Febuary in Newfoundland
The flat landscape of Nova Scotia flew by at 120 kph and I could feel the ocean closing in around us as we ran out of land. In front of us lay the Eastern tip of the mainland, we were headed out into the North Atlantic, in search of frozen waterfalls.
The island of New Foundland, (New F'nland, to the locals), lies off the Eastern seaboard of Canada far enough to warrant it's own time zone. It is a land lashed by huge storms and carved by ancient glaciers that have left deep fjords in hard granite. During the depths of winter, huge frozen waterfalls form down the walls of these fjords, falling vertically for hundreds of meters in wild matrices of curtains, pillars and smears. Tom and I were on a mission to explore these elusive and tantalizing features.
A day prior, we were hunkered down in a comfortable cabin in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, experiencing beautiful climbs a few miles away at Lake Willoughby. The thought of departing on a voyage to the far east of the Americas sounded just as intimidating as the routes we expected to find there. Finally managing to peel ourselves from the comfort and warmth of the cabin an hour later than planned, we began our journey, hoping that commitment to the project would wash away the pre journey doubts and fears.
30 hours of travel via car and boat, and a night spent in the cozy little town of Rocky Harbor found us on our way into the 10 mile pond. We knew that the pond (local name for the large land-locked fjords) was frozen and contained big routes, but we knew little else. Once again we found ourselves in a comfortable cabin. Once again we felt the doubts and fears of the unknown laying ahead heightened by the comfort of our surroundings. So, we turned up the heat, sipped another whiskey and set the alarm for 6am.
I am a man of the mountains and crags. These are elements of geography that I understand. My understanding of water is far less intimate, making the idea of the oceans and frozen fjords very intimidating. That night, I slept fitfully and woke to make coffee long before the alarm rang.
In the morning caught a ride with Walt, the local ambassador to alpinists, on his snowmobile. A storm surrounded us with a thick fog as we headed into the fjord. Then, as we moved onto the frozen expanse, I was shocked to feel the ice below us break away. Walt gunned the engine and moved us further out onto the thicker ice. He was unfazed; I was gripped.
Walt dropped us off on the frozen fjord and wished us well; he would return in the evening to take us back to town. Clag and snow surrounded us and we could see nothing of the walls above. In our minds they loomed huge and steep.
Fortunately, not long after Walt pulled away, the clouds began to clear and we were greeted by some of the wildest features either of us has ever seen. What lay before us was what we later learned to be named the “Cholesterol Wall.” Dozens of 1000-foot vertical ice routes poured over a half kilometer section of cliff. The routes were as big and bad as we had imagined. Committed to the process, we began the approach up the hill.
With our first swings into the route, our fears and intimidations washed away. We were fit and dialed; the climbing felt amazing. Once again I was on familiar terrain and was immediately pleased we had made the journey.
By mid afternoon we were on top of the wall after climbing a beautiful combination of sustained thin smears, over hanging mushrooms, and vertical pillars. The weather was clear and we monkey called across the fjord. Rapping down, we excitedly discussed the vast possibilities of the ice climbing around us. At the base Walt was waiting. He took us back to town where we sipped whiskey and stoked on the fact that we had a week remaining to climb.
The next few days found us sampling another Newfie specialty. Eighty kph winds blew off the Straight of St Laurence, bringing heavy snow and huge waves. Tom and I spent hours watching the ocean, amazed by it's furious power, very happy to have the warmth and shelter of our little cabin on the shore.
During this time, we were also joined by our friends Alden and Ryan who, having spend significant time in the area, were able to share with us some of the route names and additional areas to explore in the future.
Over the course of the next week the weather cleared and we climbed two more big routes, both of them sustained and beautiful. The last ascent was 200m up a steep coulior to the base of smear on the lefthand wall. Two pitches of wildly overhanging mushrooms led back to lower angle ice where we ditched the ropes and carried on the top. On top of the route we walked around on the flat expanse that madeup the highlands of the island. Frozen grass and small rock outcroppings lay as far as the eye could see.
Our trip North was an outstanding success. We successfully committed ourselves to the adventure and in it had found clarity of movement. Our anticipation and anxiety leading into our first climb gave way to the ideal adventure, without o dramas, or problems. Only beautiful climbing in a remote and otherworldly landscape.
May in the Lacuna
Mark Allen and I have just arrived back in Talkeetna, Alaska after an excellent and fruitful expedition into the Alaska Range on which we made the first ascent of the Northeast Buttress (V AI4, M7, A1, 4,650') of Mt Laurens (10,042'), off the Southwest fork of the Lacuna Glacier. Mark states that it is “his favorite alaskan adventure thus far into the range”. A combination of an adventurous approach, exploratory alpinism, and challenging climbing gave the trip a fabulous flavor. The positions looking out over the range were of the most marvelous either of us have witnessed.
We flew with Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxis into a new landing strip in the Ramparts between the Lacuna and Kahiltna Glaciers and then approached 2 days up the Lacuna to the confluence with the Southwest fork (~14km distance). Our research has shown that we were the first people to visit this area with climbing intentions and possible the first people to visit the SW fork at all.
The only information that we were able to ascertain on the peak Mt Laurens was from Paul Roderick who flew a Austrian climber Thomas Bubendorf into the Yetna Glacier in 1997 where he ascended the Southwest Ridge of the peak in a push, solo. He reportedly named the peak Laurens after his son. This appears to be the only other ascent of the peak, which lies very predominate on the ridge line running South from The Fin, between the Yetna and Lacuna Glaciers. We have begun referring to this group of peaks running South from the Fin as the 'Fin Group', other than Laurens it also includes Voyager Peak (12,213', FA 2011 Zimmerman-Allen), The Bats Ears (11,044' FA 2008 Wilkinson-Turgeon-Gilmore) and another unclimbed peak (10,020').
Mark and I first sighted the very impressive East face of Mt Laurens while making the FA of Voyager Peak (12,213') in 2011. At that point we coined it 'The Mastodon Face' and have continued to refer to it as such.
Between May 9th and 15th Mark and I made 2 attempts on the very precipitous East Buttress of Laurens getting turned around both times after 1,500' of climbing due to blank over hanging walls and very dangerous climbing on an unformed ice hose.
On the evening of the 20th of May we started up the NE buttress. The first half of the route was comprised of difficult mixed sections separated by long sections of excellent steep ice and snow climbing. At the top of this section we bivied on a beautiful prow. The second half gained a steep snow arete that we ascended to the confluence with the North ridge. We continued up the ridge to a second short bivy on top of a bump in the ridge. This bivy was superb affording excellent views of the Alaska range including of Foraker, Denali, Hunter, and Russell. The ridge both before and after this bivy involved wild unprotected climbing on steep snow in and around huge gargoyle cornices.
The ridge led to the summit plateau where we were caught in a very cold wind storm that forced us to hunker down for 3 very uncomfortable hours in our tent to wait for the short Alaskan night to abate. With the coming of the sun, the wind died and we were able to climb one final pitch of 70 degree snow to the summit.
It seems that the summit of Laurens had not formerly been ground-truthed and we were able to take care of this with our GPS and altimeter. We found the summit to be 10,042'.
The descent was taken down the Southern margin of the east face following a series of couliors. We made 12 rappels on ice, snow and rock and were then able to down climb steep snow for another 2,000ft to the glacier.
The route took us a total of 67 hours, 59 hours up and 8 hours down.
We then rested for a day and a half before skiing back to our landing strip.
July In Revelations
Below is the write up from Alpinist.com which was composed and researched by Scott Bennett, David Crothers and I.
After canceling their trip to Pakistan because of the recent terrorist attack on Nanga Parbat, Scott Bennett and Graham Zimmerman refocused their sights on Alaska's Revelation Mountains. Before leaving on July 12, they spoke with Clint Helander, the godfather of modern Revelations climbing, about possible objectives in the area and decided to attempt a new rock route on the east buttress of The Angel (9,265').
Graham and I have just returned to Talkeetna after spending a fun-filled 10 days in the Revelation Mountains. This remote range, on the far southwest end of the Alaska Range, has been visited a few times in this Spring season, and climbers have returned with stories of amazingly huge mixed lines and perfect "J-Tree" white granite. We had found almost no information on summertime rock climbing activity in the range, so we were excited to make a reconnaissance mission and see what these mountains could offer.
We flew in with Talkeetna Air Taxi on their new R44 Helicopter piloted by Will Boardman. Lack of snow for a ski plane landing made the helicopter essential, so we're very thankful to Will and TAT for their help. It should be mentioned that landing a helicopter in Denali National Park is illegal, but the Revelations are outside of the park. It was TAT's first helicopter insertion for a climbing trip.
During the hour and a half ride into the range, during which we saw no roads and few signs of human life, we got a visceral feel for the scale and isolation of Alaska. The drone of the chopper faded and Graham and I were left on the glacier with our gear, and we entered our own little mountain kingdom, sole rulers and inhabitants.
Once we had gotten a feel for our realm, we realized that we were camped directly underneath the most enticing objective: the east buttress of The Angel!
We began climbing on July 13, starting up a beautiful granite wall with cracks and corners aplenty. Six hundred meters of quality rock climbing, with difficulties up to 5.10, filled most of our day. Everything was climbed onsight and followed free. We were stoked to find a perfect bivy spot on the ridge, where we set up our comfy little tent that was sheltered from a passing squall. After a few hours of rest under the midnight sun we began climbing again surrounded by blue skies! A low cloud layer below us brought the surrounding peaks, jutting through, into beautiful relief.
Another 500 meters of classic ridge terrain separated us from the summit, and we occasionally donned crampons to navigate snow and ice while simulclimbing. At this point we shared terrain with the 1985 ascent of the Southeast Buttress made by Greg Collins and Tom Walter.
Reaching the summit midday, we paused to remember our friend Zach Orman, who passed away earlier this year in a paragliding accident. (We miss you Zach!)
We descended to the north and then rappelled 600m down the eastern aspect of the north ridge to a hanging glacier that we mostly walked down to reach the main Revelations Glacier.
After that climb, our options for other routes were extremely limited because of multiple core shots in our ropes and terrible weather. On July 21 we flew out of the range after five days of being pinned down by heavy rain and wind.
The Angel has more history than any other peak in the Revelations, Clint Helander says, but that's not saying much. The Revelations are relatively unfrequented, though that's changing through Helander's efforts. Greg Collins and Tom Walter were the first to climb The Angel in May of 1985. They succeeded, after four attempts, via "snow ramps with an occasional rock move or two along the left flank of the [east] buttress," Walter wrote in the 1988American Alpine Journal. After a 5.10 crux slab, they gained the east ridge and followed that to the summit.
(In the report Collins and Walter describe their route as the "Southeast Buttress" of the peak. Bennett and Zimmerman believe that route actually climbs the south side of what they are describing as the 'East Buttress.' Bennett and Zimmerman's route joins the 1985 route at the top of the buttress and follows the same moderate ridgeline to the summit.—Ed.)
Twenty-seven years passed before the second ascent. In April 2012, Helander, who has now made five trips to the Revelations, and Ben Trocki climbed the coveted south ridge (with funding from our Mugs Stump grant) in a 21-hour push. In 1967, a group including David Roberts attempted the south ridge six times during their 52-day expedition. Roberts' last attempt with Matt Hale brought them 700 feet from the summit, but an ice traverse turned them back once again.
In his book, On the Ridge Between Life and Death, he writes, "From the vantage point of middle-aged nostalgia for meteoric youth, it is hard to congratulate yourself for prudence rather than for boldness. I still think Matt and I made the right decision on August 28, 1967. Yet of all the regrets I have about my years in the mountains...letting the Angel slip through our fingers when we were within 700 feet of the summit on a perfect day still stings the sharpest."
While the south ridge of The Angel is "one of the Range's most striking features," Helander says, the Revelations still hold a large number of unclimbed, mixed alpine and long rock climbs. "Someone really needs to make an assault on the rock buttresses on the west face of Mt. Mausolus, left of the line I climbed with Scotty Vincik in 2011. That thing would be huge and the rock looks very clean," Helander says. "There's tons of objectives in there, but I'll let people discover the rest of them for themselves...that is, if they can beat me to them!"
After a group of men murdered 10 foreigners and one Pakistani man in the Diamir Base Camp on Nanga Parbat in June, climbers from around the world cancelled their Karakoram expeditions. For Bennett and Zimmerman, the decision not to move forward with their trip was clear, they told the Mugs Stump committee (of which Alpinist is a part). The committee awarded fundingfor their attempt on the northwest ridge of Tahu Rutum (6651m) this year. Shortly after the Nanga Parbat attack, the climbers requested reallocation of some of their grant money to go new routing in the Revelations. The committee acquiesced, and their resulting ascent of the south ridge "may be the most technical rock route done in the Revelations yet," Helander says. "James Funsten did some rock climbing with Fred Beckey in the mid 1990s, but nowhere to the scale of what Graham and Scott just pulled off."
December in Patagonia
[Scott Bennett and I headed down for a month in Patagonia where we experienced some pretty awful weather. This trip brought my total time in the area to 3 months and my climbable weather days to 4.5! Despite this we got 2 routes done, one of them new and the other being a new route on Guillaumet's West face. Below is the report from the American Alpine Journal]
In the first week of December, Scott Bennett and I took advantage of a short, windy weather window. Looking for a sheltered and manageable daylong objective, we opted for a beautiful line of splitter cracks that Scott had spied on the west face of Guillaumet while opening Manos al Cielo (Bennett-Lempke, AAJ 2012).
We approached from Piedra Negra over the col, directly beneath the Fonrouge Ridge, which deposited us beneath the west face. Our new route, Bossanova (400m, 5.11+ A1), is situated on the far right side of the face and starts 30m right of Manos al Cielo. It takes an independent line to the ridge and consists of sustained, difficult crack climbing on immaculate granite. It will almost certainly go all free. The route is testament to Scott’s vision for a fine line and fantastic onsight rock climbing abilities.