Bent forward, far back on the seat, and a rigid grip on the handlebars as the bike starts jumping and wavering in the wind… But with the throttle screwed on, there is only the barest margin and no room at all for mistakes… and that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms…The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others – the living – are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and the pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to then it came time to choose between Now and Later.
But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, the place of definitions.
Hunter S. Thompson – Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga
There are other means to the same end. Bikes and LSD aren’t the only way to find visit The Place of Definitions.
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So Mark Bunker and I decided to have a go at The Pineapple Express (Cauthorn-Strong 2005, IV M6 5.8 WI3+) on the north face of Snoqualmie Mountain on Sunday. As far as I know this route has seen few if any repeats so we were at the mercy of the Dan Cauthorn’s write up in the NWMJ:
We … traversed beneath the New York Gully area to the lowest toe of the rock buttress. The first pitch started just left of the lowest point of rock and climbed a thin slab of ice hidden in a long right-facing corner (WI3+ R). After this pitch we trended up and left, pulling steep heather into a mixed gully leading to a tree belay beneath a rock headwall. The superb third pitch climbed the steep right-facing corner to a tree belay (M6 with good gear). Pitch 4 led up and right into snow and trees. The next pitch squeezed through the trees and traversed right to a 5.8 rock step that led up to a tree belay. We then continued up easy mixed ground to a flat ledge beneath the huge headwall that guards the top to the Northwest Face. We then traversed easily along a spectacular ledge system rightward to join the last two pitches of New York Gully. In total, we did nine long 60-meter pitches.
For me the first crux was getting out of bed and on the road before 5am but eventually I met Mark in North Bend. Note to self; partying the night before an alpine start looses its appeal sometime past your 30th birthday.
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Some thoughts on success factors when climbing alpine routes in winter…
Know the approach and descent. With short days you may have to get to the base of the route in the dark or descend after sunset. Knowing where you’re going will be a bit help. Check it out beforehand, perhaps on a poor weather weekend.
Rehearse the climb. If you’re trying do a winter ascent of a line that climbs a summer route then climb the route in summer at least once. Getting off route in winter will waste time and saps your momentum. I’ve failed more than once after a slowing of upward movement turned into full blown retreat.
Watch the weather. In the Cascades at least weather is everything. Follow the weather forecast and read trip reports to keep up with conditions even if you can’t get out in the hills to check them out for yourself.
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John wrote up his account of our climb on Wenatchee Outdoors along with some more of his pictures. Check it out!
On Friday John Plotz and I finally made it up Dragontail’s Backbone Ridge in winter. I’ve put photos and a full account of the ascent in the gallery. This has taken a ton of attempts, mostly with Al Turner, and “rehearsals” in the summer with numerous partners.
Couple of other things I learnt on this trip…
- Macadamia nuts are the best alpine climbing food ever. Over seven hundred calories of energy per hundred grams. Over twice what you’d get from one and a half Clif bars. And easy to eat on the go.
- Climbing at night isn’t so bad provided you know where you’re going and the weather cooperates. If either of those things aren’t true then things probably aren’t going to work out.
- Keep watching the weather. That’s the only way to get things climbed in the Cascades in winter. I knew this already but seem to keep needing to re-learn it.
You can read John’s excellent account of our climb too!
Still plenty of time for more winter fun and games before the snow stops.