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Wednesday
Dec162015

Kodiak Island

Each year the Alaska Avalanche School works with Kodiak Island Search and Rescue. This was my third time visiting Kodiak for AAS. Kodiak is always interesting with the wild weather, beautiful ski terrain and colorful people. On this trip I did rope and avalanche training with KISAR and taught avalanche awareness courses in the high school and to the public. 

The Kenai Mountains during the one hour flight to Kodiak. 

 

Steve Wielebski met me at the airport at 3:30 in the afternoon. Forty-five minutes later we were skinning up Pyramid Mountain. Steve's pointing toward KISAR's new training hut. 

 

Then we drank beer at the Kodiak Island Brewing Company. Steve, Dicky Saltonstall and Dan Davis. 

 

On our third day we set out for the KISAR training hut. The day started warm, clear and calm.  

 

Then it began storming. Our plan to practice decision-making was thwarted. A no-go decision is obvious when you can't see anything. Kodiak weather changes by the hour. As Andy Edgerly said, "Kodiak is like an island in the North Pacific."

 

We set up an emergency shelter for a Kodiak picnic. 

 

And watched youtubes on the big screen. Dan Davis, Andy Edgerly, Steve Wielebski, Sharon Wielebski and Philip Tschersich. 

 

Our final day was at the brand new climbing wall at the Navy Seal training facility. They generously let KISAR use the wall for a day of rope training. 

 
Dan Valentine, a wildlife Trooper, and Jason McGrath, a Coast Guard Swimmer, working on rope rescue skills.  

 

Then we climbed. Here's Steve having a spin on the ice climbing wall. Fifty-five feet of the same move. 

Thanks KISAR!

Monday
Dec072015

Greg Hill

Alaska's professional avalanche center is the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, based in Girdwood. The Friends of the CNFAIC pay for most of the Center. To avoid bad avalanche karma, be a member of your local Friends group. 

Each fall the FCNFAIC has a fundraiser at the Beartooth Theater. In past years they invited Andrew McLean, Chic Scott, Kris Erickson, and locals Jay Rowe and Luc Mehl. This year the FCNFAIC invited Greg Hill, aka Two Mill Hill, to tell yarns about his adventures on skis. Greg pack the Beartooth. Anchorage's fired-up ski community loved his respect and message about avalanche safety. Thanks for coming up Greg!


But first we had to go skiing. Brian Erickson, Greg and myself on Sunnyside at Turnagain Pass. Greg had only skied on Denali and Foraker, the big hills. He was stoked to Alaska's local ski hills. 

 

Greg track setting in Main Bowl. Greg made a low angle track, but he used his the middle heel lifter. I guess that's one efficiency tip to self-propel yourself up two million vertical feet in one year. 

 

Brian and Greg getting some Sunnyside.  

 

Greg skiing back to the car. He wore jeans under his Gore-tex. Ultra-prepared for his presentation.  

 

Greg with legends of Anchorage skiing: Poacher Dave and Eric the Viking. Jeff Conaway, in the background, will be legendary, once he has 15 more years of skiing under his belt.

Sunday
Nov082015

Khumbu Trekking

In 2001 Cathy and I spent two months in Nepal. It was part of a one year honeymoon living on $10 a day each. Since then I've wanted to return to Nepal with my Dad. This fall it happened. Dad and I spent 16 days trekking in the Solukhumbu region near Everest. Our rough plan was the Three Passes Trek. Friends who spend time in the region told me:

  • "You've seen moraine, so don't go to Everest base camp."
  • "Go counterclockwise. The ascents are lower angle."
  • "Book your flight to Lukla, but nothing else. Stay flexible."
  • "Pack ultra light."
  • "Your dad will love it."

Their beta was perfect. Thank you Winslow, Seth, Najeeby, Eric and Jeremy!

I asked Dad, "What do you think about the earthquakes?" For him it was a non-issue. I guess when you're retired, 76 years old, and love adventure, you won't miss out because of some shaking earth. Plus, Nepal is a tourist economy. They need the tourist dollar. 

We met in the tourist district of Thamel in Kathmandu, a city of 2.5 million people. Most of the earthquake rubble had been cleaned up. There were vacant lots where apartment buildings once stood. Many of the 300-year old buildings in Durbar Square had crumbled. Otherwise the city was much the same as I remembered. The biggest change, supposedly, was that the streets had been widened, the front of apartment buildings shaved off and rebuilt. 

 

Kathmandu refreshed our ultra-sanitized American senses. Incense, sewage, masala chai, cow shit, garbage, smog, dirt. Vibrant and beautiful. 

 

We spent our first day walking around Kathmandu, getting trekking permits, seeing the remnants of Durbar Square and climbing 365 steps to Swayambhunath-the Monkey Temple.  

 

I was supposed to take a pretty photo of the white Monkey Temple adorned with colorful prayer flags. The monkeys were more photogenic. 

 

The next morning we flew an hour to Lukla to start our trek. The Lukla airport is tilted at about 15 degrees, ending in a mountain at one end and a precipice at the other end.  

 

A dzo (cow-yak hybrid) watches Dad on the first day of our trek. Along the way we took route ideas from local Sherpas. In Kathmandu we purchased a mistake-riddled Nepa Map, but it gave a good overview. The GAIA GPS smartphone app had the most accurate trails. 

 

Dad climbing above Namche Bazaar, the tourist center of the Khumbu. We spent two nights acclimatizing in Namche at 3,340 meters. 

 

Tenzing Portse, a local from Portse who we walked with one afternoon. Typical local male, guided Everest 10 times, out looking for his wandering yak. These are the most unassuming athletes in the world. 

 

Namche beasts of burden snacking on cardboard.  

 

We spent our fourth night in Tengboche. This is the Tengboche Monastery. Inside we watched the monks give a puja, a Buddhist ceremony, lots of mumbling and tinkling of religious objects. 

 

This stupa is above Dingboche, where we spent our second acclimatization day. The mountain above is Ama Dablam, one of the iconic mountains of the world like Alpaymayo, Cerro Torre and the Matterhorn. During our rest day I hiked the 5,535-meter Kongma La to Lobouche and back to Dingboche. 

 

Dad climbing above Dingboche toward the cluster of teahouses at Dzongla below Cho La. Like friends suggested, we packed ultra light. Our combined pack weight was 15 kilos on the Yeti Airlines scale. 

 

A frost flower extruded from a plant stem overnight.  

 

Dad near the top of Cho La, the middle pass at 5,430 meters. We took Yaktrax for better grip. 

 

Friends said Gokyo—on the left side of the lake—was the beautiful place to hang out and day hike. They were right. 

 

Dawa Sherpa ran our favorite teahouse on the trek: the Gokyo Lake Side Lodge. Women ran the best teahouses. They were more chaotic and homely with kids running around and a help-yourself bag of yak dung to stoke the fire. 

 

Dad and I on the third and final pass: Renjo La at 5,300 meters. Feeling acclimatized!

 

Our company in Thame. Thame is where many legendary mountain Sherpas come from. Our host, in the middle, said every household has a climbing Sherpa. These are the world's greatest athletes. Just working, making money taking people up mountains. No chest beating or posturing, just climbing mountains for a living. Almost every house in Thame had been leveled by the earthquake. Most had been rebuilt.   

 

The Lukla airport. We got on the last flight to Kathmandu after six hours of waiting. This was the only time we wished for a local guide. The guided groups flew out first thing each morning. The two Czech guys in this photo waited three days, until they bribed the officials. Baksheesh works.  

 

A Sahdu—a Hindu holyman—in Kathmandu. India had blocked most petrol from entering Nepal due to a disagreement about Nepal's new constitution. Miles of dust-covered cars lined the empty streets.

 

Dad starting a very long trip: Kathmandu, Hanoi, Seoul, Seattle, Spokane, Pullman, Spokane, Seattle, Denver, Houston, Buenos Aires, El Calafate, El Chalten. The rigors of being retired and living life to the max.

Thank you so much for a great trip Dad! What a dream to trek with you in Nepal. And to live high on the hog spending over $10 a day. 

Friday
Oct162015

Verdon

When traveling, sometimes I find a crag where I could climb forever and be happy. My re-occurring thought in these places is: "I can't believe I'm here." Kalymnos was like that. Cathy and I just found the Verdon Gorge in France to be like that. 

The Verdon Gorge is located in Haute Provence, which means the food, wine and culture are idyllic. The 700-meter deep gorge is lined with rock walls up to 400 meters tall. Massive Griffon Vultures skirt the dimpled limestone walls that attracts climbers from around the world.

The Verdon Gorge was a birthplace of modern sport climbing in the 1980's. It's where first ascensionist began equipping routes from the top down, allowing bolts to be placed in the right location to protect crux moves, rather than where a bolter on lead could stand or hang from a skyhook. Rap bolting, combined with hangdogging (hanging on the rope to work out a hard move), allowed the world level of climbing to explode.  

 

Climbers base from La Palud. This is downtown. The Lou Cafetiè bar is the normal après grimpe for beers, cafe and food.  

 

We stayed with Matia Edlinger at Gite l'Escalès. Matia was a professional climber, married to France's most famous rock climber, Patrick Edlinger, Le Blond. Patrick danced on rock and melted hearts. Patrick died in 2012. 

 

On our first night in La Palud we met friends Boris Lorencic, Eric Larson, Carolyn George and Adam George. Lou Cafetiè had old French guys playing live classic rock. Keen to climb the next morning, Cathy and I went to bed early. As we left, Boris, being a hard-climbing, classic rock-loving Slovenian, said, waiving his fist in the air, "That's okay man! I'll give you a call if they play more Stones!" 

 

Cathy on A Tout Coeur (150m, 6b+), Cathy's favorite route of the trip. A Tout Coeur was put up in the 1980's, which means the bolts are spaced and the holds a bit polished. The Verdon's limestone is perhaps second only to Ceuse. Solution pockets, water runnels and rails. Really good stuff. 

 

Neighboring climber Ian McDonald took this photo of me sizing up the five meter distance to the next bolt on steep rock with small holds. 

 

Cathy on Les Deux Doigts Dans Le Nez (150m, 6a+). In American that means The Two Fingers in The Nose. The route has two finger pockets for six pitches of 6a+ climbing. It's a modern route with close bolts and less polished rock. 

 

My favorite route was Liberte Surveillee (130m, 6b+), a new route with plenty of bolts, but still sporty enough to make you think. This route was in a narrow and secluded portion of the canyon with forests that hung like Japanese paintings. Between the hanging forests were striped walls of untouched limestone. 

 

Still honeymooning with my DW. 


Cathy leading the crux pitch of Liberte Surveillee. The route's S-turn gave her a bonus 100 pounds of drag at the crux moves. After a month of climbing around work days, she floated right through. 

 

Starting the first of seven raps down to the base of La Demande (350m, 6a), a classic and perhaps the longest route in the Verdon. I'm wearing flip flops so our climbing pack is lighter. 

 

Cathy on the final rap down to La Demande. A wiser option would have been to walk in from Couloir Samson and hitch back. Next to La Demande is Ula (250m, 6b). We'll be walking back for Ula. 

 

Cathy stepping off the "Thank God!" horizontal tree on La Demande. Overall, La Demande wasn't the classic Verdon rock. It was mostly slippery and dirty cracks with bolts every 10 meters. The chimney pitches were clean and athletic climbing though. Like Epinephrine in Red Rocks. 

Cathy was almost crying as we left La Palud for the airport. We'll be back. Maybe forever.