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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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    Ice Climbing off the Salmon River, Idaho

    by Dustin Fric

    In January I took a trip DEEP into the Frank Church River of no Return Wilderness, the largest wilderness in the lower 48. Matt Scrivner, Angela Lynch and I climbed several new routes in the area but one stands out as momentous. We named it Salmon River Quiver and to me it is one of the most significant waterfalls to be climbed in Idaho in quite a while. Armed with kayaks, wetsuits, dry tops and a small assortment of rock and ice pro we were not taking no for an answer. The ice flow snakes it's way 450' feet to the top of the shelf. Tucked away in a shallow groove the climb embodied an Alpine feel and character was oozing out of the tie-dyed ice when we first saw it. The best part of the climb is the third pitch; starting at a rock anchor and climbing a two foot vein for 70 feet and ending at a double tiered curtain. Sometimes you stumble upon Real Gems that take your breath away, and sometimes you get to climb them in the presence of the best company imaginable, that's what MAKES climbing.


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    Cochamo Delivers

    by Chris Kalman

    There we were, seven pitches up a new buttress in Cochamo’s Anfiteatro, with at least two more pitches left to open before the top, on probably the last day of the season, and it started to rain. It had been threatening all day, as if Cochamo were trying to do its best impression of El Chalten. Our route featured mostly clean cracks, some loose rock, big flakes, and impressive splitters. Now, we stood upon a high crest, big drops on both sides, and only the unknown ahead of us.

    It was the kind of rain that is probably snow or ice just a couple pitches up. Cold, spitting, and faint.  Miranda and Marco were on the fence. I was on the ridge. Before they could really go into any sort of prolonged refusals, I wanted to go a little further and take a look at our next pitch. After a short scramble, and a little easy 5th class, I was at the base of a short finger crack, which pulled a small roof, and went into a perfect hand crack.  

    “It’s splitter!” I yelled to them. Right then, looking back down the knife-edge ridge at them, I saw the clouds starting to lift. During my short pitch, the rain had stopped. Now, as if in response to my only wish at that moment in time, out came the sun. “The sun!” I called, and pointed. I swear I could feel them grumble at my stubborn insisting. After all, I was the only one who brought a rain jacket, and they were already rather wet.

    Still, we all could feel the season closing on us, and we wanted to cap it off with a finished route. I brought over Marco, then Miranda - cursing myself for not bringing the camera with me. They delicately walked the narrow crest with 1000 foot drops on either side, the perfect light of the setting sun illuminating their passage. Since the next pitch was one of the only two I really wanted for the day, they gave me the rack, and up I went.

    The climbing was out of this world. The finger crack thinned out through the roof, but good stemming made it 5.11-.  After a small ledge I was greeted by a 30 meter long crack that spread gradually from .75 to 3 camalots, dead vertical, and on perfect stone.  I pushed the pitch up into some broken terrain the full 70 meters, and brought up the others.  Though a little dirty, the pitch was inarguably classic - just like most of the route up to that point.


    By the time Miranda got to me, Marco was already starting up the next pitch with the rack. By now there was now more light than that of our headlamps, and visibility was limited. The angle eased off on this final pitch, and accordingly, the cracks became much dirtier, and more vegetated. I never heard a thing from Marco, except for at one moment, he said “I found a crack. It’s a little wide. I’m gonna go for it.”Coming up Marco’s pitch, I was impressed over and over again by the difficulty and awkwardness of the climbing.  At one point, I simply pulled on the rope for 3 meters to pass a section of dirty vertical offwidth that he had done with 55 meters of wandering rope drag and a ten meter runout beneath him.  When I got to the belay, I told him it was the most impressive lead I’d ever seen - and I think that may actually be true.  He said, “Huh.  Yeah, I think the pitch is honest 5.9”. I have no idea what that means, but I couldn’t have been happier not to have led that beast!

    Miranda, who had unfortunately gotten stuck on the last two pitches hauling the drill and jugging finally came up, and we all strolled up to the summit ridge together. We hugged, ate a couple cookies, and then got right back to the task at hand. We still had 5 bolt holes to drill for anchors, and 10 pitches of raps to figure out before we’d be back in the steep gully and on terra-somewhat-firma.

    A good four hours later, we were down, safe and sound in the bivy boulder.  The next day, after our nearly 20 hour push, we rested. The next three days I spent alone under the Anfiteatro bivy boulder, while Marco and Miranda went down to the campground. It rained all three days.  On the last night, I finally saw the moon. We had had to leave two ropes fixed on the route, and a couple of cams, as the drill had run out of battery. I knew this may be my last shot, so up I went.  The gully was covered in snow, and I had trouble finding our fixed lines, but in the end, all went according to plan. I hand-drilled a single bolt, grabbed the cams, and rapped into the night.  

    Three days later, the sun finally came back out. With another week of rain in the forecast, we all hiked down together. In Puerto Varas, sharing beers and memories, everyone smiled knowing that that last beam of light through the clouds, right when things looked so bleak, was a gift from Cochamo. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the season.  Now, all that’s left to do is go back next year and send! Oh, and clean, and throw in a couple more rap bolts, and clean some more, and draw a topo. Well, I guess we’ll be going back then… Great!

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    Mt. Thielsen East Face


    By Tyler Adams

    Mt. Thielsen was Steve Elder's idea. Steve is a 56 year old kiwi who has been living in Oregon the past 25 years. He is the definition of hard core, as I think kiwis tend to be, think first ascent of Mt Everest. So with that said, Steve is the one that made this route possible, I was just along for the ride. Steve and I are lucky as we have a secret weapon for climbing; we own a small airplane together so we can easily check on conditions saving us some long hikes. After three years of looking at the east face and never really seeing what we wanted to, we did a couple fly-by's in the past few weeks, and finally found the route to appear to be “in”. With some high pressure in place we drove down from Corvallis and tried to catch a couple hours sleep in my camper before starting the hike at about 1:30am.

    We hiked for an hour on stable snow, and then pulled out the snowshoes for the rest of the hike to the SW ridge. We ditched the snow shoes and traversed the west face, and north face, and found ourselves on the NE saddle just as the sun was coming up. Another traverse halfway across the east face brought us to the base of the route at around 8:00 am, and shortly thereafter Steve was off on the 200’ rock pitch that leads to the base of the “ice”. Luckily the rock was solid and Steve was able to get in a good belay and bring me up. By this time the sun was baking the face, and the constant stream of ice pellets started raining down the route, with each pitch only getting warmer and warmer.  A 200’ pitch on the ice with decent sticks ended below the first vertical/overhanging section of ice, which by that time was basically a waterfall, so we dispatched another 150’ pitch to the base of the crux. At this point I was soaking wet, but thankfully there was zero wind and enough sun to let me dry out a little bit. With the route rapidly melting Steve fired the crux and got 100’ before getting a solid cm and an O.K. slung block giving enough protection to feel somewhat comfortable on the final 70’ of overhanging rotten ice.

    I've climbed with a lot of great climbers and have seen some impressive leads, but nothing compares to what Steve did battle with on this pitch. He stayed calm, cool, collected and was pulling over the final bulge before I could even make sense of how hardcore this really was. As I followed the pitch getting pumped silly, trying to get some rests while the pitch basically disintegrated below me, I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams ever leading a pitch like this. Steve had done the nearly impossible. He somehow found the most solid belay of the route, and soon enough I was on easy terrain staring up at the two final rock steps of the route. We regrouped for a second, but had to get moving as now it was really getting warm. Above the two rock steps moderate snow led to the top of the route about 200’ below the summit. Unfortunately for me while I was up in front 300’ below the top, the only major rock fall of the day occurred on the route. I heard Steve yell from below but it was too late, I took a nice loaf of bread sized rock to my knee. I ran for cover and managed to find the first spot on the route where I could actually lay down. Somehow the rock didn't do too much damage and after a little rest below the safe overhang, we were ascending the final 300’ to the top. It was about 3:30 pm by the time we took our harnesses off, and began to descend the south face back to our snow shoes, the descent with crampons was pretty painful, I wound up sliding on my ass for about half the descent, but once I got my snowshoes on and could stay on my toes more, the going got a little easier, an within two hours we were back at the truck. Finally safe and sound I could strip off my wet clothing and get comfortable. We reveled in our stoke for a little bit, and then tried to drive home, only making it about an hour before decided we really needed to sleep. 

    Just as we got back into Corvallis the following morning, I got the news my friend Sean Leary had been killed in a B.A.S.E. accident in Zion. This was a blow to the stoke, but I soon realized Sean was with us that day. The last time I saw him in the Fall we had tried to fly by the East Face of Thielsen together so he could see if it might be worthy of a B.A.S.E. jump. Sean never got to see the East Face that day as the clouds closed in on us. While Steve and I were on the Thielsen, there was something in the air that kept us going, it felt different than any other climb I had been on. I believe that this was Sean that was with us and kept us going, and that he finally got to look at the east face from above. With that I’d like to dedicate our route to Sean Leary, may his stoke and spirit motivate generations of climbers to come. I’d also like to thank Steve for the adventure of a lifetime. 

    Sean Leary - September 2013

    Sean Leary - September 2013

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    Three Guys, one Bivy, a Tent and a Shoebox

    By Dustin Fric

    Every year we spend early season running around with heavy packs; winter camping; trying to pluck off classic ice lines in thin conditions. Travis McAlpine and I have been putting life on hold for the month of November for six years, chasing this dream and hunting the unique. From replacing transmissions in the snow to quitting jobs, nothing is out of line when it comes to making November THE month that propels us into the winter.

     Along the way we always go from making calculated decisions to throwing all caution to the wind, sometimes resulting in working at random establishments or getting dropped off in canyons with no planned ride out or time frame in mind. All of this in pursuit of thin, fresh, virgin, marginally protectable ice just ahead of the pack.

     I ended up rolling my ankle and tearing some ligaments off on the second day of a fifty day trip. In a parking lot of all places. So far so good, things usually have to go so wrong that plans take a drastic change of direction a few times before November is over. It seems we are right on track. I think that long climbing trips help build our character by breaking us down to the point we let go. The whole point is: you’re spending time with the people you choose to, and want to learn more about and become more connected with. Two weeks laid up icing and elevating and we were right back on track.

    Typically I find my partners and I share similar characteristics, as well as similar goals; all in it to push our-selves without taking it too far. Knowing and pushing past our limits, while being comfortable in the alpine. Your partners are what make climbing interesting and fun and also the reason soloing gets boring.

    Travis McAlpine is the most fired-up future hard man you could ever meet, worthy of a story himself, and surely the topic of many stories yet to unfold. With the motivation of an Iron Horse, most spend their day just trying to keep up. Travis often pushes on with wet boots in a one-piece suit from the eighties, happy as a clam. He is our rope gun, with a handful of screws, an anorexic rock rack, 2 spectres, some KBs and a McAlpine we were bound to get into it.

    Zach Clanton, an aspiring alpinist and professional photographer from the land of Honey Boo Boo and confederate flags would prove to be a crucial link in our team. Earlier this year, Zach threw caution to the wind to solidify his career as a photographer by moving to Alaska and living in his Honda Element all winter long. Super motivated at 25 years old, Zach put it all on the line to pursue his passion. This kind of motivation is a rare commodity in today's comfort driven world. Having just returned from an expedition in the Arctic to climb ice, Zach was fired up to go climb anything frozen.

    We decided to head out to the Nabesna valley, rock star style, due to Travis’s work obligations. Leaving Girdwood at 9:00 PM we drove through the night only to arrive in camp and have more work ahead of us, pitching camp. Zack's “shoebox” or Honda home was the bottleneck in our operation. With two front seats and a custom bed, one person had to lay in the back for the drive. The bed would end up breaking before the trip was over. We ended up in Nabesna with a slim selection of amenities and by day two we moved into a lavatory. From cooking to hanging out the bathroom turned into our sanctuary overnight when the temps dipped to -17 Fahrenheit. By the end of our trip the voles were so full that we could pick them up to show them the door.

     Its funny how during the period of breakdown denial sets in, then you let go and succumb to your situation and persevere. One comment Zack made stands out when I think of this “When we first came in here I didn’t want to touch anything, now we have gloves hanging on the toilet bar and it’s comfortable in here!”  Climbing exemplifies the concept of learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I have to admit I have eaten in a bathroom before, but this was another level of dirt-bagging.

    There are only two roads leading into the Wrangell- St. Elias, which is hard to believe considering the park is the size of Switzerland. The state is so vast that climbing is most accessible via bicycle, skis, packraft, snowmobile or plane. A logistical nightmare to some ends up being the spark that starts the fire for others.

    Climbing in Nabesna is not much of a logistical nightmare, just far, far away from a hospital. It is a large open river valley engulfed by mountains, chock full of Moose, Caribou and Grizzlies. Early season climbing here is unique to say the least. With 165 different species of moss, the frozen turf approaches seem surreal. Early mornings start with a stroll through parting mist and fog, hopping from shaggy blob to blob like a scene from a Dr. Seuss book.

    In our four days in the Valley we took a day to do recon and realized the classics must be classics for a reason. We warmed up on The Corridor; a long fun WI 3 with huge smiles, singing songs and soloing. Eight rappels led us back to the frozen turf word.

    With that out of the way we focused on Spring Fling, a ridiculously nice thin ice streak that lasts for 1400’. Which climbed much better then it looked, and again it looked amazing. Skinny flows in a narrow slot couloir with an incredible view of the valley floor below. On the seventh pitch I yelled, “oh HELL ya!” in a red neck accent, right after Zach got pounded with spin drift. This left us laughing for a while.

    Threads, chock stones and boulders frozen in the creek made the rappel pretty touchy especially in the dark as a three man team, but in the end it went great.  We also ended up being more cautious about not running into any Bear or Moose on the walk out. A drive that lasted into the early morning led us back to Girdwood, Satisfied, but ready for more frozen water.   

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