Friday, December 28, 2012

Punta Arenas is the Jumping off Point for Antarctica

My latest adventure is to try and climb Mt Vinson in Antarctica.  Two days ago I flew from Seattle to Punta Arenas at the southern end of Chile.  Punta Arenas is a port city on the Straights of Magellan and is arguably the southernmost city in the world.

Straights of Magellan and Punta Arenas

 Tomorrow morning I fly on a Russian Ilyushiin 76 cargo jet across the Drake Passage to where we land on the Union Glacier in Antarctica.  I get back to Punta Arenas in about two weeks and then I will report on this adventure when I get back

Ilyushin 76 Cargo Jet

The Really Big Drip and Early Ice in the Canadian Rockies

There was a lot of good early season ice this November in the Canadian Rockies.  This was especially true up on Mt Wilson near the Saskatchewan River Crossing on the Icefields Parkway.  Two seldom formed routes, Shooting Star and Dancing with Chaos, were in.  There was minimal avalanche danger with the low snow pack on a mountain that is famous for big slides later in the season.

Dancing with Chaos
 Mark Cosslett and I did both these routes on a couple of trips up there.  We stayed in the Rampart Creek Hostel that was open but empty this time of year.

Mark Cosslett Following the Second Pitch of DWC 

  I had climbed Shooting Star several years ago the last time it formed.  Like my earlier experience, the first pitch was thin and technically getting over some ice blobs at the bottom. 

First Two Pitches of Shooting Star
On my previous ascent I got to lead the free standing pillar on the third pitch which comprised the best climbing on the route.

Third Pitch of Shooting Star
This time Mark had the privilege of going first and putting the rope up for me.  Ice climbs like this are such a special treat!

Mark Cosslett Starting up the Pillar
In the Ghost River area, there is a magical place called the recital hall.  It is a natural amphitheatre that is 200 feet in diameter surrounded by 200 foot high limestone walls.  You can only access it by trekking up a gorge with some short easy ice steps and a final rope length of Grade 4 ice.  Inside there are two seldom formed ice climbs that spill into the Recital Hall to create some of the most beautiful ice formations that I have ever seen.  This year, Rainbow Serpent, a climb on the south side of the Recital Hall had formed, but the other route, Fearful Symmetry, on the north side was only partially formed.   I was with two new German friends, Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt who I met at the International Mountain Summit in the Dolomites in October.  I had climbed both these routes before, so the visitors got to lead and Matthias made quick work of it for a wonderful day out.

Matthias Scherer on Rainbow Serpent

I've always wanted to do the Really Big Drip.  Driving into the Ghost River it stares at you from the wall on the other side.  This year I heard that the lower icicle was hanging lower than usual and that the climb was in good condition.

The Really Big Drip
In mid December I headed in there with Raphael Slawinski and Juan HenrĂ­quez.  My thought was if Raphael wanted to lead that was fine and if I felt good on it I could come back later with someone else and lead some of the pitches myself.

Raphael Slawinski on the 1st Pitch of TRBD
 I felt good following the first pitch even though it was chossy rock.  Stepping onto the dagger was spectacular!  Juan pulled of a huge piece of the loose flake on the first pitch when he followed it.

Raph on TRBD
Above the dagger was a nice bolted belay on a ledge in a protected cave behind the ice.  The second pitch was ice that looked to be overhanging in one section, but were able to sneak past where the overhanging ice was offset making it much easier than it looked.

Squeezing through the Ice to the Outside of the Dagger
The third pitch kicked my ass.  It was rated M7+, but I felt that you needed to be a solid M9 climber (which I'm not) to red point it.  I ended up pulling on some of the bolts to get up and I realized I needed to be much stronger if I was going to lead it.

Raph on the Crux 3rd Pitch
Up on the Thompson Highway there is a great mixed climb called Unicorn next to the classic waterfall called Kittyhawk.

The Unicorn is the Mixed Climb left of Kittyhawk on the Right

Gery Untrasinger and I climbed The Unicorn a few days after I was on TRBD.  I led the first pitch up a technical slab then over the overhang. 

Leading the First Pitch of The Unicorn

The first crux was getting onto the ice above the overhang. 

Climbing the Second Crux
 The next crux was climbing a pillar onto a comfortable belay ledge. 

Gery Unterasinger Squeezes through on the 2nd Pitch

The final pitch benefited from the abundant ice that allowed Gery to stem his way out and through a hole in the far side of the curtain.  It was a great day on the mountains.


I apologize for not updating my blog for some time.  I will try to bring you quickly up to date on summer activities first.
I spent July through September for the most part in Squamish British Columbia.  I consider this area to be the premier destination for North American summer rock climbing.  I'm lucky to have it three and a half hours from my summertime home in Seattle.  It has everything from world class boulder bouldering to amazing multi-pitch trad climbing - all on high quality granite.

Climber on Cruel Shoes on the Grand Wall
   Most of my life I have been an alpine climber and did most of my training for that.  I have taken time to rock climb for only brief periods, and I've never trained specifically for it.  As a result I've struggled to make progress on anything much harder than 5.11+ on a good day.  Before going to Squamish to rock climb
for the summer,  I wanted to learn how to train for it.  I consulted with Tyson Schoene, the coach for the Vertical World team in Seattle.  He gave me week by week training routines during the months of May and June.  In general the workouts consisted of progressively harder endurance and power sessions that took about two and a half hours per day.  At 58 years old I wasn't able to do everything in these regimens without getting injured, nor would I be able to climb as well as I could have if I did this when I was younger.  But I did get stronger.

Grand Wall with The Split Pillar and Sword of Damocles Flake on Left

  By July 5th the wet spring was over and when the sun came out, it did so until October.  During this almost unprecedented spell of dry weather, I journeyed north to try out my body on the cliffs.  Things started slowly as I got accustomed to the movement and placing gear.  By early August I was red pointing 5.11- on long multi-pitch routes like Freeway.  But I ignored one of Tyson's suggestions to keep up my training routines in Squamish by bouldering or going to the rock gym.  It was fun to just go climbing most days with local partners like Geoff Hill and whoever was available mid-week.  By the end of August I red-pointed the 5.12a corner on the Daily Planet, something I hadn't been able to do before. 

Freeway Route on the Tantalus Wall

I set my expectations higher now for a long route like Norther Lights, a 5.11+ to 5.12- route on the North Wall.  To prepare, I went out in early September with Paul Cordy to climb The Alaska Highway, which is the name for the lower half of Northern Lights.  But it was a discouraging outing.  I was weak and incapable of leading anything hard without hanging from my gear.  For the rest of that month I continued to slip to where I now struggled with easy 5.11s. My Squamish time was wonderful, but didn't end like I had hoped.  What went wrong?  I was confused as to why I got so much weaker the last few weeks. 

Northern Walls - Northern Lights Climbs Wall on the Left

I consulted with Tyson once I got back to Seattle and after I explained my regimen he was not surprised by what had happened.  I made several rookie mistakes. 
  • I hadn't structured my climbing time to make sure I was getting a consistent combination of endurance and power training similar to what I was doing beforehand in the gym. 
  • I didn't combine this training with enough rest so that I was ready to send on the days I worked on my hard climbs. 
  • The combination of the above things that led me to get weaker then caused me to lose my motivation. 
I learned that it is possible to work harder but be able to do less.  This is a lesson I knew a lot about for the cardio training I had done for nearly 45 years, but I didn't understand these rules applied to upper body training.  I still have a lot to learn, but maybe I can benefit from this experience and get to a place where I can red point some of my projects before I get too old.