Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Does It Take To Become A Competent Trad Leader?

This year, more than ever before, I've been working with lots of climbers that want to be self-sufficient. They have learned to climb indoors and want the ability to climb outdoors on their own. The climbers I've trained,
both in the Gunks and in western Massachusetts, have varied from nearly new gym climbers wanting to learn how to toprope outside to experienced outdoor climbers looking to become solid traditional leaders. I've cautiously given some folks the go-ahead to climb on their own, while others I would confidently swing leads with at most crags. I often wonder how this will affect our business as guides, as many of these climbers will not become regular guests. Mostly, however, I'm glad that people want to learn how to do things in the safest possible manner.

Recently, I've had the big realization that climbing, as many long-time climbers know it, is really changing. I think much of this has to do with the way many new climbers are introduced to climbing (in climbing gyms) and with how movement skills can quickly surpass one's ability to make good decisions while outdoor climbing (climbing is now viewed as a "sport"). How to manage these changes is the topic for another discussion (coming soon).

Working with so many new climbers who are eager to learn has helped shape my thoughts about how much experience one should have before they begin leading. So, what should one do in preparation for becoming a traditional leader? Below are a few things you can do to make the transition from gym climbing or toproping to leading trad routes as smooth and safe as possible.

What should I do to start becoming a traditional leader?

You should probably start by toproping at traditionally protected toprope crags (you build your own natural and gear anchors to toprope with) before you lead. This season I've had one or two individuals interested in trad leading who've never climbed outside before. This is highly unrealistic and I generally try to steer the objectives for the day(s) towards toproping in situations like this. You need to learn about a lot - things like foot placement, different climbing materials and their respective behavioral properties, rock quality and route finding. Getting a feel for different crags will help you understand risk management, what the objective and subjective hazards are at each place and how to operate safely in a variety of environments. Climbing different types of rock will help you improve your movement skills.

Climb outdoors a lot before starting to lead

Understanding gear placements, as a result of following
other leaders, is an important step toward becoming
a leader
How many days should one climb before considering leading? This is a hard question to answer. It would be challenging, and potentially hypocritical of me to give a concrete figure. Many folks I know began leading almost right away. They were also young, had a high aptitude for the sport, and had relatively low perception of risk (thanks to testosterone and a lack of frontal brain lobe development). This isn't the route I'd suggest. The most successful new leaders I've worked with have already climbed outdoors a lot - they have somewhere in the vicinity of 50-75 days of outdoor trad climbing experience. Think about that number. That's a full year of being a weekend warrior climbing 25-35 weekends, or it's a bunch of weekends plus a few climbing trips. If that seems like a lot, that's because it is, but that's also what it's going to take to be successful. Most new leaders that find success are committed to the sport and find themselves outside climbing at least 2-4 times a month and also get to a gym during the week to maintain their movement skills.

Find Good Partners

It's hard to find people to climb with outdoors. What do I do? It is hard to find good outdoor partners. This is reality. After 18 years of climbing I have only a handful of partners I'd trust in any situation. This is one of the biggest challenges as a climber.

Honestly, the process of meeting trustworthy partners slows your progress and that's OK. It will allow you to process and digest what you're learning, meet new people and become part of a great community. When you do meet partners you trust they'll mentor you and you'll begin to learn a lot and grow as a climber. Mentorship is probably the single most valuable way to make gains as a trad climber. Find a mentor and learn. Don't forget to become a mentor and give back when you're able.

Carry A Lot of the Right Gear

When you first start out buying all the gear seems daunting and costly. Many people do it one piece at a time. This is fine, but don't skimp on gear. Do some research and spend the extra cash (a few really experienced climbers have scoffed at me for telling people to buy top of the line gear) and you won't be disappointed.

As a new leader you need more gear, not less. The east coast standard, a single rack of cams and nuts, only works when you are comfortable on the terrain you're leading. It's probably better to have a double rack of cams, especially the most popular sizes. It's also useful to have a lot of long runners, not quickdraws. Quickdraws work very well once you can manage rope drag, but it's easy to absolutely hose yourself if you're not careful.

As a new leader, a 70-meter rope is useless. Focus on short pitches that allow you to place lots of gear and communicate easily with your partner. Save long pitches for later on, once you're comfortable on the terrain you're leading.

Do Your Homework

How do I get to the climbs? How do I get down? Are there any belay/pitch-length strategies? Any special crux gear? 

There's nothing I dislike more than a beta spraydown at the cliff. I can't stand it when people shout information at me or others at the crag. Beforehand though, I do as much research as possible. Check the internet and ask locals/friends about the routes you want to do. There are multiple guidebooks available for many crags in the East. There's information all over the internet, and there are even pretty good apps, like Mountain Project, available for smartphones.

Seek Qualified Instruction

Last, but not least, consider hiring a professionally trained guide to help you. Hiring a guide can help you learn more quickly. Look for AMGA trained, certified guides, and have them guide you for a few days of outdoor instruction to set you on the right path. 

Ryan Stefiuk is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide living in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is the only AMGA Certified Rock Guide offering guiding and instruction in Massachusetts.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Android App Review - My Tracks

Apple might be the king of friendly user interfaces. Most people I know that don't want to think about their technology get an Iphone. However, if what you're after is access to raw data, to unadulterated information, Google will be your best friend. Personally, I'm a data geek and I'm comfortable using a slightly more complicated, less "pretty" user interface.

As a runner, the "exercise app" concept seems compelling. Being able to track pace, progress, heart rate, grade and elevation gain/loss is nice. Being able to do it on trail runs with your phone, which you might carry as a camera and as an emergency communication method is useful. I keep my phone in a stretchy case on my left arm during efforts less than a few hours, and in my BD Magnum on my back during longer efforts.

With all of the other exercise apps out there, why did I choose Google My Tracks? There are a lot of reasons, which I'm going to outline below:
  • The app is simple, and will record your movement regardless of your activity
  • All of the crap from many of the other exercise apps is not included - there's no additional account setup, no Facebook sharing option, no advertising, no inaccurate calorie counter and no link to my music (like I don't know where that is on my phone??)
  • You can autosave your workouts to Google Drive
  • Your tracks can be exported as KML, GPX or CSV files
  • It runs in the background, and can be used in airplane mode to conserve battery life - the battery life is very good when used this way.
  • It works well with other activities besides running.
I've only been using My Tracks for trail runs, especially the kind that gain and lose a lot of elevation. It's helpful here because it seems to give me an idea of pace (usually pretty slow when the terrain is rugged). I'm looking forward to using is on an upcoming run/climb/run/bike effort in NH in the upcoming weeks.

The map tab, set to show mile splits
The charts tab, which graphs elevation
gain/loss and speed on the same graph

The stats tab, showing a lot of useful

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Previewing the Pfalz Point Trail Challenge Course

Yesterday I previewed the Pfalz Point Challenge course. I've been training for this race for most of the summer, and it was fun to finally run the course. I didn't bring an official map though, and I pretty quickly found myself lost halfway through, in the loops around Guyot Hill.

I'm looking forward to the race next Sunday. Miles 3 and 7, which have significant uphills on singletrack, will likely be the most challenging sections. Mile 3 is particularly challenging, as there's a whole lot of race still left to run. Mile 7 is followed by nearly 2 miles of downhill on carriage roads, so it seems like less of an issue.

Over the past few months I've begun carrying my phone with during my longer trail runs. The Google app My Tracks is one of my new favorites. I'll be reviewing it in an upcoming post. Here are a few screenshots from the day, which provide good details about the course profile.

You can see where I got lost at
the bottom of the image

My Tracks may not be pretty
but it provides good graphs and

Friday, September 13, 2013

Bugaboos - Day 11 - East Face of Bugaboo Spire, Down and Out

Wake up comes way too soon. Lawrence motivates us though. I'm glad to have his partnership during times like these. It's chilly out, and the sky is clear. The forescast is calling for 36 hours of clear weather. We've been eyeing the Cooper-Gran route on the East Face of Bugaboo Spire, a beautiful looking shallow corner system which climbs one of the biggest faces you can see from camp. Just after daylight we roll out of camp.

We scrap around on the slope below the face. It's icy yet we resist the urge to put our crampons on. By the time we reach the face it becomes apparent that we would have saved time by putting our crampons on right away. I needed to chop steps up the last 30 feet of snow.

I take the first lead and find a big right facing corner system which will take us to a large traverse ledge. From there we traverse two ropelengths along an ever-narrowing ledge. I build an anchor in semi-loose, but attached, blocks and bring Lawrence in to the anchor.

Up until now, we've been climbing 3-star routes with deep cracks, solid rough rock, and very featured granite. After a few pitches and a sandy, loose ledge traverse the East Face of Bugaboo could not feel more different.

I start up pitch two. It's wet in the corner. Protection, even when it's good, is quite shallow and much of it is flared. Nothing on the narrow right wall of the corner system feels well-attached. The left wall is very polished. All of a sudden it feels like we're climbing slippery Yosemite granite, but with lower rock quality.

I scrap through the first pitch and find an old anchor with slings on it. Others before us have felt what we're feeling right now - this climbing is more "adventurous" than expected. Lawrence climbs to me and I begin leading again. The next pitch clearly involves a deep 5.10 chimney (something the guidebook doesn't mention).

Halfway up, where I need to enter the chimney, the pitch is soaking wet, loose, and green. I hesitate. Unsure of what to do, I sling a chockstone, equalize it to an old, rusty, half-driven knifeblade and lower back to the belay.  

The second pitch - not much of the chunky rock on the right side of the
 corner is well-attached.

We back the pin anchor up with a nut and rappel. The East Face of Bugaboo Spire will have to wait for another trip. Somehow, the dynamic of our trip has changed and neither of us wants to commit to this "unknown" route on this large face. As we're retreating we notice a thin haze of clouds already building again in the sky overhead.


We retrace our steps and are back in camp a few hours later. With only one real day left in our trip, and more bad weather approaching, we pack our stuff and begin the hike down.

Back at the car we organize our things and enjoy a few beers we'd been saving for the end of the trip. We're going to sleep at the trailhead tonight and begin the 12-hour drive back to Bozeman in the morning. As darkness falls it begins to rain - the forecast was wrong about when the next rain would arrive. It rains harder than it did during our entire stay at Applebee Dome. I sit in the center of my tent, watching the water drip from the interior walls of my leaky Firstlight, and look forward to our drive the next morning. I'm thankful we're headed home, and sick of cold rain and leaky single wall bivy tents.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Here is a photosphere (a new feature on many stock Android phones running 4.2 or higher) from the summit of the Liberty Bell in Washington Pass. I had to dig around for the embed code and am eager to get my other photospheres posted. Google has temporarily removed the code, so I guess we're going to wait a bit, as they'll presumably be improving the viewer which allows you to view full 360-degree spherical panoramas.

Are Your Kids Safe at Rock Climbing Summer Camp?

Valley Vertical Adventures doesn't run a youth summer climbing camp. We feel that offering a rewarding summer camping experience has too many logistical challenges. There are so many things that need to get arranged and organized. It would require one person's full time efforts for the remainder of the year in order to organize high quality week-long or multi-week programs at a remote location.

About 10 years ago I was a BSA trip leader who took small groups of students to Rumney. A few times a summer we would take 6-8 campers and 2 instructors there for 5 weekdays at a time. We were one of the only group programs there most of the time.

Since then rock climbing has exploded in popularity. Kids learn to climb in gyms and many kids want to climb outdoors. Summer camp seems like a logical way to get kids outside for a week or more of climbing. Climbing camps have sprung up to fill this "camping" niche.

When it comes to climbing, these climbing camps are very similar to guide services. They need to manage risk effectively while providing a rewarding climbing experience. From a professional perspective this means they need to have the proper liability insurance, the correct land use permits must be acquired, instructors must be trained to industry standards, and the utmost attention needs to be paid to safety.

Children, who are frequently unfamiliar with or unaware of the risks associated with outdoor climbing,  seem unable to make good decisions when it comes to safety. The "obvious" dangers don't seem so obvious. Therefore, instructor role modeling is incredibly important for impressionable youth. Choosing the right climbs, wearing a helmet and keeping crag appropriate closed-toe shoes on at all times are all things that should be role modeled by skilled, highly-trained responsible instructors.

Toss in other complications, like vehicle transport of campers, which requires additional liabilty insurance and drivers trained to operate a 15-passenger van or bus, swimming during rest days or during hot weather, and food preparation, which should really be handled by a trained cook-staff in a sanitary space like a dining hall and you've got a pretty complex picture. Really, only large institutions or companies with these resources at their command and extensive insurance coverage can offer a big summer climbing programs.

This summmer I spent a week climbing at Rumney, a rock climbing area in White Mountain National Forest. During my week there I feel like I saw the entire spectrum of climbing camps. I witnessed really good instruction and good risk management behavior and I witnessed appalling displays of unprofessionalism that really upset and scared me.

The White Mountain School was running a camp in NH that week. They are one of the only AMGA accredited high school programs. They use mature, highly-trained adult instructors who are professional climbers, guides or educators. They make sure students wear helmets at all times, maintain ratios at or below the industry standard of 6:1 and seem to manage risk very carefully. This seems like a very good program.
On the other end of the spectrum were programs like International Rock Climbing School, a Boston Rock Gym affiliated program. During my week there we bumped into three of their groups. I didn't see a single adult (someone who looked over 21) closely managing their large groups, I watched shirtless "instructors", barely old enough to shave, climb routes in flip flops in the rain, children rarely wore helmets, and they brought 16 or more people to the most popular crags and basically made a junk show of the base of the crag.

If you're a parent who's thinking of sending your child to a rock climbing summer program you owe it to yourself and your child to do a little research. Not every program is the same. In fact, some of the oldest and most well-known programs seem like the scariest operations. As a climbing "risk manager" by trade, I'm terrified and dismayed by some of the things I see out there.

You probably shouldn't choose a camp solely based on the fact that well-known climbers are involved in the operation. It might be better to ask about insurance, land use permits, and the competency and leadership experience of the instructors. Remember, the best climbers aren't always the safest operators or the best teachers.

I've compiled a list below that may help parents of prospective rock climbing "campers" weed out the sketchy programs so that you can feel good about where your child goes climbing next summer.


Insurance protects the camp/guide service, but also offers protection for participants if an accident occurs. It can help defray medical costs should a severe accident occur. The professional standard, and the requirement from many land managers, is for a climbing program to carry a minimum of $1,000,000 coverage. Insurance doesn't work unless the company is following all rules/regulations/requirements. Even non-profits should have insurance and are frequently required to have permits. Here are the things to ask about:
  • Liability Insurance for Rock Climbing - Don't be afraid to ask for a certificate of insurance if you feel it's necessary. Most outfits will gladly provide you with proof of coverage
  • Vehicle/transportation insurance coverage - Any time you transport paying customers you're acting as a taxi/shuttle service. This type of insurance coverage is nice to have if you're transporting kids in a 15-passenger van. All drivers need to be covered.
  • Permits for places you'll be going climbing - Ask to see permits from land managers if necessary. Liability insurance won't be valid unless they're allowed to have commerical operations there. Also ask if commercial climbing is allowed at these spots.
  • Helmets should be worn at all times - Helmet waivers probably won't work for people under age 18. Besides, kids probably shouldn't be allowed to make the decision whether or not to wear helmets.
  • Other - How old is the gear they'll be using? How frequently is it inspected? When are ropes used? Is bouldering (unroped) climbing allowed by insurance?


Camps generally do similar day-to-day climbing programming as guide services. Therefore, all instructors should have the proper training. Bigger outfits should also have AMGA accreditation.
  • Lead instructors should be 21, assistant instructors should be at least 18 - Many insurance companies have a minimum age requirement.
  • Instructors should have CPR, WFA or WFR medical training, and ideally have AMGA SPI certification or better.
  • Instructor:Participant ratios should be low - 6:1 is the max 3:1 is closer to the appropriate size for high-quality instruction and guidance.

Other Items

There are many other issues that need to be covered.
  • Food Preparation - Is the food being prepared in a kitchen? Are dietary restrictions and requirements being met? If they're not being prepared in a dining hall or kitchen where are they being prepared and who's doing the cooking?
  • Swimming - If kids are swimming is there a lifeguard nearby? Are adults paying close attention and making sure kids are supervised
  • Medical - Who administers medications each day? Do they have medical training? Is there a doctor or nurse present, or someone who's a medical adviser for the organization. 
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it should help you distinguish between programs.

Ryan Stefiuk is a professional climbing guide based in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is the only AMGA Certified Rock Guide offering programs in Massachusetts.

Bugaboos - Day 10 - Sunshine Crack

We have 3 days left. It's still rainy and wet. We eat extra oatmeal packets during breakfast. It's the only extra food available. I mill about and chat with a few other climbers. In the process I score several packages of ramen noodles and a bag of mint teabags.

Before long I have 2 packets of noodles in my belly. It's nice to eat some extra food and feel warm despite the cold temperatures. Again today my hands and toes have been chilled all day.
Clearing weather!

Finally, not a sucker hole

Around 3 p.m. we depart camp. The clouds have slowly broken, and it hasn't rained in a few hours. Halfway up the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col we sketch our way across hard snow to the base of Sunshine Crack. We haven't done much in the past few days, and I feel bloated from all the salty soup I've eaten today. Climbing feels awkward.

Pitch 2 of Sunshine Crack. Soaking wet at the crux.

The sun comes out. Some sections of the climb (like the pitch 2 OW, which I lead by walking a borrowed 5" cam alongside me as a I climb) are still quite wet, but the climbing is very enjoyable. Around sunset we begin to rappel from the top of pitch 7, just above the crux. The pitches are short, and we're down on the ledge in 3 rappels.

We're back in camp eating by 10 p.m. Camp is quiet, and there are only 8-10 tents left at Applebee. The sky is clear, the air is warm, and we're getting going again in a few hours.

Amazing splitters

Our first sunshine since Beckey-Chouinard

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bugaboos - Day 9, Cold and Hungry

The old forecast, hanging on the kiosk, predicted today would be the day the skies clear. The new forecast, just now hanging up, says otherwise and is indeed correct. It's rainy and windy out, and we're very much confined to our tents. Next time I come here I will go down when the forecast predicts bad weather.

Sitting for a whole day isn't that easy. After a while you get cold. It's comforting to be able to eat rich foods and have hot drinks all day long. We have limited amounts of tea and few extra snacks. Eating out of boredom is out of the question. Next time I will bring more indulgent foods - chocolate, Nutella, hot cocoa.

I obsessively sort food in my tent. Anything that's extra is starting to get eaten. After dinner we begin to eat extra instant oatmeal packets. I don't really like instant oatmeal. We're eating it like it's fine dessert.

Bugaboos - Day 8 - Paddle Flake

After a month of travel and rigorous exertion, I don't sleep well unless I'm physically exhausted from a big day of activity. Yesterday's day of standing around did not help me sleep. My hips hurt from spending so much time on my sides in my small tent.

The clouds have descended even lower, and it's looking like we might not be able to do much again today. Certainly, there is no chance of us doing anything big for the next day or two.

We contemplate the possibilities - do nothing or do something. What we'd really like to do is pack for a three-day trip to East Creek Basin. The Seventh Rifle, a 900 meter 5.11- on the North Howser Tower, is on our to-do list. The Beckey-Chouinard felt casual enough, and was very much a "known" for us. The North Howser Tower, which is far more committing, is an "unknown" and would provide the adventure and excitement we came in search of on this trip.

Counting backwards, we have four days left. If it clears up tomorrow - the forecast says it's going to - we can head over tomorrow afternoon it will allow us to climb Tuesday, hike back to Applebee Wednesday, and travel Thursday and Friday. My flight out is early Saturday morning. We're cutting things close, and the forecast doesn't seem to be improving.
A party on the upper part of Roof McTech

The thought of committing to such a large objective weighs heavily on me. Literally, it's causing me to be anxious at night and making me conservative about not eating too much of our food stash in anticipation of a few really hungry, physically demanding days.

The weather today is good enough to climb, but not good enough for big routes. We amble over to Crescent Spire in the middle of the day. There are parties on all of the popular routes. Having climbed McTech Arete already, we opt for Paddle Flake. There's a party on the direct start. We hustle and pass the party using the easier original start.

During the climb we discuss East Creek and the Seventh Rifle. With the grim forecast, and the seriousness of the climb, both of us are apprehensive about such a large objective. Quickly, we decide North Howser will have to wait for a dedicated East Creek trip (you can take a helicopter in there and avoid the hike). This single decision changes the entire dynamic of the trip. All of a sudden things feel like a vacation again.

The rock is so good, the jams very secure, and we're rappelling back down before we know it. On the way down we pass Roof McTech and give it a go. Lawrence gives me the lead and I set off. Fortunately, the wide, roof crack turns to stuffer hands at the lip, and I'm able to hang on for this fun, physical pitch.

Under gray skies we walk back to camp. We've earned at least a little sleep tonight, and hopefully things won't be as fitful as last night. Soup and instant mashed potatoes with cheese and salami have never tasted so good - I've been hungry constantly for the past few days. True starvation must be awful.

It rains overnight. Tomorrow, Monday, is supposed to mark the end of the rainy weather.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bugaboos - Day 7, Waiting on The Weather

Clouds continue to spill over the top of Snowpatch Spire. Camp has really cleared out. People are headed home, or they're headed to Radium Hot Springs to relax for a few days while the bad weather passes. We've decided to wait in camp. Lawrence wasn't psyched to nurse his aging car 33 miles down a dirt road each way just for a town run. 

We sit around, drink coffee, and munch on what few extra snacks we have available. We're cutting it pretty close on food - there isn't a ton of extra food and there are nearly no indulgent treats to munch during full days of doing nothing. I grabbed all the extra coffee from the car yesterday. I've had several cups already today, and with little extra food, I'm jittery and eager to do something.

Lawrence, who's less caffeinated than me, relaxes until near the end of the day. We motivate and decide to check out a new 5.11 on Eastpost Spire just above camp. A ten minute walk deposits us at the base of a pretty looking corner system. As it turns out, "pretty looking" is all it is. Compared to the incredibly solid rock on the other formations, the rock on Eastpost is incredibly crumbly and weathered.

Lawrence struggles to find decent protection and finally clips the first bolt. A string of shallow cams and small wires protects the moves up to the next bolt. I can't look up; there's a pile of granite kitty litter on our packs from where small edges have collapsed. I want nothing to do with this climb. After a few more tries Law decides to downclimb and then lower off the bolt. One of the reasons we've had many successful trips together is because we're so often on the same page about the routes we want to climb. This is no exception.
As I've aged, my tolerance for crappy climbs and my willingness to suffer through them has diminished. In a veritable Mecca of solid rock climbs, why on Earth had we even bothered to climb this trash heap? I should have known better, and trusted my instincts.

Eastpost Spire is in the background - the route we tried
follows overhanging left-facing corners directly above
Lawrence's feet.

The sky darkens. As we approach camp it begins to pour rain. We retreat to our little tarp-covered abode and enjoy soup and a hot meal before retiring. During the night a violent thunderstorm rolls through camp. Literally, it sounds like it's rolling through. Without any vegetation the thunder has unfettered access to us. I know there are plenty of spires around us, but I still don't like being out in the open during thunderstorms. As a result of a near miss during high school lightning and thunder continues to scare the shit out of me. The tarp flaps violently overhead. I wish I'd brought earplugs.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bugaboos - Day 6, Food Run in the Rain

We sleep late. The clouds that began building yesterday have covered up all the blue. They're almost touching Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires. My legs are stiff, but otherwise I feel pretty good. People are milling about camp, and very few climbers are headed out for the bigger objectives. Many people are packing their things and heading down. Perhaps they know something we don't know.

By 11:30 we're sipping mint tea spiked with Canadian Club whiskey. At noon we decide our legs feel alright. (alcohol is good like that). We're going to get our 4 extra days of food from the car. The hike is only 4 miles, but it gains/loses 1000m in the process.

Ten minutes after leaving Applebee Dome campground is begins to rain. We don our rain gear and keep walking, keeping the pace very casual. With lightweight daypacks the walk down is quite pleasant. The trail passes through small cliffbands and open avalanche slopes with great views of the spectacular Bugaboo Glacier before going into a temperate rainforest.

At the car we gorge on snacks and enjoy a few Bozone Ales and Tumbleweed IPA's we've stashed under the car. Before long we're stuck with heavier bags and a 4 mile uphill walk.

It rains lightly on the walk in, but we're too warm to wear our rain gear. We reach the Kain Hut quickly. by now we've learned that the hut is only 2/3 of the way there. Applebee and the Hut look so close to each other on a map, but they're actually 300 vertical meters (1000' of vert.) apart. The last kilometer is a gut buster no matter what you're carrying. You can see Applebee the whole time, but it stays far away until you're practically on top of the dome.

Camp has cleared out. Few people have gone climbing and the skies are very gray. As night falls a handful of headlamps begin to do the skyline of Bugaboo Spire. Despite the ominous forecast people continue to climb. I don't envy their judgment.

We set up my 10'x10' Brooks Range tarp over our side-by-side BD Firstlight Tents. People looked at us funny for our cozy tent set, but with the upcoming forecast the tarp overhead will keep us dry and allow us to cook and hang out, even in the rain.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bugaboos - Day 5 - Beckey-Chouinard, South Howser Tower

Hmm... This one was erased somehow. I think it was during some editing using the mobile Blogger app. Here it is again....

The alarm goes off at 1:30 a.m. There are no clouds. One other party is awake this early at Applebee. Surely, they are also headed to climb the Beckey-Chouinard.

We're out of camp by 2:10. The other party, a group of three, is ahead of us by a few minutes. We catch them at the glacier, where crampons go on. There was a hard freeze last night and the snow is firm. The climbing, under full moonlight, goes quickly and before long we're climbing the steep, hard snow near the top of the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col.

Climbing the col in frozen conditions, with my approach shoes and my crappy BD Contact crampons, is the sketchiest thing we'll do the entire trip. I'm utterly terrified, and Lawrence has to remind me that this is likely the most beautiful place both of us have ever visited. The moonlight has illuminated the entire valley.

Looking over at the massive North Howser Tower

Near the Pigeon-Howser Col the party of 3 in front of us follows the trodden path toward the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. We stash a pack and scramble down the loose scree in the col. The party of 3 is now behind us. So much of alpine climbing is about having good "mountain sense" and not making mistakes. I'm glad we've made it to the col ahead of this other party.

We remove our crampons and quietly slip past tent city in East Creek and locate a trail toward the looming ridge ahead of us. The routefinding is easy and we locate the start of the scrambling before long. 300m later we break, near the start of the technical climbing.

With harnesses on, ropes out, and racks ready, we begin simul-climbing. The party of three, all from South America, are right behind us. The climbing goes quickly and it's fully light outside by the top of pitch 3. By now, there are no less than 5 parties queued up behind us. Climbers are swarming the base of the route like ants at a picnic.

By the top of pitch 5, the only other climbers we see are the 3 South Americans. They are climbing really fast as a party of 3. For the remainder of the day the second will occasionally share a ledge with their leader. Pitch 4, the first "hard" pitch is a bottleneck that slows down many parties.

We break at the top of pitch 10, where we bask in sunlight below the Great White Headwall. It's hard to believe we're already two thirds of the way up the route. Five more amazing pitches and a few hundred meters of scrambling put us on top. The rappel descent and the traverse across the Vowell Glacier are straightforward. We retrieve our stashed pack and snack near the col before descending the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col.

A large fire started off to the east during the day

Happy to be back on the glacier

By 8 p.m. we're back in camp. The Beckey-Chouinard is easily one of the best rock routes either of us has ever climbed, and definitely one of the finest moderate rock climbs on earth. Tomorrow we'll take it easy and enjoy our "vacation".

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bugaboos - Day 4, McTech Arete

We lounge in the sun, drink coffee, and try to make this trip feel like the vacation it's supposed to be. Around 11 we amble toward Crescent Spire. The McTech ArĂȘte, a classic 6-pitch 5.10 leads to the top of the wall. 
Lawrence, who's a more confident rock climber than I am, takes the first two pitches. Despite being straightforward 10a on the second pitch, the protection is tough - it's purple camalot size for much of the pitch. Three .5 and .75 size cams would not go unused on the crux fingercrack.

I take over at the start of the 4th pitch, one of the cleanest 5.9 corner handcracks I've ever climbed. We catch a party at the top of this pitch and rap. The Bugs, which have great access, attract parties of all ability levels, and navigating the crowds is one of the big challenges there when the weather is good.
Pitch 4's corner splitter is the stuff of dreams
With my 55 meter rope the rappels are rope stretchers. Unbeknownst to us, this will become a theme throughout our trip.

The lake above Applebee looks downright tropical on a warm day

The glaciers make the Bugs feel way more alpine than any alpine rock venue
in the U.S.
Back in camp early, we pack our bags and try to sleep. We're planning to get up at 1:30 a.m. to do the Beckey-Chouinard on South Howser Tower tomorrow.