Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Running out of Time

"It's not the size, it's how you use it" - Good advice in general

Two more moves. That's all iv'e got to do. The only thing is, they're steep fingerlocks and i can't stick it. I'm on a route called 'Annunaki' and it's the hardest line iv'e attempted on gear. It's a crack that tapers from fists all the way to fingers and is overhanging. The steepness means you've got to get your jams dialled with no time to loose. I clip the rope into a .5 camalot (a finger sized cam) and stuff my fingers into the crack adjacent to the anchor. I fumble and try to find the right lock. Thumbs up or thumbs down? My feet are jammed lower down to my right and it feels like im almost horizontal. I continue to fight but the jams aren't working. My breathing sounds like im at full sprint. Im spitting distance from the chains. At last i reach terminal pump and i slip out of the crack and into space.

Spent, i lower down and ask my friend Sean for advice. Welcome to Indian Creek.

Sean Nelb cruising 'Annunaki' 5.11d
We had made the migration for warmer weather, a week earlier, in late October straight from the Valley with the resolve to be a better crack climber. Driving down the 211, the road swerves left and right as it slowly  descends below the rim. It keeps going until your level with the creek bed. During the autumn the trees hang over the road shedding their golden leaves indicating that snow will be coming soon. It's beautiful, but only a matter of time before you need to move on again. Time is precious as i don't have the gear to endure a winter. It's all back in Canada. 

Keep going. The canyon begins to open up and the steep brown walls of varnish begin to rear up. All kinds of cracks start to appear in abundance until you reach the famous 'Supercrack Buttress' and the true expanse of the canyon appears ahead. As far as the eye can see there are canyons and buttresses that look like the prows of huge sandstone ships with their flanks sliced like butter. The only features on the walls are the cracks and corners that split the perfect rock like an egg. Perfect. The wide open space evaporates any remaining fatigue from Yosemite as we step out of the van to look at the two 'Six Shooter' towers that fortify the centre of the domain. Sweet... So where's the campsite again? Ah. The guidebook was sold out so we decided that a few photocopies from the library would suffice. The crags yes, the map...not so much. Oh well it's almost dark anyhow. We camp next to the road for the night. Wriggling into the sleeping bag the coyotes start howling in the night from somewhere nearby. Pretty quickly they're supplanted by an earth shattering thunder clap. The inside of the tent is fully illuminated for a second before the roar catches up with it. I unzip the tent and watch lightning bolts from the storm, light up the sky and silhouette the towers in front. We had arrived!

Sunset from Scarface wall, with the Six Shooter towers in the back
Sitting under 'Annunaki', i listen to Seans advice and decide to have another go. Starting up the crack i feel nervous. I want it bad. The initial jams are good hands for me. Just tuck your thumb under your palm and squeeze. I keep going and am able to move past the thin hands section which always pumps me out. Your hand can only go in as far as your knuckles. Hook your thumb inside and squeeze some more. The crack goes out right and it's time to perform the dreaded 'ringlock'. This is when the crack is slightly too wide for your fingers but too narrow for your knuckles. To jam you've got to fill some of the space with your thumb and then jam your fingers against that thumb. Its painful but not as painful after a while. Then theres the jug for you to shake out. Phew, calm down. Now the crack snakes left and it's time for the finger locks...again. Suddenly im in the same place ive fallen a few times before. I plug in a cam and go once again for the locks. My left hand is so tired. No. The right hand fingers sink in, thumbs down, all the way past the first joint and i turn my elbow clockwise as much as i can. Bingo. My body instantly relaxes and buys me some time. I do the same above with my left. Im still holding my position as i shake each hand and breath before clipping the chains. Yes! Got it. My first 5.11+ but more importantly i learned how to fingerlock. Just turn your bones!
The kind of damage you can expect from lots of finger cranking
Walking back to the trucks, the sunsets the sky alight with hot pink that contrasts sublimely against the autumn trees and mud stained walls. So much to learn. The creek will always be here and i will always come back to this place and enjoy the simplicity of the desert. I am so happy i feel like my chest is going to burst. Later that night we sit around the fire and hang out like family. Im still smiling as i stare into the smouldering embers. It was my 25th birthday.

Enjoying 'cupped hands' on the mega classic 'Supercrack' (Luxury Liner) 5.10
Lauren smashing 'Soul Fire'. 5.11 relentless thin hands.

Scarface 5.11-
Grades, they are interesting here. Because most of the first ascents here were done by men with big hands, the cracks that are 3 to 4 inches are regarded as 5.10, such as the first ever climb 'Supercrack'. Fine for me, not so much for women with smaller hands. They find routes like 'Soul Fire' much easier as it is a 1 inch splitter but is regarded as 5.11 as its harder for the guys. 5.12 means fingers and 5.13 is well...5.13. Although there is one kind of climbing thats a special breed of its own..Offwidth.

This is the kind of crack thats around the width of your knee and shoulder but too narrow to squeeze your whole body into. (Which is called a Chimney). Ever since 'Generator Station' back in Yosemite, i've been eager to learn more techniques to turn this exercises from a gruelling battle into at least a minor skirmish. The first attempt is on a climb called 'Incisor' 5.11- (Previously known as 'Pussy Wuss Crack' / Sucker Crack' 5.10+). From the ground is doesnt look too bad, just a 5 inch bulge. I approach on the ramp, performing what's called 'butterfly jams' where the cross over your hands, the backs of your hands touching, and squeeze as if performing a double hand jam. Ok, not so bad. It turns out you've got to wedge your feet above your head and perform a sit up to commence tight laybacking. Whoa, that's new!

Doing the offwidth bulge. Inscisor 5.11-
Trying similar moves on 'Cedar Eater' back in the Valley, which seemed completely inconceivable at  the time
By mid November the icy fingers of winter tighten it's grip on the creek. You can see your breath when you go to bed at night and wake up stiff as a board from the unrelenting cracks with all your water frozen solid. The climbs are fantastic for the merciless endurance that require you to get your technique down to a T but your bones become more and more bruised from the using your body like a torque wrench on an almost daily basis and besides my visa is due to expire in 10 days and it's time to make a decision about what direction to head in. That week is thanksgiving and many good friends come to join us in the Creek. I don't see the point, i've been thankful many many times over this past year but at least it's a holiday for my friends. After another great day climbing, the subject of Mexico comes up around the fire as we tear into fresh turkey and pass around the whiskey. How long can i put the winter off for? I go to bed with my mind made up. Anyone going south?

Slack lining with some friends
Dawn of an Age 5.10+
Van saves the day by offering Jib and I a ride. Yes. This even gives us one extra day to climb. Might as well get on 'Big Guy', since iv'e been putting it off for ages. The last of my energy might as well go towards this! The meat of this pitch is a splitter that slowly widens from fists to 'off knee'. After learning some new techniques for offwidth the fist jams go well, as do the 'chicken wings'. (This is when you put your arm into the crack and then bend your elbow back and tense your bicep). It continues to widen slowly to fit the knee. Only 20 feet to the anchor. This proves to be a fight. My hip wont go in but my knee wont lock. The result is red ankles that begin to drip blood down the climb. Damn. After miserably falling out and resting, i struggle until im at the top and completely done with the creek. Happy... but done for 2012.

The next day we are set to go and say goodbye to our remaining friends. Ok!...Oh..the battery's dead. Narf.

Playing tetris with all the gear. 
Several long hours later they arrive back into camp with some jumper cables and we are finally good to go. We roll out and get one last look at the North Six Shooter. That was a good day. Even though i slipped out of the fist jam, flipped upside down and slammed by back on the arĂȘte it was a good day. As were many, many others...

We head south and continue the migration. Thank you for teaching me so much. Goodbye for now.

For the love of life! Topping out on the North Six Shooter with Sean.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Within these Walls (Part II)

Week Two: The 'Holiday'

With the first week over (our fun filled benightment being it's climax), i was pretty tired. Maybe take some rest days. It's the 24th of September anyway. This means i have a couple of days to meet up with my annual visitor. Dad. Since the beginning of my adventures in 2007, an opportunity to travel somewhere new, have some adventures of his own on 'holiday' (which never seem to be restful) and reconnect with his nomadic son has manifested itself into an awesome ritual. Previous trips include; That circus of a road trip across the south of New Zealand in a small car packed with two extra surfers (good friends of mine), four back packs and three surfboards strapped to the roof. Rafting, surfing and bungee jumping quickly ensued! The last few years have seen hiking in the Rockies, -30 Canadian winters and a couple pitches of rock climbing. Baby steps right? Well, this year it's the valley!

The day before im due to be at the airport, i luck out and find a ride from Camp 4 to the city (pronounced sh-itty). Frantic to arrive on time, i dash to arrivals and race around like a whirling dervish in the packed terminal. i woke up in a campground this morning. This is intense. Staring at the screen above the entrance like a vegetable,  i jam out to several awesome tunes before i spring out of the chair to meet him. Eager to 'get the hell outta dodge' we head straight for the rent-a-car and hit the freeway. Piles of printed maps for San Francisco are thrust into my lap and it's back like old times. "Look at the map and tell us where we're going". Flashbacks of many roadtrips in France with a huge mapped sprawled across the dashboard light up the memory banks. No problem.

Before long we are downtown and find a place for the car (a victory in itself) before checking into the hotel. Whoa, guess it's time for a shower. (I doubt i'll have to paint a picture of how cleansing that was). The next day we leave the urban noise and head to the valley, with a sigh of relief.

The week that followed was a time i'll remember fondly, even though we had our 'moments' as one with any family can expect! The most rewarding thing was being able to bring him into the family of climbers that i've had the pleasure of meeting and travelling with. No work, no politics, no bullshit. Just genuine people with the same passion for adventure. A nice way to for Dad to meet others like me!

The next step. Topping out on 'After Seven' on Manure Pile Buttress.

Enjoying the view from the top of Yosemite Falls

It makes me so happy for family to see and feel what i cherish so much. I must admit though, i was so absorbed in my journey, i didnt ready myself for a bit of compromise and a different pace. It took time to adjust as i'd been making my own decisions for the past 4 months but this is no excuse for stressing. I noticed that this life does come with alot of selfish actions. Only spending money that is essential, getting as much 'free stuff' as possible and planning everything around your passion is a topic for much hilarity but at the heart of it, you don't think much about compromise. For this i must apologise, i owe you everything for making this journey possible, without your help i would be light years away from now. I loved your company mate (and all the dinners, and showers and comfy beds...but seriously, you know it). What a trip!

Until next time...

Enjoying the concert during the 'Facelift'
Week three: Enough is Enough
With my tent set up again in camp 4, i say farewell to Dad as he drives back towards the air port. Having not climbed alot during that week, i feel as though im rested a little. Ok, let's get on it. My buddy Drew had mentioned 'the rostrum' the day before and i couldn't resist trying such a classic climb. Before long, we're looking up the impressive face of immaculate cracks from the base. I'm first to lead the warm up pitch. Brimming with nervous and excited energy i start the 5.8 layback. I go past a small ledge and the layback gets steeper. Oh the flash pump. The flake runs out and i traverse left to gain a sloping corner. Severely pumped, my foot slips and i fall down the face a few meters until im caught. My anxiety heightens as i've fallen on the easiest pitch! I belay Drew up who informs me of the 5.10c variation i'd climbed instead of traversing the small ledge to easier ground. AH.

Drew leads the second pitch via the '5.11a thin' section. He sticks in a tiny cam into the seam (a green C3) and take a few tries to unlock the sequence. Tricky. Im nervous about the third pitch from being tired so quick but i turns out to be fantastic. Perfect hands over a roof into a crack the same quality of the 'Split Pillar' back in Squamish. Beautiful! At top of the third pitch we bail and come back when we are more confident however. The right decision despite being disheartened. Strike one.

Looking down the third pitch of 'The Rostrum'.
Heading back to the valley we need to burn our energy. What better crack to climb than 'Generator Station'! This 5.10 offwidth that chewed me up during my first week was the offwidth trainer that you can learn some techniques on and how to 'want it really bad'. An offwidth is a term given to crack larger your hand if you make a fist but smaller than your side profile of your body. (Any crack you can fit your whole body into is termed a chimney). This slightly overhanging crack starts with a shoulder and widens into a tight chimney.

Thrutching up Generator.
Without massive gear, you top rope this fiend but the style of climb doesnt concern me, it's getting up this thing in general that does. I put some tape on my left shoulder as it bled last time and a start the shuffle. With my left arm flapping inside the gaping crack and my feet side ways across the crack, i grovel and slide my way up inches at a time, as the crack slowly widens. 20 minutes later and thoroughly knackered, i run into 'Noodles' back at camp and quickly talks me into doing the 'Arches - North Dome link'. "Something like 23 pitches". Cool!

A day or two after, we reach get off the shuttle and look for the base. Stumbling around some talus i drop our biggest water bottle the starts gushing. Damn. We chug the rapidly deleting water and start simul climbing the 'Arches' section. (13 pitches of 5.7).

Doing the 'tension' mid way up route.

4 hours later we finish the wandering lines of cracks. Not bad. We then start hiking up through the forest and reach the lower slabs. Traversing, traversing, we start to get hot as the yellow dot in the blue canvas shoots down on us like a laser beam. I take off my jeans and have flashbacks of the thirst. An hour later we still haven't found the trail. Finding some cairns we go up the left side of the dome. We have been hiking an hour now and things don't make sense. Especially when i inform Noodles that my jeans fell off my bag with my camera inside. Shit. Hiking back down the slabs we find them and start the hike back up. 30 minutes go by and we are done. The flame had officially died. Deciding to bail we walk towards the North dome descent. (urrgghhh) and discover too late that we had been hiking up the descent trail like a couple of noobs. The start of the route is now obvious to us. This is makes the sting even more painful.

On top of the North Dome descent gully. About to bail but trying to enjoy the view!
Finally, after another hour of slipping an sliding down that gully in my crap shoes i found in the free bin we are down and out. Strike two.

A few day previous to this episode, Drew and Lauren ask if i want a ride to Indian Creek. (The temple of crack climbing). Now, i almost sure i'll leave with them. Ok, one more try, one last hurrah and ill be happy. Another morning i wake at 6 am to do a fun classic, the east buttress of middle cathedral. After another hour a walking from camp 4 we reach the base of the route to find 3 parties clustered around the base! Strike three. I sink down onto a boulder and accept that's its over for me in the valley. Go back, get better at steep cracks, get fitter and come back when you think your ready again. I can help but be upset from the failures but i get out of my head and look towards El Cap as the sun rises and paints a veil of rose across the headwall. So beautiful.

The next day, we pack up and leave for the creek. I say goodbye to my friends that will stay and am filled with a new motivation. Time to crack it up!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Within these Walls (Part I)

The Valley, Yosemite National Park

Sunrise on the Captain from Middle Cathedral

Every self respecting climber knows this place. The birth of big wall climbing on these colossal hulks of granite and the scene of outstanding free climbing. Since the 50's the valley has become a place where the Masters of Stone constantly expand our perception of what is possible, deeper into the realms of insanity (meaning ridiculously amazing).

For me it's a chance to take a look into the mirror. To chisel away at my ego and get a real glimpse of 'where im at'. In other words, to get my arse kicked. It's been 3 weeks since we arrived and my plans of 'great sends' have taken a flogging and my body feels like it's been run over by a dump truck. But you know what? I'm more psyched than ever before.

Week One: Hopeful 
It starts with the south west face of El Capitan. The majestic titan was towering over us as we pulled over at my frantic request. You cannot help but feel microscopic as you picture yourself up that immense face. All 3,000ft of it. Soon, please can it be soon. These are my immediate thoughts as i gaze upward in a trance at 'The Nose', one of the most classic big walls in the world. In time i suppose, it's a long road. Anyway, time to focus on the present. It's getting dark. Damn, where we going to sleep tonight?

My buddy Matt and i smashed out the drive all the way from Leavenworth, Washington (a bouldering spot) a few days ago to meet up with the rest of the tribe that had slowly disbanded back in Squamish around mid August, only to assemble back in Camp 4. Sure enough we gravitated together in minutes. It was good to see the guys again.

"Ahh" we all chime as we crack open a fresh beer for the reunion. We trade stories and catch up as night envelopes the camp. The topic of sleep comes up just as the rangers arrive. Anyone who has slept in Camp 4 knows the right of passage most of us have to endure to get a camping spot. It pretty much involves lying in the dirt, sleeping in front of the Kiosk from 5 a.m until they open up and assign available spots at 8:30 a.m. So.. what to do until then? They promptly give us the routine options of either paying for a night in the nearby hotel or leave the park. We nod and say 'Yessir' and melt into the nearby woods where we're aided in finding 'alternative accommodation' for the night. What else do they expect?

That night i wake up to feel some sniffing on the other side of the tent right next to my head. A Raccoon.  Damn, i left an apple in my backpack. My pillow.I slap the wall and run into the night in my boxers, delivering the apple to a nearby bear box. Lesson one, always have smelly stuff in the boxes or the critters will get you. They are relentless. I wake up again at 5:30 a.m to join the queue.

A typical line up for Camp 4
All settled in, the week commences with some bouldering. As expected, the camp 4 boulders are slick as butter from 3 decades of climbers rubber. Horrified at how 'spicy' we found the warm ups we move on in search of friction and luckily find some excellent problems down in curry village. The climbs go well and i match the grades of Squamish. This is encouraging.The next day, my buddy Drew and i go to climb an easy classic. The Central pillar of Frenzy. Enjoying the momentum i think im building up we get to the base of the crag in the mid afternoon hoping all the crowds are gone. Nope, all the belays are chocka block and we hear screams of "Taaake, f**king taake" and "Waatch me, arrgghh!". I recoil in disbelief at the amount of epics or about to be epics we're witnessing. We leave the battlefield a little disheartened but not deterred.
I'll climb the other 5.9 route up the hill tomorrow with Lauren, it should be less crowded.

The next morning we scramble to the base of the Kor Beck route. Not surpised we find a party landing at the base just before us. Ok lets wait a bit. A 'bit' it was indeed. They take pictures, enjoy the view...eat some food...hmm. My British politeness keeps us waiting a little longer..ok their climbing..wait whats happening? Why has the belayer got both hands off the ATC and making tape gloves whilst the leader's elvis leg is increasing in intensity?!!. We bolt down the hill and leave this potential catastrophe after a few tries at raising his awareness. It had been an hour and a half. Lesson number 2. Don't get up early in peak season to climb the easy classics from the Supertopo guide.

The following day was spent climbing the easiest classics with nobody else at all. It was then in that moment, feeling nothing but the wind, the sound of my own breath and move after move of synchronicity of body and mind that i started to love this place. The mighty walls of Half Dome and The Sentinel stood silently ahead beckoning those with courage but demanding the utmost respect too. I wanted to be on those faces. To give myself fully and be part of the landscape. To draw as much energy from the earth and conquer the villain that is my ego and give an honest effort to see what i've got.

But how much of that can you give in such a moment, when your up there and it's real? That's all i want to know, as the climbs get longer, harder and higher.

The Sentinel from the top of Sunnyside Bench
The NW Face of Half Dome
By the end of the week, Lauren and i are hiking up the approach gully for Higher Cathedral Peak. The route is 12 pitches of 5.8-5.9 and begins about 800ft above the valley floor. A good start to the longer routes in Yosemite. (I think to myself). The first 6 pitches flow by smoothly and it's great to already be so high in the valley. We have a bite to eat and enjoy the view of Cathedral Spire piercing the blue sky opposite.

Ok, time to begin the second half of the route. Flared chimneys. Looks like fun!

Enjoying the sustained chimney pitch! (Not yet realising how long i've got to go.)
The pitch is long and sustained. After the initial flare, i clip an assortment of pitons and pull over the overhang. Crikey, this is steep for 5.9. I continue up the next section of chimney as it tightens into a squeeze. Breathing in and using my chest to press against the constriction i coil my legs up again and repeat until i eventually writhe my way out of the top and am relived to be able to breath again. Wow another bulge. Time for more panting and pressing my way up this hold less flare. Thank goodness for the crack in the back. 

After 50 meters i make a belay and bring Lauren up who has to endure the ordeal of trailing the backpack. (The damned 'baby' that won't fit on your back in these formations). It's pretty brutal for her. I hear encouraging comments from a party behind us. After about 40 minutes of weight training she joins me at the belay. She is dripping. Hey lets drink! The leader from the next party joins us too in haste to reach the top. They are pleasant but it's cramped and 3 of us are shoulder to shoulder inside this gaping crack. I am keen to keep moving so i opt to lead the next pitch, with the bag. I think this is a good idea as the next 30 meters of the chimneys is 'only 5.8'. I hurriedly place a couple of pieces above the belay so i don't squash Lauren, but still manage to swat her around the head with my bag. Sorry love. In no time a torrent of salt water is spilling down my face. I thrutch my way up to the ledge, with the backpack defiantly snagging on every spike and cramming itself into every crack. I roll onto the ledge in a heap. A bit more challenging than i wanted. When i come back in touch with reality i make a belay and clip the bag to the anchor.

Cathedral Spires from the 8th bealy
With the crux section out of the way we let the party pass and rest with some food and water...The sun begins to set. Time to get a move on for our last push. The climbing is fun varied cracks, a relief from the previous couple of hours. At last we are near the summit. As i climb...just..one..more..flared chimney, we are now in full darkness. This is where part 2 of our adventure begins.

"Just traverse over the first death shoot and follow the cairns down and around" they had said. Ok we can do that. We scoff a surprise avocado and take a sip of aqua each. Only one more left and we are out. Those chimneys were thirsty work. We get going and hike up to towards the summit. To our left we see a steep yawning gully leading downward into the abyss of utter darkness. Ok, lets avoid that. Skirting around that, we spend the next hour making our way downwards following the cairns like check points. From time to time we go down too far into the brush and waist precious moisture by hiking back up the loose slope to the last point. Every deliberation on where we are going is affected by the need for water. My mouth is so dry. I start to breath through my nose to save on moisture.

At last we find some cairns traversing left. But to where? We go up and down and find nothing. We go further left but don't see a trail. We stop and each take a last sip. I swill the last of drops of water in my mouth and feel every pore soak it up, relishing its sweet taste. Better than anything. We've been up here a long time and i can feel my body wanting to panic. I think about all the heros i've read about and know that we can be without water for 3 days but my discomfort does not subside. We can hear the creek at the bottom of the valley. Even though we are supposed to the find the notch that takes us down the other side to 'Our Valley' we both say 'fuck it'.

Both of us charge downwards into the brush. Like moths to a flame we kamakazie down through the ever thickening brush to the mesmerizing sound of the creek. The slope begins to steepen and we are literally swimming down through the archaic brush. We get closer and find a few small cliffs. We are hesitant but we've come this far, hiking back up would be awful. So we skirt around and do some 4th class down climbing. Once we're down we turn around and see cascading water shimmering in our head lamps. Success! We fill our bottles and drain as much as possible. Ahh, much better...SHIT! The water bottles shoots down with the water like a fish. Running beside the creek i pounce on the runaway and capture it. With a sigh of relief, we give each other a tired smile and decided to build a fire for the night and wait for dawn.

Hours later after dozing and feeding the fire, light begins spill into the valley at last. We leave the warmth of the little circle and begin the hike back. After a slow hour we find the notch. Spitting distance away from our last checkpoint!

Another hour and we are dragging our feet back into camp 4 and cracking a beer before sleep.

Lauren and I at the 'Notch' the next day.

With the first week over in Yosemite, what was going to come next?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Stepping Stones

By mid August it had been 6 weeks in Squamish. 42 days. A combination of climbing as hard as possible on technical free climbs, powerful bouldering and chilling hard with the rest of the tribe. But there was one thing missing. Long committing days. 

Enter The Bugaboos. 

Heading out to Pigeon Spire on day one with the Howsers on the right.
It starts with 80 litre back packs stuffed full with all the essentials. Heaps of rope, clusters of carabiners and bundles of food you hope will keep you up there as long as possible. With the gear ready to crush as much vertebrae as possible and the cars wrapped in chicken wire to stop the 'critters' from chewing your cars brake lines into submission, we were good to go.

So, off to base camp! The Applebee Dome camp site, that sits at 2480m would be our home for around a week. The approach is 970 meters elevation gain over 5.6 kilometres. A pretty solid 4 hours. We set out into slog mode as the sun began to stain the ocean of blue above with drops of tangerine behind the mighty spires that slowly reared their heads ahead. 

We arrive later on in the evening and i collapse in a heap after setting up the tent. Thoma is already cooking us dinner. The first of many rice and wraps combos. "Hows it going mate?" i ask him, since he was charging ahead on the hike in and i could barley see him through my constant cascades of sweat. "I think my bag rubbed a hole in my back" he replies. "Oh". Good start.   

Basecamp with the west face of Snowpatch behind. 
The next morning we decide to stretch our stiff legs and get a feel for the place. For this, we decide on the classic west ridge of Pigeon Spire, 5.4. A luxury as we could leave the rack and rope at 'home' and just walk.

Starting the ridge with the legendary Becky-Chounaird behind on the right 

 A perfect climb for the day. Exposure on the little spire was superb, the climbing easy and enjoyable as we filled our lungs with the alpine atmosphere. Fresh and invigorating, we were psyched for the week ahead! 

Day 2 - The minor setback.
We both decide that our pistons need a bit of a rest so we opt for a free route within easy walking distance. Paddle Flake Direct. It's a 40 minute walk which is one of the easier options for the area. The rock appears to be slightly friable and dirty en route, exercising my brain more than i wanted and with some pitches at full rope lengths of 60m it made for slow leads on my behalf.  The crawling progress over the course of the day and lack of food (Food? Did someone say food?) meant i was spent when we reached the top. We set up the rappels and i feel drained. Thoma stays on top of it as i mention "i'm not with it today", in which he replies "I noticed"

Paddle Flake Direct. 5.10. 6 Pitches. (The shield poking out left)
We arrive back at camp as the sun falls back into the west. The psyche had fizzled out and we realise you can't ration food like you normally would in the valley bottom up here. You need to feed the furnace constantly and we were low on fuel. Thankfully Daniel (from California) was leaving the camp site and donated a whole sack of supplies. With that stroke of luck we decided to rest a day, chill to some classic tunes, fill our stomachs and our lungs as much as possible to get the psyche back.

*Ping!* The following morning we wake at 5.30am, empty a pot of coffee into our guts and make for Bugaboo spire. All charged up, our goal was the uber classic north east ridge. 12 pitches of 5.6-8 that lead to the north summit. Once there you un rope and traverse to the south summit to begin the rappels down into the Kain route ( The first ascent route from Conrad Kain in 1916. It pretty much scrambles up the southern ridge.).

The NE ridge on the right, with the Kain route on the left hand skyline
With power bars stuffed in our pockets to keep us buzzing we simul climb, stopping only when the leader is almost out of gear. The climbing is ace on this route. Psyched!. Great position, good gear and brilliant to climb with a constant flow. We arrive under the north summit around lunch time and put the rack away. Its time for some fun on the traverse! (Hello Exposure!)

Climbing down the ridge with both faces dropping away either side. Cool!
With the 'exciting traverse' done with we take a breath, soak in the view, feel the love and then commence the rappels.

Thoma, keen to go first as he's officially got a date with the outhouse.
(The North face of Snowpatch on the left and Pigeon on the right) 
Still feeling good, Thoma runs down the Kain route towards the outhouse on the col below. I catch up to him later and we both head back to camp, with energy still to spare. Probably the reason i didn't fall and slide down the infamous col again. So, we made an 8 hour day of it and were excited for the final instalment of this adventure.

We were in a good sync now and climbing well together. Alas, our food fuel was almost empty, we were back to mixing a mish mash of random food left over and the tent was...well, you can imagine. That being said we had one day left, the sun was shining and we wanted to go out with a bang. With that in mind, 'Sunshine Crack' on the north face of Snowpatch spire was the obvious choice. We strapped our boots on and set out mid morning.

'Sunshine Crack' 5.11- on the north face. Not much 'sunshine' to be had here!
We arrive at the base of the route and don the puffa jackets. Since it's north facing we would be in the shade for most of the day. That, with the proximity to the glacier, meant it was pretty cold. "At least it has three pitches of off width. We'll warm up in no time" i mention hopefully. Thoma doesn't waste time to think about it, he ties in and climbs immediately. Boom, we were off.

The first pitch is a nice hand crack leading to the second pitch. A 5 inch crack. Sweet, can't wait to warm up! I set off and am gasping for breath in no time as i thrutch my way up the wide crack and get warm. Hey this isnt too bad, i can feel my hands now, cool. I clip the chains and tell Thoma he'll be hot in a jiffy. I zip up and and set in for a long top belay. Tom has other ideas and is with me in moments. "How the hell did you climb that so quick?", "Don't stop moving" he replies "nice, you warm yet?", "Nah my feet are still numb", "Ah, better keep climbing then eh"

Thoma, inches away from the sunshine!
 4 fabulous pitches later Tom sticks the crux finger locks of the route and pulls through into sunshine. Thank goodness! We thaw out and climb another pitch in the warm embrace of the sun and reach the last pitch. A 15-20 meter 4 inch off width that tapers at the top, followed by a savage boulder move to gain the final crack. (For those that know the route we went left after the wide stuff). Great, my lead to end this adventure!

Somewhere near the top..
  There was one little detail that made me nervous about this though. We left the big 5 incher cams way down on the 2 pitch, to retrieve on the way down, so we only had two 4 inch cams left for the entire crack. Kinda far for two bits of pro. I start up, none the less, slightly alarmed, but there's only one way to go, and that's up. We were finishing this amazing route. I place the first one down low and jam and scrap my way onward.  Getting higher above the first cam now, fall potential increasing. It's OK though, my whole right arm is shoved as far as it can go and its keeping me inside the crack. Keep going. I call down to Thoma, telling him that my armour is starting to crack. "Throw in some tipped out 3's" he calmly replies. I do so and the tide of fear slowly ebbs into a manageable dimension. They'd probably hold. That being said, i bump the second 4 incher above me until I'm at the top of the crack. It would have definitely held though but its a long ways above the last decent cam.

At the top of the wide crack i have a mini celebration as i stuff some more pro in that fits the now tapered crack. Time to muster the last of your strength for the boulder move. A high crimp with the right hand, a long left gaston, feet pasted on tiny ex foliating knobs. There's nothing for it. Lunge! I cross with the right hand on the edge above my left hand followed by a growl from the depths of my stomach. Yes! I stick it and run up the final crack to the top! Thoma soon joins me and we sit in the glow of warm sun smiling from ear to ear, fumbling with the cameras with our raw bloody hands, trying to capture this moment.

  Still.   Breathe.

 The best climb of my life.


Back at camp we are exhausted and in need of food. Cooking the pasta, we sit and stare at the pot with hungry eyes as the the flame flickers and dies. Damn we were out of fuel. Thankfully a group of Americans armed to the teeth with everything they'd need for a month give us some and we demolish our lavish dinner (by our standards), enjoy some quality tunes  and the company of the final sunset.

The next day we hike our sore bodies out back to the cars, inhale the food we left there, take a much needed wash in the river and zoom down the logging road like a bat out of hell with music cranked. If we make it to Revelstoke in time, maybe we could get a day of sport climbing in before we part ways...

Snowpatch Spire in the evening glow.

Thank you Bugaboos for bringing out the best in me.
 Thoma, it was a pleasure, may there be many more to come.

"Lets sleep, eat and dream and savour our travels 
and babble our stories to anyone who'll listen.."   - 'The Travel Song', TZU

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


It's the end of August and i'm back in Squamish for a few more days. 'Back in Squamish'? Yeah. It may come as a surprise to some but i did leave...for a bit. Me and my mate Thoma left for the Bugaboos the other week. The A stands for Alpine this month after all, albeit for 7 amazing days. Many other good people that constituted of the camp ground crew all went their seperate ways too after 2 sweet months. Some we hope to see further down the road again, some we won't, but we'll remember the good times we had when our paths crossed and we shared a rope, drank a beer and chilled. 

Here's to the transient family that we have yet to know and to the people we live with now. 

The North Walls of the Chief from the Squaw. Beauty.

Andy leading the super classic Split Pillar 5.10b+. Cheers Flint for the pic ;).

Doubt V5
Death Star V3!
Crackin' it up on the V4 

Climb hard, Chill hard

Brian getting his lead on for Blazing Saddles 5.10b

Moving on to the Bugaboos. Epic post coming soon!