Friday, June 27, 2008

Pacific Peak

So Lubin calls me last night and suggests we go climb something. I'd been browsing Dave Cooper's Snow Climbs book and seen the North Couloir route on Pacific Peak so I suggested it to Lubin. He wasn't familiar with the route, but it sounded good. Our plans were set.

I realized after we talked that I never really read the route description all the way through, and I hadn't checked other sources. I didn't have to read long to find out that the North Coulior is a serious climb, with 60 degree slopes, possible alpine ice, and a need for some gear we didn't have. I called Lubin back to give him an update and we decided to head to the couloir anyway. The trip there should be a spectacular hike and if we didn't like the looks of the couloir, we'd find another way to the top.

We met just off of Highway 9 at 6:30 and took Lubin's car as far as we could up the road. The four-wheel section is rough but was passable in Lubin's Suburu Outback. We finally had to stop at an avalanche debris field that probably still holds 6 feet of snow. Hiking by shortly after 7, we headed up towards the lakes past some great old mine ruins and it took a while before we got a view of Pacific Peak. I knew we wouldn't get any view of the North Couloir until we were almost directly in front of it, so we'd have to be patient.

The approach should not be underestimated. Reaching the very top of the valley takes time, and postholing in some of the snowfields doesn't help. Thankfully, much of the snow was solid and made travel considerably easier. We rested at the top of the valley around 11:00 and quickly dismissed any thoughts of climbing the North Couloir - not only were we underprepared, the branch of the couloir to the right of the notch was sporting an ugly cornice. We opted for a gentler, cornice-free option on Pacific's north ridge, approximately 500 feet of snow climbing that never exceeded 45 degrees. Once on the ridge, it was a slow scramble to the top, which I reached about 1:00. On the way up we passed the cornice we had seen from below, and it had a bergschrund-like crevasse nearly a foot wide. It might sit there for a day or a week, but it's going to come down and I hope nobody is in that couloir when it does.

Our best bet for heading down was to head east off of Pacific's summit down to the broad, flat bench that holds one of Colorado's highest lakes. We wanted to make a lot of easterly progress and find a suitable glissade slope. I had only glissaded a couple times before, earlier this month on Mt. Sherman, and that wasn't nearly as steep or long as what I faced here. I had my ice axe and knew how to self-arrest. What could go wrong?

It turns out that my glissade skills need some work. I got going pretty fast and before I knew it I had turned sideways, caught a boot, and then began tumbling down the slope. The axe had left my hands and was now a threat to injure me, but somehow mid-tumble I managed to gain control and stop myself. I had probably done 5 or 6 somersaults and snow had filled in behind my glacier glasses, so I really couldn't see anything. Lubin missed the whole thing, as he was still descending ahead of me. Later, on another slope, he did get to watch me have similar problems on a shorter slope. It could have been much, much worse, but I survived without a scratch and I'll be sure to get some glissade practice on a kinder, gentler slope.

The rest of the trip out was much less eventful, navigating around the lakes and encountering several groups of people headed for the lakes, the first people we'd seen all day. We made it back to the car just before 5 and headed home. After 10 hours on the trail, we were beat!

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, 1937-2008

Somehow, I could feel this coming. In the days following Tim Russert's death a little over a week ago, I repeatedly got this feeling like George Carlin would be soon to follow. I wonder if he got the two-minute warning? I wonder if he'll get blown up? (Listen to "Death and Dying" from Carlin's 1977 album On the Road.)

I can't think of any other single person in popular culture that has done more to influence my sense of humor and personal philosophies than George Carlin. It's strange, really, since I'm nothing like Carlin - I don't use profanity, have never drank or used drugs, and I generally avoid controversy. I've always liked stand-up comedy, however, and Carlin has been my favorite ever since I heard Playin' With Your Head when I was in middle school. (Big thanks to Phil Walters, who borrowed the tape from his brother so he could share it with me and others while we detasseled corn.) I understand those who think Pryor was funnier, but when I think of all the ways Carlin's work has influenced my view of the world, Carlin will always be my #1.

I saw Carlin live back around 2000 and I remember him working from a table of note cards and putting together the beginnings of his suicide routine that eventually ended up being on his 2006 Life Is Worth Losing album. The act was still pretty rough, and disturbing enough that a noticeable number of people left the theater. I didn't see it as insulting; I saw a veteran comedian challenging himself to make something funny that usually isn't funny. I don't know what other comedian could have succeeded, or which ones would even bother to try.

Just a few days ago, George was selected by the Kennedy Center to receive this year's Mark Twain Prize. In what was probably his last public joke he ever told, Carlin issued a statement saying, "Thank you Mr. Twain. Have your people call my people." Better yet, George, go talk to him yourself. It's your next big adventure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sherman and Gemini

Today I got my first two mountains of the year, Mt. Sherman (14,036') and Gemini Peak (13,951'). I look at these peaks every day out my front window, so it was about time to pay them a visit. I climbed Sherman in 2000, and today's climb made it the first 14er I've summitted twice. I hadn't gotten Gemini on my last trip, which is a shame because the pair make a pretty easy double.

Our times were good: I met Peter Lubin at his house at 5:30am; we were at the trailhead at 6:08 and hiking at 6:22. I hiked with trekking poles and carried an ice axe on my pack for glissades on the way down; Lubin carried skis with the hopes of skiing the big east-facing bowl between Sherman and Gemini. We climbed quickly (over 1200 vertical feet per hour, not bad at all for my first time out) and reached Sherman's summit at 8:02. It was windy on the ridge, but we managed to not get swept off our feet.

After summitting Sherman we headed to Gemini to eat. Things for me got pretty relaxed from there. The trip back towards Sherman was casual, and Lubin geared up for the skiing while I headed up and back over Sherman's summit and down the ridge. I met a group of about 6 near the Sherman-Sheridan saddle, the only other group on the mountain today. The glissades were great, and I took my sweet time in reaching the cars about 12:10. Lubin skied back to the cars at about 12:50. Great day!