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Gratitude on the Exum Ridge


Thirteen years ago I built a sleeping platform in the back of my Subaru and drove west with my buddy Sean to learn the ways of the alpinist. We climbed for a month in the Wind River Range and Tetons. Our last mission was to climb the complete Exum Ridge in a day. We bailed after the first half of the route on account of parties ahead, the late hour, and building storm clouds.

I went and finally completed that mission today with my friend and climbing partner Eric. We left the trailhead at 5:30 am, simul-climbed the complete Exum in three long pitches, topped out on the Grand at quarter til 2 in the afternoon, and walked back to the car by 7pm. It wasn’t the hardest climb I’ve done, nor did we move particularly fast. We did have the mountain largely to ourselves though, and a massive wildfire to the west had cast a smoky haze over the entire range.

Walking down through Garnet Canyon, the setting sun cast long shadows down the valley. The peaks were lit in orange and grey and misted by smoky haze. Sunlight glittered through the falling droplets of a waterfall pouring down over black rock. Being present at that moment in such an incredible place, I felt an upwelling of gratitude and contentment. Far more than accomplishment for simply completing a goal from my early adulthood, I felt so thankful for having the health, friends, partners, and lifestyle that allows me to live, work, and play in the most beautiful places on Earth year after year after year.

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An Attempt on D7 on the Diamond

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Last weekend I was hanging out at my buddy John’s place drinking beers and talking about climbing. A friend of his stopped in, having just climbed the Notch on Long’s. After half an hour of BS’ing about climbing, he mentioned wanting to climb the Diamond.

“Well, what are you up to on Tuesday?” I asked.

“I’m funemployed…..I think I could make that work!” said Matt.

Done, plan hatched, partner found. Long’s Peak has been a big part of my life, since I first heard about the mountain as a newbie climber in Pittsburgh. I have been itching to get on the Diamond for years. I took a trip out west in 2003, thinking we would crush all the classic lines in the Tetons and Winds and then come to Colorado and cruise the Casual Route, but after learning our capabilities we stuck to Wyoming and make a month of 5.7 alpine lines. I tried again to climb the Diamond nearly ten years ago in my first summer living in Estes Park. I carried a ring in my pocket, and after realizing that the North Chimney was no place to be with a dozen parties ahead, we bailed, I popped the question, and we hiked out happily engaged.

In the intervening years, the pieces never fell into place for me to get back up there. Now, single again, I have been climbing as much as my free time allows, and the itch hadn’t lessened. So my newest partner and I loaded up on Monday after work and slept in Matt’s Subaru. 3am Tuesday we hit the trail, miles slipping by in the dark, talking about climbing and relationships and worrying about snow and conditions.

Daylight found us trying not to slide down Mill’s Glacier in approach shoes. I let to the base of the chimney with Matt’s microspikes and a nut tool for an improvised axe, got on rock, and let the terrifyingly loose pitches to Broadway. What began as whispy clouds turned into full whiteout, and I shivered as Matt followed.

“I think we might be done,” I remarked as Matt looked over the topo, hand shaking with cold. “Agreed, I’m a bit sketched out right now,” he came back. We talked it over, and decided to go to the base of the route. As Matt took care of some business with a wag bag on Broadway, the weather cleared and our psyche came back.

“What the hell, I’ll lead a pitch,” I said. I pulled on edges and yarded shamelessly on draws clipped to old pitons, all thoughts of style and freeclimbing lost in the face of old school 5.9 climbing at 12,500′. We found adequate retreat anchors every so often, so we kept going despite our relatively slow pace and occasional raindrops. After four pitches, with another whiteout blocking the life-giving sun, we looked at the clock and opted for retreat rather than all night epic. Backing off went as smoothly as can be expected on a big alpine climb, and by 8pm we were kicking off shoes and drinking beer in the parking lot.

My complete ascent of the Diamond still awaits.

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Black Lake Ice: West Gully 11/14/2012

John Mercke cruising the upper slabs

Another alpine outing with John Mercke this week. After climbing for a few days last week at Indian Creek we met a French fellow named Francois and make plans to climb ice in Rocky Mountain National Park. I checked ice conditions with a friend who guides for Colorado Mountain School and got word that West Gully and All Mixed Up were in decent shape, each having been climbed over the weekend with no rock gear – just screws.

So on Wednesday, John, Francois, his friend Elad, and I went up to Black Lake to have a look. All Mixed Up looked very climbable, though a bit thin in the middle. I didn’t snap a photo…sorry! The Black Lake slabs are forming, as shown in one of the photos below. Very thin, though, at the moment.

West Gully was great. We climbed side-by-side in two teams of two. I took the right side, and enjoyed a pitch of mellow WI3 to belay in a niche on the right below a pillar. The pillar was short, maybe 25 feet, steep, and stout with poor protection. I equalized my first two screws together after hitting air on both, then found hollow ice above. Fun climbing: stemming, backstep/kneebar using the rock behind, pulling a steep bulge…if slightly nerve-wracking climbing above such questionable screws. I pulled the moves though and built a belay at the base of the long ice slabs above.

We cruised the slabs on a simul-belay with hero ice and good screws. Elad suffered a mini-epic routefinding on the descent, but we arrived back at Black Lake with almost enough sunlight for the hike back to the car.

All in all an excellent romp in the mountains. I am certainly happy to be back in the alpine game with a comfortable lead head.

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RMNP Ice Conditions 2012-2013

Meeker Cirque on October 30, 2012

John Mercke and I went up for a ramble in the Mt. Meeker cirque of Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday (October 30, 2012) to do some climbing and check out ice climbing conditions. Chasm Lake is solidly frozen. Overall, the mountains are surprisingly dry, and we need more snow for better conditions to form up.

We climbed the Flying Dutchman and found overall good conditions: mostly firm snow (kicking 3in deep steps) with a bit of knee-deep wallowing. The crux pitch had plenty of good ice and took two 16cm screws (one just touched rock) and some rock pro. We descended the Loft, easily on mostly firm snow.

The Loft ice is forming, but not quite in.

Dreamweaver is forming, but looks like it would involve a good bit of rock climbing.

Martha isn’t in yet. We need some more snow, sun, and cold nights.

The Peacock Pool ice is forming and mostly climbable, but thin with water flowing behind the ice. Fine for some top-roping but I wouldn’t lead it quite yet! We top-roped the rightmost flow after descending from the Dutchman and it was fun, if still a bit thin.

I’ve heard that Alexander’s Chimney is in, but haven’t climbed it.

A party climbed Fields Chimney yesterday, and we saw them coming across Broadway – so presumably the route is in enough to climb.

Conditions Photos:

For more Colorado ice conditions, check out the Mountain Project 2012-2013 ice thread and

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3rd Flatiron

Climbed the 3rd Flatiron today with Matt and Dave.  That was the first time I’d done the 3rd and it was a fun cruise-fest.  The descent down the scree, however, was a miserable icefield… probably WI1.   :)

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Abby’s Visit 2007

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