Our Alpamayo team arrived at base camp yesterday. Base camp is at roughly 4,320 meters or 14,173 feet. They are all feeling good and will spend the day today acclimatizing. Tonight they will stay at base camp again. Stay tuned for updates as we hear from them via satellite phone.
Good word from the Alpamayo Expedition. Andrés called via sat phone. They had a terrific day hiking, it was beautiful and everyone is feeling great. Tomorrow they will get an early start and head on to base camp. Weather is looking nice the next few days. We wish the team a safe journey.
Andrés, Jerry and Nathan had a great day in Huaraz packing up for the big adventure, filling up on Perúvian delicacies, and drinking agua de coconut. The team will go to Cachapampa where they will meet the burros, load up, and head towards Alpamayo.
Off into the mountains! Salud to a wonderful expedition!
Our team led by Andrés Marin arrived safely to Lima yesterday. Andrés is psyched to have Jerry and his son Nathan on the expedition to Alpamayo. Today they are heading to Huaraz where they will spend the day tomorrow doing last minute prep before going into the mountains.
¡Suerte fuerte en el viaje! All the best to this strong team as they journey into the Cordillera.
Out Is A State Of Mind
Alaska Range Trip Report
by Frank Robertson
This spring, SJMG Senior Guide Mark Miller and climbing guest Frank Robertson headed to the Alaska Range for a great trip in the Ruth Gorge, and specifically the Root Canal Glacier for an attempt(s)/climb(s) of classic routes like Ham ‘n Eggs and Shaken Not Stirred on the Moose’s Tooth. We asked Frank to write a trip report about his experience climbing with Mark and San Juan Mountain Guides in the Alask Range!
Mark Miller and Frank Robertson went to the Central Alaska Range the second week of May, 2014:
“They told us when we got into Talkeetna that conditions were OK on Ham ‘n Eggs but that Shaken, Not Stirred was out. It might shape up a bit with the moisture expected in the next pulse and some melt/freeze but it had been really sunny for a couple of weeks without any major precip. We loaded up our 8+ days of provisions and headed North in the de Havilland Beaver. Made in 1954, it is way older than Mark, though not quite as old as me: we hoped for the best, both in landing on the Root Canal and in getting a shot at both routes.
The recon loop through the space above the hanging glacier halfway up the Mooses Tooth put the mountain into a perspective that could not be appreciated from the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier below. I had spent the better part of a week sitting there in a VE25 waiting for it to stop snowing in May of 1998 to attempt the West Ridge. The wall between the two routes we were doing was huge – just over half a mile long and over 2000 feet high, with the buttress to the left of Shaken 500 feet higher yet: gigantic, gorgeous, golden granite. The enormity of that multi-summit mass when staring it in the face as Paul banked around for approach made you forget it was “only” 10,300’.
A perfect sweep through the slot and onto the ice, a quick dump of our gear and the plane was off again in less than 10 minutes. We cruised over to the camp on the flat by the strip to see what was up. The two guys had just backed off of H’nE, saying that the crux was 50’ run out on snice, in-your-face overhung WI5: sorry, guys, it’s out… We shuttled our load up to the bench near Shaken to set up (aerial car-camping) away from the seracs at the head of the Canal.
Shortly after 7 the next morning I started up the first pitch of Ham ‘n Eggs, a short M3 rock ramp and step to gain the gully; from there we swung leads on firm snow and snice made temporarily hard by the single digits overnight. We quickly moved through the lower pitches, including one of my favorites alpine ice leads ever and some steep snowfields.
We watched TAT pick up the party below before we got to the business. Mark found decent rock pro a bit below the crux and, with a foot swap on a little blob to get in position to stem the rock on the left and duck out from under the overhang, jammed a stubby into the good ice above and pulled through the AI5 section.
From there we had several pitches of great alpine terrain, a lot of kicking steps but with enough steep ice to remind us where we were. Topped out the route and made the call to get down before it got too hot rather than trudge to the summit.
Countless rappels later (16?) we were down at 4:30 and booked it back to eat salmon burgers and spaghetti with sausage till we were comatose.
Next day we watched the plane come back to drop another party of two, who came up to the bench as well. They were psyched to hear we had done the route, since they’d heard the tales from the day before in town.
We recon’d Shaken; the rock down low was largely bare and there were big gaps in the ice higher up, especially at the steep entrance to the Narrows – lean conditions. We determined to rest another day and, though it looked marginal, there was no way we were not going up to have a closer look.
Our second rest day the other guys started up Ham ‘n Eggs early, but the perfect weather gave way to a moderate storm that came over the top as they started for the summit. Wisely deciding not to risk invisible cracks on that big slope, they rapped down in a white-out and got back to camp at bedtime.
Day 5, another cold start; not as early as we’d planned since we’d stayed up to be sure the other guys got down OK. We stared up Shaken at an amazing rocky cleft, glazed with thin ice in spots and dusted by the storm: a dry-tooler’s dream. Mark got us up some M5 / 5.9 features and we were in it.
A short snow field, another lean mixed section that was so good it had us laughing and we were at the base of the lower crux. The talk of it being out sunk in as Mark led through thin, delaminating ice up a steep corner with long stretches between hard-to-place rock gear and a tricky side-step around an overhanging chockstone. By now the ice was getting pretty soft and a lot of the moves were raking for catch points in the rock beneath – solid M6.
We had not really expected we’d get that far, but now we were running up the snowfields and ice steps to the upper reaches of the climb. The start of the Narrows looked innocent enough, with several short steps of steep ice and more of it back in the groove than we had seen from the ground. But then you saw the longer section a hundred feet up, with a cave beneath an iced-up rock overhang and a dodging-left exit on more AI5 and thinly-glazed rock. With some improvisation in the cave, a bit of icicle bashing and a decent screw below the fancy moves, Mark got us past the crux and wormed up the channel above.
As I approached the belay the sun hit the back of the gully and the snice turned almost instantly to slush. We were moving well with plenty of energy to go for the remaining few pitches above, but Mark recalled the conditions on the H’nE descent and I had to agree that having done most of the line we should get down ahead of what was beginning to break loose above. A bunch of soggy raps and a rope snag later we headed for the salmon burgers. Stopping by Pete and Ryan’s camp on the way, we were raving about the gorgeous route and how amazing it had been to move through those bare-bones mixed sections when Mark summed up the experience: “out” is a state of mind.”
*All photos by Frank Robertson except where indicated
Adventure is literally right out our door here in Ouray. Just a short hike from town is a great nine pitch rock route, Sendero Iluminoso. This route climbs the prominent buttress of the Purple Cliffs on the west side of the Ouray valley. It is s super way to enjoy the sunshine and blue-skies while moving freely on the rock. Last weekend Patrick Ormond guided this route with a couple clients preparing for the Grand Teton later this summer. Sendero Iluminoso is an excellent route for learning to muli-pitch rock climb, and it is also a pleasure to climb as a veteran rock climber.
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
Superior Guest Review of Dave: “Phenomenal, the trip was catered to our ability level, designed to challenge but stay within our group capabilities. Skills were covered while our own personal goals and powder skiing ambitions were met. Our guide Dave was professional and highly enjoyable to be with. We were encouraged to take leadership and develop skills with an appropriate amount of support from the guide, thus building our skills for future ventures. Location and objective selection were exceptional. Our interactions exceeded all expectations of safety, professionalism, friendliness, patience, knowledge, and teaching ability. Thanks for the awesome time Dave!”
1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the Front Range of the Rockies just south of Denver in a place called Franktown. We had about 6 acres of forest and it was a great spot to be a kid, build forts ride dirt bikes and chase snakes. Next to Franktown is Castlewood Canyon State Park which is where I began rock climbing and bouldering.
2. What is your personal alpine/rock/ice/ski experience?
I began scrambling at age 4 around Rocky Mountain National Park with my Grandfather before I could even walk to the top of the peaks, he would carry me when I got tired. They had a cabin in Estes Park which was a wonderful place to visit as a kid.
At the age of 15 I took a 14 day Outward Bound course here in the San Juans, 17 years later it is still one of my favorite ranges. I began ice climbing around the Front Range when things came in reliably and was taken under the wing of some local crusty climbers who also got me on my first traditional rock lead in Eldo, “Whales Tail” at the age of 16.
Growing up skiing and snowboarding made Western State College an attractive spot to attend a higher education and I cut my teeth on the steep terrain of my favorite ski hill, Crested Butte. WSC also had great climbing including the Black Canyon just down stream as well as the gem that is Taylor Canyon to the north. College really laid the frame work for becoming a guide and introduced me to many influential people in my life who I still get out with today.
3.What is your training background?
My training as a guide has come through numerous courses through the American Mountain Guide Association. At this point I am a certified Rock and Alpine guide and I am continuing to work on the ski certification which when finished will culminate in me being a fully certified IFMGA guide, a goal that has been looming in the distance for almost 8 years.
4. What are your favorite places to Guide?
My favorite spots include the North Cascades, Alaska and of course the San Juans. I think skiing and climbing ice in the San Juans is by far my favorite spot. Not to mention that off days can be spent climbing splitters in the desert.
5. What is your favorite part of this job?
My favorite part of this job is introducing people to wild places and helping them reach there goals and learn new skills to take them further. Sharing experiences in the mountains is a special bond and it is great to help people experience that.
6. What makes you a good guide?
I would say patience and a humble approach. I try to always maintain a calm and positive attitude and find a common thread with people to see where they are coming from and what there goals are. Most importantly I make people remember that being in the mountains is supposed to be fun!
7. What is your most memorable guiding experience?
I would have to say that guiding the SW Ridge of Peak 11,300 in the Alaska Range 4 years ago is my most memorable guiding experience. It was a super friendly and strong client, our weather window was good enough and I got to on sight guide a classic route with a variety of interesting climbing with a fun and positive client. With 2 planned bivis it was a great Alaskan experience.
8. Best Coolest climb/ski you have ever done?
Boy that’s a tough one and the list is long… These are personal things that often involve more then just the climbing but also the partners. I would say it’s a tie between a first ascent on Citadel Spire with a 3rd ascent of Gurnny Peak both in the Kichatna Range of Alaska and a recent ascent of the Salathe on El Cap both done with great friends. Oh not to mention skiing numerous aesthetic couloirs around the San Juans…
9.Whats on your Ipod right now?
Anything from Willi Nelson to Wu Tang… I celebrate all music depending on the mood.
10. 3 most crucial elements of a guide client relationship?
Number one is trust, and this needs to go both ways and comes from time spent together. Second would be communication, this also go’s both ways and is of vital importance from the first contact. Lastly is to have fun, this is often forgotten in an age where the bar keeps being pushed further and further I think its important to stay humble and go have some fun in the hills!
Dropped Belay Device?
Use the Munter Hitch!
If you’re a rock climber, chances are you’ve done some multi-pitch rock climbing or are at least thinking/planning to do so in the near future. On multi-pitch climbs, you carry a lot of gear with you – cams, nuts, draws, slings, carabiners – and of course your trusted belay/rappel device. Over the years, I’ve seen people drop gear on climbs more often than you might imagine. The reality is, you’re going to drop some combination of your gear at some point in your climbing career so it pays to be prepared when you do. To be sure, dropping your #2 Camalot is a big deal as well, especially if your route offers up plenty of hand crack, but in most cases you can make do with other gear and plan your protection strategy for each pitch accordingly (if you’re climbing a trad route that is). Dropping gear like a cam, nut, or quickdraw does not normally require a higher level of technical knowledge or expertise. Conversely, dropping your belay device is a whole other matter. Your belay/rappel device is arguably the most critical piece of gear on your harness. So what happens if you drop it 3 pitches up the climb?
You can easily imagine a number of scenarios where dropping your belay could occur at the top of whatever pitch you may have finished or somewhere else along your climb. If this happens, you’ll need to be able to improvise another way to belay your partner up the pitch you’ve just finished.
Perhaps the best way to do this is with the Munter Hitch. I often use the Munter Hitch exclusively in alpine terrain because it is fast, and requires only a locking pear-shaped carabiner to build and use properly. It’s less desirable to utilize the Munter Hitch systematically for multi-pitch rock climbing, the reasons for which I’ll get into later in this article. But if you are unfortunate enough to drop your belay device 3 pitches up, it makes for an excellent solution for both you and your partner.
Building the Munter Hitch
The Munter Hitch is best created using a large pear-shaped carabiner like a Petzle Attache or a Black Diamond Rock Lock. This gives the hitch plenty of room to set itself properly on the carabiner and insures maximum efficiency for both belaying and lowering or rappelling. For belaying your partner up the pitch (standard top down belaying) it’s important to clip your Munter Hitch carabiner directly to the master point/equalization point/hot point on the anchor, and when doing so make sure that the gate of the carabiner is facing down and out (towards the climber). Orienting the carabiner in this fashion is an important step in using the Munter Hitch properly and will insure you have the best ergonomics for your belay.
Next, simply clip the rope running to your climber through the carabiner. If you’re at a ledge, you can actually do this right away without the need to pull up any additional slack in the rope like you normally would when using your traditional belay device. The pear shaped carabiner makes for a handy little ratchet the as you pull up the rope it will stack itself very neatly on the ledge – something that’s advantageous if you’re continuing up or heading down (organized ropes are important!!). After you’ve pulled up all the slack, what will become your brake strand will either be coming out of the left or the right side of the carabiner depending on how you are oriented at the belay. It doesn’t really matter which way you’ve set this up, just realized that if it’s coming out of the left side you will be using your left hand as the brake hand, and vice versa.
Next, you need to create the twist in the rope to create the loop which will then go on the carabiner to make the Munter Hitch. The written word can be difficult to explain this, so see the attached picture and/or video to get a better feel for what this looks like. In essence, using what will become the brake strand, simply make a loop/twist in the rope where the rope lays on top of itself and then rolls on to the carabiner. Once you’ve done this, you have created the Munter Hitch are are ready to belay your partner. Always remember to lock your carabiner before you start to belay!!
A Few Important Considerations about the Munter Hitch
A critical piece of information to consider when using the Munter Hitch to belay or lower your partner is that it is NOT a hands free belay device. Devices such as the Black Diamond ATC or Petzl Reverso are very common self-locking belay devices that many climbers use on multi-pitch climbs for good reason, as they allow you to operate the belay and perform other tasks all at the same time. Not so with the Munter Hitch. Never let your hand leave the brake strand while using the Munter Hitch to belay!
Another disadvantage of the Munter Hitch is that it will introduce twists into the rope – especially when you place it under a load such as a rappel or lower. Used systematically, you’ll definitely start to notice that your climbing rope will start to twist and generally be more difficult to deal with over time.
Dropping your belay device 3 pitches up a multi-pitch rock climbing can and probably will happen to you at some point in your climbing career. Practicing and mastering the use of the Munter Hitch can make the difference between successfully completing your climb, or figuring out a convoluted solution in a potentially stressful situation. In that case, you’ll also be glad you brought your cell phone and a headlamp. You’ll need them!
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
A thick spring snowpack is making for excellent alpine climbing conditions. Went were able to sneak out of the office the other day to climb a steep coulior. Moving fast in the mountains is always the name of the game, and sometimes one piece anchors are just what is needed to provide security to partners while also keeping things efficient.
In rock climbing we always build bomber 3 (or more) piece anchors, but in the alpine, we build them to be “strong enough.” That is, we think about the likelihood of a fall and how hard that fall might be. In many cases where the likelihood of a fall is low and /or will be relatively low impact due to friction of the person’s body with snow, relatively low angels, rope friction and other factors – it is often quick to find a single bomber piece to back up a strong stance with your body and belay directly off of your harness. Take a look at the short video and see if this might help you move faster in the mountains.
Our four day ski mountaineering camp this April was a total success, with great ski conditions,and green light avalanche hazard. We began the trip with a day up at Red Mountain Pass, skiing into Prospect basin and ending the day with the classic decent from the summit of Red Mountain 3 into Champion Basin. This day was mostly to cover basic touring skills before heading into Yankee Boy Basin, for larger objectives.
The next day we skinned up into Yankee Boy, set up camp and headed for a north facing coulior on Stony Peak. We opted to drop in from the top, as the snow remained so cold on north faces that booting up would have been a physical endeavor, to say the least. The line was aesthetic and skied well with shin deep powder, high rock walls, minimal sluffing and only one rocky section,providing some teachable moments on our survival ski navigation (scraping down rock with an improvised arm wrap).
Our next day involved skiing off of the summit of Mount Sneffels, Ouray’s local 14er and the crown of the San Juans. the first group skied on one of the Birthday Chutes and the others skied down our ascent route back to Lavender Col. It was great skiing, and to top it off, we logged 800 more vertical on a creamy corn covered knoll above camp.
The final day we headed to Cross Coulior on Mendota Peak, another excelllent hallway line that yielded some cold soft snow. It was a great trip and a big thanks to Duncan, Alex, Warren and Ilan, it was a pleasure skiing with you all.
Dave Ahrens and Gary Falk
Check out these inspiring shots!