March 22, 2020

Pfeifferhorn North Ridge

One of the first Wasatch peaks to captivate me while I was quite young, rises like a tooth above Maybird Lakes. This peak sees far too much traffic these days in the summer time and can lose its luster due to the hammering it takes by people. However, this treasure in the winter still embraces my mind with possibilities and freedom. I have been on it over 30 times I suspect in my life. Each time the view and energy it supplies is special.  In the winter however, the Pfeifferhorn takes on its full potential. Especially the north aspects of this mountain make it feel like a true treasure. I hate to even write this for fear it pushes people more towards it's realm of power. However, the mountains are not mine, but treasures to be cherished and cared for by us all. 

Yesterday at 7:20 AM, Jason Dorais and I left White Pine T.H. and skinned up above Maybird Lakes and cast our eyes on our objective as the sun was casting a dimension of unique mountain light. The North Ridge is a true alpine experience for the experienced, prepared traveler. Not to be taken lightly, this ridge has it all. Exposure, steep granite, high consequence travel, including avalanche risk. It is highly aesthetic and a magnet for the alpinist. This is where we were headed.

The last snow fall was late Thursday night. It came in perfectly, stable and clinging to the steepest of slopes. We headed up the couloir, able to skin nearly the entire way. Most parties would boot, but we were able to set a beautiful skinner about 100 feet below the top. We booted from here. The couloir is about 55 degrees in pitch.  Reaching the ridge, we found loose, freshly fallen snow on the steep granite. Donning the crampons and ice tools we carefully worked our way sans rope up the first buttress. I watched Jason move smoothly, like an artist up the highly insecure rock. We moved well, reaching the platform and then up the west facing ramp that held snow, making the rock movement more precarious. From the top of the couloir to this point is all high consequence travel in lose snow conditions.

The ridge then takes on a steep airy pitch with a few cruxy moves. We went without a rope and felt secure, albeit a fall would be catastrophic. It's advisable to use a rope and set gear.  Ice tool in hand, crampons front pointing along the way made for fun exposed travel. We then booted up the east hanging snowfield to the top. It was spectacular route! It had been many years since I last did this route.

We chose to descend the North West Couloir, which we both have done many times. It skied probably among the best I have ever had it. The snow was completly latent in activity about a foot and half of fresh snow! The rappel this go round was about 45 feet. Last month it was closer to 60 feet.  We then enjoyed incredible skiing all the way to the main trail. Another wonderful journey with JD! 

The NR
Topping out of the Couloir. Here we go Ridge.
Jason starting up the ridge, Artisan
At the Platform, heading to the West Ramp (ahead of Jason)

Jason top of Ramp- I love this photo!

Me along the Ramp
Nearing the Crux. Incredible position
The crux
Jason moving to the last section of rock
Jason near the top
Jason ripping the NW Couloir uppper section

Me enjoying incredible snow below the Rap
Jason rushing into Hogum Fork

March 14, 2020

Grand Teton Winter Ascent and Ski Descent March 6, 2020

Thirty years ago I did my first ascent in the Teton Range. Since that June 1990, I have gone back nearly every year sometimes multiple times to explore the range that drew me into her grasp with an undeniable magnetic force. I have had so many memories and experiences there with loved ones. In my mind I can rehearse every single trip to the Tetons. I can tell you about each route, the crux, the moments of challenge and character carving sections. 

On March 6, 2020, Will Hanson and I left Motel 6 at 230 AM in icy temps, en route under a nearly full moon to the Taggart Lake trailhead. We left the warmth of the Prius at 3 am and skinned north of the lake and then over Bradley to the base of the Range. The giants slept with the silver cloaks shimmering under the moonlight. Nothing was stirring, no not even a mouse as we glided along the humbling landscape with headlamps glowing our path. We climbed up into the Meadows as the winds began to awaken in the darkness. I could see against the moon, the north side of Middle Teton with what I hoped were just morning clouds and not snow being blown from the summit. 

We then moved up towards the Petzoldt caves and then along the icy slopes towards the inlet of the Tepee Glacier. Still quite dark and moving along well, the winds were pounding the east face of the Grand and seemed to be blowing in all directions hammering as we moved upwards. I sat for a moment, sheltered by a rock from the wind to don my warmer windbreaker as the light of dawn finally started to reveal itself. As I sat there, I gazed up to the East face directly above Tepee Pillar. I was humbled. The winds were raking the face and of course I was worried about wind slabs. The power of the face was indescribable. It reminded me of the first time I climbed Mount Owen in 1996. There I was, sitting below the Koven Couloir at 230 AM. I was facing the North Face of the Grand. I could see this massive black hole in the middle of a star-filled morning. I was blown away by the sight. Humbled beyond description to be in the setting.

We moved up the Tepee Glacier under a fire-filled morning light of dawn and winds. We were able to skin most of it, however near the top I had to boot upwards. Reaching the col, the morning had become full and the winds continued.  We then moved west and into the base of the Stettner Couloir where we donned the ice tools and crampons. We moved up the ice-filled Stetner, then into the steeper Chevy Couloir, where we found even more excellent, hard ice to climb. We chose to keep the ropes in the pack as we felt confident through the ice and over the large ice bulge. It was cold. We then booted to the top of the Ford Couloir. The winds were relentless. Gusts would come that knocked us over several times. We pushed upwards.

I could feel the presence in my mind of Bill Briggs (first person to ski the Grand in June 1971) as we emerged on to the South East snowfield of the Grand! At this point, you are in a very precarious spot. Like a fly on a hanging snowfield that balances between the sky and rock. If it slides, it's over. We moved as quickly as we could up this face towards the summit. Dead of winter. Alone. It was spectacular. We reached the summit at 9:50 AM. We rejoiced with tears filling the eyes. As I gazed, like I have many times in the he past from this special spot, I offered my prayer of thanksgiving. It's serious business to get here and to get out. Not to be taken lightly.....

The time had come. Time to ski down! We stashed the crampons and clicked into the skis on the summit. We made our first incredible turns off the summit and skied tacking snow all the way down the face and then into the Ford Couloir. Without event. It was spectacular to say the least. I would not want to ski those sections in icy conditions. We then rappelled six times down the three couloirs. The southerly winds were fierce the entire way down. 

We then skied down the Tepee Glacier, then over below Middle Teton and glided into the Meadows. We reached Bradley Lake. Took off the coats and then skinned back to the car. We arrived at 1:20 PM. In one word. I am Grateful.  Grateful for these mountains. Grateful for the health and abilities to do it. Grateful for wonderful partners. Grateful for good luck. Grateful for a family that understands my need to be here. 

Will and Nez Perce
Will and Tepee Glacier
Will in the Stettner with Middle Staring us down
Climbing perfect Ice in the Chevy
Entry to the Ford Couloir
Base of Ford
Putting in the booter


The steepness of the Face surrounding by Winter's Magic
Will reaching the Summit in Winter

First Turn!
Looking at the jaws below
Will on the snowfield
Pretty stunning and steep
Down Chevy

A few Winter 2020 Highlights

This winter I recovered from knee surgery. Something about getting older and having surgery that is not a good combination. Fortunately I have been recovering well and pulling it together. This winter has not had the volume of ski touring as in other years, however it has been about quality. I have had some great moments with friends this year. It's those moments that fill my mind when I close my eyes amidst the difficulties and challenges that life brings. They help get me through the sharpness of the edge.

This first image is special to me in many ways. It was an evening last month. I was alone, trying to work the pains of life off my back. Doing everything I could to shake them from my soul. As I was skinning swiftly up the mountain, suddenly the earth began to warm against the icy temperatures. Yes the 15 minutes of special light both in the dawn and dusk are my favorite times to be in the hills. However, this one was different. It was a piercing warmth. I stopped dead in my tracks to witness a miracle unfold before my eyes. It was dead silent, but I could feel the love of God pour over me. He knows my trials, my difficulties not unlike everyone else but individual to me. I could feel others on the other side of the veil. Those that have gone before me. It was an overwhelming love that bore testimony to me that there are those watching, cheering us along our paths of life. I shall never forget that moment as it was and is precious to me. 

God knows us
NW Couloir with Jared I and Lars in Feb 2020
Lars on the rappel
Jared. His camera and hot drinks
Hogum Fork
Lars and the Dresden Face
The incredible Jason Dorais on East Face of Twin
Tom Goth and the great Cottonwood Ridge
Jason on the East Face
Columbine at Dawn- Those special 15 minutes

December 15, 2019

Spring, Summer and Fall of 2019

In the late winter of 2019 I signed up for Instagram. The worst or best thing I have done to share my experiences with those I love? Not sure. It quite possibly is the greatest waste of time or the best way to catalogue some of my adventures in life. Not sure.  When we are inspired we should document our lives for future generations and even those interested enough to read a sampling today. The past year has fled as quickly as a stream of clouds departs on a spring day, leaving only the memory of their existence behind. I guess that's the impetus to get me putting some thoughts down in this blog. 

Simply put, this past year has been one of the greatest I have had in a long time. Despite being ailed by a terrible sinus infection in the spring, followed by a deviated septum repair surgery, then anaphylactic shock in the fall, followed by a knee injury and then a meniscectomy surgery in my right knee this past week, the year has been incredible.  I am eternally grateful for the memories that were created like pages in a small book that have come together to create a catalogue of moments filled with joy. I am grateful most of all to those that joined me a long the path to create the snapshots of time.

I am only going to hit the high-points as, my procrastination has gotten the better of me, making the writing of these moments time consuming, in a world where time if the greatest of fleeting commodities. But even then, the import of capturing time in a word rises in value with each fleeting day, week or year. 

Red Rocks, NV - March 2019 and April 2019- Crimson Chrysalis, Unimpeachable Groping, Johnny Vegas, Saddle Up, Armatron and One Arm Bandit

"Laced with chocolate and milk, standing as sentinels to the valley below, the rocks, timeless and emotionless tell the stories of ages long past and a future filled with adventure, struggle and happiness."- Red Rocks, March 2019 Chad Ambrose

A couple of great trips were taken this past spring, climbing in the Red Rocks Preserve, just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. The first was taken by Will and I. We slept in his van at night and climbed during the days.  We climbed on Crimson Chrysalis, then Unimpeachable Groping 5.10d 7 pitches, where we had a wild rappel off, touching the ground at 10:45 PM! We had only brought one headlamp up the route (shame on us) and then I dropped mine at the top long after the sun fell behind the far distant hills. We had been held up by two parties ahead of us! We got off. The next day we climbed Johnny Vegas on Solar slab. Then headed home. 

Red Rocks at Dawn

Rapping off Crimson

Will up on Unimpeachable

The next morning on JV

The next trip was for Spring Break. We stayed in a nearby hotel and climbed during the days. Carson, my no 18 year old has trained a lot and is an excellent climber. He and I creatively linked up in 5 hours first Saddle Up which was excellent and Armatron which was even more excellent. Carson climbed well for sure. We did in all 10 pitches together. 

Carson topping out on 3 pitch of Saddle Up
Carson hoofing it now to Armatron- Brownstone Wall

Pitch two of Armatron- Not an ugly day or piece of stone
Carson leading the brownstone wall

Fun exposed climbing

The Man Carson nearly on top of his route


The next day, little brother Owen who is also a great climber, adventurer and young photographer at 15, and I climbed the four pitch "one-arm bandit" on Rose Tower. It was awesome to climb with him on this fantastic route. He did great!

Owen on swirling chocolate and cream!
Two big heads on top of the lovely Rose Tower

Mount Rainier, WA- June 14, 2019

"Awakening in a furnace of fire which fights to combat the icy chill of the slopes, this hulking mass of stone and ice, beckons the ambitious traveler toward its treasures held deeply within its grasp. To travel among the glaciers, along the rock and see nothing but the end of a long snowy road collide with the darkness of a clear blue sky, is to experience complete joy."  – Chad Ambrose, Mount Rainier June 14, 2019

Will Hanson and I arrived at Paradise on June 13, 2019 in the afternoon, beneath, arguably the most beautiful volcano in North America. I had been on this mountain in 1999 with terrible winter conditions. It was good to pull back in to the parking lot, albeit I am now much older, but I like to think more seasoned. We sorted gear, ate in the cafe and awaited night to fall. And fall it did, with high winds and darkness as we laid awake in Will's old Sprinter Van. 

The morning came at 2 AM and we were up, packs loaded, skis in hand as we groped our way through the misty fog that had cast a cloak of darkness over Mount Rainier. We hit the restroom and then at 330 AM we were off, donning our skis shortly thereafter. After getting disoriented a bit due to the fog, we finally found our way and started the long, sweeping ascent of the Muir Snowfields. Dawn was striving to break as suddenly the veil of mist was broken and the upper part of Rainier was opened before our eyes. 

The Nisqually snowfield stood, looming ahead, shining with a deep, cold blue. We cruised up the fields and reached Camp Muir in about 2.5 hours from when we began. We roped up and then crossed over the Ingraham then the Cleaver and on up the glacier, passing crevasses, snow bridges and lovely seracs. At 5.5 hours we reached point success, and then on up to the summit of Rainier. We pondered on the greatest of the moment we were experiencing, tears filled our eyes over the greatness of God and his creations.  The weather could not have been more beautiful. Then off we went, amidst clear blue skies and a windless moment, skiing all the way down the 9,000 foot plus descent. It was an incredible experience in every way. Arriving back at the car in under 8 hours seemed robbery as we thought of the poor folks carrying their large packs up to Camp Muir to stay, as the post holed in the early afternoon corn snow. I guess they get to spend more time up there, while we, robbing our selves of more time on the mountain, were in a hurry to get back in the van and drive for 15 hours to get home. 

Will Hanson
The unveiling
Morning light
The dawn on Mount Rainier
Yep I'm pretty happy

The top
From the top, Baker in the Background

Lone Peak- Vertical Overhangs- July 6, 2019

"Entry to the cathedral is a holy experience, captivating the soul and the eyes, pulling me closer towards the perfectly sculpted granite walls, that cast a spell of grandeur and sanctity. The setting transcends ambition"- Chad Ambrose, Lone Peak, Utah

For years I have traveled into one of my favorite alpine sanctuaries around. It started when I was 16 years old when my three buddies and I tried to climb Lone Peak from the East. We got stymied at the great "notch." Unable to figure out a way around we descended down into bells and slept for the night. Vowing I would be back and that I would climb those west facing walls I saw out of those 16 year old eyes.

I've returned many times into the "cirque." Climbed several of the routes, which are some of my favorite, exposed lines we have here at home. One line that I never before had done, was the Triple Overhangs route. Ashamedly I had waited all these years. Nor had I climbed the Vertical Smile route. Both routes (5.10) lie on the main Summit Wall.  So, following a record-setting snow year in the Wasatch, with the mountain still full of snow, on July 6, 2019, Will and I left our car at the Jacob's at 630 AM and headed for the Cirque. Well below it the snow began, and crampons were needed just for walking. Upon entry, the walls began to speak, filling our souls with wonder.

No one was around, just us and the cathedral. The route looked pretty intimidating but awesome. Routes always look different on the day you are about to climb them. We left the packs in the cirque, saddled up the harnesses, rack (doubles to #2 and single #3, and a 70 M rope), pulled out the ice axes and front pointed up to the wall. The snow was rock hard, and steep, perfect for crampons. The sun started to peer around the wall, and the once cold granite warmed like a stone in a microwave. Will led the first pitch, I then led off up the crux pitch of the Vertical Smile, up the wild dihedral. Then I led the Triple Overhangs section as pitch 3. The overhangs were spectacular but the enjoyment was punctuated by the perfect hand crack to the end of the pitch. Both absolutely incredible pitches, each with distinct cruxes. The thin Dihedral on Vertical Smile is the harder of the two in my opinion. Will then led us to the summit.

The top was filled with snow as we then down climbed once more with crampons to the collin's highway rappel. The trip was topped off by a leap from the rock at the bottom of the rappel over a season bergshrund and sliding on our butts down to the packs.

Will excited and nervous as he kicks us off

Topping out on pitch 2 much steeper than it looks
Exquisite rock
Me heading up the Overhangs
Will hauling the heavy pack up top of Triple O's. Check out the lovely flower with the rope
Will nearing the top
Funny 70's like engagement photo. We are not engaged though, but we are on top.
Coming down Collin's Staircase with Question Mark wall to the right
The greatness stretched beyond us

Mount Teewinot, Grand Tetons, WY- July11, 2019

"Pushing toward heaven, the great towers have pierced the earth, heaved upwards as if God himself were manifesting to us all his own hand escaping the center of the world. Capped with white and robed in stone, the mighty Teton Range takes my breathe away even today, even after so many encounters and witnesses of its glory. It is here where I find myself, my soul is reunited with God and it is here where I discover who I really am." Chad Ambrose, Grand Tetons July 2019

Having climbed in the Teton range for nearly 30 years, I never tire from just sitting below them, staring into their faces and thinking of their beauty. I also never tire climbing on them. Owen, my youngest boy at 15 was ready to embark on his first Teton climb and so we started with the incredible Teewinot. This peak takes a swift and steep ascent from the east and delivers you to the smallest of all summit platforms in the Tetons. What makes it even greater, when you reach the summit, its the first time you see what lies behind to the west. As you summit, suddenly glacier gulch falls below you, thousands of feet and the Grand Teton's north face and Mt. Owen's east face simultaneously stare at you directly into your face. It's an incredible spot on the earth.

At 5:00 AM, Will, Owen and I started our hike upwards towards Teewinot. Still full of snow, the east face posed a fun challenging snow climb for Owen. We made good time. Using crampons, ice axes and a thin cord to keep Owen tied to me, we moved up through the technical snowfields, passing moats and climbing on the lovely rock. Just 500 vertical feet below the summit, nearing the final snowfield, Owen was spent. He was discouraged by the strain but so badly wanted to proceed. We rested for a few moments, fueled him up and after 10 minutes he was charged once again and powered his way to the summit of Teewinot. It's a 5,600 foot gain. As he touched the summit at 9 AM, his breath was taken away as the cold wind brought the icy temps of Glacial Gulch directly into his face. He loved it! We were so excited for him.  Fortunately the descent was swift and without incident. Welcome to the Tetons Owen.

At the Apex
Ready to roll up the snowfields

Amazing light

Moving up the fields
The rock!
My boy and I on the summit!

Will & Owen
Exposure explained and Mount Moran seen- Owen looking down into Cascade Canyon reminiscing of when he was young looking up here

Dihedral Minor, Haystack Peak, Wind River Range, WY- August 5, 2019

Like winter's white blanket laid over a far-stretched landscape, the granite encapsulates the land even as icy encrusts a contoured cake. With backbones like a massive mammal fallen to the earth with sunsets that rise over the vertebrae of rock, the mighty wind river range finds itself isolated and still unimpacted by man. Could there be a more lovely landscape?"- Chad Ambrose, Wind River Range, August 2019

Annually I take my sons with my brother and his son into the wilderness backpacking. We have our favorite locations. They are being more discovered by people, probably because of people like me that share experiences about them online. I should stop.  This year we backpacked in the winds.  Carson, my 18 year old son and I, during one of the days, took our climbing gear and climbed on Haystack Peak, the incredible Dihedral Minor route. 8 pitches of incredibly isolated climbing and a sweeping just off vertical face. It was incredible. We were out for a week and had an incredible time. This route was one of my favorites all year. Just he and I, alone on an incredible mountain from the bottom to the top.

The boys with Haystack looming in the background
Mighty Owen
Me and my sons
My brother Jeff
After a massive storm
The bugs were worse this year
Spectacular day
A few shots of the Dihedral Minor Route
Reaching the base

Pulling through 5.9 blank crux of pitch 2
One of my favorite shots this year. Carson topping out pitch 4

Haystack and Dihedral Minor

Carson on top of pitch 4
Sick rock indeed
Carson barrelling up to the top of the 200+ feet of the Dihedral
Carson leading us up the second to last pitch! Cruxy roof and about 1,300 feet below his butt
Pretty psyched
Grand Teton, Beyer 1 East Face- August 24, 2019

"Beyond words, beyond belief, is this for real? Those are the most amazing mountains I have ever seen. Hey Mr. River Guide, do people really climb that? Yes they do, my brother is on it right now"- A brief conversation I had while I was 13 years old while cruising down the snake river at the foot of the Grand Teton.

Each of the Tetons are incredible, with spectacular faces of stone, snow and the signature of God written all over them. Since 1990, I have climbed several different routes on each of them and with the classic lines becoming overcrowded my focus has been shifted to the lesser known routes.  My goal this season was to climb routes I never before had done. My eyes for some time have been drawn to a steep, buttress that makes up the east, southeast face of the Grand Teton housing popular characters like the Otter Body on its wall. With a direct, somewhat dangerous approach, the face smiles on the climber seeking adventure and solitude, boasting a solid Teton rating and pretty spectacular route. Will and I climbed this route together in August 2019. We left our car at 3 AM at Lupine and were on top around 11 AM. We then scurried over to the Enclosure Peak to sit in the holy ring of fire. We were back to the car around 4 PM. What was really neat was to run into Jim Beyer at the AAC Ranch. He did the FA of this bold route in the 70's! It was neat to talk it over with him. A wild man of the mountains, with wild eyes.

unique perspective of Teepee Pilar
Ropin up- time to roll
Will on the East Face
Splitter hand crack- steeper than it looks
Will on a sea of gneiss
Another morning light shot of Teepee
Another crux pitch
I forgot,  this pic was from the bottom of the route

A look at our friendly neighbors

incredible morning
Not bad rock

Top of Underhill Ridge and Grand summit above me
Guess where?
Lone Peak Lowe Route- August 31, 2019

It was great to get back into Lone Peak but this time it was to help get three close friends up the Lowe Route. Carson my 18 year old, Will H and Lars.  Marcie and Owen joined us on the lovely hike up to the Cirque. It was bone dry at the base of the route.  We all had a tremendous time. Carson and I were a team and Will and Lars were a team behind us. The three loved the route. How can you not! Marcie and Owen hiked out before we descended off the route. We did it in a 10 hour day.

Climbing gang
Marcie and her boys

Carson up high on the route
Lars loving it
Another shot of Carson

Will near the top
Besides these great days, there were many others that fill the recesses of my memory. They were three excellent seasons, shared with those I love and care about. I am always excited to meet new people and to spend time in the mountains with them. Here are some other pictures of some of the great routes we climbed on Spring, Summer and Fall of 2019.

Annie Smoot high on the Fin
Brian Smoot Spring Fin Travels
Carson high up on three or four of "Living on the Edge" route
Owen dwelling in the canyon
Brian Smoot leading high on the Thumb - Spring Fever (he did the First Acent of it many moons ago)

Top of Black Peeler Autumn Day!

The mighty Devil's Castle North Face
Brian high up on "Shadow of the Blade" on the Castle
Brian Smoot top of Pitch 2 of our First Ascent of "Out of the Blue" (5 pitches) on Surprise Buttress- August
The Thumb
Pitch 3 of Arm and Hammer
Will on A&H
The Holy Zion Curtain
Alex Ambrose high up on the Thumb
Selfies with Alex and I on the Thumb
Carson nearing the top of the "Guardian"
Summer slabbing in the summer evening warmth