Timelapse of a Glacier: A Climbing Ranger’s Perspective of Mt Baker

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Photos and story by Leif Whittaker

Every weekend when I arrive at a trailhead that I have been to a hundred times before I wonder if I should get a new job. Most climbers would find it monotonous to visit the same ridges, valleys, glaciers, and summits over and over throughout the summer. Admittedly, I often look at the first few steps of a familiar trail and have trouble getting motivated. But after three years on Mount Baker I have learned to appreciate the tiniest details of the seasonal cycle and I believe the mountain is always telling a new story. 

Brandon skinning up the Easton Glacier in June conditions.

Brandon skinning up the Easton Glacier in June conditions.

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Behind the Curtains of Hell: 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell

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A report from the 9th annual 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell endurance climbing competition.  

by Andrew Chasteen

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The shotgun blasts, and 280 climbers scatter like buckshot in all directions.  Most are running—some are walking briskly up the steep approaches to the crags that make up the borders of Horseshoe Canyon Ranch.  Ten minutes ago the full crowd of 700-plus was lost in a trance of psyche and adrenaline as Jeremy Collins and Kris “Odub” Hampton put on a show (as usual) for the famed Climbers Creed to “I got 99 problems but 100 pitches ain’t one.”  But now minds are focused and fixed on the next 24 hours of pain. Read More →

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Skiing and Climbing Alaska’s Remarkable Ruth Gorge

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By Scott Rinckenberger

When I was invited on a mission to spend two weeks climbing and skiing the Ruth Gorge in Denali National Park, I knew I’d have to bring some pretty serious equipment. Fortunately MSR was willing to help outfit the expedition. I’m exceedingly thankful for the gear, but that’s not all I picked up from the MSR HQ before my departure. I also ran into a long time friend, and while I was being told to “be safe” by nearly everyone who heard the plan, it was the words from my friend Diane which put me on the right track for the trip – “Listen to the mountains.”

Our plans included climbing lofty alpine walls in the Ruth Gorge, and climbing summits from their less-technical sides for some dizzying ski mountaineering descents.  If you’ve never seen the Ruth Gorge, it is one of the world’s truly remarkable landscapes. The granite walls rise up 5000′ almost vertically from the glacier, giving the Ruth the feeling of an amplified version of Yosemite, with a floor of perpetually moving ice, and  the tallest mountain on the North American continent as it’s source.

I was joined by Alaskan locals Tobey Carman and Cortney Kitchen, Jackson Hole native Patrick Wright, and my longtime skiing and climbing partner, Matt Henry from Washington. As the official photographer for the expedition, I’ll let the photos tell the story.

After a three day wait and our share of beers in the town of Talkeetna, which serves as the jumping-off point for flights into the Alaska Range, we were granted a brief weather window and were able to get a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight to the Ruth. Photo: ©Scott Rinckenberger

After a three day wait and our share of beers in the town of Talkeetna, which serves as the jumping-off point for flights into the Alaska Range, we were granted a brief weather window and were able to get a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight to the Ruth. Photo: ©Scott Rinckenberger

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The Unpredictable Alpine

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By Jewell Lund

“Should we take bivy gear?”

I peered up at the dauntingly sheer granite face of Mt. Huntington, the scale of which overwhelms base camp on the Tokositna Glacier. Standing so close to the mountain, I knew the colossal face was foreshortened. Traversing the systems all the way across the West Face could take a few hours, or more than a day. Who knew?

“Um. Bivy gear could be nice?”

The enormous west face of Mt. Huntington.Photo Jewell Lund

The enormous west face of Mt. Huntington. Photo Jewell Lund

This conversation has actually started via email a year ago. A friend had connected Chantel Astorga and me, knowing our mutual interest in alpine climbing. Pictures and ideas were bandied about regarding Mt. Huntington in the Alaska Range. We’d heard rumors of stellar rock quality and nightmarish corniced ridges, and most importantly promises of adventure. In November 2013, Chantel and I were in the same town and finally chatted in person. It was clear that we were inspired by similar objectives, and we decided to try climbing together. Mt. Huntington 2014 was written in the books. Read More →

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Off-Belay: Colombia Climbing

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Climbing in the digital age presents a philosophical dilemma. With an abundance of information on the web regarding peaks, routes, and beta – the present day adventurer has a decision to make.

On one hand, climbers can take advantage of resources such as SummitPost, MountainProject and other sites that offer full trip reports. Those who choose this path will be well-armed with pertinent information. Information which undoubtedly increases their likelihood of success during the outing. However, it’s not unreasonable to raise the consideration that extensive research detracts from the purity of a climb. It’s easy for online beta to spoil a summit view with a photo from the same vista (always taken on a day with perfect weather), or to suggest you crimp with your left and flag right before committing at the crux of a route. Read More →

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Ode to the Shoulder Season—Skiing and Rock Climbing at Washington Pass

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Dana skinning towards Liberty Bell Massif on a warm May morning.

Dana skinning towards Liberty Bell Massif on a warm May morning.

Photos and Story By Leif Whittaker

By the middle of May, when winter’s final curtains of snow are pelting the North Cascades and warm afternoons are growing longer each day, we in the Northwest are aching for the full brunt of summer. It has been eight months since we last wore boardshorts and flip-flops. All the ski resorts are closed, but the trailheads and crags are still buried in a thick layer of winter’s residue and it will be another month or two before the highest arêtes and dihedrals are completely dried out. For many of us, the shoulder season is a frustrating interlude between two joyous extremes—deep powder and hot rock. However, as I discovered during a recent trip up Liberty Bell, the shoulder season is not a mere delay; it is a unique mixture of two opposing forces and, when combined correctly, the resulting concoction can be wonderfully potent. Read More →

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First Tooth: The Pain and the Glory of New Routes in Indian Creek

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by Luke Mehall Photos by Braden Gunem

Perhaps more than any other climbing destination in the United States, Indian Creek will leave its mark on you. The stout, often painful cracks, rarely allow their suitors to escape without a cut, scrape, or bruise; proof of the struggle, a badge of glory to return home with. This battle often becomes addictive. After one returns from The Creek, he is either determined to never return again, or return as soon as possible. There’s a certain kind of magic is this masochistic pursuit.

The addiction now affects hundreds, maybe thousands of crack addicts. At first it was a small number; now they even come from all the way across the pond, Europeans, desperate to get a hit, a shot at crack climbing glory. And then there are the lifers, like us, just trying to find that same feeling and high, we experienced long ago. But like a true fiend, it takes much more than the original dosage to replicate those same sensations.

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I remember those first Indian Creek climbs: They defined the essence of struggle. Even Supercrack, with its wide hand jams, worked me to the maximum. One climb I tried in my early days, Binge and Purge, just right of the ever-popular Incredible Hand Crack, was the perfect metaphor for Indian Creek climbing. Read More →

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Off-Belay Americas: Climbing in Joshua Tree

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As climbers, our path has led us from one crag to the next while we continue to push south to Patagonia. Two weeks in our route brought us to the community of Joshua Tree, California. I say “community” because Joshua is not simply a National Park or popular crag, but a winter season gathering place for dirt-baggers, weekend climbers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Eleven months had passed since our first visit to the lunar landscape of granite mounds in this unique place and we were stoked to be back. Read More →

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Leif Whittaker on the Privilege of Climbing Mountains

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Leif and Jim Whittaker on the trail to Mount Everest Base Camp.

Photos and story by Leif Whittaker

The view from the barren promontory above Namche Bazaar in Nepal looked out on a windswept hunk of the Himalaya where the sunrise struck, bathing the world’s highest mountain in flattering gold light. Dad and Mom stood next to me, their breath white in the frigid morning. The alpine air was redolent with juniper. We talked about climbing, a favorite subject of the guides, Sherpa, and photographers who clustered around us. I listened intently to Dad’s stories about his ascent of Mount Everest in 1963 and Mom’s stories about the 1978 K2 expedition. Though they spoke of daring, superhuman feats—like descending from 29,035 feet half blind and without bottled oxygen—I heard a conspicuous tone of humility in their voices, as if they acknowledged how lucky they had been. It was a tone that is far too rare in today’s extreme vernacular, one that declared a genuine reverence for the landscape and a visceral understanding of the fact that climbing has almost nothing to do with conquering mountains. Read More →

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Paring it Down to the Essentials: A Guide’s Gear for a Three-Day Mountaineering Trip

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Story and photos by Shelby Carpenter

As a guide with the American Alpine Institute on Mt. Baker, I often end up working with clients who try to bring all the appropriate gear but end up bringing just a tad more than necessary. In this post, I will talk about the gear I bring with me on a 3-Day Baker Skills and Climb trip and how I pared it down to its current amount. I hope this will help you on your fast-and-light adventures!  Read More →

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