Matt and Joanne’s Page

August 31, 2008

Devil’s Tower

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 6:44 am

Our last stop in Wyoming was Devil’s Tower. When we first moved to Oregon 4 years ago we didn’t stop because we were in a hurry and the tower is an hour or so off I-90. Of course, now that we’re rock climbers, it would be very hard to drive right by it without a stop!

Devil’s Tower, from the campground. The campground was shady and relatively uncrowded: each site has lots of room to spread out.

The first pitch of the Durrance route. This is the easiest way to the top of the tower and by far, the most popular climbing route. Our first day here we showed up fairly early and there was already a line for this route. We couldn’t believe it: there’s somewhere around 200 established climbs on Devil’s Tower yet everyone flocks to this route. And, to top it off, the climbing on this route is not particularly aesthetic (lots of awkward climbing): we had more fun on pretty much every other route we climbed.

Joanne starting up the Bon Homme route. Looks like a nasty offwidth above but we took the popular Horning variation, stepping left into a more friendly, though bizarre, crack system. The cracks are a little hard to describe but I’ll try: The tower consists of tall columns abutting one another. Over time, erosion has opened up gaps between these columns and formed the cracks that climbers love. When three of these columns meet in a corner, there tends to be a double crack system which is a bit unusual: it’s much more common to have a single crack in a corner. Anyway, I guess I found this to be a bit interesting! It also made me start thinking about what’s holding these columns together: from all the rock debris around the tower you can see that many of them have fallen in years past.

Here’s Joanne on the summit of Devil’s Tower. The top is big and flat: you could easily play a game of frisbee up here! So the worst thing about climbing at Devil’s Tower are the other tourists you have to walk by on your way back to the car. I’m not joking when I say at least 7-8 different people asked us questions like “How long did it take to get to the top?” and “How do you get your rope down?” and “What’s it like on top?”. It’s fun to chat with the first couple people but by the time we’re 100 yards from the car we try a different strategy: talk amongst ourselves and avoid eye contact. But even these methods did not keep us safe from the masses…

The tower is the largest but not the only attraction in the park. There is a large and active prairie dog community on the drive in to the visitor center. Prairie dogs were always one of my favorite zoo animals so I had fun watching them doing prairie dog things.

August 29, 2008

Yellowstone

Filed under: Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 7:29 am

So after escaping cougars in the Tetons we drove North to Yellowstone for just one day. Yellowstone is a HUGE park and it takes a long ways just to drive through it. The only stop we made was, like many other visitors, at Old Faithful. Old Faithful was fun to watch but the real show was the huge number of nearby geysers and multi-colored pools. In a walk that was little over a mile long, we saw dozens of geysers, many of which were erupting.

I think this was called Sawmill Geyser. It wasn’t a particularly large geyser but it was so close to the walkway that it made me a little nervous. Picture this: boiling water shooting up into the air just 10 feet away from you. Then the wind started blowing towards us; fortunately, by the time the water reaches you, it’s cooled enough so it won’t burn.

The heated pools surrounding the geysers house many different types of bacteria (“extremophiles”) – these bacteria give the pools beautiful colors. Of course, they also make it risky to use the water for drinking or bathing.

The crystals around some of the pools almost make you think there is snow on the ground. But remember, this is the middle of August – it’s 90 degrees and there’s no snow anywhere in Yellowstone! We noticed lots of buffalo tracks and droppings on the ground near the geysers. In the winter, they hang out here because the geysers provide warmth. I wonder if a buffalo ever falls in to one of the pools!

The Morning Glory pool, named after the flower that it supposedly resembles. I say “supposedly” since I did a search for morning glory and they are not the same color as this pool. Nevertheless, the vibrant colors here create one of the most beautiful pools in Yellowstone.

A woman-eating geyser? Here’s another one that we got up close and personal with. The steam feels warm (but not hot!) on your face, and as you breathe you get whiffs of sulfur (tasty!).

Castle Geyser, shortly after an eruption.

August 28, 2008

(Mis)Adventures in Grand Teton NP

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 7:35 am

Alright, another national park! We originally planned on staying a couple weeks here but we cut our visit short…but we still had some interesting moments, including some close encounters with the local wildlife.

Mountain scenery…Mt Owen and its reflection in Amphitheater Lake. The hike to the lake is 5 miles one-way, but we took a more interesting approach by climbing a route from Garnet Canyon (Open Book) to reach this beautiful area. At the nearby Surprise Lake we saw a guy in a bathing suit – he hadn’t jumped in the water but I was curious if he ever did. The water must be pretty close to freezing.

Irene’s Arete is a pretty cool route, a definite classic with lots of great variations to pick. From campground, the arete is pretty prominent. The hardest crux 5.10a variation is really wild because you have to cross this gap that has lots of air underneath (reminds me a little like the Mace but not as extreme). The move is well-protected, balancy but quite easy for the grade.

Open Book on the other hand was harder to spot even though the guidebook made it sound so prominent. Nonetheless, we found the route quite easily following direction from the guidebook. The best pitch of this route is pitch 2 and definitely the crux pitch: a 5.8 layback followed by a very nice long, sustain finger crack, lots of stemming and great pro. The final pitch has an intimidating 5.9+ grade but the move is more like 5.8, kinda weird and definitely not the crux.

We camped for 3 nights in the Meadows, a beautiful area surrounded by big peaks. While there we climbed a few shorter routes (Irene’s Arete and Open Book, mentioned above), but our big goal was to summit the Grand Teton via Exum Ridge. The Grand is the high point in the park and from many views around the area is the most dominant point on the horizon.

Joanne climbing “The Black Face”, the crux pitch on Exum Ridge. We were in the shade all morning and it was COLD (there was even some ice on the approach to the route). So we climbing as fast as we could. The rock here reminds me of some kind of chocolate/vanilla ice cream swirled together. Yummy….

We climbed so fast we didn’t stop for any pictures until….the summit! I may have lost count but I think we passed about 4 parties on the Upper Exum Ridge and the whole Exum Ridge took little over 4 hours to climb.

(Joanne comment) We did the lower Exum in 3 pitches, linking p1 and 2, p3 and 4, p5 and 6 together using a 70m rope. Not sure I would recommend this unless you can tolerate lots of rope drag :). Pitch 5 is the weirdest because the pro is thin and the route is not as obvious; you have to make sure you follows the piton. I went a little off at first and was looking at long distance, steep bulge with no pro so I came back down and angle right and found the right way after that. It was a relieve when I saw the pitons.

Upper Exum is so easy that we simul-climb most of it, belay 2 short sections and then solo to the summit, passing parties most of the time. Almost to the summit, there was a guided party of 2 and the guide was belaying a woman on this super easy section and I saw fear in her, she was gripping the rocks so tightly. In comparison, here we came behind her, no rope, I wonder what she’s thinking at that moment. Anyway, I didn’t want to climb above her until she’s not directly above me because if I were her, I would never want a soloist to climb above me neither.

When we got to the summit, there was already a guided party of 4 there, hanging out. The guy who took this picture was with a guided group. We couldn’t believe people would pay $1000 (or more!?) to climb this peak, especially on the easier routes on the mountain. With $1000 you could not only buy all the gear you would need to climb the Grand but also probably take classes to learn how to use it. But I guess not everyone has the time (or interest) in doing that. We spent about 2 mins on the summit and started to head down. They were surprised that we were not hanging out there like them. I guess summit is just summit to us, not that big of a deal after so many summits. Sometime I wonder if we are starting to take things for granted and not taking time to appreciate the beauty of nature. Oh well…the way I see it if I’m only half way there and I can never relax until I get back to the bottom.

Safe and sound on the Lower Saddle. Exum Ridge is the prominent ridge above and slightly right of Joanne’s head. We originally planned on camping here the night before our climb but instead we stayed down at the Meadows. This meant we had a longer summit day but it would have been a huge pain in the butt to haul all our heavy packs all the way up to this point. Not to mention the potential of getting hit by lightning.

The AAC Climber’s Ranch: the best place to stay in the park. $12/night per person was a bit on the expensive side for us but included showers and a bed so we stayed here 2-3 nights. Plus it was mega convenient since it’s right near the main trail heads and ranger station. During the evening, everyone gathers at the cooking shelter, making for a much more social dining experience compared to the typical campground. And despite the name, you don’t need to be a climber to stay here (though many are).

So what about these wildlife encounters we’ve alluded to? Well, there’s buffalo, moose, and elf all over the Jackson area so most visitors will probably see one of these. And then when we were hiking down from the Grand Teton I almost ran into a black bear who was eating berries. He didn’t even look at me and kept eating even though I was just 10 feet away. Joanne didn’t want to go near him so we had to throw rocks in the bear’s direction (not AT the little fellow) to force him to run off.

But our most interesting (and scary) encounter was on our way to do the Grand Traverse, a long route tagging the summits of most of the major peaks in the Tetons. We set off in the dark at 3AM, heading up the forested slopes towards the East Face of Teewinot Peak. About an hour into the hike we were going up an endless number of switchbacks when we heard some large animal moving in front of us. We shined our headlamps in front of us and a pair of eyes lit up. We made some loud noises and after a few seconds it closed it’s eyes and moved off. We figured it might have been a moose or a deer so we continued on our hike.

We hit another switchback and started forward when we saw the same pair of eyes in front of us. We made a LOT of noise but this animal was just hanging out, watching us. Finally after shining our headlamps in it’s eyes for a minute or so, it turned away. Alright, I figured, that’s the last we’ll see of him (her?). But after hiking another switchback, the eyes were back, maybe 40-50 feet away. I was starting to get a bit annoyed and a little bit unnerved. And it was then, as we were shining our lights on it that I got a glimpse of it’s tan-colored coat that I realized maybe it wasn’t a moose or deer but something potentially much more dangerous!

I’m no wildlife expert so I still can’t say with 100% certainty that it was a cougar but the signs seem to point to it. It’s eyes were in the front of it’s head, definitely a predator. It’s possible it might have been a coyote but from the quick glimpse I got it looked much too large. Too bad our headlamps weren’t brighter to give a definitive answer: We shone our lights at it for a good 5 minutes or so without it backing away from us. By this time we were understandably nervous so I thought it might be best if we slowly back up, and find a safe place to stand (not sit!) until it the sun began to rise.

During this whole time, we were creating a huge ruckus by yelling and banging ice axes together so I can’t believe this animal wasn’t annoyed by the noise. I figure it was mostly curious: if a cougar meant to attack I’m certain we wouldn’t have had any warning at all. This all threw a bit of a wrench into our climbing plans. We lost well over an hour waiting for the sun to rise and this encounter took a bit out of our enthusiasm. Joanne thought it was some kind of omen so we decided to turn around and leave the Tetons that same day. Our next destination?….a quick stop to see the amazing geysers of Yellowstone!

August 24, 2008

A Couple Nights in the Wind River Range

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , , , — Matt Stamplis @ 7:25 pm

Our first stop in Wyoming was to spend a few days in the remote Wind River Range. This is definitely one of the most remote trailheads I’ve ever been to: from the town of Boulder, Wyoming, you drive East 30-some miles, the last 20 of which are dirt road. The dirt road was mostly decent but there were a few spots that were a little sketchy in our Civic: the last 10 miles of the drive took well over an hour to negotiate!

The weirdest thing is that after driving all this time into this remote wilderness, you suddenly emerge in this parking lot that is filled with cars. I counted over 100 cars while we were sitting! Hard to imagine so many people visit this place but I saw license plates from at least a dozen states. This is apparently grizzly bear country but we didn’t see any evidence of bears: I don’t know how badly they would want to hang out some place with so much human traffic.

To get even further away from civilization, we hiked 9 miles from the trailhead to reach the Cirque of the Towers, a beautiful alpine valley surrounded by steep granite faces. This is a very popular area: it’s easy to spread out in the cirque but if you start walking around you’ll probably stumble upon tents in every direction. Our plan was just to stay 2 nights and climb the classic routes Wolf’s Head and Pingora; most people hike in and stay at least a week. The long ridge directly above Joanne’s head is Wolf’s Head and to it’s right is Pingora.

When we get to our camp site, we were scouting for the NE Buttress route and from our angle, Matt said none of the routes look like it. We didn’t have any guide book on the area and our beta was pretty minimum. So instead of doing Pingora on the first day, we decided to do the Wolf’s Head first and scout the Pingora later.

As usual we woke up early and hiked in to get to the base at 5.30am. However, half way during the approach, Joanne realized she forgot her Ipod (our only beta information was loaded in it) so I had to turn around to get it. Even with this delay, we managed to start around 6.15am. Wolf’s Head is a really cool classic climb where you mostly traversing the ridge (lots of feet traverse and mostly easy low fifth class). This is a definite must do route. Unfortunately we forgot the camera so we have no pictures at all which is really too bad because there are many picture perfect moments, oh well….The descent for this route however is not that enjoyable with lots of loose rock section; small price to pay for such a fine climb.

The next day we did the NE Buttress route. Getting to the general area of the climb is pretty easy but finding the first pitch to get to the real fun stuff is pretty tricky. We ended up too high on the route and Joanne had to downclimb a few times to finally get to the 5.8 slab section (this is pretty wild because leader is looking at a pretty wild pendulum swing if fall, but once the move is made, there’s a sling to clip to protect the second). (Joanne comment) I think I took a while making the moves here, no hand, no feet, purely smearing, with scary pendulum potential. I was pretty relieved when I clipped that sling. The rest of the climbs are pretty easy and enjoyable, following obvious crack (even though we were not 100% sure we were on route until when we completed the crux pitch :)). The descent for this route is very easy and quick.


Joanne leading the crux pitch on the Northeast Buttress, Pingora.


Hooray! Posing on the summit of Pingora, after climbing the Northeast Buttress.

The Wind River Range is one of the most beautiful areas we’ve visited and certainly one of the most unique mountain ranges in the United States. I can’t think of any other similar range in the United States that is NOT a National Park. I think it might be a bad thing, though, to change this: making the Wind Rivers a National Park would increase visitation in an area that probably doesn’t need anymore abuse. We packed our waste out and would encourage other visitors to do the same to try to keep this area as pristine as possible.

One more thought: the mosquitoes here can be a nuisance. They weren’t out of control but I was sleeping in a bivy sack that doesn’t close completely so they kept flying into my nose while I tried to fall asleep: I would definitely bring a mosquito net next time!

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