Monday, June 25, 2012

Gearing up for some AZ Summer Canyoneering

It's official. I think I have finally come to terms with the loss of winter. Here we are well-into the month of June -- yeah, it took that long. Even with several teases throughout the past few weeks, hearing of fresh ice on Mt. Mendel, and stellar snow conditions on the north couloir of Gilpin Peak in Colorado, I have decided to hang up the alpine boots for a few months. There's so much going on with wedding planning, and I promised to take a more "involved" role in the finer details -- what does that mean for the guy, exactly? Anyhow, not wanting to give up the adventurer within me, I have decided to embrace my home state offerings.

Don't get me wrong, Arizona has plenty to offer. There's thousands of established climbing routes littered throughout many unique ranges in the state. I love to climb. I wish it wasn't 110+ degrees here locally; I'd get out to the crags and dry-tool more (yeah, yeah, I still can't give up the winter spirit). However, one of the greatest offerings of this state are the canyons -- we've got the damn Grandest of them all up north, for crying out loud. Until now, I've kept my distance from the sport of canyoneering. Unfortunately, claiming ignorance, I just assumed canyoneering was just the sport of rappelling. You know, the "lazy-man's way of getting down the mountain", hehehe. However, with desperation setting in, knowing I can't get out to some of the prime summer alpine locations, I've resorted to delving into one of this state's greatest offerings. I picked up the Todd Martin guide to Technical Canyoneering in AZ last week and I haven't been able to put it down. There's something about jumping into unfamiliar territory and the surrounding intrigue that seems to creep in, ushering that lil' sense of curiosity further and further.

My friend Charlie and I have been chatting back in forth for several months about going for it, trying our climbers' hand at a canyon or two. We met this Saturday for breakfast and settled it. In two weeks, we're going for it. My lady has expressed interest in coming with and two other notable partners in crime have signed on. In two weeks, we're setting our sites on a technical descent of Horsetank Wash and ascent out of Sandrock Canyon. The looping route is rated at 3B R IV, meaning there are some inherent route-finding risks, some technical raps off natural anchors and at least one keeper pothole. I'm already working through my systems at home to prep for pothole escape. The route out of the canyon is also one of note, ascending out a system of weaknesses in the canyon, with some decent class 4/5 exposed climbing. I'm already comfortable with taking on the role to lead these climbs out and setting belay for anyone else in our group who needs it. From what I've read, it's mostly mental cruxes to overcome on the free-solo out of the canyon. I'm okay with that. Above all, I'm stoked to bring my beloved gal with us. I know she has been frustrated about not keeping up on some of the snow climbs that I already have quite a bit of experience with. I think this could be a great mutual activity for both of us, utilizing each of our different strengths and weaknesses to conquer a new experience in a uniting way. Beyond that, I'm stoked to apply my rope experience from other mediums to an entirely different playing field. Bring on the canyon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dissapointment on Rainier Part Deux - May 25-26, 2012

We had the highest of hopes going into the group-climb portion of our time on Rainier. Everyone was ready. everyone was stoked. It was time. We finally had an open weather window for our first two days: partly cloudy skies, just a subtle, subtle chance of precip -- there was no way it could be anything like it was earlier in the week. From talking with the ranger at Paradise: there's already a ton of people up the route, the guide companies are going full-steam, we've got a really good shot on the route.

We would later come to find that the rangers between Muir and Paradise aren't necessary on the same page regarding the latest conditions. Aye.

Mount Rainier. Starting elevation: 5420 ft. To the top: 14,411 ft.
"Rob, please don't anger the volcano." Photo: D.Emerson

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Drying Out in the Wettest Place in the Continental USA

[ Part I ]
After the tropical storm disaster on the Kautz -- errr, should I say Wilson glacier (we never quite got as far as the Kautz) -- we traveled back to Issaquah with our tails between our legs. We were served a hefty "raining" of blows dealt to our mountain egos. All we could focus on was our next shot at the mountain. We hoped that by the end of the week that heinous tropical system would fizzle out and throw open the gates to decent weather. In the meantime, we milled about the surrounding Seattle area, eating plenty of food -- we have Dave's wife and Dave to thank for that; such generous hosts. Many movies were watched, but we really focused on making the next trip a success.

We focused much towards improving on our systems, everything from tents to clothing. My gortex shell had failed me, most likely due to me washing it in liquid detergent. Please take my word, heed my warning, do not wash gortex material with liquid detergent. I think I was wetter on the inside than outside during the rainstorm since the fabric membrane couldn't breathe. Wet in the alpine world equals cold. No bueno. We stopped in at the local REI and I gave them my story about the gortex shell -- they quickly agreed to take back my shell and gave me the advice to pack something heavier, none of this "Pac-light stuff for alpine" anymore. I took their advice and walked across the mall walkway to the local Eddy Bauer and lo and behold, they had just the "perfect jacket for [me]". I tried on the BC-200 3-layer WeatherEdge Pro coat, and loved it. It was even more minimalist than my prior shell, and it was likely a better fit for what I needed. With the REI refund and a lil' Memorial Day discount, I essentially walked away with a brand new shell for only a few sheckles. We also made right on our promises to drink plenty of beer for all the beers missed during the training months leading up. Before we knew it, Wednesday had arrived and we packed the truck once more to make the journey back down south to the volcano.

El Cabitan.
We had planned to split the rent of a cabin for everyone to meet at before the climb, somewhere close to the park entrance -- this was by far the best idea of the trip. We rolled into Whittaker mountaineering once again in Ashford and met my friend Ace, who had just driven up the entire left coast from Yuma, AZ. Yuma is basically Mexico. That's a long long drive, my friend. Regardless, Ace made great time and was able to meet us a day early at the cabin. The plan was to begin prepping our meals, split up group gear and finish last minute packing at the house before everyone was due to arrive the next day, Thursday.

Hanging out on the shores of the Nisqually river, within a rock's throw of the cabin.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Kautz & Fuhrer Finger Attempt on Rainier... in a Tropical Storm - May 20-21, 2012

This climb on Rainier was going to be different. We learned so much from our attempt on the Kautz headwall last August. Let's throw some cushion for time on both ends of the trip: a whole day for prep and travel at the beginning. Let's tack on several days on the end... just in case, you know, weather happened. There's no way we'd run out of time on the route this year. We severely underestimated that last bit, however, the weather.

The two weeks leading up to the climb was blue-bird skies. It pains me to think of my initial anticipation, watching those webcam shots of the beautifully clear mountain from Phoenix throughout my work day. Then came the forecast. There's going to be a fairly decent tropic storm moving into the region on Sunday, the day of our departure. We poured over as many forecast models as we could; everything seemed to reflect the same dooming inevitability. Okay, no problem. We go through our systems before hand. Print several maps, bring the compass, we're ready for route-finding in a whiteout. Treat the backpack and gloves with some extra water-repellent, pack a couple trash bag liners to preserve the dryness of our gear and we should be set. We've got all the gortex one could need, what could possibly go wrong?

Dave's take on the trip:

Pics below...