Since I started mountaineering in 2010 I been trying to figure out my identity. What do I like the most out of many sub divisions that make up what we call “climbing?” What am I good at? Should I focus on ice climbing? Crack climbing in Yosemite? Big walls? Long free climbs? Scrambling in the Sierra Nevada? High altitude mountaineering in preparation to tackle conga lines on 8000M peaks? I can’t do it all and continue improving on all the fronts, right? Wrong! I finally figured that true reason I fell in love with climbing is because there is so much complexity to it, however it could be as straight forward as getting a crash pad and walking up to a boulder. My mood changes, so does the type of a climb I seek. In 2013 I had an enormous mix of experiences which did not only lead to appealing photos, but changed the way I view myself and the world.
Alpamayo - one of the most beautiful peaks in the world
Cheburashka on "Thank God" ledge (NW Face of Half Dome) . He invented Honnolding before it was cool.
Chacraraju Oeste and Este as seen from Chopicalqui
Mt. Darwin as seen from Mt. Mendel. It is one of nine peaks along the Evolution Traverse. I completed this traverse car to car in 27 hours. One of the most challenging days of my life.
There were some unexpected surprises, especially when it came to climbing big walls. Although climbing El Capitan was on my bucket list, I did not know I would meet my climbing partner while carpooling with a few strangers. “My friend and I want to climb Lurking Fear next weekend, you should join us,” offered always-enthusiastic Alix. Even though it was winter, I did not really know her and she had no completed walls on her resume, how was I gonna turn down that offer? Nevermind that I met her friend (our third partner Daniel) in the Bugaboos when he soloed Pigeon Spire’s West Ridge in a rain storm – the guy was legit, he was wearing swimming trunks! We ended up having an epic time on El Cap and topped out during a winter storm. A mix of wind, snow and rain prevented any sense of accomplishment or safety, we were forced to resume roped climbing on the summit slabs. Harsh conditions and lack of daylight forced us to bivy on top of the formation. After this experience Alix and I became friends and on our following climb had much less of an epic – a few weeks following the Lurking Fear in a push outing, we climbed the mega-classic Nose over four days. Aside from these two outings Hamik and I continued preparing for Peru by climbing SW Face of Liberty Cap, NW Face of Half Dome and The Nose on El Capitan (all car to car without sleeping on the walls). Season of climbing walls in Yosemite paid off and we finished it with a speedy ascent of La Esfinge in Peru.
NW Face of Half Dome (Hamik and I climbed it car to car in early Spring)
Alix super excited about climbing on El Capitan (The Nose)
Hamik getting hit by a small slide on Moonage Daydream WI4 M4 (The Watchtower). Climbed this route twice.
Climbing big walls is more gear intensive, but when things depend on climbing skills training more and eating less helped me lead my first WI5s on ice, and 5.11s on rock. Before the year begun, I put Ho Chi Minh Trail (V 5.11a) and Positive Vibrations (IV 5.11a) as goals that I did not think were really doable for me in 2013. These goals seemed way harder than difficulty of climbing I was used to in 2012. My rock climbing highlight for that year was climbing the Beckey-Chouinard, North Buttress of Merriam and leading clean a 5.10b crux on the Red Dihedral. Climbing seems very unpredictable and cards could not have aligned better. I made a return to the Hulk and climbed the Positive Vibrations with my good friend Hamik. We alternated leads, both got to lead a 5.11a pitch and completed the route without falls. We met another SPer Dow Williams and a pro-climber Joe Kinder. The latter made a small movie where my photo and I appear. The climbing, setting, company and experience was incredible. Year was so good that I totally forgot about including SW Face (Harding Route) of Conness in this report. Onsighting that while leading the OW pitch with no trouble gave my self esteem a little boost after I read this.
Huandoys as seen from high up on Chopicalqui
Dow Williams and partner P. Valchev climbing on a spire across from the Incredible Hulk
Me on Silk Road (IV 5.11) - YES, it is this epic!
Beautiful Alpine Lake in Peru
There is always something cool to look at in Cordillera Blanca
The experience that makes me a bit more proud however is climbing the Ho Chi Minh Trail a few months prior with Gleb. This climb takes a proud line up the North Buttress of Middle Cathedral. It follows the DNB for six pitching and splits off taking a more direct and more sustained line of climbing. The route is almost 20 pitches long and difficulties continue to the top. Even though there was only one 5.11a pitch (crux pitch of DNB) the difficulty of pitches rarely drops below 5.10. After topping out we descended the legendary Kat Walk. Both of us were thirsty, hungry and beat. Even though there were many things that could have negatively influenced my mood, I was in high spirits after onsighting my first 5.11a and every pitch of this beautiful climb. There were many other long free climb but these two really stick out.
At the moment I am more excited than ever about technical climbing. In the end of 2013, I put together a training program which should produce even more results, and by the end of 2014 I am hoping to have some of the legendary free-climbs like Astroman and Levitation 29 within my grasp. Saying my tick list is long, is a big understatement!
Hamik rappelling after we climbed the North Face of Quitaraju
Cleopatra's Needle was my first WI5 lead on ice
Me leading a 5.11c fingercrack on The Rostrum
Major progress on high altitude peaks was also made. Hamik and I summited Chacraraju Este, which is a very difficult/dangerous 6001M peak in Peru. When looked at from below difficulties of the route seemed moderate, but the hardest climbing was found in the last 200 ft of climbing. Unstable near vertical powder snow climbing, giant cornices, snow gargoyles and thin ice pillars guard the summit and bump up the rating of this mostly moderate AI2-3 climb to ED1. After we finally managed to summit we were faced with a game of rock, paper, scissors to determine who will rappel from the summit first. Even though neither of us wanted to use the buried picket in powder snow as the anchor, neither of us wanted to be the one stranded on the summit if the picket failed. Fortunately we made a safe descent and climbed many more peaks in Cordillera Blanca. Chopicalqui 20,846' (6,354 m) became one of my dream peaks because my friend Scott had a few incredible photos of the peak’s summit pyramid up on summitpost. On this trip I was fortunate to see it in real life and stand on top. Alpamayo is considered as one of the most beautiful mountains in the world by just about every list that mentions the “ten most beautiful mountains.” Climbing it and a peak across (Quitaraju) was one of the most enjoyable outings I have ever had. Huascaran Sur, wasn’t really a big goal of mine for this trip, but it is the highest peak in Peru, and became my new altitude record. What I liked the most about the Huascaran outing is the style of our ascent – Hamik and I stood on the summit less than a day after a taxi dropped us off at the trailhead (3000M). Summit of Huascaran is at 6,768 M, so we climbed a mountain that is 2000 ft higher than Mt. Denali, and gained 12,500 ft in under a day (with only one bivy).
Middle Cathedral is possibly the best spot to view El Capitan
Me leading the Scepter (WI5)
Rapelling from Eichorn Pinnacle (photo by Chad T)
Alpineglow hitting Alpamayo - incredible mountain. Hamik and I climbed it and many more while we were in Peru
One climb that without a doubt I am MOST proud of is finishing the Evolution Traverse car to car in 27 hours. Here I was challenged on multiple fronts:
1) Soloing long stretches of 4th class with difficulties up to 5.9,
2) Nine mile ridgeline that covers nine peaks whose height is over 13,000ft,
3) Completing a day with 36 miles hiked, and about 16,000ft of elevation gain.
Nevada Falls as seen from Liberty Cap
Hamik traverses final ridge to Quitaraju's summit
Golden Triangle on the Evolution Traverse. Soloists love a good selfie :)
Leading Cleopatra's Needle (WI5)
Golden alpineglow hitting the tip of the Incredible Hulk
It was an incredible physical challenge. When I mention these numbers I still have a heard time understanding how massive this climb is. Mental challenge here was even greater – believing that on my first attempt I will find my way across terrain that took Peter Croft several attempts before he completed the First Ascent in 1998 seemed a bit ridiculous. I soloed one 5.8 in my life prior to this outing and 18 miles with about 8,000 ft of gain was probably the biggest day I had in the mountains. Majority of strong parties take 3-6 days for a round trip from the parking lot. Voice of reason I heard told me to keep dreaming, but the dreamer in me reminded me of my friend Ben’s mantra – glorious failure is better than mediocre success.
At times I see people talking about climbing as if it isn’t a selfish activity, but some quest for divine knowledge. On this particular climb I learned more than a few things about my will power and how much my body was able to endure. I came out of it physically beat, but excited about the future and hungry for new challenges. For the first time in my life I identified that sky as the limit.
Summit of the Incredible Hulk with several friends
Hamik and I on top of Chacraraju after climbing the Jaeger Route (ED1)
Alix and I after we topped out The Nose :)
Alix and Daniel on our first ever trip up the "Big Stone"
On a summit of Quitaraju 6040 M
At last, I would like to say thank you to the partners and people I met climbing in 2013. It is thanks to you the year was so memorable for me. Since climbing attracts people of all walks of life, it is awesome to get to know and understand what drives some of you. It is interesting to learn about your goals, find out how you got into climbing and some of the things you guys have done outside of climbing. I continue to get motivated by some of the things you do! Meeting new people and keeping the old partners is another big goal of mine for the year ahead. Thank you for reading and happy climbing in 2014!
Hamik rapelling on Karma De Los Condores
Happy Alpaca :)
For those who want, here are some of the full reports:
Thank god climbing is not about chasing grades, so by amount of fun we had, I hope we are in a friendly tie, cuz that's what it is all about! :) That and being hooked on getting out! Hope we can climb something together in 2014, Matt! LMK if you are thinking of coming to CA for something..
Yeah I just feel I'm not yet ready to tackle any big walls and I am just getting comfortable with stuff like Alpemayo.
I'll for sure let you know when I come to CA. Living in WA, going to school in CO and now working in Montana and Wyoming, it's just unusually hard for me to get to that part of the west. I really want to though.