Final days amongst a special place

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Oh how I’m going to miss Indian Creek, as I write this I should be packing my place into storage in preparation for the uncertain road ahead.  But, I just can’t help wanting to take a few minutes to share some on my final highs of life in Utah.  I started climbing when I was about 14, maybe a little sooner, I also did my first lead at age 14, a two pitch bolted 5.4 on Table Rock NC.  Yet somehow with as long as I’ve been climbing it took me until last October to get to Indian Creek to experience what all the hype was about.  On day one I was in love, not just with the climbing but every last thing about IC.  I live for the alpine, my perfect world but, IC is a very special place that allows the same feelings without needing the commitment from partners for my alpine objectives.  Past the climbing the community of climbers amongst IC is just amazing, and I consider those I meet there to instantly be family.  I’ve now been there solo more than once and with a pre-established group more than once, and every time has been amazing.  This last weekend I once again returned, when I shouldn’t have as I have an immense work load to accomplish and get rolling but I just had too, one last time.  This time the group was as amazing as ever and I can’t think of one dull moment, and only one time where the torments of life tried to drag me away mentally but the life of the group was able to keep me laughing without even knowing I was about to slip.  Everybody has their own reason for IC, some go to push their limit on lead, others to work on the technique, and some like myself that find themselves completely content just being there whether they climb or not.

So to those that made my brief yet needed last visit to that special place one of the best climbing experiences I have had I thank you.

Haley, Messa, Chad, Kellie, Bryan, and Reuben I cannot thank enough for the experience you guys are amazing! Never stop being yourselves.

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A Turning Point on Cope Mountain

Cope Mountain

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/sf-johnston/5980747262/ )

 

It’s always best to record details as soon as one can after an event, yet in this post I break that rule. In my defense the tale I’m about to tell was accomplished long before the cyber world started taking to blogs to share our ventures. I started writing this sage shortly after the climb only to put it on the shelf save it on an old floppy disk and then proceed to getting rid of the only computer that could open the disk I had saved it on… Oh well, but luckily this tale isn’t so much about the details of the climb, but rather the significance it has had on my climbing since.
It all started on a blue bird New Year’s Eve in Kodiak Alaska 2002. I knew it was going to be my last winter on the island and wanted to enjoy as many more climbs and summits as I could manage. Ironically the most appealing peak I knew of was Cope Mountain, a perfect knife edge ridge leading to the summit, and probably the least climbed mountain of all the easily accessible peaks of the immediate Kodiak area. So why not crank it out, I had done many winter ascents on Kodiak solo without issue and this one was just too good to pass up.
In typical fashion when my alarm went off in the morning I slept right through it having had a late night before hand and by the time I got up the morning was almost over. Assuming the ridge would only take a few hours I quickly threw a bag together (minus a boat load of necessary gear) and headed off, thinking about how I was going to approach Cope. Best plan I could muster was parking off the end of Old Woman and bushwhacking in. Parked, pack on, I headed off in the general direction of the mountain only to get off track during the bushwhack and head way to far West costing myself easy access to the ridge. Luckily I found the creek running the North base of Cope completely frozen over making for fast travel, but instead of heading south east for the ridge I traveled upstream paralleling Copes north face. At this point I was figuring things just weren’t going well and the day was going to result in a bust. But, shortly thereafter I stumbled upon something I thought couldn’t exist so low on Kodiak, ICE! I stared dang near at sea level and hadn’t gained much altitude yet so the very sight of ice so low turned into something I had no will power to say no to.
57⁰ 43’ 49” North 152⁰ 36’ 15” West
For anyone that wants to use Google earth to see where the ice flow stared from, unfortunately I didn’t own a decent camera to take climbing back in this period of my life.

The flow looked like a fun little WI3 route so up I started, ice climbing for the first time since moving to Kodiak 2 winters prior. The flow was a little thin, but all in all a really fun route, most of it only one to two meters wide at most and tame enough to free solo up without thinking too much about it. I estimated the ice took me about half way up the face back when I climbed it, so a little under 1500 vertical. From there the real work started, all reaming vertical of the face was steep, and completely covered in sugar light snow. I kept both ice tools out gripping them by their heads while trying to claw my way up the face. I didn’t get very far before realizing I might not be able to claw the remaining distance, honestly it felt like every foot I tried to claw up resulted in me sliding back two feet. It was in this though that everything about my climbing would change, thinking about bailing… my options were to keep going for the summit, which wasn’t going well past the ice, or down climb what I had already ascended. However I felt even more unsure of down climbing then I did about my chances of continuing the climb, all that gear I hadn’t brought included a rope so I couldn’t rap off either. To the east was a horrific looking rock outcropping that looked even more treacherous then the first two options, and to the west only took me further away from any path of escape. Without intending to I had put myself in a commitment climb, one where the only real choice was to accomplish the route, retreat wasn’t an option. This is the kind of situation where many people will start to freeze up not knowing what to do, surprisingly I thought about the situation but never really stopped, never openly questioned, I continued clawing my way up. The further I clawed the steeper it became, then shortly before attaining the ridge I was smiled on from above. Looking up at one of the last exposed rock outcroppings before the ridge I saw the biggest mountain goat staring down at me that I have seen to date. I took it as a positive sign and continued climbing until finally grabbing the ridge with a sigh of relief, pulling myself up the last step and then straddling the ridge with one leg off the north side and one off the south, sitting as comfortable as I would a chair at home. I stayed sitting for a while, or at least what seemed like a decent amount of time, looking down to see the Goat had an entire family, who were traversing the snow field about 150 feet below me.
After making the ridge and insight of the summit was when I realize the next mistake I’d made. On one hand straddling the ridge while the sun set on New Year’s Eve in Alaska was quite the experience, on the other with the sun setting was when I realized I didn’t have a head lamp with me…….. or any light for that matter…… I was going to be down climbing in the dark with no light. I had decided before making the ridge that the best descent was the south face, much more tame than what I had climbed and more than likely much more tame than the ridge too. This decision actually worked out quite well until reaching the base at Sargent Creek which wasn’t frozen over, thus soaking my boots and beyond while I still had several miles to hike out to where I’d parked. Luckily everything after the creek was following the wonderful Kodiak roads that I was extremely familiar with in this area.

The biggest part about this climb for me was the mental state I was in after realizing that I had unintentionally induced a commitment climb. Where this might not have been the most significant mountain to date I consider it one of my greatest climbs, no one climbs the North face of Cope. Kodiak is a island with a very small population and very very few inhabitants climb, also with it being Alaska and the mountains staying under 5k for the most part, no climbers travel there for the purpose of climbing. Had I been unable to finish the route things would have gone very badly, my best chance would have been trying to emergency bivy for the night, which I wasn’t prepared for, and hoping a helicopter might spot me the next day. That’s not an option I ever want to take, and to make it worse my point of contact did call SAR when I didn’t return on time but he told SAR I was on a completely different mountain. When the call went out a couple local hikers were called that considered going out on the wrong mountain, and when the correct mountain became known every single one of them backed out saying no way in hell were they going on that terrain. Thankfully while all the misinformation was going around I was doing what I do best, never give up.

Reality Calling on the Diamond

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Hearing the cracking overhead followed by the all too familiar sound similiar to a helicopters rotor, I don’t look I just tuck in as close to the wall as I can get and wait.  The wait where a fraction of a second becomes an eternity, waiting for the carnage to end, the waiting for the unknown of the future yet to come, until it becomes the past.  Finally the loud slap two feet to my side as the chunk of ice hits the rock exploding into further fragments shooting all around me as I watch the chunks descend down the path I had come up, I call out ICE!! Wait a second then call down to Jordan, making sure he is still with me and hear him call back that he’s good. Then it’s back to business as I slide the gibbs back down the working part of the rope holding the brake that’s running through a pulley attached to the gibbs in a modified Z drag setup, pull up hard giving an assist to Jordan below to help him conquer the moves that the pack is determined to refuse him of.  Its pitch 4 of the Casual Route on The Diamond, and so far its business as usual for such a fine day amongst reality.

Moments later I hear the call out “One the Casual” and I look over to the Canadian team on D1 and call back, the seconder asks if any teams are on route behind us to which I reply no.  The lead was holding a large rock that came loose when she went to pull it, so with no one on route below us she called it and released it. The sound it made achieving terminal velocity was like a missile, flying straight down 200 feet to my left, it dropped out of site then I heard the explosion as it collided with Broadway.  Man what a day it was turning out to be.  Later in the day, um I mean evening/night we would cross paths with the Canadian team again and get the beta of the D1 being a very seldom climbed route and thus full of choss and moss as to be expected on a wet alpine route.  The Casual wasn’t exactly a dry route either, in fact the frequency of ice fall had become a common occurrence at this point to which we’d almost become numb to knowing its distinct sound when falling vs that of a rock.  The ice had formed over night when the temperatures had plummeted well below freezing and created not only ice to fall when the morning sun hit the wall but also fresh rocks that had slowly been loosening over centuries on the face, one freeze and thaw at a time.  Neither rock nor ice fall discriminate in attempting to cost a climber anything from a fresh set of undies all the way to the ultimate price of life its self. And this day both were trying very hard to accomplish just that. Yet every time another projectile came flying down I tucked in and kept doing what I do, belaying my second.

Climbing the Diamond was a dream first rooted when I began climbing in my early teenage years.  Stemming from my mentor who had climbed the casual back in the day, and the comments my friends would make about the Diamond and that Jim had climbed it before.  The dream was amplified when I climbed the Kieners route in 08 with Jims son, putting me right on the edge of the great wall without actually climbing it.  After getting that close, its image was ingrained in my head, haunting my dreams, all I was lacking was the confidence to climb it and a partner willing to tackle it with me.  Unfortunately the years that followed the Kieners were not kind to my climbing, riddled with chaos of being a student and the deceit of a she devil doing all they could to micro manage my life to the point I no longer had one.  Luckily the she devil was finally seen for what they are and I started my return to the vertical world early on for the 2012 season, although I never thought at the beginning of the year that this would be the year.  Once the ropes came out I progressively remembered everything that climbing had meant and its importance in my life, I made new friends, new rope buddies, sources of beta, hell I even was part of a decent epic.  But the bottle had been uncorked, like an alcoholic taking a pull from the bottle after years of sobriety, the pull I felt was unstoppable and only getting on a climb could satisfy the urge.  At first I felt satisfied in the climbs I was doing but as the summer progressed I felt less and less satisfied and that wonderful image kept creeping back into the mind, so what was I supposed to do?  At first I mapped out how much time I felt was left for a safe weather window, who might be willing to climb it with me that I’d be comfortable doing it with, and could I really do it.  From there I started getting a bit upset, agro on a daily basis and determined that I just had to hit it up, there was still time but I was still lacking a partner.  So I dug through my network, all of who decided they were busy or didn’t feel they could pull the grade, many of who are fairly new to trad climbing.  This lead to an increase of fustrations and ultimately I did what any proper climbing bum with a goal and no rope buddy would do, posted on Mountain Project…..   ugh what a challenge that can be, and being the Diamond I really wanted to at least meet my potential rope buddy first.  Days went by with no serious takers until I saw someone else posting about needing partners for the Creek and that they were coming from Estes Park *light bulb*  make a deal with the devil right? If I’ll climb with them at the Creek will they be willing to climb with me on the diamond?  After all it’s in their back yard….  And enter Jordan!  Unfortunately climbing with Jordan was a huge roll of the dice having never met one another until the parking lot with no idea if we’d play nice or tear each other apart like rabid animals of different species.  Honestly what kind of climber gets the bright idea to have a first MP date on a climb like the Diamond?! Mind you being aware of the possible issues only added to the stress level going in, as it would or at least should for any level headed climber.  Luckily as soon as I first saw Jordan stepping out of his truck all my worries about his climbing went away now it was time to see if we could play nice, and in my favor we did!

I had decided before driving east that I wanted to bivy as I’d be driving through the night to get to RMNP and didn’t want to go straight into the wall in that condition, so I’d reserved the bivy spot on Broadway to break things up.  With a late start from the parking lot and failing light when we got to the bolder field that was not to be and instead we proceeded up Camel gully to bivy at Chasm View, and what a view it is!  But it was also cold, and I’m no stranger to miserably cold but this cold was horrible.  So throw out the bivy gear get some grub and get in the sack, and then hours later wake up late and feel good about it.  After getting up we condensed what we needed into my bag and were about to string the rappel when a local team hiking in for a car to car push showed up and managed to string the rings as we were flaking out our rope….  Oh well there goes having the first of the day spot but still no big issue.  They clear rap one so we string and get ready to rap and Jordan lets me know He’s forgotten his gloves.  Damn I think to myself…  this could suck but he seems like a good sport and is still willing to give it a go so in we rap.  3 raps later we’re on Broadway and beginning to head towards our route, as we arrive the local team is still getting up and going, but they’re going to simu the first 3 pitches and should outrun the hell out of us after they get going.  The leader launches, climbs until the ropes almost all out and then the second begins his launch.

what better view to wake up to, knowing that its time to climb.

what better view to wake up to, knowing that its time to climb.

Now its party time, get the gear ready, Jordan and I talk about a game plan which we really didn’t have, just climb right? I decide to take the first lead, and as I’m racking up I take my first hit form ice fall, a golf ball sized piece right to the back of my hand.  That shouldn’t matter though, honestly who needs hands to climb pfft.  Racked up, sore hand, but full of enthusiasm time to launch! First pitch sends easy, so easy in fact that I didn’t even think about pitching out until I caught the seconder if front of me just finishing the second pitch and from below I hear Jordan calling out remaining rope lengths….  Ooops I think to myself, I should pitch out and let Jordan have some play time.  He follows quickly behind joking about my run out gear placements, gets up to the belay, I pass off the remaining rack to him and suggest he link through the end of the traverse pitch, which he does a splendid job of, mind you staying hot on the heels of the team ahead of us, telling him where to set up shop for the belay.  Mind you when he’d launched I had the pack on the belay and he didn’t have his jacket with him, a mistake that would catch up to both of us.  So I launch to follow the end of pitch 2 and the traverse, the supposed 5.9 finger cracks seemed a bit funky but not really .9….  The traverse was a heady pitch though, especially when the beta Jordan was calling back was that of someone on the better side of a foot taller than myself, tall man beta he’d say with a big ol’ grin.  Once finally clearing around and into sight of Jordan as I was making the trickiest move of the traverse and joking about taking a huge swing if I peeled as worst case, only to have Jordan reply that it’d probably rip out the horn he was doing a hanging belay from.  I look over and really start to question, the horn was the obvious belay point with all the old ratty cordage on it but really?!?!  Mind you I also knew a team the day before had knocked loose a loveseat sized block that had filled the entire boulder field with dust from its violent demise upon meeting Broadway, and we’re slung to a wobbly horn, right there.  To make it worse, with Jordan not having gloves, or his jacket, and sitting in his harness the whole time I was following AND hanging out in the wind exposed to everything he was in bad shape for being on a wall.  His solution was for me to take the lead and get the next ledge as quick as possible, I insisted that he get his jacket on while I took lead, but that wasn’t going to help his legs and their limited blood flow due to the sit.  Rack up, where’s the 3? “ Oh its on my other side I don’t think I can get to it just lead out the next pitch and we’ll rerack up there”..  ok, who needs a 3 anyways!  And off I go, shouldn’t have been that hard of a pitch but damn to first squeeze chimney!  All was going great right up until I went to exit out of the chimney to end up stuck at the hips, the amount of profanity that came out would make a sailor ears bleed, I was stuck from all my racked gear damit.  So I embrace being stuck a bit, relax and start shifting the gear I can get off, damn that gibbs, wtf did I bring it screams though my head.  After its shifted I manage to do a little, ok a lot of wiggling until I’m free above the pinch and back to climbing, up up and away, at least for now.  About 4 pieces later I went for a move only to have my toe break out costing me the move, oh shit oh shit, reverse the hands, but the hands weren’t going to hold it, oh shit! Desperately clinging and calling back to Jordan to get ready for it as my finger lock greased and my pathetic excuse for a hand jam started pulling, I knew I was about to fly.

A couple things to consider right now

  1. the fall I’m about to take is my first real lead fall since my accident in Colorado, so figuring the last time I’d fallen put a plate and 6 screws in my arm, one must not fall!
  2. I was taught a bit Ol’ School, NEVER FALL!!!!  this isn’t that wienie sport climbing mumbo gumbo backed up by bolts protecting your whips and always where you need them, this is alpine trad where an injury from a fall can be fatal for the entire team.  Note* refer to falling on trad gear vs. car crash analogy (not yet written but it will be in the tabs before long)
  3. My rope of choice for alpine is a Joker 9.1mm supposedly requiring a modern xp style belay device, you know the ones with extra bite to hold a skinnier rope, Jordan was giving me a catch with an old tube style device…..
  4. remember that #3???  would have been nice to protect the move I am getting schooled by….

So as everything lets loose and I start to fly I must have been pretty deliberate in announcing my fall, later in the day I’d find out the Canadians heard the call clear as day on their route.   Always a funny thing when whipping by your placement, ever try to count them on the way down?  Thankfully all my worries were not to be this time, 3 pieces down everything caught as gently as a TR catch, but damn did that throw my head for a loop, I picked this route because I was sure I could lead every pitch without incident and here I just whipped for the first time in years.  Bye bye onsight, to make it worse Jordan gave me a ratchet back up and I resend the figgin move like it’s a 5.4 with a different foot hold thinking to myself WTH Scott, WTH. From there the rest of the pitch sends with ease, all the way up to the cave belay before the dihedral pitch, which is covered in ice, soppy wet, and getting blasted by ice fall, once again landing on the heels of the team in front of us.  I take a look at the glassy ice and decide to stay a little more exposed to belay on good ground, belay set.

Jordan’s turn to climb, he’s out of sight but we can still easily call back and fourth.  He starts off well, at least from my end on the belay, but when he gets to the chimney he starts to hate me, while sending it I had placed a nut inside the chimney.  With the pack on he couldn’t get deep enough in to get to it and requested a little help getting up so he wouldn’t have to go too deep inside.  Now I know why I brought my gibbs!  What a simple way to use a rope grab off a guide style belay and almost instantly create a 3-1 straight off the belay!  But man is it work, by the time he hits the belay ledge I’m feeling worked, mind you my water was in the pack he had since the hanging belay.  But, he’s worked too due to the cold exposure and sitting on the hanging belay the whole time, smart climbers would have considered bailing from here, on the other hand we were enthusiastic climbers this day…..  We talk it over and Jordan wants me to keep lead rather than flip flop on this one, let him rest up on the good ledge, in the back of my head I’m thinking this is supposed to be the great pitch of the climb.  After sending it I will say the dihedral is by far the greats pitch of 5.8 anyone could ever ask for! What an amazing climb, it was steep the whole time, to get a rest I always had to get creative ie head and shoulder wedges and the likes, and it was long.  Don’t ask me what I was thinking but for some reason when racking at the truck I’d gotten the bright idea that 7 extendable draws would be plenty, five draws up I started to say oh shit use the cams like in the Creek!  Only a couple cams left and oh shit how can I make more biners to use the passive pro!  My hands were in bad shape, dehydration left them cramping up so my thumbs would lock down solid.  This happened once when I needed to use my hand for a jam, my other hand was hanging onto the wall and I literally had to resort to biting the end of my thumb to unlock it so I could sink the hand for a jam and keep going.  65m after the launch of that pitch I was beyond content, but it wasn’t over yet.

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Once again I spend my belay time giving Jordan a little help from above, the pack might as well have been a big wall pig that we were wearing instead of hauling.  Without much issue Jordan makes it up to the belay, arriving to give me compliments about my technique getting through the dihedral, about how he’d watched as I did all sorts of foot work stemming here jamming there and the likes, and it felt good to get those compliments, Jordans a good climber who on an ordinary day will hand my arse to me with ease, I don’t claim to lead 5.11 trad or sport.  From there it’s into the crux pitch, Jordan opts to lead so he won’t have the pack in the squeeze and I am A OK with it, so he goes left and finds a way to start off the bivy ledge, heads up makes the squeeze look easy and decides afterwards that he’s short on gear to finish the pitch so he pitches out in between the squeeze and the crux moves.  At this point I’m tired, I walk over to where he launched and think to myself HTH did he go up there, then again his reach is far longer than mine so a ten plus finger crack going to nothing then coming back he could reach past, myself on the other hand, can you say hangdog?  Looking at route beta after wards we hadn’t gone far enough left to gain the proper 5.9 finger crack route and instead he’d lead clean something much harder.  The chimney went easyish for me as I slung the pack on a 60cm sling off my belay loop and followed Jordan’s advice to just frog right up it.  From there it’s into the crux, the days getting late, it looks like weather is coming in and both of us are downright destroyed, nearly out of water and next to no food since the day had begun.  I just remember Jordan telling me to just go for it, French it or what ever had to be done lets just get off this wall, and inside my head completely agreeing with him.  The downside however was that with pitching out right before the crux creates the hazard of going for the hardest move of the entire route risking a factor 2 fall, or option B place a #2 where you would otherwise have a fantastic hand jam and reduce the possible fall factor to 1, but have to pull that yellow to establish into the crux, I went for plan B without hesitation, I was loving it but I wanted off that wall.  Ironically 15 feet later I was at table ledge, found the piton and called back to Jordan, “hey you want to hear something awesome?” he responds with “what?” “OFF BELAY” I yell as loud as I can even though he’s maybe 20 vertical feet below me, thankfully he saw the humor in it, and responded saying if he knew the pitch ended there he would have just gone for it.  So he follows up and I turn the belay to put him back on lead and send him across the table ledge traverse, he stitches it.  Following with the pack however had its issues at least with the head, I established into it not liking the pro being spread and walking a #1 with me in the crack like reaiding an aid traverse pitch, but all and all it was over, the Diamond had been accomplished.

Maybe 30 minutes later we were on the summit of Longs right at sunset, originally we’d gone there thinking we could knock out the wall in 2-4 hours, instead it turned into almost 11.  We’d both run out of water and food, and luckily we ran into the Canadians on the summit.  They knew the north face descent very well and they had functioning head lamps.  From this point on the crux of escape was the boulder field, Jordan’s headlamp had died, so we had one light between us both and five plus miles to exit completely in the dark with a storm coming in (i.e. no moon…..)  it was past 2 am when we got out to the parking lot and went our separate ways, unfortunately I didn’t make it to the creek while Jordan was there but I remain hopeful he’ll go again in the spring as the Creek has been my home this fall, home to Prepare myself for a better ascent of the Diamond next year.

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I drove back to view Longs the next day, The whole North Face had been covered in snow that night, we got out literally with a storm on our heals.

Gear list
RACK
BD cams .2-3 doubles .5-1
BD stoppers 1.5 set
Pink through blue Tri cams- 3 total
7 apline draws
Petzl Ange S gear end
Petzl Ange L rope end
BD 60 cm dynema slings
2 4’ tied nylon runners
2 edelwiess 7mm 12’ cordeletts
6 BD oval wire gate carabiners
2 BD positron locking carabiners (1 for PAS, 1 for random)
1 Gibbs ascender
1 pulley
1 BD Rock lock (connect gibbs and pulley)
1 BD ATC Guide
1 Omega Pacific Big Jake belay carabiner
1 Metolious PAS
Mammut Ophir 3 harness
Grivel Salamander helmet

ROPE
70M Beal Joker 9.1
70M 6mm static tag line
PACK
BD Axis 33
90 oz camelback bladder
BIVY GEAR
Mountainsmith 40 degree synthetic sleeping bag
Old School Ridge Rest
Homemade Event Bivy sack Thanks Mom!
Jetboil
Katadyn water filter
Grivel Condor self-arrest ski pole
FOOTWEAR
Lasportiva Ganda Guides
Lasportiva TC Pros
CLOTHING
Patagucci R1 shirt and pants
Capilene long sleeve shirt
Powerstretch base layer pants
OR Granite Pants- Oldie but goodie!
Patagucci Down sweatshirt-hooded
Marmot Precipe jacket
2 pairs socks, one light one heavy
BD Dry Tool gloves
Beanie