Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Direttissima - 5.8+, 9 pitches (Yamnuska)

Grade 5.8+, 9 pitches, 325m
Bolted or piton belays
Trad (with occasional bolts)

Direttissima means "The Shortest Link" in Italian according to Wikipedia, and is an old climbing term describing the direct line to the summit. Direttissima on Yamnuska is just that. The direct line to the top of the mountain. It's been a few years since I have climbed on Yam, and just the thought of it gives me the butterflies. It's big, it's chossy, it's sand-bagged and it is always a full value day. I had always considered Direttissima to be a bit out of my league, but with Connor willing to get on the sharp end, I was happy to tuck in behind him and cruise up the route with Kyle at my side.

We left Calgary at 5:30 on Sunday to meet Connor at the parking lot for 6:30. We did not want to be below any parties on the route due to rockfall hazard. Nobody else was around as we packed up our gear and hit the approach trail. Hiking to the base of Yamnuska is a mission on it's own. After an hour of steep uphill, we reached the bottom of our route, right in the centre of the wall. We had to walk past it then scramble up the steep triangle of rock to the base of Direttissima.
Checking in at the climbers log
Approach trail below the Yam face
Looking up at our line (in the large central shadow) from the descent trail
Scoping out the line from below. Yam is notorious for route-finding difficulties
The first pitch starts just to the left of a line of bolts and follows a crack systems up and left. This is graded as one of the crux pitches so I was feeling pretty confident when I didn't find it too tough. Connor was leading and bringing Kyle and I up on half ropes. I managed to drop a bowling ball-sized rock down on Kyle near the top of the first pitch which snapped me out complacency and reminded me that we were indeed in the rockies, and on a huge choss pile. Good thing we were climbing close together as the slow moving rock bounced off Kyle, leaving him a bit sore but no worse for wear.
Connor starts up the 1st pitch
Kyle and I following up the big corner on pitch 1
Even one pitch off the ground, you start to feel the exposure. Pitch two (5.8) had some airy moves and I actually found it more difficult than the first pitch as you had to move through a small roof that required some powerful moves and hand jams.
Great views from the belay station
Connor starts up pitch 2
Pitch 3 has a few options. Connor opted for a 5.8 variation, then traversed right to the 5.6 variation. It was easier climbing but more difficult route finding to a bolted belay at the bottom of a large right-facing corner.
Kyle goofing around
Pitch 4 was a cruise up the corner to the start of the traverse pitch. While Connor was leading, some rocks came down from above. We knew there wasn't anyone above us so it had to be from either mountain exfoliation, or hikers on the summit chucking rocks down.
Connor stemming up the corner
View of the very vertical "suicide wall"
Good times at belay stations
Pitch 5 is a traverse out right and around a big corner. It feels very exposed and you start to realize just how high up the wall you really are. The climbing was easier if you stayed low, but it was tempting to climb upwards towards old pitons and other tat. The route is full of old pitons, some sketchier than others. Although Connor clipped a number of pitons, he also made sure to place his own gear for protection!

As Connor climbed around the corner, we heard the high-pitched whistle of a rock whizzing by, exploding onto the ledges below us. More projectiles came sailing down. Somebody was obviously throwing rocks. We screamed up the route and the rockfall ceased, but we were all pretty shaken up. By this point, there was another party below us on Mixed Emotions and I am sure that they were in the firing zone as well.
Scurrying up the awkward corner into the safety of the cave at the top of pitch 5
Squishy cave belay station
Belay station views at the top of pitch 5
Tensions were high as Connor moved right out of the safe belay cave and onto pitch 6. Shortly after he pulled through the big moves and gained the face, another barrage of rocks came pouring down. Profanity and shrieks of terror followed, directed at whoever was above us and the torrent stopped. Kyle and I climbed as quick as possible through the exposed pitch to the safety of the next belay.

Pitch 7 started with an easy but exposed traverse left before following the face up to the bottom of a big chockstone. As we were climbing, a helicopter was making trips back and forth from the valley. We watched as it flew people in on a long line to the base of the scree run, then picked someone up and flew them down to the staging area. We wondered if they had been hit by a rock or taken a spill down the descent.
Where are we??
Connor moves out onto the face of pitch 7
We had calmed down significantly once we were able to see the top of the route but were looking forward to topping out in one piece. The last two pitches climb through a wide chimney up and over a few big chockstones. The final pitch was the crux of the route, with a very slippery slab move onto a ledge, followed by more polished rock up to a big chockstone. There is a fixed sling that I grabbed to pull myself through the steep move. Once at the chockstone, it looks like you might be able to tunnel behind it, but we climbed out and around to the right with a very desperate and exposed move onto the final slab. We traversed out right, following bolts across the thin slab to a bolted anchor which I believe is the top of Mixed Emotions.
Here I come over the chockstone on pitch 8
Tough moves out of the cave for the polished final pitch 
We topped out at 2:30 and joined the swam of hikers on the top. Finally we could relax without fear of death and dismemberment raining from above. What a fun route with a great variety of interesting climbing! We made quick work of the descent down the west side of the mountain and took the steep scree run back down to the main trail. 

As we were descending, the helicopter came back in to pick up an injured climber from the bottom of Grillmair's Chimney. Kananaskis Public Safety was busy this weekend, thanks guys and girls for all you do!
Summit photo - cheers to Connor for guiding us up the route!
Heli coming in for a rescue at the bottom of Grillmair's Chimney

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ticks and Trying Hard in Stone Hill, Montana

It can be hard to make plans for May Long Weekend and we struggle with it every year. There are just so many options available; skiing, scrambling, mountaineering, climbing, mountain biking. The possibilities are endless. We came very close to joining the masses on the Columbia Icefield to finish off the ski season with some peak bagging, but with warm weather in the forecast we shifted our focus to the south and loaded up the trailer, bound for Stone Hill, Montana.

Kyle and I discovered Stone Hill not long after we started climbing. This little quartzite gem, only 4 hours from Calgary, was our early season destination for a couple of years but we hadn't been back in a while. It is a series of crags that line the road beside Lake Koocanusa on the Montana side of the border, not far from Eureka and the Roosville border crossing. The best part, besides the awesome camping, is the fact that there is literally no approach to the climbs. Some are so close to the parking that you can belay out of the back of your truck!
The main attraction - the Room With a View - a 5.8 sandbag
We arrived mid-morning and there were a few cars parked along the road. Good thing there are plenty of climbs to keep everyone busy! Despite being a Canadian holiday, it was relatively quiet at the crag, but we did run into a bunch of other Canadians! It was lightly drizzling so we continued on and snagged a wicked campsite beside the lake. After a quick lunch, we hit the crag with a vengeance, the boys were ready to send! 
Connor at the top of the Room With a View
  Connor got us started with a warm up on Room with a View, a notoriously sandbagged 5.8 route with two roofs and a very airy and exposed finish. With the main classic in the bag, we made our way over to Hold Up Bluffs and each pushed ourselves to get on some exciting routes. It was try hard day for everyone and both Kyle and Connor took a good whip on Night Flyer (5.10b trad)! It was pretty awesome coming back to the area after a few years and seeing how far we have progressed. I was trying some routes on lead that I was struggling to top rope last time!
Fish Tacos for dinner!
Awesome campsite set up not too far from the crags
Sunday, we hit up Mussel Beach crag and ran into a crew that we knew from Calgary. The boys pushed each other pretty hard, feeding off the stoke from their sends. The entire area is very sandbagged, but the rock quality is good and it takes good gear so everyone was willing to push it a bit. Many routes are not pure trad and will have key bolts to protect the blank sections. Each route seems to have a bolted anchor with chains, and its easy to access most of the crags by walking around to the top if you want to set up a top rope. There is a local guidebook (The Complete Stone Hill Climbers Guide 2009) which you can pick up at the hunting store in Eureka, but be warned, it is almost comical how many errors there are. You really need to read between the lines to figure out where you are. There is also a Montana Rock Book but it doesn't include many of the Stone Hill crags or routes. Still, it is helpful as a second source when trying to find a specific route.
The boys checking out the guidebook at Mussel Beach 
Kyle on "Eat Your Spinach" 5.10b trad
Eat Your Spinach 
Good thing Kyle ate his spinach
Excellent viewing platform for the climbs and a great view over the lake
Connor taking his turn on Eat Your Spinach
Starting up Cul-de-sac Crack (5.9+ trad) 
Thank god we had a TRCI on our trip to show us how to belay
Getting into the business on Cul-de-sac Crack
After a great day of climbing in the hot sun, we hit the lake for a swim. The Koocanusa Valley gets really warm, which makes Stone Hill the perfect shoulder season crag. I think it would get too hot in the summer as most of the crags are south or west facing.
Cooling off in Lake Koocanusa 
Adam enjoying the sunshine. It sure doesn't feel like May!
Connor summons the fire gods
 One issue with Stone Hill is the ticks. They are everywhere. We all found ticks on us, in the tents and on the ropes. We must have seen at least 30 between the four of us. Be prepared, wear deet and check for ticks!
One of many ticks spotted
 Our last day was split between Bighorn Bluffs and Hold Up Bluffs so we could get on Supercrack (5.10b) and Kyle and Connor could work on Night Flyer again. It was a slightly longer approach than the other crags to get up to Bighorn Bluffs (about 10 mins), but the view was spectacular. Kyle and Connor started to warm up on a 5.8 that was definitely not a 5.8 and got their butts kicked. Adam and I had a fun climb on Little Bighorn Face (5.9) before heading around the corner to Supercrack. Adam was the only one who went for it on lead. It had some thin cruxes and powerful moves through a roof and ended on an insecure handcrack. Not an easy 5.10b!
View from the top of the bluffs
View of Sheepish Grin (10a) and the Bighorn Roof Direct (12a)
Adam starting up Supercrack (5.10b trad)
Adam cruxing at the top of Supercrack
Top-roping Night Flyer (5.10b) - another toughy

Monday, May 7, 2018

Red Rocks Spring Break

It was a long winter this year so getting away for a sunny spring vacation was just what Kyle and I needed. We planned to climb in Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, on either end of our rafting trip on the Grand Canyon with my family. We started the trip off with 4 days of climbing with Angela and Connor, who were in the middle of a climbing road trip through the western USA. We were also extremely stoked to meet up with David and Tyler! They had decided to drive out from San Fran to surprise us and climb for the weekend! 

We spent the first few days warming up (and getting sunburnt) on sport climbs in the Calico Basin and Calico Hills. Right away, we could tell it was going to be a good trip. All the gym climbing this winter looked like it had paid off and we were both pushing ourselves to get on some harder routes than ever before!
Day 2 crew - Vancouver reunion brought to you by Patagonia hats
Slabby sandstone approach to the Black Corridor
Welcome to the Black Corridor, essentially an outdoor climbing gym that was full of other Canadians! 
Enjoying the evening light and a cold beverage back at camp 
Chuckwalla lizard sunbathing on the rocks
The last day before rafting, Angela, Connor, Kyle and I all climbed the Cat in the Hat as two parties of two. This is a 5.7 trad route in Pine Creek Canyon. We climbed the first 5 pitches, then rappelled the route which is the typical way it is climbed. It was a fun, leisurely day out and we all got on the sharp end of the rope at one point! An early start ensured that we were off the route by early afternoon and only behind one other party (its a very popular route!).
Angela following me up the first pitch of Cat in the Hat 
Kyle leading pitch 3 of Cat in the Hat
Angela takes the lead on the traverse (pitch 4) 
Pitch 5 of Cat in the Hat high above the Red Rock Canyon and Las Vegas
Smiles at the top of Cat in the Hat with Pine Creek Canyon behind 
Rappelling the route
Beautiful Pine Creek Canyon
Post climb parking lot beers
  Six days later, Kyle and I were back in Red Rocks for another five days of climbing on our own. We had upped our climbing dirtbag game by renting a minivan to house all our stuff. Travelling with climbing gear, camping equipment and rafting stuff meant our lives were a constant battle to keep ourselves organized. Having the extra space in the van proved useful both for organization and as a cozy place to sleep. The first night at the campground it was totally full. Fortunately we had met some people from Canmore earlier in the trip and they let us crash on their site for the night! There was plenty of room for us to sleep in the van when the stow and go seats were tucked away. We ended up sleeping in the van all week after a big windstorm shredded our tent on our first day. We had also cleared some space to cook in the van when the wind kept blowing out our stove. The weather had been unseasonably warm earlier in the trip, but for the second half it was cool and windy. More on that later!
Kyle following me up the first pitch of Frigid Air Buttress
 The first route we got on was Frigid Air Buttress, a 7 pitch 5.9+ trad route in Icebox Canyon. Despite the name, it was sheltered from the crazy winds that were affecting the rest of the park so we didn't even realize how bad it was until we got back to the campground. The climb was great, it followed an interesting line that included huge chimneys, corners and a really challenging final crack to the top. Kyle convinced me to get on lead and I led the chimney pitches!
The 5.5 chimney pitch on Frigid Air Buttress
My first 5.9 trad lead! Stemming outside the chimney on Frigid Air Buttress
Life is good at the top!
 Route-finding had been straightforward until we arrived at the top of the route. Then it got pretty complicated. We had to solo a short 5.2 pitch up from the big ledge at the top, then follow cairns to a big boulder that was wedged into a chimney. The book says to down climb below the boulder but it was crazy! It seemed like many others had the same thought as us so we used the many pieces of tat to rap down instead. We down climbed and followed more cairns until we arrived at a tree with a rap station. We followed what we thought was the beta, rappelling down climbers left but we ended up totally off route! Two rappels later, Kyle was at a really sketchy station and I was re-rigging the rappel on a set of bolts with rings that were right above a series of pools and a waterfall. Needless to say the ropes ended up in the water multiple times. Fortunately the waterfall wasn't flowing, but we still got soaked on the way down!
Off route rappel down a trickling waterfall
 We had arrived at another big pool that we had to navigate our way around. The ropes got wet again and Kyle almost ended up in the water. Once past that obstacle, it was a scramble back to the approach trail. Somehow we had managed to get down the route in only 3 rappels instead of the 6 that you are supposed to do, but decending had taken us almost as long as the climb.
Using a tension traverse to get around a big pool
Desert blooms
 The next day was our biggest of the trip. We actually ended up sleeping and missed our early start. The park doesn't open until 6 am so in order to get on the route first, you need to get up early and line up at the park gate before 6. We left the campground at 6:30. Its a short drive to the park gate but you still have to drive around the park (on a one way street) to access any of the canyons. Its a 13 mile loop so it can take a while to get to the trailheads. We were optimistic when there were only 2 other vehicles in the parking lot since the route we were planning on climbing, the Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+, 9 pitch trad route), is really popular. Unfortunately, Juniper Canyon is accessed from multiple trailheads so we really had no clue if we were going to get scooped. The approach is an hour and a half approach and we could see other parties up ahead of us on the trail. It was going to be busy up there! When we arrived however, we were surprised to find a single party a few pitches up and nobody waiting to climb. Apparently three parties had arrived at the base of the within 5 mins of each other. One party of 3 bailed so they wouldn't hold up the other group, and then one of the other climbers realized they had forgotten their shoes so they left too. I guess the sleep in was a good thing!

It was cold, windy and shady all day on the route. By the time we had arrived at the top of the 4th pitch, Kyle was basically hypothermic and we had a brief chat about bailing (you rappel the route so you can turn around at any time). It was so distressing looking all around the valley at the sunshine while seemingly being on the only shady wall in the entire park. Kyle was miserable but wanted to push on so I gave him my puffy and he got on lead to warm up. After that, things got more tolerable and we were able to finish the route, swapping leads all the way. We topped out into glorious sunshine but started rappelling right away. We had been slow on the route and wanted to get down before the park closed for the night at 8 pm because we didn't want to get a ticket.
Cold Kyle at the top of Crimson Chrysalis 
 The route was really amazing, but we didn't get to enjoy it as much as we should have because we were so cold. It was a good reminder to be prepared for the conditions on committing routes as we had been lulled into a false sense of security from the weather the week before. I loved the stemming and interesting face climbing and was very happy that we only had some minor issues with getting our ropes stuck on the rappels. Many people we spoke with had got their ropes stuck really badly on the descent. In the end, it was a 12 hour day car to car. We slept really well that night in our van. 
The Crimson Chrysalis on the far right side of the formation in the foreground (with the red top!)
Desert hike back to the car
We had a sleep in and a big breakfast the next morning. The plan had been to go cragging to recover but we were feeling fired up and decided to go check out a less committing multi-pitch on White Rock Mountain - Tunnel Vision (5.7+, 6 pitches, trad). We made it up the route in good time, although the 5.7+ chimney proved to be a challenge, both to protect and to squeeze up. The feature attraction of the route was the tunnel pitch which starts in a big cave and climbs vertically. The climbing was very three-dimensional and required stemming on various walls before the route traversed out of the cave to join a fun crack. It was way more mellow and enjoyable than our suffer day on Crimson Chrysalis, and had a nice, straight-forward scramble descent that was well marked by cairns.
Kyle starts up the airy start to Tunnel Vision
Belaying in the chimney on Tunnel Vision
Kyle fakes a smile when really he wants to scream in terror
Tunneling into the unknown on the money pitch of Tunnel Vision
Tunnel Vision top out 
Cactus blooms
Our last two days were spent at the crags in Calico Hills and Calico Basin. Camping karma caught up with us and we had a few people ask to share our campsite with us with their fleet of vans. After crashing on JC's site earlier in the trip, we had to say yes and it was awesome. Most of them were from Squamish and somehow they knew some people that Kyle knows. Small world! The crew was super stoked and we enjoyed the burst of energy that they brought to our trip. 

On our second last day we joined the van dwellers at the Gallery for a morning of really pumpy cragging before realizing that we were way to tired to try hard. Instead, we drove out to the Hoover Dam to have a half day of rest and sightseeing. We need to get better at planning out rest days on climbing trips.
The amazingly red rocks of Calico Hills 
Chilly morning at Calico Hills
Intake towers at the Hoover Dam 
Checking out the Hoover Dam
It rained on our last night so our plans to finish the trip off with another multipitch were ruined. Sandstone gets really soft when its wet so you need to let the rock dry thoroughly before you can climb it after the rain. We had a slow morning to let the rock dry and took our chances with a crag called the Fringe as it looked like it had been missed by the brunt of the storm the night before. When we got there the rock was dry and good to go! We actually got on some of the hardest and most fun routes of the whole trip, and they were pretty damn aesthetic too!
Kyle on Lunatic (5.11b)