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.