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    Doug Shepherd reports on the FA of Can't Knock the Hustle, Mt. Burkett

    Wonderful, warm sandstone towered above us as we racked up for the north face of Castleton Tower.  The day before my right big toe had been bothering me all day, especially on the thin hands pitches.  As soon as I pulled my rock shoes on, I knew something was wrong.   I had an Alaska trip in two weeks and didn’t want push things, so I took a nap in the sun and watched my friends and others have a blast playing on Castleton. (Photo: North face of Castleton Tower ©Doug Shepherd)

    Fast-forward a few months and between our first ascent on Mt. Dickey and training for the Speedgoat 50K race, I’ve ruined what cartilage I had left in my right big toe.  I finally meet with Dr. Clanton at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado about fixing my toe.  He assured me they knew how to fix me right up and we scheduled my surgery for the end of August.  I pushed through the pain to finish the Speedgoat and hobbled into surgery unable to move my toe more than five degrees up or down.

    After my surgery, my wife was nice enough to drive me back and forth to Vail from our home in Northern New Mexico for follow-ups and help me figure out how to shower without getting my foot wet. I think she took a bit too much pleasure in taping the plastic bags to my leg as I lost quite a bit of hair each time I showered, quickly leaving me content to lie on the couch working and watching climbing movies on my laptop. (Photos: The magic workers (top). Pretending to work during recovery (bottom). ©Doug Shepherd)

    After a few weeks and more 12 hour round trips to Vail, I had my stitches out and was gimping around on crutches. Another 2 weeks and I was able to wear a normal shoe and walk around at work. Right around that time, John Frieh texted me with his usual, “hey, they weather is looking kind of good in Alaska. What are you up to?” I wrote him off the first time, as I could barely walk without the crutches. Another week goes by and John texted me again, “are you sure you can’t wear ice boots?”

    I immediately went out to the back yard and pulled my double boots out of the storage shed. Gingerly I try to pull on my right boot. The first attempt ends in almost blacking out and tears as I bend the toe too aggressively on the stiff insole. After a few minutes, I pull out the inner boot and put that on first. By angling my foot into the shell, I’m able to wiggle my foot into the boot with a bearable amount of pain. I quickly pull on my other boot, walk outside and climb on my system board a bit. Seems good enough, as long as we don’t climb anything too technical. I text John back that I’m in and the usual weekend ninja alpinism plans are formed. It just so happens that the weather window falls right after 6 weeks post-surgery, the arbitrary timeline my doctor’s gave me to resume “full-activity”.

    (Photo: Burkett Needle and Mt. Burkett ©Doug Shepherd) I fly to Seattle from Albuquerque on Thursday night and John picks up me at the airport. We crash at a friend’s house, but not before John pulls out a pair of baby blue NW Alpine Neoshell salopettes I had asked to borrow from NW Alpine since they are significantly more waterproof than my green power pants that NW Alpine had made for our Mt. Dickey trip. I’m excited by the prospective of combining these with my orange Big Four jacket, mostly because of the excited color combinations (blue and orange, yes please!) but also because I know the design of the pants is excellent and the Neoshell will keep me dry no matter what conditions we encounter.

    (Photo: Way too happy to be back in the spooner bag. ©Doug Shepherd) On Friday morning, John and I fly from Seattle to Petersburg and after coffee at Dieter Klose’s house, a quick shopping trip, and the usual junk show of packing Wally, our helicopter pilot, has us on the glacier by early afternoon. Because John has been here before, he knows exactly where we need to go and we are relaxing at the bivy site shortly after dark. My toe had responded reasonably to slogging up the talus slope, but I still was nowhere near healthy and definitely worried about the next day. Thankfully, we had brought along the two-person sleeping bag again, so I got to cuddle up to John and try to sleep for a few hours before our early start.

    We negotiate the broken Burkett glacier, with a bit of antics to connect the lower and upper glacier and quickly find ourselves below the access couloir to the Mt. Burkett-Burkett Needle col. I take off leading, the first time I’ve found myself in any sort of climbing situation since my toe surgery. We simul-climb to the col and drop down to where we can access the NW face of Mt. Burkett. The face takes roughly four long simul-climbing blocks between John and myself, unraveling quite nicely with moderate ice and mixed climbing in an amazing position. The only worry during the day, besides the building pain in my toe, is the wind on the upper North face. At times, it was strong enough to blow our arms back as we tried to swing our ice tools. We eventually emerged from the north face into the sun on the East Ridge and make our way to the summit. (Photo: Rocking the baby blue below the Burkett col ©John Frieh)

    Neither of us was willing to stand up on the summit, as the wind would have been blown us to Canada. After the wonderful belly crawl that compromised our summit experience, we begin the descent down the Golden Gully, a couloir splitting the Southwest aspect of Mt. Burkett. 6 or 7 rappels lead us to the lower angle snow compromising the lower portion of the Golden Gully and we down climb that to the glacier. At this point, my toe is hindering my ability to front point, so I am fairly slow down climbing and thankful that John is waiting for me just around every corner. (Photo: John Frieh on the upper ice fields of Mt. Burkett’s northwest face ©Doug Shepherd)

    Reversing our glacier shenanigans from the morning goes quickly and we are soon enjoying another dinner of ramen and preparing for an evening of cuddling. My foot is desperate for a break from my boots by the time we reach camp and I am pretty worried about the walk down to the helicopter pick-up point the next day. Thankfully, the next morning comes and I’m able to wear my boots and the walk to our cache and pick up point goes very easily. Within 24 hours I’m back in New Mexico, completing a first ascent during a long weekend break from work. (Photo: John Frieh and myself standing just below the summit of Mt. Burkett. ©Doug Shepherd)

    Thanks again to NW alpine for making quality alpine climbing clothing. The Neoshell fabric kept me dry while breathing and blocking the crazy wind we encountered. These quick alpine trips require the weather, your fitness, and other factors to line up just right for success. Because I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about my clothing system working, I was able to better focus on keeping my toe pain free and making a successful, and safe, first ascent of Can’t Knock the Hustle with my partner, John Frieh.

    (Photo: Waiting for Wally to pick us up below Mt. Burkett on Sunday morning ©John Frieh)

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    RMNP Action!

    Erik Wellborn sent us these shots from the Englishman's Route on the North Face of Hallets Peak with partner Danny Murphy:

    And Greg Sievers sent us this shot from his ascent of Brain Freeze over the weekend.

    Keep getting after it our Coloradoan brothers (and sisters), this soggy Oregonian is quite jealous!

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    The First Ascent of Hispar Sar

    Hispar Sar 2011By Bruce Miller Climber: Steve Su Photo: Doug Chabot

    “How come we’re not climbing that?” is the question I was asking myself. It’s the question any climber on the way to something else up the Hispar Glacier has surely asked when they glimpse the Southwest Face of Hispar Sar: a big, steep, discouraging tooth with one perfect weakness. A spindly couloir splits the triangle to just shy of the 6400m summit. I took a last look before turning off to our Yatmura Glacier basecamp. We still had a ways to go. I wasn’t the first time I’ve turned away from an obvious prize because of other plans hatched in a kitchen 5000 miles away.

    The route follows the obvious central couloir Photo: Doug Chabot

    Doug Chabot, Steve Su, and I came to Pakistan intent on climbing the South Ridge of Pumari Chhish East. The inspiration came from a photo of the Pumari Chhish Group in Shiro Shirahata’s book “The Karakoram”, but it didn’t take much head scratching for us to nix that plan. The only passage above the upper ridge went directly through a lively serac band our photographs had led us to believe could be bypassed.

    It didn’t take much discussion to settle on Hispar Sar as our plan B. It was still unclimbed despite four attempts. Simon Yates and partners accounted for two of those. He and Andy Parkin had very nearly succeeded in 2004, retreating from above the couloir in a storm storm. If the Hispar Glacier were a more fashionable climbing destination it would certainly have had more attention.

    A long day of talus stumbling, not yet fully acclimatized, put us in a high cirque at the base of the route. Another day was spent glassing the line. The afternoon rockfall and wet snow avalanches were predictable. So, we set off at midnight on August 3, and hoped for the best.

    Climber: Bruce Miller Photo: Steve Su

    We crossed the schrund at 5000m. The next 1100m of couloir was brilliant, with varied terrain ranging from WI4+ to delicate mixed pitches. Near what we thought was the end of the couloir, we exited right, both to avoid the increasing afternoon rockfall and a looming cornice (hmm… previously unseen). It ended up being a full 7 steep pitches of unstable snow and loose rock (M5); in other words, the best 7 pitches of the route. The last of those, 20 hours after the schrund, put us on the South Ridge where we hacked out a knife-edged perch.

    Climber: Steve Su Photo: Doug Chabot

    We quickly discovered our air mattresses, in their first open bivy, made excellent sleds and we spent a cold, restless night adjusting to stay put on our icy seats. The sun eventually reached us and brought some relief. We sipped our morning brews as we took in the Karakoram panorama from K2 to Nanga Parbat under clear skies.

    The 300m to the summit above us looked easy. But, as is often the case, “easy to the summit” is the description of someone who hasn’t been there. We took us most of the day to get moving, climb those 300m, and rap back to the bivy.

    Climber: Bruce Miller Photo: Steve Su

    We descended early the next morning. Twenty-plus more raps. After a couple hours lounging, we reversed the long grind back to basecamp. Our old friends, cook and guide, Rasool and Ali were waiting with a congratulations and tea.

    We spent our last available days hiking 20 miles back down the Yatmura Glacier and up to the Khani Basa Glacier to attempt Tatu Rutum (6,651m). Bad snow conditions and continued snowfall, quickly led to us abandoning our attempt. I appreciated that last detour. The Kani Basa Glacier amazed me with another slew of possibilities.

    Many thanks to Northwest Alpine for making niche alpine gear. My search for a better salopette led me here. Steve and I weren’t disappointed. I haven’t found anything else comparable.

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    NWAlpine crew heads to Smith Rock...

    After ripping endless runs of lift accessed powder on Hoodoo's second-to-last day of the regular season, Tyler, Dustin and I headed to Smith Rock to make the coveted first ascent of a little known tower near Monkey Face.

    "Brad Englund's Tower (or some other phallic name if you prefer)" rises an astounding 30 feet from the desert floor and consists of the best rock Smith has to offer. The route "Piolet d'Or" follows an astonishing line of four bolts to the summit. Brad Englund is a low profile Oregon hardman who pioneered many ascents on chossy features throughout the state, often rope solo and involving bolt ladders. (He even made the first ascent of the finger on the Titan down in the Fisher towers). We thought this would be a fitting tribute to our friend.

    If an intrepid adventurer decides to repeat this daunting route, be sure to tread lightly as the whole thing seems on the verge of falling over.

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