Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The fuzz buster.

The F4 Phantom over Vietnam.

The F4 Phantom is a supersonic jet that was used between 1958 and 2016 in the United States Military. During the Cold War the American military was envisioning fighting Russian jets, so the F4 was designed to be a long range intercepter--an air-to-air combat machine.

During the Vietnam War, the military realized that they could use this airplane to deliver bombs, even though it hadn't be designed to do so. Because it had been built to fight other planes, it didn't have the indicators for missiles that other planes did--it should have already been flying faster or higher than the missiles coming from the ground making an indicator unnecessary. Captain Charlie Plumb who flew this plane during the Vietnam War said that he "had no indication when a missile was in the air. So we went down to Radio Shack and bought a fuzz buster (police scanner). The Russian built SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles) [were] on the same frequency as the California Highway Patrol! It had a little suction cup that went on the wind shield...and [there I was] flying a twenty million dollar airplane being protected by a twenty nine dollar fuzz buster."1

It's funny how sometimes it's the little additions make all the difference.

Something I learned a long time ago is that if I'm doing a climb with a carry over (where you hike off another way back to camp instead of rapping back down the same way) I prefer a small pack. This makes sense, I mean it's much easier to climb with a small pack than a big pack, even if it's empty. So the trick is to hike in with everything strapped to the outside, gypsy style.

I have a small pack that I'd avoided using for years because it didn't have any straps on the outside. I am a minimalist as far as pack features are concerned, so of course you can have too many straps on a pack, but one "compression strap" on each side to hold things like ropes, boots, and poles to the pack are really worth their weight. Recently I decided to do some finagling and added a pair of straps so I could use the pack more effectively. It's the little additions that make all the difference.

I used it this month on the North Face of Mt Borah in Idaho's Lost River Range. It's a beautiful feature in a beautiful place, and I was glad I able to finally get up there and see it in person.

The north face of Mt Borah at sunrise.

Myself on the face.
Photo: Jack Parks

Jack up high.

The headwall's close!

Jack on the summit.

Summy photo!!

Good, ol' fashioned, beehive state ingenuity.

1 Jocko Podcast 76 with Charlie Plumb - 6 Years a POW at The Hanoi Hilton

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The bookends of combat.

It's definitely correct to say that the Civil War started with the battle of Fort Sumpter, but my history buffs out there know something that you might not. The First Battle of Bull Run marked a special point in the war. It's really where the Civil War as we know it began since that's where the fighting started in earnest. 

A guy by the name of Wilmer McLean had both the fortune and misfortune of being followed around by the Civil War. In 1861, when the war started, he lived in Bull Run, Virginia. During the fighting he actually had cannon balls falling into his house! Soon afterwards the Second Battle of Bull Run occurred and he'd had enough. Tired of the fighting and worried about his family, he decided to move to a quieter neighborhood in Appomattox, Virginia. Strangely enough though, the war found him there in 1865. One of the final battles of the war took place in Appomattox and the Confederates actually surrendered to the Union in his living room. Wilmer McLean later said that "the war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor."

Comparing ice climbing to war is definitly hyperbolic. But just like Wilmer McLean managed to bookend the Civil War, usually my ice climbing seasons are bookended by scrappy mixed climbs. This time I spotted a few drips forming up American Fork Canyon. I called Paul Robertson, told him I had a construction project in mind, and he was game. I've seen it form in the past, but never this thick. was pretty thin!

Thin Pick-ings M6
FA: Sawyer Wylie and Paul Robertson 
Thin Pick-ings is found just to the right of the summer sport climbing area, the Watchtower, in American Fork Canyon. Since it is on the same rock band as the Watchtower, follow the same approach beta. 
 5 bolts plus chains

Paul all geared up for war. 
 Sport mixed climbing isn't comparable to war.
It does require a lot of work, equipment, knowledge, and logistics though.

I'm glad Paul doesn't mind working on my construction projects. 

Bolts on an ice climb? Inconceivable! Then again, the ice is quite thin.
You can see almost the entire bolt hanger.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lines worth retracing.

Why not take a photo on the way back down?

When Kyle and Scott disappeared, it was a big deal. Of course it was a big deal for climbers all over, but as far as locally? Two of the pillars of the Wasatch community were gone. I wanted to keep their memories alive, so I decided to repeat some lines that they had made the first ascents of. One of the reasons I love climbing is for the history of it. I love being able to have the same experience and interact with the same rock people that I admire have. This is, in a way, how we can start to understand their perspective on climbing.

In the fall I decided I wanted to repeat two lines I hadn't ever done, one by each of them. Highway to Hell from Scott and Happy Hour from Kyle. It's always hard to predict what will happen with mixed lines in the Wasatch, but unfortunately, neither really formed. Sure there was some verglassed rock, but I really wanted to repeat them in somewhat of the same condition as when they were first climbed.

I still haven't been able to be lucky enough to repeat one of Kyle's lines yet, they all seem to be rather ephemeral. I was able to grab one of Scott's though, Shrink to Fit Wranglers. It's a real fine line, so I made sure to get several laps on it. NWS after all.

Jewell starting up the rock.

My favorite photo, Shrink to Fit Wranglers a good line with fun movement.

It's much steeper than it looks! The backstory behind the name is worth knowing.
I'm told that when Scott did the first ascent, he was wearing a pair of
wrangler jeans and he got super wet. Voila! Custom fit jeans!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hemoglobin and the Fun Ramp.

Korey at the hanging belay.

Sometimes it is hard to leave things along. A very skilled chemist by the name of Max Perutz knew this better than I do. He did something everyone told him was "nutty", he tried to solve the structures of myoglobin and hemoglobin (the proteins that bind to oxygen in your muscles and blood). He and John Kendrew persisted however, and after twenty years, they figured them out and together received the Nobel Prize. The thing is, the structures changes when they bind to oxygen. So Max Perutz said, "I want to know what the structure of hemoglobin is when it's not bound to oxygen". Everyone thought that was crazy, it took twenty years to put the hemoglobin puzzle together and not only did Max wanted to do it all over again, but do it in the absence of oxygen!? The cool thing is that he actually did it and solved the structure of deoxyhemoglobin (hemoglobin unbound to oxygen).

Last year we started up this route (The Fun Ramp!) late in the day and decided to bail (from the only fixed anchors on route I might add) since we didn't have headlamps and didn't feel like making things too wild. I mean hey, we try not to have anything epic happen on a climb that is less than epic. Korey and I went for round two and made it our first route of the day so we'd have sunlight to spare. We certainly didn't ever have to work as hard as Max Perutz did, but sometimes it is hard to walk away from a route.

Taking us up to the main feature of the route on round two.

Korey about to walk our own sandy version of Half Dome's famous ledge.

The FUN ramp!

The feature is huge actually, we thought it would be a thin flake.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shinkolobwe and Provo.

Photo: Andy Knight
Uranium is pretty interesting. As far as I understand, most of the uranium ore in the world is less than one percent enriched. For some context, in order to make a nuclear bomb, the uranium is enriched to more than ninety five percent. That does take some work, although it certainly takes much less effort than it did in the 1940's because we already have the knowledge and infrastructure to do so.

When the Manhattan Project was launched, America needed some serious uranium. Most of it was unacceptable to make a bomb with, and to make matters worse, they were racing the Nazis for it. Fascinatingly there existed one mine in the world that was naturally seventy five percent enriched, the Shinkolobwe Mine in the current day Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's fascinating to consider how one obscure mine in the Congo played a part in completely changing the world during a world war.

In a lot of ways, looking for people who like to mixed climb is like looking for that naturally enriched uranium. Despite having an incredible venture for mixed climbing in the Wasatch (Primarily Provo, but also Santaquin, Joes, Maple, the Cottonwoods, and others.), finding people who want to scratch around on rock and thin ice is hard to find. For the most part, ice climbers just "tolerate" it, or do it as a novelty. I can understand that, it's probably because fat ice climbing is so fun! Luckily some people like the scrappy climbing.

Onsighting La Punta Blanca M6. Afterwards I decided to skip the bolts and do it on gear following in the footsteps of Robbie Colbert on the first ascent. Interestingly enough, when the bolts appeared, the name changed from English to Spanish.
Photo: Andy Knight 
Pulling onto the free hanging dagger on Right Dagger M7.
Photo: Andy Knight

Coming over the top on Right Dagger M7.

Andy taking his turn on La Punta Blanca M6.

Paul on The Pick of Destiny M9.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Umman Manda

The Umman Manda is a group of people who had mostly disappeared into history. In fact, even the translation of their name is a matter of ambiguity. Umman Manda is translated as The Scourge Of The Gods, or my favorite, The Horde From Who Knows Where. They were known as a "particularly noxious band of warriors" and over all, a untamed mass of savages who ravaged the civilized tribes world.1

"What on earth are you boys carrying?" We turned and saw the lift manager for Snowbird. We explained how we were going to take the lift up and use the ice tools and crampons on our packs to climb some ice that evening before it got dark, and his eye grew wide. "Well I'll be...that's crazy!" As we rode the tram to the top of the ridge, the face of every parent and child matched his. With our radical gear and intentions, we were certainly the untamed horde from who knows where. In the end, we missed the tram because we started so late and had to walk down to the road.  I'm sure the parents that took their kids up to the top were grateful, they didn't have to try to explain what we were doing.

This tram ride is so civilized! I think I'll move to Chamonix.

"If it weren't for foreshortening, no one would get up anything". Barry Blanchard.
It's not big or hard, but definitely foreshortened.
Matt showing me how to ice climb after our
summer hiatus from the frozen medium.
This is colder than I remember! I always dress to light the first few times.
The ice was pretty hollow sounding through the steep portion.
Topping out with the South Ridge of Superior in the background.

1 The Cambridge Ancient History, Volumes 1-2, pg 39

Friday, September 9, 2016

On friction.

Fighting the friction with iron will power.

The ranger just laughed at us. "You boys thought you could swing by last minute on Labor Day weekend and pick up a camping permit for one of the most popular spots in the Sierras? Ha!" In a way it was just what I was expecting. 

Earlier in the summer we decided to go climbing in the Wind River Range over the long weekend. We felt confident we were going to crush, then the weather changed two days before we hopped in the car. Since we were hoping to actually climb and not sit in the rain, we decided to go to the Elephants Perch, until the weather guaranteed rain there too. Over the next few days we watched all sorts of areas succumb to rain. Zion, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Black, the Tetons, Red Rocks. All promised rain. "How about the Sierras...maybe Temple Crag?" Feeling like we had been let in on a secret since that was the only place the skies promised to be cobalt blue and temperatures promised to create good conditions, we scrambled to pack for our leave time a few hours later.

Before I ever had to deal with these compounding problems, Carl Von Clausewitz explained how to. He was a Prussian military strategist who is credited with the concept of "friction" as outlined in his book On War. He said "everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction, which no man can imagine exactly...friction is the only conception which, in a general way, corresponds to that which distinguishes real war from war on paper". In layman's terms, friction is all the little things that built up against you and prevent you from succeeding. They are all the things that you cannot imagine dealing with before hand, yet threaten your goals when working on them. So how do we deal with friction? Clausewitz says that the primary way to prevail is a powerful iron will which will crush the obstacles.

This concept of friction is used in our modern day world. The United States Marine Corps Leading Marines handbook says "Friction operates on every aspect of combat....Countless minor incidents combine to lower the general level performance so that one always falls shot of the intended goal. Iron willpower can overcome this friction. It pulverizes every obstacle. Whatever form [friction] takes...[it] will always have a psychological as well as physical [toll]. Friction is inevitable. [You] must accept it, do everything in [your] power to minimize its effects and learn to fight effectively in spite of it." In that same manual it explains that the way to combat friction is "the ability to adapt [which] makes you comfortable in an environment dominated by friction".

Alpine climbing isn't synonymous to the combat that marines experience. The lessons can be applied though, so with this in mind, I worked on being adaptable and developing an iron will. After changing our plans numerous times, we chose Temple Crag to be the focus of our iron will and when we got laughed out of the Rangers office, we decided it would be a car-to-car mission. Not a big deal, it was just the next obstacle, and we're adaptable.  The next morning we hiked so fast up to the second lake that we had to use willpower to sit and shiver for over an hour in the wind and cold waiting for the sun. Throughout the day, the promised cobalt skies were there, but there are always things that are not perfect when we climb. Frozen hands, missing water filters, lack of camping sites the night before, the list goes on. Friction existed as it always does in the mountains, but we crushed.

We could've slept in!

Starting up the route.

The is glorious! Wahoo!
You've gotta get a shot crossing the tyrolean.
Photo: Matt Berry

Up, across, down, repeat as needed to cross the ridge.

Finishing up the crux, another place to use both adaptability and iron will power.

Those lakes below look unreal.
Almost to the top, that's the upper bit of Dark Star on the right.
Photo: Matt Berry

Quite the inspiring mountain I think.