and strenuous, but overall a 5 star pitch. Unfortunately I could not enjoy my onsight afterward since my mental strength is that of a tortured war prisoner and I proceeded to have a hyperventilation meltdown. It was kind of scary, but after a few minutes I was able to relax. Court followed clean and sent the next pitch in good style despite another tricky roof traverse with fingers above.

Pitch 1, fun hand crack

Pitch 2, hard .75 liebacking to chimney flare thing

The "best thin hands splitter in the desert". Excuse Station and Pente got nothin on this pitch
Fun 4th pitch. Funky fingers and hands

We met Pete and Steve on top who had climbed the 5.10 Fast Draw on the North Face. We rapped and headed over to Kissing Couple while Pete and Steve jugged out to retrieve Steve's family.
The boys on the summit!

Steve and Pete on Fast Draw

Tower 2. Kissing Couple

Annie met up with us for Long Dong Wall on Kissing Couple. Court sent the sustained pitch 1 with fingers to hands to a hard face traverse we all aided through. I took pitch 2, a fun easy chimney. Pitch 3 was a chossy 4th class pitch. Court did pitch 4, supposably "the best 5.8 pitch in the desert". I contend the first pitch of North Chimney on Castleton is far better, but it was pretty wild chimneying up between the gash in the towers. The final pitch was one of the weirder ones I've ever led. Hard 5.10 slopey face climbing with tons of bird crap everywhere proceeded stemming up between the two towers to a final mantle through a hole to the top. It was one of the more memorable pitches I've done in the desert.

Court following Pitch 2 
fun chimney on pitch 2

Court leading Pitch 4, heading up between the towers

See all that white stuff? Thats bird crap. Annie traversing across the fat ledge covered in it. 
Squeezing up through the hole onto the top
Me congratulating  my 6 month pregnant wife on summitting another tower

We rapped and raced over to Independence Monument to do what is likely the most popular desert tower route in the country, Castleton included. This thing has got to get climbed 500+ times a year, with likely 20+ ascents on July 4th alone. The history behind the route is interesting as the FA predates(1911) any kind of ethical issues associated with modern climbing like cutting holds, hammering in pitons, and full on rebar Half Dome style to ascend the rock. Good Ol' Otto was ahead of his time back in the day, but would now be shunned violently if he employed those methods today.

Basically we followed a pretty easy and manufactured route to the summit, with a short OW section and the final drilled pocket topout being the highlights. We rapped just as the sun was setting and enjoyed a long hike back out to the car in the dark.
Pete enjoying the OW section of Otto's

Annie on top of Independence as the sun sets
Everyone summited at least one tower with most summiting two!
Anna: only 3 years old, not quite ready for towers yet
Izzy: Ottos route
Pete/Steve: Sentinel/Otto's
Annie: Kissing Couple/Otto's
Spence/Court: Sentinel/Kissing Couple/Ottos

Saturday half of us ran a nice 13 mile run from the VC up along the Black Hills trail and then continued onto the Liberty Cap trail, which was fun but not very scenic until the final switchbacks down from Liberty Cap to the Wildwood TH. A much better run would be in the canyon proper but we had seen most of that the day before. It was really cold and windy, so we decided to head home early. Another fun weekend courtesy of the NPS.

Court enjoying some nice trail 

Izzy has become a regular crusher runner 

The best section of the Liberty Cap trail