Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Zion Link Up

Zion National Park, April, 2013

Four Three walls in a day!

Shortly after returning from Canada I packed up my car for a 6 week road trip and headed west. First on the agenda was to meet up with my friend and Trango athlete Quinn Brett in Zion National Park to attempt a link up of four classic wall routes in a day. Yes, four walls in a day... I wasn’t sure if it was possible for us at first, but I was willing to give it my all and see what we could do. Having never climbed in Zion before, the first task was just to get oriented to the area and climb the routes before figuring out how all the pieces would fit together. The idea of climbing four walls in a day was something Quinn and I had pondered for months, and it seemed like the perfect way to train and dial in our speed climbing systems for the next leg of the journey in Yosemite.

Camping in Zion
Day One

After settling in the night before Q and I went to preview Touchstone wall (V, 5.10 C1, 1000’). The plan was to divide the route in half, with myself leading the first block of sustained finger cracks and aid climbing, then let Q finish off the mostly moderate free climbing at the top. I led the first 3 pitches while short fixing in and hour and a half, then we simul rapped off to go check out Space Shot. The plan for Space Shot was the same, I’d take the first half and the aid cruxes while Q would rope gun the easier aid and free climbing at the top. We soloed the first 3 “approach” pitches to Space Shot, looked around a bit, then called it a day.

Touchstone Wall

Day Two

For my second day in Zion, the plan was to climb the super classic Moonlight Buttress (V, 5.10 C1, 1000’). I was super psyched and had been wanting to check out this route for a couple of years. Once again, I led off the first half of the route, including the super sustained 5.12+ dihedral pitches, then turned the led over to Q to finish the route. She had been on Moonlight before, and I was on-sighting. We passed a friendly Canadian team high on the route, who said it was their first wall and they we’re “learning a lot” just from watching us. After 4:07 of pure fun we stood on top one of the most classic routes in the country, and after a quick jog down the trail were enjoying smoothies in town.

Riding the bus to the climb... the look on the ladies face is awesome

Making friends on Moonlight

Day Three

Feeling confident after a 4 hour onsight run up Moonlight, we went back to climb all of Touchstone wall and refine out beta. Things started off smoothly, then I was slowed down at the aid crux, a tricky roof with broken pitons and bad, flaring cracks. After a couple minuets I fiddled in an offset cam and committed. It held as I climbed up into my top step... then POP! I shot backwards for an exciting whipper. Luckily the old broken piton somehow held. I then slowed down and took my time figuring out a secure way of climbing the roof, and took notes on exactly what to do so I’d remember for later. Despite a couple hang ups, we topped out in 3:21. It felt really cool to be climbing these routes that are often done in 2 days in a casual morning

Top of Touchstone

Day Four

Feeling satisfied with the climbing phase of the preparation, it was time to rest up and figure out the logistics for the big day. First would be Space Shot, which would involve onsighting some of the hardest aid of all the routes for me, and some serious trickery to rappel the route. We could then run over to the well rehearsed Touchstone and hopefully blast it before the heat of the day set in. Next would be Moonlight, which offers a chance to cool off wading across the river on the approach and some afternoon shade. If all went well, we could then attempt Monkey Finger, a route that Q had tried before, and was unfortunately injured on after falling and hitting a ledge 6 months before. Getting the permit to drive the bus only loop road was a funny experience. Describing our plan to the ranger at the office only confused him... “your going to do what? I don’t think you guys understand, each of those climbs take at least a day or two”. The ranger couldn’t understand that we would need a permit for multiple parking areas the same day. After some compromising we got a permit to park at big bend and figured that If we ran into trouble later we’d just deal. 

Moonlight Buttress

Day Five

Space Shot
We drove in and started climbing at 6:10 am, soloing the first 3 pitches of Space Shot by headlamp. We were psyched and energized. Despite being nervous about the aid crux my leads went smoothly, the crux went down without any problems thanks in part to bringing along a few ball nuts as secret weapons. We topped out after 3:27 having ran to the official end of the route. We had left a rope fixed from a previous anchor to facilitate a weird sideways rappelling maneuver, which worked until we couldn’t pull the ropes. Q jugged back up to reset the ropes and they pulled the second try. More problems arose, we had to make a sketchy simul pendulum to reach one anchor, couldn’t reach another, and finally got the ropes stuck again on the last rappel. All in all we figured we lost about an hour and we’re feeling stressed - not a good way to start out.

After refueling at the car we stuck with it and headed for Touchstone. We also ran into a friend from Colorado Springs, Lynn, who was biking around and cheering us on that day. Adding to the frustrations of Space Shot, the suspension on my helmut broke, and even though it’s never a good idea to climb without a helmut, especially on a big wall, I felt confident enough to leave it behind. Touchstone went well. I quickly aided the roof that sent me flying a couple days before, and pushed my lead block a little higher then before to a good ledge. Quinn took over and we passed a party up high who was doing a two day ascent. They we’re nice and just relaxed on a ledge when they saw us coming. After paddling up the last pitch I hit the lap on my phone... 2:21!!! An hour faster then our rehearsal climb! Having such a good run on Touchstone lifted our spirits and energized us for Moonlight.

Two down... Two to go! This time we were lucky enough to have the route all to ourselves. I felt that I was settling into an endurance pace, efficient and smooth rather then spastic and rushed. The climbing didn’t feel any faster then the first time, so I was surprised when the lap on my phone read 3:19 at the top. Following one of the last pitches I had a nose bleed, not triggered by anything other then the dry air and physical exertion. I hoped that it would be an isolated occurrence, although usually they aren't. We ran down the Angles Landing trail and picked up a pre stashed burrito waiting in a tree. Starting to feel tired we talked while waiting for the bus, and decided to go for Monkey Finger. 

Monkey Finger
It started getting dark as we scrambled to the base of the route. In the twilight Q started leading, as she was familiar with the start of the route. We would both be onsighting the upper pitches on this one, tired, in the dark, so starting up felt more serious then the previous routes. As Quinn climbed, my nose bleed came back, much worse then before. While I was managing it I nearly lost my glasses, which would of ended our day. Quinn asked If I wanted to bail, I insisted that I was ok to go and could keep climbing. I could tell out collective psych was starting to unravel in the fading light. Dark thoughts of making a mistake up high, falling, getting hurt, wondering if continuing was worth it started up in the back of my mind. But we were so close, only 8 pitches away from accomplishing something only a few had before, names such as Conrad Anker, Mike Pennings, Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, and as far we we knew, no woman as ever done four in a day. I wanted to keep going, and was thinking about this when I heard a scream and the sound of gear clanking together from above. Quinn had fell, pulling a piece of gear right through the soft sandstone and hitting the same ledge that had injured her 6 months before. Without any discussion we knew that was it. Quinn rappelled down, we pulled the ropes and went home.

This time, bailing didn’t feel that bad. It was obvious that we made the right call. Even though we “failed” in our original goal, we had a great day, had a lot of fun, and did climb three walls in a total time of 12:23! 

Zion Link Up from Buster Jesik on Vimeo.

Monday, January 21, 2013

2013 Ouray Ice Fest

There are a few annual events upon which my year revolves. Most will recognize holidays such as new years and the 4th of july to mark the year, while others prefer to measure time around vacations and events. For 14 years my annual tradition has been the Ouray Ice Festival. This event has become the premier gathering of ice climbers and alpinists from around the world. For years I’v dreamed about some day being good enough to compete in the mixed competition. This year, with some encouragement from others, I decided to give it a shot and apply!

Training in Vail. Photo Ryan Vachon

Venturing into the M11 second pitch of Redbull and Vodka. Photo Ryan Vachon

Unfortunately I was not selected for this years comp. It is a very competitive event, with several climbers flying in from Europe this year to have a chance at this year’s larger purse. The silver lining was that some of my friends, including fellow Alpine Mentors participant Marianne were accepted. Also, Vince Anderson, the route setter for the comp, was psyched to have me along with the other non-competing AM participants forerun the comp route. I found the mixed rock and ice climbing to be a breeze, but discovered I have much to learn about climbing dangling logs.  

After representing AM at the annual fundraiser dinner friday night, we awoke to a cold Saturday to cheer on our friends in the comp, including Marianne.   

Marianne, Steve, and Ines and the fundraiser dinner

Eva House, Colin, Buster, and Steven

The log turned out to the be downfall of most the competitors, only the top two sent the whole route. Marianne did awesome and ended up second in the woman’s field, and third in the speed competition. Over all it was the busiest time I’v ever had at the ice fest, but it was a pretty cool experience representing and talking about Alpine Mentors. Now, I just need to figure out a way to hang a log somewhere and learn to climb it for next year...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ouray Part two - Ice

Eye the sweet spot, line up the swing, tap once, twice, third time a little harder... Ice climbing appears "easy" and "monotonous" to the die hard rock climber, but what can't be conveyed by watching someone else climb is the refined sense of balance, precision, and subtly required to really climb ice well. After years of practice the the motions become second nature and the ice becomes predictable. Little techniques like cleaning your lower tool from a hanging position, stepping down to rest, and pivoting your heels out can add up and turn what was once a desperate pumpfest into a casual, relaxing pitch.

I find it very rewarding and engaging to coach others on ice, but its also nice to get out and practice my own swing from time to time. In Ouray I had the privilege of getting on some back country classics with solid partners. Jeremiah and I climbed in the ice park as well as Whorehouse hoses in Silverton and Horsetail Falls just above Ouray, the latter taking us 1:45 car to car. Fellow Alpine Mentors padawan Steven and I did some quality climbing on Camp Bird Road, including the route Skylight in thin early season conditions, most likely the first time that route has seen action this year. All the way from North Carolina, Fox Mountain Guides Karsten and Lindsay went to Silverton to climb the classic Whorehouse Hoses. I was psyched to go back at redo this climb that has been in great condition lately.

After a week of climbing I felt solid and confident on ice once again... soon I'll be heading back to reunite with the other padawans, master Jedi Steve, and hopefully the good Dr Doom himself for the annual party the is the Ouray Ice Fest. Although disappointed that I didn't make the cut for the mixed competition this year, Im psyched for my friends who did and will be there to cheer them on!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

BC skiing in Ouray

After much deliberation, Jeremiah owner of (Colorado Climbing Company) and I choose to head west to Ouray and take advantage of some winter break time... I suggested we bring our skis along as a back up plan, although secretly I was more psyched to ski then ice climb for once!

After 10+ years of tele skiing, I switched back to the "dark side" last year, sacrificing the fluidity and grace of telemark skiing for the versatility and power of AT skiing. Even with new gear and high psych I only managed a couple of marginal ski days last season, and wanted to make up for it this year. All that was needed was some snow, some free time, and some solid backcountry partners. The stars finally aligned down in Ouray, and the powder god's even gave us a little treat.

8'' of pow from the night before

Not only did skiing sound fun, but skinning uphill is probably my favorite mountain workout of all time. I can rarely motivate my self to go hike up a hill for training purposes, but strap cool gear to your feet and add snow to the equation and I get motivated to plow uphill pretty quickly. The best way to get in good shape for the mountains is to get out and go uphill at a steady pace for a long time. Having spent most of my time in the climbing gym or at Shelf Road lately, my fingers felt strong, but to get ready for upcoming alpine trips I really needed to put in some hours huffing upwards.

Jeremiah, local ski monster Chris, fellow alpine mentors participant Steven and I set out on what would end up being one of my best ski days in recent memory-

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ole #6

Ole #6

Of all the forms of climbing, traditional mixed climbing has to be one of the weirdest, least comfortable, and least popular disciplines. Scratching around on rock with ice gear that could pop without warning above gear that is usually placed in rock to chossy for any rock climber to bother with requires a bit of a different personality. Even more rare is the climber who goes out and seeks out new routes of this type. This fall, a handful of local Colorado Springs climbers diligently went up Pikes Peak almost every weekend in search of new routes, or at least routes that hadn't yet been climbed with tools and 'poons. One such climb put up by some friends of mine was named Ole #6. When the uber-psyched Noah McKelvin contacted me about giving this thing a go I couldn't say no. I was able to onsite the whole route, while Noah took a couple exciting but safe alpine-whips.

-Heres a short video I put together about out climb!

Ole #6 - Mixed Climbing on Pikes Peak from Buster Jesik on Vimeo.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bird Brain Boulevard

In climbing, all it takes is one moment for the whole world to change. As Micah started up the second pitch, we were feeling strong and confident. All the stars seem to be aligned... the weather was good, the route was in, and the avalanche danger was low. Then, in an instant, the world changed. “Rock!” Micah’s foot hold gave way, releasing a volley of grapefruit sized chunks. With no where to hide in the tight gully, I hunkered down and felt the adrenaline take hold. As the missiles bounced off my helmet and my shoulders my weight came on the our belay anchor, a meager cam and my tools placed optimistically in a patch of neve. The cam popped without even slowing me down. Seconds went by, I nervously waited for the shock to subside and the pain to creep in. I could move my arms... no blood anywhere... the tools mercifully held in place...

“Ha! that woke me up!” I said to MIcah, assuring that I was undamaged. “Might as well keep climbing”.

Bird Brain Boulevard is a scrappy mixed chimney system just minuets above Ouray. Approximately one thousand feet high, and with Spartan protection options, this traditional route embodies alpine style adventure in an area known for the most convenient ice climbing in the world and cutting edge roadside mixed clip-ups. It is somewhat of a right of passage for a Colorado alpinist, one in which the crux may be breaking through the routes grim reputation and having the confidence to give it a go.

Along with the requisite slideshows and partying, (a rare event for me) an honest attempt at Bird Brain would be my mission for the Ouray Ice Fest this year. The news of friends succeeding on the route earlier in the season added inspiration and confidence to this mission, one that I had in the back of my mind for a few years now. 

Our plan was to climb the route in two chunks, Micah leading the first, me the second. The first “pitch” was seventy meters of low angle snow and rock that we simul climbed with no protection. After the excitement of the second pitch, Micah was faced with one of the routes trademark features, a skinny, delicate ice column about ten feet high and only a foot wide. After giving it a good look, he committed to the moves, so focused that he nearly forgot to place protection once the crux had been pulled.

My block began with an enjoyable mixed corner. My fear of taking the sharp end dissolved into calm focus, partly because movement took less effort having traded the burden of our single shared pack off with my partner. After running up some easy ground I faced another crux, a chockstone that created an overhanging corner with thin icicles dripping from one side. Getting a solid cam behind the chockstone gave me the freedom to casually hook my way up the thin ice and torque my steel appendages into the featured, cracked rock. I didn’t intend to run out of rope, but the going was good, so I kept going... putting trust in my partner to not pull us both off in a fall. We ended up linking two pitches by simul climbing, which is a great way to climb... as long as nothing goes wrong!

The next obstacle and perhaps Bird Brain’s most recognizable section was the classic chockstone traverse. Here, the plum line is blocked by a house sized boulder, requiring circumnavigation via a classic steep ice step, ramps and ledges, and a not so classic choss corner held together with decaying moss. I Broke it into two pitches, using some of the only fixed gear on the route as an anchor. “Hinterstoisser!” Micah exclaimed as I led across the exposed ledge, referencing the famous sideways maneuver on the Eiger. This led to a blind step into a chimney that yielded only one cam for protection. The climbing was secure though, due in part to being well rehearsed at chimney groveling in crampons from the lower pitches. Feeling a bit chilled and satisfied with my time on the sharp end, I offered the last pitch to my partner, if nothing else then to relieve him of the pack and to spend a few minuets in my belay parka. A few more scrapes of steel on rock, a few more moves of chimney squirming, and we had finished the climb!   

Despite the routes reputation, and our brief scare with the rockfall, we both felt the route to be a fairly casual day out. We topped out at 1pm, leaving ample daylight for the descent. All in all, it was a bit anti-climatic. Maybe Im partly desensitized to long climbs, but at the top there was none of the satisfaction that comes after a good fight in the mountains, just a casual feeling of completion along with a little bit of surprise that it was over so soon.

The descent took more effort then anticipated. It was by no means epic, but did involve some problem solving, including a down lead of the last few meters of the Ribbon, and the construction of a v-thread rappel anchor. The humor of the situation was not lost on me. All that we had done, the fear, the focus, the planning, the execution of a dream by a competent pair of climbers, was now lost in the silly task of trying to fish a piece of nylon through an ice tunnel with a modified coat hanger. This was possibly the task in which we had the most difficulty. All we had to do was hook the rope end with the coat hanger and we would soon be in town sipping celebratory beers. After a few attempts and many agonizing seconds of precision fumbling Micah send the crux of our descent, delivering us safely back to the land of beers and hot tubs in the vacation alpinism paradise that is Ouray.