Friday, July 31, 2015

Updated Blog

This blog will no longer be updated and all content and new entries will be posted on this site:  Thanks for checking it out!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gear Review: NEW Petzl Hirundos Harness

I have been lucky enough to get to check out Petzl's newly updated Hirundos harness over the last couple months.  While the original Hirundos was a pretty perfect design for a lightweight harness as far as I was concerned, the new Hirundos adds some additional features that have increased comfort while minimizing the overall profile of the harness.

One of the best new features of the new Hirundos harness is the introduction of the FUSEFRAME Technology, which utilizes thermo-formed foam to get a lightweight, low profile yet comfortable fit.  Where the harness may touch skin, there is minimal stitching and the narrow waist belt widens at all pressure points to also increase comfort while minimizing bulk.  Other great features include:  reinforced tie-in points for added durability, two CariTool ice tool holders and a small rear haul loop.  Additionally, the harness is manufactured at a facility that supports environmentally friendly practices.

I have used this harness for a variety of climbing related activities including trad climbing, sport climbing and ski mountaineering.  It is designed as a sport and alpine climbing harness and it is in these disciplines that the harness excels.  While it works as a trad climbing harness, I have found that the rear gear loops are rather small and a little difficult to reach, especially with a backpack on.  So when carrying a large trad rack it is just slightly more awkward to efficiently rack a heavy load of cams on the harness.  That being said, the front gear loops are very stiff and big and it's super easy to pull gear off the harness while leading and also re-rack gear while following. 

On the summit of the Pfeifferhorn after climbing the north ridge
Another great feature I have noticed while climbing is the stretchy and lightweight material that makes up the corner of the leg-loops.  This feature promotes lots of movement and allows for unrestricted high-stepping.  I also like that the stretchy straps on the back of the harness are held together with two small detachable buckles as opposed to the awkward clip system that the older Hirundos model used.  Utilizing these buckles results in a more precise fit, in addition to allowing an easier option for females to go to the bathroom as the rear straps can be easily undone and business can be taken care of!  I have found the harness comfortable on multi-pitch climbs with a handful of hanging belays  and I haven't noticed any extreme discomfort while falling or hang-dogging routes.  But at 280 g I wouldn't recommend this to be your big wall harness.

Racking up for some cragging in Little Cottonwood Canyon
One other thing I have  noticed about this harness, is that it seems to be sized a little small.  I have always thought the Petzl harnesses were a little smaller than competitors harness.  Maybe its a Euro thing as I usually am a medium in Petzl harnesses and have been a small in other brands harnesses.  However, the medium model in the new Hirundos almost seems a little small on me.  So keep that in mind when ordering your new harness. 

I may be a little biased but I have always considered Petzl to be the Porsche of climbing gear.  While they don't make every type of product, what they do make is of exceptional quality.  And the updated Hirundos harness is a testament to this standard of quality.  If you are looking for a lightweight harness for sport or alpine climbing that is comfortable and breathable, this is the harness for you.  For more information check out the petzl website and to purchase go to 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Patagonia - Episode 5 - Fitz Roy Attempt

In 2008, I made a half-hearted attempt to climb Fitz Roy via the Franco-Argentine with a partner that was quite a bit better than me.  I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the mountain, the amount of people climbing and the culture associated with alpine climbing in the big mountains.  But another part of me was hooked on this type of climbing and wanted more of it.  So I took a step back and teamed up with a partner that was at a similar level to me and we successfully climbed Poincenot via the Whillans route.  That ascent continues to be a highlight in my climbing career and helped me realize that if you start small it is possible to dream big.  Unfortunately shortly after that climb, I had my freak accident in the Torre Valley and my life drastically and abruptly took a dramatic change.

Top of La Brecha in 2008

Racking up mid-way up Poincenot

I knew going into the trip that there would be a high likelihood that we wouldn't get the weather necessary to climb Fitz Roy and so when it looked like the weather was lining up for us to climb Fitz Roy, I was ecstatic and nervous.  What if the weather changed and we wasted all this time and money attempting this peak? What if Jonathon wasn't up for it? What if I got scared? What if I got hurt again? I couldn't imagine going through another rescue like the one I had experienced in 2008. But deep down inside, I knew I was as fit and prepared as I could have ever been.  I had been training hard all fall, had gotten the best and lightest gear out there and had done my research on our intended line. In short, there was a lot of pressure to succeed.

Hiking in on a gear caching mission

Hiking towards Paso Superior on our gear caching mission

After packing our gear and getting our food together, we checked the forecast one last time before heading into the hills.  Unfortunately, a small storm we had been watching was turning out to be a bigger storm than initially predicted.  We couldn't extend our trip any longer and so we knew we would just have to accept what the weather Gods had planned for us.  And so we began the long hike up to Paso Superior.  As predicted it started to rain on our hike to camp.  As we hiked higher, it began to transition to snow.  When we got to camp, we were soaked and cold.  Fully in survival mode, we quickly set up the tent and tried to warm up and dry out our gear.  The snow didn't seem to be letting up and our hopes of climbing that night were slowly diminishing.  Despite that, we still woke up throughout the night to check the weather and see if we could make an attempt.  Unfortunately, the mountain was not in condition for climbing that evening and we spent the next day drying out our gear and scheming about how we were going to climb this thing and make our flights.  

Hiking in for our summit attempt under grey skies

Drying out at Paso Superior

The Eastern Euros really know how to dry out

With really only a day to climb, we decided we should try the shorter but harder Franco-Argentine instead of the California Route that we had really wanted to do.  Knowing that the Franco-Argentine is often wet and icy, we were starting to feel a little skeptical about this mission.  Despite these feelings, we still rose at midnight to begin the climb.

There was no moon that night and it was pitch black.  I lead us out across the glacier to the base of the route, fully disoriented by the blackness of the night.  In the back, Jonathon expertly navigated us to the base of La Brecha, the 1000 foot ice climb approach gully.  The first obstacle was getting over the berghshrund.  In 2008, I literally just stepped over the shrund like it was no big deal.  It was not so perfect this time.  We basically wandered around in the darkness for about 2 hours trying to find a way to cross this thing.  

Recognizing that the shrund was impassable, we started to try to find the alternate left side variation to approach the climb.  We wandered up some steep snow slopes for a couple hundred feet only to be stopped by some steep rock slabs.  After down climbing and traversing, we finally started to think we were on route.  We still couldn't see anything, so we were climbing rather slowly and inefficiently.  When the sun rose, I took over the lead and led us up the final mixed pitches to the top of La Brecha.  It had taken us significantly longer than we had anticipated and we still weren't quite at the base of the route.  In 2008, I remember it took about 15 minutes to get from the top of La Brecha to the base of the route and just involved a little scrambly 4th and easy 5th class terrain.  This time it was full on mixed climbing and involved a legitimate pitch with an off-width.

Heading up the left side variation of la brecha during the early morning light

Leading up the final mixed pitch to the top of La Brecha
Feeling rather demoralized and frustrated about the difficult conditions, we started to re-evaluate our plan.  When we looked up at the Franco-Argentine and saw that it was dripping with water and knowing the cracks were likely all iced up, we knew that it was not in climbable condition for us on this day. Disappointment set it as we realized that if we only had just one more day, we likely would have been able to summit this peak (via the California Route) that I had been dreaming about for 8 years.  It wasn't because of lack of fitness, gear and mental preparation; we just were out of time and luck.  And luck is something that is rarely mentioned in alpine climbing. Sure you need lots of skill but being in the right place at the right time is definitely part of the equation.  And sometimes you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and I can speak to that when the large boulder dislodged right as I stepped by it.

Does this photo look familiar? Top of La Brecha in 2015

Jonathon and our new friends we climbed next to (Bud and Justin) checking out the icy cracks on the Franco-Argentine
We hung out at the top of La Brecha for awhile and took it all in.  The views were spectacular and I tried to spin this in the most positive way possible.  I was proud of Jonathon and I for climbing like the team I knew we were capable of.  I was grateful that I was able to make this trip happen and was able to return to this place.  But ultimately I felt like we lost this gamble.  In many ways, alpine climbing is a gamble. We gamble with time, money, weather and even our lives.  I started to question my love for this crazy sport and wondered if my time would be better spent on other things.  I wondered if this trip really was worth it.  There was so much planning and preparation that went into this trip and there was so little to show from it.  As I get older, my time and money is more finite and I am acutely aware of my lack of it.  Sometimes I still wish I was a twenty-something climbing bum and I had all the time in the world and no commitments to the outside world.

Taking it all in before rappelling of La Brecha
On our hike back to town, the weather continued to be splitter and I felt like Fitz Roy was looking down at us and taunting us with her beautiful granite walls and cloudless summit.  It was taking all my mental energy to remain positive on the slog back to town.  I knew it was highly unlikely that I will ever get a chance to give this peak a chance again and that was hard to swallow.  I wondered if we just should have gone for it and risked our jobs and missed our flights (which we actually did end up missing due to a mistake on my part).  But the what if game is a game that can go on forever.

After returning home and getting some time to think about the trip, I can wholly say it was worth it.  Despite the disappointment in not reaching our goals, these raw experiences and beauty of the mountains is something that you really can't put a price tag on.  Returning to Patagonia was a dream come true and I do feel fortunate and grateful to have had this opportunity to truly come full circle in this journey called life.  This dynamic mountain range with it's jagged granite spires and harsh weather is all so addicting in either success or failure.  Until next time....

That View...

With thanks to Patagonia, Petzl and Gregory Packs for supplying us with the best gear out there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Patagonia - Episode 4 - Mojon Rojo

We were getting antsy in town and when a six hour window showed up on the meteogram, we were more than willing to take our chances and hike into the base camp.

We planned on climbing De La S from the east and hiked towards Laguna Sucia.  It is a relatively flat hike on the main trail for about 8 km.  After 8 km, the trail follows the Rio Blanco through a relatively well marked boulder path.  Luguna Sucia is reached after boulder-hopping for about an hour.  It is a spectacular lake that is this amazing blue color.  The Fitz Roy Massif surrounds the lake and the glaciers frequently release massive chunks of ice that fall off into the lake.  

Hiking along the Rio Blanco
There were a few stream crossings
These mountains are active!
Once at the lake the real work began and about 1500 feet of rugged terrain is passed through.  There are carins every now and then but we botched the approach a bit a probably made it more difficult than necessary.  It felt very much like a burly approach in the Cascades or SE Alasks complete with loose boulder fields, steep scree slopes and stream crossings.  With heavy packs, it was a rather strenuous hike to the bivy cave and also had me on edge as I remembered the last time I was in a boulder field in Patagonia.  And that outcome was rather poor.

Boulder Field walking - my nemisis
Finally after about 5 - 6 hours of hiking, we made it to the cave.  And it literally is a massive cave, with rock walls and everything. After resting and drying out our sweaty gear, we settled in for the night.

The bivy cave!
We woke at 3 am to clear skies and a starry night as predicted.  We continued the hike up the rocky slopes and eventually made our way onto the Rio Blanco glacier.  After a couple hours, we arrived at the base of our chosen route.  Jonathon racked up to lead and the first obstacle was getting over the berghshrund. Unfortunately the snow hadn't froze and Jonathon fell in up to his waist as he tried to navigate over to the base of the route.  He tried a couple more times and then I tried too but still we couldn't make it over the 'shrund.  

View of De La S, St. Expupery, Poincenot and Fitz Roy
Not wanting to waste our time, we started to make our way towards a Mojan Rojo, a scrambly little peak that translates to meaning Red Turd.  It was essentially a mountaineering objective and offered one 80 foot 5.6 pitch near the summit.  It was stunning views of the entire Massif and into the Torre Valley.  We could see the clouds building over the Torre Valley and we quickly began our descent back to town.  

Heading up towards Mojon Rojo

Jonathon walking up Mojon Rojo

Leading the final pitch to the summit

Jonathon descending off Mojon Rojo

As we hiked back on the trail, we got to watch the front build over the mountains or 'the wall of hate' as it is affectionally called.  The big grey clouds started traveling over the range, the winds picked up and there was intermittent but light precipitation.  And that was it; our window was over and we were safely back in town warm, showered and well fed.  

Look! Its South America in Laguna Sucia!

And now South America turned into Central America

Taking it all in

The wall of hate building over the Fitz Roy Massif

Monday, January 26, 2015

Patagonia - Episode 3 - Aguja Guillaumet Ascent

View of Aguja Guillemet with Mermoz and Fitz Roy in the background 
Our first window arrived and we excitedly packed up our gear to head into the mountains.  With over a meter and a half of new snow, we were skeptical about rock climbing conditions and concerned about avalanches.  Considering all this, we knew our options might be limited.

With alpine climbing, its important to be open-minded, adaptable and flexible as conditions can change rapidly.  I tend to like to stick to my plans and can be very goal-driven in terms of my climbing objectives.  Prior to this trip, Jonathon asked me to try to be more flexible. With that request in mind, I tried to work on not getting suckered into a single objective and be willing to deviate from our plans.   

We hiked up to Piedra Negra in a light drizzle and heavy fog.  We were hopeful that the forecast was going to be accurate and the skies would clear later that afternoon.  The hike was steep and slippery but not overly eventful.  Camp was snowy and the clouds were thick, preventing us from seeing any of our climbing objectives.  

Jonathon hiking through the fog to Piedra Negra

Setting up camp at Piedra Negra as the sun starts to warm things up

We woke at 4 am the next day and began hiking up towards to Comesana-Fonrouge, a moderate rock climbing objective described as the perfect first patagonia route.  When we got to the base of the route, we decided that the route was too icy and snowy for us.  We turned around and started heading towards Guillaumet Pass to attempt the Amy Couliour.  Many other folks had the same idea and we climbed the route with several other parties.  There was lots of ice coming down the initial steep snow/ice pitches and my hand got really bruised by falling ice.  Those pitches were pretty straightforward and they would have gone much faster if we weren't so concerned about falling ice from the parties above us.

Hiking towards the Comesana-Fonrouge before turning around

Jonathon finishing up the final snow/ice section on the Amy  Couloir

Checking out the views

Once we got on the rocky ridge that lead to the summit, we thought we were close to finishing the climb. But because of all the snow, the climbing was more challenging and took some time to keep it safe.  We climbed the remainder of the ridge in our boots, while cleaning out ice from the cracks.  It felt very alpine-esq and once on the summit we felt that we had earned our summit of this 'easy' Patagonian Peak.  The views of Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the Patagonian ice cap were spectacular and it felt great to stand on top of a peak.

Following easy terrain low on the rocky ridge of the Amy Coulior

Jonathon leading up the first part of the rocky ridge on the Amy Coulior

Leading out up high on the Amy Coulior

Jonathon following an icy crack up high on the Amy Coulior

My happy place
After we took a couple summit shots, we started to make our way down the summit snowfield.  We ran into our German friends who told us to be careful because the summit sloped had slid and avalanched.  This was especially eerie because prior to heading up the slope, Jonathon was very concerned that it was going to avalanche as there was lots of new snow and the heat had been on it for a bit.  Fortunately no one was hurt and it was just an abrupt reminder that the mountains are the boss.


The rappels were straight forward and before we knew it we were back at camp resting our legs and eating dehydrated dinners.

Rappelling off the upper ridge

Patagonia style rappel anchor

Hiking back to camp off Guillaumet Pass
We rested in camp the next day and made plans to check out the Argentina route on Memoz the following day.  However, we were defeated by the snow covered slabs that lead to the base of the climb.  Worried that these slabs would slide out similar to a pocket glacier once the sun hit, made us concerned about the descent.  And with a deteriorating forecast and no knowledge about the alternate descent, we decided to turn around and head back to camp. 

And that was it for this weather window.  And so we packed up camp, hiked down the big hill and headed back to town.
Jonathon taking one last look as we hike back to town

Jonathon hiking through the wildflowers

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Patagonia - Episode 2 - First couple days

Finally after several days of travel, we made it to El Chalten.  While  El Chalten has become quite the trekking and climbing hub, it is still incredibly far away.  

Arriving in the town has been a bit of surreal experience for me.  I spent 3 weeks here in 2008 climbing and experiencing absolute freedom.  In fact, if I do dare to say it, it was one of the best time periods of my life where responsibilities were minimal and concerns were basics.  That all changed when I broke my leg in an accident on the Torre Valley when a massive boulder dislodged just above me when I was hiking to the base of a climb.  It was an involved rescue and I ended up spending 1 week on bedrest in the tiny El Calafate hospital prior to flying home solo with a cast from my hip to my foot.  I ended up with an open fracture to my tibia and fibula which required three surgeries and multiple months of rehab to fully recover.  I am forever indebted to the people, most of whom I did not know, who dropped everything to help me.  It was a life changing event and so much in my world has changed since 2008.  

Topping out on Poincenot in 2008 after climbing the Whillans Route
Attempting to crab-walk down the Torre Valley after I broke my leg.  My dear friend Anna Pfaff is helping me.
My first ride out of the Torre Valley on a home-made rope hammock 
Not many people have such a pivotal and life-changing experience that totally changes their world view and direction in life.  It is a rather unique experience and while very challenging and scary, I think it has ultimately shaped my outlook on life and made me a better person for it all.    I obtained a second degree and have a legitimate career.  I own a home and I got married.  Through all the changes, though, I still really wanted to return to this place that impacted me so much.

Not only has so much changed in my world since 2008, this place has changed too.  The roads are mainly all paved, some campgrounds have disappeared, there are trendy restaurants, some swanky hotels, and there is a bus station.  All evidence that El Chalten has become a popular tourist destination.  Things are a bit more expensive and lodging is hard to find.  What has not changed is the beauty of the mountains and the desire of the climbers to challenge themselves on these iconic peaks.

View of El Chalten and the Fitz Roy Massif from the crags in town