Tuesday, May 10, 2011

To the Ruth Gorge and back

[Apologies for the re-post - blogger is decisively the worst online software I have ever worked with - it deleted the post and messes with your formatting all the time)

Lessons in defining success

After 2 years of negotiations and raising nearly $1 million in funds to conserve a thousand acre property, we awaited a signed purchase agreement, only to discover that, instead, the landowners went under contract with a developer to parcel out their land amidst some of the best salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest. Who ever thought salmon could bring someone to tears? Well, it did, and it was an important lesson in land conservation. Just the same as the countless scores of alpine attempts, “takes,” and minor injuries which fill our climbing lives with erratic waves of success and failure.

But what really defines success in the mountains? How can we justify decisions to bail or head back and yet carry a lingering feeling of regret? How do we slay the ego-centric dragon and focus on real “success” – personal growth and learning, coming home in one piece, two weeks with one of your best mates?

Late in the afternoon, nearing the summit ridge on the Northeast Face of Dickey, Graham reaches an impasse out of my view from the belay. After a short discussion, we proceed to bail and make 7 raps on a series of pitons, nuts, flakes and snow bollards. GZ never felt so good about the decision he made – no other thoughts got in his way.

On our attempt of Barrill, another snow storm, avalanche, and above-freezing temps send us back to the safety of basecamp. With an inversion over our heads and a forecast of unsettled weather, we retrieve our fixed line the next day and take the next weather window to fly out 3 days early. Graham was comfortable about the decision; I was sad to leave. Yet, on my shuttle back to Anchorage, Graham called to tell me about the serac that slid into the Root Canal basecamp from Mooses Tooth and killed an unfortunate climber from Texas. “Those mountains were the most dangerous I’ve ever seen them,” said Graham.

I was beginning to understand. Chris’ copy of The Rock Warrior’s Way frayed at the edges as I flipped through its pages at camp and Ilgner’s words of wisdom filtered through to my subconscious. The lessons learned here will carry forward to my projects back home. “Joy Ride” will be just that, not a nemesis. After ten years of climbing, the lessons and learning are just as vivid and real as my first scramble or first trad lead. It’s the journey, not the summit or the redpoint, that we need to embrace.

Alaska was an incredible experience. Our trip was a success. Graham and I climbed some amazing, high quality pitches of ice, mixed, and snow. We took calculated risks and acted out our decisions confidently and efficiently. We climbed strong and threaded together some mentally and physically challenging pitches. We chowed down on “deancakes” and burritos while listening to solar-powered ipods. We shared quality bro time together. And I learned just how small we are compared to the expansive Ruth Glacier and its 3,000 to 5,000 foot faces. Graham and I started our adventures together over ten years ago and we have both grown and come back together as stronger people and climbers.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the trip. For the complete photo journal, visit:

(copy and paste link if it does not work)

At Talkeetna Air Taxi, GZ carting over half our 461 lb load of gear and food

Landing in Rick's Beaver ski plane

On a scouting trip to see whats in - so close yet so far


Cheers from basecamp! Barrill on the left

The Mooses Tooth

Our attempt of a potential new line on the NE Face of Dickey

Starting up a beautiful runnel of ice

More fun terrain

GZ topping out a short step

GZ backstepping up a narrow v-slot

Me topping out the v-slot below

A couple pitches later, GZ negotiated up some runout M5+ only to find a 30ft blank section with no pro and a loosely consolidated snow mushroom above. We bailed and a snow storm came in for the next 4 days.

Happy Easter from the Ruth Gorge! Bradley plastered in fresh snow

Our attempt on the NE Face of Barrill

GZ belaying the first pitch

Inching up the narrow M6 squeeze chimney

The chimney ate up so much time that we opted to fix a line and come back the next morning ready to send!

Graham starting up a beautiful pitch of tiered ice

Another thin vertical step

The crux of the climb - a vertical arete of rock plastered with dollops of ice. Just at the top, with his head above the lip, an avalanche hit, pounding Graham with snow, ice, and rock for a good 20 seconds as he held on 15 feet above his last stubby screw.

Me on the next pitch of snow and ice

With warming temps and greater snowfall, we called it a day and wrapped down

Graham prepping another meal of salami burritos

Our fellow basecamp buddies, Andrew and Claudine

With unsettled weather and an inversion, we opted to fly out early

Parting shot - we'll be back to the Ruth for sure!

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