Monday, January 31, 2011

Mexico Expedition Update - Carry to camp completed

Group at Grupo del Cien (Group of 100) hut 15,500'
John called in to report that the team had successfully carried 5 gallons of water to the Grupo del Cien hut at 15,500' on the Arista del Sol (Ridge of the Sun) route on Ixta. As the mountain is very dry these days it is often necessary to carry all of the water that you will need for the climb. By doing a carry with the water today the team lightens the loads they will have to carry when they move up tomorrow while getting a valuable acclimatization hike in. It took 3 hours of hiking uphill to make the carry from Altzimoni to Grupo del Cien.
Spot track showing route from the hut (#16) to the Grupo del Cien Hut (#26)
Everyone is doing very well and will spend the night at the Altzimoni hut before moving up tomorrow.

Team headed up to Ixta

Track from yesterday's acclimatization hike.
John, Eric and James spent last night in the town of Amecameca after an acclimatization hike around the Paseo de Cortez (11,150'). The Paseo de Cortez is the pass connecting Ixta and Popo, and gets it's name from the fact that Cortez crossed this pass on his way to Mexico city in 1519. The track from the spot beacon above shows the Paseo de Cortez marked with #1. You can see the town of Amecameca on the left edge of the image. Ixta is out of view beyond the upper right corner of the image and Popo is located below the lower right corner.
Ixta as viewed from Paseo de Cortez yesterday
Today the team will head back up to the pass where they do another acclimatization hike and then spend the night at the Altzimoni Hut just above the pass. This is a very basic hut and the guys will be bringing all of their food, water and cooking gear with them. Tomorrow they will move up to their high camp on Ixta in preparation for their summit bid.
Popo as viewed from Paseo de Cortez yesterday

More to follow...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mexico Volcanoes Trip Underway! ~ January 29, 2011

We all made it to Mexico City with our luggage intact. We spent the afternoon visiting a grocery store and picking up some fresh food and last minute supplies for Monday and Tuesday, when we will be camping. Things have sure changed since I came to Mexico City for the first time in 1988. Over the years it has become easier and easier to find food that works well for camping. On this trip in particular I was struck by how easy it would be to buy all of your food in one of the many big grocery stores in Mexico City.

It is now possible to buy once impossible to find things such as cheddar cheese, Starbucks, and even flour tortillas, which historically have been only available in Northern Mexico, where they are more commonly eaten. We are now well supplied with enough food to get us through our Orizaba climb and back in Mexico City in a week.

After the grocery we went out for a nice dinner in the Zona Rosa and then did a quick equipment check before turning in early. I am climbing with Eric and Jim and these guys have their scene dialed. Both joined me on Mont Blanc two summers ago, and Eric came out to climb the North Face of Mt. Buckner in the North Cascades last summer along with NMS regular Dusty.

The plan from here is to drive to Amecameca in the morning, drop our gear at a hotel, and then drive up to the Paseo Cortez for an acclimatization hike lasting a few hours. We will then return to Amecameca for the night, a great Mexican meal, and then return to the pass the following day. I will be checking in with Olivia and she will be posting updates from here. If all goes well we will make a summit attempt on Izta on Wednesday and then work our way back to the trail head and then move to Puebla.

Izta is just over 17,000 feet high and is the 7th highest peak in North America. This will be used to acclimate for our attempt on Orizaba, which is close to 18,500'. Olivia just finished our first Ouray Ice Climbing trip of the season and will be doing some personal climbs and helping with our logistics until her next trip begins in Ouray later this week. It will be a busy week at the Northwest Mountain School as we also have a very full AIARE Level 1 Avalanche course running next weekend. Stay tuned and see how things go.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

North Cascades Climbing Trip Report ~ Aug 30-Sept 6, 2010

From August 30-September 6, 2010 NMS guides John Race and Mike Walters had a blast climbing with Chuck Moomey, Todd Ziegler, and Matt Voelkel in Leavenworth, Frenchmans Coulee, and North Cascades National Park.  This trip report was super late in coming out primarily because we had such a packed 8 days of climbing that I wanted to put up a good trip report.  Here goes.

We started with a spectacular day of rock climbing in Leavenworth.  The weather forecast was for a significant storm system to start to roll through on Day 2, so we jumped on it and hit several different locations in the area. We started at Clamshell and then climbed the Tree Route (5.6, 3 pitches) in the afternoon.

Day 2 was very wet and stormy as forecated so we took advantage of our new permit at Vantage  and headed over for a day of climbing at Vantage.  It was just barely dry enough to climb, but we had a great day.

The climbing at Vantage is steep and is either well bolted sport routes or crack climbing.

Many of the pitches are a good 25-30 meters of vertical climbing.  Great training for the arms and the head!

On Day 3 we drove over the Cascades to North Cascades National Park and headed into Boston Basin, where we spent the next 3 days climbing Sahale and Sharkfin.  We had Forbidden Peak and/or Mount Torment on the menu, but pulled back from this once we saw how much new snow there was on the rock.

The storm had dusted Forbidden, which is featured in the center of the photo, with the classic West Ridge of Forbidden just right of center and the Torment-Forbidden Traverse running from the left edge to the center.

All trips into Boston Basin provide fantastic views of the NE Ridge of Johanesburg, a route that I had the great pleasure of climbing with the late Joe Puryear.  We did this in 14 hours round trip.  It is a wild route with very moderate climbing, almost 5000 feet of gain, and a wild descent.

Our first objective was the Quien Sabe Glacier on Sahale Peak.  With the new snow you can clearly see the route that most parties take up the Glacier.

On our first night we had a great sunset and were encouraged that the weather would hold for the next couple of days.

On the hike in on Day 3 we noticed that we were particularly well outfitted with Sportiva boots.  All of the boots pictured are appropriate for climbs of Sahale, Sharkfin, Forbidden, and Torment and allow us to use crampons and climb rock up 5.6 or 5.7.

Matt, Chuck, and Todd on the evening of Day 3 as we prepared to hit the sack in preparation for an early climb the next morning.

We often combine Sahale and Sharkfin into one day, but we decided to give the rock on Sharkfin another day to dry out, so we started at first light, rather than in the dark, and headed up the Quien Sabe Glacier.  Sahale is the peak in the background that we are heading toward.

One of the best reasons to climb Sahale is the unbelievable views of Forbidden Peak.  The ridge on the left is the West Ridge (5.6), the right ridge is the North Ridge (5.0), and the ridge in the middle is the East Ridge (5.8+).  I have guided all three many times and think that Forbidden is one of the "must do" peaks in the North Cascades.  There is no easy way to the summit, but all three routes are within reach of competent rock climbers used to alpine rock climbing.

On our way up Sahale we also had a good view of the SE Ridge of Sahale, which we would climb the second day.

Here you can see Forbidden with Eldorado Peak behind it to the left and Mt. Baker behind that again on the left.  The low saddle in the brown rock in the foreground is Sharkfin Col, which we use when climbing the North Ridge of Forbidden or when doing the Forbidden Tour in the Spring.

Chuck climbing perfect Neve on the way to the summit of Sahale Peak.

This is taken up at the Col between Boston and Sahale Peak.  It is unusual to get enough snow in August for this cornice to form, but it does happen.  This is always something to consider when climbing in the Spring as you hit the col very unaware of how big and serious the drop into the basin below would be.  On more than one occasion I have arrived here to see the outline of a a tent platform built directly over the cornice!

Here we are contemplating the rock pitches that lead to the summit of Sahale.

A great shot looking down at Matt and Todd climbing the fun terrain leading to the summit.

Todd climbing the rock that leads to the summit of Sahale.

Once on top of Sahale you have great views of the Ptarmigan Traverese with Glacier Peak in the background.

Chuck and Matt on the descent from the summit on what proved to be one of the best weather days of the trip.

Chuck on the summit of Sahale with Forbidden in the background.

On the way down we opted to subject the gang to some ice climbing on one of the many crevasses on the Quien Sabe Glacier.

Since I started guiding in the North Cascades in the mid 1990's the glacier has really pulled back leaving a series of snow gullies and rock slabs to negotiate at the base of the glacier.

 The next day we set about to climb Sharkfin, the main summit in the center of the photo.

From high on the route you get really spectacular views of the North Face of Mt. Buckner, which I had guided a month earlier

Chuck on the way up to the summit of Sharkfin Tower.

On Sharkfin we had really good views of the route we had taken up Sahale Peak.

Chuck, Todd, and Matt on the summit with JR in the background.  The peak behind us is Boston Peak.  We hiked out of Boston Basin on Day 5 after climbing Sharkfin.

On Day 6 we drove around to Glacier, WA and approached the Fisher Chimneys on Mt. Shuksan despite a weather forecast that indicated that it was going to be hard going.  At this point in the trip we had covered a lot of terrain and the crew did a great job of staying motivated and getting the job done.

Chuck, Todd, and Matt at the trailhead ready to do battle with one more summit in our week of climbing.

We hiked and climbed all day.  The highlight being our climb of the Mt. Shuksan's Fisher Chimneys where we encountered a very nice, but relatively inexperienced group.  They were all climbing unroped and at one point I threw in a cam as the guy above me was looking a bit shakey.  As I pulled the cam out he looked down and asked me "what is that?"  Needless to say I put in two cams and waited for him to make the next few moves before we continued.  This is our camp at the base of Winnies Slide.

Approaching the base of Hell's Highway on the regular Fisher Chimney route on Mt. Shuksan on Day 7.

Our climb of Shuksan on Day 7 was full value.  Lots of new snow covering the rock made for very interesting climbing in what is typically a rock scramble to the summit.

This is a photo of folks lowering off Winnie's Slide at the end of the day.  Winnie's Slide has really fun 45-50 degree snow climbing right out of camp.

We arrived back in camp tired and late enough that we decided to save the descent for Day 8.  As you can tell from the photo Todd was greatly enjoying the opportunity to put his Gore-tex to the test this evening.

One last shot of the rappel from just below the summit of Mt. Shuksan.  I think what made this trip such a great outing was the groups willingness to have a flexible schedule and work around all of the weather issues the trip presented.  Many thanks to Mike Walters for his great guiding and easy going attitude and for Todd, Matt, and Chuck for trusting us to keep things moving.

More details on guided climbs of Mt. Shuksan

Friday, January 14, 2011

January 14, 2011 - Aconcagua Expedition Update

Our expedition has nearly come to a close and we hope to be able to post a bunch of great photos very soon. We are all back in Mendoza enjoying the return to civilization and everyone is busy shaving off beards, sorting and packing all their gear and clothing, and preparing for the trip home.

Two of our team have already left on flights for the US, eight others will fly tomorrow, and the last two will depart Argentina on Sunday.

Andy has sorted all of his photos and we have some very good ones. These will be used in a final trip report as soon as we can sort out how to get them from one device to another. We are very happy that the entire group was able to successfully make it all the way up to our high camp, and then down over the other side of Aconcagua. While only a small portion of the group was able to reach the top on our summit day, our hats are off to the entire team for managing to deal with the winds, cold, and difficult conditions presented in our time up high.

Many thanks to Olivia for keeping everyone up to date while we were on the mountain. It may take a few days for us to get the final batch of photos and text loaded onto the blog, but we will get it done.

All best-

John Race, IFMGA Guide

January 14, 2011 - Aconcagua Expedition Updates - Back in Mendoza

Last year's group enjoying a very civilized lunch at one of the local wineries.
John called in this morning to report the team is all back in Mendoza. Less than 48 hours after leaving high camp Mendoza surely feels like a foreign place but I am guessing everyone is enjoying the comforts of the city. Showers and a couple of good meals are usually the first order of business after a long trip like Aconcagua. John and Andy should be posting a final trip report at some point soon. This will be my last post for this trip. Nice work everyone!
Joel getting ready to enjoy another meal at the Hyatt in Mendoza.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 13, 2011 - Aconcagua Expedition Updates - Team headed out the Horcones Valley

John phoned in this morning to say the team was headed out the Horcones Valley from Plaza de Mulas. They spent last night at base camp and were busy organizing gear so they didn't get a chance to call in. Point 28 on the map above was a check in from the spot beacon this morning as they were heading down the valley. Disregard the line leading to #28 this is just a direct line from the last point where they had the spot turned on. John said they anticipated making it to the trailhead by 5:30 PM their time and would be back in Mendoza late tonight.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January 11, 2011 - Aconcagua Expedition Updates - Back at High Team

John called in at 12:10 PM Pacific (5:10 PM local time) to report the team was all reunited at high camp. Everyone is doing well and will spend the night there tonight. The total summit day took 11.5 hours round trip. Tomorrow everyone will descend to Plaza de Mulas to their well earned pizza lunch. From there they will almost be able to smell the steak grilling in Mendoza!

January 11, 2011 - Aconcagua Expedition Updates - On Top!

Aconcagua Summit (22,841')
John called in at 9:15 AM pacific time to report that he was standing on the summit of Aconcagua with Rich & Tania. He reported it was a tough summit day and a portion of the group had turned back with the other guides but the weather was reasonable and it took 8.5 hours from high camp to the top. John and crew are now headed down to rejoin the rest of the group (everyone is doing well) for one more night at high camp before descending to Plaza de Mulas.
We'll keep you updated as we hear more...

Monday, January 10, 2011

January 10, 2011 - Aconcagua Expedition Updates - Rest day at High Camp

John called in to report the team was taking a rest day today. The plan is to go for the summit tomorrow once the winds calm down.
The map above gives a feel for where the team is now. Camp Cholera , their high camp, is marked "27" by the spot. This view shows how they are now directly above the Plaza de Mulas base camp. It is approximately a 3 hour hike down from high camp to base camp. I spoke with our local outfitter and the team's gear is headed to Penitentes today and will be at Plaza de Mulas by tomorrow evening. John also asked that I put in their pizza order for Wednesday afternoon - always a nice treat after the summit bid.
More tomorrow....

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9, 2011 - Aconcagua Expedition Updates - Team at High Camp

High Camp - Camp Cholera (19,400')
John called to say the team was tucked into their tents at Camp Cholera - their high camp for the trip. From here the team is in position to summit and then drop down to the Routa Normal side of the mountain. John has already arranged for the mules to pull the gear the team left at Plaza Argentina and bring it around to meet them at Plaza de Mulas after their summit bid.
There was some snow and winds today but the winds were calming when he called in. The forecast is for the winds to continue tomorrow before calming on Tuesday. The plan is to use tomorrow for a rest/acclimatization day before going for the summit on Tuesday.
A minimalist kitchen
Now that they are high on the mountain the guides are working with a small kitchen, the tent vestibule, as the winds can make it difficult to use a cook tent. The one benefit to the windy evening was that the team were treated to dinner in their tents.
More tomorrow...