November 22, 2018

The Thumb- S Direct: Retracing the past with a new generation

On November 21, 2018, Carson (my 17 year old son) and I left our warm car, the only one in the Gate Buttress parking lot, at 8 am all bundled up for a cold morning. We anxiously watched for the summit of the Thumb to begin glowing as the morning torch letting us know morning had really arrived and that yes, the sun would actually rise and warm the rock before us.  On December 1, 2000, I first climbed the Thumb S Direct, with KC Tubbs. 18 years ago, and Carson wasn't even born yet. I remember being shocked by the two crazy run-out pitches on the ocean of granite. This, with my son would be my first time back since then. This time, a new inspiring generation forging his own steps of history.

We stashed our packs at Plumbline believing we were going to do the down-hike from the summit. We then traversed over to the base of the Thumb proper. Now out of the sink of the canyon, with gear ready to roll, it was warming up and Carson was stoked to climb! This would be Carson's first ascent of the Thumb buttress and to the top. Boasting more than 1,200 feet of granite and  10 or 11 pitches of incredible climbing, spectacular position in the canyon, ascending it is a real Thumbs up trip and makes for a memorable adventure. 

Feeling like Tommy Caldwell, well maybe, Carson donned his brand new La Sportiva TC Pros and we soloed the first 5.3 pitch, which is about 100 feet in length and goes up a right facing trough and then angles to the left to the start of pitch 2.

Pitch 2, next to the chimney, climbs about 110 feet or so, first next to the chimney then up a slanting, right facing corner with some fun lie back moves and then moves steeply left into a notch to fixed anchors. Carson led this pitch with confidence.

Pitch 3, the beginning of the Indecent Exposure variation climbs a double crack face and then goes into some trees that are embedded into a trough. The first 20 moves of the pitch are fun crack climbing. This pitch did not have fixed anchors at the belay, at least we couldn't find em. About 120 feet long I'd guess. Carson also led this pitch and loved the first part as the morning rays poured down on us.

Pitch 4, the climbing enhances on this pitch with a lovely hands to fist, to arm crack that then contours a small corner with a fun lay back and then onto the incredibly featured lunch ledge. I led this one and we both really enjoyed this pitch.

Pitch 5, after some Snickers and Gatorade and high fives, Carson set off on the incredible first pitch of the ever classic S Direct route, leading up the 80 degree ramp/arete. This pitch is caked with black chicken head features. The climbing on this pitch gets 4 stars in my opinion. Carson crushed it, laughing and gasping with excitement, making it to the anchors about 100 feet up next to a roof.

Pitch 6, the iconic entry into the ocean of white. The pitch starts up another chimney with an awkward move, to an old piton and then a crack wide enough for a number 3 Camalot. Beyond that the vastness of the sea of granite opens up before you and the first bolt is about 20' up wards. With fun smearing on a nearly featureless face, you move past 4 run out bolts to the anchors. The crux was between the first two bolts. I led this one and did not get the same shock as I did 18 years ago. It felt like a new additional bolt had been added (too bad).

Pitch 7, another run out slab pitch. Here you can take the original line up to a bolt and then to the right and then up or just head straight up for a little harder direct variation. We chose the latter as I had already done the original.  Up we went past two run out bolts then over two or three small overlay roofs to the chains about 100 or so feet up. This pitch had chicken heads for slinging to the left the third overlay which took the run-out down to 30 feet or so.   Carson, following was shackled with carrying the day pack and my approach shoes. He loved these two pitches!

Pitch 8, another run out pitch but easier goes straight up right of a crack to the roof under cling. This roof is where Spring Fever also ends. Under clinging the roof, I plugged a number 2 Camalot, then wrapped around, slinging a small tree and then up to a tree for an anchor.

Pitch 9, Carson led us up the remaining rock which became lower angled, directly to the base of the summit pinnacle.  We flaked the rope here and then walked next to the trees to the west ridge.

Pitch 10, a short but exposed and fun-filled pitch takes you to the top of the Thumb Pinnacle.  Carson was excited about the Summit! it was now 1 P.M. He did incredible. Here we met up with Chris and Madison of the Gear Room in SLC.  These two young studs had just climbed/flown up all of the hardest contiguous pitches on the Thumb. Starting with S Crack, Knob Job and ending with Robbins Crack. They had apparently each climbed the Thumb 25 times!! They knew the buttress like a mom knows her child. They shared some really helpful descent beta as Carson and I had decided to rappel the route.

Back when I first did this, KC and I with only the beta from the Ruckman guidebook with double ropes rappelled the Thumb and I remember we stuck a rope. It required me to prussik ascend the rope to free it. Luckily this time, for Carson and I it was smooth abseiling, with a single 70 meter. I did overshoot one anchor at the 9ht rappel. After 11 rappels, we reached the ground.  I could not be more proud of Carson. He was so excited as was I!  It's a new generation. We got back to the car at 4 PM.

Pitch 1
Carson, heading up Pitch 2
Carson, pitch 3
Carson, incredible pitch 5
Carson, "bold elegance on a sea of granite" Ruckmans
More of Pitch 6
Carson topping out Pitch 7
Looking up Pitch 8
Carson the Thumb Pinnacle, pitch 9
Chris and Madison, speeding down the Ocean of Granite
Carson and one last look
Taken day after

Rappels 70M single:
1st- West chains summit
2nd- Down buttress to trough
3rd- Down hike or belay down to top of offwidth roof (top of Spring Fever)
4th- Top of roof to top of pitch 7
5th- Top of pitch 6
6th- Top of pitch 5 to Lunch Ledge
7th- Below notch below Lunch Ledge
8th- Down towards S Crack- don't overshoot the intermediary anchors!
9th- From intermediary anchors
10th-Last down lateral to top of pitch 1
11th- Final to the dirt

November 7, 2018

Reptile Ridge

Saturday morning on October 27th, Owen my 14 year old and I met up with Brian Smoot and Annie Smoot, Brian's daughter for an excellent outing in upper Little Cottonwood. Brian, a legend in many aspects, an incredible father, husband and example to me has spent years developing the climbing on the Pawn. Lucky for Owen and I, Brian invited us along. We got to choose which of his first ascent routes we wanted to climb too! All of them I hoped, but we selected the "Path of the Argonian." A most lovely line with a perfect mixture of face and crack climbing. We climbed as two teams. Brian has an incredible eye for new lines, is one of the great climbing pioneers of the Wasatch Range and a climbing historian extraordinaire. 

We had a delightful time with Annie and Brian, who obviously share a very strong bond, punctuated by the rope between them. It was great for me to have the opportunity to do a multi-pitch route with Owen high in the range. Climbing with your children is the most rewarding of experiences. We were out all day for an incredible journey just the four of us in the spectacular mountains we call home.

Owen and Annie coming up fixed line set by Johnathan Smoot
Brian following Annie on he and his brother Johnathan's line
Owen coming up the first pitch
Brian and Annie
Owen on the fabulous pitch 2
Annie following her dad on Pitch 3
Me and Owen Pitch 3- Courtesy Annie Smoot
Owen topping out on Pitch 3
Another shot of Pitch 3, the Thumb Summit below- Courtesy Brian Smoot
Brian heading up Pitch 4 with Coalpit in the background
Owen near the top of Pitch 4
Courtesy Annie Smoot
Summit!- Courtesy Brian Smoot
Brian and his rope post two abseils- Lone and Thunder staring from behind

August 25, 2018

The Arm and Hammer

Astonishingly 18 years ago, I found myself, my brother and our friend Brett up on the top of Arm and Hammer's infamous Zion Curtain. It met every hope back then, and I still vividly remember it. I was climbing a lot more back then, was younger and my oldest kid was only 1 year old. "Back then," there was no "mountain project," or other blogs that provided beta on routes. Luckily inspiring climbers like Brian Smoot and the Ruckman brothers had wonderfully documented routes in their respective Wasatch Guidebooks.  

A lot has changed over those nearly 20 years in the world of climbing and the proliferation of information, however yesterday, Jason Dorais and I  found that the Arm and Hammer luckily hadn't. 

We linked the first two 5.7 pitches of the Ellsworth Mc route into one.  Then indulged in the 5.10 A0 tension traverse pitch. Jason climbed up the Zion Curtain with nothing but smiles. Pitch four, 5.9, following the ZC pitch was one of our favorites with the varied mix of crack climbing diversity. Pitch five, 5.easy took us to the top of the route. We did 4 rappels I believe.  We racked up doubles to #3 and one #4 which came in handy at the top of pitch 4 on the left side of the roof. At the base of the climb, before we roped up, we discovered we had forgotten our wired nuts. I was freaked! As an old school guy, (who still frequently uses stoppers) before we started I just stared at Jason. He looked at me and said "today we are going to make you a modern day climber old man." 
The route delivered on every hope.

JD looking for stoppers

Pitch 1

Me starting the Tension Traverse Pitch

JD coming up the bolt line on the spectacular first Tension Traverse Pitch
Moving over to the ever sacred Zion Curtain
As good as it gets
Me start of pitch 4
On top
Brilliant day. Top of last pitch
One of several rappels

August 5, 2018

Irene's Arete- Grand Teton Range with my son

Last Monday, Carson, my 17 year-old son and I spent some time in the Tetons together. Carson is an excellent climber. He has trained consistently on many Wasatch multi-pitch routes and works hard in the gym during the winters with family and friends.  The Tetons for more than 28 years have filled my mind with memories and cherished experiences. Routes climbed with friends I consider family. I draw on these all of the time, especially when life can sometimes get beyond trivial. These peak experiences for me, can fuel life in a way nothing else can. These mountains are sacred to me and sharing their aura with my sons can be among the greatest moments of life.  

We left our car in Lupine at 430 AM on Monday and hiked steadily at Carson's pace until reaching the Meadows, from where we hiked up nearly to the Caves and then traversed east over to our long-awaited objective. Irene's Arete stood as the blade of a sword pointing to the southern sky. The ridge looked as it always does, incredibly exposed and gorgeous. We arrived at "the tree" at the base of pitch 1. Irene's is captured by the great ring of peaks from Nez Perce to South Teton, Middle and at the foot of the Grand and the south shoulder of Disappointment peak.

After getting gear sorted and readying for the exciting ascent, we finally started at 8 AM under perfect skies. We racked up to #3 Cams, a set of wired stoppers and twin 50 meter Beals.  Pitch one, 5.7 went great up steepening cracks on beautiful rock and stopping about 140' or so up just under the hanging tooth, start of pitch 2. Pitch two 5.8 was killer. Right out the gate an off-width like double crack on a hanging tooth like rock that then ascends up a steep crack system onto a huge ledge about 120' I think. Pitches 3 and 4 consisted of elegant moves on opulent rock, with roof sections of black and gneiss crystals and climbing back and forth on the arete.  These pitches were our favorites as the exposure was lovely and the climbing superb. The westerly wind added to the excitement. I think pitch 3 was 5.7 and pitch four, 5.8. Pitch 5 had some incredibly great face climbing, some crack moves with most of the climbing left of the arete, 5.7. On pitch 6 we took the crack next to the tree which goes 5.8 but I think we made it harder as we moved right, mid-way up away from the crack and onto the face and up through a notch, after which we gained lower angle climbing to the ridge. Pitch 7 was a lovely arete traveler's dream and the climb reached a crescendo. 

I could not have been more proud of Carson. As he topped out at 12:30 PM, Was he tired? Sure was but charged more than I had ever seen before. Times like these are fleeting treasures found only through self exploration. The Tetons have given me so much over my life. What I appreciate most from them are the moments where I can be connected to my sons through a rope and see the joy in their eyes when they accomplish something profound while gaining appreciation for these incredible mountains.

We descended off the east side of Disappointment Peak to Amphitheater lake and concluded an incredible day in the hills together. We arrived back at the car at 3:30 PM that afternoon.

Irene's Arete (middle) from Meadows

Carson topping out Pitch 1

Starting Pitch 3
Carson Pitch 4 I think

Top of Pitch 5
Carson top of Pitch 6
End of the line
Happy Carson

July 22, 2018

City of Rocks- Family Outting

A couple weeks ago we were able to get away from the doldrums of life to a much greater place for the mind to clear up and feel of the glories of nature once again. It's so wonderful to climb with my kids. My wife, a great belayer for the past 25 years, still has yet to catch the bug of moving on the rock. We voyaged to the great City of Rocks. 

We found the quality of granite as supreme as the setting and surrounded by fellow towers that gaze at you while attempting one route or another. The rock has a different personality than what I find in the Wasatch, it is coarser, mottled and edgy. For two and half days, we climbed classics on Elephant Rock, Morning Glory Spire, Super Hits and Parking Lot rock. As the evening's power would close the page on the day, the setting sun would remind us that yet another morning would come filled with incredible experiences.

Morning Glory Spire- Courtesy Marcie Ambrose

14 year-old Owen
Carson climbing the steep and lovely granite
Owen's working through his rappel
Summer crushing it
Owen topping out on Elephant Rock