photo by Bradford MacArthur

Monday, 21 September 2015

A photo journal of The Incredible Hulk- The Venturi Effect and Solar Flare

My shadow and I climbing up the Crux pitch of Solar Flare 12d
In late August Marc and I decided to hike in to the beautiful Hoover Wilderness above Bridgeport, CA to climb on the Incredible hulk.  Having grown up in the Sierra I felt drawn to climb in these mountains, and for the past few years the idea has been filtering through my mind waiting for the right moment.
We chose to start on the ultra- classic  'The Venturi Effect' a Peter Croft, Nettle and Davis line (The Venturi Effect), and return on a later date for Solar Flare.
The Hulk in the afternoon sun- view from basecamp

The elevation took me by surprise having come straight from Squamish at sea level.  The peak resides at 11,040'.  ( Video of us on Venturi )

After hiking in, the exhaustion overtook me and I spent the rest of the afternoon stretching, drinking gallons of water and admiring the different lines on the Hulk.  Marc on the other hand had plenty of energy to boulder on some of the infinite rocks that lay about the base.

Hanging out at basecamp

With an early start I took the first pitch, a burly 11c with frozen hands.  We swapped leads till the end, each getting to lead two 12 pitches.  Pitch 4 was my lead, the 12d stem 'The Book of Secrets'.  I was nearing the top and found myself with both hands and feet pressing outward in a full bridge between the walls.  With one impatient move I eagerly pushed down on my palms and popped off the wall.  
Overcome with sadness I pulled back up and sent the rest of the pitch.   This was the only fall of the entire day.  Marc managed a full onsight, and I was one move away.  The day spiraled upwards from that moment on.  The sun came around the corner and we cruised up the headwall, enjoying the amazing cat-scratch splitters that line the face.
Me leading up The Book Of Secrets

Marc starting the stemming corner
Topping out the 12a, first pitch of the headwall

Marc coming up the 12b headwall cracks

Marc lead the second Crux pitch with a steady pace, teching his way up the insecure and physical moves.     
We made it to the top around 4pm, both extremely content with our efforts.  We then rapped the route, packed up our tent and hiked out of the valley, looking forward to return.  
Smiles from the top!

Solar Flare 12+,  Peter Croft and Conrad Anker 2007

This is a line which I did not expect to do so well on.  It follows a striking prow that is known for having bouldery moves while bouncing back and forth over two sides of an arête. The day started out with a frigid wind howling through the valley.  We both regretted having started early this day.  We inched our way up the first 4 pitches, with numb fingers and toes huddling together on a small ledges for 2 hours waiting for the sun to arrive.
Pitch 1, Frozen hands

12b stemming
I lead pitch 5, a bouldery 12c.  Crimping my left hand on a micro edge and smearing my right foot out across the face I reached as far as I could; leaning towards the arête.  My reach was a few inches shy and my only option was to fall towards the arête and hope for luck.  I fell rightward and my hand happened to catch on a small incut, hidden on the other side of the arête.  I looked back at Marc, eyes full of surprise thinking that this was some sort of magic.  I finished the pitch without a fall and finally made it to a sunny belay ledge.
Warming my hands before making the crux move on the 12c

Marc coming up the 12c

Marc took the final crux.  The 12d that leads up the golden prow.  Right from the start the movements are technical and it never eases until you reach the belay.  Huge gusts of wind almost knocked him off as he balanced from one side of the arête to the other, but he made it to the top without a fall.
Marc on the 12d arête

It was then my turn and with a calm excitement I too sent the pitch.  I then lead us up the final 12a/b where the route connects with Sunspot Dihedral.  
Marc on the final pitch, 12a/b

Despite the cold and windy conditions that were playing against us, we both managed an onsight of the route!  

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Malta Motion


Poking out of the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean is a small limestone land called Malta, along with its even smaller co-island, Gozo.

On May 10th Marc and I boarded the ferry from Pozallo Sicily heading to Valetta, Malta, ready to get our sport climbing on. As Valetta came into view it appeared like no other place I had ever seen; A land completly absorbed in  sandy city walls, narrow steets winding in every which way, and big industrial like tankers and machinery in the harbor.

My first impression was that Malta was chaos. 

Our rental car agency dropped a car off for us at the ferry terminal and left us to fend for ourselves. I was surprised to find the steering wheel on the right side of the car and the manual shifter was left handed.  More surprised still to learn that the Maltese drive on the left side of the road. 

Just like that we set off on a quest through the interconnected maze of cities to find the one and only climbing store. It's quite complicated navigating through these cities as is, but given that Malta is lacking 80% of their street signs makes things much worse.

With a bit of luck two hours later we were on our way to the first crag, The Mellieha Cave. The cave is located in a sink hold on a plateau just above the ocean.  Overhanging walls of pockets and stalactites worked me over pretty quick.  (not to mention we had been two days on from climbing in Sicily already)
Marc climbing Crazy Monkey
  We set up our tent outside of the cave where the dirt road meets the seaside cliff, overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Ocean.
Our tent at the Mellieha Cave

I awoke during the night to the sound of thunder off in the distance, and a quick flash of light.  Less than 20 minutes later, a full blown light show was directly overhead striking through the sky. I darted off the the car for shelter to comfortably watch while Marc decided to stay in the tent… I imagined what kind of horrific rescue situation would play out if I had to save Marc from a lighting strike.

Fortunately the storm passed without a single disturbance and I returned to the tent. 

The calm morning was preceded by a light windstorm, which I was asleep for.  I woke up to Marc squishing a tick from my shoulder.  Looking around the tent, we found about 12 more tikcs creeping around by our feet.  We quickly killed them all and searched our bodies for more.  With absolutely no idea how they entered the tent, our only conclusion is that they were blown in by the slight wind and happened to enter the tent while part of the Zipper was undone.  Just our luck.  

Blue Grotto -Wied iz zurrieq and Ghar lapsi

We cruised down to the other side of the island to check out the sea cliff climbing.  
Marc rappelling down to Red Wall

We rappelled down to a small isolated bench lined with climbs.  I dove into the ocean for a cool wake up.  The swimming is amazing except that small boats are continuously passing by.  Strangley enough the Blue Grotto town is famous for its 'tour boat' attraction.  Hundreds of tourists pile in by bus to be taken out to view the sea caves.  They were pointing in awe at us all day as we climbed, got to see me take some fun whippers :)


Greek Odyssey multi pitch, Red Wall

Within a few days we were ready for a change and headed over to Gozo.


The small island of Gozo can be crossed in no longer than 20 minutes, that is, if you don't get lost, and is a paradise for sport climbers and divers.  Caves and tunnels connect the underwater world, filled with colorful fish and flora. This small limestone island is also home to the world class climber Stevie Haston. 

Marc and I rented a small apartment in Xlendi Bay, a charming ocean town and set off to climb at some of the sea cliffs. Day one we climbed a beautiful multiptich on the sea cliffs called White Wings.  

Day two we ventured down to the Underworld, a Stevie Haston creation.  The swells from the Mediterrranean ocean seem to be directed precisely to this cave creating an atmosphere of booming intensity.  Right away we knew we were in for some excitement. The dark morphed rock was wet but  amazingly full of giant pockets and jugs.  We spent the afternoon climbing various routes such as Vampire Lats, Furry Animals, and I love Elvis.
Me climbing out of the Underworld via the 7b+ Furry Animals 

Marc exploring the Underworld


Gozo- The White Tower

Our exploration of Gozo continued as we headed over to The White Tower to climb with Stevie, Alix and Inigo.  Unfortunately I don't have any photos.  We both loved the climbing here. The walls are steep and sustained, but each route varies in style.  There is techy face climbing to intricate stemming to juggy endurance climbs, all overlooking another spectacular bay. 

Our Gozo/ Malta days were summed up with another few days of climbing, swimming and exploring the Mediterranean Cuisine before we jumped back on a plane to Italy. (well, before spending the night in the airport, and getting hassled by the airport security, losing a rope along amongst other complications. )

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Mate Porro y Todo lo Demás  North pilar (Pilar Goretta) Fitzroy

Carolyn Davidson and I had just returned from a successful mission on Aguja Rafael Juarez having climbed the stellar line called Coralo in the Torre Valley. Just as we got back El Chaltén the weather was breaking immediately into another climbing window. With one day to prepare we packed our bags and began the trek back into the mountains, this time up to base camp Piedra Negra, on the north side of the Fitz group.  Our plan was to climb a route of Rolando Garibotti and Bean Bowers called Mate Porro y Todo lo Demás, 900m 6c.
The North Pillar of Fitz Roy
The weather was a bit stormy as we approached Piedra Fraile, a small refugio located in the Valley below Piedra Negra.  Merely out of curiosity I asked Carolyn if she had ever experienced the Patagonian winds because I certainly hadn't.  Without knowing, I had just predicted the forecast for our next few days.  
The winds struck us as we were hiking up the steep hill to the base camp.  I could only hope that the night would settle the storm and the weather window would prevail as the meteorgram had predicted.  Once at Piedra Negra we located some stashed climbing gear which our friend had left for us under some rocks, set up a tent and fell asleep.
Fitz Roy as seen from the hill where we got our first taste of the Patagonian winds
We awoke at 1:30 am and the air was still. We prepared a quick breakfast  and began the long approach to the base of the route by headlamp, leaving at 2 am. 
We reached the base of the route by 8:30 after having weaved our way across complex terrain throughout the night. The morning was chilly and the sky was filtered with a thin cloud layer. A tent was set up at a rock formation near the base of the pilar but we could not spot any climbers. 
I began the first leading block of what I estimate to be about 10 pitches, but I can't be certain because I was linking pitches as well as using a mix of short fixing, free climbing, and french freeing whenever possible. Carolyn was following on ascenders and carrying the pack; we were basically speed climbing. Soon enough the dihedral ended and Carolyn took over the lead.  Until this moment I was so invested in the climbing that I hadn't noticed the clouds pouring over the peaks of the Torres from the south. Now that I was belaying my heart rate slowed and I became cold. As I changed from my rock shoes back into my approach shoes I felt the freezing wind bite my feet.The next anchor was located on an arête that was perfectly exposed to the wind. Carolyn aided the thin and technical crack with frozen hands as I stood shivering and exposed on the ledge. The clouds quickly engulfed the entire mountain and snow flurries whipped past in strong gusts.  I yelled up at her but she could not hear, "Carolyn we need to bail! The weather is worsening!" I waited for a response but all sound was overtaken by the wind. My only option was to meet her at the next belay so I struggled my way up the overhang on jumars. Once I arrived at the ledge Carolyn's calm rational reassured me that all would be well if we could make it to the bivy ledge.  I scrambled up the gully with a settled mind, focused on finding a protected bivy spot which I could barricade with rocks.  The storm clouds were dark and the wind was persistent but our -20 sleeping bag and warm boiled water from our jet boil made for a rather comfortable sleep. On the bright side, the storm clouds painted an amazing sunset, and there was no better place to view it than the north pillar of Fitz Roy.
Beautiful but dramatic sunset
The next morning maintained the chill and windspeed from the day before and we were faced with a tough decision.  If we pushed on we risked facing the unknown weather so we decided it would be best to bail. By 4 pm we were back at the base of the pilar and the day had transformed into a beautiful and calm day. We were devastated.  Not only was it frustrating that we had wasted our time rappelling during the best weather conditions but we watched as another party (a group of Spaniards) casually climbed up the route. They had waited out the wind started up sometime around midday. 

Carolyn Taking over the lead at the break of day
After contemplating various options we decided that we would have a good chance at summiting the North Pillar in a single day via Mate Porro if we started early. The first half of the route was fresh in our memories as well as the lower rappels.  We were up and moving by 3 am. Having already climbed the first half of the route I was able to climb even faster. I lead my block by headlamp, with the help of the full moon.
The full moon setting after a bright night of climbing
Carolyn took over as it began to get light out and we were back at the bivy ledge by 11 am. Once again the weather was less than ideal. The winds were strong, so strong in fact that we found the Spaniards huddled in their bivy sacs waiting for the winds to die. 

I traversed the ledge around to the north side of the pillar in search of a line that would be protected from the southern winds. I chose a line called Gringos Perdidos, 6c, which follows crack systems of varying sizes up to a small roof.  It was impossible to see what lied beyond the roof so I chose to climb a flared groove that veered left into an offwith dihedral. Only later did I find out that I had linked Gringos Perdidos with another variation, and in doing so found an entirely new crux section.  I was stoked; at the top of the North Pillar being challenged with technical free climbing with the sun at my back. 

We reached the snowy summit around 5 pm, so proud and happy of our revenge ascent. There was no time to relax however, for we still had the entire decent, and descents are often more challenging than the climb.  Just to our luck our rope became caught as we pulled our very first rappel, winding itself around a chock stone high above in an icy chimney. It was critical that we save it as we still had some 20 plus pitches to descend.  Carefully I pulled myself upward on the lodged rope while squeezing up the chimney about 30 feet to where it was stuck. I was surprised by how easily the rope dislodged but realized that it would be an ideal location to build a knot anchor. With some rap cord I tied a small not and wedged it between the chock stone and the wall. Then rappelled back down to Carolyn. Our rope gave us trouble on every single rappel, fortunately we didn't have to climb up again to retrieve it. We quickly caught up to the Spaniards, they must have waited on the bivy ledge at pitch 16 all day. We made it to the base before dark, slipped into our bivy sac and fell asleep awaiting a long and tenuous hike out on empty stomachs the next day