Search
All Posts
Friday
Oct162015

Finale Ligure

Chris Wright described Finale as "Such a good vibe, good food, friendly people, #@&%ing castles, and amazing stone." Chris is a cultured IFMGA Mountain Guide. So he knows a good place. Listening to Chris, in October, Cathy and I spent two weeks working and climbing in Finale with IFMGA Mountain Guide Eric Larson and his wife Kat. Finale is on the Italian Riviera, close to the dinky country of Monaco, and the French cities of Nice and Cannes. 


Finale Ligure and the Mediterranean.  

 We actually stayed in Finaleborgo, a walled-in fort within Finale Ligure. Here's Cathy strutting her new Italian E9 climbing pants through Finaleborgo on a quiet morning. Other days the streets were packed with arm-waving Italians, the greeting of "Ciao! Ciao!" echoing off the ancient walls. People aren't slaves to their Facecramp here. They don't text much. They talk. Italians really like to talk. 

 

Cathy and I spent the entire 16 days with Eric and Kat. They live in Telluride, Colorado, where Eric ski patrols and Kat massages. The biggest issue we had the entire trip was deciding, "Should we get another vino, or switch to birra?"

 

Finale has thousands of climbs. Three thick guidebooks cover the region. The climbing is on short cliffs in the low hills above Finale. Here's Cathy climbing a 6b+ at Monte Cucco on a windy day. This sector has the best rock, but some routes are polished like porcelain from 30 years of sweaty, chalky climbers.  

 

Eric leading a 6b. He's equipped with crag pack of Peroni Birra, for Peroni power at the crux. 

 

Cathy topping out on Infezoine Finalese (20m 6a) in the Grotta dell 'Edera. This sector had the most memorable climbing of our trip. This massive cylinder of pocketed limestone was once a cave, before most of the roof collapsed. Access to the Grotta was through a dark cave with fixed ropes.

 

We spent half our trip acting like Italians: drinking wine in cafes and talking enthusiastically. 

 

Eric resupplies the home stash at the neighborhood vinoteca. Two liters of Nero d'Avola for €4.50. 

 

Thank you so much for a great trip Cathy, Kat, Eric and Finale! 

Monday
Sep142015

Envers

The Envers Refuge is where climbers and guides go on vacation. It's a mellow scene, but the rock routes are huge. This year Cathy and I came to Chamonix prepared with a double rack and twin ropes. Between weather and work, we squeezed in a day and a half of climbing at the Envers. Lucky us!

It's a three-hour approach to the Envers after taking the Montenvers Railway from Chamonix. From the Montenvers we dropped down ladders, cables and moraine to the withering Mer de Glace Glacier. Each year the glacier drops, exposing more teetering moraine.  

 

We hiked a mile up the Mer de Glace, then climbed ladders to the Envers Refuge. Typical of the Alps, route finding wasn't hard.  

 

The Refuge de l'Envers is perched above the ogived Mer de Glace. Rising above the Envers are seas of granite. 

 

After the approach, Cathy and I dropped our packs and climbed La Piege. Two hundred meters of 6a+ granite crack climbing just five minutes from the refuge. 

 

The next day we climbed Amazonia, a 370-meter 6a+ on the First Point of the Nantillions. Here's Cathy leading a polished slab on the second pitch. For us the route was 13 pitches. 

 

A choucas stopped by, looking for handouts. 

 

Joe having a seriously good time near the summit of Amazonia. Photo by Marian Penso who we climbed just behind. Marian is from Cape Town, South Africa. Great company! 

 

Our last stuck rope of the rappels. High friction rock loves to stick ropes. 

 

Down just in time before the rain. 

 

Mid-September. Winter is coming. 

 

Back at the hut, a Chamoniard Guide charms the ladies. We'll be back!

Sunday
Aug162015

Dale Guiding the Matterhorn

Dale Remsberg is a Boulder-based IFMGA Mountain Guide. I was lucky to work with Dale at the Colorado Mountain School in 2008 and 2009. I found him to be a talented guide, with high standards, and an unusual ability for mentoring guides. That's why he's now the technical director of the American Mountain Guides Association.

This summer I joined Dale for the summit portion of a six-day Matterhorn trip. On summit day, my client felt ill, so I returned to the Hornli Hut with her, then headed back up to catch Dale and his client Janet. I spent the day floating around them, taking photos, and feeling guilty about Dale working so hard. Although Dale is a super-efficient guide, it appeared he was working twice as hard as me who wasn't guiding. 

Most climbers stay at the Hornli Hut at the base of the Hornli Ridge. Last year the Hornli Hut was rebuilt. It went from being crammed and stinky, to wifi and roomy beds.  


I caught up with Dale and Janet above the Solvay Hut. Here is Dale shortroping Janet, using a fixed line for security. Getting up and down the 4,000 feet of the Matterhorn requires speed on third and fourth class terrain. Recreational groups often don't make it because they try slow, full-length pitches. 

 

Dale short-pitching with the rope wrapped around an iron stanchion. The box behind Dale is a light—see last photo. 

 

An old-school Austrian guide giving Dale and I the hairy eyeball. "So how come you can guide here and I can't guide in the US?" We tell him "You can guide in the US, but it's difficult for you, and difficult for us." The permits and insurance obstacles encountered in the US are beyond comprehension for most European guides. 

 

Cluster! The Zermatt guides passing Dale on their way down. Nobody gets ahead of the Zermatt guides. Swiss rules you know....

 

Dale, Janet and I on the summit.

 

Dale lowering Janet on the descent. Notice how the rope is wrapped upward to the guide. 

 

After lowering Janet, Dale downclimbs a fixed rope.  

 

Dale downclimbs to the Solvay Hut after belaying Janet down. Dale is protecting himself by looping his rope over a massive bolt head. Once down by Janet, Dale will flip the rope off the bolt. 

 

Looking toward the Monte Rosa massif from the Solvay Hut. The glaciers in the Alps are hurting. 

 

Dale using a Munter hitch on a locker draw to lower Janet down the Moseley slabs below the Solvay Hut. He has the rope pre-rigged through a bolt so he's ready to rappel. I jumped on Dale's rope for this rap, thus botching my chance for fame and glory from a ropeless Matterhorn ascent. 

 

Dale short-roping third class terrain. Facing outward while guiding third and fourth class terrain takes practice but it's important for moving fast and watching the clients' feet. If she slips, Dale is ready to stop the fall.


Back in Zermatt that evening we drank this wine with our pizza. It was really good. Probably the best wine I'll drink in my life, or so says the label. 

 

Zermatt put lights up the Hornli ridge to mark the 150th anniversary of the Matterhorn's first ascent.

Tuesday
Jun232015

Arctic Refuge Mountaineering

In 2009, Paul Muscat and I climbed Mount Chamberlin, then considered to be the highest summit in the Brooks Range at 9,020 feet. Now, Mount Isto might be the highest at 9,060 feet. It was the excuse we needed for another trip to this wild land.

Joining us was Glenn Wilson and James Kesterson. Over the past 17 years we've been on many trips together: Denali, Mount Baker, Marcus Baker, Mount Bona, Mount Iliamna, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Mount Chamberlin, Mount Logan and the Central Talkeetna Mountains. On this trip we didn't get up Isto, but we had a blast exploring and bagging peaks.

With logistics help from Alaska Alpine Adventures, we flew direct from Fairbanks to the Jago River with Wright Air. It was a two and half hour bush flight, with no in-flight service. This region is better known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where Alaska's embarrassing half-term governor once said, "Drill baby drill."

The plane is a Helio Courier, made in the 1970's and designed for a low stall speed. Supposedly it will fall horizontally rather than nose dive. The tires are Alaskan Bushwheels, made near Anchorage in Chugiak. They are the "premier tire for extreme backcountry adventures." 

 

Paul crossing the Jago river. Mellow here, but rumors of downstream rapids kept us from floating 50 miles to the ocean. This was Paul's fifth trip to the Arctic Refuge. Paul has also visited Ellesmere Island, a land rich with Arctic survival stories. Paul has an obsession with Arctic survival. When we saw a leafy lichen he said, "You could make a miserable soup if you were starving." 

 

Glenn, Paul and James examine the skull, antlers and vertebral bodies of a caribou. The Arctic Refuge is packed with animals. We saw mostly bones and trails, except for one scaredy-cat grizzly, some chirping arctic ground squirrels and birds. The herds of musk ox and caribou are more common on the coastal plane. 

 

Our first summit was the 8,625-foot Screepik. While conducting summit LNC (Leave No Cairn) we found Tom Choate's name in a sodden film canister. In 1999 he climbed Screepik and traversed onto Isto. His trip reports are in the October 1999, February 2000 and the November 2013 Scree newsletter from the Mountaineering Club of Alaska. Choate called Peak 8625 "Spectre". First ascentionists called it Shadow Peak. Keeping with the tradition, we called it Screepik. Scree for the endless boulderfields, and "pik" for the Inuit word for “genuine."

 

Descending from the summit of Screepik.

 

Back at high camp after climbing Screepik. Ahhh, summertime in the Alaskan Arctic. 

 

Glenn checks the map for our next peak to slay.

 

"Are you farting?" Paul asked me. "Gypsum," said Glenn. The fossil-filled rocks stunk. 

 

On the summit of Lincoln Peak (7,470') above the Arctic coastal plane. The sea ice is a white line above the horizon. Pristine. Wild. 

 

Descending from Lincoln Peak. Much of the high Brooks Range is boulder fields. This one was solid. Others are shifting fields of fridge-sized leg-crushers. 

 

Resting and BSing, back at base camp on the Jago River. We've accumulated months of sitting around BSing. That's what makes a great group: enjoying eachother's company. We had a separate cook shelter, away from our sleeping tent. 

 

The Brooks Range bears are grizzlies, which have a mostly vegetarian diet and are much smaller than coastal brown bears or Kodiak brown bears. Bears in the area run away from humans, except the ones that eat humans. 

 

Lowenbrau walking. A couple hours later the wind was blowing 40 miles per hour. Then it was raining. Then it cleared. That's what you get when you place big mountains near water and ice. 

 

James near the summit of Peak 7130.  

 

Glenn supervising a zipper-removal program on our Hilleberg Keron 4. We replaced 2.1 ounces of zippers with string pulls. "Lighter, more quiet and better zipper action," said the supervisor. 

 

A wooly lousewort. New flower types emerged each day. Things move fast in the three month season of no ice.  

 

Downtown Arctic Village, where we stopped on the flight back to Fairbanks.

 

Waiting for things to happen at the Arctic Village Airport terminal. Thanks for yet another great trip guys!