Friday, December 11, 2009

First Tracks

The first days out on the snow hurt the legs but soothed the soul. Evan made a little video of our first days out at Valhalla Mountain Touring.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Goodbye Road Trip

My two month road trip ended in a flurry of climbing, a wedding in New York City, a Patagonia design meeting and a fantastic Thanksgiving with friends in Indian Creek.

A highlight of November was having my best buddy Mandoline Clark take a much needed break from her intense school schedule to meet me in Zion for a week. We climbed Shune's Buttress and Sheer Lunacy in Zion, skinny dipped in the Virgin River and generally caused trouble as usual.

I also dispatched a bit of a lingering climbing project that spilled over from my road trip last fall. Ruby's Cafe is a 12+/13- crack in Indian Creek that likes to chew your fingers up and spit them out unceremoniously. This year I sent with minimal gobies and maximum satisfaction.

Rather than bore you with the details of a whole month of excitement I will pass on the highlights with photos:

Mandoline on p1 of Shune's Buttress

Mandoline jamming splittersville on Shune's Buttress

Offwidth Queen Mandoline "scabby knees" Clark in Zion

Me and Mandoline a.k.a 'les femmebots' matching and psyched on the top of Sheer Lunacy

Family portrait, Evan's expression says it all

California Condor enjoying the scenery, Zion

Kate Rutherford and I on top of Angels Landing, spreading the CO2 gospel

Dickson's Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market, NYC. Your best source for local, sustainably raised cow, pig and poultry in the big apple. Jacob Dickson, my bro-in-law, presiding.

3 Generations of Stevens: Lee, Marty and Evan.

Evan's version of his sister Jen's wedding in New York

Lynn Hill, maybe you've heard of her? She was my roommate at the Patagonia Design Meeting in Moab. The woman climbs, parties and just is so much harder than I will ever hope to be.

The Rectum, I mean Rectory

Matty Segal trying to weasel his fingers into a mini crack

Jason 'high quality denim' Kruk two beers and one red bull in, getting psyched for whipper thirty on Air Sweden

Who says white men can't jump?

The following photos are actually good... because they were taken by a pro. John Dickey is an old friend and a great photographer and these images are his, taken on an Unnamed 5.11- route at Broken Tooth in Indian Creek.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Moonlight Buttress

Moonlight Buttress is an 11 pitch route that ascends an imposing red sandstone wall in Zion National Park, Utah. The climb is most popular as an aid route, due to its spectacular aesthetics and the relatively straightforward nature of the aiding. As a free route, Moonlight Buttress offers up pitch after pitch of sustained, quality crack climbing that demands endurance and the ability to writhe up cracks of all sizes, from thin fingers to awkward full-body flares.

The route begins with four ‘approach pitches’ to the business: an insecure and sandy 5.8, a 5.10c with some liebacking through a small roof, a techie 5.11c traverse, and a 5.10d thin flake to face climbing. These pitches spit you out at the infamous ‘Rocker Blocker’, a feature like the Boot Flake on El Cap, the Split Pillar on the Stawamus Chief, and the Harding Slot on Washington Column that exemplify the way climbers have created their own geography and nomenclature for the physical features that have meaning to us. The Rocker Blocker is a completely detached mini-bar sized block that teeters disturbingly on the apex of a blunt tower directly beneath the steep dihedral that comprises the midsection of Moonlight Buttress.

It is at the Rocker Blocker that the free climbing difficulties begin abruptly, with a reachy face climbing sequence and strenuous mantle to sustained finger locks and laybacking. If you are under 5’11” you may want to consider standing on your pack, the rope or a piss-soaked rock poached from behind the Rocker Blocker unless dynoing to sandy crimps is your forte. The next pitch is the technical crux of the route, and unfortunately for the belayer, begins off a steep, hanging stance. Climbers with bigger cajones than me (OK, it’s true, I don’t really have cajones) link the previous pitch into the crux, giving a 180’ super pitch of powerful laybacking with only a few stems and stances for respite. The crux pitch involves steep laybacking up the thin crack through a bulge: big moves between the sausage-finger friendly pinscars, or desperate tips-locks in between, take your pick. Stepping into the bottom of a shallow triangular slot allows a quick shake and a chance for your sweat glands to catch up and really lube things up for the subsequent 10 feet of heinous, flared, graceless groveling. Working out this section left me with some painful raspberries on my biceps and shoulders that several weeks later are still scabby and peeling. At the top of the flare you have to suppress the powerful urge to grab the tat on the three bolt aid climbing anchor and continue up 40’ of 5.11- climbing to the proper free belay under an imposing roof.

Time to pull the roll of tape out of the bullet pack, because from here on up the cruxiest climbing is going to be hard on your fingie skin. Some 5.8 chimneying past a bolt feels pretty reasonable until the chimney opens into a shallow dihedral and once again, it’s all about the laybacking. A long and skinny ledge provides the perfect opportunity for a real rest and a chance to take in the views of the Virgin River winding lazily through stunning rock formations. If you’re lucky like we were, you may even spy a giant California Condor using its 9’ wingspan to surf the updrafts. But don’t get too comfy because the remaining four pitches of the route are still looming overhead. The next section has to be some of the most aesthetic climbing I have ever done. A single finger crack with occasional footholds and shallow corner features splits the dead vertical headwall. The exposure is breathtaking owing to the location of the route on a steep buttress underlain by a roof. Three pitches of tight to rattly finger locks and occasional jugs brings you to the last pitch, where in typical sandstone style, the rock quality begins to deteriorate due to weathering. A few sandy slab moves lead to the summit mantle and a gnarly pine belay.

I first climbed Moonlight Buttress two years ago and performed terribly. My husband Evan ended up leading most of the hard pitches and I spent the whole day feeling intimidated and unworthy of such a route. However, as with most climbing projects, the seed was planted and I hoped that someday I could come back and climb the route in better style. A road trip in Utah this fall and a chance to climb with a committed, motivated and strong female partner allowed me the opportunity I needed. After spending several days working out the route with Jen Olson, we were left with one day before she had to head back to her job as a mountain guide in Canada. We swapped leads on the route, switching order at the crux so I could lead both the crux and the two big-finger pitches (she has pretty, feminine hands, while I have chubby sausage fingers). I whipped off the crux pitch on my first attempt, but lowered off the aid climbing anchor, cleaned my gear, pulled the rope and successfully lead it on my second go. I had previously sent all the remaining pitches, so had the mental advantage of knowing I was capable of climbing them. I held on tight for the rest of the route and managed to send.

Now I am left with one month of my road trip to go before heading back to Canada for the long and chilly ski season. I can only hope that the rest of the trip can offer some more of the high quality climbing and enjoyable adventures that my time on Moonlight provided.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The end of summer brought such a dizzying variety of activities and adventures that I hardly know where to begin. I jetted out of Squamish for the last week in August for a few days of quartzite climbing at the Back of Lake Louise along with a week of heavy-duty manual labour at Valhalla Mountain Touring to get ready for the upcoming ski season. The back of the lake schooled me big time, but I enjoyed the chance to learn a bit about climbing a new rock type and managed to get up Scared Peaches, a steep and beautiful 12a crack as well as a few super fun sport routes. Here are some shots from the back of the lake:
Evan milking a rest on the awesome arete, Dew Line 5.11c
Jen Olson on Where Heathens Rage, 12c

I was too busy wielding a shovel, brush saw or other implement of torture to take any photos at VMT. We built a new collection pond on Silveretta Creek for the hydroelectric system, improved the one on Ruby Creek, rebuilt a new house for the turbine and cleaned up the remnants of the old one (the house was pulverized by an avalanche in January), dug a new shitter hole for the staff accommodation (I'll take privacy over a flush toilet even if it has an icy seat!), brushed out the access to the Cariboo ski area, and brought up and stacked a whole winter's worth of firewood for the lodge, sauna and staff cabin. Whew! We even found enough time to pick a few huckleberries.

Following the work party at the lodge, I spent a few days at my Mum's place helping her with her bakery, Manna Organic Microbakery. She was preparing for the Hills Garlic Festival, and I helped her make around 150 croissants from scratch. Half were chocolate filled and half were savory, with roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, chevre and a mix of herbs from the garden. Yum!
Rolling croissants is hard work

...but the final result is worth it!

Bounty from my Mum's garden

September saw me back in Squamish finishing up the guiding season with a contract for the TREK outdoor program from a high school in Vancouver. Teaching these grade 10 students how to climb involved belay practice on the fence in their school, a viewing of the John Long classic video Rock Climbing Basics (worth it for the spandex and short-short bouldering shots alone), as well as a day in the smoke bluffs in Squamish. A few days of climbing around Squamish and a quick hit of surfing in Tofino with Evan's parents was all we could fit in before the rains began and it was time to head south in The Mountaineer, a small camper for the back of our truck and the newest addition to the family. Before we left I managed to tick The Ghost, a Petrifying Wall gear route that always intimidated me but turned out to be quite safe and super fun.

Benny at Chek, chalked up and ready to send The Fleeing Heifer

First stop on the trip was Smith Rocks, Evan's least favorite place to climb. We spent a two days of climbing on the tuff before we were driven out by a snow storm. I enjoyed (while Evan tolerated) the fun and techie Sunshine Dihedral and Take a Powder. Next it was a heavy 15 hour drive to St. George, where we clipped bolts for three days at the Cathedral Cave, Turtle Wall, and a few pitches in Kolob Canyon. Next stop, Salt Lake City for the American Alpine Club Craggin' Classic. The event involved food, drinks, parties, slideshows, clinics and a great chance to hang with other climbers. It was especially fun for me to reconnect with all the peeps I used to hang with in SLC when I lived there a few years back.

It felt like the road trip truly began when we scooped up our climbing partners Colin Moorhead and Jen Olson, and settled in for 8 days of climbing in Zion N.P. It was so nice to be in one place after so much travel. We even found a great Doggy Dude Ranch for Benny to spend his days while we tackled our multipitch projects.

Inspired by Kate Rutherford and Madeline Sorkin, the first women to free the route in all-female team style, Jen and I were psyched to try Moonlight Buttress. So far we have spent four days on various parts of the climb, including one day top-to-bottom. It's going really well, but tomorrow is our last day on it before Jen has to head back to Canada. That's the way it goes with multipitch projects, there's just no guarantees. Hopefully the heat will back off a little and it will all come together! Moonlight may be one of the most inspiring multipitches I have ever been on, and that's coming from a self-professed granite lover. I just feel so fortunate to have this time to play on such an amazing route.

Me on the crux pitch, just getting into the evil flare section

Jen patiently waiting at the rocker blocker as the 4-team cluster clears outs

Our friend Jesse Huey left us a heartening note on the wall
Jen on the upper headwall

View from high on Moonlight Buttress

Starting up one of the 12a fingers pitches on the upper headwall of Moonlight

Me on the send of the big fingies pitch on the upper headwall

Colin doing some recon using the new guidebook

What happens on rest days...

...stays on rest days!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Multipitch extravaganza

In the past week I had a brief respite from work and managed to bang out 3 great days of multipitch climbing with three amazing climbing partners.

Here is a video of our time on the Chief....

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Playing catch up

The glorious Squamish summer is passing by in its usual flurry of work, play, friends and adventures. Late June was marked by a rare and treasured visit from my sister Nyree. She is an avid mountain biker so we spent our time together riding in the pouring rain. I also had a great day on Southern Lights with Jen Olson. Paul Bride rapped in to was there to capture some pics of The Calling.

Early July came, accompanied by a flood of guiding work, a few rainy days, and some resulting time at Chek. I was excited to redpoint Heifer Down, a route that formerly fell into the category of "not my style" but somehow repetition, time and stubborness caused me to be proven wrong yet again. I also had a great afternoon out with Evan on Freeway. We left after work (climbing by 3) and managed to be home by a very civilized dinner time.

The next adventure of July was teaching a women's crack climbing technique course with Jen Olson and Kinley Aitken. The participants were wonderful, and one of them was even someone I took out climbing for her first time during my first summer of guiding. Here are a few of Jen's shots from the weekend.

Getting burly, slot-style

A glamorous day in the life of a rock guide

Is damage to your leg-modelling carreer included in the waiver?

Guides and participants celebrate in the Chief parking lot after a burly weekend of jamming, stemming, chimneying, chickenwinging, butt-scumming.... you get the picture

Next in the steady stream of July action was backyard shed building with my Dad and an awesome day of guiding a Mother-Son team up the Chief, followed by a beeline to Valhalla Mountain Touring where I spent a busy week of hiking guiding and cooking for a group of guests along with my Dad and my friend Rich Wheater who was snappin' pics of the hiking, the wildflowers and of course, Benny. I will include my amateurish portrayals of the week here, but check the VMT website in the next few weeks for Rich's pro-version.

Lunch break in the heather below Pyramid Peak
Dad and Benny chillin on Little Cariboo Ridge

Summiting Big Sister
On Big Sister with Shannon Lake in the background

Marvelling at the pallete of colours: painbrush, valerian, arnica, lupine, aster

Albino Paintbrush

Stopsign paintbrush

False Helibor up close and personal - grizzly bear food

The troups traversing from Cariboo and Shannon

Next stop was Revelstoke for a quick hit on the Keystone Standard Basin mountain bike ride with Dad, Rich and Rob, a Nakusp local and rider extraordinaire. Rich captured some great pics of the amazing, sinuous singletrack winding it's way through the alpine wildflower meadows with a rugged panorama of glaciated peaks in the Monashees as a backdrop.

Rich Wheater photo

Rich Wheater photo

Rich Wheater photo

Hiding from bugs at the sledder shack at the end of the ride. Rich Wheater photo

Forest fire at Galena as seen from the ferry

When I arrived back in Squamish, it was back to work for this girl, but not before I spent a day of urban-fringe-alpine climbing with Senja. We wanted to do something fun, but the 38 degree heat prevented us from getting psyched for any technically difficult rock climbing objective. After perusing the Alpine Select guidebook, we came up with an option with low-key logistics and high quality adventure: Widowmaker Arete on Crown Mountain, III 5.9. Depending on who you ask, this route is a 20 hour round trip death-defying choss heap or a 7 hour pleasant stroll up a straightforward alpine ridge. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our experience was closer to the latter, despite a full 7000' of uphill travel, black flies galore, and some seriously strong sun. Here are a few snapshots from the day.

5:30 AM at the bottom of the Grouse Grind, but wide awake and ready to suffer
Clutzy McClutzerton skidded out on a gravel-strewn boulderThe Widowmaker in all it's fearsome low-elevation fury

Sweaty and psyched on the summit

Back in the Grouse Mountain wilderness theme park, we stumbled apon these captive Grizzlies goin' at it to the amusement of a large, multicultural posse of tourists

Several precious days off were spent climbing University Wall with Evan. We had a great time on the route, and Evan completed his first continuous send of the entire climb on the same day that I redpointed the first and third pitches.

Following the second (crux) pitch

Well that pretty much brings things up to date. The only new things of note are that last night I was climbing Split Beaver in the Smoke Bluffs because my buddy Andrew Burr is in town and wanted to get some after-work pics in before the torrential rain began. I sweated and grovelling my way up the gaping maw as it baked in the evening sun, and relaxed just a little too much as I began palming the slopers at the top of the cliff. My knee slid down into a constriction and would NOT slide out. At first I tried some careful but by no means graceful extraction of my leg while still on lead, but to no avail. Then I tried pulling my leg out with both hands, but still no budgie budgie. Andy was laughing and happily snapping my grimace-faced portrait while Evan shouted up impatient, mosquito-plagued suggestions from the bottom of the cliff where he was belaying. After 5 minutes I could feel my leg swelling and images of John Howe leading the Squamish search and rescue with a gallon tub of Crisco and a winch plagued my thoughts. I really didn't want Operation Lard-Leg to be on the cover of the Chief next week, so I got Andy to pass me a loop of his static line and was eventually able to extract myself. Today my knee is a little bruised, but at least I didn't have to wither away in Split Beaver, allowing the next guidebook to read "once you clip the fixed femur, the difficulty abates as you mantle to the chains".