I left Huaraz, Peru on August 18. Our seven-week trip there was successful and included tons of rock climbing, mountaineering, and technical alpine climbing, but more importantly it seems that Vitaliy and I don’t hate each other yet. My evidence for this is that we have a couple of Yosemite trips planned already for the fall, though I will note that he bailed on the soonest one because of “work.”
There were no first ascents on our trip, as I’d hoped there would be, but there were so many amazing climbed routes in the area that I felt it made sense to stick to them. Doing a first ascent in the Cordillera Blanca would be awesome, but it would be like going to Yosemite for the first time as a 5.11 climber to put up new routes instead of repeating the historic and incredible classics. To me it was more important to climb three established routes in the same time it would take to approach, scope, attempt, and maybe re-attempt an unclimbed one. Climbers romanticize first ascents, but at this point in my climbing career I have more to learn than I have to give.
I learned a lot on this trip to Peru. I learned that my excitement and motivation for climbing changes; that climbing partnerships require the same due diligence as life’s other important relationships; that my endurance and stamina–for hiking and climbing, at least–last as long as my wakefulness; and that when circumstances conspire I am strong. I learned that it’s possible to climb 6000m peaks even when you have to dry-heave or drop your harness to poop every hour. There’s a less literal truth to that lesson as well, but the literal lesson was the important one given the frequency of my gastrointestinal issues. I learned how to be strong when my partner wasn’t (which was rare!), and when to swallow my pride when our roles were reversed. I learned that my friends and family at home would worry when I wouldn’t email them quickly after climbs. I learned dirty words in Russian.
Speaking of Russian, I met an awesome Russian in Tuolumne earlier this summer and she offered to pick me up from the airport in Seattle and take me to Squamish after Peru. It was hard to say no to that! She writes about the random circumstances of our meeting in a blog entry which for some reason she calls “Hazing.” I planned to arrive in LA on August 19, eat with Dennis and my parents, then fly to Seattle the next day. I enjoyed a run too–it was super inconvenient to find a place to run in Huaraz, so I’ve been on a couple-month hiatus. My 22,000 ft acclimatization made it surprisingly painless to crank out 6 miles at a 6:30 min/mile pace, which isn’t bad for an out-of-running-shape non-runner, I think.
An otherwise boring bunch of flights from Lima to LA to Seattle were interrupted by some cool mountains. Above Mexico City I spotted the famous Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, the former spewing smoke as usual. There is a cute native star-crossed lovers story which explains the origin of these mountains. Though I looked for San Jacinto and San Gorgonio on the flight north, the LA basin was covered in clouds and they weren’t visible. I was treated to a fantastic view of Yosemite the next day, though, and of Mt. Saint Helens and Rainier farther north.
Natalie picked me up at Seatac that afternoon and I spent the night at her parents’ place. Although I’d packed earlier than usual the previous night and actually had time to spare in the morning, I woke up early to set up my new portaledge so it could stretch while I was at Squamish. The damn thing is so taut that it took two people with a rubber mallet forty-five minutes to assemble it on terra firma. Apparently they make them tight to keep the bed usable through a long life. That’s a great engineering decision if you ignore the necessity of packing a rubber mallet on your ledge’s maiden voyage. Anyway, the point of that was that I was tired and slept through breakfast. I felt bad about that because I couldn’t even say thanks to Natalie’s parents!
OK, fast-forward to the Canadian border. Natalie’s (mom’s) car seemed to have registration for every year since 2005 except the one that mattered. Some scrambling later we managed to convince border control that we weren’t smuggling cocaine (or coca leaves) into the country and they let us through. We cragged that afternoon at Smoke Bluffs then met LeRoy at his incredible townhouse on the water in downtown Squamish. LeRoy let us stay with him for a few days until he had to return to LA, and it was an awesome few days.
Let’s start with the first full day in Squamish. Well, “full” is a bit of a misnomer–though I woke up at the relatively alpine time of 6 am I spent the next couple of hours cooking omelettes and pancakes. I’d kind of hoped that LeRoy would join us, but he noted that my breakfast looked “heavy” and that he preferred juice and tea instead. I guess my usual strategy of thanking people with food wasn’t going to work. Natalie and I ended up with a lot of food to eat that morning, which wasn’t optimal given that we were about to hop on a long 5.11a classic on The Chief. We wasted a little more time when I insisted that I get coffee before our climb; I’m not above pooping on classic routes, as Vitaliy well knows, but as this was my first multipitch with a new partner, and as I expected a few more parties on this route than on various 6000m peaks in the Andes, I wanted to smoke the critter out.
The route we did was Grand Wall, which can be freed at 5.13 but is usually done at 5.11a A0. Natalie had never aided before, but since my first time aiding was to a 3000m needle in the Alps coached by my mostly French-speaking belayer, I figured that the vastly more talented Natalie would have no problem rope-gunning me up the bolt ladders. She led the first four pitches, which go at 5.8R, 5.8R, 5.10b A0, and 5.10b. Her last pitch was the famous splitter “Split Pillar.” I led the following four, which are 5.11a A0, 5.11a, 5.10a, 5.10c. The first pitch is the awesome “Sword” pitch, and the second is the heinously strenuous albeit bolt-protected “Perry’s Layback.” The climb was fantastic, and the descent along the aptly-named “Bellygood Ledge” was reminiscent of the awesome Thank God Ledge on Half Dome.
The next day my forearms were fried from all the laybacking on Grand Wall, so we declared it blackberry day. I picked up some butter from Save-On, cut it into cubes, and stuck it in the freezer to get it ready for pie crust. We commandeered a couple of bowls from LeRoy’s kitchen and walked outside to fill them with fresh blackberries; we didn’t have to walk far to find bushes full of them. Anyway, long story short I made a pie from scratch. It wasn’t too shabby! As the dough cooled in the fridge we walked to the nearby Smoke Bluffs and climbed a 10d called Crime and Punishment. To a suburbanite native Angeleno it is wildfires and not blackberries which define summer, so this bluebird, berry-filled, freshly-baked pie day was as close to fairy tale perfect as I imagine summer can get. What an awesome day.
Hari, who I met in Chamonix four years ago and who’s climbed many a huge mountain since we hiked Mont Blanc back then, joined us the next day. I wanted to check out some routes on The Apron, which is a broad, tall slab under The Chief, so I climbed “Calculus Crack” (6p, 5.8) solo then joined them later at Smoke Bluffs. I was just in time to watch Natalie–who has been climbing for 1.5 years and trad climbing for less than one–almost onsight the famous finger crack Crime of the Century (5.11c). I climbed an adjacent route then called it a day. The next day I climbed a bit more with those two and soloed Diedre (5p, 5.8) and St. Vitus’s Crack (5p, 5.9). I also met a couple of Natalie’s friends, who were super cool. Eugene and I climbed a 5.9 above Memorial Ledge, which was noticeably harder than any of the 5.9 pitches on St. Vitus’s Crack.
The next morning Hari and Natalie left for the Bugs. Alpine psyche is a conserved quantity, so I stayed in Squamish for the sunny cragging, solo aid practice, and running. In hindsight I should have looked at the forecast before making the decision to stay; as soon as they left I found out that it would rain for the next week. Desperate to climb more before the rain set in early the next morning, I read my Silent Partner manual, racked up, and left my hostel at 10 pm for the 2.5 mile walk to The Chief. I rope-solo-led the first pitch of Exasperator (5.10a), which was probably not the best climb on which to discover that my Silent Partner doesn’t play nice with my rope. Hopefully I’ll figure out a way to use it effectively; a wonderfully generous SuperTopo member, Derek, sent it to me for free. He wouldn’t even let me pay for shipping! Anyway, I returned to the hostel at 4 am and slept in until 11, when I looked outside to find sunny skies. Tony and I went climbing at Nightmare Rock that afternoon.
Speaking of hostels, I’m staying at a sweet place called Oasis. It’s a little austere–the living room is actually a meditation room and the beds are as hard as plywood–but I love the owners and Yulin makes a great breakfast and an unbelievable supper. Last night we had homemade sushi and noodles. Given that no one reads this blog I’m not getting a discount for the review–go stay at their place!
Anyway, for the last couple of days I’ve been out cragging with Tony, Chalu, et al. I finally met the infamous Alix Morris, who ran up The Nose with Vittles back in March, and the crappy weather’s about to give way to a fine weekend, after which it looks like it might crap out again. Maybe I’ll go to Leavenworth on Sunday, where it’s usually dry. Anyway, yay! Coffee, random friend encounters, annoying stuff falling from the sky, brutally offwidth-scarred calves… Squamish!