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Trip Report: Rockies Region Live Your Dream Awardees

Posted on: November 5th, 2012 by Rockies Region


  Live Your Dreams – Choose Your Own Adventure

By Jewell Lund

Kim Hall and I, hailing from Utah, realize that our learning curve for climbing in the Bugaboos involves more than just climbing.  Thus we decide to familiarize ourselves with the area and establish a comfort zone with the glaciers we will be traveling on.  Our first day of climbing, we wander up and over a col to the deserted backside of Bugaboo Spire, hiking up the Vowell glacier to the base of Pigeon Spire.  Soloing the classic West Ridge, 1600 feet of 5.4, is the perfect introduction to the Bugaboos. We spend the next few days steadily expanding that comfort zone.  Climbing Surf’s Up (5.9, 9 pitches) on Snowpatch Spire leaves us feeling confident about our ability to explore and challenge ourselves in the Bugs, while the bergschrund guarding the impressive Super Direct (5.10, 8 pitches) proves brittle and tenuous, leaving us both humbled and humored by the fact that, after an hour of precarious negotiating, what makes us retreat from this route is the crux of getting onto it in the first place.  A rainy forecast one afternoon inspires a less committing objective—McTech Arête (5.10-, 6 pitches) and Roof McTech (5.10+, 2 pitches) two classic and easily escapable routes on Crescent Spire.Any backcountry enthusiast can attest to the fact that outdoor adventures rarely go according to plan.  Weather, injury, and curiosity can quickly transform expectations.  Planning a two-week trip to the Bugaboos inspired a summer of choosing our own path on climbing adventures in the Sawtooths, Tetons, City of Rocks, and our local Wasatch Mountains.  Whether unknowingly getting off-route or consciously succumbing to curiosity—Choose Your Own Adventure has become the theme for our climbing season. Many months of preparing for the Bugaboos fueled our anticipation for personal evolution in alpine climbing. True to form, everything does not go according to plan, and the next two weeks far exceed our expectations.

For a few days, we watch the forecasts as a solid five-day storm system approaches us. Kim and I were able to line up our schedules for a two-week climbing trip, and it seems a shame to spend five of those days listening to rain fall and thinking about all of the climbing we aren’t doing.  Beyond that, we’re out of coffee and tequila—clearly a restock is in order before we are able to sanely sit out a multiple day storm. As we consider our options, we discuss what we had expected to find in the Bugaboos versus what we actually experienced.  The glacial setting, as well as the utter concentration of long and classic alpine routes, sets this climbing area apart from any other we’ve experienced.  Some aspects of the Bugaboos, however, are less wild than we had anticipated.  Because of the sheer popularity of the area, it isn’t unheard of for lines to form at the base of well-known routes such as the Becky-Chouinard or Sunshine Crack, diminishing the ‘remoteness’ of alpine climbing in that area.  The social settings of the Applebee Campground and the Kain Hut, with nightly gear spews and route re-hashing, seems reminiscent of Camp 4 in Yosemite.  The most dangerous aspect of the area is rockfall from high climber traffic in the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, the main access point for most of the spires in the area.  While the Bugaboos captivate us in many ways, we recognize that because of the crowds and impending storms, our desire for a remote alpine experience should be sought elsewhere.  We hike out the next day, and drive south to the Wind River Range in Wyoming.

 A wonderful thing about the guidebook we have is that, for some routes there is no topo or photo of the line, truly opening the door to choose your own adventure.  Thus the Southwest Arête, our first route in the Winds, becomes the Southwhereeveryouwant Arête; we pick pitches based on what looks best at the time.  I get to belay and follow Kim on some of the most remarkable pitches I’ve seen her climb.  From 10a lie-backing fingers (run-out!) to tunneling her way out of a chimney, to strenuous offwidth, she fully brings it.  I am tossed some fun pitches as well, including a scary run-out up a 5.10 seam.  Smearing my feet on exfoliating and lichened granite, each time I attempt to place a micro-nut in some feature of the seam, a gentle test-tug blows the nut and I waver between my fragile stance and the open space below me.  As I pump out and chalk up, I look down (again) to assess the consequences of a fall—I’d rather not.  But if a fall is imminent, I’d at least like it to be while attempting to move.  Go.  The commitment to move bridges a communion, with what I am not sure—rock, wind, lichen?  The moment pervades, and suddenly, I am moving through blocky rock to the corner where finally—finally—I can place a big ole #3 cam.  I clip it and look down at Kim as we laugh.  Bringing Kim up, I bask in the goodness of breath and relaxation, feeling secure once more on our belay ledge.  Kim tops out, and we explore what the next pitch might be.  She chooses a bold and adventurous line, up an awkward tight-hands to finger crack, which traverses left to a roof.  As she stems, jams, and pulls her way over, I marvel at what a stellar climber she is.  She quietly dispatches both strenuous and technically challenging pitches in between bouts of laughter and great conversation.  I truly value her friendship as well as our climbing partnership.  The last words I hear before she disappears from view are, “It’s going to eat me!”  It must be wide.  The rope moves slowly and occasionally I hear her thinking aloud as she problem-solves and creates a sequence.  I then get to follow her path as she leads me deep into a chimney, then tunnels back out above a chockstone. An offwidth section is the cherry on top.  I follow, grunting, up and over to find Kim with a huge smile on her face. We take a minute atop the wind scoured summit to hug and give a celebratory shout. We rappel, down climb, and pick our way down talus slopes.  As we walk the meadows back to camp, sunset lights the foliage to a green-gold ember.  Kim points out the half moon rising behind us.  The day was full of laughter, challenge and fun, and as we sip tequila with dinner, we recount our favorite moments of the day.  Life feels full, and so do we.

 Our high from climbing the Southwhereeveryouwant Arête is tempered by a truly taxing attempt of Separation Anxiety on Lost Temple Spire.  The first few pitches are mellow and enjoyable, but as terrain changes and the way becomes less clear, a full gamut of emotions accompanies the unknown pitches.  Lowering off a pitch that proves more difficult than I am prepared for, I blink back tears at the frustration of so much wasted effort.  Following Kim on a difficult and lichened corner (which inspires our version of the route’s namesake, Lichen Me Not), then leading a varied pitch of classic flakes and slab work sparks glee at our adventurous path.  Late in the day we reach the base of the summit pinnacle and—after all our work for upward progress—choose to turn around; we are unable to protect the first 10 meters of the next pitch.  Offwidth to squeeze to chimney, then out a thin roof, the biggest piece we have is a #3 camalot. We rap the route, replacing the brittle and sun-bleached tat that indicates that no one has been here recently.  As we slowly retreat down slabs and talus in the dark, I feel disheartened. Do I aim too high? Why the hell do I do this, anyway—what exactly am I searching for?  All things to ponder, but I feel too tired and hungry to address it.  Night is quiet, and I desire to be the same.

We wake late the next morning to sore muscles and weary minds. Base camp sits in an alpine meadow between Deep Lake and Lake 10602, embraced by a cirque lined with granite spires. The stark granite is offset by golden alpine tundra meadows; scrubby brush flourishes among granite slabs, displaying the vibrant transformations of early autumn. I’ve never felt so at home in so rugged a landscape. Relaxing at base camp, we discuss climbing and agree: today is a day to stay on route. We link Flash Flood (5.9, 5 pitches) with the North Face (5.6, 5 pitches) on Haystack Mountain. As we simul-climb the North Face, I am reminded of how much I love the simple movement of climbing, letting the body flow without attaching any fear to the experience.

Our last day of climbing, we decide to do a route on Haystack Mountain called Southern Wall, Left.  Hiking to the base of the route, I feel quiet.  I have not found answers to the questions that Lichen Me Not surfaced, and I definitely don’t feel like engaging.  If today weren’t the last day in the Winds, I wouldn’t climb.  Once at the base, Kim decides to lead the first pitch.  She starts well right of the opening system, and as she picks her own path up the wall, I can see that we’ve let some things go.  “30 feet left, Kim!”  “Thank you, I’m almost to a ledge!”  Reinhold Messner talked about murder of the impossible, climbers in my generation talk about murder of the unknown.  For most of the pitches I have climbed, I’ve known where and what the crux is, or at least what I need to protect it.  I confuse preparing for a route with the obliteration of the route’s mysteries, the sense of adventure. We continue upward, using the entire 70 meters of our rope, following the most logical path upward.  The crux pitch, though I had dreaded it because of my reluctance to engage today, passes like a cloud.  I finish and belay without any sense of achievement or relief that it’s over, but rather with a feeling of gratitude that I got to engage.  Onward and upward, we pass bail stations, picking up the cams and slings as we climb along that inspire our name for this route:  Booty Romp.  Two pitches from the top, we idly notice we’re a little off-route.  “We’ve got to stop doing this!” I grunt back to Kim, as I struggle to layback a slopey corner.  As I reach a roof and find bomber stems and jams up and over, I take it back.  And finishing the pitch by stumbling upon a classic finger crack, the opposite comes true—the allure of this unknown path is palpable.  Kim, smiling, joins me.  We move past the summit and on down the descent trail.  Hiking past Deep Lake, it proves too inviting and we jump in.  We’re out of fuel and coffee; the camera batteries are dead.  I badly desire a shower and fresh food.  This trip has spit me onto not the destination that I envisioned, but rather a process that I am in—and a process that I am in love with.  And this is why I climb.


Kim and I would like to thank the generous contribution of the Live Your Dream Grant, through the American Alpine Club, for facilitating this unforgettable climbing trip.  Also a heartfelt thanks to our families and friends that helped with beta, gear, homemade zucchini bread, and fantastic support. 

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