The Solstice of the Austral Summer has come and passed, but if not for the 18 hour days I might not have noticed. It has not felt particularly summer-like here in El Chalten, Patagonia. This has not, of course, dampened the spirits of the many climbers that call this place home for a few months every year. From Northern Argentina to Northern Norway, Alpinists feel the draw of the Chalten and Torre ranges, and the notoriously… difficult… climate only adds to the mystique.
While we have all enjoyed a few beautiful years in the last few, most knew that ten-day weather windows of splitter blue skies were an aberration. In this 2013-14 season, the weather has seemingly regressed to the mean, and we’ve had a smattering of one to one and a half day windows, las ventanitas, often with high winds and storms threatening from across the ice cap. These conditions put a premium on local knowledge, in order to pick the correct objective and nail the timing.
After six awesome weeks in Chalten, I’ve changed venues and am about to hike into the Bader Valley in Torres del Paine National Park. So, in this intermission, I’ll give a little rundown of the season so far, ventanita by ventanita, and give thanks to all of the amazing folk with whom I had the privilege of climbing, and let you all know about some amazing new routes!!
One benefit of the 2013 flood: fat ice in the mountains!
Word got around quickly here on the Front Range. Local superhero Topher Donahue was ahead of the curve on September 30th, hiking up to Long’s Peak to nab an early season ascent of the Smear of Fear. In a blog post, he lamented the fact that, adding insult to the injury of the flood, the Government Shutdown would prevent climbers from enjoying the one benefit of our historically wet season.
Some daring climbers ran the blockade and climbed anyway, but rumors quickly spread of aggressive rangers camped out on the trail, looking to bust climbers. In addition to the normal risks of winter climbing, the prospect of Federal trespassing charges dissuaded most.
So, when the Colorado state government put up the cash ($40k/day!!) to reopen the park, Front Range ice climbers quickly sharpened their tools.
Yesterday, Rob Coppolillo and I hiked up to climb the Smear. One of the most ephemeral, and notorious, ice climbs on the Front Range, the Smear follows a thin ribbon of ice plastered to blank granite on the Lower East Face of Long’s Peak.
We managed to climb the first three pitches, including the crux WI5 R pitches, but bailed below the final WI4 pitch as darkness encroached. The leads were at the limit of my comfort zone, with the ice often too thin to accept screws. That, combined with our leisurely late start, left us hiking out in the dark.
I went on a hike up Fourmile Canyon, past the junction with Gold Run, towards Wall Street. I was impressed both by the natural destruction, and also by the human energy going into recovery. I’ll show some photos in this post, and I’ll try to give location info. This post won’t be as detailed as the previous few, though, as my GPS enabled camera broke, so I borrowed my girlfriend’s old SLR.
Also, I don’t want to be too invasive or voyeuristic, so I won’t post many photos of houses. I do have lots of these photos, so if you live up there and want to see conditions, email me at Scottbennett08@gmail.com
First, though, a bear:
Though we’ve frequently seen bears in our yard, I’d never seen them on our porch until the past week. This one has been hanging around and getting nosy. Our neighbor, who works for OSMP, speculates that they’re stressed because they’re trying to put on fat for the winter. Berries, which often grow low in drainages, have been severely damaged, so we’re likely to see bears getting bolder and more creative. Everyone, both in the mountains and in town, needs to secure their homes and trash to prevent bears from becoming habituated to human food.
Here are a few photos:
This is about a half mile below the Fourmile/Goldrun Junction, at:
40° 2’50.22″N 105°22’2.18″W
You can see the last post for more photos of this area.
This worker is deepening the channel and building back up the roadbed. Impressive!
This house, tragically, seems to be a victim of the creek’s new path. These photos were taken 2.5 hours apart, at 1:30pm and 4pm on 9.18.13. As you can see the house is slowly being undercut.
This little ATV carried a 6 man Xcel team into Wall Street. The road is cut off both and up and down canyon, but they managed to get over from Gold Hill on an old mining road. They were hard at work righting fallen power poles and restoring electricity.
Propane tanks were frequent casualties, and I actually spoke with a resident who claims to have watched one explode during the flood. Cuidado!!
OK, that’s all for now. As I said, I know mountain folks value their privacy, so I didn’t post many photos of homes. I have some pictures from 5161, 5216, 5311 5853, email me at email@example.com if you live there.
Road conditions: Fourmile Canyon drive is passable to high-clearance vehicles all the way to the Goldrun/Fourmile junction. It remains closed, though.
Past the junction, both Fourmile and Gold Run are impassable. I’ve heard that it’s possible to access Sunset from Gold Hill, via the Switzerland Trail. Once in the canyon, a high-clearance vehicle can supposedly make it downcanyon to mile marker 8.
This is all opinion and speculation, and conditions are changing daily. Use your own judgement and travel at your own risk.
In my last post, I looked at the flood damage to lower Fourmile Canyon, between Poorman Rd and the “Smokey the Bear” fire danger sign (approx. 0.8 miles from Boulder Canyon Hwy 119).
This post is a survey of the flood damage higher in the canyon, between Logan Mill Rd. and Gold Run Rd. All photos were shot between 6 and 7pm on 9.15.13.
First, I’ll say that I found Fourmile Canyon Drive to be intact and passable from Poorman Rd. (where I live) up past Logan Mill Rd. on the evening of 9.15.13. This does not mean that it will remain that way, or that it’s safe to travel there. There’s the constant threat of further flooding, as well as rockfall. I don’t recommend travelling anywhere in Fourmile Canyon. Logan Mill Rd is inaccessible, as the bridge there has failed.
Access to Fourmile Canyon is only possible via Sunshine Canyon and Poorman Rd. There are a few damaged spots on both of these roads, and they are restricted to residents and emergency vehicles.
About 0.5 Miles past Logan Mill Rd, near 4367 Fourmile Canyon Dr, the road is washed out and impassable to vehicle traffic. This is at 40° 2’50.22″N 105°22’2.18″W
The second damaged section of road is just around the bend at:
40° 2’54.45″N 105°22’4.59″W
It’s below 4451 Fourmile Canyon Drive.
The third damaged section is just up the road at:
40° 2’59.66″N 105°22’4.42″W
The next damaged section starts at:
40° 3’3.41″N 105°22’13.63″W
Just below 4726 Fourmile Canyon Dr.
This 250 meter section, to the junction of Fourmile Canyon Drive and Goldrun Road, is almost completely destroyed and barely passable, even on foot. Travel here is definitely not advised.
Coming around the corner to the junction of Fourmile and Goldrun, I was shocked. This little crossroads was a beautiful little cluster of homes. I can only hope that nobody was hurt when the water came through.
Again, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information on missing people, please contact the Sheriff.
This post is a survey of flood damage in lower Fourmile canyon, between Poorman road and “Smokey the Bear”
The last few days have been intense living up in Fourmile Canyon. Over 7″ of rain on the night of 9.12.13 caused major flooding. Mudslides, from the 2011 burn scars up canyon, scoured the channel of Fourmile Canyon Creek.
This morning (9.14.13), between 8:45am and 9:45am, I walked down canyon from our house, which is located at the junction of Poorman and Fourmile. Staying mostly on the northeast side of the road and creek, I surveyed the flood damage on the road. I stopped at the “Smokey the Bear” fire danger sign, which is approximately 0.8 miles from Boulder Canyon (hwy 119). In this one mile, I saw many spots where the road was completely washed out, undercut, or flowing with water. Below is a series of photos, tagged with the GPS coordinates. They start near Poorman, and end at Smokey.
I spoke with a few residents who told me that, below the Smokey sign, Fourmile road was mostly undamaged, with just some debris on the road. If true, this means that the stretch between Poorman and Smokey is the worst section in the lower canyon. Above is passable via Poorman, and below is accessible from Boulder Canyon (if hwy 119 is open).
If you are resident of Fourmile, or just interested in more detailed photos, please email me and I’ll try to help. I have hundreds of photos of this stretch of canyon, all tagged with Lat/long. Scottbennett08@gmail.com
Graham and I have just returned to Talkeetna after spending a fun-filled ten days in the Revelation mountains. This remote range, on the far southwest end of the Alaska range, has been visited a few times in Spring season, and climbers have returned with stories of amazingly huge mixed lines and perfect “J-tree” white granite. We had found almost no information on summertime rock climbing activity in the range, so we were excited to make a reconnaissance mission and see what these mountains could offer.
We flew in with Talkeetna Air Taxi on their new R44 Helicopter piloted by Will Boardman. Lack of snow for a ski-plane landing made the helicopter essential, so we’re very thankful to Will and TAT for their help. It should be mentioned that landing a helicopter in Denali National Park is illegal, but the Revelations are outside of the park. It was TAT’s first helicopter insertion for a climbing trip.
During the hour and a half ride into the range, during which we saw no roads and few signs of human life, we got a visceral feel for the scale and isolation of Alaska. Once the drone of the chopper faded, and Graham and I were left on the glacier with our gear, we’d entered our own little mountain kingdom, sole rulers and inhabitants.
Once we had gotten a feel for our realm, we realized that we were camped directly underneath the most enticing objective: the East Buttress of the Angel!
We began climbing on July 13th, starting up a beautiful granite wall with cracks and corners aplenty. 600 meters of quality rockclimbing, with difficulties up to 5.10, filled most of our day. Everything was climbed onsight and followed free. We were stoked to find a perfect bivy spot on the ridge, where we set up our comfy little tent and sheltered from a passing squall. After a few hours of rest during the midnight sun we began climbing again surrounded by blue skies! A low cloud layer below us brought the surrounding peaks, jutting through, into beautiful relief.
Another 500 meters of classic ridge terrain separated us from the summit, and we occasionally donned crampons to navigate snow and ice while simul-climbing. At this point we shared terrain with the 1985 ascent of the Southeast Buttress made by Greg Collins and Tom Walter (full history below).
Reaching the summit midday, we paused to remember our friend Zach Orman, who passed away earlier this year in a paragliding accident. We miss you Zach!
We descended to the North and then rappelled 600m down the Eastern aspect of the North Ridge to a hanging glacier which we able to mostly walk down back to the main Revelations Glacier.
After this point our options became extremely limited due to multiple core shots in our ropes and terrible weather. On the 21st of July we flew out of the range after five days of being pinned down in heavy rain and wind.
Huge thanks goes to the Mugs Stump Award for it’s generous support, as well as the New Zealand Alpine Club’s Expedition Fund.
As always, I had the best kit imaginable thanks to Rab, CAMP, Scarpa, and Nudefood!!!
The Angel was first climbed in May of 1985 by Greg Collins and Tom Walter. They succeeded , after four attempts, in climbing “Snow ramps with an occasional rock move or two along the left flank of the [East] buttress.” After a crux slab (5.10), they gained the East ridge and followed that to the summit.(Tom Walter, 1988 AAJ, p. 119)
(In the report they describe their route as taking place on the ‘Southeast Buttress’ of the peak. We think that their route is on the south side of what we are describing as the ‘East Buttress’. It seems that our route joined the 1985 route at the top of the buttress and followed the same moderate ridgeline to the summit)
In April of 2012, Clint Helander and Ben Trocki made the second ascent of the mountain by opening the South Ridge. Clint was super helpful and inspirational for our trip, in driving us around Anchorage, giving us photos and maps, and generally sharing his enthusiasm. Thanks Clint, you’re the man!
Some of y’all probably know about my efforts, with some good friends, to make it to the most amazing and rugged granite mountains in the world: the Pakistani Karakorum.
I wrote a post over on Mountain Project about these efforts, and why we’ve failed, two years in a row, to secure the needed permits and visas. Read the post, but beware that it gets a bit political.
Moving on to something more positive, I’m currently in Talkeetna Alaska! It’s my first time in Alaska, which coincidentally was the 49th state to join the Union, and also the 49th different state that I’ve visited!
I’m hanging with my good friend Graham Zimmerman, and we’re packed and ready to fly into the Revelation Mountains! We got the idea from our friend Clint Helander, who has made annual trips to this obscure range over the past several years, putting up rad ice and mixed lines on massive (mostly unclimbed) faces.
His photos of big granite buttresses and ridges, all unclimbed, enticed us.
We’ll be flying in on this little chopter:
It’s a long flight, nearly 200km, and so we’ve gotta carry a good amount of fuel. Meaning a limited payload for climbing gear!
It’s a good thing we’ve got all sorts of techy lightweight gear, like these hybrid Aluminum/Steel crampons and carbon fiber boots! Thanks CAMP and Scarpa!!
Will, our pilot, using Google Earth and old-fashioned paper topos to plot a route for our little bird. We need to cross the crest of the Alaska Range to get to the Revelations, so we’ve gotta find the right pass!
We’re planning to fly in today or tomorrow, as soon as the weather in the mountains looks amenable. Plan to be back out on the 29th of July, so check back here!
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time this winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Front Range’s alpine playground. From big solo days to scary mixed routes to speed climbing on the Diamond, I’ve refined my clothing and gear kit down to the most essential and practical items. A few folks have contacted me with questions about the ideal gear, so here’s a breakdown of my favorites for winter climbing in RMNP.
Note: For the past year I’ve been working closely with two amazing companies: Rab and CAMP. These great folks provide me with cutting edge clothing and gear, which helps me pack the ideal kit for the mountains. Previously, I’ve been hesitant to plug their gear on my site, so as not to seem biased. Now, though, I’ve had plenty of time to judge the gear on it’s merits, and feel as though I can offer honest recommendations.
Below I’ve described my recommended gear in general terms, and then provided links to the actual items that I use.
RMNP, like Patagonia and many of my favorite alpine areas, tends to have predictable weather in the winter. Good climbing days are typically high-pressure, sunny, windy, dry and cold. The ideal clothing setup consists of multiple layers, to prevent overheating while approaching and avoid hypothermia at belays. It should be windproof but breathable; tight fitting but non-restrictive; light but warm.
Powerstretch Fleece Pants: These comfortable pants are form fitting and stretchy. They dry quickly, so any sweat accumulated on approach won’t keep you cold while climbing. Rab PS Pants, 220g
Fleece hoody: This is an essential piece that I wear on literally every winter climb. Mine is tight fitting; the balaclava-style hood that fits under my helmet and doesn’t restrict my vision. Rab Baseline Hoody, 340g.
Balaclava: When it’s really cold, I layer a thin balaclava under my baselayer’s hood. I can wear it just as a neck warmer, or pull it all the way up to protect my chin and cheeks. Rab Meco 165 Balaclava
For day trips with good forecasts, I’m less concerned about moisture from outside (precipitation) than I am with sweat. Breathabilty is key to staying dry when you’re working hard in the mountains, so I opt for a lightweight softshell that keeps the wind out. I also aim for a tight fit, especially in the pants to prevent crampons from catching on excess material.
Softshell pants: I wear my summer-weight softshells, over the fleece pants, and I think they keep me warm enough in temps down to -15c. Mine are modified for winter with the addition of glove-friendly zipper pulls. Elastic hems at the ankles, plus elastic spats to hold them down, negate the need for gaiters. Rab Scimitar Pants, 380g.
Softshell jacket: Fit is key here. You need to be able to raise your arms high without pulling the waist up (and out from under your harness.) Also look for a hood that fits well over your helmet. I love Rab’s wire brim hoods, which keep falling snow and rain off my face. Drawstrings getting caught in my gear is a major pet-peeve of mine, so I tie up the elastic into knots, so they don’t hang down by my harness. Rab Scimitar Jacket, 580g.
Belay Jacket: Whenever I’m not moving (while brewing up, belaying, etc), the very first thing I do is pull on my puffy. In dry environments, down is unbeatable. Look for a jacket that packs the most down into the lightest package. Find a stuff sack that’s easy to stuff (I hate wrestling jackets into tiny bags!) and sports a bomber clip-in point. Rab’s Infinity Endurance jacket uses 210g of 850 fill power down to stave off hypothermia, and weighs just 480g (with a water-resistant outer to boot!)
Climbing gloves: Dexterity is crucial; find tight fitting leather gloves that will allow you to handle ‘biners and ice tools. I also love rockclimbing in gloves; jamming is comfy and crimping is surprisingly secure. Practice gloved climbing on chilly days at the crag! Rab Alpine gloves.
Belay gloves: As with the puffy jacket, I put on my warmer gloves as soon as I stop moving. I don’t like huge unwieldy mitts, since I always need dexterity to put on layers, work the stove, belay, etc. Rab’s Latok gloves are my standard here: a good balance of warmth and usability. The eVent lining is nice when you’re swimming through loose snow, too.
Approach gloves: I’ll usually bring a third pair of gloves to wear on approach, to prevent my other pairs from getting sweaty. Thin and windproof is nice. Rab Phantom grip gloves.
TOOLS: There are a million considerations when looking at ice tools, but for RMNP I generally look for a lightweight and versatile tool capable of plunging up steep snow, getting sticks in thinly bonded ice, and hooking on small incut edges. A hammer is important for pounding the occasional pin, but I don’t find an adze useful. I use Cassin’s All Mountain Tools (with one hammer), 628g/tool. Because I’m clumsy, I like to use an elasticized tether on my tools. CAMP’s Gyro is nice, as it allows the tools to rotate independently.
CRAMPONS: For steep climbing, on ice and rock, I prefer a monopoint setup (easier to balance on tiny holds). Cassin’s C Comp model (850g/pair) is a minimalist ‘pon that keeps you light on your feet, while still providing enough points for all manners of climbing. After scratching around for a season on RMNP granite, dull front points can easily be replaced (an advantage over single-piece ‘pons like the Petzl Dart).
For lower angle climbing, on steep snow and icy gullies, I sometimes opt to go even lighter with the XLC Nanotech hybrid Aluminum/Steel ‘pons. Steel frontpoints let you kick into ice, while the aluminum body keep the whole rig at 478g!
RACK: In RMNP, where ice is rare and most of the climbing is on snow covered rock, I will often take my standard summer rack, maybe with a few small pitons. I do swap out my Nano mini-biners for the full sized Photons, which at 29g are still as light as most competitors mini-biners.
PACK: I find that I’m more likely to bring a pack along on winter climbs, since I often carry over a peak, and have stove, jackets, etc to lug. As always, weight is important, as well as flexible capacity, a streamlined profile, and good ice tool attachments. The Cilogear 45L fits these requirements perfectly! After removing the lid, framesheet, and hipbelt mine clocks in at 635g. On route, the narrow shape keeps it out of my way, and the buckle system lets me vary the capacity from 75L to 22L. As with all of my packs, I replaced the framesheet with a piece of sleeping pad foam, which I can use as a butt-pad at breaks.
BOOTS: I know I harp on weight with all of my gear, but it’s most important with boots! Weight on your feet makes climbing cumbersome and awkward. I’m currently rocking the Asolo Cholatse (1700g/pair), which climb rock amazingly and sport a integrated neoprene gaiter to keep my ankles warm and dry. Though I haven’t tried them yet, I’m really excited to check out the Scarpa Rebel Carbon Ultras soon, which at 1420g/pair should feel like rock shoes!
STOVE: Even for day trips, I almost always carry a stove while winter climbing. Consider that the Jetboil Sol TI weights 245g, and a small fuel canister is 200g. (1mL of H2O=1g). So you could carry half a liter of water, or bring a jetboil and have the ability to melt snow into unlimited hot drinks! Of course, melting snow takes time, and in very windy conditions can be impossible. So I usually bring a 500ml thermos with hot tea, and brew up a couple times per day to refill it.
I like to bring a variety of hot drinks, including tea bags, Emergen-C packets (excellent warm!), hot cocoa, and instant soup. Adding milk powder to tea provides extra calories.
Have redundancy in your stove lighting tools! The jetboil’s built-in ignitor fails after a few months, in my experience. After that I tear it out to save weight. Mini lighters are handy, but are useless when wet. I love the simplicity of flint and steel (Light My Fire FireSteel Mini, 28g), which still won’t work when wet, but is more easily dried.
Fuel canisters can have trouble in extreme cold. Most canisters have a mix of Propane and Isobutane. Isobutane has a higher boiling point (-1c) than propane (-42c), so in cold temperature it will remain in liquid form (it won’t create the vapor pressure needed to force it out of the canister). Look for canisters with a higher propane content, so that the fuel stays in gaseous form at a lower temperature. Warm the canister inside your jacket prior to use, and with your hands during use.
ROPE: Decide, based on the route, if you need to bring one or two ropes. If the descent allows, I’ll usually choose a single line for weight and simplicity. A 70 or 80 meter cord allow for long pitches and rappels, and is especially useful while shortfixing. On easier routes, where you might be simuling long sections, a 6om rope will be less cumbersome. Look for a dry coating, and go with the smallest diameter with which you’re comfortable.
On solo adventures, when I only need a rope for rappels, I like my Edelrid Rap Line (6mm x 60m).
I hope that helps inspire you to get out in “The Park” and enjoy it’s unique style of climbing. With the right kit, it can actually be fun!