Monday, April 14, 2014

"Mexican Crack," LCC, UT - October 15, 2013

The burly first section of "Mexican Crack," Little Cottonwood Canyon - photo: Jacob Moon

The stone is rough and cool on my hands that are wrapped in athletic tape. My arms are splayed to both sides, pushing against the rock as if to force the cleft wide open. As my heart pumps and my chest heaves I gingerly work my feet up a curving rail of stone, keeping oppositional tension in my arms against both sides of the rock to keep from falling. Sweating, I look above, for a moment releasing my right hand to feel around for positive purchase above the bulge in front of me. Looking down in concentration, as if not looking at the area I'm feeling will increase the sensitivity of my fingers, I run my hands over the rock, reading it like braille, but can't find the right words.

Straining my core and replacing my right hand against the bulging rock I delicately inch my feet higher, tension running through my body like the plucked string of a guitar. A horn of rock above, just out of reach, marks the end of the first difficult section on the route "Mexican Crack." I throw a hand up to a crack I can barely reach and pull up and left, throwing a leg around the left corner of the arete for balance, and, shaking, my left hand heads for the horn of rock, a delegate to a peace conference.  Jake, belaying me from below, says "Don't fall..."  He says this because I'm a ways above my last piece of protection and a fall would put me very close to hitting the ground; I'm about 20 feet up.

I find my release. Cut loose from the rock, possibly as a result of my right foot slipping, perhaps from my fingers greasing out of the crack, for a second I careen through space, the tension that had been holding me to the rock a discharge jettisoning me from the rock.

And it's over. Impossibly, I'm hovering an inch above the ground. Seldom has so short a distance meant so much to me. The rope, tied to my harness, runs up to where I had placed my highest cam, through the carabiner attached to the cam, and back down to Jake's belay device, clipped into his harness. His face is frozen in an expression that is an almost comical alloy of shock and relief.

I fell with my back to the ground, arching such as to finally be caught by the rope so that my body is in a supine position, avoiding, by a margin of a lone inch, direct impact with the ground. It's the closest call I've ever had, and the worst fall I hope I ever am unfortunate enough to take. I walk away from it, the only evidence of my mishap a scuffed knee which possibly impacted the ground as the rope stretched under the force of my fall.

I pace around the base of the climb, shaking my arms and legs, cajoling the adrenaline out of my body, trying to decide whether I have it in me to get back on the route and try again. My knee is slightly swollen but I have full, pain-free range of movement and there's only a very slight throb. The real issue is my shaken confidence, so key to climbing safely. As I look at the tricky opening section of the climb that must be surmounted before gaining the cracks above I'm filled with unease.

Looking up at the climb the last thing I want to do is to put my hands back on it. Jake encourages me. After about 20 minutes or so, halfway resolved, I tie the rope through my harness and chalk my hands. 

Failure can be a gift to those whose minds are heavy with its prognosis. More than any other emotional space I have occupied, within defeat there is an imperturbable serenity that allows me to act without expectations by freeing me from demanding visions of what might be or could've been.

I climb to the point where I'd fallen some 20 minutes previously and I pause, shaking. Some internal resolution is made in the background processes of conscious thought and I am moving again, staying closer to the seam and away from the slippery arete behind me. I watch my hands moving, feel fingers supporting my weight as I pull up my feet and push, as if watching at a remove.  I push and pull and my hand finds the horn of rock that marks the end of the first stage of the climb. I pull up and stand on a small ledge, my heart pounding. 
Pulling the lower section after taking my whipper. Photo: Jacob Moon
Above me lie two more distinct sections: the first a delicate, tenuous stretch of slabby climbing with very small gear, the last a strenuous, traversing hand and finger crack with slippery footholds. I move slowly and methodically, fear spiking for a moment when I find myself hanging by my fingertips, my body tense with the effort of staying balanced on tiny foothoolds while pinching a small rail of protruding crystals to stay in place. For a moment I balk, fear of falling thudding in my chest and running through my tendons like electric anxiety. Beneath the processes of conscious computations the command to move is again issued and I feel myself respond. A sense of desperate weightlessness as I flex my right bicep, bringing my body in close to the rock as my fingers strain and I will them to (keep me in place keep me in place). I rock up onto my toes and reach with my left hand, sliding a few fingers into a crack at my body's full reach, everything from my toes to fingers in tremulous extension, and then my feet are coming up and it's a gamble against gravity and faith in the pact between stone and bone and there is no fear, no sense of anything other than a willingness to act within the anxiety that just moments ago filled me.

I stand up from a crouching position and slide my left hand into a perfectly sized crack that takes it and holds it tight like a protective mother. This is the rest before the final, strenuous traverse. I breathe in and out slowly to soothe my heart's fevered rhythm.

A long crack, varying in size from a cupped hand to curled fingers, angles off to the left. It's strength, endurance, and carefully placed feet from here on out. I begin moving left, hand over hand, feeling along the inside of the crack, pushing my toes into protruding crystals and the occasional knob of hard igneous intrusion. Approaching the end of the route, my chest heaving, I feel something small, cool, and wet alight on my nose. I look up into the pregnant cotton clouds above and see snow like ash drifting down. It's October and these are the first flakes heralding imminent winter.

As I finish the route I can feel my whole body smiling, responding exuberantly to the exertion of the climb, the gentle shift of seasons, and the hope I feel written across coarse rock.

Jacob Moon leading the final traversing handcrack of "Mexican Crack."

Friday, February 14, 2014


The land that holds my ancestors
Holds my heart as well
From the squat, disfigured gargoyles
     and the great sandstone matriarchs-
Standing rings of stone like sandy rainbows
Worn through as mothers
     hollowed by their affections
A lonely weight of memory, eroding
Eons immemorial

To the glaciated horns and seismic thrusts of my home
Granitic buttresses whose raw material,
    harvested by pilgrim and set soaring,
Made its exodus first from the depths
As plutonic tears, rising, sliding along bones
Broken, shifting, colliding, tremulous
As the travel-worn settlers themselves that arrived,
Spurred by the manifest hand of destiny
To irrigate the land, whose lanes sluice with blood
Upon whose currents I was borne

I love the land
That keeps the memories
Of victors and vanquished alike-
And their dreams, like escarpments,
Rising, truncated-
Of that great lake, long raptured
Whose skeletal remains
Adorn elevated limestone

The land that breathed across the slow embers
     of my spirit, effete
Inspired by defiantly dulcet tones
Of fall on the eve of its interment,
     and found my health with the spring
Upon a precipitous crown
Aglow, I stood at the apex of all of this
   and wept to know the land that birthed me
That called to itself desperate pioneers
And makes them free

photo: Jake Moon - a climber stands on the the summit ridge of Lone Peak, the Salt Lake Valley spreading out in the distance

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Kor-Ingalls," Castleton Tower, Southern UT - January 28, 2014

Luella Wareing Cannon and Edwin Quayle Cannon, my great grandparents (photoshopped)

When I was a very young kid I peed on the side of our local church with the hope that I was committing an offense egregious enough to warrant divine intervention. By such trickery, I reasoned, I would secure incontrovertible proof of God's existence. The plan, though a good one, did not pan out like I'd hoped.

Years later and the struggle to find God has resolved itself into a comfortable silence that is neither an affirmation nor a negation. The strong impulse I have always felt to connect to something larger than my own ego has become a verb without a direct object.

Climbing, in ways I've enumerated already in great detail, represents one expression of that impulse. Nature, and stone, specifically, present figures so staggeringly large and seemingly timeless as to almost assume the stature of deity.

One of the things religion gives man is a qualitative origin. While science toils away at the mechanisms of life and matter, the great religious traditions attempt to explain why.

I believe in the power of story. I've recently taken a mild interest in geology, as even the most basic understanding of how certain mountains formed has greatly enriched my climbing experiences. Geology can tell you a mountain's story, one full of violence, drama, loss. This story sprawls across chapters so long as to reduce the lifespan of a human being to a mere comma.

I've also recently become interested in the stories of my forefathers who settled among the mountains and fantastical desert sandstone towers that have become, in recent years, a fundamental part of my identity. Learning even just the names of those who carried the originative material of which I am the culmination has also brought me close to something that I might call god. Polygamists, Nazis, farmers, men and women of faith, ingenuity, and diverse backgrounds came to the Wasatch, irrigating it for the continued flow of bloodlines.

A week or so ago I climbed Castleton Tower in Moab by way of a route known as "Kor-Ingalls."

Castleton Tower, Southern UT - "Kor-Ingalls" in the sun.
Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls first made an intrepid ascent of this tower in 1961. Evidence of their passing, and the passing of thousands of others, remains pounded into the stone of that tower. My friends Thomas and Spencer and I are the beneficiaries of their vision and courage in a very literal way, as it is thanks to their notes and those added by countless others who repeated the ascent before us, that we made our way up that moldering monument.

The scholar Mircea Eliade, in his book The Myth of Eternal Return, writes that sacred history is "preserved and transmitted through myths. More than that, it is a 'history' that can be repeated indefinitely, in the sense that the myths serve as models for ceremonies that periodically reactualize the tremendous events that occurred at the beginning of time."

This idea is the basis, he argues, for all religious ritual. In Christianity the sacrament is one such example. Participants eat bread that either literally or figuratively is the body of Christ, and drink water that is his blood. This ritual has as its basis the last supper, and signals renewal in the life of the acolyte that participates in it. 

Climbing, in a very real sense, is a way in which I participate in the past. It is a ritual. I have learned the movements from those that came before, they've shown me the sacred sites and I similarly am renewed as the courage and vision of those first explorers is transubstantiated through the ritual of repetition into my own. I am remade into something bolder, more independent, and more courageous.

Spencer leading pitch 2 of "Kor-Ingalls"

I'm not surprised, then, that I find myself interested in my ancestors at a younger age (relative to the ages of people I usually think of as being interested in family history). As I struggle to find meaning in my life, to find motivation and purpose, it is only natural that I should look to the past that extends from my birth back into frontier lands when my forefathers wrestled with high mountain passes, severe winters, and an ever changing religious landscape.

After a day of hard climbing we smile and embrace on the apex of that striking finger, flat like an altar, and rejoice in the revelation that unfolds in 360 degrees around us.

Looking up at Castleton Tower from the top of the talus cone.

View of La Sal mountains from the summit.

Nothing sweeter than sharing such an outing with close friends.

View of other sandstone monoliths from the summit of Castleton.

After spending a judicious amount of time alone on the summit we rappel to the base and hike out after night has fallen. The sky is clear and alight with innumerable pinpricks of cool light. Behind us the tower rises so imperious and threatening I am stopped in my tracks and left breathlessly wondering. Even with a billion spotlights trained at it Castleton is a plume of deepest dark that hurtles upwards so preposterously I am gripped by the sensation that it will topple right on top of us. Not a single feature is visible along its impenetrable, upright corridors. It almost looks like a doorway or a tear in the nocturnal canvas.

We breathe heavily, transfixed for a moment by the obelisk. There is something awful and sacred to this mood that has settled, and again I am aware that I am close to something which for many approaches the divine. For all of us, I think, what we have done is as much pilgrimage as it is recreation. I think of a small cathedral I visited while in Poland that housed a sacred painting of the virgin Mary. Every year people walk, eventually crawling, many miles to this cathedral in Czestochowa to see the painting and be renewed by their faith (the walls of the room that contains the painting bear, like trophies, the crutches of those who have experienced miraculous healing there). This is such a moment, and such a place, for me. After a few minutes the sudden somberness passes and we continue on, amiably breaking the still night air with happy conversation. Every so often I turn to look at the tower again, and in its depths I feel the collapse of history both natural and human, a confluence of the dreams of man and the heaving machinations of the world that supports him.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Minor Dihedral," North Tower of Haystack in the Deep Lake Cirque of the Southern Wind Rivers - June 19, 2013

Earlier in the summer Jake and I spent several days climbing in the southern end of the Wind River range, a scabrous scar that runs for over 100 miles. I've already written about two of our climbing days, here and here, but this one has been more difficult to write about, for whatever reason. The route known as "Minor Dihedral" on Haystack is possibly one of the most enjoyable and quality alpine climbs I've done, and I found the Deep Lake area of the southern Wind Rivers to be every bit as tantalizing as its more popular neighbor, the Cirque of the Towers.

"Few environments offer as much freedom as mountains such as the Wind Rivers--or affect you so immediately and drastically with the consequences of what you do." Wind River Mountains (Joe Kelsey), 6

Jackson Hole sits close to the base of the Tetons. Visitors flood the range each year to rightly marvel at the 
seismic cathedrals that gnaw at the sky with barbed teeth. Rangers and guides crawl through the range. The Tetons are beautiful, rugged, and eminently accessible. For contrast, to get to the Wind Rivers you drive to the middle of nowhere to a town with a population of less than one thousand. Turning your back on this final crumb of civilization you bump and jostle 40+ miles along a dirt road crossing a planar expanse towards a vague uplift on the horizon. From the Big Sandy trailhead you walk some miles, passing the perfunctory "WELCOME TO THE WILDERNESS"  forest service signs, walking across tilted forest planes and clear streams of frigid water fueled by melting snow. The buzz of the mosquitos around your ears drones out the final yawns of the sleepy outposts of humanity now far beyond your concern and sinking - the granite nipples that begin to appear in the distance ahead impart upon first sighting the sense that you've arrived at the world's teat, come to drink and rejuvenate and to grow into your proper stature, upright and marveling and free to live or die, by ingenuity and skill or the caprice of nature.


It was early in the morning and Jake and I sat, crumpled into ourselves and shivering, leaning close over warm cups of oatmeal, harvesting the steam. Behind us an imposing swell of uplifted granite, beautifully pristine, slips upwards at a gentle slope before gathering precipitous velocity. I trace what I can see of the broad face which towers over the trees around our small campsite, redolent of the massive granite faces of Yosemite. My gaze continues upwards, accelerating, and shoots off the summit ridge and up into the turbulent grey clouds. Jake and I worry aloud in stuttered sentences about the weather. The wind that is blowing through camp feels as though it carries the last of winter along its rolling trajectory, and I want to crawl up that face in this wind about as much as I want to up and go starkers for a swim in the frosted lake.

photo: Jake Moon - Deep Lake Cirque - Haystack is the mountain on the immediate left

"If climbers distilled Wind River geology into one word, that word would be granite. Granite, igneous rock crystallizing from molten magma below the Earth's surface, suggests antiquity, and Wind River granite, crystallizing 2.5 billion years ago, has existed through more than half of Earth's 4.6 billion years." Wind River Mountains p 41

As you hike into the Deep Lake area, forking right at Big Sandy Lake instead of left (which takes you up towards Jackass Pass and the Cirque of the Towers), you walk against the flow of water. The pines, thick at first, begin to thin the higher you climb. Soon you're circumnavigating  Clear Lake and on the other side hills of granite crossed with grass and the occasional tree rise from the opposite shore to your right. To your left Haystack Peak threatens like a cresting wave. Continuing up beyond the head of Clear Lake the trees thin into a scintillating negligee that barely covers the naked granite that cups and swells, swoons and cuts all around. Bare fingers of water flow free over granite slab and there is remarkably little talus in this realm of ancients. Just clean, rippling waves of granite whose chameleon granite reflects the shifting hues of the sun.

photo: Jake Moon - Deep Lake area, Haystack Tower rising in the background


The longer we sit in camp the colder our unsatisfying cups of oatmeal grow, and as the comforting steam dissipates our reluctance gives way to chest-thumping bravado (at least we'll warm our egos) and we convince ourselves that it is, in fact, a good day to climb, fingers be damned, we'll get 'em back in the reincarnation, "HOO, HUYAH, CHEE'AH! Boy-lez-get'r-dun!" We stuff our packs with the day's supplies and walk the trail of frozen mud through the line of trees that stand sipping at the borders of Clear Lake. After passing the head of Clear Lake we turn left into an initially loose curve of light talus and granite blocks, following a trail marked by obdurate tufts of grass and onto the nape of the mountain - a sloping slab that we traverse across to reach the base of our route. Despite the immovability of the intractable stone beneath our feet I'm dizzy with the sensation that I'm walking a rising swell of water.

photo: Jake Moon - a picture of the face we climbed - you'll notice on the face of the mountain there are two prominent, right-leaning slashes marked by shadow - the one on the right is the namesake of our route and the best pitch of climbing (marked below).
...and the route traced in red. For the apporach you follow the grass
and then head left across the slab (marked with the red line).

"The rate at which a melt cools determines the size of the resulting crystals...The nubbly [sic] texture of Wind River granite indicates an origin deep in the Earth's crust." p. 43

photo: Jake Moon - Me on the easy slab traverse after getting to the highest grassy ledge - close to the first pitch

photo: Jake Moon - me leading the first pitch. This view foreshortens the route, which instead of heading straight up arcs to the right.
We spend a few minutes staring at the wall and trying to orient ourselves to the route, and finally Jake is able to pick out the cracks and flakes that comprise our route, and we head off across a low angle slab to the start of the first pitch, an easy and gradually steepening corner of a large flake.

I take the lead for the first pitch. I'm comfortably warm bundled in my puffy-coat after our moderate hike up to the start of the route. The sky above is clearing out but the air is still sharp in my lungs and the crack in the corner of the two plates of overlapping slab I'm climbing is cold. The pitch gradually steepens as I curl my fingers into the crack, ultimately coming to a small perch where the crack disappears and a blank slab face stretches 10 feet or so above me before the route continues up another small crack to a belay above.

It's jarring to come on a section of slab like that after the comforting security of a good crack. I put a cam in at my feet where the crack peters out, a small one but a good placement. I sit and look at the dimpled granite above me, hesitant and anxious. Finally I get a high foot into a dish and push off from the safety of my perch, placing my feet delicately as I move up this relatively blank section of wall to the next crack, some eight feet above me.

This is the mental crux of the first pitch and maybe the route, and as I very deliberately place my feet and hands on the wavy granite I'm more aware of the long vertical distance below me and my exposed position on the open face of the mountain. After 2 or 3 moves I breathe a sigh of relief as my finger slides into another crack. I pull myself up a bit, plug in a cam, and scramble up to my small belay ledge.

"The event that exposed rock billion of years old occured within the past 100 million years, an event known as the Laramide Revolution. Horizontal crompression had been crumpling the Earth's crust to the west and, like a wave, this disturbance progressed eastward. Where the crust bowed upward, mountains formed; where it bowed down, valleys formed." p 44

Over the next 2 pitches we climbed higher, linking discontinuous cracks and scooped flakes high on the wall to make our ascent. Our only hiccup came mid-way up as Jake, following the natural line of a crack in a corner, realized he had gotten off route somewhere. I hadn't seen Jake for a good 10 minutes or so as the contour of the wall had taken him out of view. A yell, broken by a shifting wind, disturbed my solitary reverie. I'd been standing on a small ledge, hundreds of feet above a pristine alpine lake and beautiful granite slabs, the cirque and its denizen-peaks cradling my view that amorously traced them.

I couldn't discern what Jake was saying at first, and a lull in the wind allowed some brief communication. I finally got that he thought he might be off-route. I pulled out our guide book (the small blue one) and checked the route description and the topo. We seemed to be on course, but I yelled to Jake to build an anchor and belay me up. After the required preparation for such a transition I began to climb, keeping my eyes peeled for another way up the wall. When I was finally within easy yelling distance of Jake we assessed the situation. As Jake kept me tight on the rope I pulled off my backpack and retrieved the guidebook again. After some more time we were finally able to identify where we were supposed to be.

To our right, perhaps 10 or 15 below where Jake was currently belaying me, and 10 feet to my right across the face of the mountain, we could see a tear shaped depression in the rock that matched a feature shown in the guidebook. While Jake slowly fed me rope I pushed against it, using the tension in the rope from me to Jake to give me extra ballast on the wall. This is an easy aid move called a "tension traverse." Once I was in the tear shaped cutout in the wall it was clear this was the intended direction of the route. I set up an anchor and put Jake on belay. He was able to free the slab traverse and we were quickly back on course.

Such moments are to be cherished, for in that moment we were lost to the crude navigational cues left for us like a child's impression of a pirate's treasure map, left to our own ingenuity or callow alpine skill set. Such a moment, when decisions are to be made with incomplete knowledge and information, is a moment of true communion with the mountain. Not unlike my puerile notions of sailors at sea, looking upwards to the north star, constant and munificent, we look up to a long dark, right leaning gash across the face of the north tower of Haystack which is the most prominent feature of the route and the section of the climb from which the name "Minor Dihedral" was taken.

Jake, leading the third pitch.

A view of Clear Lake and the Cirque of the Towers from midway up Haystack's north tower.
All around us the violent poetry of orogenesis  lilts with a sprawling cadence across crescendos of granite spires, falling away in precipitous notes full of nostalgia for eons past and sinking into the deep adamantine blue hues of glacial lakes that sit at the feet of these ancients like ephemeral overtures, small mementos of those most intimate of alpine love affairs, the marriage of glacier and stone whose passing wore these lines of longing that we now ascend. We fill in the cracks with our hands and feet, broken hearts thrilling at the melody of love and loss etched in the exfoliating folds of stone older than God.

"Ninety million years ago the crystalline core of the Wind Rivers lay beneath sediments that were just emerging from the sea. The Laramide Revolution folded the rock up as an arch. An asymmetrical arch, it began to overturn and eventually reached its breaking point. The rock fractured along fault planes...sliding on these fault planes, the Wind River block was lifted up...[and] rose more than 50,000 feet, one of the greatest vertical movements known on Earth." p 44

photo: Jake Moon - Jake belaying me from above while I try to figure out
where we got off route

photo: Jake Moon - the beauty of the Deep Lake Cirque and it's distant neighbor,
the Cirque of the Towers, is unmatched in the interior west.

"When the Laramide Revolution raised the Wind River block ten miles relative to adjacent valleys, it didn't create mountains 50,00 feet high. Even during uplifts, streams were eroding rock and carrying sediments to adjacent valleys." p 46

Finally we're at the base of the most prominent feature of the route, a long, 200+ ft right leaning corner. Not so minor, this dihedral is scaled with an engaging mix of stemming, jamming, face moves, good rests and great gear. I took the lead on this pitch, waiting until I was well above Jake before placing my first piece of protection. Knowing the pitch was long I tried to space out my cam placements. The pitch is steep and a fall would be clean, though the climbing is very moderate. The higher I got the more alone I became, out of shouting distance from Jake, any communication abducted by the wind. Clouds had begun to gather around the rim of the cirque and I tried to hurry.

photo: Jake Moon - me, a short ways up the best pitch of the route

As I passed along plumb line of the V shaped dihedral I lost sense of time. I began to wonder how much rope I might have left, I could no longer see Jake, and communication was faint and unreliable. When I came to a set of parallel cracks I knew I was above where the pitch was intended to end, so after scaling another 10 feet or so, and finding a decent perch and placements for gear, I set up an anchor and yelled down as best I could that Jake was good to start climbing. After a minute or so the rope that I'd pulled tight went slack and I knew Jake was climbing. I was tired. It was definitely the longest pitch of alpine climbing I'd ever tackled. Slowly Jake came into view and was finally coming up the final movements of the dihedral before joining me at my perch, all smiles and exuberant exclamations regarding the quality of the climbing.

Me looking down the dihedral at Jake far below.

Jake, finishing the pitch.

"As recently as a million years ago, the Wind Rivers lacked their present ruggedness. They were high but gentle-sloped hills...Then the climate changed." p 49

Superlative beauty

A look at the Cirque of the Towers

Behind us the Cirque of the Towers unfolded and we got our first really good views into it, drooling over Warbonnet, Pingora, and the Wolf's Head especially.

Photo: Jake Moon - me greeting  the Deep Lake Cirque at eye level

"Several times, for periods of thousands of years, temperatures averaged a few degrees below normal. During each cool period, ice spread from the poles...Signs of glaciation...are everywhere...Ice carries the rock scoured from cirques as it creeps downhill; dragged over bedrock, this debris increases erosion, gouging depressions in the bedrock of cirque floors...The sculpting of cirque headwalls, creation of hanging valleys, and gouging of lakes is cumulative from one glacial episode to another..." p 49, 50

After a rounded meal of goo and Cliff Bars Jake set off on what would be another rope-stretching pitch that would take us to the end of the truly technical climbing. Soon he was out of sight and I was left with hints of his progress as I felt the rhythms of movement and rest in the pull of the rope.

After what seemed like half an hour I felt a few sharp tugs on the rope and thought I heard Jake's voice wafting down to me. Exercising caution I waited until I was reasonably certain he was off belay, signaled by the rope suddenly being pulled up very rapidly, a sign he had secured himself and was pulling up the little bit of excess rope between us so that I could follow the pitch.

The final pitch was also excellent. A wandering line up a less-pronounced corner took me across several roofs that felt fairly tricky. Finally coming to Jake's belay I saw that the ground from here to the summit ridge eased in angle and that it would be a quick scramble to the airy terminus above.

Jake on the summit ridge of Haystack.

photo: Jake Moon - me somewhere near the summit

We lucked out on weather. As we scrambled along the crest of the mountain, searching for the summit (it's very difficult to find, and we have no idea if we ever stood on it or not) the weather threatened but never materialized into anything more sinister than clumps of brooding gray broken up by patches of blue sapphire. Nothing but inert stone and vestigial snow, dressed in the awakening greens of the flora far below, was offered to the full sweep of our vision. No cities in the distance. Not another soul in sight. No visible trails. No animals, even. Aside from atmospheric sighs, damp with the possibility of rain, that tousled our hair and lapped at the loose hoods and sleeves of our jackets, we were submerged in complete solitude and silence. In those moments on the shoulder of  a silent giant I'd have sworn that the soul of man lies not beneath his breast, trapped somewhere in his ribcage, but rather exists outside the body, pirouettes in eddies of wind and clings to feathers of aerial raptors, hovers as a pale orb of translucent white in the daytime sky and ascends, luminous, through the fall of sun and is carried in us only as memory, a sacrament to be renewed, a rite, a ritual, and beyond ownership.

photo: Jake Moon - the descent, known as the "Grassy Goat Trail"

photo: Jake Moon - heading back to camp

photo: Jake Moon - water and granite. You can see the dihedral for which the route is named on the right side of the
broad face known as the N Tower. There are two dark scars that run at a right-slanting angle across the upper portion of the face of the mountain, our line of ascent took the one on the right.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Off-Season Rock Climbing

Not stoked on ice-climbing or can't afford to get into it? There is still outdoor-climbing to be had, even in these, our coldest months. Get your rock-fix while your friends are scaring themselves stupid on ice!

Last year I was totally psyched to get out on ice. Long before the season had started I had my ice tools ready, a new pair of technical crampons, boots, and screws. I got after it with verve and ended up with quite a few days on ice for the year.

For whatever reason, as I've already mentioned in my previous post, I've not been as motivated or excited by ice this year. I've decided to follow my gut on this one, and I haven't been forcing myself to get out there and "get over it." I've ticked a few ice routes that I didn't do last year, dulled up my tools and crampons somewhat, but now am keeping my eye on the weather in NV, ID, southern UT, and here in my local Wasatch range for rock climbing. To fill in the days when I can't find a partner or the weather sucks, and for general training purposes, I've also started climbing at a nearby bouldering gym as well.

The fact is this: with global warming, streaks of amicable weather are to be had in what traditionally are our stormiest months. You can rock climb December-March, and comfortably so. Don't be daunted by forecasts of 30 degrees if conditions are completely to "mostly" sunny. So long as you're in the sun (crags high on LCC's south facing wall work nicely, such as the Coffin or The Sail) you'll be enjoying fantastically reasonable climbing temperatures. Just bring a good pair of shoes for approaches, as the lower canyon, even on the north, south-facing side, is still slick with snow compacted from foot traffic. I made the mistake of hiking up to the Sail in my well-worn approach shoes and had quite a few slips. Yesterday I hiked up to the Coffin in hiking boots and fared much better.

Getting ready to lead "The Coffin," 5.9 - LCC
photo: Stefanie Shumaker

City of Rocks and Castle Rocks, a 3 hour drive from Salt Lake, are also worthy of your attention if you're looking to get out in the colder months of the year. For new years my friend Garret and I spent two days climbing in Castle Rock; half of the time I was only in a t-shirt (though I wore long johns beneath my pants). Snow levels this year are way below average up there, making camping, hiking to the crags, and climbing a reasonable affair. That being said, you should aim to stay in the sunlight, which means south facing routes. While in Castle Rocks we did one route ("Mantel Dynamics") that was in the shade and I was blowing water and scooping ice from various holds.

"Mantel Dynamics," 5.10b, Castle Rocks, ID (January 2nd)

Essentially, what I've found to be useful and somewhat surprising is how low the temperatures can be while still offering great rock climbing options. I've gone out with a forecast as low as 32 degrees, with low wind and plenty of sunshine. Picking your area is key, as I've mentioned already: south facing, sunny climbs are the way to go. The longer they stay in the sun, the better. Sorry to you shmucks with 9-5 jobs, you're stuck on ice or plastic in the gym.

Last year I wouldn't ever have imagined climbing in sub-50 degree weather. I just didn't think about it as an option. So for those of you anxious to climb outside, have at it!

Also a reminder to those ice-climbing right now - check your avalanche conditions at As of today (1/16), avalanche danger is considerable. Great White Icicle in LCC gets sluff slides that run down it, big enough to carry you off the route. Everything but "Stairway to Heaven" in Provo Canyon sits below large bowls capable of unleashing lethal drifts of snow, and I've posted video of such slides occurring (this year) over the popular routes "Bridal Veil Right" and "White Nightmare." The ice routes in Santaquin are also subject to slides and should be approached only after carefully considering the avy danger. I'm seeing pics on social media of people climbing avalanche-exposed routes on bad days. Thankfully nothing has happened yet, and I hope those individuals are considering the extra risks they are taking by climbing in such conditions. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dead to Winter

The inversion lies thick upon the land like prophetic wrath. Seeps of water have slowly calcified, laminate layers marking time and cold snaps like rings on a tree, into thick chords of ice. Token amounts of snow sit in the upper bowls and are whisked across mountain faces. Subsequent drifts, overloaded, jettison excess weight in lethal slides. Video of avalanche debris spilling over popular climbs in Provo Canyon demand caution, and yet I see Facebook photos of friends climbing in dangerous slide paths on days marked "high" for avalanche danger.

I've been hesitant on ice this season. Part of it is gear related: I'd like a different set of tools, boots that fit better, and no money to purchase them with. Part of it has to do with conditions: ice routes that were well traveled and hacked out by now this time last year are simply not in or are in their adolescence, needing time to mature and form up before the likes of me is willing to swing into them. And in the waiting I've lost interest. I don't feel the same drive to get scared (and fear on ice is on a level substantially above fear on rock) and to push my limits. My imagination lights upon windswept peaks and my hands ache for the cool, shaded cracks of summer. I've driven farther this winter to find sunny rock than I did last year around this same time, making an impromptu trip to Joshua Tree in CA when weather went nipples up in Red Rock, NV. And as the sun rose on the first day of 2014 it illuminated my friend Garret and I as we flaked our rope to ascend our first route in Castle Rock, ID (thanks to low snow levels climbing in the sun in 30 degree weather was quite pleasant). 

Beautiful, but inauspicious for climbing, weather in Red Rock National Preserve, NV - Dec 19, 2013

Joshua Tree, CA - the next day

Climbing the ultra classic "Illusion Dweller," 5.10b, in the Real Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree. Two states away UT was
beneath a cancerous blanket of filth and exaggerated cold.

We chose to abscond with the sun in a more hospitable environ.

Happy New Years! January 1st, 2014. The new year kicked off right. Garret climbing a route on Castle Rock, Castle Rocks, ID.

I picked up a guide book for UT's west desert. I've been combing through route information for Moab, trying to assemble a worthy tick list for pre-season missions. I picked up a bouldering gym membership and am trying to improve my finesse and technique by practicing on plastic. Maybe I've suppressed my CA roots and longing for warmth for too long. Perhaps my body is rejecting the Utah-graft. I just can't get behind this cold, and the ice.  

All the while the question "What to do, if anything, with my life?" spins around my head. It has an inescapable gravity to it, and I feel as stuck in my revolutions around it as the earth to the sun. Circumnavigating the issue has rubbed off the edges, and the upturn of inflection at the end of the statement has been worn down so it reads not as a question, but as a purgatorial statement. The key to breaking the tether, hard work, school (perhaps), actively developing potentially employable abilities, etc. - all of it is drowned out by the single impulse louder than any other - get on rocks. 

I attended a gay rights rally recently. Mothers with kids, gay couples, supportive heterosexuals, all gathered to protest UT's rescinded recognition of the validity of marriage licenses issued in a short and unexpected window in which. suddenly and without warning, same-sex marriage was fully legal in the ultra-conservative state of UT. A state known, infamously, for its involvement (clandestine and open) in polygamy. I have one of those early polygamists tattooed on my right forearm. In my early 20's I wrestled with history's sabotage of my erstwhile inviolate, and fairly immature and untested, belief system. During that phase I got a handful of tattoos that marked what I perceived to be significant moments of insight or struggle within that turbulent period as a sort of rebellion (by marking my path with this taboo I reassured myself that my actions, and their consequences, were fully my own). George Q made it onto the canvas as a recognition of my willing kinship to the most problematic aspects of my own pre-history.

As many of my friends have drifted away from Mormonism because of the dissonance between its truth claims and history, there is a profound connection I still feel and will always lay claim to. Wherever I end up in matters of faith (and God, keep me moving) I'll always love and respect the tradition that raised me. My fore-parents carved their faith from the granite that lifts the Wasatch, hauled it without the aid of heavy machinery into the valley, and there built a home for their god to match the soaring architecture of the high mountains. Within the interior of those granite walls the most sacred rites of my forefathers' faith are administered. Perhaps I'm falsely reading in to this, but the fact that they protected and gave expression to the Divine by way of the granite that forms the landscape I love and call home resonates deeply with me. 

Lone Peak, summer 2013

Salt Lake Temple (stock photo)

As I've halfheartedly searched for myself and, by default, God, I've traced outlines of an answer across big rock faces and spiny ridge-lines. Like prophets of old, both in the Jewish and Christian traditions, I've gone to the quarry, not the structure, for illumination.

photo: Jake Moon - Temple Crag, Eastern Sierras, CA - September 13, 2013
To love man, despite his failures and penchant for deception, I've had to rediscover holiness in the world that supports him, the wild that nurtures, and the land he unceremoniously defiles. But I still haven't come back yet. I find myself being a social curmudgeon, doing what I need to do in work to support myself and my need to be outside, but no more. I dance around change, I flirt with progress, but commit to neither.

And ice, man that stuff is scary. 

There may have been a point I was trying to make, but it's lost. That is OK. There may or may not be a point to everything I'm doing now. Some path I'll stumble upon that will lead me into the Future and, far along that straight and narrow, I may look back and say - "I was never lost, just en route," but I might not. Lost might just be where I was trying to get to, even if I never admit that I've arrived, and am always scanning the horizon for what's coming. 


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sonorous Winter - Nov 21, 2013 - Sundial Peak, Wasatch Range, UT

It was nearing dark as we rappelled down the frozen waterfall we'd climbed on the southern shoulder of Sundial Peak in the Wasatch. Throughout the afternoon snow had been falling quietly in large flakes with a sporadic wooshing of wind, and after a few hours the temperature had dropped noticeably.
Garret Jones, preparing to rappel from the top of the frozen waterfall, which is out of the picture to the left.

Sundial Peak. We climbed a flow of ice on the flank of the mountain to the right, barely visible (if you know how to spot ice amidst snow).

It was a long hike in for just a little bit of climbing, but to be out in the wilderness above the city in the initial moments of winter's long entombing, completely bereft of other human interaction outside the warmth of our own banter, was its own reward.

Given a reasonable assurance of one's safety and imminent return to heated home and hot food, a swell of inclement weather in the mountains, even if followed by a (moderate!) dose of physical discomfiture, can signal a concomitant swell of pleasure.

As we sunk to our waists in the soft snow, slick boulders shifting beneath our feet as we waded down the interred talus field sloping away from Sundial Peak, the wind quickened in waves that rolled over and through the pines and aspens like an incoming tide, whipping at our jackets and stinging our noses, swirling the loose, wet snow into a chaos of whirling vortices, stinging flakes swarming like an onslaught of furious bees into hoods that buffeted about our heads.

photo: Kai Larson
Dark pines groaned, swooning beneath the strident rebuke of wind. Soft spindrift filled the air and the night sky hovered somewhere above the encroaching mass of amorphous white - cloud and itinerant snow, one bleeding from the other - neither falling nor rising, alight with the frenetic energy of the wind. Behind us the vague, triangular west face of Sundial rose as a negative-moon, its dark light seemingly drawing the pearlescent ambient glow of the snow-choked night into its voided borders. Though all seemed quickened within the kinesis of snow swirling on turgid currents, the pointed tooth of quartzite behind us, a dark patch on the fading fabric of night, remained mute and immobile despite vociferous, baritone blasts of tremulous cold. Its presence more suggestion than mass.

We shuffled down the flank of the mountains slowly, sinking and lifting and sinking again, moving through dark eddies of wind that thrilled, happy to be for a moment buried beneath the sky as winter thrummed along strings of sonorous cold. 

photo: Kai Larson