Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Tooth Attempt 1 or When Levi Gets Ambitious...

 I noticed a small break in the grey weather up here in the great PNW. I had been wanting to try my hand at some winter climbing here and had some great recommendations from my friend A. Turner. The one that caught my eye was the south face of The Tooth, in the summer a Grade II, 4 pitch, 5.4. Sounds easy, right?

So I made some emails and phone calls and lined up a couple friends to join me.

This is the Tooth, mostly free of snow. The route follows the left skyline.

We spent some time approaching, but not much. One of the draws to this area is its accessibility. We parked in the upper lot of Alpental Ski Resort and I skinned while my partners snowshoed into the base of the route. The snow conditions down low were less than stellar, but improved the higher we got.

Looking down into our approach from the base of  the snow couloir below Pineapple Pass

Looking up the couloir towards the base.  Fun!

Our view of the Tooth from directly below. The route is the left skyline.

Ben and Tim. Suckers for punishment.

Leading in my ski boots

Entrance couloir

That's Rainier!

Looking up the first pitch

This is my happy face.

I wanted to climb something like this to get a feel for the winter climbing up here. It's one of the main reasons I moved to this part of the country. I'll mention a few things I learned. 

Parts of the day were awesome, some were fun, some just sucked.

I was not diligent in arranging my layers to match the changing temps and activity levels. Rookie. I sweated up a storm on the ski in, it involved a fair bit of elevation gain in a rather trashy skin track. I worked hard. I naturally soaked all my base layers, which means when I stopped to transition from skiing to climbing I was freezing cold very quickly. I had warm layers, but once that chill sets in it's hard to get back to baseline. I didn't really warm up until I was in the shower hours later.

I know my bindings suck and I'v been meaning to upgrade, but they were particularly terrible that day. When I'd switch to skinning from skiing my brakes stopped latching in the up position so that every time I moved a ski forward the brake was dragging. I was ready to scream after a very short time of this. My heel risers tended to pop too far forward and be useless. When I'm skinning and my skis bow at all the heel pins will actually catch the rear of my boot and trip me. From behind. One other tech issue was my skins needed waxed. Badly.

I like to use my ski poles for balance.That makes sense. I brought my Black Diamond poles that have mostly chewed off baskets because of my favorite dog Utah.

Don't let his good looks fool you, he will chew your ski poles!

The end result being that when I'd plant a pole to maintain a stance the whole damn pole would sink up to my wrist and I'd go sideways into the snow loudly cursing my poor little life. Note to self: spend $5 on new baskets.

I also brilliantly decided to climb in my ski boots. Now, hear me out. My ski boots are great, for skiing. I've never tried to climb in them before. I had leather boots in my truck for climbing. But I hate carrying a pair of boots in my pack when I've got a pair on my feet. I'll sum it up by saying that I have never been more terrified climbing 5.4 in my entire life. I should have just put crampons on those suckers, but I more brilliantly left those in my pack at the base of the route. Brilliant. 

On the plus side, I don't know if I've ever been more proud of leading a pitch of rock, ever. Yeah, I know, 5.4. Those ski boots forced some very creative climbing. It involved some tricky route finding to avoid ice, digging in snow to find handholds, taking off gloves, putting on gloves, freezing my fingers and then enjoying the ensuing screaming barfies. Placing a large plastic boot an a wet, icy foothold I  would never even blink at in any other circumstance and then just FREAKING OUT while committing to it. Super fun in a really messed up, ridiculous way.

Long story short we knew the weather called for rain in the afternoon, the clouds moved in, the wind started to blow and we bailed from the top of the 3rd pitch. It started snowing as we got back to the truck.

My synopsis was that the route itself is a blast. Super fun climbing in a nice, beautiful location. The snow and ice on the route made it a bit spicier, but fully manageable. It's easy to access and fairly fast to get in and out. I've made notes of all my errors and hopefully will learn from those mistakes. It was fantastic to get out and experience a new place. I even got some turns in on the way back to the truck.

 Now... what's the next route on that damn list? Oh yes, Chair Peak; see you soon...


zachary said...

props man, ski-boots-climbing would take some extra gusto. though I won't say i'm particularly jealous of this adventure.

Amanda said...

10 points for bravery but I have to dock 5 right off the get go for lack of prepardness. :)

I'm gonna call you back one of these days. :)

karla said...

What's wrong with you! I taught you better! 1.Manage your layers better...duh. 2.Pack in the correct boots and 3.always, always, let someone else lead. Especially when wearing ski boots!
Stop messing with your life man.

Levi said...

Thanks for the advice, mom. I don't know what I was thinking!