Tuesday, January 27, 2015

East Ridge of Eldorado Peak September 2014

Eldorado Peak is known as the "Queen of the Cascade River". by Fred Beckey but as Lee and I came into the parking lot we certainly couldn't tell. The thickness of the trees and the lowland fog pretty much blocked the view. It all started with a change in plans. Lee had originally wanted to do a Grand Traverse in the Tetons but with some convincing and talk of glacier travel we changed plans to heading to the North Cascades to try for some of the peaks in the Cascade River area.
Surprised, daunted, tired? Not sure it's too early.
While there was talk of climbing the Torment-Forbidden traverse we decided to start off with a simple climb of Eldorado Peak. After flying into Seattle we grabbed our rental car and headed for Marblemount to settle in for the night.

The next day we got our permits and our bear canisters and headed for our first camp in Roush Creek. With warm temps and the haze lifting we headed for the start of the trail which is a little difficult to find if you've never been. Once we got across the river the onslaught of uphill began. The initial trail climbs up Eldorado Creek for a little of 4000' in around two miles. It's a bigger climb than almost anything in Colorado and it doesn't even get you to the summit. There's still over 2000' to go! It's better than bushwhacking though.

With several breaks in the old growth forests we continued thru most of the day. Eventually we reached the boulder field where the trail is a little more difficult to follow and that leads through the best part of the hike that time of year which is the blueberry patches below the slabs that cross over into Roush Creek Basin.

We lost some time here. I couldn't help it, the blueberries were delicious and we stood under a small water cascade to wash away some of the sweat. I will not apologize for enjoying delicious blueberries. Maybe next time I'll collect them in a jar and we'll have blueberry pancakes!

Eventually we were able to pull ourselves away from the delicious treats and picked our way up to the ridge before crossing into the basin. A short steep down scramble/hike leads to back to a reasonable trail just below the Eldorado Glacier. Laying out on the flattest part we could find on the rock slabs we cooked up some quesadillas.

Steep trail and big trees.
We had a nice stretch of good weather and decided to sleep with the fly off under the stars of which there were many.

After a good night's sleep the morning arrived. We had some warm oats, camp bread, and assorted dried fruits before packing gear.

The route is pretty straightforward. You essentially head straight up and across until you're beyond the E. Ridge proper and follow the glacier the rest of the way up. Straightforward doesn't always mean easy though. Late season can mean a little scrambling over rock slabs to actually get to the snow. Most crevasses are open but that usually means a lot of end running to get around them. So the E. Ridge route makes for a good introduction to glacier travel as you can stay on snow most of the entire route.

It also has a pretty logical progression of snow and glacier skills. From our campsite you climb on to a lower snowfield which, while crevasse free, still features some steep snow that requires the use of crampons and knowledge on how to self arrest. This leads to the lower glacier which has a few crevasses where understanding travelling on a rope team and how to avoid crevasses is important. It also provides a relatively easy spot to demonstrate basic rope ascension and crevasse rescue skills before moving onto the main event which is the E. Ridge itself where there are several large crevasses, some crossed by tiny walkways, and an exhilarating knife ridge finish.

After practicing some of these skills and refreshing others the sun started to rise and we were no longer in the dark. The wide expanse of white is only broken by a few rocky pinnacles. The views of the peaks around are truly amazing. The severity with which the surrounding peaks rise around you is greater than most of the other ranges around the US. So if you want steep Washington is where you'll find it.

Sunrise with the summit above.
Knife edge near the summit.

The route becomes less straightforward as you get higher with some steep walking and wandering around crevasses. Things get way more interesting at the top where you can head near the ridge with some exciting crevasse crossings including a tiny sidewalk with big crevasses on either side. Once beyond this you're at the best part which is the knife ridge. While not technically difficult the exposure on either side is enough to make anyone step with care. So a few quick belays in this section lead us to the summit.

Most of the route had been mild and pleasant with a strong uphill pace and good sun at our backs. This started to change as clouds began to roll in and we felt the wind picking up. The summit was a little chilly but the views still amazing. We were able to see some of the bigger peaks such as Baker and Shuksan and while you think you can see Rainier from here I'm pretty sure it's actually Glacier Peak. After some pictures we were getting cold and started to descend.

While uneventful in general I did try and stop to go to the bathroom since it's the only spot that's supposed to have a composting toilet. For the life of me I could not find it though. After 20 minutes of looking all over the place I decided carrying your waste out was just as good and we headed back to our camp in Roush Creek.

We were a bit earlier than expected so decided to do some exploring of the various caves and slabs around the area which is kind of fun. There are some neat little glacier holes to hide from the sun and some nice waterfalls to dunk your head in or get water.

One more night under the stars and it was time to go back down to the real world. We headed back thru the blueberry patch, the most memorable and enjoyable part of the hike before the downhill drone set in. Getting back to the car in the afternoon we collapsed in the parking lot and did some stretching before driving off.

Marblemount is a ways back from the Boston Basin area. Couple of recommendations in town. Don't eat at the BBQ shack in the train car. Do get some ice cream at the Cascade Farms stand on your way back to Seattle.

Recommendations for the climb. Be fit, with nearly 7000' of elevation gain it's a multiday trip for most people. It can be done in one very long day by a strong team of experienced climbers but I found 3 to be very comfortable. Don't carry too much water either. There is a lot of it along the way where you can fill up. The hike is steep and trekking poles can be nice for the down.

It's a good introductory glacier climb so give us a call and get on it. If you're a pretty fit rock climber there are several other climbs in the area that can be done as well that transition from glacier to rock and are well known. The West Arete of Eldorado is a big route even at the 5.8 grade. The Torment-Forbidden Traverse is a committing ridge traverse that sees both summits and while only 5.6 has a lot to throw at you.

While late summer is the best time for blueberries early summer or late spring can yield easier snow travel as some of the rock slabs are filled in. Depending on what you're looking for either way can be fun as long as you know more what to expect. Overall a fun quick trip with some excitement and great views.
Summit with Baker in the Background

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ice Conditions: Lake City 11/10/14

On my way back from leading a trip up Independence Tower I decided to stop in Lake City and see how the ice conditions are. There was a lot less moisture than I expected but there is still ice forming and I expect the snowy cold weather this week will help. Overall the report is positive. There is a lot of ice forming in the various gullies and with some colder weather and more moisture things will become climbable in the next couple of weeks. We'll start operating ice climbing trips and classes so give us a call if you want a tour of the area.

First I drove up to the Grizzly/Silver Creek trailhead that night and watched the thermostat drop to just around freezing. When I woke up in the morning though it read 20, should of brought a puffier puffy!

So after a quick hike to see how much snow was loading the north bowl between Sunshine and Redcloud (not much) I walked back to the car to see what was forming along the road. The two steppy, unnamed gullies by mile marker 16 were too thin to be climbable so I continued down the road to Cataract Gulch.

After crossing over the bridge I saw these huge facets on the surface of the snow, only a couple of inches but this is what the entire snowpack will be sitting on. Most of the snow I found was faceted. Something to keep in mind when you're heading to things like the Sherman Route in mid-winter or walking around under some of those gullies along the roads.

Farther up the trail there is some smears of ice here and there. Everything is just forming and some more moisture and colder temps will get us there. Chockstone, Fight Club, not in. There's a lot of moisture though so the temperature drop will definitely help.

After walking down I headed over to the Sherman Route which looked to be in when I was driving down from the Grizzly/Silver Creek trailhead. As I got to the base I noticed a couple people climbing, turned out to be a group of 4! I didn't hang out to see if they went all the way up. Hopefully not. The crux pillar does not appear to be well formed, more like 5/5+ conditions. From the sound of the people climbing it didn't sound very thick either.

Since there were people climbing I decided to head up Cottonwood Creek all the way to Cuba Gulch. The Cotton Climbs are also thin. Some parts climbable, some parts a little delicate yet to be climbing.

I saw a reasonable amount of moisture on the south facing aspects despite a lack of snow. There was flowing water on Sunshine Falls and the flow to the west up the road. Even a couple chunks of ice thanks to the cold nights Way back by Cuba Gulch things like Cuba Libre and Havana Nights had wet dripping rock. Even with the cold weather those, as usual, will take some time to build up.

That's all for now. The calendar is filling up fast so send us a message to get your climbing trip set up!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gear Review: Arc'Teryx I-340A Harness

Arc'Teryx I-340A
My old roommate had a dog named 'Teryx. Most annoying Weimaraner ever. That and the association with Arc'Teryx as pretty much the most expensive soft goods manufacturer in North America makes it hard for me to buy their gear.

The problem is their gear is sleek and strong, kind of like that dog! Unlike the dog it won't try and eat through the front door and cry piteously thru the night when it's owner doesn't come home. So when I won a silent auction at a Hera Climb4Life event for any Arc'Teryx harness I was pretty ecstatic. Especially since my old Arc'Teryx harness was pretty threadbare and I only ended up paying $60 for $170 harness. I never win anything.

If you don't want to read thru this whole thing I'll sum it up quickly. If you want the best harness money can buy then this is the one you want. It's the Ferrari of harnesses, a fantastic blend of form and function. You can always tie a harness out of webbing for $5 in the same way you can drive a Honda around town. It'll do but it's not much fun and you'll never be waving at the ladies to come check out your bare minimum rig.

Technical Details:
This is the ice specialist harness using Warp Strength technology, which came out a few years ago. If you aren't familiar with this basically they take out the fibers that cross the warp (weft) in the woven nylon fibers. This allows them to spread the force out on the weight bearing portions and use less bulky foam while maintaining comfort and strength.

Weight: 12.2 oz.
Fancy Stuff: Wear safety markers, 13 ice clipper slots, Warp Strength Technology
MSRP: $169.00
Where to get it: Arc'Teryx

First Impressions:
My first impression actually came with waiting for the harness to show up in the mail. I sent in my gift certificate in the summer and was told that it wouldn't show up til after Christmas. Wait what? Ok, I figured I could wait since the gift certificate was super cheap. Still I was giddy with anticipation and even though it didn't show up until after my AMGA Ice Instructor course in early January I was psyched to try it out on a trip to Vail.

Now of course it snowed three feet the day before so after wallowing up snow for several hours I did finally get to put it on and climb some ice. The main thing I noticed, and this is pretty common in the Arc'Teryx line of harnesses is it's like they're barely there. You don't notice them unless you're actually hanging. They're light and compact. I also noticed the new setup for the ice clipper slots. I prefer this design over the previous. On my previous version the slots were too big and not where I wanted them. Now there are multiple slots along both sides so you can choose where you put the ice clippers. I've read some complaints that they're still not in the right spot but for me they work perfectly. I wonder if the webbing will stretch at all leaving my ice clippers flopping around but that will have to be seen later.

It does seem like the tie in points are burlier than the previous iteration of Warp Strength harnesses. This was one of my few complaints about my old harness was how quickly I wore it out (2 years of near daily use in the summer and heavy use in the winter). It remains to be seen how the stiffness will affect the comfort and durability.

All in all they've tweaked a lot of little things and a few bigger things to really make some improvements. I don't expect people to be perfect but I really like when companies listen to the feedback they receive and make those changes.

Comfort and Fit:
Like the other Arc'Teryx harness I've used this one is very comfortable on the up. You hardly notice it is there. I'm a slim guy (150 lbs.) and everything fits me well. Now keep in mind this harness has no padding. You shouldn't really have a problem with that in winter because you're generally wearing more clothes. It's marketed as an ice climbing harness and that's where I intend to use it. I would not really say these are the best harness if you have big wall ambitions. Hanging for long periods of time, while not worse than any other lightweight harness, is not as good as a dedicated hang-around-all-day type harness with a huge waist and padding. Get the right gear for the style of climbing you're doing. They do have a big wall harness they're offering but I'm not much of an aid climber so someone else can take a look at that.

One thing I noticed on the old harness was the tendency for the legs to want to be asymmetrical when hanging. In other words one higher than the other. While I found that a tad bit annoying it's not uncomfortable per say. Arc'Teryx has redesigned the leg loops in two ways that address this and the other problem which was the tendency for the leg lifter in the back to come undone.

Close up of the new leg lifter attachment and haul loop.
  • One is how it attaches to the back of the harness. The old metal clip was horrible. Mine came undone all the time til I bent it shut. The straps always came out. Now the leg lifter straps (that run up the back of your leg to the waist)  clip in with small plastic clips. They don't seem to come undone unintentionally and so far the strap itself has not creeped through the buckle either.
  • Second because of the redesign of the leg loops and how they go through the belay loop the legs don't seem to flop around as much. I won't say they don't want to flop around at all but it's definitely much less pronounced than the previous versions.
Pros: This is a comfortable harness, period. Considering the lack of materials, the light weight, and the fact I can fold it up and put it in a large pocket it's really comfortable, exclamation point!
Cons: Nothing really. I can't complain about anything that's not outside of what this harness should be used for so far.

Score: Two thumbs up! This is a really comfortable harness.

Function and Design:
Futzing around for gear or getting stabbed constantly by your ice screws sucks. I think the redesigns on this harness are a vast improvement over the previous and many other harness designs.

One big thing for an ice climbing harness like this is the ice clipper slots, there's freaking 13 of them! I've seen some customer reviews complaining about them being in the wrong spot and it being a huge downfall of the harness and I will say I can see some possibilities of improvement but seriously, there are 13 slots, how can you complain? BD harnesses, 6. Petzl, 2, some don't even make them. So with the multitude of slots and options for carrying ice screws I really appreciate this design aspect. That said I think separating the gear loops by moving the rear one more towards the back would make the use of the ice clipper slots more functional. Although when I'm alpine climbing I don't really use the rear gear loops that much. Most of my draws are racked on the front two, ice screws on the clippers (farthest back for me), and if I have any rock pro it usually goes in the front as well. I may clip a couple cordelettes or lockers back there but that is it.

Other things I like:
Details of ice clipper slots and redesigned leg loop buckles.
  • Drop seat buckles are now actual buckles not some weird metal puzzle that comes undone.
  • Gear loops are still reversible (I prefer them to push things back, not forwards, but whatever floats your boat)
  • The haul loop on the back is more of a haul loop or extra gear loop instead of a weird little plastic thing.
  • They seem to have chosen a different webbing. The old webbing tended to creep through the buckles. That doesn't seem to be the case now.
Things I think need improvement or removal
  • Gear loops could lose a bit more separation. They sit nearly on top of each other and interfere with most of the ice clipper slots.
  • The loop on the left side. What is it for? I think it's to keep the tail of your webbing out of the way when you tighten your harness but it's worthless for that. Too far back and too big.
  • Colors are dull, put the blue on the outside. I have to look good when I send!
While I think there is room for improvement I think designers paid attention to the feedback of their customers with the previous design and incorporated it well. I don't expect things to be perfect but I do expect improvement. I also like that this harness has options that take into account that preferences for racking differ. 

Pros:This is a well designed harness that allows user preferences to change some things and really took into account feedback on previous designs to improve what I would of considered flaws in the previous harness.
Cons: Give the gear loops a little more separation and rethink the keeper loop for the webbing tail. Maybe add some color.

Score: Thumbs up. It's a good harness but needs a couple tweaks to take it towards perfection.

Short Term Durability:
Harnesses are a consumable item in climbing. Just like other softgoods, slings, backpacks, clothing. I also use my harness nearly daily and I am rough on gear. The webbing they are using seems different and the tie in points more durable but only time will tell. I was a little disappointed when my previous harness started to wear out after only 2 years. While that's a respectable amount of time I don't like having to replace it every couple of years. Are my expectations high? Maybe, but as materials and designs improve I expect manufacturers to take advantage of them. So far so good. This harness seems like it will last longer than the other harness. One thing I tend to do if I'm walking a lot with my harness on I loosen the leg loops. 

Long Term Durability:
Check back at a later date to see how long this harness lasted.

So far I'm pretty happy with this harness. It's better than the previous version and only a couple small things that keep it from being perfect. Even so I think it's one of the best harnesses on the market if you're doing a lot of ice/alpine climbing.

Pros: It's light, comfortable, and functional.
Cons: Could use a few small tweaks to make it great.

Overall Score:
Two thumbs up. I'm a big fan of this harness. It's comfortable, light, and functional. There are a few design alterations that could put it over the top but it's still a really good harness. I look forward to the next iteration where it's likely to be improved even more, and maybe they'll pull away from the dull grey.

Friday, December 6, 2013

3 Overblown Climber Worries & the Dangers They're Distracting From

Everyone knows climbing is inherently risky. In other words there are things that can happen that are outside of our control that can, and do, kill people. Now the ratio of people getting out and having a fun time to people getting a trip to the hospital is very distant. If the same amount of people having fun were getting maimed or killed then climbing wouldn't be as popular as it is. Nevertheless, human beings are control freaks. We want to eliminate the danger from our activities and media reports, online pissing contests, and general human instinct sometimes cause us to focus on things that really aren't that big of a deal and as a consequence we end up missing things we should be worried about. So below are some things to forget about and some things to take into consideration.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Climb Better! 4 Tips to Do More With Less

So sometimes we lose gear or maybe you're just starting out and don't have a couple grand to drop on a whole rack of climbing gear and all the other accoutrements. That's not necessarily a bad thing. By doing more with less you can learn to be more creative with what you do have which can help you be a more efficient and capable climber.

As climbers we can be really into gear without thinking about whether it's actually necessary. After a particularly hectic week I forgot almost all my cams. A lot of times guides will use cams because they're just easier for everyone to deal with. I can be forgetful so hear are some tips on gear substitutes and things you can hold off on buying.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gear Review: La Sportiva Extreme Evo Lt. GTX

As I was running down the Barr Trail after hiking up The Incline to break these in two things were clear:

1. I was running in mountain boots.
2. I love these boots.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Couple Helpful How To Videos

A lot of climbers get confused when reracking slings on their harness or they'll get everything tangled up. Often when we have clients on guided rock climbing trips we'll spend a good deal of time on this at the beginning of the day but if you need some tips or just a way to refresh your memory here it is:
Many newer climbers also have a hard time coiling their rope. So here is another video to help you learn how to do that more efficiently. These are the first how-to videos we have done so if you enjoyed it please let us know. If there are things you'd like to learn just leave your ideas in the comments below. Here's the video: