Friday, May 8, 2015

West Side Yo

Up Battle Creek, down TK, around on TK road, back down BC

Mt Timpanogos(Timp) is one of the most popular hikes/runs in Utah, let alone the Wasatch. Hoards of folks flock to one of the two major trails on the mountains east/northeast side with 99% of ascents occurring between June and September, or thereabouts when snow levels are minimal. The two trail choices are Timpanokee or Aspen Grove, both classics in their own way and more or less equally difficult. Hundreds of people can be found hiking on any given summer Saturday.

There are quite a few other ways of gaining the summit, though less trail and more ridge traversing is involved. Everest Ridge or a traverse from the North Summit via the Cold Fusion or Grunge couloirs are more obscure but classics for the adventurously endowed. Equally unorthodox and new to me was the approach from the West Side of the mountain, via the Battle Creek route. Pretty simple route honestly, hike up the popular Battle Creek trail in Pleasant Grove, gain the actual avalanche path/river gully, and hike your butt a total of 7k' of vertical in 4.5 miles straight up to the summit. This is largely an early spring route, as snow prevalence is mandatory due to the loose talus/scree that abounds in the couloir, both for safety and efficiency purposes.
Courtesy SP

Steve and I drove down last night and slept in the Eurovan at the BC TH. We woke around 6am and were huffing(air, not glue) by 6:30. Somehow I got us off route by taking a side trail about 2 miles up, but we managed to correct our course and find the BC avalanche path without too much time lost.

The first quarter of the gully was snow free, so we found ourselves river hiking until we reached the obvious "waterfall" feature, though it wasn't living up to its name today. Bypassing on the right, we donned crampons(microspikes for me) and busted out the axes. We moved efficiently up the solid snow, reminiscent of the Stairmaster 8000 at Momentum, and were without incident until a rogue, terminal velocity moving grapefruit sized rock beaned me in the left wrist. I thought it might be broken, but luckily it was just my watch that broke instead.
Early snow in the gully, waterfall cliff ahead

Steve coming up while the angle was still hands free

We pressed on despite the rock stinger, navigating 2 icy bulges with loose limestone talus for purchase, and made it to the summit in 3 hours exactly(SP guy says 8 hours is a "moderate" pace). Really a fantastic and direct route.  After some obligatory summit photos, we headed down. We had no desire to downclimb BC since that would be slow, less interesting, and dangerous, so we had two options available to make a nice loop: traverse the ridge north and descend Cold Fusion, or drop down Timpanokee.

Some normally loose talus was solidly secured via icy snow, providing more security

Hands on 

Icy bulge in the bottleneck

Microspikes are must have's for icy limestone bulges. 
Cheesy ice ax and summit shot

The descent down to the saddle was slow due to lots of traversing on steep snow, and we decided to head down TK instead of traversing due to time, weather, and safety(lots of cornices).
Its still winter on the Timp ridge

Contemplating the meaning of life(and how to get down)

I tend to prefer rocks to steep snow, but its nice to branch out

Unfortunately the snow was totally mushy heading down into the cirque, and we couldn't even butt glissade without completely body postholing. It took way longer than we thought to traverse the cirque as every step resulted in sinking up to our knees. Largely miserable. 5000 postholes later we made it to the descent, but there was still tons of snow, making hiking the trail impossible to see and totally burdensome. So we continued to fake glissade down through the cliffbands, and much sketchy traversing and downclimbing muddy rocky 5th class dirt to access the next snowy couloir that we hoped would lead us to freedom. Steve was the hero here as he had pants on that allowed less skin loss so he took the lead through this heinously uncomfortable section.
What normally is a trivial descent off the saddle was made more difficult by large cornices

Why is he crawling? Because that is the only way to not posthole
We glissaded/downclimbed through those thick pine trees. Yea, not ideal. 

Shorts+2.5 hours of Breakable Crust=Shredded chicken

Finally, 2.5 hours after leaving the summit we reached dry trail, or at least the best we could hope for as snow continued to appear throughout the descent to the parking lot. After refueling at TK, we began the 8 mile, 1500' journey on the TK road that traverses around the north side of the mountain. It was largely dry, but about 5 miles along the large thunderstorm predicted by Mr. Weatherman rolled in and dumped some rather large gumball sized hail on us.

At this point we were tired and just didn't care. We were cold, hungry, and wet, so let the hail fall. We had it in the bag as all we had to do was find the obvious BC descent trail off the road. I managed to bungle our descent down Battle Creek just as I had done on the ascent, and took the wrong trail down(literally impossible to do unless you're me) that led us to an overlook of BC, with 1000' of loose talus lying between us and the car. We sighed, and started down. The ski descent of the talus was the best glissade of the day(no postholing!), and we rolled back to the Volkswagon in just under 8 hours CTC.

Overall a really enjoyable outing with a little bit of everything. I wouldn't want an outing like this all the time, but definitely memorable.

Stats: 20.3 miles, 8200' vert, 8 hours. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Olympus Scrambling Loop

The route, counterclockwise from bottom

In order to be a true Wasatch runner/climber, you have to have done the West Slabs on Olympus at least once, and preferably time trialed it with a descent down Apollo. However, I don't think nearly as many people, including myself, take advantage of the other 2 high quality scrambling routes the mountain has to offer. Chad Ambrose enlightened me to the option of linking the West Slabs into Geurts Ridge with his last blog post, something that hadn't been on my radar at all. Luckily I subscribe to a ton of blogs, so new ideas are always materializing.

Anyway, I decided that I am pretty bored with running the standard trail on Olympus in any direction as I've done it 27 times, which is what Chad did, so I thought "why not add another ridge on to the docket?" So I did. Kamps ridge is the 3rd excellent ridge scramble that I have been interested in trying, so I designed a route to link all three:

Up Zeus to the West Slabs, West Slabs, downclimb west ridge to saddle, head south to Geurts, up Geurts to South Summit, down one of the memorial Couloirs(the one just southeast of S. Summit) into Neffs, up Kamps to North Summit, down West Ridge, down Apollo, back to Zeus and the car. Should be good!

I started at around 7 am, and with the overnight rainstorm found the slabs to be pretty wet, which made the ascent slightly slower due to increased slickness and the risk of potentially falling to ones death. I have also been sidelined with a cold the past week, so much phlem and coughing ensued on the slog up Zeus, which made me nervous. Neverthless, I proceeded, and hit the top in around 1 hour, which isn't bad, and proceeded down into Tolcat and over to Geurts, still hacking and blowing snot rockets, but less miserable than I was earlier. Some thick bushwacking was involved in Tolcat, so I got in and out of there as quick as a shy guy in a lingerie store.

Geurts was fun, but the bottom section isn't much to get excited about. The top section is excellent though, lots of great scrambling and two fun downclimbs around potential rappelling cruxes, both pretty easy. Most of the ridge is easy 5th class, but a couple sections merit a 5.6 rating if you stick to the ridge(the point) with fun cracks to make it secure. While likely the least interesting of the three objectives, still worth doing at least once.
West View looking at Geurts Ridge
Geurts from top of the Slabs, with S. Summit at far left. Pictured is the best section, but the ridge extends out of frame to the right for quite a ways

Hardest section of climbing on Geurts, 40' of  steep 5.6 with good cracks

First rappel that can be bypassed by downclimbing to the south, left here. (climbers right)

Hit the south summit in 2:30 elapsed time, and ran into Jason Eichhorst from the Bear 100 nightmare on the top who had run the standard trail. We chatted, then I descended and glissaded one of the memorial couloirs down into Neffs on some pretty slushy snow.
Descent glissade

I knew there was a 90% chance of picking the wrong ridge to do Kamps, since I suck at routefinding, was approaching from above versus below, and there are about 10 different ridgelines on the east side. Still I was disappointed when I discovered halfway up my chosen ridge I was on the wrong one. Curses! I could have proceeded up the unknown ridge or bailed down one of the couloirs, but I decided to stick it out. I attempted to traverse directly north, but got cliffed out was forced to pretty much descend back down to my starting point after some wet slabby downclimbing into another memorial couloir. This was frustrating and the detour overall cost me an hour at least. Oh well.
I can see the aesthetics of skiing these lines. Kamps is North of this couloir
View from east with my blunder ridge up/down shown in the middle

After righting my wrong and feeling better that I was on track on the new ridge, I scrambled up the lower Kamps which was fun, but again, not awesome. But the upper section was really engaging. Lots of exposed 5th class on a thin toothpick of a ridgeline. Most of the ridge could be climbed on either side but some straddling was also involved. The crux is the last part of the ridge with some exposed face traversing and offwidth cracks, though I was disappointed that an easy bailout point into the memorial 1 couloir to the south was possible, which makes it seem contrived. But the ridge was much more interesting, and pretty easy climbing although a fall would land you down in Dan's parking lot. It's no Grand or Evolution Traverse, but still a good time.

Couldn't help but add this photo from MP. Fantastic shot. Photo Cred: Moon Mountain Photography

Upper Section of Kamps Ridge, with crux on right face. 

Looking back after the crux

With all my poor routefinding I hit the north summit after 4.5 hours elapsed, which likely could have been 3.5 if I had nailed the correct route first go. Then a short scramble down to Apollo and half glissading/half death talus led me back to the Zeus connector and the car, 5.5 hours, 8.5 miles, and almost 7k' of vert after departing. Sans mistake, I would estimate 8 miles and 6k of vert.

Someone(jared campbell/dorais bros/Ueli Steck) with speed and route knowledge in the spring with prime glissading conditions could go sub 4 on this route if they wanted, which seems ridiculously fast considering most normal mountaineering folk do one of these in a day, or at least that's what summitpost and MP suggest.