It's been some time since I've entered a blog post. What can I say, I hurt. Since my return from Alaska, our community lost two titans and I lost a brother. Scott Adamson represented our greatest ideals, hopes and love, all in a person who could make you laugh and smile at every waking moment. Scott was not only perhaps the greatest climber of our generation he was the kindest and warmest person you could ever meet. Scott didn't care about what anybody thought, he would do what was right and not what was easy. A man of principal, who was both pirate, hero and friend. He will be forever missed. His memory will burn in the hearts of men and women who call the mountains home. Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places". I hope and pray I am strong enough. We will forever love you Scott.
Some trips become more then an adventure, they become a beacon in life that reminds you of the direction we should go. This past week was the case. Traveling back to Alaska with my good friends Angela Wiemeersch AKA VanStein, Rib Hillis and photographer Cam Mcleod was epic. I have no doubt that I will remember this adventure on the rocking horse of time with warmest of heart. We climbed deep on the Matanuska glacier camping for four days on the ice. We put up new lines across the glacier and enjoyed the simple pleasures of life removed from civilization. We started our adventure from points across the country, (Bozeman, Los Angles, Salt Lake City) meeting in Anchorage to embark on summer ice climbing. We chain sawed a camper van nicked named the "Spruce Moose" out of the woods in Talkeetna and so began one of the best weeks of my life. We made friends with gold miners in Willow AK, drank scotch out of the bottle for breakfast and ate Reindeer for dinner. A full trip report and photo spread will be released later this year but sufficed to say the climbing and company could not have been better. In the last frontier I found a renewed hope for friendship and adventure. Log live team Spruce Moose. I could not be more thankful to Trango climbing who has believed in this "back country" ice climber and enabled me to live my dream, also a big shoutout to Kuhl, and Salewa Boots. Great adventures don't happen without the help and belief of great gear and partners.
Alaska, wow. My week long excursion into the Alaskan wilderness this summer was in a word fantastic. To climb in the divine architecture of glaciers and sojourn amongst grizzly bears and warm friends was truly special.
My ice climbing focused mainly on the Matanuska Glacier. The "Mat" about an hour and a half from Anchorage and measuring 27 miles long and 4 miles wide is not to be missed. Climbing here in July is other worldly. Sticky hero ice for as far as the eye can see and 24 hours of daylight make for huge possibilities and adventures.
The sticky ice conditions provided me with a unique opportunity, it was well within my grade to solo most routes. This turned my days into continuous climbing, moving from one glacial feature to the next within minutes. I could climb out of a crevasse onto a ridge line, through a moulin and onto another extraordinary ice face without ever stoping. This allowed for the feeling of extreme freedom of movement and maximum exploration, like a moving meditation that never had to stop.
Exploring the glacier reminded me how beautifully small we all are. It became clear that this blue cathedral was unlike anything else I had climbed. The ice it's self was at least 300 years old, some could be more then a millennia. It's features were carved through time and all I could be was grateful to explore this vessel of divine architecture and magnificent beauty revealed in this magical place. Thank you Alaska.
Great expeditions don't happen on their own, big thanks to Trango climbing. Those Raptors sink like a champ and gave me all the support I needed on those big walls as I celebrated my freedom from ropes on the 4th of July!
Greetings from the Bozeman airport, where I'm on my way to Alaska to do some mid summer ice climbing. Summer ice climbing begins the 2016/17 for me and I am stoked! It should be a fun adventure sleeping for the next week on the matanuska glacier. Photos and a trip report to come.
In other news my lovely sponsors over at Trango have announced a very cool new belay device. Called the Trango Vergo. It feeds rope in a more intuitive way that makes for a safer catch! Very cool stuff. Check it out I'm sure you're going to want one www.trangovergo.com
The iron transition is upon us. The days are getting longer the layers are coming off and yes sadly the ice is melting away, spring is upon us here in the rocky mountains. The ability to continue to elevate ones ability in the off season is essential. If October rolls around and I'm not stronger then last season then I'm really not doing my job. So as the days get warmer my commitment to get stronger moves from ice to iron. I won't lie my favorite part of going to the rock gym is digging into the weights and brining the hate on some iron. Regardless if you enjoy cross fit, gym programs like Mark Twight's gym jones www.gymjones.com or just pumping iron in your garage implementing a weight training program in the off season along with try tooling will help maintain a level of progression that will be key in making the jump next ice season. As my beloved mentor would scream at me "Never weaken!" This philosophy is elemental in growing.
Change is in the air, not just from winter to spring but I'm proud to announce that I am now sponsored as an ice climber by Trango. Trango makes outstanding climbing gear and I'm humbled and honored to represent them. If you're looking for some new tools check out the Raptors they are climbing machines, light balanced with just the right pick angle.
Although most of my contemporaries have headed for rock climbing enjoying sunny spring days in the Rocky Mountains hitting almost 70 degrees I felt the call to journey further into wild to find some remaining ice. The magical feeling of sharp picks in sticky ice proved to be well worth it. Yellowstone National Park just a short drive to the south east still had some treats to behold. Approaching the climb in a t shirt and climbing in thin gloves with a few majestic pitches of ice to be had made for a great day of spring climbing. You might ask how can you climb ice when it's almost 70 degrees at the base of the ice climb? Thermal mass is the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy. A lot of heat energy is required to change the temperature of high density materials like ice, so basically a really thick climb has energy to give to these warm spring temps making for happy days on ice tools. Stay hungry my friends where the trail ends adventure awaits.
I believe that the people you are climbing with, are as important as the things you're climbing. I'm truly grateful for all of the great climbing partners I've had this season. This past weekend was the last for ice climbing in Hyalite for the winter. We sent out the season in style, shooting an ad campaign for Kuhl and climbing all around the canyon trying to avoid the sun baked climbs that were crashing to the ground like Scud missiles. Sticky ice and great climbing partners made the past week fly by. I was lucky enough to go six out of the past seven days on tools and or skis, climbing with new and old partners throughout. It was really great.
Looking back, throughout my seasons journey I've been blessed to tie in with some truly amazing people. My main climbing partner Matt Whitman I owe a ton to. I wouldn't be the climber I am today if it wasn't for him. This winter we've taken down some big and challenging climbs from Cody to Colorado, we've drank some cold beer and have had a good time all the while. All the people I've tied in with have educated my perspective on climbing and to each I'm grateful. This winter I've also had the pleasure of teaching a ton of new climbers how to ice climb and as the season winds down I find myself reflecting back with a sense of happiness for the season gone by and looking forward with a new sense of purpose to achieve even greater things in the mountains.
For me ice climbing offers a level of balance and perspective in life to be ever present in both the mind and body. Just beyond the edge of our tools is a reality we can change and shape. I hope we do so for the better. Be good the the people you climb with and the places you get to climb. The values of this game are much more than the events of it.
In yoga there's the concept of taking your practice off your mat, now it's time to take the ice climb off the mountain. Thank you Hyalite for all that you give. Until next season...
On the feathers edge of death we know who we are. Today was a great day in the mountains, the temps began at 18 degrees when we started around 9am and by the time we made it into town it was almost 70 degrees in the mid afternoon sun. Warm temps or wild horses couldn't pull me away from the ice a day sooner then I must say goodbye to Hyalite. As some of you know April 1st the road into Hyalite closes for six weeks (or what I call rock climbing season). But today was a day of lessons and they were important.
Today's objective was on Northern facing slopes in Hyalite. The forecast called for a large temperature spike by midday and the forecast was right on the money. We hit (and I led) Dielectric Breakdown WI5+, Curtains WI4 and Over Easy WI3. We knew we needed to climb fast to avoid wet slides even on the Northern facing climbs so we set out to move fast and efficient. On the Southern facing slopes we witnessed several large avalanches rolling over ice climbs. Our choice to stay on Nothern facing slopes was a very good one.
But today's lesson wasn't about what I did right. While climbing Dielectric Breakdown WI5+ a thin smear of ice, something that shouldn't happen, happened. The ice was thin but good when my two feet blew out and one of my tools popped off. It was on that razors edge of my left tool that I found some true inspiration. This climb was well within my grade but I made it harder. I should have done better but I didn't. This climb is basically an easy top rope the trick is not to knock it down while leading it. That means that leading it is basically a head game and I'm good at that. It's moments like this that inspire me to train more, dig deeper and not give up. Being left with the only the razors edge of my left tool in the ice, I wasn't scared, I was mad. There's no place in the program that I run for sketchy BS.
I spend as many days as I can on my tools. In the summer dry tooling and in the winter getting after it on ice. I do this because I love ice climbing as much as anything on earth. Failing to raise my bar would be an abandonment of my love. As the seasons begin to change from winter to spring I know one thing: I can do better, and I must. It's not that winter is leaving, winter is coming ;) - Be ready, be ferocious, climb hard.
If ice climbing is an art form then in my opinion there is no finer living artist then Will Gadd. Will constantly reminds me of the following quote from another artist who spent a lot of days hanging upside down “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” - Michaelangelo who painted a little something called the Sistine Chapel.
Last week I had the honor and pleasure of climbing and working with my mentor and friend Will Gadd. Over the years I've been fortunate to learn the craft of ice climbing from some of the finest minds ever to tackle the sport (or art form) but Will is different. He has a vision and style that is to be respected. Yes, Will climbs at the very highest level one can possible reach, but he does so in a way that makes it look easy. It's not just that Gadd climbing is better then the rest but he displays what he calls "honest competency" on and off the mountain. I recall Will competing in the 2012 Bozeman Ice Fest. All the other competitors were so psyched out and then out trots will drinking a Red Bull all smiles and laughs, having a good time. He destroyed the field and won by a huge margin.
Training with Will and his climbing partner Sarah Hueniken (who is the strongest female climber on planet earth) I quickly got to see that their "honest competency" is anything but easy. They earn every milestone they achieve through the hardest of work, the toughest mental approach and a love for climbing that is unmistakable. Climbing with Will in Canmore Alberta is like hanging out with Yoda on planet Dagobah. Gadd can see things in ice technique that no one else can and I'm very lucky he has the care for me as a friend and climber to call me out and make me better.
After a training day Will, Sarah Hueniken and I along with a few of the Canmore ice crew went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant. Will challenged me to order the hottest chicken vindaloo on the menu and of course I'm not one to back down from a challenge, so I accepted. The waitress warned me that "most people regret this order". I grew up in Buffalo New York home of some of the hottest wings out there so I felt confident and charged on, assuring her that "I had this thing in the bag". When the vindaloo came out it was glowing like a nuclear isotope but I got on the sharp end of my fork and sent my first piece of chicken. Was it hot? Heck yeah! After three pieces I was starting to feel good, I knew I could win the challenge but then Will called over the waitress and ordered a plate of indian green chillies and onions. He said "add one chili and an onion to each bite of vindaloo." Now the dish became biblical, sweat poured down my face but as I finished the entire thing Will yelled "never weaken!" It was his reminder that no matter how far we may have set the bar for ourselves there is always more we can do.
If you're climbing WI5 load up a pack full of ice and go up and down climb five laps, suddenly that WI5 doesn't seem so big and tough after you've done it with a 50lb. pack on. No matter where you are, own your honest competency and find a way to push the line further. Just beyond your limits is a great adventure.
I recently had some family visit me here in Montana and inevitably the conversation turned to my passion for ice climbing. My family is not from the mountains, Montana by all rights is a foreign place for them. It reminds me of the John Denver lyrics " I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly..." I was excited to share my love for the mountains and my experiences in the mountains with my own flesh and blood. I should have known better :) I've experienced bringing people who are in my life to this special place many times but this time was different. My dad in particular I don't think can understand why I ice climb. He asks me things like "When are you going to stop?" or "Why don't you find another hobby?" A...hobby? Climbing is not a hobby, it's an art form, a way of life, to me it's an expression of the most inner self manifested in action and motion. A sport or physical endeavor at least to others but... not a hobby.
I let him know, I don't foresee ever choosing to stop climbing. If I was a painter no one would ask me when was I going to put down my brush. If I played guitar no one would ask for my pick. Is climbing different? Does climbing come with inherent risks? Yes. But so does life.
I asked my dad if he'd walk out to Hyalite to see me climb a pitch of ice in hopes that he'd better understand once he's seen it in person. I chose a climb that had a short approach on a nicely maintained trial that was more or less a flat walk (in fact the path is wheel chair accessible in the summer). He said the walk would be too tough for him. Apparently, a lifestyle of malls, restaurants and sitting in cars has dangers too.
The fact that this walk in the woods was too tough for him gave ma pause. It made me grateful for the journey my life has taken and that I chose a path untraveled by my family. It reminded me of a quote from one of my heroes, Marv Levy the Hall of Fame football coach of the Buffalo Bills, - "When it's too tough for them. It's just right for us!"
Here's to a life worth living in the mountains.
Learning comes from unexpected places. This week I had the honor and pleasure of guiding at the 18th Annual Cody Ice Climbing festival. Ice Climbing is a pursuit passed on by mentorship and climbing partners. We are links in a chain that connect us with climbing history. I'm very lucky, I've had exceptional mentors and partners over the years. My climbing style and technique is steeped in lessons that were passed on to me from the masters, Gadd, Anker, Josephson, Roberts etc. Passing on these lessons and continuing the chain or as I like to call it "the unbreakable bond" always gets me stoked.
The weekend at CIF 18 had many personalities with moments of both glory and pain. Climbing in the South Fork of Cody offers some of the boldest and most rugged ice climbing in the lower 48 states. In this cathedral of red mountains and cascading ice climbs I had the joy of teaching and sharing my passion with individuals from diverse backgrounds and abilities that ranged from a climber who was 3/4 def but had been climbing since the late 90's to a climber who was on day two of this awesome adventure we call climbing ice. I roped up with a student who was just punching his WI5 card and pro rock climber who was just getting used to putting on her crampons. I won first place in both Ice Fest competitions winning the tough ax contest by a large margin and tying for first place in the lead difficultly comp. Ironically though, it is the lessons my students imparted on me that really have resonated from this weekend.
"Atrévete" it's meaning is "to traverse your inhibitions" as two of my students defined it became a new powerful tool in my equipment for living in the mountains. I really enjoy this ideal / lesson especially because it came from two students who had little and no experience climbing vertical ice and yet it reveled profound wisdom.
First things first, yes there was a terrible accident at the Cody Ice Fest this year. I was not involved in the accident but I was on the adjacent climb and assisted in the rescue and stabilizing of the climber. The injured climber is a person of tenacity who saved his life by self arresting inches from taking a 100 + foot fall. He has my total respect as do all of the individuals present on that climb. The darkest moments truly became their finest hours, details about the accident beyond that I'm not going to discuss here at this time.
Teaching ice climbing brings me true joy. Perhaps it's because I enjoy this sport / art form so much that seeing and helping others achieve a higher level of climbing ability makes me so damn happy. Watching my students transition from poor climbing form to text book apex tool placement and monkey hangs made cold windy belays all worth it but the greatest rewards is what my students taught me. Two particular students on my last day in the South Fork stood out. They were both new to vertical ice climbing one was on her second day of climbing ice. Revealed in their newness was an abundance of PMA (positive mental attitude) and they decided to teach me this new word - "Atrévete!". As they put it they were there to "to traverse inhibitions" and they turned their stoke for climbing into realized style and form on the ice. But it was when tragedy struck on the mountain and I found myself two pitches up on a climb with a group of three beginners that I needed to "Atrévete". In plan terms it was time to kick ass and get everyone home safe. We had a climber who needed rescue and a group who needed a leader to provide safe passage down the mountain. Was it scary to see a climber fly off a cliff and out of sight? You bet. I can only imagine how my group of new climbers felt. We worked as a team, calm, fast and efficiently - "Atrévete!". Tonight my team is home safe and I'm thankful for a weekend of truly kick ass students.
Super Bowl Sunday is a day when most people sit on a couch and eat chips. But Super Bowl Sunday 2016 was no such day for me and my climbing partner Matt Whitman. Ovisight three pitches WI6 in Cody Wyoming has a legendary quality. First climbed by Alex Lowe and Stan Price in 1991, the route is highly visible from the road and beckons to be climbed. But don't be mistaken the route is way the hell up there in the mountains. Ovisight is tucked above Legg Creek a single WI4 pitch. Matt had heard a few other climbers from Bozeman had went after the climb but gassed out on pitch 3. They couldn't get it done. These were strong climbers who I respect but we wanted to see if we had the goods to seal the deal. We left the car at 9:20 am, and entered the long approach through the Legg Creek drainage. The sun was bright and it was surprisingly warm with temps in the 40's. When we arrived to Legg Creek the climb looked thin, I had led Broken Harts on New Years day in Cody and pitch three of that climb was thin / non existent so it seemed fitting that I would lead this. It went down like butter on toast, I placed a single screw on the 45m pitch and although it was thin ice it was, good ice and ate up tools. We continued on to Ovisight, moving higher and deeper into the cliffs. When we arrived to pitch one it was a thing of pure beauty. The pillar was a big as a house and towering into the sky reaching the rock face high above. It was Matt's turn to lead and he did it in style. We were moving fast and I took pitch two, a smaller but steep pillar that led me into some challenging bushes on the top out. We were now in the red zone, with Matt on the sharp end he weaved up the final curtain of brittle WI5+. The ice was explosive in how brittle it was. I've never had feet blow as much and as big as pitch three of Ovisight but brittle or not we were making it up this climb. At 5:25 pm eight hours after leaving the car, we topped out. The decent took over two hours with the warm temps rock fall started coming down as the sun set. Car to car our day ran 10 hours and 15 minutes. It was a long hard day in the mountains but knowing we could push our selves at a high level for a sustained period of time and do what others could not was a sweet victory. There was no sliver trophy at the car but the beer was cold and the climb was very real.
One of my old climbing partners once imparted a little nugget of knowledge on me. He said "if you put the climb really high that's where it is. But if you bring the climb down to where you are that's where it is." That's how Scepter (WI5) felt, it's one of my favorite climbs in Hyalite canyon but I was guilty of putting it on a pedestal. I remember doing this climb with some really good climbers and at times they struggled with it or at very least it challenged them. Perhaps is because it's really fat or maybe it was climbing for a week in Colorado but Spector was fun and curser. I really enjoyed the climb, it felt like when you were a kid and remembered a building being really "big" and then you grow up and it seems rather small. Scepter is to be respected but so is growth. Big thanks to Matt and Kevin for the photo and bely!
If it's possible to have a single favorite ice climb on planet earth then Aims Ice Hose is it for me. Aims is a three pitch climb that can be mixed on pitch one and as hard as WI6 or as friendly as WI4 on the ice pitches. I recall the first time I did this route vividly. It was January 7th 2012 the night before I had dinner with Jack Roberts and Joe Josephson in Ouray. Joe told me I'd never even find the climb, Jack grabbed a bar napkin and drew me a map. Oddly he signed and dated it, little did I know a week later Jack would be gone. I love Aims because it so aesthetic, three pitches, each offering a different challenge and each one more enjoyable then the next. I also love Aims because it represents Jack's belief in me. Pitch three is other worldly it's 66 meters of the best ice I've ever climbed. Back in Ouray someone asked me to describe the climb and I said "..it's like doing blow off the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders tits." But all joking aside it's a great climb and if you're even near Telluride grab your tools and go get it. If you need a map I've got one. Thanks Jack where ever you are.