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    The NW Alpine Blog of Alpine Pursuits

    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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    Observations of a Middle Aged Climbing Has-Been

    Photo: Tim Banfield

    Photo: Tim Banfield

    By Erik Wellborn

     As someone who has climbed for almost 30 years I find the evolution of climbing frozen waterfalls fascinating. From a refuge of loners, misfits, introverts, armed with pound in snargs, footfangs, and clunky plastic boots, the sport has morphed into a fairly mainstream activity. The modern climber can now access fruit boots, turbos, lasers, rehearsed sport tooling, blogs, crowds, and tweets by Justin Timberlake.

    About a year ago, I had a series of negative experiences that to me exemplified the uglier characteristics of the current ice/mixed climbing scene. An obsession with grades and the collecting of routes overshadowed the adventure and simple joy of climbing itself and being in the mountains. Of course, this dichotomy is as old as climbing itself but I couldn't help but feel that the increase in climbers and social media had amplified the issue.

    For the first time in my life, I wanted nothing further to do with climbing. I spent the following months in a general moodiness and agitation, preferring to focus on hiking, tenkara, and work. I may not have been happy in the world of modern climbing, but I was miserable without it. I needed to find a balance. And I did..

    A recent trip to Hyalite this season with an old friend rejuvenated my soul. No crowds, no attitude, pristine ice, low key conversations with humble climbers, and the solitude of the mountains. It has become crystal clear to me what I need from climbing and what I choose to avoid.

     In the end, everyone finds what they need on the ice. Whether its crushing the current grades, or something more quiet and personal. 

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    November: The Birth

    Early season ice posing potential issues somewhere in Wyoming.

    Early season ice posing potential issues somewhere in Wyoming.

    by Dustin Fric

    Chasing down frozen waterfalls in any winter month can be as simple as driving to a local crag or can get as creative as you want to make it. Early season ice climbing is almost always creative. Plucking off gems and finding new waterfalls is right outside most people's doorstep with a little creativity, perseverance and practice.

    Climbing ice in November always poses issues and provides benefits, just like everything else in life. One thing that makes November so magical is watching the ice come in. Seeing these frozen giants grow, morph and transform into sometimes completely different waterfalls throughout every year. November is like watching a birth if you will, the birth of a new season full of growth and potential.

    For some of us waiting through late summer and October can be as depressing as a six month sentence in San Quentin. Then comes November; the time that snow falls in the high country and ground temps drop enough to enjoy frozen mediums. From mud to moss and water it all starts to freeze. This is when it “snaps” which means game time for a large group of frozen waterfall connoisseurs from all over the world. These are the ones who wake up with clammy palms and a glimmer in their eye ready to walk, ski, ford rivers, and freeze it out just to get a taste of what their life has been missing.

    Ice Climbing…Let's all go get some!

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    What's happening at NW Alpine?

     by Bill Amos

    Updates have been a little scarce here at NW Alpine so I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what's been going on with us, where we are now, and what's in store for the future. 

    Where we came from

    I launched NW Alpine in 2010 with the goal of making alpine climbing clothing in the United States. Starting on a small scale we were able to utilize local contract manufacturers to develop and manufacture our line. This worked to an extent but being a small brand with small orders, it's quite difficult to get attention from manufacturers who must focus on larger clients to keep the lights on. We started working with a small manufacturer outside of Portland in 2011 and slowly we transitioned most of our business to them. With sales doubling every year it was clear that we were going to outgrow our main manufacturers capabilities. For the fall/winter season of 2014 we took few orders from retailers because we were concerned about being able to fill orders, and this turned out to be a good thing as we had issues even filling the orders that we received. It was during this time that we started to talk to the owner of our manufacturer about their future goals.   

    Where we are now

    In October 2014 we finalized a deal to purchase the manufacturer's assets and launched Kichatna Apparel Manufacturing LLC. KAM's mission is to provide NW Alpine with guaranteed access to manufacturing, as well as provide contract sewing services to other brands that are interested in making their products domestically. We hit the ground running, bought more equipment, hired more people and have spent the last eleven months building this side of the business. If you've tried to contact us during the last year and gotten a delayed response and wondered what was happening, this is it.  

    Where we're headed

    What does this mean for NW Alpine? Throughout the last year we've brainstormed the future of the company, and continued to develop new products. NW Alpine will remain dedicated to our core values of making functional clothing for alpine climbing and manufacturing our products domestically. Owning our own manufacturing means that we have the ability to prioritize our products, as well as greater control over quality and speed to market. 

    This winter expect to find our products at three of our key retailers: in Portland at the Mountain Shop and MadeHerePDX, and at Mountain Supply in Bend. You'll be able to shop for our full line on our website as well.

    As always we greatly appreciate your support. If it wasn't for our loyal and stoked customers we wouldn't be here. 

    Keep up on the latest NW Alpine news and product releases on Facebook and on Instagram. Use #nwalpine to see what our ambassadors and friends have been up to, and tag your own photos! 

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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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