CLIMBING MOUNT SAINT HELENS

The first time I heard of Mount Saint Helens was when I was 10 years old. It had just erupted and my family and I were getting ready to move to Seattle from Detroit, Michigan. It was both excited and frightened. The wild west coast was something with mountain ranges and oceans and erupting volcanoes. Twenty years later I was living in Portland when I first climbed Mount Saint Helens. My friend Jim and I drove to Cougar, Washington, and went to the local bar and grill where they held a lottery for permits to climb the mountain. Nowadays you can go online a purchase the permit; ahh technology. We won the lottery, got our climbing permits, and slept the night in his Jeep, which sucked because Jim neglected to tell me snores a water buffalo. Now I don’t know if water buffalos snore, but I imagine that if they did they would sound like Jim. The next morning we headed out on the trail with spirits high. The hike was about 5 miles and gained 4,500 feet. The trail wove through the woods until we got to a huge field of boulders. Hopping from boulder to boulder for awhile it finally thinned out. Next came the pumice and ash. It was slow going. You would take one step and slide back half a step. It was overcast and snowing. We kept going for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly we pushed through the clouds and it was bluebird sky. It was a gorgeous day on top of the mountain. We could see Jefferson, Hood, Rainier, and Adams poking out over a sea of clouds. We sat for awhile soaking in the view and headed down. Looking back it was one of the best days of my life. I highly recommend it.

Andrew and Dan ascending.

Recently I was talking to two guys from the shop, Andrew and Dan, who climbed Mount Saint Helens back in June. Both moved to Portland a few years ago from New York state. They didn’t know each other, but weirdly attended the same college. Andrew has been snowboarding since he was 8 years old. He loves pizza. His favorite topping; just cheese. He’s a purist. Dan has been skiing since he was 5 and snowboarding since he was 13. His favorite food; chicken wings. Favorite sauce; the time-honored Hot Buffalo. Another purist. Pizza and wings. Classic New York.

Andrew on the ascent.

They camped overnight and hit the trail at 4:00 am. They took the Worm Flows Route which is almost 11 miles and ascends nearly 5,700 feet. Andrew was using his Arbor Coda Splitboard with Burton Hitchhiker bindings. Dan was skiing on Rossignol Soul 7 HD Skis and Marker F12 Tour EPF Bindings. Dan actually hiked up in his Rossignol Alltrack Pro 120 ski boots. They both had Dakine Heli Pro 24L Backpacks loaded with water, snacks, shovels, avalanche probes and Pieps tranceivers. The ascent took them about 6 hours. They were on the summit by noon. It was perfect weather. Blue sky all around. They hung out awhile drinking it all in and then came the fun part. The descent.

Dan at the summit.

Andrew contemplating his descent.

They took their time enjoying the ride down. It took them about and hour and a half to cover about a 4000 ft. descent. For both of them it was their first real big mountain. They both said they had the time of their lives. Cheers Gentlemen.

Dan and Andrew at the summit.

SMITH ROCK STATE PARK – AN INTRODUCTION

I first went to Smith Rock State Park in the late 1990’s. It is truly one of the most beautiful and unique places that I have ever seen. As with all things cool, it was born out of a volcanic eruption. 300 million years ago the eruption shot ash and debris into the air. When it settled Smith Rock was created. Then half a million years ago lava flowed into the area and hardened the rocks. Over time erosion and the Crooked River formed magnificent Smith Rock State Park.

There are many things to do in Smith Rock State Park. There is a first come first serve camping area with bathrooms and showers, and it’s vast 621 acres provides hiking and horseback trails. From these you can see massive amounts of amazing animals. There is a family of River Otters that live in the Crooked River. Mule deer, marmots(I took a quiz online and this is my Smith Rock spirit animal), lizards, and rattlesnakes all dot the landscape. If you look into the sky you will see bald eagles, canadian geese, northern harriers, ospreys, great blue herons, and one of the biggest birds of prey in North America, the golden eagle. But most come here for the climbing.

Smith Rock State Park

The thing I love about climbing is the adrenaline rush you get with minimal risk. I know, minimal risk you say; have you seen Cliffhanger with Sly Stallone. That scene where that woman’s harness buckle breaks and she plunges thousands of feet to her untimely death. No wonder Black Diamond was going to sue. That would never happen. Anyway, I’ll go climb, but I would never ride my bike downtown; too risky. It’s also relatively cheap to start climbing. All you need are some climbing shoes, harness, belay device, about five locking carabiners, fourteen quickdraws , a rope and rope bag, some chalk with a chalk bag, an anchor and a personal anchor. All this will run you about six hundred bucks. Small change for a new and exciting passion in your life. And if you live near Portland, Smith Rock is only three hours away.

US Outdoor employee Dan G. sport climbing Smith Rock

Smith Rock is the birthplace of sport climbing in the U.S.. Sport climbing is a type of climbing that relies on the use of permanent anchors, or bolts fixed to the rock for protection. You climb up the route, clip into the bolt with a quickdraw, clip the quickdraw to your rope and move up to the next bolt, and on and on. Alan Watts, the father of sport climbing, started climbing Smith back in the 1980’s. Back then there were only a small group of core climbers at Smith, now it has become a destination for climbing all over the world. One of the great things about Smith Rock is the diversity of places to climb and the amount of routes, there are close to 2000. Monkey Face, To Bolt or Not to Be, Five Gallon Bucket, Crybabies, and Just Do It, a 5.14c that at one time was the hardest sport route in North America, are just a few of the famous climbs of Smith Rock.

You can see why Smith Rock is a world renowned climbing destination. Which is why the American Alpine Club is having the SMITH ROCK CRAGGIN’ CLASSIC, a 3-day climbing festival at Smith Rock. It’s starts September 15th and goes to the 17th. It’s a celebration of climbing one of the great crags in the world. There will be food and beer, and you can stop by for some of the clinics taught by professional climbers. You should probably go before the beer. Two US Outdoor climbers, Alex H. and Dan G. will be there, you will be able to spot them by the US Outdoor shirts they will be wearing. Dan’s got a pretty impressive beard, and Alex, well, he’s pretty. So stop by the pop up tent, pick up some swag and talk to those guys about climbing. They know their stuff. And like I said, the beard.

A Week With The American Alpine Institute: Part 1

How many times in your adult life have you said to yourself, “I want to do ___but I don’t know how.” Or “I wish I would have ____ when I was younger so that I could be good at that now.” You’ve probably said that at least a couple times in the past few years or even weeks. For me, I always wish I had started singing when I was a kid so I could blow people away at Karaoke, or at least be able to hold a note. I wish I had picked up a camera sooner so I could take breathtaking photos with an actual camera that isn’t also a phone, personal computer and life database. The truth is, as adults, we tend to think we can’t learn new things anymore and therefore embrace the adage that – “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We are so inundated with work and responsibilities that the idea of taking time to be outside our comfort zone and become a student again seems far-fetched if not downright scary. After spending 6 days with the incredible guides at the American Alpine Institute (AAI) I realized how long it had been since I felt like a student and how many excuses I made for myself as to reason why I couldn’t continue to be one. The course took me outside my comfort zones in the outdoors, of what I though I knew about mountains and it sometimes made me feel like I was back in math class again, using a technical part of my brain that seems to be a little bit rusty.

Over the past few years my need to be outside has grown exponentially. My journey to reach for higher peaks came from my love of hiking, summit views, and the feeling you get when you stand on a vista and look out over the world through my own eyes. Since I did my first alpine climb two years ago on Mt. St Helens during an early and healthy snow year, I became hooked on that feeling. The exhilaration of working so hard to get to somewhere, the general camaraderie you feel with your fellow climbers, and the mental process you go through to get there. I loved it and I wanted more. As I sought higher and more involved summits I realized that a lack of any technical abilities was keeping me from them. Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams, South Sister and other hikes similar are considered “non-technical.” There aren’t glaciers, the routes are fairly straight forward and generally besides crampons, poles and an ice axe, they don’t require too much gear to climb. However, Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier and even Middle Sister can all be technical climbs that require a knowledge of ropes, knots, bends, glacial terrain, safety and rescue procedures, proper climbing communication etc… That knowledge and lack thereof was impeding my goals, but my need to summit those mountains aims to change that.

The intrinsic desire to seek out new terrain is what brought me to AAI. I decided that I wanted to take a course on how to do all of the things. I wanted to learn how to rock climb and mountaineer. I didn’t want some guide service just to take me up a mountain; I wanted to learn HOW – Teach me how to fish and feed me for a lifetime, you know? After researching many different alpine schools, I decided that AAI was the best choice for me. They offered the most comprehensive beginners course and had the most offered dates.

The American Alpine Institute Intro to Alpinism class is a 6 day course that covers:

– Snow travel
– Proper crampon use – Pied a Plat
– Pied en Canard
– Pied Marche (lessons in French remember?)
– Rope team travel
– Crevasse safety and rescue
– Orienteering lessons with compass and map
– Intro to Ice climbing (if terrain permits)
– Class five-rock climbing- belaying
– rappelling and tying to anchors
– Learning the nuances and technical aspects of mountaineering which is everything from how to pack your bag to coiling rope, tying properly dressed knots and bends (bends are different than knots …that’s important.)
– How to safely travel across glacial terrain ie: probing for crevasses and testing snow bridges
– How to place protection and anchors General history of mountaineering – teaching us about it’s French and European origin and making sure we knew the derivative of where terms and words came from. Leave no trace ethics
– And lastly but certainly not least-how to poop in a bag on the side of a mountain about 6ft away from your new best friends.
… Yes, that had to (from a nature calls during a 10 hour summit climb way) happen and you get over it.

I’m probably forgetting a few things but I think you get the reason why it’s called an Institute. This course is for learning and for thinking. It develops the skills that allow you to start and continue your mountaineering career. They want to test you but also encourage you. Think of them as though they are like your favorite teacher back in college or high school – understanding your limits but still somehow pushing you past them in a way that makes you feel safe and encouraged. I actually can’t say enough positive things about my instructors. Their extensive knowledge seemed unlimited, constantly wanting to teach you and help you. Their passion and love for the sport was infectious and their climbing and mountaineering backgrounds were anything but short of impressive.

Over the 6 days that I spent with AAI and my five other fellow student climbers I learned more new things than I have since I started my career in Film Production. I felt excited, nervous, sometimes overwhelmed, and generally in awe of how much there was to know and how many different ways our instructors knew how to teach so each individual could understand. Now, I have no rock climbing background, which is generally a sport that leads a lot of people into mountaineering. I’ve always been terrible at tying knots and have a hard time handing rope, which is what I remember from the few times I sport climbed in college. I knew that part would be a challenge for me and it was. But, by the end of the 6 days and constant repetition, reminders and use, everything started to get easier and I could put systems and ropes together on my own. I was by no means ahead of the curve but knowing how I learn and understand things I was impressed by the knowledge and abilities I came away with.

En route to Mt. Baker summit

On Summit day the lack of snow and warm weather made it so our climb offered our team unique learning situations. We had a little bit of everything as far as terrain is concerned, ice, soft snow, hard snow, giant open crevasses we had to navigate around, snow bridges that we had to learn to walk across, our guide even had to place vertical protection on a particularly spicy part coming up what is known as The Roman wall. 1000 vertical feet of exposed glacier you have to traverse before you reach the flat snowfield to the summit. Because of this terrain I think everyone felt a need to “man up”, so to speak. There was a strong feeling of unity as we crossed ice and uneven terrain through the night making our way up to the summit. I felt, and I think everyone else did as well, that unless our guides told us to turn around due to unsafe terrain, we were all going to get outside our comfort zones and make the climb happen, not just for ourselves but also for our team. Our guide’s confidence in us was encouraging as was the trust that I had in them and their leadership capabilities.

Final Mt. Baker Summit approach

As we traversed up the steepest pitch of the route through a narrow, windingpathway and on a degree grade I had yet to climb just after sunrise and 5 hours into our adventure, I knew that what I thought my limits were had now been broken. Less than a mile away from the summit, my heart beating and my mind and eyes constantly focused on the rope in front of me and the feet underneath me I knew that this is what I had came for. I made that exhilarating and terrifying step outside what I thought I could do and now those limitations don’t serve me anymore. I had found the exact encouragement and education I needed to push me forward in what I loved doing. There is no price for that.

I wish I could find a way to sum of my experience with AAI, the other people wanting to learn from them, and my Instructors – Andrew Yasso and Jenny Merrian, but all I have is this. If I did nothing else with my summer, like it was complete shit and I never got to go outside and all I did was work – those 6 days could come close to making up for it.

If you have ever told yourself you want to learn to do anything like this, or have toldyourself you can’t for so many reasons – stop getting in the way of yourself and go. You won’t regret it.

Mt. Baker Summit Photo

Note: Part 2 will feature a more technical aspect with info on gear and other insights.

Saturday School – Rock Climbing Techniques: Climbing Holds

Hi kids, today we are going to be watching a video that covers the different climbing holds you will experience on the rock wall and the right techniques to practice for maneuvering those holds. Remember, the more you know the easier the learning process will be on you mentally and physically, so take notes and don’t fall asleep.

The Sh– We Say

If you live in the 21st century odds are that you have seen at least one online video dedicated to The Sh– People Say, but just in case you have been hiding in a cave with no internet access for the past year or so I would like to share a few of said videos. They directly pertain to the lifestyles we live here at US Outdoor.. which in turn also includes you to a certain extent (unless you have no interest in the outdoors and are just wasting time arbitrarily looking through random blogs, in that case you need to go outside).

Sh– Surfers Say

I would have to say this video is summed up in 3 seconds 0:47-0:50. Also, I would like to dedicate 0:27 to the board shop hear at US Outdoor. Willie, Paul, where you at?

Sh– Rock Climbers Say

“… This route is SAND BAGGED!”

Sh– Snowboarders Say

Toe straps not included.

Sh– Skiers Say

If this latest craze has taught me anything it is that we all must take ourselves a little less seriously. These videos are exaggerated, but not far fetched as I have heard these phrases fly from all of our mouths. So sit back and listen and enjoy the harmless razzing facilitated by the online age of information. Who knows, you might just learn something.

Saturday School: Rock Climbing Techniques for Beginners

Ok class, we have gone through the Yosemite Climbing Scale and the essential gear list for rock climbing so now all we have to do is get you on the wall. With this video you will begin to grasp the fundamentals of rock climbing by learning tips and techniques to make your climbing experience more successful. Pay attention, take notes and don’t get ahead of yourself. Remember, what goes up must come down, but through proper climbing technique you’ll be able to dictate how you go up and how you come down.