Road Trippin Baja California

With winter fast approaching and a couple of weeks to kill, Mila and I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to check out Baja California.  Being a California native, Mila had tons of friends who knew the area well and hooked us up with countless tips and connections which made the trip far more enjoyable and allowed us to go places that few people get to see.  Among those was a tiny island north of La Paz called El Pardito where a small group of fishermen live and fish.  It was beautiful and the people were incredibly nice and open which was a pleasure as always.

We happened to begin our journey south at the same time as thousands of off-road maniacs began a famous 1000 mile race called the Baja 1000.  The result was endless near misses with their support crews as they blasted down the two lane paved road that traverses the peninsula in their huge pick-ups and RV’s, and an even closer encounter with one of the race cars itself when we carelessly drove down the race track in search of a camp site.

All things considered it was good fun and a worthy way to spend a couple of weeks in the sun.  Next time well need more time!

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Baja 2012

Baja 2012

(11.12.2012, 19 Photos)

A Memorable Rescue

Check it out:

http://www.nps.gov/yose/parknews/elcapsar1012.htm

The article linked above is a summary of 9 hours of constant motion, technical climbing, rescuing, and rappelling, all in the snow and rain.  Most El Cap SARs involve helicopters, hundreds of pounds of gear, and 20+ people.  The three of us (Aaron Smith, Ben Doyle and I) probably had 50 pounds of gear (plus personal stuff), and a serious time crunch due to darkness, cold, snow, wind, etc.  We got damn lucky on various counts,  but the guy would not have made it through the night so it was as real an example of high risk and high reward as you get.  I was lucky to get on the crew!  Good stuff.

Summer 2012 Pictures

This summer has been unbelievable in every way.  Great adventures in the mountains for months straight, sometimes working, sometimes playing, but always having a good time.  I have learned a huge amount thanks to my friends and team members on YOSAR (Yosemite Search and Rescue), from countless classes and training sessions, and from the usual steep learning curve of experience.

The biggest thanks goes out to my team mates who have been far and away the most important and enjoyable part of my time here in Yosemite.  I look forward to working and playing with them all again in the future.  Below are a bunch of pictures.  Cheers!

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Summer 2012 Best Of

Summer 2012 Best Of

(10.10.2012, 51 Photos)

Goodbye Gil

Last month my friend and climbing partner Gil Weiss died on Palcaraju Oeste in the Cordillera Blanca range in Peru.  He and Ben Horne had just established a new route on the south face of the mountain and both fell over 1000 feet while descending from the summit.  The climbers were missing for several days and a rescue team was sent out.  Their bodies were found on the 28th of July.

Most of my climbing with Gil has been spent on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, so it was no surprise this May when we bumped into each other outside of Bishop, CA.  He and another friend were on a long road trip and were preparing to make the rarely completed Palisade Traverse in the Sierras, which they did with Ben Horne, the following week.

It has been a privilege knowing and climbing with Gil.  He will be greatly missed.

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Gil climbing near mount Whitney, CA.

Blood of the Monkey

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Brad Wilson and I headed out to the Mount Whitney Massif to climb the Keeler Needle, a steep sister peak with a summit approaching 15,000 feet.  The route we chose was a big, hard, new line recently put up by Miles and Amy, the local hard climbers who live at the base of Mount Whitney.  They climbed the route at the beginning of June, spending 8 hard days cleaning and developing the line.  After reading their trip report (below) Brad and I were excited to try and make the second ascent.  We camped at the base the night before and then spent a long long day repeating the great climb.  A big adventure and a big success for both of us!  Below is a link to Miles and Amy’s trip report, as well as some of Brad and my pictures from the route.

http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Keeler-Needle-Blood-of-the-Monkey-VI-5-12-16-pitches-F-A-Moser-Ness-May-28-2012-June-6-2012/t11495n.html

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The 2000 foot face of the Keeler Needle.

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Brad leading the tenuous fourth pitch with the massive face above him.

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The shadow of the Keeler Needle in the afternoon.

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Brad and I on top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48!

Blood of the Monkey

Blood of the Monkey

(18.07.2012, 19 Photos)

Yosemite Search and Rescue!!

I finally landed my dream job!  I am living in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, one of the biggest climbing meccas in the world, and am part of a ten person Search and Rescue team here.  We have been on a few ‘SAR’s’ so far, and have been training, climbing, and enjoying life.  Below are a bunch of pictures of life out here and some climbing shots from the summer so far.  More to come!  And come visit!

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My kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedroom!

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The SAR pager.

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The Cathedral Range above Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.

Tuolumne Meadows 2012

Tuolumne Meadows 2012

(25.06.2012, 35 Photos)

Abu Dhabi Round Two

Andrew and I arrived back in Rio from Tres Picos (see below) at about 7 on Sunday night.  I checked my email and found a series of emails about returning to Abu Dhabi…preferably that night!  A couple of hours later I had a flight booked for the next day and spent the next 12 hours hurriedly sorting out my life and preparing to fly half way around the world.

Seven days later I was in San Francisco after a crazy week, most of it spent floating around in the black hole of never ending international travel.  The work in Abu Dhabi went smoothly, the Indian food was as delicious as ever, and my return flight took me over Greenland and northern Canada which was absolutely beautiful.  We will see what comes of Abu Dhabi round three…if it comes at all.  Below are some pictures.

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Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

(24.08.2011, 44 Photos)

Tres Picos National Park, Brasil

Climbing in one of the most famous climbing areas in Brasil

With my departure approaching fast, Andrew was nice enough to take some time off and head up to the mountains surrounding Rio with me.  After three hours on his dirt bike and some terrifying near misses with aggressive semi trucks, we arrived in Tres Picos National Park.  The park is absolutely beautiful and the climbing is incredible: traditional and a bit scary on extremely solid 2000 foot granite spires.  The silence and tranquility was an amazing contrast to Rio’s hustle and bustle.

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Andrew and I below Pico Menor, Pico Maior, and Capacete.

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Andrew leading up into the mist on Pico Maior.

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Me climbing on Capacete. The route is called Solidos Ilusoes and is beautiful and fun.

Brasil 2012

Brasil 2012

(19.03.2012, 61 Photos)

Brasil 2012: More pictures

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What happens to half-inch steel when it is exposed to salt and water.

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Rio from the water at sunset.

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The east and north faces of Sugarloaf from the water.

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Brasil 2012

Brasil 2012

(19.03.2012, 61 Photos)

Back in Brasil

Rio: one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

I arrived back in Rio de Janeiro last week.  For the past several months my friend Asa Firestone and his partner Andrew Lenz have been working on a project to use rock climbing as a tool to promote social change among underprivileged children in Rio de Janeiro.  The program is called C.E.U (Centro de Escaladas Urbanas) and I was excited to see first hand the progress that Asa and Andrew have made.  There is still a long way to go, but the wheels are in motion.  The two of them also showed me some of their current climbing projects which was great fun.  Below are some pictures and links.

C.E.U: http://www.escaladaurbana.com/english/

Andrew’s climbing and sailing guide service: http://www.ancoraue.com/

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The view from Irmao Maior above the Rocina favela in Rio with Pico da Gavea is in the background.

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Andrew climbing on Pao de Acucar (sugarloaf).

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Asa "rock climbing" on Irmao Maior.

Brasil 2012

Brasil 2012

(19.03.2012, 61 Photos)

Holidays in Mexico

After freezing my tail off in Tahoe for a couple months, the Mexican desert was a wonderful change.  My sister and her husband have renovated an absolutely beautiful house in a small town called Guanajuato where I got to hang out and get some much needed rest for a few days.

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The beautiful ruins of Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City.

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The holiday turkey cooking in my sister and her husband's own solar cooker. The two of them designed and built the oven.

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The view from my sister's balcony of the nice little town of Guanajuato, a few hours north of Mexico City.

More UAE Photos

Life cranks on out here.  The temperature has dropped, making work in the shade almost bearable, but the sun is still brutal.  I have had the chance to see a bit more of the country and city (mosques and oases), as well as make an uneventful visa run to Oman.  Below are some of the better new pictures.

As is always the case, the human element of this trip has become increasingly important.  Chatting with workers at the shipyard, giving people rides into town, and my daily interactions with food servers or hotel clerks have made the true face of the UAE really start to stand out—that of fast money, and as a result, a HUGE influx of underpaid and overworked immigrant laborers.  It is simultaneously the most uplifting and heartbreaking experience to see these men and women, so far from home, working their asses off to keep themselves, their families, and this country afloat.

One more week here and then back to the states for some much needed schooling.

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

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The worlds biggest chandelier.

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A view of the UAE- Oman border from above. On the left is Al Ain, home to a huge oasis where they farm date palms.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

(24.08.2011, 44 Photos)

Abu Dhabi and the UAE

What is there really to say.  Too many things and yet nothing at all.  Life has been pretty much nothing but eat, sleep, work, and sweat.  Unbelievable, extraordinary, incomprehensible amounts of sweat.  I always thought that deserts were DRY.  And this one certainly is.  But somehow the hot air coalesces with the evaporating Persian Gulf to create triple digit temperatures with extremely high humidity.  Upon arrival, in the middle of the night, I could not believe the heat.  Now it’s a bit better.

The work has been varied, and of course ranges from excruciatingly boring to extremely interesting; from physically exhausting to tiringly precise and tedious.  But all other things being equal, we are working on a multi-million dollar super-yacht and it is unbelievably interesting.

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A view from the front, the top of the tent is close to 200 feet tall.

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This is only one of the two propellers on either side!

The country itself can only be described as a fascinating juxtaposition of traditional Muslim culture and over the top western extravagance.  One cannot miss the explosion of money that arrived here and turned this place into one of the richest countries in the world.  The locals, on first glance are a mix of Emeratis, Indians, Philippinos, and all of the international business people.  If judged by the restaurants alone, there seems to be a pretty equal distribution of all parts, and I would guess that the reality is not too far off.

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A scene from Abu Dhabi's center.

Today we found out that the project I was hired for will be done by other people, so I am not sure what awaits.  I might be here another couple of weeks, or might be on a plane in no time.  Both options have their plus’s, but in either case there is still a fair amount I want to see in this country, starting with the mosque that I am hoping to visit later today- the biggest in the country.

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The Burj Khalifa. It is shockingly tall.

We’ll see what comes of it all.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

(24.08.2011, 44 Photos)

Back in Tahoe

After a long struggle with these contraptions, my friend Chris managed to fix my computer and I am back in business, so to speak.  Tahoe has been a bit of a roller coaster this summer but is finally settling in nicely.

It started with a series of May and even June snowstorms that had me wondering if it would ever warm up.  It did, of course, and now we are fully into the summer, when it pretty much doesn’t rain for three months straight.  Good fun to be had.

I also managed a July 4th trip to Yosemite and climbed a big route on a formation called the Leaning Tower.  This involved one overnight on a ledge half-way up the face and was a great trip.

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Awahnee Ledge on the Leaning Tower-- a perfect place to spend the night.

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The Leaning Tower is the big wall to the right of the waterfall.

July in California

July in California

(14.07.2011, 20 Photos)

Also, earlier in the summer my friend Marcus invited me to help him put up a high-line in a nearby canyon.  A high line is essentially a tightrope suspended several hundred feet off of the ground.  The idea is to walk across it while clipped in with a small safety tether.  It is WAY harder than it looks.  Marcus has enough experience that he was able to get across, while I was only able to fall and fall and fall.  But the rigging systems required are really cool and we had a great day figuring it all out.  Check out the video below.

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Setting up the high line.

The Galapgos Islands

The Galapagos Islands.  The name generally evokes images of a beautiful group of virtually untouched islands full of unique animals, beautiful beaches, and breathtaking scenery.  It also seems to be almost synonymous with Charles Darwin, whose visit to the islands was largely responsible for the theory of evolution.  A visit to the islands confirms these beliefs 10 fold, and then offers so much more.

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With each passing day since my return, I am struck ever more with how incredibly unique the Galapagos are.  They were only discovered a few hundred years ago, and due to their unforgiving climate and geography (and lack of gold or diamonds), were largely disregarded by the European colonists.The first permanent human settlers didn’t arrive until very recently, when the Islands began being recognized as an ecological paradise.  As a result, the landscapes are genuinely untouched, and the animals are incredibly friendly as they haven’t been hunted by humans for thousands of years.  We werecommonly mere inches from seals, iguanas, giant turtles, and of course, Blue Footed Boobies (a bird).  And one of the most unforgettable moments was when snorkeling with a baby seal that was actually playing with us—swimming all around us and poking us with its nose.  Spectacular.

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The geography was impressive because it was actually way harsher than I imagined.  The islands are a volcanic chain that is still active, and many of the bigger ones were formed when lava flows connected two or three adjacent volcanoes.  As a result, much of the ground is nothing more than hardened lava (it looks like black pavement in various stages of destruction) which is difficult for plants to penetrate, but very easy for water (it is very porous).  So despite the fact that the Galapagos straddles the equator, much of the islands look more like a tropical desert than a tropical paradise.  Very very cool.

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My Dad in an old lava field.

 

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Then there is Lonesome George, the last remaining giant tortoise of its specific species.  He is over a hundred years old, and will likely live many more decades, but that doesn’t change the fact that to look at him makes time seem to slow to a crawl—he represents millions of years of evolution, and his death will be the end of that very veryvery long story.  Really crazy.

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Lonesome George

The people of Ecuador (both on the islands and on the mainland) were INCREDIBLY friendly and informative, and although we only saw a small glimpse of the country, it is a beautiful and diverse place.

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Seal, iguana, human.

Thanks to my father for making the trip happen, and of course, for making it to 70 years old, which was the inspiration for the whole thing in the first place.

Ecuador and Galapagos

Ecuador and Galapagos

(13.04.2011, 65 Photos)

Brasilian Crack-rock

The other side of Brasilian climbing.

Two years ago, in Argentina, I met a Brasilian climber named Luiz in the mountains outside of Mendoza.  He told me stories of climbing areas in Brasil that were full of beautiful mountains and were fairly unknown, even among Brasilians.  Unfortunately, the day he left I was climbing and didn’t get his contact information.  This haunted me on and off over the years every time I would day dream about climbing in Brasil.

One month ago, in a small climbing town outside of Sao Paulo, Brasil, I walked into a burger joint to buy a beer, and low and behold, there was Luiz, eating dinner.  Small world.

Finally, last week I boarded a bus in Rio de Janeiro headed for a truck stop on the side of the highway between Rio and Sao Paulo.  There, later that evening, Luiz and I planned to meet and head into Itatiaia National Park, where he works as a ranger, to go climbing for the weekend.

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As I headed out of Rio there was tons of traffic and I began to fear that I’d overshoot our appointed meeting time by a couple hours and have to spend the night in the truck stop.  Fortunately the bus stopped for dinner and I had time to buy a phone card, call Luiz, and give him an estimate of when I’d arrive at the truck stop.  He had arranged to have his friend Tiara pick me up on his way to the park, and around 9 o’clock Tiara showed up, we ate dinner, and then headed up into the hills to Luiz’s house. 

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In the week that followed I saw sides of Brasilian climbing that few people get the chance to experience.  Luiz, being one of the few Brasilians who is obsessed with crack climbing, has spent his time in Itatiaia searching for California-quality cracks in the granite faces that scatter the mountainsides of the park.  So after Tiara and I checked out some of the more popular climbing areas in the park, Luiz brought us to his little paradise.  The cracks were great, the place was spectacularly beautiful, and best of all we were the only climbers in the park.

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Luiz climbing the a perfect hand crack that he established last year.

After this, he and I spent a day making a mile+ long traverse of the highest ridge line in the park—Agulhas Negras.  This traverse, although technically not very difficult, is extremely involved, fairly exposed, and requires a lot of tricky and difficult route finding.  As a result, it only gets a few ascents per year.  This was the first time that Luiz had made the traverse as well, so we spent the entire day on a good little adventure making our way across the formation.  The climbing was unlike anything I had seen before— we were essentially running around in a huge granite playground at 8000 feet.

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A glimpse of the rock formations on the Agulhas Negras ridge.

We got lost on the descent, which was a bit of a mess, but in the end we found a relatively safe way down and hiked back out to the car, pretty exhausted.

But it didn’t end there.  On my final day in the park, Luiz, his friend Rodrigo, and I walked a trail that had been closed for more than 20 years.  It was beautiful and passed by some more impressive rock faces, but by the end of the day both Luiz and I were destroyed.

Now back in Sao Paulo for some R&R.  Thanks Luiz!!!  Ate a proxima.

Itatiaia Brasil

Itatiaia Brasil

(25.03.2011, 42 Photos)

Oh, Brasil……..

Anyone who has spent time in this country knows that there is really no way to describe it. The size, the culture, food, the diversity, the beauty, the futebol, and most importantly the language really put it into a class of its own when compared to the rest of the Americas. In addition, the last decade has been one of huge economic growth here, which is a nice breath of fresh air.

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Climbing on Ana Chata, with Pedra do Bau in the background.

Sao Paulo is surprisingly pleasant, especially considering that it is one of the biggest cities on the planet. It is clean, safe, quiet (relatively), full of good food, nice parks, and a handful of interesting sights and museums.

That being said, I was ready to escape after a couple of weeks and headed for the climbing capital of the area—Sao Bento do Sapucai. It also has far surpassed my expectations, and its population of fewer than 15,000 is a pleasant contrast to the 30,000,000 in Sao Paulo. The climbing has been great, variable, and shared with an eclectic group of Brasilians. It is off season here due to rain and heat, but there are still plenty of climbers around, and I have been thoroughly enjoying the peace and quiet when there are not.

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Pedra do Bau, in Sao Bento do Sapucai

From here to the beach, then to the mountains (and Carnaval) of Rio de Janeiro.

Brasil Climb

Brasil Climb

(15.02.2011, 35 Photos)

Paddling The St. John’s

Alone in the swamps of Florida

For most of the world, the state of Florida is nothing more than endless strip malls, crowded beaches, and Miami, a city that seems to exude every culture in the Americas except that of the United States.  Oh, yeah, and then Disney World.  But there is another side to the state that few get to see—the inland swamps.

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Running north through the center of the state is the St. Johns River.  It is 300 miles long, drops little more than an inch per mile, and is FILLED with wildlife—there are over a million alligators in Florida, many of them in the St Johns, as well as snakes, turtles, endless birds and fish, and even a large population of manatees. 

On December 7th I got dropped off by uncle at the north end of Sawgrass Lake in the headwaters of the river.  Any further south and the river would be largely impassable, even in my kayak, due to low waters.  I spent 8 days on the river, paddling by day and camping on the banks at night.  It was remarkably beautiful and surprisingly challenging due to the insanely devious nature of the river—the slower a river travels, the more it wanders and diverges, making it a literal maze to figure out.  The theory of “Well, this water MUST be going SOMEWHERE!” got me through countless miles of confusion, even when the water was so low that I had to get out of my boat and drag it through a channel that was little more than 5 feet wide.

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A typical camp on the river's edge

 

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In the end, I traveled about 75 miles on the river, averaging just about 3 miles per hour (yes, painfully slow).  Two different cold fronts resulted in some painful headwinds that taught me a HUGE amount about the ups and downs of paddling as a way of travelling.  These head winds, typical all through the winter, are what eventually drove me out of the water, but not before I got a real feel for the beauty of the state, the river, and the wildlife out there.  I also spent a couple nights on an ancient Seminole Indian waste mound and found tons of old pottery fragments and animal fossils.  Very cool stuff.

One day I would love to return to finish much more of the river, but will wait until the winds die down and the nighttime temperatures stop dipping into the 20s.

If you ever end up in Central Florida, forget Disney and head to the swamps to see the real sights.  Then go to my Uncle’s Reptile Discover Center to get a behind-the-scenes look at how cool these animals are.

St Johns River

St Johns River

(06.12.2010, 28 Photos)

A Life Well Lived

It is so easy to forget just how dangerous and upredictable mountains can be…until the worst happens.  A couple of months ago, a friend of mine, Tyler Anderson, lost his life guiding in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. 

His parents have started a foundation devoted to increasing safety in the mountains of Peru– buying rescue sleds, satellite phones, and teaching first aid– and are looking for donations.  Check out the website below–

https://www.iwork.com/document/?d=TY_Peru_Rescue_Corp..pages&a=p1371380383&u=michelevanderson@hotmail.com&p=1C961F1C4E2710B88D17

 

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Tyler enjoying some laughs in the sun after a few weeks in the mountains.

 

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Tyler and I on a beautiful summit in Arenales, Argentina.

 

Tyler was a great climber, an incredibly happy spirit, and is a huge loss to the climbing community both here and abroad.  Thanks for all of the laughs.

A First Ascent in the Sierras

Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.  It sits in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and besides being a beautiful mountain itself, it is also surrounded by many other granite peaks.  Luckily, many of these other peaks and faces get overlooked.  I met my friend Gil down there last weekend and with all of the information that he had gathered from friends of his, we managed to climb a new route on Mt. Cleaver.

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Our route, "Bloody Cleaver" on Mt. Cleaver.

The quality of the climbing itself varied, as did the rock, but the trip was good fun, the place was beautiful, and as with every first ascent, I learned a ton.

We named the route Bloody Cleaver in honor of the gash in Gil’s chin that he got from a wild fall on the second pitch of the climb.

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Gil chillin at our base camp below the face.

Check out Gil’s trip report here—

http://pullharder.org/2010/09/16/fa-bloody-cleaver-5-10-6-7-pitches/

Mt. Cleaver

Mt. Cleaver

(21.09.2010, 10 Photos)