Friday, November 21, 2014

Climbing at Yangshuo

After leaving Wenzhou and the International Outdoor Film Festival in Nanzi River.  Our hosts flew Rufus, Andy, and I to Guilin for three days of climbing at Yangshuo. This region is characterized by Karst towers formed over geologic time from the dissolution of limestone by the rain.  This area would be considered a mature karst landscape because a large amount of bedrock has been removed by this process leaving behind the large towers that are great for climbing.

Karst pinnacles in Yangshuo
Yangshuo is about an hours drive from the airport in Guilin and seems to be the center for climbing on the karst towers. 

Rufus Lusk walking to the "Egg"
Rufus and I arrived at Yangshuo a day before Andy and our host Amanda (her English name).  I was recovering from a hand injury sustained while crack climbing a few weeks previous so I was limited in what I could do.

Rufus leading with Cindi (English name) while Andy Parkin belays me
There was a vibrant Chinese climbing community here with gear shops and guides who took newcomers to their favorite crags.

Chinese climbers cragging scene
It seems like even small towns in China are full of lots of people and Yangshuo was no exception.  It was a busy place with a thriving tourist economy.  But you didn't have to go far outside of town to encounter farming communities whose growing techniques looked like they had not changed in a very long time.

Downtown Yangshuo
I remained surprised that I didn't see any abject poverty anywhere on this trip similar to other developing or emerging economies.  I never saw a panhandler or beggar.  I don't know if poor people were removed from tourist areas or if things were managed so there was enough to go around.  People seemed well dressed and there was a lot of new construction.

Not everyone drives a car - - yet
Our last evening in Yangshou we went to the shop where they have fish in tanks that eat the dead skin off of your feet.  It felt weird and ticklish at first but then I sat there for about an hour and the fish removed only a fraction of the dead skin on my feet.  I think I would need a special 24 hour rate to get most of it removed.

Amanda advising Andy on dead skin eating fish
I'd like to thank all our Chinese hosts, especially Amanda Lu.  We had a great time at a great event and that was mostly due to the superb organization of it all.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Walk for Love, Adventure Race, and Floating the Nanzi River

This is a continuation of my recent post on the mountain film festival in China.  Part of the International Outdoor Film Festival in Nanzi River was a charity event called The Walk for Love.  I understood the money was raised to somehow improve water quality.  They certainly need it as many of the waterways I observed were choked with algae.

My son Jed and me at the start for the Walk of Love
There were about 3000 participants in the Walk for Love, which by Chinese standards is small.  But the level of enthusiasm was high.

The walkers would be protected from the forces of evil
I was impressed by the level of affluence exhibited by the participants.  The last time I was in a major Chinese urban area was 1990.  Back then everyone seemed poor and they were all wearing Mao suits.

Henry Iddon from the Kendal festival in the UK and his friends

The Walk for Love started at a campground and I was impressed by the expensive equipment displayed by these Chinese car campers.

The event was well organized with several aid stations and lots of volunteers.

A young helper at an aid station
The locals were pretty excited about having foreign guests and everyone wanted to have their picture taken with us.

Jed and some of the Walkers for Love
In addition to The Walk for Love, the event had an Adventure Race. It was a 24 hour event that started with a run, then cycling, and finishing with a float down the Nanzi river.

Start of the Adventure Race

Our hosts took us on a float trip on the Nanzi River on the last day and we had a chance to see some of the adventure racers in their home made rafts.

Adventure racers with collapsing raft
Before boarding our raft the sign said people with mental disease, heart disease, hypertension, dementia, and drunk tourists couldn't participate.

Sign before boarding bamboo raft
I've always been amazed at the different types of bathroom facilities around the world.  One of the common differences between what we use in the US and much of the rest of the world is the prevalence of squat toilets.  At the bathroom before we boarded our bamboo rafts, there were universal language signs on the stalls indicating if it was a sit toilet or a squat toilet.

Sign on bathroom stall for a squat toilet
The raft we boarded was pretty rickety and once underway with everyone on board the deck was submerged about six inches.  It didn't matter if it fell apart.  We were wearing life jackets, the river was relatively flat, and the shore was never far away.

Boarding the raft
The drivers float the river by poling through the shallow sections.  When it gets deeper they lower a prop attached to a shaft from a small engine and motor along.  After we were dropped off downstream the drivers motor and pull their rafts back upstream to the starting point.

Our driver

On the river
The food in China is quite different from a lot of other countries I've visited and what we have in Chinese restaurants in the US is very Americanized.  At different times we were served bowls of fish heads, chicken heads, chicken feet, small snails where you suck the insides out, pork fat, and small crabs with the guts included.  But for the most part we were served some very excellent food.

Jed contemplating what he was about to eat


Monday, November 10, 2014

Kendal Film Festival in China

In early October, the climbing and post production teams for the film The Old Breed were invited to Wenzhou China for the International Outdoor Film Festival in Nanzi River. Mark Richey and Freddie Wilkinson could not attend, but Rufus Lusk and I decided to go.  My son Jed also came along with me.

The film festival was on October 24th and we received a rock star reception. We walked up the stairs into the theatre on a gold carpet bordered by red velvet banisters as dozens of Chinese took pictures of us.  It's the closest I'll ever come to being chased by paparazzi.

File Festival Theatre
Inside the theatre we were welcomed by a myriad of festival staff, volunteers, and attendees.

Film Festival ticket collectors
  Jed was pleased that they were handing out free beer.

After the film festival, we got a quick tour of parts of the town as we rode back to our hotel in bicycle rickshaws.

Being an avid golfer, Jed wanted to play a round somewhere on his trip to China so our driver took us up to the Wenzhou Orient Golf and Country Club.

Jed golfing at an exclusive country in Wenzhou
It was a very nice course, but no one was playing when we were there.  They charged us about $220 USD to play (it cost me $60 to just ride around in the cart).  I don't think this was a special rate for foreigners.  It was an exclusive club and there are a lot of very wealthy Chinese who can afford this kind of recreation.  With a population of 1.36 billion, the top 1% of their earners amounts to 13.6 million people.

Jed and his caddy
They assigned a Chinese caddy/cart driver to us whose English name was Kevin. 

Hazards in the rough
Kevin was impressed with Jed's game and asked if he would teach him to golf.

Driving across the ravine
On the next day, Saturday, the festival continued with the Walk for Love, the subject of my next post.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Alpine Mentors Pacific Northwest - Squamish Session

Alpine Mentors (AM) is a national program organized by Steve and Eva House, and Alpine Mentors Pacific Northwest (AMPNW) is regional version of the national program run by a partnership between Alpine Mentors and the American Alpine Club. The program consists of small groups of young alpinists who train and climb with mentors with the aim of achieving climbs perceived to be beyond their reach. AMPNW will operate on a two-year cycle where mentors help the group organize trips that advance their climbing skills with an eye towards being able to complete technical routes in the high mountains. Along the way AMPNW will help connect the group with different mentors from the areas where we climb. 
AMPNW accepted applications for its first two year cycle in the spring of 2014 and the four participants were chosen by late summer. The four participants are:
  • Ryan Cupp
  • Andy Dahlen
  • Alex Ford
  • Jon Rhoderick
The first session was in Squamish in late September. Mentors who helped included:
  •  Perry Beckham
  • Jim Donini
  • Colin Haley
  • Sarah Hart
  • Bob Rogoz
  • Kate Rutherford
  • Steve Swenson
  • Wayne Wallace
We ended up on smaller crags the days after it rained because they were the quickest to dry out.

Alex Ford on Crime of the Century 5.11c
Perry sent us out to the Sheriff's Badge one day because the wall above overhangs enough that we didn't get wet if it rained.

Jon Roderick on Daily Planet 5.12a
Alex nearly sent it!

Alex Ford on Daily Planet 5.12a

We tried to get out on long multi-pitch routes when the weather allowed.  Cruel Shoes-Grand Wall is a great combo.

Jon Rhoderick - Perry's Layback pitch on the Grand Wall 5.11a
The third pitch of Cruel Shoes just above this traverse was wet.  Jon did a few moves of aid and some other shenanigans to get back on dry rock.

Steve Swenson following Jon Rhoderick and Andy Dahlen on Cruel Shoes
Climbing multi-pitch routes in the Bulletheads.

Wayne Wallace mentoring on Kimmo Gold
Getting on some of the classics to work on efficiency.

Colin Haley mentoring on Rock On
Cragging under the overhangs on a rainy day.

Kate Rutherford at Nightmare Rock
We had a great time climbing together even thought the weather was not that great some of the time. 

Jon Rhoderick, Alex Ford, and Ryan Cupp and Mentor Jim Donini

Friday, February 21, 2014

Patagonia - Mojon Rojo and Aguja de l'S

With a prediction of a small good weather spell before I had to fly home, Blake Herrington, Scott Bennett and I teamed up to do a couple of small peaks on the Fitzroy massif above Laguna Sucia. 

L to R - Mojon Rojo, de l"S, St Exupery Raphael, Poincenot, and Fitzroy
On Sunday February 2nd we hiked up to Laguna Sucia with spectacular views of the glacier calving off into the lake. 

Climbing to our bivy above Laguna Sucia
From the lake we headed straight up the hill to a bivouac cave at the edge of the glacier.  Our camp had beautiful views to the east of Laguna Sucia and Laguna De los Tres.

Mojon Rojo
After setting up our tent and eating lunch we made an afternoon ascent of Mojon Rojo.

Scrambling up Mojon Rojo
Climbing on Mojon Rojo was un-roped class 2 climbing.

Scott Bennett on the summit of Mojon Rojo
On the summit tower we roped up for about twenty feet because the exposure on the other side was huge! 
View of Cerro Torre sticking through the clouds from the summit of Mojon Rojo
We descended from Mojon Rojo back to our camp and prepared for an early start the next day.
Aguja de l'S
We got an early start up the glacier with the original intent of trying a route on St Exupery.  But the condition of the glacier and signs that the weather may not hold led us to switch to the east face of Aguja de l'S which is a shorter and easier climb.

Climbing on the Baby Face Route on the East Face of de l'S
We made a rising traverse across the east face on the Baby Face route.  Conditions were near perfect - climbing on firm narrow snow ramps that led over to where we joined the Cara Este Route.

Blake Herrington leading to the top of the summit block
It was easy going and we made rapid progress mostly simul-climbing until the summit block.  Here we encountered what would be easy 5.10 climbing if it was dry.  But all the weeks of bad weather had coated the rock with rime and ice making it a slower and more difficult process of climbing two short pitches to the top.

We rappelled down the Cara Este route and descended back down the glacier to our camp and enjoyed another evening in the mountains before hiking to Chalten on Tuesday February4th. I caught my flight in El Calafate the next day.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Patagonia - Cerro Stanhardt Exocet

The weather in Patagonia this year has been more like the "Old Patagonia".  In recent years there have been periods of extended good weather that, according to the long time Patagonia climbers, were uncharacteristic of the range.  This year there have been only a few brief 1-2 day good weather windows with lower wind speeds and no precipitation.  In many cases climbers have waited for over a month without getting even one of these marginal opportunities to go climbing.

I arrived on January 4th and within 48 hours caught a cold/flu bug that seems to have infected much of the climbers here in El Chalten.  After skipping one marginal window to recuperate, I felt well enough to take advantage of another window on January 17th when Dan Aylward and I hiked just beyond Niponino in the Torre Valley on an attempt to climb the route Exocet on Cerro Standhardt.  Unfortunately I would soon find out that I really hadn't fully recovered from the persistent bug that infected me.

Left to right - Cerro Torre (tallest peak), Torre Egger, Punta Heron, Cerro Standhardt, and the Standhardt Col.  Exocet follows the deep chimney system to the right of the summit.
Walking up the Torre valley we had spectacular views of Cerro Torre that I climbed via the west face last year with J Mills.  We walked past the usual camping spot at Niponino for another hour to the rock island directly below the Stanhardt Col where we placed our tent on a wind protected ledge with great views of Fitzroy across the valley.  We shared the ledge with two Austrian climbers, Gery and Simon who had just come down from an attempt on Exocet.  The first day of warm sun had loosened the rime ice that had been plastered on the rock walls in all the bad weather creating slides of rime into the chimney system making it impossible for them to climb.  They still had energy to make another attempt so we agreed that they should go first and we left our tent at 2:30AM on Saturday the 18th about 30 minutes behind the Austrians.

Steve climbing the short pitch out of the Standhardt Col on rime covered rock
Dan and I climbed by headlamp and reached the Standhardt Col in blustery conditions at dawn.  I climbed a short pitch to the top of the large chockstone wedged in the rick just above the Col.

Dan leading the crux rime covered 5.10 rock pitch above the chockstone
Dan led the crux rock pitch above the chockstone that was a difficult and run out rime covered slab.  There were sections of tenuous friction like climbing with crampons scraping on featureless granite.

On the traverse under the East Face towards the Exocet Chimney.
After a tension traverse at the top of Dan's pitch we moved on easier ground across a long traverse on  snowfields perched above huge walls that dropped off into the valley below.

Dan leading the first pitch in the Exocet Chimney
At the end of the traverse I led a WI 4 slot up to the base of the Exocet Chimney.  The pitch was pouring with rime ice that was melting off the upper walls and I thought we would be turned back by more of the same when we got to the Chimney.  But when I reached the belay off to the side of the main chimney, the rime stopped.

Dan at the first belay in the Chimney.  Note the narrow section in the bottom of the photo.
Dan led the first WI 5 pitch in the Chimney which was narrower and more difficult than I expected.  Unlike waterfall ice climbing, it was hard to move in the Chimney and there was only one way to go.  One section was narrower than the width of our shoulders making it hard to swing our tools into the ice at the back of the chimney.

Steve leading the 2nd pitch in the chimney looking down on Dan at the belay.
I led the second pitch in the Chimney but now I realized that I wasn't really over the cold/flu I had been fighting for the past ten days.  I moved slowly, placing too many ice screws low on the pitch so that I didn't have enough at the top and forcing me to run it out to the belay.  At one point I stopped to make a V-Thread cord of rope in the ice so I had some protection to finish the pitch.  As I finished the pitch the Austrians rappelled by after having reached the summit.  I admired their strength and efficiency in getting up the route in this tight window of good weather and conditions.

View of Poincenot across the valley from the 2nd belay
As Dan climbed up to my belay, I was coughing up phlegm and feeling weak.  When Dan joined me it was 7PM and I felt we were going to slowly, there were still four long difficult pitches above, we could see the wind above us up on the ridge was now raging, and I was sick.  I suggested that in spite of being a few hours from the top that we should go down.  I didn't want to get to the top depleted from being sick and be facing a long unknown descent in the dark with the high winds that were now hitting the mountain.  

 Soon after Dan and I started rappelling it got dark.  But with minimal problems with the rope getting hung up we made the dozen or more rappels by headlamp to get onto the glacier and follow the Austrians tracks to our last rappel over the bergschrund.

We reached our tent around 3AM and three hours later our camp was hit by high winds that signaled an abrupt end to our weather window.  We tried to sleep a bit more, but the severe tent flapping kept us awake so we packed up in the storm and headed down the glacier. 

As we walked down the Torre Glacier the wind gusts of up to 100mph would knock us off our feet.  We would have to hunker down low to the ice to wait for a lull between gusts and then run to get as far as we could before being forced to stop again during the next gust.  We eventually got off the glacier and into the forest where we were protected from the wind.  After a leisurely walk on the Laguna Torre trail we reached Chalten in time to order take out pizza and watch the Seattle Seahawks defeat San Francisco and head for the Superbowl.