Monday, July 23, 2012

A Weekend in the Valhallas: Mount Bor and Urd Peak

Mount Bor

Mount Bor lies on crenelated ridge north of Black Prince (unmarked on NTS 82F13) and, on the map, has the appearance of a couple of bat ears with a slightly higher (8 metres) southwestern peak, while the lower northeastern peak sports the name on mapsheet 82F13. In late June 2007, three of us climbed the higher southwestern peak as a day trip from the Drinnon Lake trailhead. For many years, I'd been intending to go back and tag the lower northeastern peak, but time, conditions and other constraints delayed my return by five years.

In late July, 2012, in a brief period of clear weather between massive rain events, three of us again hiked into Gwillim Lakes on the well-maintained BC Parks trail. The campground at Gwillim was either under water or under snow and completely deserted - apart from marmots. After a quick break we crossed the two outlet creeks from Gwillim Lakes on a solid snowbridge (first) and wet rocks (second). On the north side of the lakes, a rough trail leads up to the upper Gwillim Lakes and is most commonly used by scramblers heading for the south ridge of Lucifer Peak. We followed this trail to the upper basin, then some boulder hopping for 60 metres or so led to nice solid snow that took good steps all the way to the Black Prince-Lucifer col. 

Heading up to the Lucifer-Black Prince col

On the north side, after a quick easy snow descent of perhaps 180 metres, we found a relatively level gravel/slab platform beside a creek and made camp. The weather was somewhat gloomy but no thunderstorms seemed imminent so we headed up towards Mount Bor. The only guidebook for the area, has one recorded route which makes no sense "walk up the east face, use the northeast ridge at the top." The east face, however, is clearly not a "walk" and there is no "northeast ridge". So, as is usual in this part of the Kootenays, the best thing to do is ignore the guidebook description and work out your own route.

Alanna not only wanted to climb a snow couloir that led to the west ridge but also wanted to kick all the steps. Both Doug and I are only too happy to let the youngsters do the hard work so quickly agreed and we all hiked up easy snow slopes to the base of the couloir where Alanna, panting like a happy puppy, behind me, asked "May I?" "Of course," said I, graciously relinquishing the step kicking. 

We climbed the couloir on the left

Alanna blasted up the couloir to the ridge while Doug and I were merely sucked behind in her wake. The west ridge is rather loose, and has two towers of shattered rock perhaps 70 metres apart. The easiest route follows the ridge for a short distance - one class 3/4 step - then traverses on ledges on the south side below the first shattered tower until it is easy to scramble to the top. On top of the first tower, the second tower looks higher (both towers have cairns) and contains the summit register, so undoubtedly, like us, you'll feel the need to climb it too. The easiest route to the second tower is to scramble along ledges on the south side to the base of the final tower, then pick a line and climb to the top - another short section of class 3/4. 

Ledges on Mount Bor

We hung out on the second summit until the cold wind chased us down. We toyed with the idea of descending the west ridge to the col between the northeastern and southwestern summits of Bor, but the short descent from the col to snow slopes below looked desperately loose so we decided to climb back down the couloir. Although we had to face in, with Alanna's super steps, this was quickly achieved and we boot-skied back to camp.

Our campsite, while scenic was quite cold with katabatic winds blowing down from the snowfields above us so we were all snug in our tents soon after dinner. 

Alanna dwarfed by the big cliffs near camp

Urd Peak

Next day we got up at 6 am, and left camp just after 7.00 am for the long walk to Urd Peak. Heading slightly north from camp we descended classic glacier polished slabs weaving our way between snowpatches, short steps and wet slabs until a good snow slope led all the way down to Rocky Lakes some 300 metres below. We passed around the eastern side of Rocky Lakes so we did not need to contend with the outlet stream and wandered on a pleasant mixture of firm snow and meadow to the larger Hird Lake. We took a chance and passed Hird Lake on the east finding a good log jam crossing of the outlet stream. Beyond Hird Lake, we wandered a short distance through an avalanche decimated forest of knocked down and flag trees until a grassy slope led up to a prominent snow ramp. Contouring east on this snow ramp, we reached a snowy draw that led up to a col below the west face of Urd Peak.

Alanna and Doug with Urd Peak still far in the distance

The guidebook description for Urd Peak "a grassy slope walk from the west" is accurate enough although it's a steep grassy walk and features more loose rock than advertised. Nevertheless, it is easy and within half an hour of leaving the col we were on the summit, which sports a massive cairn but no summit register. There is an interesting and somewhat unfamiliar - as you are looking south instead of the more usual north - view of the Devils Range from the summit as well as far reaching views to the Monashees to the north and, closer in, the Valkyrs to the west. 

The Devils Range

Conscious of the distance we still had to travel back to camp and back to the truck, we stayed only 30 minutes on the summit before retracing our steps back down to Hird and Rocky Lakes. Climbing the 300 metres uphill to camp felt hot in the sun, but, by the time we got to camp, grey clouds were billowing over Black Prince and we hastened to pack up the tents.

Alanna kicked another great swath of steps up the snow slope to the Black Prince-Lucifer col and we glissaded as much as possible on the route back down to Gwillim Lakes. Our snow bridge had melted completely away so both outlet creeks were crossed on wet rocks, and we blasted down to Warlock Lake, back up to Drinnon Pass, and, over-taking what seemed like hordes of day hikers, we made it out to the truck three hours after leaving camp. Had I not been trying to keep up with iron-legs Alanna, I suspect I would have gone much slower.

Doug and Alanna on the Black Prince-Lucifer col

Alanna had stashed three bottles of BC apple cider in the creek and I downed mine in one large gulp. Doug, who was driving, wisely refrained, as after a long day hiking with not that much food I felt almost instantly tipsy. Driving back, Alanna happily polished off two bottles in the back of our truck and entertained us with stories of her various climbing exploits on the way home. 

Urd Peak from Rocky Lake

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pain Is Pleasure

Lately I've been mulling over a couple of related blog posts. In the first, Justin Roth muses on the "too cool to care" attitude, where people, - although he is specifically referring to climbers the notion could extended to any athletes - "closet train", and make little of their achievements because it is uncool to care. In the second, Bill Ramsey explicates his philosophical view on what he dubs "the pain box" and the "pleasure box."

To me, the key concept that both blog posts share is the idea that to improve at your sport you need to make some deposits into the pain box - train hard, forgo social occasions, watch your diet, scare yourself silly, push hard - in order to withdraw some pleasure - sense of mastery, achievement, satisfaction - from the pleasure box.

In an ironic twist, I think I've got the pain and pleasure boxes transposed. I love training and have serious withdrawal symptoms if I go more than a day without a "beat down" workout. Training hard, theoretically, should be making deposits into the pain box, so that later, I can go out climbing, climb well and make a withdrawal from the pleasure box. But, as I'm discovering, if you make too many deposits to the pain box, in the form of too many hard workouts (particularly without adequate refueling and rest), you're so burned out and fatigued that, when you do go out climbing, your performance is actually worse.

To get strong, as the trainers repeatedly tell us, you must rest. Theoretically, rest should be neutral, neither a deposit nor a withdrawal. For confirmed exercise junkies, however, rest most assuredly is a heavy deposit to the pain box.

After climbing this 8 pitch route, I went into the gym
 for a workout. Smart, no, addicted, yes

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bad Bolts and Home-Made Hangars

On a recent climbing trip to SpringMountain we encountered some routes equipped with old home-made hangars made from angle iron. You still see these super-dodgy hangar/bolt combinations with surprising frequency. We took one look at the hangars and - with no natural protection available - immediately decided we would not climb those routes.

As surprising as it may be to find climbs still equipped with this type of hardware, the fact that people even consider leading these routes is even more surprising. While we were standing beside one climb equipped with home-made hangars, at least three different parties came past, and, had we not pointed out the unreliable nature of the hangars, all three parties would have launched a leader up onto the route.

Home-made hangars break under small loads, so, if you really want to climb a route equipped with this type of protection, don't fall. 

Clipping solid bolts at Smith Rock, Oregon

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Don't Run Away

For the last two years, we've climbed, in early summer, at a little crag in northeastern Oregon called Spring Mountain. This andesite crag is about 0.75 km long and 30 metres high and features a hundred or more climbing routes with a pretty even mix of sport and traditional climbs. The climbing is generally steep and smooth. There are some bomber incut holds but more often you'll find yourself on little crimpers, slopers or flat holds. Compared to granite, friction is much less, and you get none of the big jugs and handles that patinaed granite and sandstone features. Compared to other areas I"ve climbed - which now covers most of the Western US and Canada - the grades are on the hard side, but, they are relatively consistent. A 5.8 at Spring will feel like a 5.9 elsewhere, generally.

The thing I find about climbing at Spring is, that the routes require all kinds of different techniques and moves, and, at least for me (and I know for others who have climbed there) you can get kinda worked over. After three consecutive days of climbing there, I was so tired that the 5.7's were starting to feel hard, and 5.10's had become darn near impossible. So, if you are a grade chaser you might be humbled.

But, what you shouldn't do is run away. I've known folks leave Spring Mountain after only a day of climbing to go somewhere else where the climbing is easier. Which, in a way is kind of perverse, because most people will tell you they climb because it challenges them, yet, when they actually get challenged they retreat.

You might take a few falls, you might get really tired, you might even find yourself demoralized (I speak from personal experience), but, if you can stick it out, the experience will be better for your climbing in the long run. We learn the most when we are challenged the most. Endlessly climbing easy routes or running laps on routes you have memorized move by move doesn't propel your climbing forward. Learning new ways to tackle problems, trying different body positions, climbing routes that do not favor your strengths, these are the things that lead to concrete improvements. Remember, the old adage: that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Working away on a 10a/b

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Numbers Game

I'm not sure how many climbers are motivated by grades, but I certainly know some climbers whose climbing is all about grades. While I can completely appreciate the desire to improve at climbing - or whatever endeavour you are pursuing - I find the obsessive compulsion to climb at a certain grade detrimental to improving performance.

These are the people who thrash and flail their way up a route, of whatever grade, declare it climbed, and then move on to the next thrutch-fest. Apart from ingraining poor control, footwork, body positioning, etc., it's not clear to me how this improves your climbing. I guess, you could, at a stretch, say "Oh yeah, I climbed 'Triple X Route, rated 13c' - or whatever", but, did you really?

One of the benefits of climbing as poorly as I do, is that you just don't care about grades. 5.4, 5.7, 5.10, it's all the same to me. Either I enjoy climbing the route because it feels easy, or I enjoy climbing the route because I had to work at it. I'll work hard to complete a route, but, I won't endlessly thrash on one that is clearly too hard for me. Climbing out of control, as one does when thrashing, is not something I want programmed into my schema of movement. I'd much rather lower off and let someone else have a go. 

Having Fun at Prophesy Wall in St. George, Utah

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beating The Heat

On our recent climbing trip to City of Rocks and Castle Rocks temperatures were in the low to mid 30's every day. Add to this the heat of the desert sun radiating off the rocks, the crags, the ground, even yourself, and you have some pretty hot climbing conditions.

Our tactic was to get up at 6 am, have a quick breakfast (paleo, of course) and head out to start climbing by 7.30 to 8.00 am (depending on how far we had to walk to the crag). We would climb until it got too hot, which, depending on the day, varied between noon and 3.30 pm, and then walk back - in the heat of the day, unfortunately - to hide in the shade at camp.

Amazingly, we saw relatively few other climbers doing this. In fact, in the couple of weeks we spent at City/Castle, we only encountered other early climbers twice. On one particularly memorable Saturday when temperatures were well into the mid-30's and there was no breeze, we started climbing at 7.30 am and quit at noon, when temperatures were intolerable. As we staggered back to the parking area, dizzy with heat, we were astonished to pass dozens of other climbers heading out to start their climbing day.

Not only do your hands and feet have less friction with the rock when climbing in these ultra-hot temperatures, it's just plain unpleasant to be sweating and greasing your way up a pitch in the baking sun. I won't say that getting up day after day at 6 am made for a relaxing vacation, as it certainly didn't (particularly as it was so hot it was hard to sleep at night), but, compared to the alternative, it certainly made sense. 

 Early morning on top of Lost Arrow Spire

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Escaping The Rains

While the Interior of BC, and, in fact, much of BC, soaked in record June rainfalls, Doug and I headed south for a rock-climbing trip and, instead of going moldy from too much rain, got baked by too much sun.

First stop was Q'emlin Park, a kind of mini Skaha climbing area in a sizeable city park in Post Falls, Idaho where we climbed for a day. The rains, however, chased us south, so we drove a full day south to Boise, and spent two days climbing on the steep basalt columns of the Black Cliffs. Continuing south we drove through the tiny town of Almo to City of Rocks and Castle Rocks, two of the best granite sport climbing areas in the USA.

We stayed almost two weeks, climbing just about everyday. The heat, however, was intense and climbing days started with an early morning wake-up at 6 am so we could climb before it got too hot. Walking back in the scorching heat of the day was energy sapping.

Worn out by the heat, and maybe too many back to back climbing days, we headed north, stopping to climb at Spring Mountain in northeastern Oregon for three days. The climbing at Spring is steep and sustained, and, after three days, the fatigue and the northward migrating heat chased us back to Canada. Driving home past Taghum Beach Park, just down the hill from our house, a black bear strolled across the road - welcome to Canada. 

Doug on the uber classic Wheat Thin