Siempre Verano

-Always Summer-

This season, as I did last year, I will be escaping most of the Northern hemisphere winter by embracing the Southern hemisphere summer!

Last season, Blake Herrington and I had an amazing month of February in Chalten, Argentina, completing three big routes during an unseasonably generous spell of warm and stable weather.

Hopefully, this season will be as amenable!

Anyways, I’ll be flying into Buenos Aires on January 11th, and making tracks straight for Chalten. So cross your fingers for another bitching season, and keep an eye on this page for updates.

To get stoked, here’s three videos we made of last year’s climbs:

First Ascent of Vent’uras, Aguja Guillamet from Scott Bennett on Vimeo.

Cosas Patagonicas Libre! from Scott Bennett on Vimeo.

West Pillar, Cerro Pollone from Scott Bennett on Vimeo.

Long’s Peak Ice

-or-

There’s snow on my handhold!

At this point in my life, I’ve spent enough time on rock to have gained great level of confidence and comfort on that medium. Dry rock, though, and temperatures amenable to climbing it with thin slippers and bare hands, is often not found on the big mountains of the world.

This past week, I joined my friend Cheyne Lempe for a “very late Fall” (Dec 11th) foray up Long’s Peak, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite being a few days before the calendar start to the season, conditions certainly felt wintery. While I’ve climbed this peak numerous times in the July and August, this trip would be an entirely different experience.

Long's, in much more summery conditions, with our route.

After a pre-dawn start from the trailhead, Cheyneand I enjoyed a well packed trail up through the sub-alpine forests and into a barren world of tundra and rock. Even in the summer, this is a forbidding place, and now it was clear to me that I was stepping out of my comfort zone. There were some benefits, though, to the frigid temps: Chasm Lake was completely frozen, allowing us to shortcut the approach talus field and pleasantly slide across the icy surface.

photo: Cheyne Lempe

Long’s is a very complicated peak, and though I know the Diamond well, I’ve never explored the myriad of cliffs and ledges that form the left side of the huge East Face. We chose to start up a snowy couloir, Lamb’s Slide, and then quickly left the chute for the steep rock, Alexander’s Chimney. Following a major chimney/gully system of the left side of the Lower East Face, Alexander’s climbs ~250m of easy rock and ice. I say easy, because in dry conditions the rock would offer little challenge for the well-equipped climber, checking in at just 5.5, a grade I would often feel comfortable soloing. Now, though, in boots and gloves, the rock was definitely more engaging, offering a few moments of fear and excitement.

photo: Cheyne Lempe
photo: Cheyne Lempe
photo: Cheyne Lempe

 After gaining Broadway, the long ledge system that cuts across the entire face, we traversed right, hoping to find passage to the summit. We had considered Kiener’s, which is an easy rock route in summer conditions, but the snow and ice of the Notch Couloir looked more appealing, and we obligingly began trudging up it. Steep snow quickly gave way to bullet-hard ice and eventually bare rock. We simuled a few long pitches up the chute, and reached the eponymous Notch, on the ridgeline of the peak, while the sun was still blazing the western sky. A few moments of exploration and indecision followed: steep walls hemmed in both sides of the notch. We scouted to the West, hoping to find a continuous ledge system that provide easy passage to the summit slopes. No Luck.

Regrouping, we climbed out of the notch to the North and East, eventually finding a low-angled corner system that I happily climbed sans crampons and tools. I was back on terrain I could handle! That pitch gained the ridgeline, and one more long pitch brought us to un-roping terrain just shy of the summit.

The summit brought elation, and an increased sense of purpose. We had accomplished all of our climbing goals for the day, but now had to accomplish the much more visceral goal of descending back to the warmth and food of civilization. Despite having been down the North Face descent several times, I still managed to get a bit lost. Nothing a quickly slung block and 30m rappel couldn’t fix, though, and we were soon on the rappel path.

Headlamps came out as we made the last rap, and then we began the long zombie slog back down the snowy talus fields to the car. Again, I got us lost on seemingly familiar terrain (sorry Cheyne!). Every time we lost the path, the sadistic snow would punish us with a heinous layer of crust that supported 90% of bodyweight, then giving out and dropping us into the soft snow beneath. This got old.

What never gets old: regaining the car after a long day!

Big thanks to Deuter USA, whose Guide 35L pack was a perfect platform for this climb. I removed the waistbelt and tightened up the shoulder straps so that it rode high, which allowed me to wear it all day, even while leading. Watch for an upcoming “Techniques” page about packs, and how to make yours work on a big climb.

Also, thanks to CAMP USA. I used the X-All Mountain tools, a well balanced and streamlined set that clung to ice and rock with equal aplomb. I also wore the C-Comp ‘pons, which are just about as light as I can imagine for such capable tools.

 

Welcome!

Welcome everyone to my new blog. My old blog, the Big Wide West, was a ton of fun to write. Hopefully this one will be too!

Everything is much the same: posts will feature my blather and poorly framed photos. Occasionally I’ll post a good photo, one that was taken by someone else.

I wouldn’t be creating a new page, though, if I wanted to keep everything the same. The most obvious new thing is the technique page. There, you’ll find random tips and tricks that I’ve learned and developed over the past few years. It is geared towards climbing long rock routes, with an emphasis on fast & light, alpine style.

Further, I’m hoping to be much more consistent with adding content. I’ve already drafted a number of future posts, so perhaps I’ll be able to keep up a weekly pace, at least for a while.

So, welcome. I would recommend scrolling down and checking out the post below, a collection of photos recapping my 2011. Also, check out the “About” page, which has a few paragraphs about mountain climbing, the purpose of this blog.

I hope you enjoy the new page. I’d love to hear comments or suggestions!

2011, Year in Photos

January, Eldorado Canyon, Colorado. January is a fine time to be cranking in Eldorado Canyon; the crisp temps maximize the sandstone’s gritty texture, and the short days make climbing short pitches feel worthwhile. Routes like “The Evictor”, were not, however, at the forefront of my mind last January. I was training, planning, and dreaming about my upcoming trip, my first big international climbing trip. By the end of the month, I’d be cranking pristine white granite in the Argentine Summer!

photo by Ryan Day Thompson

February, El Chalten, Argentina. Aguja Poincenot and Cerro Fitz Roy, viewed from the front yard of the “Don Quixote”, the mostly water-resistant little cinder block house I shared with a few like minded gringo dirtbags for the month of February.

February, Aguja Guillamet, Argentine Patagonia. Blake Herrington leads a pitch low on our new route “Las Vent’uras”, our near-miss attempt to establish the first all-free route on the West Face of this peak. The route climbs the long, right-leaning crack system, leading into the intimidating maw of the chimney/OW/flare above. This was the first route that I ever helped to open ground-up, and now I’m hooked.

March, Valle Francais, Chilean Patagonia. After a productive February, I went into tourist mode and cruised over to Chile, home to the famous Torres del Paine. Of course, I did not get the chance to climb on any of these giants: Cota Dos Mil, Cerro Catedral, and Aleta de Tiburon. Someday…

April, Castle Valley, Utah. Back in the States, and back in my plucky little car. The following day, Blake and I would climb all of these towers, from right to left, for their first in-a-day enchainment of the Castle Valley Spires.

May, Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado. Cody Scarpella boldly goes ground up on “The Wasp” (5.12+). We traded burns on this amazing granite testpiece, enjoying the cryptic moves and bomber gear! Photo by Ben Walburn

June, Mt. Evans, Colorado. My friend Zack and I chilling at a belay on “Good Evans (5.10+), at Colorado’s most convenient Alpine climbing venue. The Northern Summer would prove to be just as fun as the Southern!

July, Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado. The first annual Alpine-a-palooza, held in RMNP’s Glacier Gorge! A dozen mountain-loving folks gathered to celebrate a week in that pristine alpine cirque, and much good food, good music, and good granite was had by all!

Here, the moon is about to rise behind Long’s Peak, and the crew readies our dee-lux double bivy cave for another night of well earned sleep.

This shot captures so much for me, Thanks to Forest Woodward for taking it!

July, atop our bivy cave. Alpine Scrabble, Oskar Blues beer, and crosswords! Also from Forest.

August, North Cascades, Washington. Garrett Grove exemplifying our fun-at-all-costs mentality on the West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock (5.11). Between the glacially-fed river soaks, homemade margarita sessions, and other “lifestyle” pursuits, we did manage to do some climbing.

September, Smith Rocks, Oregon. Roaming backs towards Colorado, I stopped for a few pleasant weeks on the high desert plateau of Central Oregon to sample of the unique local volcanic tuft. Look closely for Brad Gobright on the ride side of the Monkey Face Spire, climbing on the aptly named “Backbone” (5.13a). Photo by Brian Mosbaugh.

October, Indian Creek, Utah. This sunset evolved over maybe half an hour, while we were packing up at the crag. As it started to fade, I ran down, trying to get some silhouette action with the Bridger Jack towers against the sky.

November, Indian Creek, Utah. It gets cold in the desert in November. Whiskey helps.


December, Long’s Peak, Colorado. Back in the ‘Rado for a few months, I’ve again been focusing on training for another big South American trip. Climbing ice and mixed terrain on Long’s recently helped to get me ready for gloved climbing, cold belays, and that well earned summit!

Photo by Cheyne Lempe