On any sunny spring weekend the easy access to Mt. Hood's Timberline Lodge lures throngs of people looking to slog and ski their way up the iconic mountain. But venture away from the South Side to any other point on the compass and your chances of seeing another soul are greatly reduced.Read More
Since our inception, NW Alpine has always been product focused. We've searched out and created the materials, the manufacturing and the design elements that bring you the best equipment to get the job done. That's why NW Alpine apparel has been worn in the harshest conditions on every continent.Read More
With snow melting rapidly in the alpine, delaminated daggers falling off, and warm temps all over the West, I have noticed many climbers talking about hanging up their tools for the season, or switching to rock. Other ice climbers would ride a bike fifty miles or fly to Alaska to get their swing on. Alas, it's not over yet here!Read More
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
By Nick Frazee
This fall Bud Martin, Marko Pujic and I decided to check out a classic early season alpine mixed climb, Funeral for Another Friend in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. This is an extension to Funeral for a Friend that Aaron Mulkey, Daniel Burson and Doug Shepherd put up in 2011.
We left Bozeman at 4am, made the three and a half hour drive, arrived at the trailhead at first light, packed up and began the two hour approach. Six hours after leaving town we found ourselves at the base of a deep slot splitting beautiful granite towers, the aesthetics of this climb are remarkable, and we soon found that the climbing itself was incredible.
The first pick climbed multiple steps of wet delaminating ice over and around large chockstones deep in the back of a chimney to the base of the crux ice pitch. We found steep, thin, overhanging, sticky ice pouring over more chockstones stacked above one another. Good stemming and fun overhanging moves brought me to a large chockstone I was able to tunnel behind and back out on top of, all with excellent and varied protection. Despite being soaked through my base layers by the contant shower of running water, I was psyched by the time I reached the belay cave at the top. It was one of the most fun pitches I had ever climbed.
The third pictch began by stepping out from below and around yet another enormous chockstone onto a thin slab of ice and continued on snow-covered rock through a large roof and up steep snow to the next belay. The fourth pitch climbed great rock with varied climbing styles including hooks, crimps, pick cracks, a short hand crack and bomber turf sticks. The protection included a bit of everything: stubby screws, a specter in turf, cams, nuts, a slung horn, and a knife blade to round out yet another classic pitch. The following 5th pitch was a gem, a full 70 meter rope stretcher of wet sticky ice in a corner ran through to a large ledge below the final headwall. The mixed terrain through the upper headwall flew by in a flurry of spicy mixed climbing and spat us out onto the rim of the bear tooth plateau just in time to catch some sun and an incredible sunset. We were all elated to have just climbed such an incredible route in such fun conditions, and basked in the sun.
Exhausted and dehydrated we down climbed a neighboring snow couloir back to the base of the route just before dark. We made the hike back out under a star filled sky and a handful of bright shooting stars to top it all off. Twenty two hours after leaving, we pulled into Bozeman, struggling to stay awake at the wheel just a few minutes after last call had been made in the bars along main street. What a surreal sight it was as we watched the drunks loudly stumble into the streets after a long peaceful day in the mountains.
"Testers chose it again and again because of its warmth, toughness and minimal packed size." -December/January Issue Climbing Magazine
by Bill Amos
(The following is adapted from the remembrance I gave at the celebration of Tyler's life 11/7/14)
I've spent a lot of time over the last few weeks agonizing over what to say today. Not for lack of things to talk about, but more a search for a way to talk about Tyler that really captures who he was to me... I've only met a couple of people in my life that were so unique and on such a different level than everyone else that I could never come up with words to describe them. "You just have to meet him" was a phrase I often found myself using when talking to people about Tyler.
I met Tyler through climbing and it was in that context that I got to know him. Over the years we had many adventures together, and over the last few weeks a lot of memories have come flooding back. There was the time he was belaying me on a notoriously rotten aid climb (the third ascent of CL Concerto at Smith Rock) and the beak I was standing on blew out of the rock. When I stopped twenty feet later I looked down to see him flying a kite and laughing maniacally. Or the time we were half way up the ultra-classic Liberty Crack in Washington on a hot day and ran out of water. We kept going, laughing our way to the summit, delirious with dehydration. Or the the many days schwacking around The Menagerie looking, and often failing, to find this or that. Or the numerous times he'd pick me up and we'd fly around Mt. Hood or to the coast, enjoying a different perspective on the Oregon landscape that he loved so much. There were so many great days. The thing I often found myself thinking after we'd spent time together was, man, I really do have an awesome life.
Tyler accomplished so much in such a short time, especially in the realm of climbing. He put in many, many days replacing worn out anchors and fixed protection, resurrecting forgotten routes and making them safe for future climbers to enjoy. He also established numerous first ascents around the state. For a time there he was almost certainly the most prolific first ascentionist in Oregon, leaving a legacy of climbs done in an impeccable, and often bold style. At one of his favorite spots, The Menagerie Wilderness, this often involved ground up hand drilling from stances, a style that not many climbers in their mid-twenties have much interest in.
He had a deep respect for the history of climbing, and especially Oregon climbing. He spent time tracking down the older climbers and dragging them out to the crags and listening to their stories. After hearing of Tyler's passing, Jeff Thomas wrote, "Hey Tyler thanks for trying and occasionally succeeding in getting this old goat back on the rocks. You were the only twenty something that actually cared what the 60 and 70 somethings had done and had to say about it, and yes, you even sometimes listened to us." Like Jeff, he was also able to persuade other Oregon legends to get out including: Gary Kirk, Tom Bauman, Pat Callis and many others. He was always excited to retell their stories, and it was that legacy of bold climbing that influenced his own aesthetic. Two very important partnerships to him were with Chris Fralick and Steve Elder. With Chris he established many, many routes at Wolf Rock and The Menagerie including the classic Morgul Vale. He partnered with Steve on his multi-year quest to climb the East Face of Mt. Thielsen, finally this past March resulting in their route Brainless Child.
The Tyler I knew was an auteur of the absurd, a master of not taking things too seriously. He was a true iconoclast and, unlike the vast majority of people who say they don't care what other people think, truly didn't. Unlike anyone I've met before, he lived his life on his own terms. He sometimes operated on what I referred to as "Tyler-time" which often had little bearing on regular time. He could be difficult and opinionated. There was a nuance and depth to Tyler's character that's hard to capture with words. He was one of the funniest people I've ever met.
In retrospect I think with regret about all the times over the last couple of years that I told him that I couldn't go climbing, that I had to work, that the increasing complexity of life got in the way of truly living. Tyler had helped me with NW Alpine in various aspects since I started five years ago, but over the last few months he was working with me almost full time. Our office is right next to an air strip, so he would fly in and walk across the field as his commute. He brought with him his traditional sense of levity and we worked hard together. Looking back I'm so happy to have had that time with him.
I'm not sure that Tyler would want us to spend a lot of time in sadness, grieving. While it's impossible not to be crushed by this loss, I intend to celebrate the fact that I got to spend the time with him that I did. That we were blessed with his kind and hilarious nature for as long as we were. From now on I challenge myself to live more like Tyler did: to embrace the absurd, to climb the chossy towers and to laugh like none of the bullshit matters.
In 1943, Eric Shipton wrote, "He is lucky who, in the full tide of life, has experienced a measure of the active environment he most desires. In these days of upheaval and violent change, when the basic values of to-day are the vain and shattered dreams of to-morrow, there is much to be said for a philosophy which aims at living a full life while the opportunity offers. There are few treasures of more lasting worth than the experience of a way of life that is in itself wholly satisfying. Such, after all, are the only possessions of which no fate, no cosmic catastrophe can deprive us; nothing can alter the fact if for one moment in eternity we have really lived."
I take comfort in knowing that Tyler's life was full of of moments truly lived, and though he left us way too soon, he packed more living into that short time than most who live three times as long.
To learn more about some of Tyler's climbing accomplishments, check out his blog, Oregon Choss. He also documented a lot of flying he did in videos posted on his YouTube channel. Or even better yet go to Wolf Rock and to The Menagerie and repeat his routes, he would have liked that.
by Nick Frazee
Last week my friend Alex Wakeman and I had the opportunity to climb a classic route here in Montana, just a short drive and a long walk from town. I've been waiting to climb the Montana Centennial Route (Grade IV, 5.11a, 1600') for a couple years now, and with Alex on board we were ready to give it a go. This would be the first time we would rope up together, as well as the longest alpine rock climb either of had attempted, though neither of these points had any effect on us, we were psyched!
I finished up waiting tables at 10:30 pm on Saturday, Alex was at the bar waiting for me, my car and bags were packed and we immediately got on the road. After an hour and a half drive we started the eight mile hike in, under a nearly full moon, the views of Silver Mountain Ridge lines progressively more distorted by the haze commanded our attention in the quiet night. After over 4,000' of elevation gain we arrived at elbow lake at 3:30 am. After staring at the moonlit prow across from us that we would climb, we threw our bags and pads on the ground and enjoyed a three hour nap while waiting for first light.
The morning started with another climber crutching out past me with a broken ankle, and our own broken water pump. Once we dealt with both situations and left the lake, things began to flow.
We ro-sham-boed at the base for first pitch, and swapped leads from there. The first couple pitches climb through broken 5.8 terrain, essentially the approach pitches to the route. At the base of the third pitch the rock improves substantially and the real climbing begins. The next nine pitches flew by in a flurry of amazing climbing, ear-to-ear grins, and lots of hooting and hollering. The climbing itself consisted of, but was not limited to: a beautiful and endless corner, some fun slab, perfect hands for days, solid finger locks, an airy hand traverse, a seeping fist crack traverse, plotter cracks, great pro throughout, and more beautiful corners.
The weather held and we sneaked through the route without clouds or wind, temps were perfect. We enjoyed the views for a bit as the sun began to sink behind the nearby ridge-lines and as we exited the loose death gully descent right at dark I couldn't help but feel like this day had been gifted to us by someone, somewhere.
By Sam Eastman
Castle Mountain is a rock climber’s goldmine. Yes the approach is long and somewhat tedious, yet a day spent climbing the solid golden dolomite is worth the price of admission. This year, Sam Lambert and myself returned to the lower buttress, below Eisenhower tower, to look at and eventually climb a line both of us had been thinking about all year. We had spotted a line from the top of Castles in the Sky, a sun kissed slightly overhung wall that seemed to drop for more than a few pitches!
Although the rock seems solid on Castle the dreaded top down approach is a far less stylish and seemingly medieval, although effective, method of equipping choss. Loaded up with six ropes, a drill, and bags of bolts, we made most of the approach dry, which was surprising as the brewing clouds overhead seemed ready to pounce. As we began the final 4th class scramble clouds opened and scrambling in the rain with heavy packs began to be quite the task. It seemed like a pattern started to set in. Each time we would get off the couch to get to work, a storm would set in. When a storm wasn't crackling around, loose rock would cut a rope, packrats would destroy fixed ropes or a gear stash. All said and done, Sam and I could tell the climbing was worth dealing with some rats and very manky ropes. Each time I would rap the lip, a yellow abyss would span out in front of me. Sequences would unlock, holds appeared. Every time down the fixed lines, Sam and I would get more and more exited to try and free climb the bad boy!
When the time came to free the line I almost couldn't believe it. Setting off on the first pitch fueled by Mars bars and Redbull bought from the gas station, It seemed like the beginning of the end. Laying in to a 12+ crux on dirty holds, I wondered why I didn’t put another bolt in, and just like that, dreading a long and slightly sideways fall a foothold broke and I was off. I hauled the bag up; Sam flew up the pitch, grabbed some gear and was of on a very exciting dihedral roof pitch. Stemming wide with a sloping under cling, Sam pulled hard to a jug in a roof crack. Without much trouble, he finished the 45 meter 5.12+ pitch like a champ.
As the weather continued to get worse, we carried on, up a 5.13a pitch a 5.11, a 5.12c and the top. Alpine cragging never gets old!
The send eventually came, although It seemed like a part of me was still up there above some clouds, taping core shots, laughing as Sam pounds Monster’s and burns out drillbits. I guess the process is more important than the finish line. I think so anyways!!!!
Here is the breakdown.
1st 5.12+ 35M. Slightly overhung and cryptic.
2nd. 5.12+ 45M. Dihedral to Burly roof!
3rd. 5.13. 52M. Overhung corner/face to savage boulder problem.
4th. 5.11. 22M. Sidepulls on some of the best rock..ever.
5th. 5.12. 35M. The best pitch on the route, possibly the best pitch ever, perfect crimps to a very very exposed Arête feature!
On June 21st, Outdoor Project and Base Camp Brewing Co. are holding a Summer Solstice Celebration at Base Camp's facility in SE Portland. We'll be hanging out there all day and you'll have the chance to check out some of our new product offerings. We'll also have some really sweet deals on a limited edition NW Alpine technical t-shirt, with versions in 100% recycled polyester and merino wool.
We're excited to announce that we will have a booth at the OutDoor Show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. We're looking to connect with distributors, retailers, customers and friends from Europe and beyond. We'll be introducing some new products at the show, and we'll be around for the whole show to answer any questions you might have. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to setup an appointment, or just swing by our booth (B4-409) and say hi. We look forward to getting back to Europe!
by Dustin Fric
In January I took a trip DEEP into the Frank Church River of no Return Wilderness, the largest wilderness in the lower 48. Matt Scrivner, Angela Lynch and I climbed several new routes in the area but one stands out as momentous. We named it Salmon River Quiver and to me it is one of the most significant waterfalls to be climbed in Idaho in quite a while. Armed with kayaks, wetsuits, dry tops and a small assortment of rock and ice pro we were not taking no for an answer. The ice flow snakes it's way 450' feet to the top of the shelf. Tucked away in a shallow groove the climb embodied an Alpine feel and character was oozing out of the tie-dyed ice when we first saw it. The best part of the climb is the third pitch; starting at a rock anchor and climbing a two foot vein for 70 feet and ending at a double tiered curtain. Sometimes you stumble upon Real Gems that take your breath away, and sometimes you get to climb them in the presence of the best company imaginable, that's what MAKES climbing.
by Nick Frazee
Overall our trip was fantastic, splitter weather most days, great temps, wonderful ice conditions, and the serenity and beauty of a nearly empty Himalayan valley. We spent 5 weeks climbing all that we could in an area that may take closer to 5 years to fully explore, and along with a first ascent of a 500’ flow, we topped out plenty of enormous, seldom climbed lines up to 1200’ in length. Every climb we got on was a classic by our standards here in Bozeman, but in my eyes, the true gem of the trip was an unfathomable formation we could see from where we stayed.
We had been staring at it for weeks, all the while talking about possible lines up it, what we might encounter, wondering if it would even go. 450’ of ice, equally strange, funky, and strait up ugly, it loomed across the river from our camp. Huge overhanging mushrooms stretched out horizontally, flanking steep ice up the lower section, a massive overhanging bulge riddled with mushrooms and jellyfish guarded the center,
and then there was the top, a massive black tube about 20 meters high rolled over the lip to more solid looking, easier ground. The funk down low we knew would be interesting, thoughtful climbing though manageable, but the black tube on top terrified us. We often speculated as to what was actually going on up there, would it be a thin window pane? Would it have open running water? Would it even support body weight? Could we sneak around it on the thin dry white ice on either side?
We decided to give it time. Perhaps with warmer or colder weather, the resulting changes in the formation, would give us a better idea as to what we were getting into. A few weeks passed, nothing changed, the black tube remained constant, unwilling to grow, unwilling to build up fat blue ice that we hoped would eventually form. Eventually, however, our curiosity got the best of us. We got sick of waiting and wondering, packed up and decided to go have a closer look.
With plenty of stops on the approach to eye up the route, and pick possible lines through the baffling features, we geared up and cautiously moved up the first pitch to a belay cave to where the really interesting climbing began. I moved out onto a steep, featureless curtain, topped by enormous mushrooms and jellyfish, awkwardly moved over, around, and between the large overhangs and set up a hanging belay in the only place I could, directly below the last pitch. I cowered beneath my pack sneaking peeks of Bud as ice rained down from the dry white features he was negotiating. By the time he made it to the black tube he was out of sight, he moved slowly, cautiously and all I could do was imagine what he was encountering up there, wondering if we would have to bail. Suddenly he began moving smoothly again, and as i paid out rope I realized he had made it work, he was topping it out. The ropes came tight and I headed up, when I
got to the tube I was shocked to find Bud’s path straight up it. We had expected to have to sneak around it on the thin white ice on the side but as i followed his delicate pick marks i realized what he had found 15 min before, the tube was absolutely bomber, almost two feet thick the whole way... but formed of crystal clear ice. I began to laugh, not believing what we were climbing, every crack and fracture from every tool
placement was perfectly visible. You could see each tooth of your pick and how it sat inside the ice, the water flowing and swirling on the backside, and even the rock beneath the flowing water. As I topped out still on perfectly clear ice, Bud stood with a smile on his face that said “I cant believe we got away with that.” We both began to hoot and holler, laughing and giggling like little girls the whole way down.
by Chris Kalman
There we were, seven pitches up a new buttress in Cochamo’s Anfiteatro, with at least two more pitches left to open before the top, on probably the last day of the season, and it started to rain. It had been threatening all day, as if Cochamo were trying to do its best impression of El Chalten. Our route featured mostly clean cracks, some loose rock, big flakes, and impressive splitters. Now, we stood upon a high crest, big drops on both sides, and only the unknown ahead of us.
It was the kind of rain that is probably snow or ice just a couple pitches up. Cold, spitting, and faint. Miranda and Marco were on the fence. I was on the ridge. Before they could really go into any sort of prolonged refusals, I wanted to go a little further and take a look at our next pitch. After a short scramble, and a little easy 5th class, I was at the base of a short finger crack, which pulled a small roof, and went into a perfect hand crack.
“It’s splitter!” I yelled to them. Right then, looking back down the knife-edge ridge at them, I saw the clouds starting to lift. During my short pitch, the rain had stopped. Now, as if in response to my only wish at that moment in time, out came the sun. “The sun!” I called, and pointed. I swear I could feel them grumble at my stubborn insisting. After all, I was the only one who brought a rain jacket, and they were already rather wet.
Still, we all could feel the season closing on us, and we wanted to cap it off with a finished route. I brought over Marco, then Miranda - cursing myself for not bringing the camera with me. They delicately walked the narrow crest with 1000 foot drops on either side, the perfect light of the setting sun illuminating their passage. Since the next pitch was one of the only two I really wanted for the day, they gave me the rack, and up I went.
The climbing was out of this world. The finger crack thinned out through the roof, but good stemming made it 5.11-. After a small ledge I was greeted by a 30 meter long crack that spread gradually from .75 to 3 camalots, dead vertical, and on perfect stone. I pushed the pitch up into some broken terrain the full 70 meters, and brought up the others. Though a little dirty, the pitch was inarguably classic - just like most of the route up to that point.
By the time Miranda got to me, Marco was already starting up the next pitch with the rack. By now there was now more light than that of our headlamps, and visibility was limited. The angle eased off on this final pitch, and accordingly, the cracks became much dirtier, and more vegetated. I never heard a thing from Marco, except for at one moment, he said “I found a crack. It’s a little wide. I’m gonna go for it.”Coming up Marco’s pitch, I was impressed over and over again by the difficulty and awkwardness of the climbing. At one point, I simply pulled on the rope for 3 meters to pass a section of dirty vertical offwidth that he had done with 55 meters of wandering rope drag and a ten meter runout beneath him. When I got to the belay, I told him it was the most impressive lead I’d ever seen - and I think that may actually be true. He said, “Huh. Yeah, I think the pitch is honest 5.9”. I have no idea what that means, but I couldn’t have been happier not to have led that beast!
Miranda, who had unfortunately gotten stuck on the last two pitches hauling the drill and jugging finally came up, and we all strolled up to the summit ridge together. We hugged, ate a couple cookies, and then got right back to the task at hand. We still had 5 bolt holes to drill for anchors, and 10 pitches of raps to figure out before we’d be back in the steep gully and on terra-somewhat-firma.
A good four hours later, we were down, safe and sound in the bivy boulder. The next day, after our nearly 20 hour push, we rested. The next three days I spent alone under the Anfiteatro bivy boulder, while Marco and Miranda went down to the campground. It rained all three days. On the last night, I finally saw the moon. We had had to leave two ropes fixed on the route, and a couple of cams, as the drill had run out of battery. I knew this may be my last shot, so up I went. The gully was covered in snow, and I had trouble finding our fixed lines, but in the end, all went according to plan. I hand-drilled a single bolt, grabbed the cams, and rapped into the night.
Three days later, the sun finally came back out. With another week of rain in the forecast, we all hiked down together. In Puerto Varas, sharing beers and memories, everyone smiled knowing that that last beam of light through the clouds, right when things looked so bleak, was a gift from Cochamo. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the season. Now, all that’s left to do is go back next year and send! Oh, and clean, and throw in a couple more rap bolts, and clean some more, and draw a topo. Well, I guess we’ll be going back then… Great!