Friday, September 15, 2006

HERA, Salt Lake City

I'm down in Salt Lake City to help out with an event for HERA, a group of climbers and friends dedicated to raising money for ovarian cancer research. Cancer has been on my mind a lot lately as a good friend is currently fighting it, my family has been smacked around by it over the years, and it's suddenly seemingly everywhere. I take strength from my friends and family who have fought it off, and others who fought hard against a strong foe. HERA is a cool group of people united against something big, it's good to be a part of it. HERA has a large climbing component, and while I love climbing it's ultimately a somewhat hedonistic thing to do. It's nice to see the energy of climbing pooled and focused to swing some blows against cancer. The group down here has raised over $140,000.

I've been running non-stop since I arrived here, various events and the added confusion of getting rear-ended in a rainstorm. It's the first accident I've been involved with in about 20 years--no serious damage to any people, but the rental car isn't looking so new anymore. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt, but if the three-car pileup had gone a little sideways I could have wound up in the oncoming traffic. Getting randomly slapped around by the universe make me think about the fragility of our lives, even doing something (as compared to a lot of the other stuff in the adventure' junkie's life) safe like driving on a city street. I was stopped behind a car that was turning left when a young guy just blew it and stacked into the car behind me, which then hit my Hyundai rental... It was a really intricate loud noise, and my neck is a bit cranked but seems to be OK. The other two drivers were nice people, and it turned into a bit of a funny situation as we stood around in the rain waiting for the cops and tow trucks. I think we were all relieved that it worked out OK--all three cars were small, I shudder to think what have happened if we had been hit by an F350 crew cab instead of a small car. I'm suddenly a lot more paranoid about driving, there was nothing I could do to prevent the accident as I was stopped and boxed in. The impact force was impressive to experience.

Today we took our HERA group into the climbing gym as the thunderstorms were booming, and got worked. I had the pleasure of bouldering with a very young guy (early teens? 12?) who was strong as all hell and climbing brilliantly. It was cool to watch his rubber-like limbs flail upward with some sort of weird kid-precision movement, as though a force field of lower gravity and less inertia turned on when he pulled off the ground. We were working on a sloper problem from hell and both getting slapped around when I got frustrated and said, "Sheesh, I suck!" The kid looked at me with a clear smile and said, "No, you don't suck, I don't suck, we just haven't done this yet." The kid's comment hit home. We don't suck 'cause we can't do a problem, we just can't do it right then, and the problem has no bearing on the overall scheme of life. I liked that. He did the problem a few tries later, while I just haven't done it yet. Thanks for the wisdom young master...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I really like putting up new routes, whether it's rock, ice, mixed or alpine. There's just something fun about heading up into totally unknown terrain that's fired me up for over 20 years. The best new routes follow amazing lines into the sky through slight weaknesses in a mountain's best defenses. Raphael and I started work on a line up the steepest part of Yamnuska about eight years ago (just right of Balrog). We averaged slightly less than a pitch each fall as we started to get fit for rock climbing, then the snow would fly and we would think, "Next spring we'll get that one done!" But then spring rolled around and we were fit for hanging off ice tools but not small edges, and it became a fall project again, repeat for the last eight years. Raph and I managed about five trips up Yam, plus I got up there once with Kevin W. on a bitterly cold day, but nothing has been done for the last two years. This year I have some decent rock fitness at the end of the summer, so I'm fired up to make some progress...

This fall I've managed to get two good days into the Yam project, both with Cory, while Raph is building rock strength after an alpine trip to Pakistan. The first day ("Yam Day 7") we cleaned up the first five pitches, took down old fixed ropes (nobody had been high on the route for almost four years, and the ropes we had fixed were trashed) and worked the moves on the hard pitches, which is everything after the first two. It was a long, hard day complicated by having to haul a drill, two batteries, four ropes, a rack of normal gear plus pins, etc. up to a ledge at the top of pitch four. The climbing is really hard, continuous 5.11-5.13, and it just beat the hell out of us in a satisfying way.

Yesterday (Yam Day 8) Cory and I went up again. The weather was cold in Canmore in the morning, down jackets and heat on in the car cold, but warmed up to scorching in the sun by the time we hit the big ledge where our haul bags were. The first crux pitch, which we're calling the Big Ass Roof, or BAR for short, felt good, I linked it together with a few hangs. It's full-on swinging in space thuggery between decent holds, with a lot of exposure. The fourth pitch is supposed to be relatively easy, but it's run out and technical 5.11+, I had to grab a draw at one point when I rushed the super-technical movement.

We managed to bolt another 30M above our high point--it's a wild position, drop a rock and it goes 200M to the scree below. Bolting on lead is always an adventure--I wanted to space the bolts farther apart than just a bolt ladder, so on terrain that steep it meant drilling off of sketchy hooks or bad blades, spurts of free climbing with a heavy drill and rack to a sketchy stance, just full-on combat. As the sun set I put in a belay about 20M from the lip of the big roof section and fixed a static, it's a crazy-ass place up there! A few years ago Raph and I broke with ethics after one of Yam's illustrious pioneers asked, "Why are you bolting ground up? Wouldn't it be more logical to do that on rap?" We had felt honor-bound to bolt grond up to that point, but our defenses fell apart like wet bread... We hiked to the top of our route and rap-bolted two pitches, but were then unable to continue rap-bolting down through the roofs, it's just too steep. We called our rap-down point our "low point," it just didn't seem the same and in retrospect I'd like to have bolted the whole thing on lead. Now we're only about 20M from reaching our "low point," but can't tell where it is--there's a good chance we'll pop out of the roofs in a different place than we intended to, the mid-section of the route is a maze of massive roofs and corners with no reference. The remaining 20M of climbing looks (again!) super steep and powerful. The 5th and 6th pitches have the most amazing exposure I've ever felt on a climb, swinging out roofs, delicate arettes, I keep hanging on too tight--that's an instinct that will need to be overcome for free-climbing success. Most of the rock is good, but it wouldn't be Yamineering without some quality choss--I took a good 25-footer when a handhold broke the the other day, it's always exciting on Yam!

This is probably the last trip up Yam this week as I'm heading down to Utah to help out with a HERA climbing event on Thursday, and the weather is supposed to be poor tomorrow. Cory and I talked about heading up again today, but we're both destroyed. I have intricate bruises on my hips and shoulder from aiding and climbing with all the weight, plus my skin is again thrased. My lead took two hours to get 30M of new route done, thanks to Cory for his patience and enthusiasm, it's hard to find partners who are up for the commitment level of big-walling on limestone. We staggered down the trail last night with various ailments ranging from suburn to mangled feet, it's rare to feel that pounded. Only another 20M to go, and then it will be time to try and redpoint nine pitches of climbing, of which at least four are hard 5.12 or 5.13, and all the rest 5.11 except for the short opening pitch. It's a lot of climbing to do free in one day... Let's hope the weather holds into October, it's going to take some time.

We've also got some re-organizing to do, including getting rid of a bolt we mistakenly placed on Balrog for a belay on an early attempt. Balrog should not have bolts added to it obviously, so that will be coming out, my apologies to anyone who was bothered by the bolt.