Damien and I decided a month ago to drive down to Yosemite National Park and explore the famous Valley Climbing. The Valley had just received snow a few days earlier so there was a white sparkle to the tops of the massive walls. We spent our first and second evening bouldering.

Camp 4:

This was the first place we climbed in the Valley. As so many have warned: the ratings are super super stiff! I climb V4 in the gym and V3 outside and I struggled on V0s in the Valley. There was also some intense variation in difficulty with problems of the same rating too. We climbed on a few different boulders. By far our favorite was Energy Boulder which had some fun cracks. Plus Damien sent his first outdoor boulder problem here! This bouldering area is massive and has something for everyone. Lots of problems are on the high side though.

Swan Slabs:

On the second day we climbed at Swan Slabs Boulders next to cragging. This is a smaller area (three boulders) with a few less highball problems. Many of the boulders you have to down climb though as there is no walk off. The center boulder was my favorite features problems with high throws.

We were due for another scotching dayso Jessica, Mike and I left Snohomish early for a day of bouldering at the Gold Bar Boulders. The three mile dirt track leading the to boulders had yet to be touched by sunshine and we began the three mile journey in delightful shade. The mountains opposite the valley was spectacular on the clear day and ripe blackberries lined the path. In fact, there were many point in the track where blackberries and other shrubbery had branches reaching onto the trail scratching up our arms and making the going a bit adventurous. I suspect that in another week or two the trail will be overgrown to the point where waiting until things die back in the fall would be a  good idea.

We were going to begin climbing The Clearcut area while it was still shaded, but ended up stumbling across an awesome boulder in the Forest area that we couldn’t pass up. We warmed up on “Scotty” V0 which is an awesome and fun climb on cool edges. We then worked on “Beam Me Up” V2 which was another great climb with awesome moves. There is a loose block near the bottom hold though so beware! It doesn’t look like it will come out soon, but in wiggles quite a lot.

After some searching and several wrong turns we arrived at the Doja boulder cluster. We worked on “Bulldozer” V2 with great edges beneath a roof. Then moved on to “Devastation” V2 another roof with technical feet. The topout was so mossy though we decided it was safer to just drop off.

We finished up on a boulder further along the trail. We climbed a crimpy V0 called “Warm-Up Slab” which is great fun despite its ease. Then we worked on a V3 “Rocksteadeasy”. Mike was the most convinced of his inability to finish it… and ended up being the only one to send the problem! It has tiny edges and some mentally dicey moves with feet on tiny holds. The tree beside the problem can get in the way a bit.

Eric and I drove to Canada this weekend for a Self Rescue Course in Squamish, BC. The course is offered by Whistler Guides which is owned by MSA (the company that I took my ice climbing course through). I cannot recommend these companies enough for any and all outdoor sport courses. The Canadian guide certification course is stricter than America’s and course structure is much more efficient. Plus I really like Canadians. We rigged a massive amount of scenarios in our 1 day class. In America the class would have than multiple days.

After the class Eric, Jeanelle, Adam and I wandered into the forest by Stawamus Chief. The Chief as a massive wall known for it pristine multi-pitch climbs. But below the wall and throughout Squamish is some of the best bouldering in North America. We went to an area called Titanic North and warmed up on the areas namesake boulder: Titanic. We began with the V0 “Dumb Slab”. I personally didn’t find it that appealing. It was mostly a staircase slab. The next problem we worked was “Twister” V1. This juggy problem offered some good moves though I didn’t finish it. It should be noted that the chalk was so thick on the jugs here that I was slipping off the holds even after i brushed it.

We moved on along the boulder working out Moana V0, The Telltale Heart and Steppin’ Out V0. We worked for a long time on Big Bottoms V2, but only Eric mastered that one. Finally we moved on to the boulder problem I had heard a whole bunch about and couldn’t wait to do.

Birth Canal is only a V0, but is is hugely entertaining! It begins in the back of a small cave. You climb though this narrow slot between two boulder toward the sliver of daylight on the other end. The hardest part is getting into the slot… from then on you have to wiggle though a diagonal chimney to the opening to daylight. This con be completed on your stomach or back. The descent required you to reverse route. AWESOME!

 

Finally, a weekend without a chance of rain in the forecast. Eric and I met up with Jessica (VW climbing team) and Mike from the climbing gym on Saturday morning to beat the late day heat and climb some boulders In Gold Bar. The adjoining bouldering  areas of Sanctuary, Forest and Clearcut beneath Zeke’s Wall were once roadside. However, the timber company closed the dirt road that leads to the boulders. Thus, getting to the Clearcut, Forest and Sanctuary bouldering areas now required about a three mile walk up the hill from Reiter Road. Many folks head to boulder problems closer to the road, so the area usually has less folks. Plus, the walk allows to a built in warmup.

Our plan was to hit the boulders in Clearcut first since it has the most sun exposure. The walk took no more than an hour. We began on Clef Crack V0… that did not feel like a V0. It is a slanted crack with some jug holds. Figuring out the foot/hands holds is not difficult, but executing is! We climbed Warm Up Slab V0 in The Forest area which borders Clearcut next. This felt like a true V0.

Eric and Jessica next worked on The Razor V2 and Button V3. Mike and I played around on what was supposed to be easy routes nearby: The Catcher V0 and Shortstop V1+. I have unsuccessfully worked on these routes previously and still had no success today. Everyone agreed that the routes were sandbagged though.

We went in search of Que Luna boulder only to pass it twice. We found out from other climbers that the boulder is only accessible in early srping and early autumn when the lush greenery that engulfs it dies back. We ended up back in the shaded Sanctuary working on Chocolate V3, It’s Doo Doo Baby V3 and So it Seams V2. We wanted to do some problems that are toward the back of the Sanctuary, but they were covered in moss. We did not have brushes stiff enough to clean them unfortunately.

We ended the day at Devastation V2 in the forest. A burly roof climb with character. Like all the other problems (exception of Warm Up Slab) I was unable to complete it. But according to Eric my climbing is much smoother and stronger than the last time he saw me boulder outside. I’ll take the compliment… but it doesn’t stop the frustration. Then again, i wouldn’t boulder if I didn’t enjoy being frustrated!

 

Colleen and I decided to climb a Whutza Point in Icicle Canyon due to it selection of intermediate level climbs 5.7-5.10a. The area is located beyond Playground Point, a popular weekend area. We followed the climbers trail to behind the highest tier of Playground Point. Then the trail faded to a goat track which sometimes all but vanished. The bush whacking wasn’t too difficult as we were mostly navigated

only through grassy terraces and some boulder piles. More or less we just headed straight ahead passed the lone Block Party Route. We ran into the the separate short wall with routes “Birthday Greeting” and “Bottle of Whine” a few feet higher than the main wall of Whutza Point first. We located the main wall several yard own and left of this short wall. Mot of the route have a combination of bolts and trad gear.

We began the day on the namesake 100ft “Whutza Point” 5.7 route. The route is mostly friction slab (my favorite) with a few difficult moves mostly near the top of the wall. On the ledge 2/3 of the way through the route there is a large ledge. The rest of the route require the climbers to climb over the top of a large bush to get the the wall. A great warmup. We pulled the rope and Colleen led it as well.

Next we moved over to Zerberts another 5.7. The bottom half of this route was super blocky and I led it efficiently until reaching the last yard or so. It is a thin crack that involved me doing two things I hate: using a crack and putting all my weight on one foot while on a tiny hold. It took me quite a long time to stop procrastinating and finally do the required moves. In the end I didn’t fall and led my first true crack (even though it was short). Colleen led the same route and then set up a top-rope on the next route Indian Burn 5.8 (all routes have chain anchors).

Indian Burn is a sweet friction climb. If we had time we would have led it. But the sun was beginning to beat down on us. We decided to call it for the day as far a roped climbing and headed back down to retrieve my crash pad. I wanted to finished my project.

The Hueco Route V1 which I have written about previously has been bothering me ever since I left in unfinished late April. My first attempt at the route reawakened the moves, but I only got to where I had been last time… two moves below the finish. However, I was not completed wasted and breathing heavy getting up to that point like last month. Colleen gave it a shot and was able to Flash it. I tried again, this time making it to the two Hueco Pockets hold that is the finish. FINALLY!

With that we headed up to the next overhung “room”. Eric had finished a route called Barnacles V1 here. It is a sit start that requires the feet to traverse along the bottoms of the wall in huecos before launching for a high reach crimp. We launched at the crimp for about a hour before finally being able to stick it. Then we discovered that the launch wasn’t even the crux! We did eventually follow the rippling seams and stem to the top out. Fun route. We joined up with a boulderer from Alaska to working out Flounder V2, a very short roof problem starting on slopers Colleen managed to finish it, but at that point my body was done for the day, although I was happen that the sloper holds didn’t give me problems, just the dead point to the jug.

Overnight, I was vaguely recall rain pummeling on the windshield of Eric’s car. When I awake this morning from a fitful sleep that is typical for someone sleeping in the passenger seat of a Toyota Yaris (and a two door at that) the ground was dmap, but the clouds moving off further down Icicle Canyon. It would take an hour or so for the rocks to dry out so Eric and I took out time having breakfast in the climbing car-park before venturing out on the day’s adventures.

We thought of going to the Sword, but it is in full shade. The day was a bit chilly,a although the sun was breaking through, so we decided to boulder at Mad Meadows. We’ve passed the area several times on our way to the Playground Point sport climbs and knew the area was pretty much always in full sun.

Outdoor bouldering is a real treat for us, but difficult to transfer to since we spend hours on plastic every week. On real rock there are no color coded hands and footholds! Hence, our grade level tends to sink quite a bit. We began on a V0 called “Alpine Feel”… it falls just short of what i would consider being a high ball problem. It’s a great warmup and the shorter you are (like me) the more technical it becomes. Walk off finish.

Next we went to Hueco Route, located in a overhung “room” behind Alpine Feel. There is an awesome overhung route here with swiss cheese huecos called “Hueco Route” V0. This is one of those pumpy and technical V0’s full of heel and toe hooks. Eric solved it,  and it has become my project. You do not top out on this route. Instead drop down from the final holds.

We moved on to the next room to climb “Barnacles” V1. Steming off the route behind you is considered bad form… but is a welcome relief considering the massive mantle finish. Eric had success here climbing up the right and left of the wall which can almost be considered two separate routes. Walk off finish.

A little ways up the trail are two side by side problems “Wooly Mammoth” V0  (left) and “The Dish” V1 (right). Ironically, the V0 looks harder than it is and the latter looked easier than it is. Walk off finish.

Eric and I joined up with some other boulders for some harder routes. Eric  tried his hand at overhang called “Flounder” V2 that was about 5 degrees short of being a roof just around the corner from Alpine Feel. After a few tries he sent it. Some of the guys suggested he do a gym-like route a couple yards away in an overhang called “Drugstore Cowboy” V3. With a two grown men as spotters, 3 crash pads and shouts of encouragement Eric flashed the problem. He still wants to go back and do it again more gracefully though! Walk off finish.

We didn’t want to leave Leavenworth too much past noon. We know from everence that a wicked about of traffic tends to build on the other side of Stevens Pass if you leave much later. We decided to hit up The Fridge boulder on our way out of the canyon. The Fridge is a massive lone boulder. We had time to both send “The Fridge Slab” V0, a nice friction slab that reminds you that you can stand on very little! There is no walk off on an other these problems. Instead you have to down climb “Cool Down” a V0 problem beside the tree growing out of the boulder.

It was 12:30pm by then… time to go. It’s a good thing we did too, the beginnings of a traffic jam were beginning to materialize in Sultan on the drive home. Oh, and folks were still skiing on Stevens Pass!

After oatmeal Eric and I journeyed into the meadows beyond Routeburn Falls Hut deeper into the wilderness. The trail followed the river within the boulder fields as great mountain walls loom above on both sides. The morning was cloudy and clear. As the sun rose above the peaks golden light spilled across craggy summits. Eric was a bit slow as he, for some reason, decided to only eat two packets of oatmeal which, unbeknownst to him, equaled 250 calories. We stopped near Harris Lake, so he could catch up on his lack of energy with some more carbs. The lake a lovey hidden gem in the alpine surrounded on almost all sides by rocky walls. A boulder was nearby with a great problem that looked like a V1. I made an attempt as Eric ate, but lichen and mosses dirtied the upper holds so I down climbed. Not worth it without a proper crash pad. Reenergized, Eric stood and we followed the rocky ledge around the side of the lake and up onto the famous Harris Saddle.

Harris Saddle marks the border of Mt Aspiring NP and Fijordland National Parks. Splendid views of glacier clad mountains beyond the saddle opened up before us was we neared the edge of the saddle. A rugged and wild landscape of pure beauty that made me long for my rope and crampons! A shelter and restrooms are nestled on the saddle’s green alpine grasses. Fragile Area signs urge travelers to stay on the trail. Eric and I left our packs in the shelter beside some other rucksacks. We then followed the sign that pointed to the trip up Conical Hill beside the shelter.

Conical Hill is more of a class 3 scramble small mountain than a hill. The trail beyond rocky after the first few switchbacks. Hands are definitely needed as the route goes straight up the “hill’. I was happy to be wearing my mountaineering boots. We reached the top in about 45 minutes where our breathe was quickly snatched away at the sight of the glorious view! You could even see the ocean way off! Two men on the summit stood discussing mountaineering… we couldn’t help but eavesdrop as we took in the sprawling scenery. Descending the hill took longer than ascending since the rock was a bit damp. But we made it back down and sat int he shelter for lunch. One of the men joined us. He was a mountaineer, Don, an Aussie who had a love for the Andes and regaled us with stories of the alpine. He knew from a young age he wanted to climb and that he couldn’t afford it. So he began to business, paid his workers well, gave them incentives and built things until he could hire other people to run it while he was off on climbing adventures. A great NZ quote he told us “What do you call a wifeless climber? Homeless!”  Basically, climbers are either funded by their wives or dirt bags.

We trekked on following the side of the mountain just below treeline. Everywhere glaciers glistened in the distance and we paused every now and then to discuss approach routes up. There were massive tote bags of gravel in the middle the trail at several points  for some odd, unknown reason. Finally we rounded a corner and caught sight of the Mackenzie Hut far below us on he shore of Mackenzie Lake. The descent featured extremely long switchbacks into the treeline.In the forest more long switchbacks eventually brought us to the lake shore and Mackenzie Hut at 3:00.

The hut was one building this time. The sleeping quarters were upstairs. There was a long row of beds with not space between them on one side and then several bunks on the other. The kitchen was downstairs. It was early, so after picking out our beds and writing them on the chart, Eric and I headed out to walk around the lake. After all, there were lots of boulders beside it! We found a pretty large number of routes. I completed a first ascent of a V0 friction climb I named “Barefoot Only” since I climbed it barefoot. It was on the right side of the lake from the hut. Further on we found lots of other problems that we did not name. We were about to do the VB, V0 and V1 vertical problems with our sandals (or barefoot). Unfortunately we couldn’t do some of the awesome roof and V2+ problems without proper climbing shoes. It was fun to work out the problems in our head though.

We had dinner and waited for the warden’s meeting at 7… at 7:30 he still hadn’t come and Eric was falling over in his seat from exhaustion. At least Don entertained us and an Aussie family with climbing stories. The warden did arrive and proceeded to give a long winded safety talk which he made into a comedy routine… but it was just to late for us to enjoy it. I told Eric to go to bed halfway through. The warden did not collect our ticket after the safety talk. He proceeded to go about a project he was running trapping stoats, the little invasive weasel killing the birds. He talked about this for 20 minutes and asked for donations. Again… really not the time for this. Finally he collected the tickets and donations.

Bedtime

10.2 miles

2804 Ascent / 3088 Descent

 

Backpacks full of gear, food and water Eric and I headed to downtown Queentown to the InfoTrack shuttle station. We boarded our bus with other trekkers at 8am and began the journey to the Routeburn Track. New Zealand has nine Great Walks. We chose to do Routeburn because it is not as crowded as the more popular Milford Track and also has the most diverse ecosystems. Furthermore, the Routeburn Track which is normally a 3 day trek can be linked with the Greenstone Track creating a almost complete loop in 5 days. All tracks in New Zealand are well signed at each junction and display and estimated time bracket (ie: 3.5-5 hours)  to your destination. We found these times to be pretty accurate for our speed.

We began our drive around Lake Wakatipu while the driver regaled us ab out natural and cultural history of the area. We paused briefly for photos at an overlook a d then for 30 minutes at the small hamlet of Glenorchy. From there it was a 40 minute drive to the Routeburn Carpark in Mt Aspiring National Park. We were greeted by Keas, the only alpine parrot in the world. They are beggers and came right up to us in search of a free handout.

The trail begins from the Routeburn Shelter and heads off to the left into the forest. New Zealand is known for ferns and we passed millions of these prawns as were journeyed from the mossy thicket.  Several birds sung exotic along the trail, but not many.. The birds of New Zealand are in trouble. Before ships landed on the Island these birds had no enemies. Many build nests on the ground and have little fear of anything. Thus was humans introduced possums and stoats to the Islands, the birds were swifted devoured. Traps for these invasive species line the Routeburn Trail and every other trail in NZ. Several birds can right over to us and one pecked at Eric’s shoe and then walked between my legs!

We eventually arrived in Routeburn Flats, an open valley with golden high grasses. The trail skirts the edge of the valley in the tree providing appreciated shade from the strong sunshine. A folk is reach. One way points up to Routeburn Falls hut and the other to the right toward Routeburn Flats Hut. It was still early even though we had a late start at 10 from the shelter so Eric and I decided to take the side trip to North Routeburn Branch. The trail begins across the river from Routeburn Flats Hut. It is easy to hop rocks across in late season, but would require a ford in early summer. The trail follows the North Branch of the Routeburn Valley providing gorgeous views of Routeburn Falls high on the mountain behind the Flats Hut. The Falls Hut was hidden behind trees and we could not see it. However, we could see Harris Pass which we will climb tomorrow. The trail int he valley is faint at time in the tall grass, but wooden poles mark the way.

The valley ended after about a mile or so and we began to climb a muddy trail in the brushy forest gaining about 300ft. At the tope of the small pass the forest opened up into a clearing providing a view of the next valley below. Just beside the trail a large boulder loomed before us topped with a cairn. Eric and I knew that we still had to climb the steep trail to the top of Routeburn Falls Hut and thus opted to not contiue the side trip. However, we did take about 20 minutes to study the boulder. Eric put up a new problem following the horizontal cracks on the cleanest side of the boulder. He dubbed the VB climb after we completed it “No Climbing Shoes Allowed” since we only had hiking boots (this we could not do difficult problems). There is a walk off descent. It should be noted that we did not clean the boulder and no one ever should since this is a National Park in NZ. Leave things in their natural state please.

We followed the North Branch back to the Flats hut and then returned to the fork. The Tail climbed steeply toward the Fall Hut. The path crosses some major rock and mud slide areas and signs indicate to move quickly and not stop in these sections. By the time we reached the hut it was about 4:30pm. The Routeburn Falls Hut it set on wooden stilts overlooking the valley. There are little wooden section in the sleeping hut each hold two bunk beds. The building beside it is the kitchen. Behind the Hut is the Lodge which is set aside for guided groups only. A paper with a chart of the beds was on the bulletin board. The notice indicated that we choose bed and then right our ticket number on the coordinating bed on the chart. There was going to be a ticket collection and safety meeting with the warden at 7:00.

Eric and I selected our beds and then headed outside to explore in what remained of the daylight. Routeburn Falls was just about 3 minute walk up the trail. Two men were taking a shower under the falls! Further on the trail followed the river into a handing valley. Across the water massive boulders beckoned, but the only way across was a ford across the swift river or a sketching leap across just above the falls in a narrow section. As it gre dim we headed back to the hut for dinner.

The cooking facilities featured several gas burns. You needed to bring your own matches, pot, bowls and utensils. After dinner we waited for the Warden. He briefed us on the weather and what laid ahead of us on the track. He then gave a lengthy safety talk telling us how to exit in case of a fire, where to gather and the location of the helicopter pad. Finally he collected out tickets.

Bedtime.

10 miles

2708ft ascent/1023ft descent