Thursday, December 31, 2009

Los Pireneos 2010 – Part 4

31 Dec 09 – 1700 Local
Location: Refugio la Renclusa

This morning, we tried for an alpine start on Aneto. At 4Am, we woke up ready to go, but it was a total white out outside. So, we went back to sleep and woke up every hour after to check the weather. Eventually, everyone else in the refuge woke up, as well. So, we joined them for breakfast. Finally, around 8:30 or 9AM, the weather cleared a bit. We saddled up and hit the hill. It was slow going. We were unsure of the avalanche conditions, because of the weather and visibility. So, we just took it really slow, picking our way up the valley. As the weather cleared more, the scenery became breathtaking. The mountains were gorgeous even shrouded in clouds. The terrain was demanding, but nothing Dan and I couldn’t handle, which was good because I was more focused on looking around at the scenery.

Figure 1: The scenery.

Figure 2: Scenery + me.

Figure 3: Dan on our first attempt on Aneto.

The climb is supposed to follow a valley on the climber’s right side of a ridgeline, then one crosses through the ridge via one of four gaps (one of which is the good one), after which one descends to the glacier, crossing it and moving up to the summit. We arrived at what we thought was the Portillon Superieur (the good gap) and began making our way to it. It is supposed to be an easy descent to the glacier, but as we were in a semi-white out, we rappelled down. Well, it was a good thing we did, because it was not the gap we should have been in. After a series of very sketchy rappels, which may or may not have involved an anchor backed up with a camera strap, we made it to the glacier. By this point, our feet had become blocks of ice from hanging in our harnesses for so long, so we decided to bail. We followed the ridgeline back to the actual gap, went through it and were back in the valley. It took some route finding to get off of the ridge’s cliffs, but we were soon riding our shovels down the valley back to the refuge. Everyone was happy to see us and cheered our arrival. They had been contemplating coming to find us. I recounted the story many times, very slowly in broken English/Sapnish and with sign language.

Figure 4: Me rappelling out of the wrong gap.

Figure 5: Dan headed into the abyss.

Figure 6: Hanging out, getting cold.

Figure 7: Bailing back through the good gap.

Now, we are all napping. It is New Year’s Eve and we need our rest for the party tonight.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Los Pireneos 2010 – Part 3

30 Dec 09 – 1500 Local
Location: Refugio la Renclusa

Yesterday, we woke up early in the construction site we had slept in. It was a great bivy, dry, warmish and just outside of Benasque. The weather was not great, so we decided to try to climb a low peak near the village. This turned into an adventure unto itself. From the ground, it looked like it would be an easy gully climb. Once we were on it, however, it would have been pretty difficult, so we stuck to the edges, out of the gully. This resulted in a few hours of hard bushwhacking before we decided to turn around and head back to town. When we made it back to town, it was time to eat lunch, so we grabbed a bite. We had planned on fuelling up and then heading towards Aneto. However, the gas station was taking a siesta that would last until 3PM. So, we kicked around, window shopping at Barrabe’s, eating, looking for wifi, etc. Finally, we got some gas and started on our way to Aneto.

Figure 1: In the construction site.

Figure 2: On our way towards Aneto.

After a bit of walking, a skier picked us up and gave us a ride all the way to the road that would take us to the trailhead. He was skiing near the spot he picked us up at, but took us the whole way because he was worried about us getting arrested for hitch hiking. After he dropped us off, we were quickly picked up by the Hospital Benasque bartender. The Hospital Benasque is not actually a hospital; it is a fancy hotel that is also the trailhead for Aneto. We started moving along the trail towards Aneto, but it started to rain and was getting dark, so we bivied for the night. We had some dinner and went to sleep.

Figure 3: Bivy in the rain.

We woke up the next morning in a downpour. We had to hole up in our bivy bags for several hours. As the water creeped deeper and deeper into my sleeping bag, I curled more and more into a ball in the bottom of my bag. Eventually, it stopped raining so hard and we could start moving. As soon as we started moving the weather got better and we had beautiful views the whole way. The last part of the walk to the refugio was relatively steep and was hard with our packs on. We made it, though, and were impressed by the views from the refuge, both up and down the valley. The innkeeper was pretty grouchy, but it didn’t really bother us, as we had a place to dry our gear and prepare for our attempt on Aneto tomorrow.

Figure 4: Dan getting some water on our way to Aneto.

Figure 5: The refuge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Los Pireneos 2010 – Part 2

28 Dec 09 – 1745 Local
Location: Bus from Barbastro to Benasque

Today, has been a long travel day and is not over yet. I am on a bus as I write this. We arrived in Barcelona this morning at 9:30AM, after a very weird layover in Madrid. Our plane made a stop in Madrid. We were supposed to stay on the plane and continue to Barcelona. We had to get off and go through customs, though. So we ran several kilometres through the airport, eventually found customs, and found out we were actually taking a different flight to Barcelona. It didn’t really matter, we eventually made it to Barcelona. Although we arrived at 9:30AM, we had to sort our gear for travel, which took us until 11AM. We had to fly with two bags each and then consolidate them into one bag each, which took awhile.

Figure 1: Sorting gear in Barcelona.

Once our bags were sorted, we made our way to the train and headed into Barcelona. We would have about 30min to find the bus station and get on the bus, once we arrived in downtown Barcelona. While we were on the train, a Japanese tourist chatted us up, making sure to tell us that “climbing is very hard and danger”. We disagreed and began discussing local architecture, which he seemed interested in. We made it downtown, located the bus station without much trouble and got on a bus to Barbastro. The only issue we had was figuring out where our assigned seats were. The driver told us, but we didn’t understand, which meant we were kicked out of seats until we got to the back of the bus.

Figure 2: Dan waiting for the train in Barcelona.

Figure 3: At the bus station in Barbastro.

We arrived in Barbastro around 4:10PM. We walked around town for a bit, which seemed pretty dead. We had some tapas for dinner, the waiter didn’t really like us because we didn’t speak his language, oh well. Now, we are on a bus to Benasque.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Los Pirineos 2010 – Part 1

27 Dec 09 – 2300 EST
Location: Somewhere over the Atlantic

Last night, I took the overnight bus from Norfolk to New York City. My time in Norfolk was great. I got to spend quality time with my family, see some friends and played in the annual Boxing Day golf tournament. All in all, it was a great week. Eventually, though, it was time for me to catch that bus at 11PM on the 26th and start my next adventure.

After sitting in the Norfolk bus station for awhile, the bus finally showed up. There were too many people heading to New York City for all of us to fit into one bus. So, they made one bus an express to NYC and the other a schedule bus, which means it stops at a bunch of intermediate towns. Since I wasn’t interested in getting to NYC early, I opted for the schedule bus, which was significantly less crowded. It was perfect, we all had at least two seats to ourselves and didn’t pick anyone up at the other stops anyway.

Soon, I arrived in New York City at 7:30 in the morning. I left the Port Authority and headed to the United Nations Headquarters. I had never been before and had an entire day to kill before my flight. Well, it turns out that they don’t give tours of the UN on weekends, oh well. Instead, I hopped on the subway and made my way to the airport. I figured I could check my bags and then head back into the city. Well, Iberia Air doesn’t start checking people in until 2:30PM. At this point, there wasn’t much sense in going back into the city with my bag. So, I hung around, read, slept and sorted out my bag for transit.

Figure 1: NYC! Empire State Building.

Figure 2: United Nations Headquarters.

Figure 3: In front of Trump Tower. Yes, I realise it looks like it says "rump".

Dan showed up at the airport around 2PM. We checked in, uneventfully. Waited around the terminal, looked at our maps, had some snacks and, eventually, got on our flight. We took our seats in row 35, blerg, and took off for Spain. The flight, so far, has been the usual, a movie, dinner, sleeping, reading, etc. I am looking forward to hitting the ground in Barcelona and getting this trip underway.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Hampshire/Maine – 2009 – Part 5

Location: Joe Dodge Lodge, Mount Washington, NH, USA

I woke up this morning ready to, finally, do some climbing. The caretaker hadn’t shown up all night, which had us all a little worried, but there wasn’t anything we could do. Eventually, the ranger showed up to give us the avalanche forecast for the day and we chatted a bit about the caretaker. He left quickly to look into it. I decided that I wanted to be the last one out, since it had snowed so much over night. So, I took my time cooking up some rice, sorting out my gear and kitting up. Brian left first, then a guide and his client, and I was next. I headed out along the trail the others had left. After only about fifteen minutes of walking, though, we all bunched up. We decided we would all work together breaking trail and made our way out of the trees and into the Huntington Ravine. We stopped and started scoping out the routes. The guide and client had talked about doing Central Gully, but were opting for some ice climbing at the base of Yale gully, due to avalanche conditions. Brian and I decided to link up and do North Gully.

Figure 1: The left side of Huntington Ravine.

Figure 2: The right side of Huntington Ravine.

As we moved across the ravine bowl, we realized the avy risk on North Gully was too high. I decided to head up Yale Gully, via a snow chute, while Brian would take a slab of ice. Once at the top of the ice bulge, we would link up and decide where to go from there. Once we met up again at the top, we decided to just continue up Yale Gully. About halfway up, Brian bailed. He didn’t want to have to come back to the ravine to pick up the gear he had left behind. This was OK with me and I continued up, alone. The route was amazing. It was mixed ice and snow, at about 55 degrees, but fun. The views were great from up there. I could see into other gullies at times, and the ravine was beautiful. Slowly, the weather closed in, as I climbed, and eventually I was moving up in white out conditions. When I topped out, I opted to down climb rather than hike out. The weather was too bad for me to safely route find an alternate route down.

Figure 3: The entrance to Yale Gully.

As the weather deteriorated, it deposited a layer of powder on the formerly crusty snow. This was bad. As I moved down the gully, small bits of snow were rolling down next to me. I stuck to the edge of the gully and moved slowly, and luckily avoided the 2mx3m slab that cut loose above me. It was nothing terrible, but definitely impressed on me the importance of avalanche awareness. The rest of the descent was relatively slow. I just kept hoping that the guide below me hadn’t opted to follow and I was kicking snow down towards him. He hadn’t and was just tearing down his anchors when I got back to them. We linked up again and left the ravine together.

Figure 4: Trying to get a picture of myself in the gully. It didn't work well.

We quickly made our way back to Harvard Cabin and I made lunch for myself. The caretaker finally returned (he ran into ski boot trouble and had to spend the night in town), so I paid my fees and left. I sped down to the trailhead, retrieved the gear I had stashed and got a room at the Joe Dodge Lodge. I sorted out my gear and got ready to head to Boston, tomorrow.

It was a great day in the mountains. I wish I had been able to climb a lot more, as planned, but am glad I went to Maine. The avalanche hazard was apparently high over the past few days and it looks like the weather will be pretty bad tomorrow. All in all, it looks like I got here just in time for a perfect weather window, climbed a great route and am ready to head to Virginia, and eventually Spain.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Hampshire/Maine – 2009 – Part 4

Location: Harvard Cabin, Mount Washington, NH, USA

This morning, I woke up early to leave Sunday River. Issac, unfortunately, slept in, which made my leaving difficult. I didn’t want to just bail, as he had been so nice to me. Luckily, when he did wake up, he helped me carry my bags to a nearby fork in the road. Before we reached the fork, though, a local ski instructor stopped and gave me a lift into Bethel. He dropped me at a gas station on Highway 2, which leads towards Mount Washington. I searched for a ride, but everyone was headed the opposite direction. So, after an hour or so of that, I started walking. Along the way, a lady saw me from another highway and waited for me in the off ramp, as I approached. She was nice enough to give me a ride to West Bethel, which was about six miles away, and up a big hill. I was thankful because my gear was HEAVY. She dropped me at the West Bethel post office. I went in and chatted with the old guys who were hanging out there, although it was really hard to understand their accents. Eventually, one of them decided that since he had nothing better to do he would drive me all the way to Gorham, NH, which was about 20 miles away. I couldn’t believe it. 30 minutes and lots of conversation later, I was at the Gorham gas station. This particular gas station is known for being easy to hitch a ride to Mount Washington – not today. I was so close, I could see it, but no one was heading my direction. I waited almost two hours and asked at least 60 people, but no one was headed towards the trailhead. Finally, a guy with a beard walked up to me and offered a ride. He talked about climbing with me the whole way there, as I fended off the advances of his giant dog. Eventually, I arrived at Pinkham Notch and was ready to do some climbing.

Figure 1: My gear, in front of one of the many beautiful gas stations in the North East.

I went into the Appalachian Mountain Club’s shop at the trailhead and first had some soup – I was starving. Then, I sorted out my gear, as I would only need minimal kit for my limited time on the mountain, this time. I stashed all my spare gear in the employees living shacks, and took off. It was a slog up to Harvard Cabin, coupled with minor route confusion. Eventually, I made it and it was great. Wood stove, 80 degrees Fahrenheit, benches, other people. Good times.

Figure 2: The great scenery.

Figure 3: On the trail, at last.

Figure 4: The interior of Harvard Cabin.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Hampshire/Maine – 2009 – Part 3

Location: Sunday River, ME, USA

Today, I slept in. The bed was extremely comfortable, the condo was warm and I had traveled a long distance the day before. Eventually, I dragged myself out of bed and went downstairs. A few minutes later, Issac joined me and we made our plan for the day. We planned on heading to the ski resort to check out the skiing. So, we started walking. We got picked up by a local doctor who thought we were Chilean migrant workers. He was just looking for someone interesting to talk to. He drove us all the way to the resort. There we discovered lift tickets were incredibly expensive, we would have to rent skis and the runs weren’t that great – needless to say, we decided against skiing.

Figure 1: Me near a skiing bear.

We left the ski hill via the resort shuttle and headed into the town of Bethel. It consists of a very high end (ritzy) private school, a grocery store and a taco shop. So, we toured around the school, bought groceries for dinner and ate a taco for lunch. We started making our way back to the condo. The shuttle could take us within six miles of it and from there we started walking. Eventually a car slowed down and we thought we were getting a ride, but it kept going. Then it stopped about 100m away and gunned it in reverse. The lady in it said she was only going a short distance and was in a hurry. So, we hopped in and she drove us as far as she could, which was to the driveway of the condo.

Figure 2: The condo.

Once back at the condo, we cooked up the steaks and ate a delicious dinner. Now, I am just looking forward to finally moving on tomorrow.

Figure 3: The steaks.

New Hampshire/Maine – 2009 – Part 2

Location: Sunday River, ME, USA

The bus stopped for a break in North Conway, NH, and the few of us left got off to stretch our legs. While we were out there, I met Issac. He was traveling to Gorham and then was heading East to Sunday River. He told me that he was heading to his uncle’s condo for a month of relaxation and skiing. We talked along the way and eventually invited me to come hang out at the condo. I quickly agreed and we started planning how we were going to get to Sunday River. Eventually, the bus reached it’s final stop in Gorham, NH. From there, we had to hitch hike 22 miles to Sunday River. Almost immediately, I scored us a ride with Brianna. She lived on the state line and said she would take us that far. We hopped in and took off. Along the way, we convinced her to take us all the way to Sunday River. She pulled into a bar called the Matterhorn Ski Bar and we got out. After not very much prodding, she agreed to join us for a beer. So, we ordered some drinks and sat down. There was a pretty good band playing and it looked like it was shaping up to be a good night. After one drink, Brianna decided to head home. So, we unloaded our gear and stashed it behind the bar. From there, we continued drinking and dancing with the few girls present. I felt like I was still in Kingston, except for the constant worry that my boots would break someone’s leg.

Figure 1: A bad picture of Issac and I at The Matterhorn.

Figure 2: The band.

Last call rolled around and we decided to head out. Issac claimed that the condo was really close to the bar, so we started walking. It was a long haul to get there. Lot’s of slips, falls, hills and six miles later, we finally arrived at his condo (aptly located on Alpine Terrace). We made some of my soup and went to bed. The bed is extremely comfortable, I have a room to myself and it is warm. Basically, it is much better than the snow hole I had planned on sleeping in. I am looking forward to exploring the area tomorrow.

Figure 3: The walk.

Figure 4: The Condo.

Figure 5: The bed. Better than a snow hole.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Hampshire/Maine – 2009 – Part 1

Location: Concord, NH, USA

Last night, I worked my last shift at the Boiler Room Climbing Gym, for a while, at least. It was a very hectic day. I was finishing a paper, packing, making arrangements, planning routes and working, at the same time. It was particularly hectic because my friends Adrianne and Jennie fed me drinks until I came out with them, the night before. I didn’t end up getting home until late the next morning – oh well – worth it. After a long day of writing and working, I was finally ready to go. So, I grabbed my gear and headed to the Kingston Coach Canada stop, via taxi.

I got on my bus in Kingston and it was awesome. It was a brand new, double-decker, wifi enabled, palace on wheels. Only a few others were on the Friday night run to Montreal, so it was very comfortable. Upon arrival in Montreal (around 4AM) things began to get uncomfortable, for a while. I had to meet up with my friend Zach, who had picked up a bunch of gear for me from Mountain Equipment Co-op. I had to pick up the gear from him, before I could carry on to New Hampshire. So, I had to hump all my gear through downtown Montreal, at 4AM, to meet him at his place. I eventually got to Zach’s and picked up the gear. Luckily, it only took 3 or 4 phone calls to wake him up at 5AM, haha. From there, I cabbed it back to the bus station – walking sucks!!

Figure 1: Getting my gear ready in Kingston

Once back to the Montreal bus station, I read and slept until my next bus arrived. I continued sleeping on the bus, until the border crossing. The American border guards were very surly and were actually detaining people for further questioning – brutal! I showed my passport and breezed through the checkpoint, luckily. So, I waited on the bus – asleep – while everyone else worked their way through customs. The rest of the ride was uneventful. Slept, read, ate McDonald’s – the usual.

I arrived in Concord, NH, at 3PM and my next bus wasn’t until 6:30PM. So, I did a quick kit check and discovered that my headlamp had been crushed in the top of my pack. I stashed my gear at the bus station and set out in search of a new lamp. The only store I could see was, unfortunately, and LL Bean outlet, but they would have what I needed, so I headed in that direction. As I turned the corner, however, an Eastern Mountain Sports came into view and I was relieved. I browsed for a while and headed downtown for some Concord culture, after purchasing a new headlamp. I stopped at a pub called the Barley House and ordered their best local beer and some sweet potato fries. They served me a Tuckerman’s Ale. Tuckerman is the name of a significant ravine on Mount Washington, making it a very apros pos beer to serve me. They brought out enough fries for 6 people, so I offered them up to the bar. I primarily shared them with a lady named Linda, who was there picking up dinner for her and her boyfriend. We talked for about an hour and a half, as her food got cold and her boyfriend called about five times, until I had to catch my next bus. The beer and conversation in Concord were excellent!

Figure 2: My only picture of Concord, NH. It is a historical government building.

Now, I am sitting in the Concord Bus Station waiting for my final leg to Pinkham Notch, NH. I am next to a sleeping homeless man and can’t understand the majority of languages being spoken nearby – it is great to be back on the road!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Training for Spaining – Part 1 – Venturing Above the Tree line

Recent Weather Reports for the Summit of Mount Washington, NH, USA:

28 Nov 09
Weather: Blowing Snow, Freezing Fog
Temperature: 18°F (-8°C)
Wind: NW 100 mph (161km/h)
Visibility: 25 feet (8m)
Ground Conditions: 13" of snow/ice/rime w/ deeper drifts (33cm)

29 Nov 09:
Weather: Blowing Snow, Freezing Fog
Temperature: 12°F (-11°C)
Wind: NW 75 mph (121km/h)
Visibility: 75 feet (23m)
Ground Conditions: 10" of snow/ice/rime w/ deeper drifts (25cm)

Figure 1: Alex and Dan

Dan and I decided that climbing Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, would be good training for our upcoming trip to the Pyrenees. It is renowned for having the worst weather in the world, is truly an alpine climb and is only 7 hours from Kingston. So, last week we decided that this past weekend would be the best time for us to do it. Conditions on the mountain were not looking to be in our favour, but we figured we would go for it anyway. We spent the Thursday night prior sorting gear, packing and loading Dan’s car (an ’89 Honda Civic Hatchback). The next day, I tried to get as much school work done, as I could, and ran some last minute errands. Dan worked hard trying to get out of work as early as he could. Around 1530, Dan called and said he would be picking me up shortly, so I grabbed my gear and got ready to go. We made a few stops on our way to Dan’s house, tying up some loose ends. Once at Dan’s, he searched his house for his backpack, while his mom came out and made sure that I knew how many people had died climbing Mount Washington and that if we got into trouble to make sure we were aware that Dan had an aunt in New Hampshire. I told her everything would be fine, but I don’t think she believed me. Dan got back in the car and we took off.

The first several hours of the drive were uneventful. It was raining and we made our way towards Montreal. We had a Mountain Equipment Co-op stop planned in the itinerary. We had recently decided we would need snowshoes in Europe, so we were planning on getting some. While we were at MEC, we each got a new pair of snowshoes (MSR Denali’s). I also bought a new headlamp and Dan purchased some new socks and cordage. From there, we headed toward the border. About 20km before we hit the border, it started snowing. When I say “it started snowing”, I mean we were surrounded by a white-out condition blizzard. We slowly rolled into the border crossing. All the border guard seemed interested in were our snowshoes, but we couldn’t help him, since we hadn’t even unwrapped them yet. As it was snowing so hard, we decided to pull into the first Vermont rest stop for the night. We bivied on the concrete slab in front of the entrance, since it was well protected from the storm. After a few minutes of gear sorting, so we would be ready to go the next day, we went to sleep. Luckily, our sleep went uninterrupted (I guess the Vermont state troopers had better things to do).

Figure 2: Bivy in Vermont

Figure 3: More bivying in Vermont

The next morning, we packed up and headed to New Hampshire. The ride was quiet until we turned onto the back country road that would lead us to the trailhead. It was icy, muddy and covered in snow. I had to drag logs out of the way so we could pass and Dan had trouble keeping us from sliding out of control. Dan did a superb job driving us through most of the road until we came to a sharper turn than we had previously encountered and began sliding towards a dirt mound on my side. We impacted with a jolt and bounced back into the road. Stopping the car, we got out and inspected the car for damage. Other than a little mud it was fine – HOORAY! The trip continued. Getting back in the car, we slowly made our way to the asphalt ahead. This patch of road took us to the Pinkham Notch Trailhead, which was a lavish visitors centre, kitchen and lodge – complete with a packing room, showers, bathrooms, drying racks and everything anyone ever wishes they had when hiking.

Figure 4: Pinkham B road, before we crashed.

Figure 5: The sign marking the trailhead area.

We signed into the register and took off up the Tuckerman Ravine trail and made our way towards our goal of climbing the Central Gully route. After a few hours of following beaten trails, blazing our own through deep powder and quite a bit of walking, we were close to the base of the actual climb. Unfortunately, at this point in the day, my foot slipped off a rock as we were crossing a stream and got utterly soaked. I stripped my boot and socks off, borrowed one of Dan’s socks, wrapped my foot in the dry bag for the camera and shoved it back in the wet boot. We probably could have continued, but made the decision to bail. I think that this was a good choice. Even though it might have been OK, there was an equally good chance that it would not have turned out OK and we would be the next dumb, unprepared, yahoos who froze their feet off on a little mountain in the North Eastern United States. Plus, I kind of depend on my feet for a lot of things. The descent was quick and painless. Upon arriving back at the trailhead, we stripped down, dried out and ate some hamburgers. After a bit of break, we moved back up the hill. This time, we were totally kitted out for an overnight stay on the mountain. Our plan was to spend the night at a mountain hut and then push for the summit the next morning. The move to the hut was an easy one, even with our larger packs (obviously training works!). The night in the hut was pretty funny. We moved into a hut that already had six other guys in it, mostly speaking Quebecois French. We made some of our pre-packaged meals on the stove and sat down to eat. It was then that I realised these people were soldiers. They were talking about flying a Herc into Cold Lake. So, I joined the conversation as best I could and we talked a bit. It is a small world and always hilarious who you might run into. Soon, we went to sleep, getting ready for an early morning the next day.

Figure 5: Taking a break on Mount Washington.

That early morning we planned on turned into a 0730 wake up. This was much later than anticipated, but OK. We suited up, in what turned out to be damp clothing, due to all the condensation from so many warm bodies in an enclosed hut. Once we were ready to go, we put our little packs on and began moving along the Lion Head trail towards the summit. After a couple of miles of bushwacking we hit the tree line. This is when the views started to get spectacular, but the conditions and climbing started to get more brutal. The wind picked up, it got cold and the ground turned from deep powder to broken rock. We made our way up to the Lion Head and moved across a ridgeline towards the base of the real climbing. This ridge had extreme winds! Dan almost lost a mitt, but I managed to chase it down. We both put our hoods up and kept moving. Following the cairns (piles of rocks that mark the route) was easy at this point. As we continued up the mountain, it became more and more difficult to spot the next cairn, until we couldn’t see any more. This is where we decided to just head straight up the mountain. So, we started front-pointing our way up 50 degree crusty snow – which was a ton of fun. Eventually, we made it to the summit. It was very, very, very, windy and cold up there. We huddled behind an observatory building, snapped some pictures, ate a granola bar and left as soon as we could. The descent went quickly and eventually we were back in the tree line. We met a bunch of groups moving up towards the summit. They all asked for advice on how to best approach the summit and we gave the best we could. Along the way, we grabbed our gear from the hut, stripped down to our base layers and booked it for the car. We dropped our gear in the car, heated up a couple of cans of soup and took off. The drive home was very uneventful. We mostly just talked about what we had done, what we had learned and what we need to work on for our upcoming trip.

Figure 7: Front-pointing our way to the summit.

Figure 8: Us near the summit.

Figure 9: The long way down.

Figure 10: Long...

All in all, it was an excellent adventure; the alpine-style atmosphere of Mount Washington is intoxicating. I can’t wait to go back there in a couple of weeks and am definitely excited to head to the Pyrenees in a few weeks!

Lessons Learned:

-Going down proves faster than going up.
-Always carry spare socks and gore-tex socks (I should have already known this and hope Sgt Gillis isn’t reading this)
-Forget about the upper body – work those quads and calves!
-Slow and steady wins the race. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Other sayings that imply moving slowly is better than moving too fast.
-Lots of people in one mountain hut = lots of condensation.

Figure 11: Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Embrace the suck

5.5’s are normally pretty easy to climb. However, when it is hovering around 5°C, in the shade, with hands that feel like clubs and feet that don’t feel at all, it is slightly different. Combine that with trying to place gear, running it out and difficult routefinding, you have yourself quite the little adventure. This was my yesterday at Bon Echo, in Ontario.

Last week, my friend Mark asked me if I wanted to go to Bon Echo for the weekend. I agreed, but we didn’t have any way of getting there. So, I asked Dan if he wanted to come. He also agreed, but had to be back to work on Sunday morning. He was going to bring Natasha along, who had to work Friday night. So, it degraded down to a day trip on Saturday to Bon Echo. This was OK with everyone, though, since it was significantly cheaper that way.

Dan picked me up at 8:30AM on Saturday morning. From there, we went to the Pizza Pizza at Princess and Division to pick up Mark. The drive was uneventful, as they usually are, and we arrived at the Bon Echo boat launch about an hour an a half later. Racking, prepping and packing our gear in the parking lot, we heard the boat approaching and scuttled down to the dock. We hopped in and so did a couple of others who had arrived just in time. We made our way towards the Alpine Club of Canada hut, which is located on the shore of Mazinaw Lake. Once there, we unloaded the others gear and headed into the hut to fill out some waivers. Strangely, one of Dan’s friends from high school was inside. It was strange not only because he hadn’t seen her in a long time, but because we had actually been talking about her on the car ride up – WEIRD! Anyway, for some reason she had come to climb, but hadn’t brought any ropes or gear, again – WEIRD! So, she was not so subtly trying to convince us to take her and her friend with us. We declined and carried on our way.

Fig. 1 - Racking up in the parking lot (Photo courtesy of Daniel Rudmin)

Fig. 2 - I'm on a boat!

Fig. 3 - Looking down at the boat

We got back in the boat and headed for the rock. We dropped Dan and Natasha off at the base of Birthday Ridge (5.0), which had a nice large area to set up on. Mark and I moved down the cliff to Boris’ Route, which involved hopping out of the boat and onto a small ledge a few meters above the water (which was about 100 feet deep, by the way). Well, we made it and began setting ourselves up to climb. It was very, very, cold at this point. Boris’ Route was completely in the shade and would remain that way (for me at least) until we reached the summit. Mark took off on the first pitch. I belayed in the cold, while he tried to follow the route. Bon Echo is known for difficult route finding. He eventually made it to the first belay. I followed, with the pack, and joined him. We quickly re-racked and I made my way up the second pitch.

Fig 4. - A shot of Bon Echo from Boris' Route

Bon Echo, because it was so cold, now ties Seneca for scariest place to climb, in my books. It was exposed, hard, run out, difficult route finding, and freezing – AKA awesome! I made my way up as best I could until I was in a corner, squirming my way upwards. I was about 20 feet above my last piece – a bad nut – when I realised if I fell, I would be in serious trouble. So, I backed off and managed to find an excellent tri cam placement. I felt much better and headed back up. Eventually, I found the two bolt anchor and tied in. I brought Mark up after he got to enjoy a belay in the sun.

Fig. 5 - Me climbing at Bon Echo (Photo courtesy of Daniel Rudmin)

Mark began moving up the third pitch almost as soon as he reached my stance. He handed me the pack, I handed him some gear and he skedaddled. Like I said, route finding is difficult. Mark found this out by moving up the wrong way on the third pitch, which resulted in a down climb and traverse, but eventually he made it. Moving up to the last move – a small roof – he called out “Hey! There’s ice up here!” to which I replied through chattering teeth “great”. He set up a belay and I followed. Everything went OK, until I got to the roof. I was frozen through, by this point, and couldn’t look up because of the pack. I warmed my hands up by holding them out behind me in the sun, which hadn’t quite reached me yet. Eventually, with Mark’s beta, I found my way through the final move and joined him on top. It was warm, flat and great. We all met up and the four of us dined on some tuna, bagels and trail mix – delicious.

Fig. 6 - Lunching on top.

Fig. 7 - Natasha all trussed up.

We rapped off and met the boat at the base of Birthday Ridge. It took us over to One Pine (5.3). Dan and Natasha took it first. Mark followed them up and I followed him. It was easy. Now that the sun was hitting us it was almost too hot, haha. I met the three of them at a large block, which Dan had wrapped his rope around to build an anchor. We chatted for a minute and Dan started moving up again. Quickly, he was running low on rope. So, we had to build a new anchor, clip into that and take his apart. This gave him barely enough rope to finish the pitch, which was actually the second and third pitch’s linked together. Natasha followed. As soon as she was about 30 feet away, Mark started moving upwards again, since we had used my end of the rope to sling the block – D’oh! He made it about 40 feet before I realised the sun was quickly setting. He had at least 30 more minutes of climbing – minimum – , then I had to follow and we had a 5.0 down climb ahead of us, back to the base of the cliff. We had a decision to make.

Fig. 8 - Dan leading up One Pine.

I called up “I think we need to bail, the sun is going down”. To which I heard “I think you’re right”. So, we told Dan and Natasha to head down without us. Mark fixed a sling and I lowered him down to me, while he cleaned. Then we slung the block, threw the rope and rapped down to a scree-ish slope. From there, we pulled the rope and down climbed to the base of the face. Luckily, we made the decision we did, because it got dark as soon as we were down. We waited about 15 or 20 minutes until Dan, Natasha and the boat arrived. We went back to the base of Birthday Ridge to collect some others. They didn’t materialise soon enough, so the driver of the boat took us back to the boat launch, where we disembarked and thanked him for the ride.

Fig. 9 - Mark and I bailing off One Pine.

Loading back into the car, we took off for home. Along the way, we were stopped by a RIDE program. They looked in and almost immediately sent us on our way. I guess we look like a respectable bunch, or at least not like a gaggle of drunks. Later, we stopped at an A&W, had some dinner and re-racked our gear. We loaded back into the car and made for Kingston. Dan dropped us all off and the trip came to an end.

Fig. 10 - Re-racking at A&W (Photo courtesy of Daniel Rudmin)

It was a great end to a great season. Bon Echo was the last outdoor rock climbing trip of the season, for me anyway. Now we have a month or so of training ahead of us, a few peaks to do in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and then Dan and I are off to the Pyrenees in December. CAN’T WAIT!