Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays and New Year!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. Looking back on the year I feel incredibly fortunate for all of the opportunities, experiences, people met, and just plain general fun I've had this year from my backyard to the other side of the world. Maybe it's my goal-oriented personality by I like this time of year to look back on the year past and ahead to new things yet to come.

Here's a short video I put together with some images from the past year... Enjoy!

Since I first traveled to Pakistan 2 years ago, I've received heart felt holiday cards from my friends over there. With so much negative news these days about the US's relationship with Pakistan, these cards are a wonderful reminder of the kindness I've experienced there. As my friend Kelly Cordes wrote about the same subject, how many cards have you sent for holidays completely separate and different from your own? How many totally foreign holidays are you even aware of? Thank you Ghulam and Ali Muhammad for your kind cards!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Game On!

There was a time not long ago that I couldn't wait for winter to begin. I would nab an ascent of the Black Dike as early as possible and even traveled to the Canadian Rockies several times to catch some Thanksgiving ice! In that last 4 years though I've stretched the rock climbing season as our east coast weather allows. This I traveled down to the Red River Gorge and the New River Gorge for most of November and left wanting more of that warm pocketed rock.

Then something clicks... I'm not sure what it is but every year all of a sudden I am psyched for winter. This year it was a photo posted online by my friend Eric Eisele of Cannon Cliff that sparked it. Out came the dusty ice tools and crampons, digging for warm layers that inevitably still have holes from last season. The whole process of packing for the first winter day out always takes twice as long.

Eric's shot of Cannon. Mean Streak starts with the pillar at the lower left corner
of the cliff line.

I left my house in Vermont at 5am and arrived in the Cannon parking lot a couple of hours later to meet Freddie Wilkinson and Bayard Russell. We had our eye on a route put up about 4 years ago by Will Mayo and Andy Tuthill called Mean Streak. Sure enough the 60 foot pillar at the start was in and the rest of the steep dry tooling, well it looked awesome. It was a great way to kick off the season!

Bayard styling the first pitch off the couch!

A short time-lapse that Freddie put together. More to come soon!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Elephant's Perch

Since returning from Pakistan I've had a pretty whirlwind couple of weeks! After spending two days at home un-packing I quickly re-packed and flew out to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer show. I'd be challenged to find a more polar opposite experience from being on expedition in Pakistan! Despite the craziness of the "show" it was great to meet with some of my dealers and also to catch up with friends.

I had a chance to chat with Hayden Kennedy who along with Kelly Cordes and Kyle Dempster should be arriving in the Charakusa any day now. Sending the good vibes their way!!!

After the OR show Naomi and I picked up our rental Dodge Grand Caravan (Definitely a contender for my next car now...) and drove northwest to Stanley, Idaho and the Sawtooth Range. The Elephant's Perch was our destination and after a fairly burly hike due to our heavy food (and wine) supply, we were rewarded with views of the golden granite dome spider-webbed with seemingly infinite cracks.

We started out with a sandbagged 5.10 called Astro-Elephant...

Doug Madara on the sandbagged flare of Astro-Elephant

Naomi following pitch 1 of Astro-Elephant

After climbing the classic Mountaineer's Route (5.9) the next day, we took a rest day and hung around camp and the beautiful alpine lakes. I took a nice 30' cliff jump into the freezing waters which woke me up to say the least.

The Elephant's Perch!

The next day Naomi and I climbed the classic "Direct Beckey" (5.11). This was by far the longest and most sustained route that Naomi had ever done and she did AWESOME! We topped out and watched the sunset over the Sawtooths. One of the coolest things about the 'Perch is that you can top out at sunset and then be back in camp in a half-hour due to the easy descent gully.

I'm really looking forward to returning to this area! For now it's back in training mode after a summer of getting out of shape alpine climbing :)

Here's a short video I put together of our trip to the 'Perch...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pakistan 2011 Recap!

“Isn’t there anywhere else you can climb?” “Good to know you…” Generally reactions to us traveling to Pakistan were not positive. My previous year’s experience and that of every climber I know who has traveled to this country told me this was not the case. As I stepped out of the Islamabad baggage claim along with Pat Goodman and Will Meinen and into a sea of foreign faces I was nearly blindsided by friend and trekking agent Ghulam Muhammad as he rushed to excitedly greet me. Similar greetings followed as we ran into familiar faces and new ones a like, all ecstatic at our arrival and eager to share their country with us.

Our cook and guide Fida Hussain, 60+ years old and veteran of countless espeditions

A two day’s walk from the stone and mortar village of Hushe, the Charakusa Valley holds a diversity of climbing I wager is hard to find elsewhere in the world. From granite bouldering to massive unclimbed mixed faces which dominate the landscape, the Charakusa holds several lifetimes of objectives both climbed and unclimbed. The unclimbed southwest pillar of K7 West was our main objective and from my perspective is one of the most striking alpine objectives in the world currently. Poor weather would plague our time in the valley with frequent rainstorms and snow and rime constantly forming on our intended line. Windows of good weather proved to be only 2-3 days long.

Pat with Naysser Brakk in the background

Pat and I took advantage of our first window by climbing the north ridge (British Route) on Naysser Brakk. One of the three immaculately cut ridges forming the pyramidal shape of Naysser, the North Ridge has become a classic of the valley and provided a good acclimatization mission. After following the final several pitches that resemble Matthes Crest in the Sierra’s, we sat on the surprisingly flat summit of the pyramid in the blazing Karakorum sun blown away by all of the potential we could see in the valley below.

A short video of our Naysser Brakk ascent

Searching for one more acclimatization objective and an opportunity for Pat and I to climb with Will who we had not yet roped up with, we decided on an unclimbed granite Pillar across and valley and next to Farhod Brakk. “We’ll probably be able to simul-climb most of it…” we discussed in the days prior as we waited for the incessant drizzle to clear. Pat and I swapped blocks up the blocks following surprisingly hard climbing. Thin seams and cracks would follow a dangerously loose pitch. One pitch found me screaming as if at the sport crag as I bear- hugged my way up a arĂȘte above small rp’s. Pat fought his way up a finger crack nearing the 5.12 mark. Above our bivy I completed my block and Pat took us out left of the arĂȘte with delicate traverse that led to the the summit pillar.

Following many rappels, we reached our boots and ice gear as the light faded. We downclimbed the snow couloir as rain began to fall more and more steadily, narrowly dodging some rockfall. We named the pillar “Fida Brakk” after our friend and cook Fida Hussain. The route we named the “Jenga Spur” V+ 5.11+R A.0 1050m after the numerous loose pitches and the way the route just barely seemed to come together.

"The Jenga Spur" on "Fida Brakk" V+ 5.11+R A.0 1050m July6-7

Pat on one of the many 5.11+ pitches encountered on the "Jenga Spur"

As often seems to happen on expeditions, numerous factors kept us from more climbing. We explored different options with Pat and I spending two nights camped below an impressive unclimbed line in the Farol Peak cirque but ultimately ended up leaving the valley content with the climbing we had done and excited to return to explore the multitude of granite that Pakistan holds.

On our way home we visited the village of Haldi where Fida, Ghulam, and all of the Blue Sky Treks and Tours crew lives. Thanks to the generosity of the Burlington Vermont climbing community that donated $200 dollars plus tons of addition school supplies, we delivered a full expedition duffle to the teachers and children of the village. We spent the afternoon visiting with a new schoolteacher of the village who is working to develop the new primary school.

The juxtaposition of western views of Pakistan versus my experiences here continues to amaze me. As Fida’s son put is so well, “The are miscreants and dangerous areas in nearly every country.” This is very much the case in Pakistan where there are certainly dangerous areas and people. The northern area of Baltistan has been a safe and welcoming place for thousands of climbers and I imagine will continue to be so.

We felt extremely fortunate and honored to have the generous financial support of theCopp-Dash Inspire Award and the Gore Shipton-Tilman Grant. THANK YOU!

A recap at

Look for a full film telling the rest of the story to be released later this fall!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Pakistan!

The several months of planning, training and emailing seem to blur together and I find myself back in Islamabad Pakistan waiting to fly to Skardu and the mountains. The last week or so is truly a blur. Things kicked off with a 9pm phone call from Pat Goodman who was en-route to VT to pack and climb prior to departing. Pat's trusty Toyota Previa "Junebug" had pretty much dropped the drive shaft near the Pennsylvania/New York border and it seemed unlikely to be revived at the time. I hopped in my Tacoma and made the 5 hour drive down to meet him, arriving wound up on three mugs of iced-espresso at 3am. Miraculously all that was needed were a couple of parts and van was going to be good to go the next day. Pat and I headed north while Will Meinen, also en-route to meet us in Vermont, picked up the van the next day.

The rest of our journey to Vermont involved stopping by the Sterling Rope factory to pick up ropes, partying in North Conway with a bunch of our friends, several of whom are headed out on awesome adventures this summer, and nearly hitting a moose on route 2 in Vermont. The adventure seemed to have already begun!

With all three of us finally together in Vermont we headed to Cannon Cliff to try and get some climbing in before all of the packing. Hoards of blackflies threatened to lift us off of the wall and we all felt fortunate to be heading to a place this summer where bugs are not an issue. Following days passed in a blur of shopping for food, packing, weighing bags, re-packing and finally throwing everything into Pat's Previa to head to Boston's Logan airport.

Expedition Duffles

After 24 hours of flying from BOS to London, to Bahrain it was great to finally see my friends Ghulam and Sajjad from Blue Sky Treks and Tours, waiting for us outside the arrival gate in Islamabad. Now we find ourselves in the quintessential Karakorum experience, waiting in the sweltering 100 degree heat of Islamabad waiting to hopefully fly to Skardu tomorrow morning. It feels great to be back and we're all psyched for the next phase of the adventure.

Pat and Will outside the airport in Islamabad

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Now and the Near Future

It really has been too long since I last posted on this blog. So cliche in the blogging world, I know. Rather than try and catch up on all that I didn't share about the last several months I'll focus on the present and near-future.

Most exciting is the news that myself, Pat Goodman, and Will Meinen recently received two generous grants to help fund our trip to the Charakusa Valley in Pakistan. I feel really honored to receive the Copp-Dash Inspire Award and the Shipton-Tilman Award for Gore-Tex. I'll be returning for a second time to attempt the unclimbed Southwest Pillar of K7 West. We leave in mid-june and will be in Pakistan for nearly 7 weeks. Needless to say, the psyche is really high right now and we are in full "get-ready" mode.

The Gore-Tex Shipton-Tilman Award!

Pat Goodman (top) and Will Meinen

I just returned from an awesome trip top Red Rocks in Nevada to climb with Pat. Despite having traveled all over the place to rock climb, I had never been to this land of immaculate sandstone. The goal was to cover a lot of ground, getting in as much mileage as possible and refining our systems for moving fast. Red Rocks is great for this. The routes can be long and draining and the approaches are usually around an hour.

Red Rocks with the Rainbow Wall in the back right

A little time-lapse I did in Red Rocks

It was a great training week being constantly on the go. We didn't tackle anything really hard choosing instead to cover a lot of ground. We did get to hit some absolute classics including Epinephrine, Dogma on Mt. Wilson, and the Original Route on the Rainbow Wall. All these are routes I've wanted to do ever since I started climbing. One of the first climbing books I owned was 50 Favorites by Mark Kroese. I remember the chapter on the Rainbow Wall and always had it in my mind to someday do it. Pat and I hiked up there after previously stashing our gear at the base and got the whole route free. The Ro-Sham-bo gave Pat the 2 5.12 pitches and me the .11d pitches. I was psyched to have a no-falls day on such an amazing wall!

Hiking up the slabs to the Rainbow Wall

On the summit of the Rainbow Wall! Cool to be able to top out these features in Red Rocks.;

Now I'm back in Vermont with just over a month to wrap up my training (more on that to come soon!) and get ready for Pakistan in June!