Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Moose's Tooth

I’m staring down a blank page.  The stark white triggers a vision of endless glacial expanse, rolling with imagination into a dream of winter that swirls into one great blur…my life has become the dream. 

Approaching the 5,000' East Face of The Moose's Tooth

Since my last entry, I’ve chased down early-season ice in the Rockies and spun through an amazing winter of travel, climbing, and festivals, to recently find myself in the very fortunate position of spending the entire spring season climbing in the Alaska Range.

There’s a lot of catching up to do…

For the moment, I’m going with a quick and dirty report on the most current events and hoping to share the rest of the story in the near future.

An excellent Newswire on covers the new route that ScottAdamson and I climbed on The Moose’s Tooth. and also did a great job of reporting on a very special week on the Buckskin Glacier, where three major new routes went down.  The only spray that I’ll add here is to note that we’ve established the first free route on the face and that it was climbed in a single, 27-hour push. 

I can not stress enough, however, the significance of Scott’s back-to-back first ascents on this massive face – consider this:  on April 11, Scott and I woke at 4am to negative 18f and climbed around 2,500’ before being turned back by a broken tool; on April 12, after nearly 24 hours of continuous movement the day before, we “rested” (read:  sat in camp and drank whiskey until 2am); two hours later, on April 13, we launched again, skiing the two miles from camp to the face in negative 15f and steady 10-15mph head winds, starting what would become a 41-hour odyssey…27 from the bergschund to the top (minus around three for brew-stops, we climbed for 24 continuous hours), 34.5 round trip from the ‘schund and 41 total from waking to returning to camp (tack on a few more for further whiskey consumption).

Apparently, that wasn’t enough – two days later, Scott tied in with Chris Wright for a second trip up the 5,000’ face and another fine FA (stacked with WI6 & M7 pitches) over the course of the next three days.  Let’s hear it for the dark horse - (whistle) heyaah!

Scott Adamson, heading into the business on N.W.S.

Scott Adamson, making short work of the crux climbing

Scott Adamson, 26 hours into it and about to finish the upper ice face

Pete Tapley, summit plateau

Scott Adamson, summit plateau

Two tired but happy choss monkeys

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Grand Scheme

For years I’ve hung my head in shame, every time the inevitable question would arise, “Have you ever climbed The Grand?”

Given the number of high-school kids and tourists that I’ve known to summit, it’s felt embarrassing to answer, “No, nope, never..." sheepishly confessing, "I've been to the saddle a few times.”  With distaste for busy mountains, I’ve always avoided the park during peak-season and have been trounced by hard weather and sketchy snowpack on my half-dozen or so attempts at winter climbing in the Tetons.

Now, alas – I can hold my head high and answer, “Well, sorta...I mean, I’ve skied The Grand...

While the descent has overshadowed the climbing experience, there was certainly a “mountaineering” element know:  lots of slowly-walking-uphill & not-feeling-so-good sorta stuff.  There was a cool stretch of gully ice in the middle, but that seemed to be more of an obstacle to the skiing than a technical challenge.  Mostly, I felt like my legs were very skinny and my cardio weak-sauce at the high elevation - penance for several weeks of either sitting in a bar at sea level, or lounging around base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier...eating far more than the shoveling and short tours burned off.

Chris Ebeling getting his slog on

Eyeing up the Teepee Pillar, sucking wind and hoping for cloud cover

Mid-way through the Chevy Couloir, 200 meters of rolling ice offered respite from the slog

With those weeks of poor weather and inactivity, I had festered for long enough, and only needed a moment on return to empty the duffels and spin some laundry before I was not only ready to get up and move, but simply needed a mission.  Chris Ebeling jumped onboard and we were southbound in a matter of hours.

We made a quick afternoon approach in trail runners, set up camp in the meadows, knocked out another 1,500' to scout the next morning’s approach, then made a scratchy evening run from the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides hut - timing the freeze perfectly for bonus points to round out the day.

Hard, frozen conditions on our way back to camp after the evening scout

Topping out the following afternoon, I was warm & fuzzy and savored the simple pleasure of excellent conditions coupled with steady movement (We clipped the rap stations as running belays…otherwise, I placed only one screw on the sharp end and discovered that despite the apparent contradiction, “mountaineering” can actually produce Type1 Fun – go figure.), then I realized – this time around I was totally comfortable with turns like these being my “first” of the season.  (Full disclosure:  this past winter, I did actually managed three days on my skis, working as photo assistant to Paolo Marchesi, but honestly, hauling around his camera kit, linking perhaps half-a-dozen turns at a time, as we moved from one position to the next, was hardly the same as “going skiing.”

Apparently, the frequency (or infrequency) is paying off…for the last several years, I’ve been having great winter seasons, filled with ice climbing, yet utterly devoid of skiing.  The payoff?  Every spring I end up ski mountaineering someplace rad, and stepping onto the boards for the first time in ten months or more atop some wildly exposed position.  I guess experience breads confidence.

Chris Ebeling, exiting the Chevy Couloir

Chris Ebeling, getting his tourist-pose on

Leaving the summit snowfield, dropping into the Ford Couloir

That said, I was far from rippin’ it up there.  I enjoyed carving some sweet, buttery turns, and even laid into a few – in the good snow – but I also rested plenty on the way down, kept my legs fresh and maintained control with a series of jump turns, and even anchored off my uphill Whippet a few times in between as I caught my breath.

Pausing to suck wind, shortly above the rappels

Feeling good after catching my breath and charging toward the Chevy - good snow and massive exposure:  a delightful combo

The raps were pretty casual to approach, but a shocking junk show of rigging, along with a variety sketch-o pins gave pause to re-think our running belay and meager reinforcement gear on the way up.  We re-set a number of anchors and found a few bomber nut placements in the process.  With the amount of traffic this thing is seeing now, it should tighten up soon.

Chris Ebeling, somewhere in the middle of four 60m rappels - to save weight, we used a single 7.8mm along with a 6mm tag line

Letting 'em run on the Teepee Glacier

Two happy dirtbags, as seen from the meadow camp with The Grand towering above - remember, "If it wasn't for foreshortening, no one would go up on anything..."

All in all, a hoot of a quickie…  We broke camp, jogged down the hill, dosed on caffeine and punched the return drive.  It was just what I needed – a quick and successful adventure fix.  Now then,  to climb something on The Grand…

Point-and-shoot shadow play on the hike out

Friday, June 15, 2012

Seasonal Retro-spray Disorder

Time after time, I seem to be swept away with the changing of seasons and find myself riding the flow of action, lost in the moments.  This winter was no different, with an early start in the Wind River Range leading into a blur of Hyalite Daze:  from my first day back (unexpectedly catching The Matrix with Kyle Rott), through countless more of guiding, shooting and posing down...the blur of – wake up, coffee, grab the kit, make the drive, link up, more coffee, maybe some food, approaching (run, don't walk - it's much warmer), x,y,z...darkness; load the truck, warm up, make the drive (no hurry on this leg), dump the gear, dry the kit, sleep like the dead; wake up dreaming and do it all over again…

A few special days & moments come to mind:

The sense of something magical in store:  as Kyle and I reconnected and began our seasonal journey   the knowing of a brilliant partnership from the beginning, the notion cemented as I see him following our first pitch together and reveling in our good fortune to catch this climb in such wonderful conditions  – a fine start indeed. 

Rejoicing in late-day sun:  enjoying traditional parking lot brews with long-time homie Jay Beyer and new friends, after knocking out another successful shoot with the master of light.

Sterling Rope Love:  the following evening, as our crew of supporters immediately rallied around the images of the day and promptly ran to press with a full-page ad – talk about instant gratification...

Sending the pants off Expanding Horizons with Monkey1 (that's Kyle, btw) and Caroline Treadway behind the lens:  revisiting test piece routes seems to have been a common theme for my winter season, and this was perhaps the most special.  While much of the lower portion of the route has changed, I was thrilled to find ice conditions very similar to that of the first ascent.

I can still picture Alex, the day after establishing the route, wild-eyed and grinning somewhere between Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat, motioning with thumb and index finger closer and closer together, "You gotta dyno and stick this super-thin verglas – it's wicked!!  You should definitely check it out!"  Yeah – I should check it out – yeah…  I did check it out shortly thereafter, and surprised myself, on-sighting past the crux climbing and onto the WI3 finish, only to bumble a tool, watching it drop, plum-line through space, and consequently hanging on an ice screw in order to recover the tool and finish the pitch.

Returning after more than a decade, my expectations were low, but the stoke was high – I fully credit Kyle and Caroline for the send, with their belief and encouragement quietly pushing the rope up from below.  Facing the dire consequence of a 60-foot run-out, I felt calm, in control, and an ocean of confidence washing over me as the soft words “you look super-solid” drifted from Caroline’s fixed line, some 200 feet away…   

Sharing the last day of the season, climbing in good style, with mi amigos:  I could prattle on endlessly in praise of my partners – Kyle’s on-sight of Come & Get It, his flash of The Succubus, or his cool, calculated and ever-strong send of The Far-left of Jeff’s Actual Other-right (yes, inside joke…), where I watched through the camera as Monkey1 transformed from journeyman to master – dancing with danger and flirting disaster through a maze of detached and creaking icicles:  cold, brittle and worn by hard sun…I can recall echoing, “you look super-solid.”  Or there’s Marko’s un-dying loyalty to his friends and honor to his commitments – never have I found a more reliable human. 

To finish my season in the company of these two was an honor and a pleasure; to finish my season with a first ascent and gang soloing was icing on the cake.  After countless years of eyeballing a short mixed line right of Genesis 1, the stars finally aligned to bring the perfect weather pattern and allowed ephemeral passageway.  We established Sarah Jessica Parker in fine choss-monkey style:  timing perfectly the morning temps, climbing on-sight, protecting shattered and re-frozen stone naturally with tiny offsets, beaks, Spectres and small cams – floating with peak-strength past the gently overhanging terrain.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Monkey see, Monkey do

Inspired by the latest Jane's Addiction release, along with the usual apres-climbing libations, I was standing in the shower thinking, and nearly had it...all neatly wrapped in one great understanding of unified theory and master plan, when the shower head started sputtering away some babble of Gonzo Journalism. In retrospect, I can't pass the buck or blame anything on the shower head. It was just doing what it does. I can however, take credit for engaging the discussion to follow.

For some time, I've truly been trying to live the dream - a dreamer's waking dream: lucid, powerful...memorable, yet present. I've made choices (or rather, it seems that climbing has made choices for me); I've made compromises; I've been inspired and I've been challenged. Consistently, I seek to find the most-efficient, cleanest burning method to power my own personal dream machine. Often times, this has meant accepting a low american-standard of living in trade for the freedom to chase these white dragon dreams of wild climbing in wilder places.

For as long as I can remember, I've struggled with the idea of self-promoting my climbing: climbing has always been held at the highest level of importance and respect in my life, much analogous to being my religion, so the notion of any such "impurity" is equitable to sin in my book; yet some argue that we are all sinners anyhow, so why sweat it? Compound this inner struggle with knowing that I am far from the best climber in the world (Unless we're talking about "...the one who is having the most fun." In that case, it is on like Donkey Kong muthafukkaaahs!!), or perhaps view it from the angle that I have a lot of respect for those who came before and you can quickly understand how this whole scam can be a bit tough to swallow.

However, the shower head mentioned something to the effect of Monkey Blogging and how "Good artist borrow, great artist steal." And suddenly, I was slapped across the face by the impatient backhand of understanding - wake up! I finally get it. There is not so much a balancing act between sides, along a line of self-judgement, but an endless grey-scale of possibilities and creativity. I don't really have to worry about it...afterall, given that one's motivations are pure, what's the difference between an un-reported solo ascent and an eleborate produciton for the camera, and does it matter? They are both experiences born of valid artistic expression - in the end, that's what my dream is about.

Gratuitous Climbing Porn

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jack Roberts: It's Been an Honor

Life has a funny way of bringing balance…just as I was beginning to question the sustainability of my recent manic behavior, the issue resolved itself. Mid-morning yesterday, I learned that a dear friend and colleague has passed away. Well, that certainly put the brakes on my mania; I’d been mid-spray, photo editing and simultaneously working out storylines on two separate projects – all centered around ice climbing, of course.

On Sunday, renowned mountain guide and prolific climber Jack Roberts died as the result of a fall on Bridalveil Falls, near Telluride, CO. It took hours for me to begin to understand these facts: Jack fell; Jack died. I spent the rest of my day navigating confused emotions, piecing together details and sorting out hear-say. I am grateful to a number of special people who have reached out, checked in and kept tabs on my well being.

Today, my heart is heavy and I mourn the loss of someone very important to me.

To term this as ironic seems cliché, but that’s all I’ve got in the bank at the moment...  It seems ironic that I sit and write about Jack now, under this pretext, when only a few days ago we were having a dialogue surrounding my proposal to write a profile of Jack: The Climber, perhaps include an anecdote of Jack: My Mentor... Now I am compelled to write of Jack: One of my Favorite People Ever.

At the age of 22 I moved west, chasing dreams and making a pilgrimage to the promised land of Boulder, CO. While still somewhat skittish of climbing’s social construct and quite intimidated by my new surroundings, Jack’s warm smile and those beaming blue eyes found me dumbstruck. Knowing of Jack: The Climber (read: Epic Hero in my young eyes), I didn’t know what to make of his kindness and remember stammering slightly – I mean, didn’t he know that I was a Nobody? I began to see that this was a person of depth and character. I began to realize that he viewed the world with an open heart. Over time, I began to understand that he was observant and had recognized my passion for and connection to the act of climbing, that through this, he already knew me. I didn’t need to be an accomplished climber to be a valid person to Jack or to be considered as a partner. He didn’t keep score that way, instead, Jack paid attention to what really matters – pure motive. The man made me feel confident in my choice to pursue climbing with all of my heart. He encouraged and coached; we shared ropes; we shared beta and we enjoyed the purity of climbing for ourselves.

I left Boulder in 1994 and didn’t see Jack for a few years. Re-connecting at the first Bozeman Ice Festival was a delight. I can remember feeling so proud to work alongside this man who had become my hero, who had become my friend, who had become my mentor. Yet my pride was still only youthful zeal and trapped in my ego – I was so excited to show Jack what a great climber I had become – and the bubble burst when I came to see how this was only the first step along a path. Yet, my enthusiasm kindled again when I realized that instructing with Jack is perhaps one of the greatest honors anyone who guides or teaches can enjoy. The man was a Master when it came to teaching climbing – and my apprenticeship entered its next phase.

I remember too, the honor I felt, once again, when Jack asked if I wanted to sit down for a scotch and talk in more detail about the finer points of the guiding life. Always humble, he delivered one pearl of wisdom after another, gleamed from his many years of dedication to the craft…and he always listened intently to my own recollections or queries.

As the years slipped by, we had our annual to semi-annual reunions…ice festivals, tradeshows, the usual haunts. Each time we connected, I grew a little as a person. Though we didn’t climb together day in and day out, we always remained connected and he was always a few steps ahead, like a kind father-figure, seemingly knowing where I was headed next at any given time, offering wisdom and insights that would help me execute technical moves with daft skill or, far from the myopia of our climbing obsession, sage advice on larger life-matters. I believe Jack had a gift that allowed him to strip away the superficial and understand the true human qualities at work in any situation. Perhaps this is his last lesson for me; I will strive.

Now, as I struggle to close this piece with some semblance of coherency, my mind drifts to the larger spiritual scope and I consider the energy of Jack’s life – such a generous outpouring. What is to become of it now? What shall we do with this glowing ember that is Jack’s memory, his gift to us all? I know I’m not alone in this one, but where do I put the enthusiasm I had for our plans to visit South America? What to do with the inspiration and spinning ideas of all the unfinished projects? How daunting, to consider the task of picking up this torch and carrying forth the good will of Jack’s heart that is left in us all…

Be well.

Special Thanks to Caudia Lopez

Thursday, October 13, 2011


No, not the Ministry classic...though, I guess these events took place around the same time. I'm talking about a story from back in the day, before crows feet and back hair; and, at the risk of crossing genres: "In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man." This is a tale that tells of youthful exuberance and lessons in humility.

So, thanks to David Crothers and Climberism Magazine for the inspiration to share my story of the old days, back home, where it all began.

Head over to Climberism, subscibe (it's a free, ad-supported online mag - and I promise, spam-free as well), then check out issue 8 for my feature article. I'd also love some feedback, good, bad or indiffernt, so please - fire away!

Monday, July 18, 2011

gettin' down and dirty

...hit The Great One (bridger range) with Chris Ebeling the other day and found super-awesome, amazing-sweet turns in the upper couloir; the lower, not so much.  It looks like the wet spring and lower elevation cleaned things out considerably and devastated some of the forest below - pretty gnar.  Regardless, the upper stretch alone is well worth the trip right now.

Here's a quick shot of the bottom feeding:
oh, and remember, head to vimeo if you're down with the hd...