|5 year old Oona Davis at Bachar Boulders|
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Sunday, October 7, 2012
|Sometimes you don't have a choice.|
|The late great Alex Lowe|
Sunday, August 19, 2012
|James Colborn in yet another notch high on Tower One with Incredible Hulk behind|
“Well that’s it,” I said to my partner James Colborn as I pulled the rappel rope. “This was my one hundredth High Sierra route” “Congratulations” he said, more concerned with the steep gully descent than my spray. We had just finished what we thought was a first ascent, that is until we found a rap anchor on top of the final spire. We tried this route last year and had envisioned a long ridge route from Ice Lake Pass to the summit of the Incredible Hulk. That attempt ended with horrible rock and a spectacular thunderstorm. Today from the top of the spire, which we call Tower One* III (5.8) we could see that traversing to the top of Mt Walt and the Incredible Hulk was pointless. The Route ends here. On the long descent I had time to think about not only about the 100 routes I’d climbed, but the many different partners I’d climbed them with. As we rigged a rappel in the descent gully I told James about the many, many failures it took to succeed on these routes. We had to leave an old one and a half friend that I’ve had for 25 years. I brought it on a lot of High Sierra routes because it was a “leavable” piece. If you succeed on every climb you try, then you’re not playing the game the right way.
|Tower One as seen from Hulk base camp. Our route follows the obvious buttress in the center of the photo.|
|Northwest Arete of Center Peak photo:Tim Best|
It was about six years ago that I realized that I might be able to do 100 different High Sierra Routes. Of course I would have to establish criteria for what constitutes a High Sierra route. To avoid any confusion while talking to Sierra section peak baggers, I decided that the climbs had to be at least a grade III (5.6) requiring at least a two hour approach, and starting above 8,000 feet. I also counted routes that were considered “classic” by their inclusion in either Peter Crofts “Top 40 High Sierra Rock Climbs” or “100 Best Climbs in the High Sierra” by John Moynier and Claude Fiddler. Routes on 14,000-foot peaks like Mt Langley were tallied regardless of their grade. Some of the routes were unreported first ascents. I also counted a few other routes just because I felt like it. Some routes like Cathedral Peak, the Red Dihedral on the Hulk and the West Ridge of Conness I’ve done multiple times but counted them only once. It's my list, my criteria, and of only real lasting value to me. I won't debate it. The last fifteen or so routes proved to be the most difficult. By this time I had picked all the low hanging fruit. While it maybe easy to find a partner for the North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak, try finding a partner for the South Face! Also family life and career were in full swing making it difficult to get away. Injury and illness also slowed production when I quit climbing for a few years.
|Another view of Tower One|
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The current literature on training for climbing centers on bouldering and sport climbing. Information on training for multi-pitch, alpine and big wall climbing is usually thrown in late with the chapter on kids, vegetarians and climbers over sixty. My extensive research into fitness and training for climbing has revealed very little useful information on the subject of training for big endurance days in the mountains. Although somewhat dated, Mark Twight’s book “Extreme Alpine Climbing” does successfully address the training needs of the serious alpinist. I have also heard rumors about an upcoming alpine training book by Steve House. The climbers training at garage gym don’t have time to climb all day at the crags three to four days a week as one author suggest. Ruthlessly wired top rope laps are the most common practice to build endurance for long routes. While this isn’t a horrible idea if you’re training for the Rostrum-Astroman link-up, it’s not the type of endurance I’m talking about.
|Tim Best tags the summit of South Guard|
Alpine Rock Climbing-To be really good and fit for alpine rock climbing you need to be fast and solid with a minimal rack and sloppy boots on easy (sub 5.6) to moderate (sub 5.10) terrain. Easy? Not really. I’ve seen some pretty strong free climbers slowed to a crawl on loose and exposed Sierra ridges. British training guru Neil Gresham suggests that you need to practice your easy climbing, but he may have been talking about 5.11? So instead of trying to build endurance by doing top rope laps on 5.11 and 5.12, I found the best way to get strong and fast for alpine rock climbing is by climbing easier (preferably obscure multi-pitch) routes all day. Can your ego handle it?
|Hardy Bullock ultra running|
Saturday, March 17, 2012
In the summer of 1996 Dave Nettle and I made the first ascents of The Forge III (5.11) on Blacksmith Peak and Astrohulk IV (5.11+) on the Incredible Hulk. I wrote the following piece that winter and promptly had it rejected by several publications including my own fanzine-The Vertical Cannibal. Rereading it now, sixteen years later, I would be a little embarrassed to post it on this blog in its original form, so I did some editing. But my “writing style” does reflect how important these High Sierra routes were to me at the time, and they still remain two of my proudest climbing achievements.
Nettle and I were talking about it again. It’s the same conversation we have at potluck dinners and coffee houses around Tahoe. This morning, just before dawn, Nettle is reciting a list of candidates from behind the wheel of his meticulously kept Subaru wagon. His tone suggests that he hasn’t given the idea much thought, but we both know better. “Maybe Angels Wings, Mt. Chamberlin or Mt. Hale” he says, wiping coffee from his equally kept moustache with a neatly folded 7-11 napkin. A rush of cold air fills the car as I open the door and dump the remains of my coffee onto Highway 395 South. The roar briefly drowns out one of Dave’s favorite tapes-BTO’s Greatest Hits. “What about that thing we tried last year on the Incredible Hulk?” I ask. “Yeah that could be it,” he says. “It’s big enough, steep enough and probably hard enough. At Bridgeport we head west. The morning alpenglow is just beginning to catch the crest of the Sawtooth Ridge. “I guess it depends on if we can free the big corner at the top,” Nettle says, staring straight ahead at the jagged ridgeline that extends upward from year-round snowfields. “Could be just what were looking for,” I add. “A long, hard Yosemite-style free route high in the backcountry. The “Astroman of the High Sierra.”
But today’s mission doesn’t meet the criteria. At only eight or so pitches, the Northwest face of Blacksmith Peak simply isn’t big enough. A week ago we checked out a new line from a nearby ridge and now were returning to give it a go. As we rack and pack in the Twin Lakes parking lot, I notice dark clouds building over Matterhorn Peak and the Dragtooth. I think about mentioning this to Dave, but he’s to busy cleaning muffin crumbs from the seat of his car with a whisk broom.
Inspired by the building clouds, we complete the approach in less than three hours. As I foot-pack a stance in the snow at the start route, Nettle extends his closed hands palms-down, like the start of a chess match. I choose the left hand that reveals a small stone and the first lead. After a bit of on-lead cleaning and a traverse right to a ledge, the first two pitches go at easy 5.10. Next, Nettle leads a sustained, splitter 5.11 finger crack to a sling belay where he places the only bolt of the route.
The sky is utterly black as I lead around a small roof and the first thunder of the day rattles the wall. Is it my imagination or is the rope buzzing against the wall from static electricity? Above Blacksmith Peak, lightning and thunder explode simultaneously making it difficult to focus on the grainy rock and thin protection ahead. Our dream of a first ascent on this remote peak is beginning to fade. Just out of reach, a small alcove looks like a good place for a belay but rope drag from below the roof is making it difficult to move. I shout into the wind for slack and then stack enough rope onto a chest- high sloping ledge to make it-hopefully-to the alcove. Thunder prompts me to step up onto a small black knob. Now that I’m fully committed and can just creep my chilled fingers on to a skin-piercing flake at the base of the alcove. The pile of rope lays motionless at my feet and I start to question my unorthodox methods. SNAP! The knob breaks and my feet paddle around on the grainy rock as I hurl myself into the alcove. A full-leg-press mantle is required as the now taut rope conspires to rip my harness and pants off and pull me backwards off the wall. Hail has started to fall as I build a belay and bring Dave up.
At the next belay, we decide our safest option is to sit out the storm on some small ledges. After moving all the metal gear away from us, we sit shivering silently in our rain gear as hail coats the talus below like the first snowfall of autumn. An hour later, the worst of the storm has moved just enough to the east to allow for a sprint to the top. I then lead a full rope length of damp, rounded and near vertical 5.10 fins of granite. At least I’m not shivering anymore. At the belay I scan the wall above for a line to the summit ridge still 300 feet away. “It looks like you have your work cut out for you,” I say to Dave as he arrives at the belay. But with some sporty simul-climbing, we reach the ridge in one very long “pitch,” and then scramble to the top accompanied by frequent thunder, lightning and intermittent rain. I crouch low on the lightning-rod summit block to sign the register. “Hey Dave, what should we call this thing?” Nettle, seeing no reason to stand on the summit in a thunderstorm is busy preparing a rappel. “I was thinking,” he says in the same tone that suggests he hasn’t given it much thought. “Seeing how we forged our way up, how about The Forge?” (photo first pitch of The Forge)
Yosemite Valley’s Astroman IV (5.11c) is one of the most classic and sought-after long, hard free climbs in the world. Originally called The East Face of Washington Column before it was renamed Astroman (after the Jimi Hendrix tune) when it was first free climbed in 1975 by John Bachar, John Long and Ron Kauk. Nothing compares. Yet many climbing areas boast their own version and name them “Astro” this or that, such as Astro-Elephant on Elephants Perch in Idaho. Dave Nettle and I named our route (which is actually a link-up of several existing routes and a few new pitches) Astrohulk in this tradition. However, Nettle would go on to put up other routes on the Incredible Hulk that are more worthy of being compared to Astroman. Two of these are Sun Spot Dihedral IV (5.11b) in 1999 with Jimi Haden and in 2004 Venturi Effect IV (5.12+) with Peter Croft.
This is new I thought, camping in Little Slide Canyon instead of going for it car-to-car. But Dave Nettle and I need some extra time to work on the first pitch. Dave and Tahoe free climbing ace Mike Carville had been working on a variation to Positive Vibrations IV (5.11a) earlier this year and had added a new start. They dubbed this pitch “Power Rangers,” and it involves technical and tricky 5.11+ moves. Nettle and I worked on this pitch in the afternoon and added a bolt to the bouldery first moves.
The next morning was quite cold, so Dave and I opted for the original 5.9 start and quickly climbed over the familiar first four pitches of Positive Vibes to a large ledge. It was almost a year ago to the day that Nettle and I huddled here waiting for a howling west wind to drop. Later, as we rapped off at my request, Nettle told me that this would be a good day in Patagonia. As I struggled with frozen fingers and my rap device, I made a mental note not to mention any desire to climb in Patagonia in front of Nettle again. But while today is late-September-cold, there is no wind and we cruise across easy ledges to the start of the Bard-Harrington “Suicide Route.” Here is where the business starts-three steep and sustained 5.11 pitches that include the wild detached flake known as “The Sea Serpent.” At the base of a large right-facing corner where the original route pendulums left, Dave drills two 3/8-inch bolts (by hand of course) in record time.
Now we’re finally in the sun, but the warmth does nothing to ease the sight of the desperate looking corner above. It’s beyond steep, and protection in the strange, rounded grainy crack looks non-existent. My assessment of this pitch (later named the “Enduro-Corner” after the fourth pitch of Astroman) would not be complete without the overriding fact that the man himself Dale Bard and High Sierra pioneer Bob Harrington had elected to swing out left to easier ground. I assumed they didn’t even want to aid the thing! Neither did I, so I passed the lead to Nettle.
Dave steps out of the belay into a full lie-back with his feet skating around on the thin loose flakes that line the crack. I try to adjust my belay so that if Dave falls he won’t end up in my lap. Dave manages to finagle in an unlikely number four Camalot that is tipped-out on the lip of the crack. Next, Nettle calls for tension. I pull in the slack and brace for impact. Nothing happens. The stem of the cam is completely horizontal and looks ready to snap. “I’m gonna drill,” Dave says, and gets busy. I’m more gripped than he is. I need to chalk up just to belay.
I look to the west and try to calculate the remaining daylight and the distance to the top. It’s going to be close. Dave finishes the bolt, clips in and lowers to the belay. “How’s it look above?” I ask. “More of the same,” he says as he checks out the rapidly sinking sun. “I may have to place the number four like that again.” After a quick drink of water Nettle is liebacking past the bolt. Another twenty feet go by before Dave places the four cam again in the same dicey manner. But instead of placing another bolt, Dave continues on and finally latches a loose flake way out from the shifting cam. I chalk up and brace myself to catch a huge fall. He’s too pumped to place gear to protect a mantel on to the flake. Dave says “watch me,” then manages to shake his way onto the flake.
Sierra evening air is starting to cool as Dave continues up the corner to a big ledge. It takes every cubic centimeter of my forearms to follow the pitch without falling.
“How hard do you think that was?” Dave asks. It takes me a minute to catch my breath, then I answer between gasp, “I don’t know, 5.11+ or 5.12a?” “You think?” Dave asks looking down the pitch. Then he says something that totally shocks me “I think I should rap back down and place a bolt to protect that section before the mantel” I look at Dave to make sure he’s serious, then shift my gaze to the setting sun. But my thoughts aren’t not only on the late hour. “Look Dave.” I begin. That was a real masterpiece of a lead; let the next guy do it.” While Nettle is thinking about this, I start eyeing the next pitch. “I just want people to repeat it,” he says as he’s hands me the small brass nuts. “You might need these.” I grab the nuts and say, “Listen Dave, this route’s been your gig from the beginning. If that’s what you wanna do, go for it.” As I rack the tiny nuts I look up and wonder where the hell am I going to place these? “Dave that lead was a moment in time, don’t discount it man” Dave smiles and I begin lacing up my shoes, then continue. “I’ve never seen doing first ascents as community service.” Dave gives up the argument with, “you’re on belay.”
I start leading out above the corner where I’m faced with a tricky maneuver that forces me back down to a good stance. If I fall here I will fly past Dave‘s belay and rattle down the corner. I think about placing a bolt, but after my speech on style, I decide to go for it. The move turns out to be much easier than expected. I finally plug in some pro and run out the rope to the North Ridge. Dave and I high tail it to the familiar summit via simul-climbing with an occasional belay. Dave signs the summit register:
“First ascent/link-up of Positive Vibes, Bard-Harrington, and Direct Finish, Astrohulk” IV (5.11+) F.A. Dave Nettle, Mike Davis 9/9”