Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Father and Daughter Climb the East Face of Mount Whitney

I met John and Kara (17) at the Whitney Portal campground to begin our Father/Daughter climb of the East Face of Mt. Whitney.  After a hearty dinner at the Portal Store we turned in for the night, but not before we had a bear traipse right through camp.  The next morning found us enjoying a grand breakfast at the Portal Store.  After stuffing ourselves we packed up and hiked up to camp above Upper Boyscout Lake.  The approach hike for the East Face includes amazing views, scrambling, berry eating, and roughly 3000 feet of gain.  After setting up camp Kara showed off her new cooking skills she learned on her summer NOLS course.  We hit the sack early for out planned 3am start.  The morning came quickly and with the light of the crescent moon we launched from camp at 4am.  Most of the approach to the base of the climb was done in the dark and we found ourselves racking up just as the alpenglow hit the rock.  We started rock climbing around 6am and thirteen pitches later found ourselves on the summit.  After some snacks and a register singing we descended the Mountaineers Route back to camp.  Day three had a leisurely 6am start, a tasty breakfast, and an enjoyable descent back to the cars.  The East Face is truly a classic climb and being able to share it with John and Kara was awesome.  Great job team!  
Dinner at the Portal Store

Breakfast the next morning, watch out for the pancakes!

John, me (Neil), and Kara at the start of the approach.

Still lot's of water.

The Ledges.

Kara and John with Whitney in the background.

Kara demonstrating her superior backcountry cooking skills. 

Alpine start: 4am

The sun starting to rise.

John and Kara in alpinglow as we rack up.

The Tower Traverse.

Kara is all smiles after the Fresh Air Traverse.

Kara and John at the bottom of the Grand Staircase.

Top of the Grand Staircase.

Kara on the ridge close to the summit.

Summit! 14,497

Descending the Mountaineers Route.

Back to camp.

Checking the packs to see how much weight we lost.

Full Circle.


Friday, August 19, 2011

SMG Alps 2011 Jungfrau

 After our recovery day we decided to head back up to the Monchsjoch hut and give the Jungfrau a try.  The weather forcast didn’t look great but we thought if it didn’t snow too much we might get enough clear weather to give it a shot.  We rode the train back up to the Jungfrau Joch station and found it full of Mammut guides, people dressed in traditional 1800’s climbing gear, and lot’s of hubbub. We came to find out that it was the 200th anniversary of the 1st ascent of the Jungfrau that day.  There had been as many as 150 people on the summit, some in the old gear, and all in questionable weather. There had been helicopters and news reporters and it was quite a scene.  The weather was rainy so John and I stayed in the station and had some lunch. After lunch we hiked back to the Monchsjoch Hut and checked in.  There had been a lot of cancellations because of the weather so thankfully the hut wasn’t too busy.  Just the night before they had been packed to the gills for the 200th anniversary climb.  We had a great dinner and went to bed early for the 3am wakeup.  During the night I could hear the wind and snow battering the hut and at 3 we were in a cloud and it was still snowing.  The forecast called for clearing but even after breakfast the weather had not let up. I sent John back to bed and told him I would come and get him when it was time to go.  4:00, 4:30, 5:00, 5:30, and finally 6:00, were all the times I got up to check the weather.  There were two other guides looking to climb the Jungfrau as well and to this point no one had left yet.  At 6 I saw a faint clearing and got John up for an attempt.  We got organized quickly and were the first ones out the door for the day.  We were in a cloud as we trekked towards the Jungfrau but the closer we got the nicer it became, until we were treated to a beautiful sunrise blanketing the summit of the Jungfrau.  The previous nights snow had erased all the tracks from the 200th anniversary climb and John and I broke trail towards our objective.  We knew we needed to move as our weather window and late start only allowed a short time to reach the summit and return before the threat of wet avalanches and post holing would shut us down.  We climbed smoothly and efficiently through the steep sections and found ourselves alone and first on the summit that day by 10:30.  After some summit shots, great views, and seeing that the weather was coming back in we started our descent.  We made it back to the Jungrau Joch by lunch and seeing the forecast decided to head back down to Grindelwald.  We had a great climb on an amazing peak.
The deck on the Jungfrau.

John on his way back up to the Monchsjoch Hut

John with the Gross Fisherhorn in the background.

New snow on the summit morning sunrise blanketing the Mammut basecamp.

John is ready for action.

The Clearing sunrise with the Jungfrau on the Right.

Looking down glacier.

Mixed climbing in new snow on rock.

John making it look easy.

John is all smiles with the Monch in the background.

Steep snow climbing.

John on the upper summit ridge.

Graupel was piled up from the storm the day before.

John on the summit.

Jungfrau 4158m!

The Norwegian group coming up the final ridge.  They were the only other group to summit that day.

Exposure?  I think so!

Heading back to the Jungfrau Joch.

Crossing the ropes to civilization.

Celebration Rosti.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Packing for a Multi-day Ridge Traverse

So, something about a multi-day ridge traverse has captured your attention. Maybe it's a 2-day itinerary on Lone Pine Peak, the 4 day version of the Palisade Traverse, or something bigger and further out there. In any case, you want to cover some ground and be ready for technical climbing. You will spend cool nights at altitude, burn lots of calories, and carry all of your gear the entire time. A trip like the Palisade Traverse requires the ultimate expression of "fast and light" packing strategies. The first, easiest, and cheapest way to lighten one's load is to leave stuff behind. Then one must choose gear that is multi-purpose. Then one should consider some of the more specialized gear. Here is an annotated list of personal gear one should have for a trip like this. For now, lets ignore group gear considerations (rope, rack, cooking kit, first aid and repair) and focus on individual gear and clothing.

  • Pack: Choose a small, simple pack, and leave behind what won't fit in it. Now, a 25-35 liter pack will be stuffed tight as a drum, but that makes for a rigid package that stiffens the whole outfit. That means you can (and should) choose a frameless version, one that can contain a tri-folded piece of closed-cell foam as "framesheet" and sleeping pad. Bam, many pounds saved right there! Models we like: ArcTeryx Cierzo 25 or 35. Cold Cold World Ozone or Valdez.
  • Sleeping Pad: see above. If you absolutely must have something inflatable and complicated, choose one of the lightest, smallest pads you can. Like the Thermarest NeoAir. Size small.
  • Sleeping Bag: Down-filled, rated to 30 or 40 F. About a trillion options here. Pack it in a plastic-bag-lined compression sack. Squish that guy to the density of a rock.
  • Shelter: Bivy Sack or tarp. Less than a pound, no poles or silliness like that. With Sierra Ridges we simply don't camp high in poor weather. Poor weather brings electricity, and no bivy sack is lightning-safe. Keep it super minimalist. What we like: Brooks Range ultralight tarps. Solo size, or share a bigger one with your partner. Or the Outdoor Research Aurora Bivy.
  • Helmet: your choice, but realize that the lightest options are half the weight of the heaviest.
  • Harness: Lightweight, minimalist. The Camp Alp 95, at just over 3 ounces, is the extreme expression of this. But the Black Diamond Couloir and the Camp Air harnesses both come in around 8 ounces and are far more durable and versatile. Your choice.
  • Carabiners: Each person should have a pair of lockers. Tiny lockers are light, but less versatile. Your huge lockers from that Denali expedition in '94 weight probably twice what they need to, and who knows what has happened to them since Kurt Cobain died. Grab a pair of modern, small, pear-shaped 'biners. Like the Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner.
  • Belay device: Learn to belay and rappel without a device. Or throw in a small, simple multi-purpose device. Like the BD ATC Guide.
  • Chalk, rock shoes, tape gloves, etc.: you'll be surprised how climbing alpine rock without these things isn't all that bad. Leave 'em at home.
  • Early season Footwear: Early season you'll want mountain boots. Lightweight, low-profile, uninsulated, dedicated mountaineering boots. The go-to is La Sportiva's Trango Evo S GTX, but other companies make excellent entries in this category.
  • No snow? What to use on your feet? If conditions require no steep snow or ice, don't hesitate to go to approach shoes. Get 'em in high-top configuration to keep the scree out and fit 'em with a compromise between walking comfort and climbing performance. We like Evolv Maximus shoes for High Sierra scrambling, off-trail travel, and technical ridge-climbing.
  • Gaiters: Nah. Just rig some elastic to your pant cuffs to keep them down snug over your shoes.
  • Socks: Wear-a-day, Air-a-day. 2 pairs max.
  • Pants: Mid-weight, softshell dedicated climbing pants. OR Cirque pants are great, as are any number of comparable offerings. Maybe add long underwear if the forecast is unseasonably cold.
  • Upper body: Here, the options are limitless. Start with a synthetic t-shirt. Then add 3-4 more layers, the more hoods the better. One of which should be an ultralight, truly waterproof shell. OR's Helium Jacket is one choice. Another of your 3 or 4 layers should be a light-weight puffy jacket. Less than one pound, again, ideally with a hood. Then a lightweight fleece and/or a long-sleeve base layer and/or an ultralight soft-shell. Hoods all around, sound like a broken record?
  • Hat: No need if you have all those hoods! Maybe a sun-hat for the approach.
  • Gloves: One pair, ultralight. Consider work-style gloves for durability and dexterity. Jed really likes "Ironclad Cold Conditions Gloves."

East Face Mount Whitney, August 1-3, 2011

Tom and Suzy dropped their kids off for summer camp and "relaxed" with us and and ascent of Whitney's classic East Face route.

We headed up in the clearing after a major "monsoon" rain and thunderstorm event. Roads and trails washed out, clouds dissipating from the peaks, accumulated hail decorating the peaks- it was a unique and exciting privilege to witness the power without compromising our climbing objective.

Here's Whitney clearing out on our climbing morning:
The rest of the trip flowed by with smooth and efficient climbing, comfortable belays and transitions, and a dearth of photography. The East Face of Whitney is a timeless experience, an experience much the same as when it was first climbed in 1931.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

SMG Alps 2011 Post #13 Jungfrau Joch

 After a hearty breakfast we boarded the Jungfrau Joch railway train that tunnels through the Eiger to over 11,000 ft.  There is always a strange mix of tourists and climbers on the train and this was no exception.  After an hour and forty minutes of climbing up through the mountain we arrived at the Jungfrau Joch station.  Truly a tourists paradise. You can eat in any number of restaurants, check out the terrace, ice cave, go skiing, sledding, do the glacier zip line, take a ride in a charter plane, and much more.  The Jungfrau Joch hosts about 3000 people a day and it is always amazing to go from the crowds out onto the glacier and the relative calm of nature.  John and I hiked to the Monchjoc Hut and sat down for some lunch.  John wasn’t feeling well (altitude and we think some food poisoning) so we ended up going back down the Kleine Shideg and stayed the night at a great hotel (Grindelwaldblik) overlooking the North Face of  the Eiger. The next day John started to feel human again and we decided to head up to the Via Ferata on the Eiger.  We had a great climb with great views.
Looking at the Jungfrau from the window of the Jungrau Joch train.

Looking through the window at the North Face of the Eiger from the train tunnel.

Hiking through the tunnels at the station to get to the glacier.

Mammut was having a 150 year anniversary celebration kickoff event and had this base camp set up on the glacier.

John hiking towards the Monchsjoch hut in the background.

People lining up for plane rides.

John feeling the food poisoning and altitude!

Looking at a new avalanche on the Jungfrau.

Grindelwaldblik at Kleine Schideg.

A view of the West Face of the Eiger with some Swiss National lawn mowing champions in the foreground.

John Standing in front of the Norwand.

Heading up to the Via Ferata.  You can see the first sets of ladders.

John enjoying the Iron Road.

About half way up there was a tunnel to the train if you need to escape weather.

John coming up the upper portions of the Via Ferata.

The summit of the Rotstock.

John on the edge of the summit.

Heading back down to the Eiger Glacier station.

Time for a coffee at the station.

Eiger Glacier station with the West Face of the Eiger in the background.

The foot bathing pool on the trail down.  The Swiss know what's up.

The North Face of the Eiger in the evening light.