Colchuck Balanced Rock

My body feels wrecked.

On Tuesday, I got off work at 8 pm.  I picked up a few things I had forgotten at my apartment and, after a convenient falafel on Lake City Way, drove to the Colchuck and Stewart Lakes trailhead outside of Leavenworth, Washington.  I got in around 11 and slept in my truck ’till a nice, alpine start at 4 am–my friend, Marcus, was already camped up at Colchuck lake and would be waiting for me when I arrived.  We needed lots of daylight ahead of us if we were going to climb any of the peaks we had talked about in the weeks prior.

I nudged Marcus awake when I found him at the South end of Colchuck lake, camped in a small patch of dirt within a field of car-sized boulders.  After I set up my tent, we prepared to climb.  We had talked about climbing a few different routes, but decided on the West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock (or CBR)–a beautiful series of cracks that splits a peak hanging over the East side of the lake.

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The camp at Colchuck Lake

It being June–somewhat early for alpine rock climbing–much of the approach to CBR was on snow.  Over the course of a few hours, we kicked our way up to the base and proceeded to cache some gear that we would grab on the way down.

The rock climbing on this route was excellent, but it crushed us.  Easier, fun climbing brought us to an immaculate, 90-degree, 100-foot corner that stands below a giant roof.  Unfortunately, the top 15 feet of the crack proved to be drenched by runoff, tossing aside our goal of climbing the route free (as opposed to aid climbing, in which protection placed in the cracks is weighted and pulled on to move up).  After aiding another wet pitch that traversed under the roof, we were exhausted and running out of time to finish the route with enough daylight to easily descend back to camp.  We decided to pull on gear through the next section too, nominally the crux if free climbed but easy when you pull on protection, and then blasted our way up through a series of helmet-crunching chimneys–the last of the difficult climbing.  Another couple hundred feet of easy climbing led us to the balanced rock of Colchuck Balanced Rock and the summit.

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Sitting on the balanced rock of CBR

We knew the descent would be heinous and long if we let the sun go down, so we rappelled East off the summit to a scree-field and a snow field and finally to the cache of gear we left at the base of the route.  Re-tracing our path from the beginning of the day, we plunge-stepped the remaining snow fields and made it back to camp without major incident (disregarding me plunging up to my chest into a hole in the snow).  We finished the night with a congratulatory hug and a massive franken-meal of rice with zuchinni, onions, green onions, eggs, and avocado plus chili flakes and sesame seeds sprinkled on top.  Then, we proceeded to sleep.

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Descending the snowfields to the cache at the base of CBR (I’m bottom right)

We woke up Thursday morning to a light drizzle and packed our heavy packs for the slog down to the trailhead.  Marcus had been climbing, skiing, and camping at Colchuck Lake for days beforehand and I had just pulled a 19 hour day of foot-travel and climbing; we were worked.  The truck was a beautiful sight as we shuffled toward it; I was grateful neither of us broke an ankle with our big packs.  After a quick meal and the day’s first cup of coffee (at 3 pm) at Good Mood Food in Leavenworth, we zipped back to Seattle, where I dropped Marcus off at his grandparents and we agreed to do this again as soon as we could.

This was one of the bigger adventures I’ve ever had; snow travel added to hard climbing on a long day really adds up, and I haven’t felt so tired or sore in a long time.  I hope to go back later in the summer, when the rock has dried, and climb the route free.

More of the last 9 months to come soon!

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Wrangell, AK

Two weeks ago, I flew from Seattle to Ketchikan, Alaska, and from there to the island town of Wrangell.  Wrangell is in Southeast Alaska, the pan-handle of island chains and coastline that stretch out from Alaska’s body to meet the coastline of Canada.

This summer, from July through August, I’m working on a salmon tender boat.  Our boat starts the week by bringing ice to 10 or 11 boats in our district, some 60-70 500-lb bags of ice lifted by crane and guided into place by me and the rest of the crew.  Once the fleet is iced up, we wait for them to catch a day’s worth of fish and do rounds through our district, pitching the fish they catch into our tank and supplying them with more ice, if necessary.  The boats can only fish for a set number of days, determined by the local fish and game staff, in order to regulate the population of salmon in the area and allow for future generations of fish.  We take more fish in, returning to town mid-week if necessary for more ice, and eventually head back to town on Wednesday or Thursday to drop our final load of fish off and take ice for the next week.

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The Towego, our 58 foot boat

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Leaving Wrangell

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Loading and unloading fish and ice can only take so long, however.  After the work is over or between boats on opposite sides of the water, my time is free to read, listen to music or radio programs, or get some exercise.  And there’s a lot of free time.  I’ve found that I’m exhausted whenever I’m not working, and I have a reputation for falling asleep in the cabin between boats.

I’m working this summer with Gabe, the captain of the boat, and Carla, the other deckhand and cook for the boat.  Gabe has been fishing for more than 10 years, running this tender for the last five.  Carla is a returning deckhand from last year–Gabe and Carla knew each other from Leavenworth before working on the boat together.  Gabe drives the boat, Carla cooks delicious food, and I sleep and ask if I can help with anything.  And then another boat appears and we get to work again.

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The cabin and kitchen

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One of Carla’s amazing meals

The work this summer hasn’t been easy, but I eat better than I ever have before and I’m getting to see truly beautiful land and sky wherever I look.  And I’m simply blasting through books.  It’s going to be a wild summer.

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In-between time

I leave for Alaska in a week–here’s what I’ve done meanwhile:

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KJ at the Firewall

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Tigerlilly

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Diablo lake, I think?

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Ben, Matt and me

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Zach ponders the Snow Creek wall

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Granite slab+big creek= water slide?

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Darrington approach…

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From a saddle over Hidden Lake

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Matt’s psyched on The Hairpin on The Papoose

Leavenworth and what’s next

Since the last time I posted, I bought a truck and got nationally certified as an EMT after a month-long course in Leavenworth.  I’m writing now from Squamish, where the weather was cool enough to climb.  Some more time has landed on my table, too, as I have nothing to do before traveling up to Alaska in July to work on a tender boat in Wrangell, an island in Alaska’s panhandle.  Here are some photos from the last few months (in chronological order):

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Enjoying the roar of Icicle Creek

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Steven’s Pass was still covered in snow in April when I tried skiing for the first time

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Christina, one of my EMT instructors, bundles a fellow student up in a litter

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The brothers Kneipp in their natural habitat

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Aven and Gregg from my EMT course think they’re clever, taking photos with my phone while I was off getting a beer

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Derek enjoys being red in a field of green

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Some peace and quiet looking toward the Olympics from Iron Mountain in Sedro-Wooley

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Joe finishes up the last pitch of “Bulletheads East” in Squamish, BC

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Dan takes a rest while Mikhal belays him at Rogue’s Gallery just North of Squamish (rope disconnections courtesy of my Iphone’s panorama feature)

More to come soon!

In the words of James Brown…

“I’m BACK!”

Luke and I started out in Siurana, where it was rainy and cold and we were jetlagged.

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We drank lots of coffee.

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Then we went to Margalef, where there are lots of little pockets in the rock that are really hard to hold onto.  We were still jetlagged!  We decided to go to Terradets, up north a bit.

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Bruxes wall, Terradetes

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Very beautiful place!

We climbed on the Bruxes wall in Terradets for a little over a week.  The wall is like a massive wave frozen into limestone, dripping stalagmites called “tufas” that climbers pinch their way up.  The climbing is strange and fantastic (and really hard)–long and demanding routes that are steeply overhung the whole way.  We met tons of wonderful Brits there on vacation from the boredom of the British winter, something I could identify with.

While climbing in Terradets, we stayed at a hostel in the tiny town of Abella de la Conca, perched upon the side of a limestone mountain in the middle of nowhere, Catalunya.

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Luke sits on eye-level with the birds in front of the hostel

The hostel itself is in a house that is probably older than the United States.  It smelled old.  Nothing was level and it looked like it was made out of building materials that actually looked like they came out of the earth, unlike any building I’d been in in the States.  It was so comfortable and welcoming that we stayed in the area partly just to stay in this hostel.

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The setting of the hostel is, likewise, remarkable.  Valleys filled with farms spread themselves across the view from the hostel window, limestone walls jut out above the town’s streets, and wonderful rock climbing is only a 10 minute walk away.  If you decide to walk an hour, though, you can be blessed by the sight of a series of giant limestone arches in the hillside above the town (which have climbing on them).

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From the outside

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And from the inside

Truly an awe-inspiring place.  I felt lucky to find such a gem so far outside of a normal tourist’s path.

Luke and I got shut down by the routes we were trying at Bruxes wall, though, and decided it was a good idea to change up our locale, though.  Our friend Em, who we met at the hostel in Abella, recommended Chulilla, a town outside of Valencia, a few hours south of our current location.

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Look close–you can barely see Chulilla next to the huge limestone walls!

We were supposed to go to the island of Mallorca in a little over a week, but Luke and I said, “What the hell,” and drove a few hours south.  We ended up liking Chulilla so much that we skipped our flight to Mallorca and just stayed for the rest of the trip.

This town was likewise home to a wonderful hostel called Altico.  Perched on top of the cliff-line that abuts the town to the north, Altico is a windy, sunny hub of activity for climbers in the area.  Within walking distance are hundreds of routes, grocery/bakery/climbing shops, and the climber’s bar (cracker thin, straight dope pizza on the weekends).  This is a paradise for climbers.

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The crew stares at the “pared de enfrente” crag on the wall adjacent to Altico

The climbing was varied and exceptional, as well.  The cliffs face all different cardinal directions, so if one wall is too hot to climb on one wall because of the sunshine, you can just plan to walk to a different one.  The routes can vary from short and powerful to ridiculously long (50+ meters) at all sorts of grades.  Most of the roues we climbed were from 30-40 meters, though–bring your 80 meter rope for a trip to Chulilla!  The climbing style was often vertical and crimpy, testing our endurance and, honestly, emotional strength (trying that hard for that long is tough).  There are sections, however, of huge overhanging walls (read: difficult routes) and massive vertical tufas–something I’d never encountered.  These vertical tufas make for incredible stemming and pinching for climbers of most skill levels; I warmed up on a 40 meter 6b+ (5.10d) tufa route one day, one of the most memorable climbs of the trip.

The people we met in Chulilla were wonderful as well.  I had a blast speaking bad Spanish to our hosts (Pedro and Nuria) with Alan, telling awful jokes with Magda, having my photo taken too many times with Madis, and being giggled at by Hampus.  Altico was a melting pot of European climbers: Poland, Estonia, Germany, France, the UK, Sweden, Finland, and many other nationalities represented themselves.

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Alan, Madis, and Luke

I hope I can go again!

I’m back in Seattle for another month, though, so send me a message.

Spain

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I’m boarding a flight to Barcelona this afternoon.

The summer left me with many questions about what to do with the next few months and a lot of open possibilities.  Repeat the road trip from the previous winter?  Stay in Seattle with friends and a job?

I chose to travel abroad on a climbing trip–something that I had talked about doing all summer in Lander.  Living frugally and saving most of my paychecks from working at the Lander Bar left me with enough cash to buy a plane ticket when Luke suggested Spain, and my feelings of ‘what’s next’ uncertainty made the idea of a concrete plan I couldn’t back out of seem like a relief.  I bought the ticket–I would go to Spain in Febuary.

Living in Seattle from September till now has had ups and downs.  A living situation with good friends from Bellingham spontaneously appeared, and I spent a lot of time with old friends from Seattle who I hadn’t seen for far too long.  Working two jobs for the month of December is something I won’t soon forget though, so everything comes at its price.

I’m mostly just glad to be able to take a trip like this–not many people have the freedom to follow their passions the way I’m able to.  I’m traveling to one of the most famous areas of the world for sport climbing: Catalonia, Spain, and I’m traveling there with a good friend and climbing partner.  I perceive opportunities like this as a way to build myself–there’s tons to learn about out there, and I’m hoping to soak as much as possible in while I can.

More to come soon!