Sunday, September 19, 2021

Seasonal Transitions Vol. 2

Today I went on a hike in the rain, up White Pine, to retrieve a Wal-Mart sleeping bag that I left on West Pass while I was doing the WURL.

The rain came down hard at times and I watched it fall its hardest while standing under the shelter of three pines. I made it to the ridgeline as clouds moved in from the south, making the mountaintop and my surroundings disappear. I found my bag. Turns out snafflehounds (as Lane would say) didn’t eat it. I wouldn't really care if they did, though; I needed a good, cold soaking.

It felt like fall and so I went home and drank beer and tuned my snowboards. I listened to an incredible Warren Zevon album with a bunch of his unreleased tracks and some demos. It’s called ‘Preludes’ and its very, very good. He's most known for 'Werewolves of London,' which is a catchy and fun record, but most of his lesser known songs are beautiful and rather dark. 

I’ve decided that I’m going to ride my Prior split to start off the season. It’s broken. I don’t remember what term the guy at the shop used—something about the wood core snapping in half. Fine. But the edges are still in tact and the board hasn’t fully fallen apart, so a rock board it will be.

I’m also setting up a park board; my trusty old Ride, the first one I ever owned. The guy who sold it to me let it go for the price of a tattoo ($80). I can’t believe I still have that thing. But here I am, dusting it off and probably setting myself up for a season of soft-tissue injuries. I suppose that's the price I pay for doing tricks. I can't seem to get enough of them, probably because park snowboarding leaves me with the same sense of satisfaction as does skateboarding, and even bouldering to some extent. It's grounding, and afterwards I usually feel better connected with those intangible things like my soul. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

An Injury Story

I ate a lot of wild raspberries this past weekend. This was unusual for me, as I don't often stop to forage on wild fruits—even in peak season. I'll notice them, feel good about their existence, and continue on. Perhaps I'm jaded from an entire summer of working on a blueberry farm. Or perhaps I'm too "on the go," always heads down ambling toward the day's objective.

But on this day in the Uintas my knee had been hurting, and as my feet pruned in the cold water cascading through Shingle Creek, these wild raspberries beckoned, almost every one of them ripe, bruised red, and nearly falling from the branch. 

I cleared the whole bush. I even spent time recovering the ones that fell to the ground to hide among tall stalks of meadow grass.

Now that I think about it... 

When I was a loud and energetic child, I would go to the gigantic berry bush in my family's backyard and pick and eat for a long time. It was probably late summer, and probably before a baseball practice I didn't want to go to. 

And now it's late summer again and I want to go to baseball practice more than anything, but my knee would scream at any hard stop or change in direction. No taking off from home plate nor crashing back into it.

And so I'm backing off, slowing down and eating wild raspberries.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Irene's Arete

In August, the Tetons weigh heavy on my mind. 

My fixation probably began some time around early 2017, when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in Florida. I discovered the instagram of a fellow named Jimmy Chin (who had only tens of thousands of followers at the time). One of my buddies would go to Jackson regularly, and he talked my ear off about the time his friend took him and his dad up a climb in the Park. I saw a photo of him bearing ropes with the Grand behind him. I thought it looked and sounded so cool. When I moved to Bozeman in 2018, I met Nick, who became my go-to climbing partner that summer. He and I cut our teeth at Practice Rock and in Gallatin Canyon, dialing our multipitch systems and getting into the groove of climbing with eachother. One morning we met for coffee and decided that we wanted to climb something in the Tetons; something fairly straightforward and easy, as both of us had yet to climb anything technical in the Park (I hadn't even visited). We decided on the East Ridge of Disappointment. I remember feeling so anxious in the Lupine Meadows parking lot as I went to sleep that night, waiting for my 4 AM alarm. As the day progressed, it was clear that Nick and I had sufficiently prepared for this climb and we both cruised it. Personally, I felt as though we could've gotten away with something harder, but I've since grown accustomed to the practice of going into mountains, like the Tetons, feeling over-prepared and in control, rather than under-prepared and swimming. 

Belaying Nick up the last pitch of our first technical Teton climb (E Ridge, Disappointment Pk)

Over the past couple of years, law school duties and some long-for-me Wind River backpacking trips have kept me out of the Tetons during prime climbing season. I had finished up the WURL in July and, while passing through the Lone Peak Cirque on the egress, I was reminded that there's beautiful rock everywhere in the high country; 'tis the season. 

Evidently, Teton adventures demand lots of respect and I didn't want to go on a climbing mission cold, so I got on rock for the first time of the summer in the lovely City of Rocks, where I felt really good on 5.8 off the couch (Carol's Crack felt way more casual than it did last summer) and managed to one-hang a pretty burly 5.9+ (Z Cracks). Game on.

Carol Cracks, CoR

Z Cracks, CoR

I hit Vitor up a few weeks before and he was stoked to climb Irene's. I was happy to have him as a partner—it's been great to live near and climb with Vitor, who is probably the first person to ever tell me what trad climbing is, way back in 2016 at Tallahassee Rock Gym.

Anyhow, we left Ogden at around 4:30 PM to some of the gnarliest smoke I've seen this summer. The drive felt apocalyptic, especially as night fell over the Star Valley. I hoped that the smoke wouldn't be as bad in Jackson Hole...

The Malad rest stop, with ugly, thick smoke filling the sky

We arrived at the Lupine Meadows trailhead shortly before midnight and found Nick in his rat-mobile with his headlamp on, probably pawing through the guidebook. That's another thing: Nick and our buddy Jake had planned to climb the same route that Saturday morning. It would be all the fun of a party of four, without the rope faff and logistics associated with climbing a route with a party of that size.

The Lupine Meadows overnight scene is turning into a bit of a zoo, as cars and climbers file in through all hours of the night. Luckily I had brought some earplugs and a buff to cover my eyes...

The alarm sounded at 4:30 AM. I sucked down some cold brew, ate some Aussie bites, and we were off to the races, making good time to the Meadows in 2:00, where we filled our bladders before heading up to the base of Irene's. There's a lot of attractive spires shooting out of Garnet Canyon's north side, so make sure you've got good photos of Irene's before you pick the one to amble towards. 

The Middle Teton from the Meadows, with some dreamy clouds obscuring its summit

After gaining the Meadows, we stayed on the left side of the creek which required some trivial bushwhacking to put us back on track for Irene's. After some deliberation, we decided to stay low below the treed ledges leading up to Irene's. A faint climbers trail came into sights, and we followed that onto mellow 4th-class terrain with the occasional 4th-classs+ down climb. 

To our delight, Nick and Jake had only just started up Irene's, as Nick was belaying Jake up the first pitch. This was going to be a really fun day sharing this Teton classic with several friends.

I was feeling good and took the first lead. It was cold, and smoke obscured much of the valley below. The first few moves to gain the face felt thin and insecure, and I took more time than I would've liked to commit to the face and start moving. Teton rock is pretty unusual, and the first pitches flaring grooves with cryptic protection took some getting used to. Once I had a few pieces of gear in, I felt better and moved quickly to the belay station. The sun broke through the smoke and clouds, I removed a layer, and belayed Vitor up to me.

Vitor following P1

It was a blast to share the comfy belay ledges with Nick, Vitor, and Jake, as we all bantered and talked a bunch of crap about whomever was leading. 

Vitor putting on his game face for the next lead, with the Cloudveil and Nez Perce in the background

Soon enough, Vitor headed up the 2nd pitch, which I thought had one distinct section of full-value 5.8. Get ready for a steep finger crack with some awkward bear hugging. 

It was becoming clear to me that my 45+L Cilogear pack was just too big a pack for the job. I kept adjusting the shoulder straps—they either felt too tight, restricting motion, or too loose, throwing my pack weight all over the place as I pulled some delicate moves. Plus, I think it was one of those situations where my larger volume pack allowed me to pack more than I needed. Oh well. 

Jake following Nick's lead, on the tricky section of P2

I led P3, which required starting off on the left side of the arete with marginal gear, and then pulling somewhat of a delicate and committing step onto the right side of the arete. I plugged some mental pro, did a little do-si-do onto the face, and got a nice .75 a little bit higher. Ahh. The rest of the climbing on P3 was super fun 5.7 climbing up a left-facing with dihedral with several cracks to choose from. This was probably my favorite section of the climb: easy and well-protected, but interesting enough to feel engaging.

Pulling the corner on P3. Don't blow it here. A great pitch. The left-facing dihedral seen above me (black rock) was a blast.

About 3/4 of the way up P3, rope drag became quite bad (in hindsight, I should've continued up the right side of the arete rather than sneaking around to the left), so I set up and intermediate belay station and belayed Vitor up. He finished on the short section of rock to the base of P4, where we waited for quite a while due to some route finding issues. Good on Nick for putting down that harder P4 variation though! Don't go too far right on this pitch, apparently. 

From here, Vitor led up to a committing and thin move off of the deck on the left. Apparently, he also got off route (went too far left) and ended up on some pretty hard mid-5.10 climbing, so it took him a while too. We couldn't communicate with eachother once he pulled around the left side of the arete and this was a bit frustrating. I'll probably bring a pair of walkies on a climb like this next time. I followed his lead, which was pumpy hands/thin hands on slightly overhanging terrain with terrible feet. Nice work, Vitor!

Following some steep and pumpy moves on Vitor's P4 alternate

I had planned to climb the original P5 (5.7), but the 5.9 stem variation was calling Vitor's name, so I gave it to him. This is a sweet section of rock, with great protection and slightly polished rock. It's not very sustained and feels more like a boulder problem because you top out of the 5.9 section with a mantel on a large ledge.

The P5 5.9 stem variation is a must-do for the leader feeling comfortable at the grade

Vitor gained the knife edge and belayed me up. The sustained climbing was over (so we thought), and it looked like some weather was coming in, so we were glad to have most of the climb behind us.  

P5's knife-edge section offered very casual climbing with perhaps one of the best positions on the entire climb

I solo'd down P6 to the large, grassy notch in the ridge and saw Jake belaying Nick up a pitch that looked quite hard. Uh oh. Wasn't this supposed to be easy 5.5–5.7?

The easier climbing on P7 was really hard to find (at least it was for us), so our options were the 5.10 finish or the greasy "5.8+" Vedauwoo-style fist crack. I wasn't up for leading 5.10 in the Tetons, so I reluctantly started up the fist crack. After plugging a few cams and climbing like a garbageman, I down climbed and told Vitor that either we would have to find some easier terrain, or he would have to take this lead. Vitor was apparently feeling strong, so he took the lead once again and thrutched up the fist-crack. Thanks, Vitor! I felt this was properly strenuous climbing (probably the hardest on the route), and I'm curious to know where the easier climbing is located. 

In any event, Vitor arrived at the top of P7, belayed me up, and I passed him and remained tied in, but solo'd the rest of the climb to where it levels out with the Disappointment plateau. We'd completed the climb, with two of our homies to boot! Summit bubbles to celebrate. 

Vitor Chies, the MVP of the day

I remember this descent...

We opted against topping out on Disappointment Peak proper because of some thick clouds that looked like they were about 1,500-2,000ft overhead and approaching from the west. 

Not sure what the official name of our descent was, but we headed SE off of the summit plateau (it was called the Disappointment Peak Trail on Gaia), and did some 4th-class down climbing to a hole in the slope that required some goofy squeeze moves.

Nick in the dignity crux of the day

We saw a few black bears on the trail and I really wished I had brought bear spray. Luckily, Nick dates a forest service ranger who specializes in telling people to be smarter in bear country (sorry, Casey!), so he typically has a can (sorry, Nick!). 

We prayed to sweet baby Jesus that an eatery in Jackson would be open by the time we arrived back in town. Luckily, Snake River Brewing was open, so we gorged on fried food, drank a lot of beer, and watched a woefully unsatisfied Jake dip his fries into the brewery's version of fry sauce (some fancy Jackson-like aioli with sage or something).

All in all, the adventure took us something like 14.5 hours. We moved at a steady pace, and if any of us go back to Irene's, we definitely would shave off the time we spent figuring out the approach and some of the variations. 

- 15.6 mi
- 4,110 ft
- Climbing difficulty: 5.10 C0 (w/ hard P4 alternate)
- Way too much food
- 1.5L of water (only drank about .5 on the climb
- Elapsed time: 14.5 hrs

- 5.8 in the Tetons definitely feels harder than 5.8 cragging. Not sure if it's the uniqueness of Teton rock, the austere setting, or the fact that I'm miles away from the trailhead. Probably a combination of those things. It could also be the heavier-than-necessary pack I carried. It's not the easiest thing to execute polished 5.9 moves while also trying to adjust your pack straps. 
- The window for high-elevation climbing in the Tetons is pretty small—though this year a very hot and dry summer opened that window well into July... As such, any climb I get to complete in the Tetons is one to be cherished. I probably have only so many of them in my lifetime... 
- I'm satisfied that I was able to get up this route while having only one weekend of cragging behind me. I think my scrambling throughout the early summer increased my confidence moving quickly over easier terrain. With these bigger routes in the alpine, it seems that confidence begets a lot of advantages, the main one being comfort on harder-to-protect rock (of which there is plenty on this route). I'm not sure if I'll ever muster the necessary enthusiasm or motivation to climb harder/more sustained routes in the Tetons, but I feel good knowing that I can get a classic moderate such as Irene’s and feel comfortable. When I got into trad climbing a few years ago, I said that I would automatically position myself into the "moderate trad-dad" stereotype, and I feel like I am there. Indeed, I am most fulfilled when climbing long, moderate routes in stellar settings such as Garnet Canyon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

July 2021 Meditations

Why do I keep this blog? The tagline is that it's my account for high country travel. Sure, but I could do that all the same in a notebook that lives in my nightstand. 

And for whom do I keep these reports? Is it for me? For the anonymous beta-seekers? For family?

I don't really know. What I do know is that I like to write, and sometimes I need to write. And I don't care if anyone reads any of this, as much as I imagine (and even hope) people do. 

And here's another thing: I think things happening in my life outside of the high country are important to and worth writing about. But they're probably less fun to read. Fine. 

Anyhow, July was fucking awesome because I did a hard thing and then did a not so hard thing when I traveled back East and relaxed, no, melted, melted hard. Like, really hard. Like, drink expensive beers on a beach with my brothers and my girlfriend and watch big weather move over the Cape Cod bay while admiring the incoming tide, how it's controlled by the moon and how it inched toward our feet and made everything feel cool and wet and distinctly North Atlantic. In Utah, I can't keep a shirt wet if I want to and the opposite is true in the Cape—even if that shirt is hanging on a clothesline in the sun for an entire day.

There's a place in Dennis Port near my granny's cottage that we would walk to, a jetty, past the private beaches and to the fisherman (whom I've never seen catch a fish, ever) balancing on the weathered rocks and throwing chum into the sea. My Pops liked it there and fished there, too, and I never did see him catch a fish either, but one time when the tide was low and the sky dark with cumulonimbus clouds we walked along the jetty in ankle deep water into which he sunk his hand and picked out a fat brown crab, which pinched him and made him bleed. The blood was deep red and dripped into the water and I thought my Pops was brave and stoic as he held onto the crab and made me look at it. It moved and wriggled and I looked at its beady black eyes and wanted nothing to do with it. My Pops died some time in 2020 but never had a funeral nor a memorial service due in part to the pandemic, but that summer my brothers and I brought his ashes to Dennis Port and to the jetty and, as my granny and parents watched, threw handfuls of them into the cracks of the slippery rocks and some of mine picked up with the wind and blew into Eddie's thick black hair, as he was downwind of me and having his little goodbye Pops moment. 

This summer Libby, Mick and I returned to the jetty at high tide and watched those fat brown crabs float in the current close to the jetty walls. It was hard to tell whether they were fishing or simply getting sucked up and carried in the current out of control. They floated like ghosts below the surface and disappeared in and out of the murky water. We dove in with them and floated on our backs like otters, letting the tide carry us inland until we reached the only flat rock far inside the jetty that lacked scores of skin-thrashing barnacles.

Every summer I have to visit Provincetown, which is an unabashedly queer place and I love that, and I really wanted Libby to love it, too (and I think she did). Maybe some time in 2015 I was there with friends and it was Bear Week and I thought, "Wow, there are a lot of big, hairy gay men all around me and I don't know if I'm supposed to feel uncomfortable," really feeling mostly comfortable but only slightly discomforted by the fact that I was a supposedly straight man surrounded by my supposedly straight friends who probably thought that I felt uncomfortable, because that was what they felt in that moment too. One night, we were deliberating whether to visit this basement bar and had some heteronormative conversation about whether it was actually a gay bar, and whether it would be alright for us supposedly straight men to enter. Somebody overheard our conversation and remarked, coolly, "It's a fuckin' gay bar," and walked right in. We went elsewhere, probably because we didn't want to come across as gay. 

But this time around, Libby and I visited a queer gallery right when we got into town, and there was a blown up image of a big, hairy bear butt. It was right there on the main level directly across from the entrance, greeting me like a welcome mat. It wasn't what I'd call Great Art, but at least it conveyed to me a message. What was it? Get comfortable or get over it. 

We continued throughout the gallery, past other large pictures of bear butts, and then walked down Commercial Street, seeing mostly men. I suppose it's still a man's world, even when you're queer. 

And then there's Commercial Street with all of its quiet side streets and cute Victorian townhomes with inviting porches and steel spiral staircases and window tchotchkes that make me feel this powerful, forward-looking form of nostalgia—I believe it's referred to as "saudade" in Portuguese. There's only a few places that make me feel such a way; Provincetown being one of them, Greenwich Village being another, and El Carmen in Valencia the last that comes to mind.

One day on a whim Mick and I bought fancy bodyboards and took them to Marconi Beach, where we dodged surf schoolers and other foam-bearing tourists. We were kids again in small waves, thrilled at what the ocean could do. The seals came closer to the shore than I'd ever seen them, giving off an old-can-of-tuna-in-the-sink-type odor. For some reason we always found ourselves on the Atlantic side of the Cape during the late afternoon, when the ranger station closes and most of the beachgoers leave. I thought about how dreamy it would be to visit this seashore in the dead of the winter, when opaque slushy waves peak overhead and the air stings your cheeks. We swam over to a clean-looking spot in the beach break, where knee high sets peeled for fifty or so meters before mushing out above deeper water. We sponged around among a couple of longboarders and one shortboarder with an earring who wasn't really good but somehow rode every wave that came to him. He stood up on his board with a certain rigid grace, his back stiff and erect, his legs locked and angular like a digitized trapezoid, but hey, the kid was catching fucking everything, and I wanted some, too. Days later we'd rent a monstrous plastic longboard and Mick would stand up on the first waves of his life, and I don't know whether I've hooted harder at anything Mick's ever done. 

I'm convinced that you could put me anywhere in the country and I'd find something fun to do. If you were to put me back within an hour's drive from the coast, I assuredly would become a waterman. Breathing underwater seems like the greatest super power to have. 

One morning when the sun was hot, the wind still, and the water textureless, I had coffee and just started out over the Nantucket Sound. I didn’t feel like there was anything in particular to think about, nor anywhere else I needed to be. It might have been the closest I’ve come to pure contentedness in a long time—perhaps even ever.

And then we returned back to the house where I grew up, and I snuck out to to go climbing at one of my favorite spots that overlooks the Naugatuck Valley: the Whitestone Cliffs. I rope solo’d the high quality Dreadlock (5.8) and immediately reinvigorated my excitement for rock climbing.

I had a conversation with my brother one time about the Naugatuck River. He's lived in the post-industrial northeast his whole life, and perhaps hasn't developed an appreciation for the idea of a river as the lifeblood of a community.  To him, the Naugatuck seems like an afterthought. But I know it could be so much more (it was once host to the southernmost Atlantic salmon migration), and it breaks my heart that people in the area quickly dismiss it as another polluted river with little to offer. 

The last day in Connecticut, my dad’s side of the family visited. We all played lots of chess, drank some great New England beers, and hopped around to bluegrass.

And before I was even ready, I found myself back in Utah, land of snow, rock, dust, and dry, dry heat. 

People ask me whether I'll ever return to New England. I usually tell them no, and that there's just too many places to explore here out West to justify returning back to scrappy ol' New England. But then I think of the Naugatuck, the Atlantic,  Nonnewaug Falls, and the fifty foot cliffs that I used to amble under when I knew very little about what I could accomplish on ones ten times their size. It's all important and exciting. It's all very, very beautiful. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup

I knew about the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup ever since I moved to Salt Lake City in the late summer of 2019. I began "trail running" the year before in Bozeman and very quickly took to the "light & fast" style of alpine and high country travel. As such, the WURL seemed like a logical objective on which to set my sights, and I completed small sections of the route during the next year and a half— either on splitboard or on foot. 

If you live near the Wasatch and spend time in these mountains, then the WURL needs no introduction. This fine ridgeline hosts some of the most magnificent terrain the Central Wasatch, and as Jared Campbell accurately states, the route upon it is obvious and non-contrived. 

Up until my WURL attempt, I had spent time in every drainage in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Closer to my attempt, I was putting up fast-for-me times on the South Ridge of Superior and logging the occasional 18,000' week of climbing. Moreover, a remote work schedule allowed for maximum flexibility in scheduling. If there was any time to attempt the WURL, it would be July of 2021. 

Libby cruising the S Ridge of Superior, which makes for good training for the type of scrambling found on the WURL

And so I committed to giving it a go and practically obsessed over the route and logistics, reading every trip report and harvesting beta from friends who already completed the route. "The MC crux is easy when compared to S Ridge of Superior"... "Take advantage of fresh legs and Albion Basin"... "The Baldys are the crux" ... "The Notch sucks"... Noted. 

I scoped the last section of the route—the Beat Out— a couple weeks prior with Vitor and Lane and felt really good afterwards; like I had more steam in the tank to keep going once the day was over. We spent around 6 hours of moving on the ridgeline proper. Would I have enough steam to theoretically complete that section 5 times back-to-back? I wasn't sure, and that was part of the appeal. 

After a very mellow week of yoga, resting, sleeping, and placing caches, I got into bed at around 8:30 PM on Friday, July 2nd. I wouldn't get to sleep until at least 11:30 PM, but that was okay given I had slept an average of 9.5 hours each night the week before. 

My watch alarm vibrated maddeningly on my wrist, and for a hopeful second I felt that none of this was real and that I could go back to bed. The reality was that the weather was good, the night was calm, and the WURL would be waiting regardless of whether I slept in. I forced down a bagel and some cold brew coffee and was off to Ferguson by 2:30 AM, blasting "John the Fisherman" and getting psyched for the first—and biggest— climb of the day up to Twin. I began walking at 3 AM.

Ferguson was eery. I clapped loudly as I climbed to alert any large mammals, which were seen quite often near the mouths of the surrounding canyons according to several trustworthy sources. The claps resonated only briefly and were consumed by the dense canopy and towering rock walls of lower Ferguson. These moments were perhaps some of the quietest and most peaceful I've ever experienced this close to the city. 

Climbing in a dream-like state out of Ferguson with the city lights below

I was passed by a very fast duo, one of whom was going for a sub-20 WURL time. One of them asked me if I saw the "cougs" down canyon, just above the rock walls. I had not, and shuddered knowing that such large and dangerous mammals were watching me so closely from above. Before passing, one of them told me they would yell very loudly if they saw any more "cougs" up canyon. I held my breath waiting for their yells, and sure enough they came. I turned the headlamp to high beam mode and minutes later saw several sets of eyes on the peripheries of the upper-Ferguson meadow. I'm no expert, but these looked like deer's eyes. In any event, there were lots of them and I didn't spend much time hanging around to investigate. I continued upwards, cautiously scanning the meadow with my headlamp.

I mostly nailed the climb out of Ferguson except for the last section leading up to the ridgeline, where I went a little far right and was forced onto some bonus ridgeline bw Pk. 9645 and Pk. 10350. It wear near sunrise and I turned my headlamp off. Feeling a bit paranoid, every little rattle and rumble of a loose boulder jolted me into alertness. I was ready to be done with Ferguson and on familiar terrain. 

Ambling along the ridgeline above Stairs, I enjoyed a wonderful sunrise that illuminated the drainage's quartzite.

The climb up to Twin was uneventful. I had been listening to the classic 'Acid Rap' (comfort music) on my way up Twin and believe "Pusha Man" was playing while I topped out. Great energy. I ate some bars, sucked down some water, applied sunscreen, and texted Libby that I would be at the top of Monte Cristo in 4-4.5 hours.

The Cottonwood Ridge Traverse is excellent and makes a fine outing, whether preparing for the WURL or just looking to have a great day on the ridge

The Cottonwood Ridge Traverse was a lot of fun and I was in the shade for the first half of it. After Drom, I started to feel the high summer sun's power as it shone from above and reflected from the shiny quartzite. I knew I needed to cool down if I wanted to continue in high spirits. Luckily, I came across a snow patch and filled my bladder and gatorade bottle with snow, as well as my shirt and hat. This was a huge morale booster and I made great time to Pk. 11,033

Trying not to think too hard about how long it might take me to get all the way over there

Hot dogs or legs? I wrote the words 'lucky' and 'love' to remind me that attempting the WURL is an act of self-love, and that I'm lucky to temporarily put life on hold and enjoy outings such as these

I would be onsighting Pk. 11,033 to Monte Cristo (I completed a Twin-11,033 traverse last summer with a Mill B exit). I was nervous about the Monte Cristo "crux," but as it came into my sights, I realized it was very straightforward and I climbed it with ease, hooting and hollering with the exposure. Worrying about this crux took up a bit of a mental energy, and I should have taken friends' words to heart: this is considerably easier than any of the 'crux' moves on the South Ridge of Superior. 

I was making great time and topped out on Monte Cristo around 8 hours after I began. I actually beat Libby and Grace to the summit of Superior (they planned on scrambling the South Ridge and bringing me "real" food on the summit). I waited on the summit of Superior for about 20 minutes, sucking down some Gu and applying KT tape on fledgling blisters. Seeing Grace and Libby only boosted my morale. I was feeling amazing, and we all agreed to take a more substantial rest down at my resupply near Cardiff Pass. 

Looking forward to the mid-day cruise around Albion Basin

Grace and Libby providing much needed company and hummus

I stuffed down as much food as I could—mostly junk food and Coca Cola— without getting "full." I said goodbye to Libby and Grace, tackled the small bit of scrambling on Flagstaff, and then cruised up and over each of the smaller summits above Albion Basin. It was comforting to walk along tame terrain in good weather. I relaxed a little, listened to some Office Hours w/ Tim Heidecker, and contemplated my strategy for the impending night. 

I enjoyed wildflowers all the way through the Albion Basin section and reveled in the fact that valley temps were likely much hotter. 

All smiles on Wolverine; everything firing right and feeling good

As I approached the Point Supreme lift, I saw rain clouds boiling overhead and checked the forecast. It looked like a chance of rain about 60 minutes out—just in time for Devil's Castle, which poses some of the more challenging scrambling on the route. I texted Greg who told me about a potential exit right around Devil's Castle East in case the weather turned. I decided I would just take things as they came.

The ridgeline between Point Supreme and Devil's Castle was very annoying and loose, and I was excited to get on the relatively solid rock that Devil's Castle offers ("relative" being the operative word here). I topped out at 5:30, very ahead of schedule and wondering what the heck I would do when the night came and I needed to onsight Bullion Divide, solo and in a presumably exhausted state.

It seems like Devil's Castle can be casual or less-than-casual depending on how well one nails the route

Sugarloaf and Baldy were easy, and for the first time in the outing, I began to feel some fatigue on the uphills. Before setting out, I made a conservative estimate that I would arrive at Hidden Peak (and my second resupply) at 10 PM. Turns out that was quite conservative as I arrived two and a half hours ahead of schedule (arriving at around 16.5 hours). Along with food and water, I cached a small bivy pad and a cheap Walmart bag up there as a contingency plan. The Summit Lodge, which is located at the top of the tram on Hidden Peak, was open and I drank from the water fountain and washed up a bit in the bathroom. As I tended to blisters and stuffed my face with more junk food, people looked upon me like a vagrant. One asked where I was going and the only honest answer I could give them was "West along the ridgeline until it doesn't make sense anymore." 

I made the choice to continue on—no sense in bivying here when there was still daylight and some energy left. I debated on whether I should leave the cumbersome (but compact) Walmart sleeping bag behind at Hidden Peak in favor of my small sit pad and space blanket for when I needed sleep (which I knew would happen; the only question was when and where). I chose to take the sleeping bag, which made the climb up AF Twins quite exhausting. At least there were some goats and a pretty sunset to provide some inspiration.

Daylight running away from me on AF Twins

I was getting tired, but there was no avoiding that. I made it most of the way down Red Stack before flicking on my headlamp. More than tired, I was stumbly and a bit cloudy of mind. The 3rd cl. trail down Red Stack felt challenging in my exhausted state, and I knew that if I wanted to complete the rest of the route in a safe, conservative style, I would need to stop somewhere and rest. Luckily, I found a bivy platform in between Red Stack and Red Baldy and made a comfortable-ish bed at around 10:15. I set the alarm for 4 AM and pulled my buff over my eyes.

I couldn't sleep. I was over-caffeinated and mentally stimulated. My mind was in go mode but my body wanted to chill. When I tried to sleep, I saw weird shit behind my closed eyelids. For example, one second I was negotiating a car purchase contract with Pee Wee Herman and the next I was coordinating WURL logistics. My jaw clenched. It took deliberate effort to keep my eyes closed. In between attempts at sleep, I would remove my buff and stare down from my bivy at the city lights. I kept thinking that the longer I lay down, the longer I was prolonging the WURL. 

I remember snoring when my alarm sounded at 4 AM, so I probably got some very light sleep. I turned off my alarm and tried regaining some of that sweet, sweet release, which I must have experienced but could not enjoy. I laid around for another hour and a half, then gathered my things, ate some breakfast bars, and was on the move shortly before 6 AM. That bivy was unproductive, and I don't think I got much meaningful rest despite laying around for the better part of 8 hours. Takeaway: if I had to do the WURL again, I'd beg a friend to tackle the night with me. 

With the new day came the biggest mental and physical low of the effort. It was difficult to eat and drink, I was going at a tortoise's pace, and I had some gnarly GI issues that required perching over cliffsides in precarious pooping positions. I knew that White Baldy was some of the least enjoyable scrambling on the route, so I had that to look forward to on top of everything else. 

Very drained on Red Baldy, but I knew that taking this picture would provide some perspective and give me something funny upon which to reflect

Between Red and White Baldy I ditched the clunky Walmart bag, knowing that I'd need to come back to this hard-to-reach cache some time before the snow falls. Oh well. I still felt wrecked, and I gingerly sipped on some carbonated yerba mate while contemplating the route up White Baldy. I chose a loose but straightforward ascent looker's right, and as these things go, my spirits rose and my energy was restored. I remember reading an Anton Krupicka essay with the overall message something along the lines of "it never always get worse." This was the case here. With a little faith and a 'one foot in front of the other' attitude, I persevered through my low and found myself in cruising mode once again as I reached White Baldy's summit.

All smiles on White Baldy. Compare with the last photo, only hours before

White Baldy took forever, and I found myself grateful for it to be over. The final stretch—from Pfieff to Lone— was all familiar and felt like an old friend. I ascended Pfieff with the crowds. It was Sunday and the 4th of July, so that was to be expected. I hung out at my cache for only a short amount of time, selected the foods that would join me to the finish, and drank as much water as I could stomach. Heading up the Pfieff, I chose the rockier section of trail on looker's right. To the left of me a hiker called over and said, "Hey! Have you ever done this before? It's easier over here." It was nice knowing that you could be in the finishing stages of the hardest outing of your life and you'll still have a hiker in a safari hat giving you routefinding pointers.

The Pfieff is stunning and its East Ridge is probably one of my favorite hikes in the Central Wasatch

It was HOT, and there was no breeze whatsoever. The sea of granite upon which I navigated began to feel like a solar cooker, and I couldn't reapply sunscreen fast enough. What's more, I was getting thirsty and every uphill felt laborious. I don't remember South Thunder feeling so tedious when I did the Beat Out a couple of weeks ago. This time, it was plain torture. Bighorn and Lone appeared so close it felt like I could nearly touch them, yet I needed to detour north to tag South Thunder proper. Due to the scorching temps and my waning stoke, I listened to some upbeat music (see: The Black Seeds 'Into the Dojo') and frequently sipped from my bladder hose. This only did so much, and I got a little off route coming down South Thunder which required some backtracking. 

The "speed bumps" went surprisingly fast and I was at the base of Bighorn, psyching myself up for the final climb of the day. I was on my last liter of water and I still had Bighorn, Lone, and all of Jacob's Ladder (which I was unsure had adequate water) to tackle. I took some conservative sips, ate a couple of Gu's and bags of chips, and fired off the steep and engaging climb up Bighorn. I think I nailed the descent off of Bighorn as best as one could (something like left-left-right-left-right-right-etc.)—the cairns only helped so much. 

This was it—the final climb to Lone, the final peak! I heard some water babbling at the head of one of the drainages on the south side of Lone, and found plenty of snowmelt trickles. I was stoked and took about 15 minutes to re-hydrate and fill my water storage up with cold, clear snow meltwater. Lone was uneventful in the best possible way, and I summited at 4 PM with some other climbers who had been spending the weekend in the Cirque.

Was Ferguson yesterday? Last week? In a past life?

I had exited via the Notch and Bells a couple weeks prior, and although the Bells descent was tempting, I did not want to deal with the Notch again so I chose Jacob's Ladder. I asked Libby if she could shuttle my truck to the Jacob's Ladder trailhead, which she so kindly did. Well, sort of. I made a bit of a research SNAFU and failed to discover that Jacob's Ladder TH had been closed, and that parking was a few miles further down canyon at Orson Smith. I wouldn't discover that until nearly at the Jacob's Ladder TH where I thought my adventure would end. 

I gawked at all of the pretty rock in the Lone Peak Cirque (my first time in here) and felt like I had had enough ridgeline scrambling for the summer and that it was time to get on some more vertical rock. The blisters on my feet were practically unbearable at this point, so I ate a few Ibuprofen and resolved to powerhike all the way back to the truck with little complaint. Thankfully, my joints and muscles all felt great. I winced in pain with each step downward on the moondust trail that is Jacob's Ladder, but I was happy to let my guard down and enjoy watching some of the interesting weather that was passing over Draper. Turns out, Jacob's Ladder isn't the most straightforward trail from the Cirque, and I spent more time backtracking than I would have liked.

Moments like these I find myself asking why I choose to attempt things like the WURL instead of going rock climbing

About 3,000 feet down and nearing the Jacob's Ladder TH, I decided to turn my phone off of airplane mode and check my texts. I had just completed the WURL! To my chagrin, Libby informed me about the Jacbob's Ladder TH closure, and after some Google mapping, I realized that my adventure would be 1.5 hours longer than I originally anticipated. This was slightly soul crushing, and I began to regret not going down the Notch and out of Bells, where there was water and shade. 

I made it to the Jacob's Ladder TH at 6 PM, and sure enough, there were no cars nor people. To add insult to injury, the gusty weather created dust/sand drifts and I was running out of water. I alternated between jogging and power hiking back to the car at Orson Smith, nearly stepping on a rattlesnake and hoping to avoid any cougars. I arrived at the truck at 7:45 with the entire adventure behind me and a potluck with friends to look forward to. I was surprisingly coherent at dinner, and went home to sleep the sleep of the just; the just plain tired. 

- The WURL certainly is my hardest and longest outing to date, and definitely will be thee adventure of the summer. The WURL has a lot of things going for it in terms of a reasonable objective on which to to set one's sights: lots of bail points, quick access to certain sections of ridgeline for caching, and easy access in general which makes forerunning sections a no-brainer. Moreover, all of the scrambling is approachable and common mountain sense should get you through the looser and harder to navigate sections. I consider myself having a substantial climbing background and felt very comfortable moving at a relatively steady pace over any terrain the route could throw at me. 
- I spent roughly two or more weeks obsessing over the WURL, turning down some fun plans and events in favor of resting and getting in the right mental state for my attempt. It was a lot of work—both mentally and emotionally. I could see attempting an objective like this once every few years; there's no way I'd want to incorporate such an outing into my adventure itinerary on a seasonal basis.
- I was drawn to the WURL because I felt uncertain that I had the physical or mental strength to complete the route, even though I had completed almost every section. I knew I wouldn't do it fast, and thus I set out to prove to myself that I could remain focused and on my feet in the mountains for upwards of 30 hours. Turns out I am capable of doing that and then some. Some sections were fun, some sections were not. Ultimately, I learned that I could complete seemingly unachievable goals if I resolve to getting them done. It's a simply idea in theory, but it means a lot more when testing it on such an excellent traverse.
- Right after completing the route, I felt like a bit of an imposter; like I didn't actually 'earn' my finish and somehow scraped by or got lucky.  Now that I've had some time to process, I'm satisfied with my finish and know that an adventure like the WURL has gotten me that much closer to my limits. I think knowing where this threshold lies is important and will help me in ways that are useful not only in the high country but also in life. 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Dark Canyon Wilderness Loop


On the second week of May, Libby and I set out for our annual spring desert backpacking trip. Although we love the Swell, we chose to venture further south to Bears Ears. On this trip, we traveled through all types of desert terrain and saw some of the most intact dwellings/ancient structures that we've ever seen. On top of that, we spent the entirety of each day moving and got stoked for more remote adventures in the upcoming warm months. Backpacking continues to be a great way for Libby and I to press the reset button on our lives and reconnect with ourselves and each other. 

As Utah residents, we are incredibly fortunate to live only a short drive from some of the finest desert country in the world. These areas are vital for our wellbeing and their intactness preserves a heritage that Europeans spent years nearly eradicating. I always leave these trips feeling a tremendous amount of respect for the desert and whomever made it work for themselves in this unforgiving environment. Moreover, each trip into the desert makes me feel like this "public land" is not ours even though we as citizens technically own it. Indeed, I feel much smaller within the backdrop of the Intermountain West and know that I'm only a visitor in spaces such as these. 

Travel was from the Woodenshoe Canyon, up Dark Canyon, and out Peavine Canyon. I didn't record our track, but I estimate the total stats to be around 4,000-5,000 feet of gain and anywhere between 45-50 miles. We completed the trip in roughly 3 days and we felt we moved quickly. With trips like these, we always wish we had more time to stop and explore. 

Albeit a bit late due to a trailhead snafu, we started down Woodenshoe Canyon, which was dense and had some massive ponderosa pines. 

We had lunch during the heat of the day at the confluence of Cherry and Woodenshoe. After eating I poked around looking for dwellings but couldn't find anything. We were out of the dense pine stands at this point. 

Libby spotted this dwelling from the trail a ways between the Wates Pond area and Cherry Canyon.

Note the wooden beams and the windows. Incredibly intact.

I had never experienced rain in the desert until this trip. Luckily I brought my pancho. It looked like a weak system so we waited most of it out under a little overhang. 

The dirtiest part of the water source at Wates Pond, where we set up Camp 1. A really lovely area.

Toward the confluence of Dark Canyon, the lowest elevation of the hike. Hot, dry, sandy, and eroded, wave-like rock. 

Collared Lizard

Dark Canyon is DEEP! We looked up at some of the massive sandstone headwalls and daydreamed about coming back here with a rack and rope for some deserteering.

A granary used to store grains, seeds, and other forage. We looked around and thought about how collecting grains (let alone building storage) would be a massive project. No wonder why the ancestral people who collected them also wanted to protect them. Were these canyons wetter when ancestral peoples lived here?

Camp 2, a bit up-canyon from Trail Canyon. The established campsites were taken by a party of three who decided to spread out, so we had to find our own. We cowboy camped that night, and it was surprisingly cold. Waking up throughout the night and gazing at the stars sweetens the deal. 

It started to feel more like 'forest' land once in Peavine Canyon. I wish we could've set up camp in one of the lovely, flat meadows. 

Water was scarce on this trip and especially in Peavine Canyon. We sucked from some pretty nasty puddles. It tasted about as good as it looked. Unbeknownst to us, there was cleaner and more abundant water a bit further up-canyon. This was our last planned water refill until the cattle trough that we mistakenly thought was only a handful of miles ahead. 

We boogied on sandy FS road under the hot sun through much of lower Peavine Canyon.

After some miles, we had little water left and were excited to set up camp in a spacious, shady pine grove. We realized that we misread the map and mistook a corral for the cattle trough filled with cool, clear water. This meant hiking up canyon until we reached the cattle trough, which could've been anywhere from 1 to 4 miles. We only had 1 liter of water apiece, which was insufficient for camp and the following morning, so we continued up canyon. 

Libby was dealing with some gnarly blisters, so she told me to go ahead and set up up camp once I found the trough. I moved heads down until I could find the cattle trough, but I did periodically look up and appreciate the airy aspen groves in upper Peavine. 

Water! And some level space for camp! In my opinion it's poor form to camp this close to a water source, but it was late enough in the evening to assume that no one else would drop by.

We built a small fire and listened to a couple of great Snap Judgment stories before heading off to the tent. We wanted to soak in as much of Peavine Canyon before returning back to civilization.

On the final day, we anticipated easy trail for the entire way back to the trailhead. I was breaking in my new shoes (dumb thing to do on a trip) and wanted some respite, so Libby and I both hiked in our camp shoes. I've got some goofy (but light!) water shoes, and Libby's got some plastic composite Birkenstocks. Nice one. 

Upper Peavine was such a treat. Very fine high elevation wooded mesa. 

More of the same. Note all of the beautiful lupine. A trail runner's dream.

Aspens in upper Peavine.

We finished up the trip cruising the few miles of the well-bladed FS road back to the Woodenshoe Canyon TH. Spirits were high, but we knew that we would either need to break my car window or figure out a way to unlock the car from the outside. That trailhead snafu I mentioned before? I locked my keys in my truck. I spent a lot of time on the hike thinking about what a dumb mistake that was. Thanks to the inReach, we found out that we were in way too remote of a location to expect the FS or AAA to help us out for cheap. 

I really did not want to break my window (we still had lots of traveling to do, including a drive to the Front Range), so we decided to spend a few more minutes devising a way to get into the truck without breaking anything.

Those few minutes were some of the more dramatic in recent memory. After some deliberation, we unlocked the car from the outside! I won't go into detail, but it turns out that all you need is some wire (in our case, cattle fence wire) and a pot scraper. 


Both of us were overjoyed and we drank the shit out of some cooler-cold beers and soaked up the high desert sunshine. 

Next stop: a cheap motel in Durango.

Seasonal Transitions Vol. 2

Today I went on a hike in the rain, up White Pine, to retrieve a Wal-Mart sleeping bag that I left on West Pass while I was doing the WURL. ...