So for the past month I have been wandering around Austria, visiting friends, hiking, climbing and eating very well. Sadly, less climbing than hiking but it has still been super. Something I have really come to enjoy while touring some of the endless mountain with names that sound like your trying to cough up a cat, are fixed rope climbs. Here they are called "Kletersteigs" (I am not responsible for any injuries resulting from trying to say this word). I had no idea what they were before this summer so I will explain for the people’s sake. So you have a normal harness on and attached to it are two elastic slings with carabiners at each end. Helmet and Gloves are also a good idea. Then you start up the designated route, climbing on bolted metal rungs. Alongside of the rungs there is a hefty cable to which you attach both of your biners into. Every 10 feet or so the cable is bolted into the face, and you have to unclip and reclip the biners around this point. ONE CARABINER AT A TIME PLEASE. Anyway, the climb goes on in this manner until you reach the top where there is a hike down. Yesterday, I hit up a 1000 feet "Kletersteig". It had overhanging sections as w ell as vertical sections without metal rungs. For climbers it isn't necessarily a huge challenge but its a great work out if your trying to maintain climbing strength. Has anyone heard of or done one of these before? I know there is something similar up the back of Half Dome in Yosemite.
Starstruck - The first people I climbed with here in Austria turned out to be some kind of super hero family. The father is a professor of Bio-Mechanics at the University of Graz. He has the coolest job in the world. He does research on the human body while it is doing extreme sports. Skiing, climbing, gymnastics and everything else. He designed the profile of the most state of the art ski jump in the world and has changed the style of ski jumping through his research. Apart from this he rocks every sport, writes travel books and his name his Wolfram...Could it get any cooler? The daughter is a sponsored free skier who is dating the Austrian bouldering champion, Zlu Haller (in the upcoming movie "Get Naturized" and who previously dated Anna Stohr). And the mother kicked my ass while were climbing... Obviously I fell in love with them immediately and was lucky enough to spend the next week with Zlu and Romy (the Skier-climber Extraordinar duo). We went bouldering next to crystal clear mountain streams rode in rumbling technicolor V W Hippy Vans and drank beer who's recipe hadn't changed since 1500. One day we climbed at a crag who's name I don't remember and as I walked up to the face a saw a professional looking photographer suspended about 50 feet up. I thought this was mighty strange and asked Zlu what was going on... Ten minutes later we found out that Adam Ondra, Patxi Usobiaga Lakunza and Ramon Julian Puigblanque (the three top sport climbers in the world) were climbing there. Adam Ondra looks absolutely nothing like a climber, more like an 8th grader that is awkwardly tall. But damn could he climb. I was too chicken to talk to him but we did we an intense moment of eye contact. Listening to the guttural cries and curses of climbers in (or some type of Slavic language) is hilarious... I recommend it. I hope everyone has been climbing hard this summer, or at least slacklining. I'm looking forward to the next semester at UIUC and all of the crazy fun, supper chill stuff climbing club will accomplish.
P.S. I want a trip report from Kevin and Chrissy.
Doug and I had a very successful trip to CO last week where we climbed the Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak (our goal) and the Northeast face of Arrow Peak (bonus!).
The short version is that we had awesome weather, climbed two amazing mountains, and got back very tired. Long winded trip report follows.
This is the third summer that Doug and I have gotten together to head west and climb a mountain (due to the distinct shortage here in IL). This year neither of us had really trained and we thought something easier would be a good idea. Doug found some awesome pictures of the Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak online and given its mellow grade (only 5.4) and apparently easy
approach (only 8 miles) we had a destination for this year and were feeling confident in spite of our less than copious amounts of training.
We arrived in Durango on Sunday afternoon (after getting pulled over twice on the drive out, watch out if you leave the interstate in KS or CO) and picked up a few last minute necessities. One of the store fronts had a t-shirt with a climber that read: "Confidence: the feeling you have before you fully understand the situation." Funny because its true.
We drove up to Little Molas Lake and spent the night at the trailhead at a little over 10,000 ft. It turns out that this is a lot higher than where we have spent our first nights in the past. We began the approach the next day hauling backpacking supplies for four days of camping and technical climbing gear which makes for heavy loads (fortunately no crampons or ice axes this
year). While the approach is only 8 miles and we would be camping at an elevation only slightly higher at just over 11,000ft, it turned out to be aburly hike. The hardest we have done. You have to hike steeply down from Molas Pass to cross the Animas River and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad before climbing back up the Colorado Trail along Elk Creek.
The Colorado Trail is well maintained, but instead of just following along the creek it climbs up and down the side hill above the creek. After four miles along the creek you have to leave the trail to follow an unmaintained climbers "trail" and climb 1500ft or so into Vestal Basin. This is where the fun begins. Very steep, and lots of trees; not the nice wander through the woods trees (well there were lots of those too) but fallen on the trail trees. Stepping over and ducking under fallen trees with 65lbs gets old fast. And did I mention it was steep?
Anyway, after over 8 hours of hiking we made it into Vestal Basin Monday evening and found a great place to camp with great views of the mountains. We originally planned to do Vestal first to take advantage of the good weather, and beat any altitude issues. But, the combination of lack of training, the high first night, and strenuous terrain left us wiped out. So we declared Tuesday a "rest" day and decided to climb northeast face of Arrow Peak, a classic 3rd class scramble. Turns out the route is tons of fun and highly recommended. We intended to go "fast and light" but settled for "light" and carried only water and a few essentials. The route follows
a gigantic quartzite ramp that is solid rock, but low enough angle to be 3rd class for most of the way. It then becomes blocky easy climbing up to the summit with great views of the Wham Ridge and Vestal and back into the rest of the San Juan Mountains. No problems, just fun.
The next day we wanted to get an early start and tackle the Wham Ridge. Well, it rained that night and everything was wet. When the alarm went off we both grumbled and decided that an extra hour of sleep couldn't hurt, especially if we couldn't climb. We finally got up at first light, and things weren't too wet and the sky was clear. Late start, but we decided to go for it. We scrambled up the scree from our camp to the talus below the route in about an hour. We then headed up a series of grassy ledges to where the climbing starts. This is one of the most spectacular alpine settings I have ever experienced. Very remote and great rocky peaks with alpine lakes and grassy tundra with blooming wildflowers. Doug and I chose a line and started up the easy climbing. Doug got the first lead this year. The route is so low angle that he ran out the rope 100 feet or so before finding some pro and going another 75 feet to a tricky anchor. I took the next pitch and it was also fun and easy and long. Doug took the 3rd pitch,
but by now the clouds were building and we were starting to feel some urgency to get to the summit (and get off). We intended to shoot for a 5.7 variation well left of the ridge, but the anchoring options looked better towards the right side (easier) of the face. I took the next pitch and climbed a shallow dihedral and then a great hand crack on the face. As the terrain became blocky we each did a couple more pitches, and the route finding became tricky. Eventually we had to decide to go left or right around a large block that blocked our view of the upper mountain and we decided to go right. Wrong way. I led up some 4th class to a slightly overhanging bulge with a hand crack, the crack took a couple of good cams so I pulled over it and up into a little saddle where I set up a belay straddling a knife edge ridge. From there we could see that we still had a long way to go and the actual route was down and left from where we were. The weather was looking questionable. We were on the lee side of the mountain and couldn't see what was coming but clouds were building and many of the other peaks were getting rained on. After some debate we decided that rather than go up into uncertain terrain we should down climb to the left to get back on the 4th class route. Doug led the downclimb and then after a couple hundred feet of solid 4th class we made the summit at around 3pm. Much later than we wanted, fortunately from the summit we could see that the weather was going to be fine. We hung around for a while and then started the hike off the back side. This was a lot of loose 3rd class down climbing to the southeast followed by a westward traverse to the saddle between Arrow and Vestal. To get off the saddle we descended a scree slope called the "dues collector". I maintain that scree is named for the noise
you make as you fall down it. This one is a classic (I mean that in the worst way possible). About 1000ft, super loose, and so steep you can hardly stand up. Afterwards, there was plenty of boulder hopping on the talus back to camp to wrap up a tiring but successful day.
We originally talked about climbing a traverse of the Trinity peaks further east in the range, but after three hard days we decided that we didn't have it in us and made a late start on the hike out. Turns out that the hike out is harder to follow than the hike in and we ended up off route
on steep slopes over cliffs. We eventually climbed back up to find the route and scramble back down over and under the trees to Elk Creek and the Colorado Trail. We hiked down and up and down to the Animas River and decided that we couldn't go any further if we wanted to, so we spent the night there in the grass by the river. The next morning we trudged up the switchbacks back to Molas Pass and made it back to the car in a couple of hours on our fifth consecutive day of hard hiking. I'm not sure how many thousands of vertical feet we hiked and climbed this trip.
Since we were out early on Friday, we showered at the campground and headed for Durango for Mexican food. We then drove up to Montrose on the "million dollar highway" and over to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This deep gash in the high Colorado Desert has to be seen to be believed. It's amazing to think about people climbing there, hard core. We spent the night along a random National Forest road near Colorado Springs and then had a long, but uneventful drive home.
Kevin and I just got back from the west. Here is the trip report for our Colorado climbing experience. We learned a ton and I hope others can learn from our experiences. Pictures are available on my Facebook page. Search for me as Marshall Kuypers.
This trip is best described as a learning experience. This was Kevin and my first real attempt at multipitch climbing, as well as any climb with a reasonable (more than a mile) approach. We studied extensively before the trip, consulting reading material and other climbers in the club. We brushed up and practiced rescues, anchor building, and both read Freedom of the Hills cover to cover for new topics such as mountain weather. We set out with high hopes.
We hoped to climb in Estes Park for a warm up on the weekend, then hike in 5 miles to the 5.8 8 pitch South face of Petit Grepon. We would hike in the day before and hit the climb early. The next day, we would hike the 5 miles to the 6 pitch 5.8 Stettner's Ledges by Longs Peak. After reaching Broadway's ledge, we would traverse to Keiners route and finish to the summit. We would then descend on the cable route and finish up with a few rappels. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) our plans changed.
We arrived in Estes Park on the 17th. We set out for Lumpy Ridge to practice some small multipitch before heading on to our bigger projects. Our problems started at the trailhead. We were afraid of running out of gear, and so we brought everything under the sun. We had doubles of cams and nuts, as well as plenty of lockers, some hex, and tricams. We were considering bringing quickdraws and decided why not? There seemed to be no reason to leave them at the car. We also had neglected to check out the skinny ropes from the club, and so we were off with 130m of 10.5 mm deadweight. We set off with too much water, gear, and not enough conditioning. We totally underestimated the effect the altitude would have on us.
We arrived at the base of the 4 pitch 5.7 Osiris. The first pitch was a beautiful climb up a chimney, with thick vertical granite ribs on the outside. Kevin geared up and had a beautiful lead, although the gear sling he was using impeded his progress, and the surplus of gear began to slow us down. He arrived on a ledge and belayed me up. There were many times I thought I was going to suffocate. The bulky pack prevented me from climbing the chimney well, and whenever I got a high foot, the heavy pack prevented me from standing up. I burnt out my arms in the first 50 feet of the 140 foot climb. I got to the ledge and we realized our predicament. I figured Kevin could lead the rest and I could follow, albeit slowly.
A half pitch later, it was too clear that we simply had too much gear with us. We decided to bail, but first, we managed to get a rope stuck on the throw down. I rappelled down, unjammed it, and jugged back up. We were then able to situate the rope safely and exit the climb. On the way down, we clipped some rap rings in order to top rope the next climb over (5.9 George's Tree), which turned out to be my favorite climb of the trip. It was a flared finger and hand crack, which slanted rightward. It took intense concentration and repetitiveness, but was well worth it.
We retreated back to town and called up a few experts to discuss our options. We decided we needed smaller ropes or a pull line, and we needed to ditch the gear sling in favor of racking the harness and keeping slings around the chest. After much more thinking, we decided we didn't want to do our next climb with only one rope, so we would brave the extra weight.
The next day, after nearly hitting a black bear on the drive in, we arrived at the Rocky Mountain National Park. We hiked in the 5 miles to Sky Pond and bivyed under two boulders that formed a small cave. There were more mosquitoes than I have ever seen in my life. The hike up was steep and tiring, but beautiful.
We got up at 4:30 the next morning to blue skies, and lots of wind. We geared up and started the 8 pitch 5.8 South face of Petit Grepon. We opted to scramble up a steep gully and traverse over on a ledge to skip the first pitch in the interest of time. I led the second pitch, which was pretty easy climbing,and brought Kevin up. Kevin began the third pitch, but 30 feet up, we noticed the clouds rolling in. At 8 AM, the sky was already thick with rain clouds. They came right over the mountain and we knew it would be foolish tocontinue. Despite feeling great about the climbing, Kevin backed off and we rappelled down. Just as we hit the talus field, the skies opened up and rain started coming down. We had a wet hike out of the park, but we were 100% confident we had made the right decision. The previous day, some climbers had narrowly missed a lightening storm near the top of the climb. The rain made it treacherous to scramble over the talus field, and we were glad we weren't on the rock.
We had a relaxing hike out and reevaluated our options back in town. Kevin wasn't anywhere near 100% with a terrible cough and a healing sprained ankle. We had planned to climb Stettner's Ledges, a 5.8, 6 pitch climb on Longs peak. The weather looked terrible and we were beginning to grow tired of our lessons. We needed more conditioning, less gear, and different gear (thin ropes). We decided to try and get some good climbing in, instead of hiking the 5 miles into Longs.
We finished by climbing some granite spires North of Estes in an area called the crags. Kevin had some great leads on sharp granite crystals. As we were climbing, we watched a storm envelope Longs peak and were glad to be dry. Lightening started coming down on our ridge just as we were getting to the car.
After coming back from the trip, we learned a few unpleasant facts. A hiker fell 200 feet to his death while trying to descend from Longs peak shortly before we arrived in Colorado. It seems as though he got off route, and possibly was suffering from high altitude sickness. Over the weekend, a climber was on Stettner's Ledges (the route we were going to climb), when he slipped on wet rock and fell 20 feet, badly injuring both ankles. He was eventually helicopter out. Furthermore, Tuesday night, a climber was rappelling off of the diamond on Longs peak. She got off route and was unable to ascend to the next rappel station. She built an anchor and braved a storm until she could be aided by 4 park rangers. She reached relative safely around 3 AM on Wednesday. Had Kevin and I gone up to Longs, we would have arrived just as she became stuck. We would have joined the several other climbers preparing to assist in an evacuation at the base of Longs. People who were there reported 39 degrees, wind, and rain throughout the night. It would have been an interesting night. A few days ago, 16 climbers were rescued in the Grand Tetons when a storm hit. Several sustained injuries from lightening. One climber died. These were all reminders that climbing is dangerous and solidified the fact that Kevin and I made reasonable choices. We backed off when things looked imperfect, and avoided the storms that pummeled others. Accidents happen, and we knew our limits. I'm not saying that any of those people involved in the numerous incidents didn't know when to back off or that they made bad decisions. I just know Kevin and I had our level of acceptable risk, and knew our limits. If we had gone through with Longs, we would have been climbing in conditions that were worse than the climber that fell experienced. Even if you do everything right, mistakes still happen. We were not blinded by lust, and accepted that although we drove quite a long way to get there, that the conditions did not merit the risk.
We didn't summit the climbs we wanted, but this trip was still invaluable. We learned lessons the hard way, and will be incredibly prepared for our next trip. We both stayed safe and had a great time. We learned to condition more for our next trip, take less gear, get the optimal gear, and to back off when we needed to. We also learned that a 35 foot 5.8 in the gym is much easier than a 140 foot 5.8 at 11,000 feet, with a pack on. Lots of things are different on bigger walls, and now we know how to best prepare for them. The trip was great and we had some awesome experiences. I'd encourage anyone who gets the chance to pursue Colorado climbing. It's a whole new beast.
Let Kevin or me know if you have any questions. Thanks to the club for the material support and encouragement.
Submit Your Trip Reports