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    Tower Town

    By Bill Amos

    In 2011 Tyler Adams called me raving about a group of ultra-chossy towers outside of Crooked River Ranch in Central Oregon. Tyler was always psyched to climb the most rotten and unappealing rock, so a group of us headed out. That day Tyler led the second ascent of the Eagle's Claw, definitely the most aesthetic tower in the area, via a new route. The A4X route included 30 feet of small beaks pounded into diminutive seams with ground fall potential. I was able to clean most of them with a light tug. 

    We intended to re-visit Tower Town together and shoot some more video, but before we had the opportunity to, Tyler was killed when the small plane he was piloting crashed. We put together this short video of that day. You can read more about Tower Town on Tyler's blog.

    Still photos are courtesy of Matthew Van Biene, Michael Layton, Scott Robertson and Nate Tack. Dan Gaston gave a patient belay.

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    Chris Kalman Goes Ice Climbing

    Everything was still, and quiet save for the clinking of ice screws against one another, the grind of crampons and tools scraping on rocks, and a few birds chirping in the early morning light.  Then there was a “whooooosh” and then my head was in my hands, and I was cursing, and I still wasn’t sure why.  At the time, the seconds that ticked away felt like long drawn out minutes.  I went through a mental checklist as I reconstructed the events.  Alert and oriented?  Check.  Breathing? Check. No bleeding out of gaping head wounds?  Check.  Partner wide-eyed and concerned, asking if you are alright between expletives?  Check.

    Okay, so I was fine.  I took a baseball sized rock to the head, but I was wearing this badass helmet (this is not an ad for the Petzl Sirocco - but that is an awesome helmet), and the my head and helmet escaped unscathed.  A diligent EMT may have had me pegged for irritable and combative - standard signs of a head wound.  But in this case, I was just still in the process of adjusting to one of the harsh realities (apparently) of ice and mixed climbing.  You get hit in the head a lot.  Eventually, the rope pulled tight, and our rope gun belayed Joey and I up.  It was my third day of ice climbing, my first day of mixed climbing, and I was climbing Bird Brain Boulevard, the classic Ouray mixed climb first done by climbing heroes Charlie Fowler, Jeff Lowe, and Mark Wilford. 

    I’ve been rock climbing for round about 15 years - which doesn’t sound like that much to a lot of the older heads out there, but it’s half the time I’ve been alive, so it feels like a lot.  I’m pretty comfortable on a nice sunny wall of granite, cruxing out above totally bomber protection, clinging desperately to holds that aren’t going to break any time in the next 25,000 years or so.  I trust my risk assessment, know how to avoid dangerous objectives, and of late have begun to shake a bit of a reputation for rather ball-dropping runouts and free-solos in lieu of a reputation for headpointing and telling people to check their knots.  You get away with enough close-calls, and I think this is often inevitable.

    So it was with a mix of skepticism and caution that I originally decided to approach ice climbing.  Following the OR show in SLC, I caught a ride down to Ouray and Ridgway where I had a few friends malingering around town as ice-climbing bums.  Philippe Wheelock (badass ice-climber mountaineer best friend kinda dude), and Drew Smith (BFF, nickname: Dreamy Drew, superstrong Montana boy kinda dude), would be my rope guns for the next three days.

    First up was the ice park.  Drew ropegunned a toprope up from the summit of the icepark for me, handed me a couple tools, and told me to leanback (I was tied in).  I said “Wait, isn’t there like something I should know?”  “No, he told me.  It’s just like rock climbing except really easy.” And away I went.  About thirty seconds later I was standing on a frozen creek, and about two minutes later I was back at the top.  Turns out, it was really easy - whatever it was - but it sure as hell wasn’t anything I’d feel comfortable leading!  Yikes!  The entire time I was showered by ice crystals, and it felt like if I kicked hard enough I’d knock down the whole chosspile (I mean waterfall)!  This was crazy.  Drew assured me, however, that it gets a lot better.  The Ice park is really aerated, and would, indeed, make a harrowing lead.

    Day two Drew and I got out early to climb the world class Ames Ice Hose.  It’s kind of weird getting ropegunned up a world class route on your second day climbing.  People wanted to know was it like the coolest thing I ever climbed, and I thought it certainly was not, but I didn’t have much previous ice to compare it to… It was really pretty, very nice shades of blue and white, and it was great to catch the surreal sunrise over the San Juans.  The most notable thing about the climbing was that instead of getting showered in little chandelier crystals, I was continually showered in grapefruit sized chunks of ice.  They hurt when they hit, but didn’t cause any serious injury.  Still, Ice climbing was not starting to feel less sketchy.  If you lead, you risk falling with a ton of little sharp pointy things on you.  But if you follow, your angry leader will knock ice daggers on you all day long.  Sketchy.

    Day three I rested with some awesome weather, and Ouray choss climbing with my good friend Jeff Morris who was passing through.  We climbed with our shirts off, drank beers, and ate burgers shortly after climbing.  This was an awesome day, and certainly par for the rock climbing course.  My friends sent some gnarly ice mixed climbs the same day… into the same evening… They put up some FA apparently, but by the sounds of it, they almost died on the descent.  Maybe not.  Hard to say.  Anyway, they didn’t die.  And that’s awesome.

    Day four, we got the super shralpine start for Bird Brain Boulevard.  This would be my first ever mixed climb, and my first time getting ropegunned by mountain climbing ace Philippe Wheelock.  You already caught the story with the rock: that was pitch 2.  The rest of the day went pretty much without incident with the exception of Philippe reminding me over and over again that it probably wasn’t wise to weight the anchors… Awesome news after you just got belayed up on them.  I guess Philippe really trusted my 5.7 chimneying in crampon skills, because that’s about all I did all day long.  Again, not terribly challenging technically, but mentally draining.

    At the top, I hugged Philippe and my new buddy Joey, and thanked them for a rad day.  I guess Bird Brain Boulevard was my favorite ice/mixed climbing.  I still don’t know what all these damned numbers and letters mean, but they say that one is WI5/M5.  In my mind, that means 5.7X with some C1 moves on A4 placements.  I can’t help but feel like iced/mixed climbing is far more akin to aid climbing than rock climbing - at least when you’re not clipping bolts.  When I told Philippe that I had enjoyed myself in spite of almost getting decapitated by the deathrock he trundled, he was typically stoic: “Yeah, if you’re going to be an alpinist, you have to have a pretty short memory” he grumbled, as he disappeared out of sight down the first rappel.

    I lingered there for a moment taking in the view, and the first real sunshine we’d felt all day.  I don’t know if I would call myself a converted ice climber, but there is definitely something compelling about being able to bag summits in the winter.  And oh yeah, I definitely liked looking at the ice crystals and formations.  The whole sport is very very shimmery.

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    Funeral for Another Friend

    By Nick Frazee

    This fall Bud Martin, Marko Pujic and I decided to check out a classic early season alpine mixed climb, Funeral for Another Friend in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. This is an extension to Funeral for a Friend that Aaron Mulkey, Daniel Burson and Doug Shepherd put up in 2011.

    We left Bozeman at 4am, made the three and a half hour drive, arrived at the trailhead at first light, packed up and began the two hour approach. Six hours after leaving town we found ourselves at the base of a deep slot splitting beautiful granite towers, the aesthetics of this climb are remarkable, and we soon found that the climbing itself was incredible.

    The first pick climbed multiple steps of wet delaminating ice over and around large chockstones deep in the back of a chimney to the base of the crux ice pitch. We found steep, thin, overhanging, sticky ice pouring over more chockstones stacked above one another. Good stemming and fun overhanging moves brought me to a large chockstone I was able to tunnel behind and back out on top of, all with excellent and varied protection. Despite being soaked through my base layers by the contant shower of running water, I was psyched by the time I reached the belay cave at the top. It was one of the most fun pitches I had ever climbed. 

    The third pictch began by stepping out from below and around yet another enormous chockstone onto a thin slab of ice and continued on snow-covered rock through a large roof and up steep snow to the next belay. The fourth pitch climbed great rock with varied climbing styles including hooks, crimps, pick cracks, a short hand crack and bomber turf sticks. The protection included a bit of everything: stubby screws, a specter in turf, cams, nuts, a slung horn, and a knife blade to round out yet another classic pitch. The following 5th pitch was a gem, a full 70 meter rope stretcher of wet sticky ice in a corner ran through to a large ledge below the final headwall. The mixed terrain through the upper headwall flew by in a flurry of spicy mixed climbing and spat us out onto the rim of the bear tooth plateau just in time to catch some sun and an incredible sunset. We were all elated to have just climbed such an incredible route in such fun conditions, and basked in the sun.

    Exhausted and dehydrated we down climbed a neighboring snow couloir back to the base of the route just before dark. We made the hike back out under a star filled sky and a handful of bright shooting stars to top it all off. Twenty two hours after leaving, we pulled into Bozeman, struggling to stay awake at the wheel just a few minutes after last call had been made in the bars along main street. What a surreal sight it was as we watched the drunks loudly stumble into the streets after a long peaceful day in the mountains.

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    The Montana Centennial Route

    by Nick Frazee

    Last week my friend Alex Wakeman and I had the opportunity to climb a classic route here in Montana, just a short drive and a long walk from town. I've been waiting to climb the Montana Centennial Route (Grade IV, 5.11a, 1600') for a couple years now, and with Alex on board we were ready to give it a go. This would be the first time we would rope up together, as well as the longest alpine rock climb either of had attempted, though neither of these points had any effect on us, we were psyched!

    I finished up waiting tables at 10:30 pm on Saturday, Alex was at the bar waiting for me, my car and bags were packed and we immediately got on the road. After an hour and a half drive we started the eight mile hike in, under a nearly full moon, the views of Silver Mountain Ridge lines progressively more distorted by the haze commanded our attention in the quiet night. After over 4,000' of elevation gain we arrived at elbow lake at 3:30 am. After staring at the moonlit prow across from us that we would climb, we threw our bags and pads on the ground and enjoyed a three hour nap while waiting for first light.

    The morning started with another climber crutching out past me with a broken ankle, and our own broken water pump. Once we dealt with both situations and left the lake, things began to flow. 

    We ro-sham-boed at the base for first pitch, and swapped leads from there. The first couple pitches climb through broken 5.8 terrain, essentially the approach pitches to the route. At the base of the third pitch the rock improves substantially and the real climbing begins. The next nine pitches flew by in a flurry of amazing climbing, ear-to-ear grins, and lots of hooting and hollering. The climbing itself consisted of, but was not limited to: a beautiful and endless corner, some fun slab, perfect hands for days, solid finger locks, an airy hand traverse, a seeping fist crack traverse, plotter cracks, great pro throughout, and more beautiful corners.

    The weather held and we sneaked through the route without clouds or wind, temps were perfect. We enjoyed the views for a bit as the sun began to sink behind the nearby ridge-lines and as we exited the loose death gully descent right at dark I couldn't help but feel like this day had been gifted to us by someone, somewhere.

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