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Archive for June, 2012

4th Fun in Lake Tahoe: Run to the Beach!

Friday, June 29th, 2012

While fireworks fly a day early here in Kings Beach on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, another event falls on the 4th of July that’s tons of fun for anybody and everybody.

Run to the Beach, put on by Big Blue Adventures and sponsored by Tahoe Mountain Sports, is an annual favorite.

A true “all ages and all abilities” race, this 5K and 10K trail run is designed for families, running enthusiasts and those who may be new to friendly competitive trail running.

The point-to-point race starts at the North Tahoe Regional Park in Tahoe Vista, a hidden gem among North Lake Tahoe’s public parks, tours runners through scenic pine forest with breathtaking lake views and finishes on the beach in front of the North Tahoe Events Center in Downtown Kings Beach.

Runners have the option of taking the full 10K course along a mix of scenic single track, dirt roads and along quiet neighborhood streets; or the shorter 5K course which leaves off some of the longer, off-road sections.

The Run to the Beach is scheduled to get underway at 8 a.m.

Runners can register online at TahoeTrailRunning.com or at Tahoe Mountain Sports on July 2nd and 3rd from the hours of 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Runners can also register on race day (July 4th) at the North Tahoe Regional Park. An awards ceremony will be held on the beach following the morning’s race and a shuttle will be provided to return runners to the North Tahoe Regional Park from the beach finish.

Runners, friends and their families are encouraged to explore the Fourth of July Festivities in Kings Beach and throughout North Lake Tahoe, including fireworks shows in Kings Beach on July 3rd and in Tahoe City on July 4th.

The Run to the Beach is part of the 2012 Tahoe Trail Running Series presented by Salomon and Big Blue Adventure.

Summer Skiing at Mt. Shasta

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

For this Adventure of the Week, Truckee resident and skier Mike Vaughan writes about an early-summer tradition to summit and ski Mt. Shasta. While the rest of the state is baking in June sunshine, Mt. Shasta still holds perfect corn for thousands of vertical feet.

Who: Aaron Breitbard, John Riina, Mike Vaughan

What: Climbing, summiting, and skiing the Hotlum-Wintun Route from the Brewer Creek Trailhead.

Where: East side of Mt. Shasta.

When: Sunday June 16

Gear: backcountry ski gear, ice axe, crampons

First rays of morning sun hit the east side of Mt. Shasta

For the past four years, I have been prying myself away from the great early-summer mountain biking around Truckee and North Tahoe to make an annual pilgrimage north for one last ski. The east side of mount Shasta provides a sustained corn run of close to 7,000 vertical feet. Alright, it’s generally not perfect corn the whole way — but when timed well, it’s an awesome ski considering it’s summertime in California.
The road to Brewer Creek Trailhead is not plowed and generally melts out sometime in June or July. Last year, I couldn’t quite drive to the trailhead when I skied it on July 30. This year we drove straight up to the trailhead on Saturday night, June 16th.
The forecast low on Saturday night was 39 degrees at 12,500 feet, and the forecast high in Redding for Sunday was 104. An early start was definitely in order. Many people choose to take two days, but we opted for the 24-hour turnaround. Camped at the trailhead Saturday night, making coffee by 3:30 am, and hiking shortly after  4:30. Just after 5 am we were on snow skinning.
One great thing about the east side of Shasta, as opposed to the more popular Bunny Flat Trailhead on the southwest side, is the fact that you can see the summit shortly after starting your hike and you get to watch an amazing sunrise. (If you miss the sunrise, you must hike really fast and can afford a late start.)

Skinning up at sunrise

Pat Harwood hiking up the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge, 2009

Snow was soft, due to the non-freezing temps overnight and we were able to skin to about 12,000 feet. From there it’s skis off, crampons on, and ideally ice axe in hand. We summited (14,179 feet) shortly after 10 am. We were met there by a steady stream of people hiking up Avalanche Gulch from Bunny Flat and Lake Helen. On a busy Sunday, 100 people might summit from the southwest side of the mountain, many with guides, and most without skis or boards. There were about 20 people climbing the east side of the mountain, all with skis or boards.

 

After some time hanging out on the summit we dropped in around 11 am. When skiing the east side, you can literally put your skis on 15 feet below the summit and drop in to the true east face above the Wintun Glacier. It’s about 45-degrees at the top, and remains relatively steep for 3,000 to 4,000 vert. The snow on this whole pitch was perfect corn. Then we traversed left to the lower portion of the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge we hiked up earlier. More good skiing, followed by some very sticky skiing, dirt skiing, and ultimately some dirt walking. Beers at the car shortly after noon.

Pat Harwood shredding down the Wintun Glacier, past a group of jealous hikers, 2009.

In the years I have been skiing this route I have encountered boiler-plate re-frozen snow, all-time corn, painfully sticky snow, a little pow, and large sun cups. All in all though, the east side of Mt. Shasta has never failed to produce an awesome day of skiing to wrap up the season.

 

The east side of Mt. Shasta, from the road to Brewer Creek, June 2009

Black Diamond Neve Pro Crampons
Black Diamond Neve Pro Crampons
MSRP: $159.95
Pieps DSP Avalanche Beacon
Pieps DSP Avalanche Beacon
MSRP: $449.95

Tahoe Girls Talk Bikinis

Monday, June 25th, 2012

When Tahoe Mountain Sports asked if we wanted to try on their summer swimwear and put it to the test, it was a no-brainer. We get to wear colorful bikinis and hang out on the beach?! Um, yeah — we’re in.

Like kids in candy shops, Melanie, Kendra and I got to pick several outfits each with different bikinis and hats. And while shopping for bikinis is often a lot like shopping for jeans (dreaded, and you never seem to find the right one unless you’re not looking for it), trying on bikinis at Tahoe Mountain Sports made us feel like the models they wanted us to be. That’s because these suits are designed to fit and flatter the women we are. That is, girls who are active, who go to the beach to lay out and kill it paddleboarding, surfing, in a volleyball match, or wherever. These are suits that won’t fly up when you dive off the dock into the lake. And not only do the fit well, but they look good, too.

After the morning on Speedboat Beach in Kings Beach, we all left with more than one bikini in mind that we were just going to have to buy. Funny how that happens.

Here’s what we all had to say about the bikinis we loved the most.

Melanie

Melanie mastering paddleboard yoga in a Next halter bikini top and Oakley board shorts

“When picking out bikinis to wear, the first thing I considered was color and print. I love color and fell in love with the bright Next suit prints right away. From there, it’s all about finding the perfect fit. I really like athletic-fitting halter tops and bottoms with good coverage since I always seem to be doing something active in my bikini — like swimming, paddling, climbing on boulders…”

“My favorite suit was the pink and black Next suit. It was super comfortable, had bright colors, and I loved the wide fold-over waist band on the bottoms. The top was really cute and had great coverage and support, too.”

 “I actually bought the Oakley board shorts already, and will probably end up getting a new Next swimming suit as well to wear with the shorts.”

Kendra

Kendra in all her natural beauty with a bikini by Carve Designs
“I look for comfort and support in a bikini first! Then, I hope that it is super cute too.”
“My body, like most girls, is all mixed up with sizes. I am larger on top and therefore am constantly in search of a supportive bikini bra. The Carve swim line does just this. I loved the support and comfort they offer and the patterns and fit are flattering to my shape.”
Lole and Oakley have some adorable prints and designs this year. Their fun, bright colors are super cute with a tan.”
“In all three brands of bikinis, I love the fact that I can look summer stylish and still go out and kill it on the volleyball court without worrying that I am giving a little show without even knowing it.”

Julie

Julie exploring Tahoe’s clear waters and boulders in a bikini by Carve Designs

“I love stripes. And Lole has some really cute prints with stripes and contrasting colors this year. Something about horizontal stripes — I think they’re really slimming.”

“When I wear a bikini, I want to feel confident and comfortable. So a suit that fits well, doesn’t slide up, covers my bottom, and gives me support up top is huge. At the same time, I’m always looking for functionality that’s fashionable. I think that Carve Designs, Lole, and Next all hit that market really well.”

“One pieces are my new thing. With deep neck lines and bare backs, a one-piece can be very sexy. And they are so comfortable. The Lole Madiera One-Piece caught my eye immediately. It flatters and fits well.”

“Where do I not wear a bikini?! Beyond the usual summer, hiking, and beach activities, I’ve gone ice skating in my bikini, skiing in my bikini, and recently raised some money for the Tahoe City fireworks in my bikini!”

Lole Carribean Bikini Bottom
Lole Carribean Bikini Bottom
MSRP: $33.95
Carve Designs Catalina Bikini Top
Carve Designs Catalina Bikini Top
MSRP: $43.95
Next On the Bar Sports Bra
Next On the Bar Sports Bra
MSRP: $54.95

 

Test a new Deuter Backpack out on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Ever wish you could try outdoor gear before you buy?

That’s exactly what Tahoe Mountain Sports, Deuter Backpacks and the Tahoe Rim Trail Association have partnered up to do on Thursday, June 28.

We’ll be hiking one of our favorite stretches of trail – the Tahoe Rim Trail from the Mt. Rose Highway to Galena Falls, lead by a Tahoe Rim Trail Association guide.

Hikers will get to try out a variety of Deuter packs, from small hydration packs, ventilated daypacks or even big backpacking backpacks, with the help of outdoor gear experts from Tahoe Mountain Sports and Deuter USA. We’ll be able to make sure you get the best fit out of any pack you try, and answer any questions you might have on pack design, features, or which one is right for you.

Deuter has been making backpacks for over 100 years, and here at Tahoe Mountain Sports, there some of our favorites because of their great fit, features, carrying ability and ventilation. They’re also the choice of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

The 6.5 mile hike will take the group between some of Tahoe’s tallest peaks, through flower-studded alpine meadows and to the beautiful Galena waterfall.

We’ll have a snack, talk about proper pack fit, and everybody will walk away with a little something from Deuter and Tahoe Mountain Sports. Or if you find a pack you love, you’ll be able to purchase it, all set up and ready to go!

Here’s Christian from Deuter USA, who will be joining us on the hike, talking about the Deuter Aircontact Pack series:

Space is limited to 20 people, so sign up today at the Tahoe Rim Trail Association Event Listing Page to make sure you get a spot.

IRONMAN Lake Tahoe Set for September 2013

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

IRONMAN is coming to Lake Tahoe in September 2013, marking the first full-distance IRONMAN event in California since 2001. The endurance race will include a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, all along the shoreline of North Lake Tahoe. Here at Tahoe Mountain Sports, we’ll be cheering the athletes on as they dive into Tahoe’s waters across the street from our shop in downtown Kings Beach. And after the brisk swim, when the athletes transition to bikes, we’ll watch them whizz by on Highway 28, passing right in front of our porch.

Word got out fast for IRONMAN Lake Tahoe, and registration sold out in a mere 19 hours after it opened on Monday. There are still a limited number of IRONMAN Foundation slots, going at $1,350. IRONMAN Lake Tahoe will be a P-2000 race with a $75,000 USD professional prize.

“Lake Tahoe’s natural beauty and experience in hosting world-class endurance events have made it one of the world’s most appealing sports destinations,” said Steve Meckfessel, Managing Director of Global Race Operations for WTC. “The launch of a full-distance IRONMAN event in California has been a long time coming. We’re confident this race will develop into a cornerstone of the global IRONMAN Series.”

The race will start with a two-loop, 2.4-mile swim out from the Kings Beach State Recreation Area. Athletes will transition to a two-loop 112-mile bike course, which heads from Kings Beach to Tahoe City, wraps north on Highway 89 to Truckee and back to the shore of Lake Tahoe on Highway 267. After a descent back to Kings Beach, athletes will complete a second loop and then a final, flat 17 miles to finish the bike course at Squaw Valley. With a final transition at Squaw, runners will proceed along the Truckee River bike path into Tahoe City, and continue south to a turnaround in Homewood.

The iconic IRONMAN Series of events is the largest participation sports platform in the world. Even thought it’s more than a year out, we’re still getting excited for this global event to hit our small, beautiful town. In the meantime, keep swimming, biking, and running! For more information about IRONMAN Lake Tahoe, go to ironmanlaketahoeCA.com.

Zoic Ether Bike Short
Zoic Ether Bike Short
MSRP: $73.95
Lole Movement Short
Lole Movement Short
MSRP: $59.95

 

 

Gear testers wanted: Boreas Backpacks

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Tahoe Mountain Sports and Boreas Gear are teaming up to get real-world feedback from users like you! We’re looking for 5 outdoor adventurers from around the country to hike, camp, bike, climb, use and abuse these awesome new backpacks – and testers get to keep the pack when they’re done!

TMS staffer Ryan using the Boreas Buttermilks on California’s Lost Coast Trail. Photo by Chris Maher.

What do you have to do to get a free Boreas pack? Post a proposal for how you’d test your pack (take a Boreas Lost Coast on a 2 week backpacking trip, put a Boreas Lagunitas through the paces bike commuting weekdays and on epic mountain bike rides on the weekends?) on our Facebook page, and we’ll select our favorites by July 6. Pack choices will be subject to availability.

The selected testers will submit 500 to 1,000 word reviews and at least 3 pictures of themselves with the Boreas Pack by August 15 and presto – the pack is yours!

We’re working with Boreas to do this to get the word out about their brilliant, award winning backpacking packs, daypacks and cycling packs.

If you’re not familiar with Boreas Gear, they recently set out to create clean, functional, comfortable and reasonably priced backpacks for all sorts of different users.

We recently sat down with one of the founders, Anders Johnson, to get an overview of a few of their packs.

First, the Boreas Lost Coast and Boreas Buttermilks, which won Backpacker Magazine’s Editors’ Choice this year:

Anders also showed us the Boreas Lagunitas, with a revolutionary adjustable ventilated suspension system that goes from hiking to biking with the pull of a strap:

Tahoe Mountain Sports salesperson Ryan recently took the Boreas Buttermilks on a multi-day backpacking trip on California’s Lost Coast.

Ryan rock hoping on the Lost Coast with a Boreas Buttermilks pack. Photo by Chris Maher.

The Boreas Buttermilks is a lightweight 55 liter backpacking backpack with a simple top-loading, roll-top/cinch top closure, a removable frame, excellent ventilated back panel, hide-away daisy chains and big, easy-to-access hip belt pockets, making it perfect for piling on the miles.

Here’s what Ryan had to say about the pack:

The buttermilk 55 is one of the most functional backpacks I have used.  The clean design and well thought out features of the pack were exactly what I was looking for in a light weight pack. 

The back panel is super breathable.. The wavy design and perforated foam helps the back panel breathe, not to mention is super comfy. I never got a sweat back once during the trip!

Even when weight down with a Bear canister and enough food for 3 people to last 4 days the pack carried very well.

The simple top loading design is perfect. Wide enough to fit a Bear Canister sideways and extends up to cover the bulkiest of loads. A zipper pocket near the top of the pack keeps an assortment of items assessable even when the pack is loaded to the brim. This pocket is nice for things like maps, sunscreen, compass etc.

The stretch pocket on the back of the pack is nice for drying wet or damp items or keeping an extra layer on hand. The stretch side pockets are deep and can easily fit 2+litter bottles. These side pockets are very useful and could be used to carry tent poles or water bottles. The cool part is a small opening that can be used to access you water bottle even while wearing the pack. 

So if you think you’ve got what it takes to put a new Boreas backpack through the paces, head over to our Facebook page and let us know!

Looking South along the scenic Lost Coast.

The Summer Bikini Photo Shoot

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Summer showed up early in Tahoe this year. May was one of the nicest in recent memory  — especially compared to last year, when we got a powder day on Memorial Weekend. And here at Tahoe Mountain Sports, we are taking advantage. We have a great collection of summer bikinis by Lole, Carve Designs, and Next by Athena that will fit and flatter any body type.

One fine May morning, we took our line of California Swimwear and a couple Big Truck hats to the beach to try them out. Here’s a few photos of the morning we went to work at the beach. Girls in bikinis under Lake Tahoe’s bright sunny sky with a few paddle boards? What’s better?

Lole Paradise Tankini
Lole Paradise Tankini
MSRP: $54.95
Big Truck Classic Trucker Hat
Big Truck Classic Trucker Hat
MSRP: $26.95

 

Cathedral Peak Takeover

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

For this Adventure of the Week, TMS blog editor Julie Brown writes about climbing Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows. She wasn’t alone on the rock like John Muir, but the climb is still a classic.

Who: Julie Brown, Ashli Lewis, Matt Gibely, Tyler Chapek, Elan Pardee, Brett Spadi, Patrick and Adam

What: Climbing the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak

Where: Tuolumne Meadows

Gear: Rock climbing gear, softshell jackethydration backpack

“No feature, however, of all the noble landscape as seen from here seems more wonderful than the Cathedral itself, a temple displaying Nature’s best masonry and sermons in stones. How often I have gazed at it from the tops of hills and ridges, and through openings in the forests on my many short excursions, devoutly wondering, admiring, longing! This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened for the poor lonely worshiper.” ~ John Muir, “My First Summer in the Sierra”

Standing on the summit of Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows, a granite world expanding beyond the horizon, you understand John Muir’s praise of this aesthetic mountain.  Muir made the first ascent of Cathedral Peak in 1869; 143 years later, I summited Cathedral. While I envied the solitude Muir experienced on this classic climb, I still lost myself in the moment when I reached the 10,911-foot summit.

I went after the summit of Cathedral Peak with seven other friends from Tahoe. It took a little initiative and everyone was on board. Since a few of us are weekend warriors, we decided to climb Cathedral on a Saturday — for better or worse. No one is exaggerating when they say this is one of the most crowded climbs in Tuolumne. Like everyone else on the rock that Saturday, we were attracted to Cathedral by both its reputation as a classic Tuolumne trad climb and its moderate rating. And even though we set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. (and finally crawled out of our sleeping bags at 10 to 6), we were far away from the first group to reach the base of the Southeast Buttress. Still, warmed up from the approach hike, we weren’t discouraged and set out on the first pitch of the day.

The climbing on the Southeast Buttress starts out pretty mellow and then steepens towards the top — although it’s all very accessible at a 5.6 rating. It’s easy to pass parties in the first couple of pitches, but everything bottlenecks about halfway up at the Chimney, a really fun feature where you squeeze between two faces and stem up to the opening above.

I squeezed in between two other parties waiting to climb the Chimney and set up my anchor, where we proceeded to chill for the next hour waiting for everyone to climb up. I suggested avoiding the Chimney and climbing around, but my climbing partner Ashli said this was the best move of the entire Southeast Buttress, so we stayed, ate lunch and literally hung out. Not a bad view to look at for an hour, though.

Finally, it was our turn, and the climbing resumed. Up a few hand cracks, finagling 5.7 knobby jugs, teetering around an exposed block, and then up the final ten feet to the summit — a block big enough for a handful of people featuring one of the most serene views of my life.

The Sierras unfold in every direction — lakes and granite forever. And for the first time that day, the Eichorn Pinnacle came into view behind the summit, beckoning me to its summit next.

I now know what a “5.4 wild” rating means. The Eichorn Pinnacle is perhaps the most exposed and thrilling easy climb ever. We had to climb it. We traversed out on a ledge and rounded the corner where the ground literally drops out from underneath your feet. The only way to go is up. And luckily the moves are solid enough to keep your head (sorta) cool. The top of the Eichorn Pinnacle is even more exposed and breathtaking than Cathedral. And unlike the summit of Cathedral, Eichorn has a summit register, which was placed in memory of Christina Chan and holds the signatures of countless climbers.

“How delightful it is to be alone here! How wild everything is — wild as the sky and as pure! Never shall I forget this big, divine day — the Cathedral and its thousands of cassiope bells, and the landscapes around them, and this camp in the gray crags above the woods, with its stars and streams and snow.” ~ John Muir, “My First Summer in the Sierra”

I wasn’t alone up there. But climbing Cathedral Peak is still magnificent and wild. And it’s definitely a classic in my book.

Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
MSRP: $59.95
ABC Tubular Webbing
ABC Tubular Webbing
MSRP: $.40
Black Diamond ATC Belay Device
Black Diamond ATC Belay Device
MSRP: $16.95

 

 

Steals and Deals: Get Ready for Camping Season with Big Bargains

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Summer is here and it’s time to hit the trail, sleep under the stars and enjoy the great outdoors! Whether you’re looking to upgrade old gear or starting from scratch, we’ve got great day packs, backpacking packs, family camping tents and a synthetic sleeping bag all at incredible prices. But this isn’t cheap gear that’ll fall apart after a season, it’s top quality outdoor equipment we were able to get at great prices, and we’re passing the savings on to you!

Nemo Astro Insulated Sleeping Pad With Pillowtop

Reg: $174.95

Sale: $131.21

The Nemo Astro Insulated Pillowtop Combo is the ultimate sleeping pad setup for both backpacking and car camping, and was Backpacker Magazine’s Editors’ Choice! The Astro insulated uses cushy, 2.5 inch thick lateral baffles to make for an even, comfy sleeping pad. A raised head baffle takes the place of a pillow, and synthetic insulation keeps it warm on cold ground. It packs small and only weighs 1.5 lbs, perfect for backpacking

But when you add the Pillowtop sleeve, a luxurious .75 inches of plush memory foam in a soft microsuede, you’ve got the ultimate in luxury for car camping.

Deuter Futura Pro 42 Backpack

Reg: $158.95

Sale: $111.26

The Deuter Futura Pro 42 is a great backpack that’s just the right size – not too small for an overnight backpacking pack, not to big for a technical daypack. It features all the features and organization you’d want out of a full backpacking backpack, like a bottom sleeping bag compartment, zippered side access, a top lid with organization pockets, hydration compatibility and trekking pole/ice ax attachment loops. But what really sets it apart is the Aircomfort ventilation, which suspends a mesh trampoline across the back for maximum airflow, and the VeriFlex hipbelt, which moves with you while you walk.

Deuter has been in the backpack business for over 100 years, and it really shows with the well-though-out features on the Future Pro 42.

Marmot Trestles 15 Degree Sleeping Bag

 

Reg: $98.95

Sale: $74.21

The Marmot Trestles 15 Degree Sleeping Bag is a good value to begin with, and at this price, it’s too good to pass up. With trickle-down technology from many of Marmot’s higher-end 3-season sleeping bags, this synthetic sleeping bag is a great choice for anything from backpacking to car camping. Spirafill insulation keeps you warm and stands up better to moisture than goose down. The two-way full length zipper makes it easy to keep comfortable throughout the night, and cinch cords make closing this bag down on a cold night hastle-free.

This is one of our top-selling sleeping bags, so at this price, they’ll be gone fast.

Deuter Spectro AC 28 SL Women’s Backpack

Reg: $138.95

Sale: $97.26

The Deuter Spectro AC 28 SL is a great, fully featured daypack for women or slender men, with the “SL” Slim Line fit.  Suspended mesh back panel provides active ventilation so hot air escapes freely from 3 sides, reducing the body’s moisture loss by up to 25 percent, and in the Spectro series, the frame is designed to flex, perfect for following your body’s movement while hiking, scrambling or climbing.

Along with being a top-loading pack, a large U-shaped zipper makes getting to anything in your main compartment a snap – making it great not only for hiking and climbing, but for travel too. It’s really a versatile pack with excellent ventilation you’ll find all sorts of uses for.

Slumberjack Trail Tent 4

Reg: $139.95

Sale: $111.96

If you’re looking for a lot of space, this 4 person, 3 season camping tent is great for car camping. Set it up with just the mesh canopy on clear nights and enjoy the stars, or easily attach the rain fly when the weather might turn for total waterproof protection. the simple x-pole dome design makes setting up super easy, and the interior space can’t be beat.

This tent is a great value and super popular for families heading out on camping trips for the summer, so at this price it’s going to go quickly.

A Daylong Mini-Epic: Climbing the regular northwest face of Half Dome

Friday, June 8th, 2012

This Adventure of the Week comes from Max Neale, review editor for Outdoor Gear Lab, which was recently named Best Gear Website by Outside Magazine. Max regularly contributes reviews and tales from the road on our blog. He took us climbing in Turkey, down California’s Lost Coast, and now climbing up the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome…

Who: Max Neale, Chris Simrell

What: Climbing the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome

Where: Yosemite National Park

Gear: Black Diamond Climbing Gear, La Sportive Mythos Climbing Shoes, Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

I’ve been scrambling up rock faces of various types and sizes for the past six and a half years. In the never-ending quest for progress — for bigger, better, faster, farther… more — we rock climbers inevitably look to taller lines. Lines in famous places and on famous faces. Lines like the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome (RNWF), the 2,000-foot, 23-pitch Yosemite classic that I’m told all “real rock climbers” must do.

So, last week my friend from college Chris Simrell and I climbed the route. We approached via the death slabs beneath the steep face, slept at the base of the wall and got started at 5:30 a.m. the following day. We came prepared with a single rope, a double rack of cams, a handful of stoppers, basic aid gear, six liters of water and a dozen or so energy bars. We also brought with us experience from previous climbs. Since graduating from college in 2010, Chris has been running it out on ice and snow in the Cascades and Canadian Rockies. Meanwhile, I have spent most of my free time playing on the High Sierra’s granite. Together we make a reasonably experienced team and thought we could climb the route in a day.

Half Dome, we learned, requires a wide variety of climbing skills. One must be fluent in placing traditional protection, ascending fixed ropes, aid climbing, and pendulums. You should also be comfortable with all types of crack climbing — from fingers to full-body squeezes.  In other words, climbing the RNWF requires all the basic skills and techniques a Yosemite climber needs. But neither Chris nor I are Yosemite climbers. Together, we did our first real aid climb (the Prow) just a few days before getting on Half Dome. Jugging fixed lines, cleaning pendulums, climbing chimneys and squeezes, and aid techniques are all new to us. Thus, we were slower than expected on the RNWF.

We knew the day was going to be a race against the sun, so we started in the early grey hours of morning. At 5:30 a.m. Chris and I stepped from the shrinking snowfield at the base of Half Dome, climbed onto rock and jugged the first three pitches (which were fixed the day before). Then, I led and Chris jugged pitches four through nine. We were in Half Dome’s shadow, but by this point the sun was up and illuminating the southern faces of the valley below. Chris and I swapped lead and he took us up the next seven pitches, which presented steeper and more complicated climbing. The crux was the middle section, and the first crux on the route (for us) proved to be pitch 12. This was the first of several chimney pitches and Chris’ first ever “real chimney pitch.” He navigated the bottom 5.6 and 5.9 sections with cautious progress and struggled through the final 5.7 squeeze. He fell four times, sliding and grinding to a halt.

“This is the hardest pitch of my life!!” he yelled.

I was uncomfortable with his frustration, entertained by the live sports action, and a bit nervous that I might have to try to lead the pitch if Chris failed. I gave him all the verbal encouragement I could. And with brilliant lie-back technique, Chris prevailed. Then he led us up through four more pitches to Big Sandy Ledge, where I took over for the 170-foot 5.12/ C1 pitch.

It was now late afternoon and the sun was upon us. I made slow progress through the aid sections: I senselessly avoided placing nuts, climbed 15 feet above the alcove belay, and lowered back down to bring Chris up. Time elapsed faster than expected. We were now racing to stay in the sun. Chris jugged as fast as he could while the shadow raced up the death slabs below. He arrived at the belay with his headlamp strapped to his helmet, we swapped gear and I took off again for the last aid pitch, which went faster and finished just below the famous Thank God Ledge. Chris passed the next block off to me, so I racked up, excited to cross the ledge, yet nervous about the 5.8 squeeze at its end. I took off walking then stooped low to hand traverse, and then got back on my feet for the end of the ledge. This is the pitch that put the un-roped Alex Honnold on the cover of National Geographic. And what a worthy pitch it is. Walking across a flat, one-foot-wide chunk of granite 5,000 feet above the valley floor is nothing but stunning. And it’s even better at sunset.

I placed a piece at the base of the squeeze, pulled up into the gloomy slot and began a brief battle that was my first ever mandatory squeeze. Fortunately there were some small crimps on the inside edges. I used those and cammed my right foot high inside and thrust my body between the bullet-hard granite. Pulling, pushing, groping for vertical progress — I slithered upwards through the dark slot until I reached the rounded lip of an arête, then larger and larger holds, and finally I was standing on my feet. Yes!! The last crux of the route!! We only had two pitches left: a C1 aid pitch and an easy 5.7 slab finish. No big deal, or so we thought.

From the top of the squeeze, I belayed Chris across Thank God Ledge. He was silent as he walked the first few feet in his approach shoes. I could see the flicker of his headlamp below. He was carrying our pack, a 30L Cilo Gear W/NWD Worksack with two pairs of shoes, puffy jackets, some energy bars, and our remaining water — not the best thing to be toting across a tiny ledge. “Up rope” Chris yelled as he cleaned the second piece I placed. Then, what seemed like minutes later, I heard him emit a loud part-scream, part-groan and the rope came tight.

“What happened?” I asked.

He yelled back, in tone that reflected the time (10 pm) and the dropping air temperature, “I whipped…”

Chris fell off Thank God Ledge!

On the next pitch, I took a whipper too. With limited Aliens, those precious camming devices so good for Yosemite, I placed a piece too large for the only available flaring pod. When I tried to top step, the piece blew and I fell down fifteen feet of slab, cheesegrating against the course granite.

It was about 11 pm now. Our vertical progress was barred only by a tricky thin seam. We had ten feet before the final bolt ladder, before the final pitch, before the top, which were all before the descent. The essential gear (the right gear, we’ve learned, is so essential for aid climbing) proved to be a precious cam hook that we borrowed from a friend and a green Alien, the last small cam on my harness. Bolt ladder reached, I clipped up and up, and traversed over to the belay. Forty-five minutes later we scampered up the last 5.7 pitch and were both on top as the clock struck midnight. We climbed Half Dome in a day!

In the next three hours we descended the cables, which had yet to be erected for the tourists, and traversed around the north side of the mountain. We found the climbers trail and followed it down to a snowfield, where we stopped. We asked ourselves: Do we cross the snowfield (which lay above 2000 feet above slippery wet slabs that plummet into Tenaya canyon) and hope that we find a way back to the base? Or could we have missed the climbers trail and be off route, maybe below some other chunk of rock? Uncertain of our location, unable to see beyond the beams of our headlamps, and mentally powerless without the rational logic normally found in our sober brains, we chose a relatively flat place of ground and laid down. A Superfruit Slam ProBar made our two-and-a-half hours of shivering much better. Around 5 am we could see without out headlamps and found that we were on the right track. Within an hour, we crossed the snowfield and were back at the base of Half Dome in our sleeping bags.  We brewed up an MSR Reactor’s worth of hot tea and devoured two cans of Annie’s organic vegetarian canned chili.

During the previous 24 hours, we each consumed roughly 3,000 calories and three liters of water. Partially re-hydrated and fed, we took a post-feast nap. I woke up to hear Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell nearby racking up for the RNWF.

“Those people are sleeping,” Alex said. “That’s weird.”

I couldn’t respond and I dozed off again while the super-duo simul-climbed the first third of the route in maybe an hour. When sufficiently rested, we packed up and descended the slabs, rode the bus to Curry Village and devoured a large pizza and a quart of chocolate milk on the Pizza Deck. Bloody, dirty, and bone-tired, tourists looked at us like we were crazy. It was a mini-epic, but we successfully climbed Half Dome in a day, learned a lot about rock climbing, and left the valley with increased respect for people such as Tommy and Alex, who romp up big walls in an afternoon, and descend with a desire for more.

Supertopo.com’s profile of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome.

 

Mammut Vertex Rope
Mammut Vertex Rope
MSRP: $149.95
La Sportiva Mythos
La Sportiva Mythos
MSRP: $139.95
Black Diamond Momentum AL Harness
Black Diamond Momentum AL Harness
MSRP: $44.95

 

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