Thursday, August 20, 2015

Upcoming Fall Climbs in the Great American Desert

We were recently informed that our quickly aging children will need to be educated. Fortunately our oldest is still a year out from Kindergarten and our youngest is still sorting out the mechanics of walking. With the threat of a more regular school schedule bearing down upon us we are planning to spend the Fall of 2015 doing what we love most, climbing in the desert. We have programs scheduled at Red Rocks from October 9-18, 2015 and will then be stationed in Moab, UT until winter starts here in the PNW.

Climbing at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Sunset over Red Rocks Canyon NCA
Our time at Red Rocks: We are not the type of folks that would go out of our way to visit Las Vegas. In 1988 JR was headed from Colorado to Joshua Tree and he stopped at Red Rocks to check out the climbing. At the time there was very little information on the climbing. Armed with a short article from climbing magazine several of us wandered up Pine Creek Canyon and proceeded to take a massive ass-whupping on what we thought was an established route. We estimated the wall to be a few pitches high. 6-pitches and a lot of swearing later we bailed. In the early 2000's we started coming back as part of our training with the American Mountain Guides Association enrollee to obtaining out AMGA Rock Guide Certifications. In the process of becoming certified we spent months trying to climb every possible exam route and fell in love with the place. Since becoming certified we apply every year for one of several permits for guiding issued by lottery.  We won one for 2015 and are planning to be in the area from October 9-18 working on routes we have come to cherish for 10 days.

Climbers on the first pitch of Dark Shadow's - Red Rocks

What is so special about Red Rocks?: As improbable as it seems, it is one of the prettiest places to climb in the Western US. Vegas is a busy place and had built itself right up to the edge of the park. The park itself sees a lot of traffic.  Fortunately most of those visitors drive the loop road and never hike out to where the climbing is.  Once away from the parking lot Red Rocks starts to feel very remote. Coming off the longer routes it feels downright wild. The rock is a very featured and hard sandstone and allows for long, moderate, multi-pitch routes unlike any we have experienced elsewhere. The climbing tends to be steep, well protected, and very reasonable even for less experienced climbers. Climbers with previous experience will be stunned at the quality of both the easier and harder routes.

What are your options for hiring a guide? We will have many of our key rock guides from Leavenworth in Red Rocks for the duration. To keep things simple we have kept the same rate schedule that we use for Leavenworth.  The daily rate is based on the ratio of guides to climbers and the length of your program. For example, an 8-hour day with 1 guide and 1 climber would be $340 per day, a 5-hour day would be $235 per day. If you want to step it up and climb a longer route such as Frogland (14 pitches, up to 5.7) the cost would be $375.

Our full rate schedule is as follows:
  • Full Day Rock Climbing (up to 8 hours) 
    • 1 climber with 1 guide (1:1) $340
    • climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $235
    • 3 climbers with 1 guide (3:1) $180
    • 4 climbers with 1 guide (4:1) $160
    • 5 climbers with 1 guide (5:1) $150
    • 6 climbers with 1 guide (6:1) $130
  • Half Day Rock Climbing (up to 5 hours) 
    • 1 climber with 1 guide (1:1) $235
    • 2 climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $155
    • 3 climbers with 1 guide (3:1) $130
    • 4 climbers with 1 guide (4:1) $110
    • 5 climbers with 1 guide (5:1) $100
    • 6 climbers with 1 guide (6:1) $90
  • Alpine Rock (up to 10 hours) 
    • 1 climber with 1 guide (1:1) $375
    • 2 climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $275
  • Grade IV or V days** 
    • climber with 1 guide (1:1) $550
    • climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $375
Awesome Climbing In Calico Basin, Red Rocks
Examples of how you might put your Red Rocks Climbing Trip together:

3 days of cragging with a guide with 2 climbers:
  • Day 1: Climb Dark Shadows. This is a 4-pitch 5.8 route with a spectacular position and really nice climbing. Climb Dark Shadows and if you have energy stop at the classic Straight Shooter Wall for a variety of good 5.8-5.10 climbs.
  • Day 2: Hit one of the turnouts for a full-day of sport climbing at the Black Corridor, Little Red Book, Panty Wall, or any of the many sport crags here. These climbs can be dialed up or down anywhere between about 5.8 and 5.11.  The routes are so well setup that you usually get a ton of climbing in.
  • Day 3: Get and early start and head for the Ultra-Classic 5.6+ route Cat in the Hat. This sits on the other side of Mescalito, the same feather that Dark Shadows climbs. On the way out, if there is time, there are a variety of one-pitch routes that can be done.
    • Total Cost for 2 climbers: $705 each
2 days of Long-Moderate Climbs with a guide and 1 climber: 
  • Day 1: Meet your guide early and head in to climb one or two of the great mid-length routes at White Rock Spring.  Good options include: Tunnel Vision (6 pitch, 5.7), Group Therapy (6-pitch, 5.7), Purblind Pillar (6-pitch 5.8). Book a 10-hour day and either relax on one route or hammer on 2.
  • Day 2: Meet early and drive around to remote and beautiful Black Velvet Canyon to try one of the classic moderate routes located there. A good option is Frogland, a 6-pitch 5.8 route. 
    • Total cost: $750 for one climber
3-day Hardman Tour with 1 guide and 1 climber:
  • Day 1: Hike into Juniper Canyon and tackle Ginger Cracks, a 7-pitch 5.9 route with a spectacular rappel descent. 
  • Day 2: Hike into Oak Creek Canyon and go for Black Orpheus, and 8-pitch 5.9+ route with a mostly walk-off descent
  • Day 3: Hike into Black Velvet Canyon and climb the ultra-classic Dream of Wild Turkeys, a 7-pitch 5.10 a route with a spectacular position amid many other steep, classic routes.
    • Total Cost: $1125 for 1-climber, bring a friend and the cost drops to $825 each.
2-Days of sunny sport climbing with your 4 best friends:
  • Day 1: Check out the scene at one of the pullouts and climb a variety of sport climbs until your arms fall-off. This works well even if your group has a variety of experience levels.  When things start to get hot in the afternoon we can reposition to Willow Springs to climb so classic cracks such as Ragged Edges for those that still have the energy.
  • Day 2: Head off the beaten path into Calico Basin and visit a variety of crags that offer routes of different levels of climbing. 
    • Cost: $320 each.
Red Rocks Women's Climbing Seminar: Olivia will once again be offering her Women's Red Rocks Climbing Seminar from October 15-18, 2015.  On this trip we usually all camp together at the Red Rocks Campground. We can either do group meals or hit the local restaurants. This trip includes all-female guides and is designed to give you a chance to climb with instructional clinics on most days giving you a chance to focus on skills such as led climbing, anchor construction, gear placement, or if you are newer to climbing we can cover skills like belaying, rapeling, etc.  Olivia brings enough guides to give everyone that wants to a chance to get out and climb multi-pitch routes on one or more of the days. Red Rocks Women's Climbing Seminar

IFMGA Guide Olivia Race's 2013 Women's Red Rocks Climbing Group
Why a women's seminar? Olivia, like many women, got into climbing through male friends. It has been her experience over time that many women encounter different obstacles than men as they get deeper into climbing. The answer to hesitation is not always as simple as "go for it." Olivia finds that women seem more relaxed and learn more effectively when climbing with other women. These trips have slowly gotten more popular and she has been offering similar programs in backcountry skiing (Called Powder Betty) and her customers consistently report that the all-women's format works better for them. 

Getting it done on the Red Rocks Women's Climbing Seminar.

Climbing around Moab, UT: This is our favorite spot on the planet.  We have spent the last decade here each fall climbing, rafting, mountain biking, road-biking, and exploring the canyons around this mecca for outdoor activity. We are planning to be here from October 26-November 15, 2015. There is a lot to be done here and we can tailor your trip to your climbing goals and background. There is really good top-roping, insane crack climbing at both Indian Creek and near Moab, as opportunities for classic ascents of towers such as Ancient Art, Castleton, We would recommend mixing it up and spending a day or two climbing with us and then a day or two biking or hiking.  

Olivia Race on one of the many classics at Indian Creek, UT
Cragging Options around Moab, UT: If simply looking to get out and climb some nice routes in a top-roped session your best bet is to camp or stay in Moab and join us each day at one of the various crags within a short drive of Moab. If it is on BLM land we can guide it. Common destinations for climbers looking for moderate climbing up to 5.9 include: Potash Road, The Ice Cream Parlor, as well as a few unpublished crags that friends have put up nearby. If you want to climb harder and can follow 5.10 the opportunities greatly expand. We also like the Abraxis Wall and of course Indian Creek, which is a 90-miute drive to the South.

Rest Day hikes have no shortage of interesting places to explore.
Tower Climbing: In our minds this is where it is at. Unfortunately there are not too many towers than can be climbed at an easier grade than 5.9.  If you can make the moves on 5.9 or 5.10 there are a lot of options.  One exception is the Ultra-Classic Ancient Art in the Fisher Towers. We have done this many times, usually bump not other climbers, and always walk away thinking that it one of the cooler things you can do. The summit redefines exposure. Have what it takes to stand up? Alternately we can take you to a classic like the Kor-Ingals Route on Castleton (4-pitch, 5.9), or try something harder  on the nearby Rectory.

Climber on top of Ancient Art, Fisher Chimneys
How do I schedule a climb with you in the desert? Given that total guides are limited and that the schedule for these trips is a bit of a patchwork quilt built around other bookings and various meetings, it is best to give us a call at 509-548-5823 and we can suggest trips that would work.  We can dial things up or down depending on how hard you want to climb or how budget conscious you are. We generally keep our total guiding days pretty light on the fall road trip, but are looking to do some climbing!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mt. Fury, East Peak, SE Glacier - Trip Report - August 12-15, 2015

"More than any other peak, Mt. Fury epitomizes the grand alpine wilderness of the amazing Picket Range." Fred Beckey, Cascade Alpine Guide, Vol 3.

Mt. Fury (8,280'), East Peak, as seen from approach to SE Glacier route
I am currently the proud parent of two very energetic, beautiful kids, one aged 10-months, the other just over 4-years. As much as I love my kids, I miss spending the majority of my time in the mountains and adjusting to the requirements of parenthood has been a struggle. Each trip into the mountains is more carefully chosen and the preciousness of the time spent has me becoming super selective about who I spend it with.

Dusty Wunderlich at the trailhead for our Mt. Fury climb
I came into the summer hot to guide Mt. Goode. We managed to book a trip for Nick Pope with 1 customer and I set out to find someone I could convince to climb with me.  The remoteness of Goode had me thinking it would be nice for two small groups to work alongside one another. It would be fun to get photos of a fellow-guide at work and if there were any issues we could assist one another. Dusty Wunderlich and I had planned to go to Europe together, but life intervened, and at the last moment Dusty and I settled on a shorter trip to Mt. Goode. Two major fires (Wolverine and Goode) broke out before the climb and Nick switched to Fury so we followed, albeit 2-days later.

Ross Lake Resort Water Taxi pickup on Ross Lake
Dusty and I had climbed Rainier, Aconcagua, and the North Face of Mt. Buckner together. Dusty is one of the more fit people I climb with and I knew he was up to the ass kicking that Fury was likely to provide on the approach and exit. We packed at my house in Leavenworth and then drove to the Ross Dam-Ross Lake Resort Trailhead on US highway 20. We paid $60 each way to avoid the 6-mile walk from the road to the Big Beaver Campground, the starting point for the long hike in.

Start of new Fire, just north of Big Beaver Trailhead, Ross Lake, WA
We had chosen Fury because the Northern Pickets was one of the few places in the State without lightning in the forecast. Forecast aside the area saw plenty of lightning this week, including one strike the night before our climb that started a new fire a few miles North of Big Beaver. The hike from Big Beaver (1611') to Luna Camp (2420') is a bit over 10 miles and took 3.5 hours. We crossed 3 or 4 good streams for water. This low elevation trail features super impressive climax Doug-Fir, Western Red Cedar forest, and is well-maintained. I had been in here with middle school students back in the days when Northwest Mountain School programs focused on climbing with kids and teaching environmental education.

Luna Camp, Big Beaver Loop, North Cascades National Park
We contemplated walking further, but knew that the going was about to become more difficult and opted to spend the afternoon resting, getting super-hydrated, and planned an early start the next morning. This is a nice camp with a toilet and a good stream for water. Up early the next morning we hiked for about 20-minutes to a point where we felt close to Big Beaver (the stream) and just north of the point where the stream from Access Creek joins the Big Beaver. There is no visible path though the underbrush here so we just dove in. After a few short battles with Devil's Club we found a suitable crossing.

Crossing Big Beaver, first third in knee deep water, last two-thirds on logs. 
Once across Big Beaver we stayed just climber's right of Access Creek and bush-whacked from 2457' up to 3840' where we finally crossed over Access Creek and soon got into a large boulder field. The brush is not quite as bad as we expected, at times rolling a faint-climber's trail, and often following animal trails. Occasional thickets of Slide Alder were often overcome by walking on fallen logs or plowing through barely discernible animal trails.

View from 3900' looking at Luna Peak, from here route stays climber's left of creek until access gully appears on your left.
We worked our way up Access Creek.  It has hot and our shirts were filled with pine needles from the hiking below. Eventually we broke free of the vegetation and boulders and climbed a couple thousand feet up a very blown out gully leading to a notch at 6100'. Of note, we did not see any rockfall, but the bottom half of the climb seems like a prime place to get taken out by significant rockfall.

Gully leading out of Access Creek to 6100' notch enrollee to Mt. Fury SE Glacier Route.
Once on the ridge at 6100' we finally had a view of the Southern Pickets. From left to right you see McMillan Spires, Inspiration, Pyramid, Degenhardt, Terror, Twin Needles, Himmelgeisterhorn, and the Ottohorn. There are no shortage of routes on the North side, but these peaks are most often climbed from the Southern approaches. As on Glacier earlier this summer, I was a bit saddened to see how much the glaciers are receding, particularly in the hot summer we have had following a poor winter.

The Southern Picket Range as seen from the 6100' notch, NE of the range.
From here we crossed steep heather slopes into the basin leading up to Luna Col, where we planned to place our high camp. You cross through a series of small valley's before eventually descending into the main valley. The ideal route seems to lose a bit of elevation at the start and then contour around into the valley. We had read stories of people wanting to use crampons on the heather here due to the steepness.  Fortunately it was dry and we did not have to contemplate this as it would be hard to imagine the damage we would cause. A huge part of the allure of the place is the fact that you encounter little evidence that others have been there before you and we wanted to keep it that way.

We camped low, at 6100', due to small electrical storms. The ideal camp is in the saddle just left of center on the ridge above. That camp is called Luna Col and is at 7200'.
We set up camp lower than planned as things were clouding up, it started to rain, and a thunderstorm rolled through to the NW and we felt less exposed off the ridge. Our route in the morning would traverse up and climb to point just below the snow slopes just right of center and then work out way over and left to Luna Col. The entire trip from Luna Camp to here took maybe 8 hours.

Southern Picket Range from our camp at 6100' on Southern slopes of Luna Peak.
Our weather forecast called for a 30% chance of lightning the following day between 11 am and 11 pm. We settled on an early start (walking by 4:30 am) hoping to at least not be on the may ridge lines if something rolled in. Stress related to lightning was the key feature of the trip from this point forward. We had had lightning when not forecasted and then saw none when forecasted. The weather on the exit was forecasted to degenerate into a significant rain and lightning event. Of interest, we still had not seen Fury at this point.

The ledge leading around the right side of point 7308' above Luna Col
We got up early and made Luna Col in about an hour. All of the trip reports and guidebook descriptions talk about the section head looking intimidating, but leading to this amazing ledge that allows you to bypass the difficulties on point 7308' just West of Luna Col.  A short class 3 scramble led to the ledge and it was a really cool feature that provided easy travel up to the ridge. Once on the ridge we walked to the next high point, about 10 minutes away. From here the route was not at all obvious and the descriptions we had read a bit confusing.

Key Beta for highpoint just beyond point 7308' on SE Glacier Route, Mt. Fury.
The photo above is taken looking back to the top of the highpoint reached about 10 minutes after you come across the ledge bypassing point 7308'.  When you get to this rise you think you are cliffed out and need to look left (South) for the entrance to a gully that will get you down to the glacier. We spent some time finding this. Once in the gully it is good short-rope terrain. We took the gully down to the glacier and then continued forward avoiding the glacier by alternately climbing in the moat and using the rock slab to the climbers left of the moat.

Looking West to the third rise on the ridge from Luna Col. You go up and over this. It is all easy with the exception of one supposed 5.0 section, which seems easier than that.
Once back up on the ridge we came to a large col and could see the next rock section to go over.  From this vantage it looked time-consuming, but went incredibly fast. This is where the one supposed 5.0 section is, but it seemed easier than that. We made it to the top of this about 20 minutes after we left the col.

Looking to the final ridge section before descending into the basins East of Mt Fury. Photo taken on return from summit.
 From the top of this third major rise you walk on a broad ridge for awhile and eventually start wondering how you are going to get off the ridge. The best route seems to be to go over the bump just above Dusty's head and slightly to the right of the photo center. On the back side of this there are some exposed down climbs to what eventually become heather slopes.  These are followed down and to the skier's right to about 6500'.  The heater in here starts in a very steep gully and then eventually degenerates into scree and becomes lower angled.

Once down to 6400-6500' in this basin you traverse toward the glaciers on Fury. Good water at times in this zone and eventually things seem a bit dicey, which leads to a ledge at around 6650' that will take you west.
We traversed through the basin crossing well under the red rock in the just right and over center and eventually were either going to need to lose a ton of elevation or need to cross extremely steep heather and scree.  At this point we found a nice ledge system that allowed us to traverse West at around 6650' to the small basin before you reach the actual SE glacier.

Here is where our route diverted from the usual SE Glacier route due to unusually broken glacier on the lower glacier.
Once across the ledge system you cross steep scree and come into a big basin East of the SE Glacier. We looked down the gully you would normally use to descend to the SE glacier and opted for the beta Nick had given us, which was to instead ascend up avoiding snow and hit the glacier much higher. In a normal year the SE glacier would be a better option, but this year the lower section of the route was very beat up from the early melt.

Finally on the SE glacier an climbing toward the summit.
We eventually gained the SE glacier and worked our way up and to the climber's left avoiding small crevasses along the way. When you get to the section just below the summit and expect there to be a bergschrund things are radically melted out and the bergschrund is long gone.  We traversed under the summit far to the West and eventually gained the world's loosest boulder pile.

Easy glacier travel on upper SE Glacier of Fury.
The final climb to the summit was in many ways the weirdest part of the route. The boulder field is incredibly loose and it took great care to work up and around a small rock summit to the left of the main snow field.  The snow in many ways seems a better route, but this was faster and we wanted to get in and out as slums clouds were slowly building to the East. Just below the summit we hit a rock col SW of the summit and did 1 or 2 very short pitches before moving back to short rope for the final climb to the summit.

Dusty Wunderlich on summit of Mt. Fury, East Summit, 8288'
We reached the summit around noon.  The climb up took 7 hours from our camp at 6100'. Two days earlier Nick Pope had guided the same route in about 6 hours to the summit from the regular camp at Luna Col at 7200'. The return trip took about 5 hours to Luna Col and another hour down to our camp at 6100'.

One tired Dusty rolling into a camp at 4000' on the way down.
We got back to camp and planned to spend the night.  I touched base with Olivia on the sat phone and she let us know that all hell was forecasted to break loose the following day and so we opted to move as low as possible to reduce the amount of travel on wet heather and in wet bushes.  There is a single, flat, sand and gravel spot big enough for a couple tents next to the creek in the Access Creek Basin at 4000'.  We made it to here about 45 minutes after dark and tucked in for the night.

Sulpher Shelf Fungus (aka Chicken of the Woods) on hike out.
We woke up the next morning and set off early for what became a good 8-hour slog to the trailhead. I use to teach natural history in this area when climbing with kids and wished I had my copy of Field Guide to the Cascades and Olympics (2nd edition) as the low-elevation forest hike out has a mind-blowing collection of plants, fungi, and amphibians, beaver dams, snakes, the works. You would be hard pressed to find a better trail to spend some time with kids while based out of the Big Beaver campground. We waited at the trailhead in the quickly developing thunder storm for our boat pickup. Once out, the drive home turned epic as we rerouted well into Eastern Washington to avoid the fires that were started and in the process of bringing sections of Chelan.


Many thanks to Dusty for a great trip.  We had hoped to climb Goode, but that will need to wait for a summer when there are no fires in the way. Dusty summed up his climb on Fb by saying, "A successful summit of Mt. Fury in the Picket Range but not without getting pretty beat up. By far the hardest alpine experience I've had to date, it tested every ounce of my physical and mental conditioning. Back to training on how to get the body and mind tougher."

I would love to guide Fury again, or any peak in the Pickets for that matter.  Ounce for ounce I don't think you can find a more magnificent destination in the lower 48. Feel free to call us at 509-548-5823 if we can help with details of climbs in the North Cascades.  Take good care of the place, it is a treasure.

North Cascades Guided Trips with the Northwest Mountain School.