Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Golden Gate

Peering off the portaledge, day 5, 36 pitches off the deck. Late in the day the swallows stop darting, replaced by squeaking bats. The shadows creep around the corners, one by one. Everything else glows crimson. I grab the straps of the ledge and look up. Just touching the fabric sends spikes of pain through my fingers. Two more pitches of 5.13- and this thing in the bag... I put on my shoes and saddle up for one more pitch before the lights go out.

The Golden Desert pitch is a sweeping dihedral with shallow fingerlocks. The light is fading and I'm fatigued, but still moving fast, straining to see the little edges and dimples in the granite. Past the crux, I plug in a yellow TCU, but can't see what the lobes are doing. I could call for tension, give up... But I go for it, groping for holds like a blind man, and fall inches from a jug. The cam rips and I'm dangling in darkness, 30 feet lower, blood dripping off my fingers into space.

That night on the ledge I turn to Jason.
"Dude, I'm haunted by failure."
"Well, there's worse things to be haunted by," he replies.
"Like what?"
"Ghosts. Ghosts would be way worse."
We laugh like lunatics.

Two days later we are on top, the route done, sipping espresso. Then we strap on the haulbags and stumble down the trail, wobbling from the load.

Everything hurts, but it doesn't matter anymore.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

'Pine Season

Please check out www.jasonkruk.net to read about our latest trip to the Bugaboos. It was a wild adventure. I'm currently writing something for Gripped about it.

For the past two weeks I've been guiding lots and working clinics for the Squamish Mountain Festival. Tomorrow I'm guiding then driving out to Chilliwack to get into the alpine again.
I'll post some photos soon.

I hope everybody's getting after it this summer.... The summer alpine season is running out!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This shot was the cover of Climbing in 2000. John Bachar soloing the Gift, Red Rocks Nevada. Photo by John McDonald.

Rest in Peace, John.

Bachar was a huge hero to me. Uncompromising, bold, strong and forward-thinking. He pushed climbing big-time.

When I first saw this photo I had just unsuccessfully tried to hang-dog my way up The Gift. This was my favorite photo for years.

John Bachar's death has fucked with my headspace. That guy was as rock-solid as rock-solid gets. If he can blow it soloing, I guess everyone can. I am so shocked. It's unhinging to have a hero die. Ever since I was a kid I thought Bachar was immortal- in a different league. I feel odd and sad.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Last friday I was working in New Westminster cleaning dryer vents on rappel with my good Slovenian buddy Klemen Mali. I had basically written off the Cobra Crack- I would wait until I was fitter and stronger- maybe in a couple weeks or something. I needed a break and my fingers were thrashed. The day before Paul McSorley and I had diving contests in Browning Lake and I had bruised my ear drum. My Dad gave me some random anti-biotics he found in case it was infected. Apparently that is a bad idea according to my nurse friend Mandoline...

The next day I woke up in North Van to the pitter-patter of rain. After a quick stop at the clinic to check to see if my ear was okay, I drove up to Squamish, hoping beyond hope that the rain would stop and I would have another chance on the Cobra. For some reason, I am always most optimistic in the morning. I'm sure coffee has something to do with it.

Conditions at the Cobra were absolutely premium. Only a few people were there: Mandoline, Jeremy, Rich and Senja. It was a good vibe. Some people can deal with crowds- my comp master buddy Sean McColl, for example. But I don't do so well with cell phones bleeping and a tonne of people asking questions.

On my first try I fell above the lip, dropping my foot out of the heel hook. I had never felt so strong up there, which stunned me. I rested for about an hour, and when the rain started drizzling ever so slightly, I tied in again and sent it. On the final 5.10+ part of the crack my rope got mildly wedged in the lip of the crack. The crack was filthy so I cleaned as I went, yanking up rope with one hand, aggressively torquing my fingers into the crack... I wasn't going to blow it now... At the top I was covered in dirt and blood.

The Cobra is done now, and a little era is over for me. I think alot about my friend Didier Berthod, who has since dropped off the grid and lives in a Monastery in Europe. He was the one who really sparked my interest in the line. Didier was a real soul climber, on a mission to climb the hardest cracks in the world. He didn't care much for personal wealth, and often hiked to the Cobra barefoot for some reason. I think he had some theory about being in tune with the earth before a climb... who knows. I climbed with him in Indian Creek in 2005/ 06 and said the Cobra was maybe the most beautiful line he had even seen. After he broke his arm in Moab I drove him to Salt Lake City and never saw him again. Didier came up short on the Cobra, but I hope his new quest is going well for him.

I miss ya, bud.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Back at it

The last week has been a rough one in the climbing community. I have been feeling pretty glum thinking about my friends Micah Dash and Jonny Copp who were killed in an avalanche in China. I don't really know what to say... those guys were top-notch and big inspirations for me. I heard that they found Jonny's body right before my slideshow at the Leavenworth Rockfest. Man, it was tough to go up and act positive when all I wanted to do was be alone.

My motivation was waning big time, but as always, climbing seems to help. I have been coming really close on the Cobra crack. I love the all-consuming nature of that climb: the 45 minute hike, the remote nature of the cliff, the huge cedars and doug firs nudging up against the cliff.

I have been throwing myself at the climb relentlessly, and have one-falled it once on lead. My high point was just above the lip, trying to toss my foot above my head. My fingers are totally mangled and I'm going to have to take a couple days off.

When I first hiked up and saw the Cobra I was in high school and it was still a project. It is really beautiful, a stunning slice up an overhanging wave of perfect granite. Back then, it was called a project for the next generation, a futuristic route that may never be climbed. Times have changed. It has now had four ascents, all by really dedicated strong climbers: Sonnie Trotter, Nico Favresse, Ethan Pringle and Matt Segal. I still get goosebumps everytime I walk underneath it.

It is a joy to lose skin on this thing. Thinking about Micah and Jonny is a real wake-up call for how finite life can be. So right now I'm trying to appreciate the small things and enjoy the whole package- the painful locks, the struggle, and the friends that have generously come to belay me.

I'm a lucky kid.

Monday, April 27, 2009

East Face of Monkey

Back in the mid- nineties, when I was about 10, my dad and some friends took a trip to Smith Rock. On that trip we tried to climb the Pioneer route on the Monkey. At the time the Monkey looked massive, absolutely huge. In reality it's a short 3 pitch bolt ladder/ 5.9/ scramble route... But at the time, as an impressionable kid, it looked giant. On the route we got snowed on and rappelled...

In 2004 Sonnie Trotter climbed the East Face placing all the gear on lead. That was the spring I graduated from high school and Ben Moon's shots absolutely blew me away... They still stand as some of the coolest photos I have ever seen. Trotter looks like he's climbing 1000 feet off the deck given the airy nature of the Monkey at the laser cut arete to his right. At the time I could only climb 13a sport and mid 5.12 trad, so it was out of the question to try the line. But I vowed to one day get strong enough to send it.

This spring I buckled down and drove to Smith, intent on really giving it a serious effort. My good friend Charlie Long came with and hiked up to the Monkey many, many times. I owe him hours of belay duty. At first, the route felt impossible. Powerful, painful, and hopelessly long. Charlie and I ended up bringing at least 5 PBRs for every session. After one attempt my fingers would be bleeding and I'd need a little pain relief to give it a second burn. A couple low buzz American beers did the trick. A little trick I learned from Andrew Boyd...

The trip was coming to a close... I had to work on Squamish on Sunday, and by friday afternoon I still hadn't sent. In the end, as always, sending came down to a mental thing. I focussed on how wild the climbing was, how much of a joy it was to be up there, and blocked out negative thoughts. Placing all 14 pieces on lead and skipping the bolts, I was pumped out of my mind at the top.

The next day my good buddy Rich Wheater snapped shots of me in the early morning light. Charlie gave Chain Reaction three burns but came up short.... just barely missing the final jug. Then I drove for most of the night and worked all day yesterday teaching in the Smoke Bluffs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another day, another try...

I have now one-falled the East Face twice. Every time I go up there I lose a tonne of skin and blood. This route is, without a doubt, the most taxing line I have ever tried. It is a long, epic battle with a cruxy huge runout at the very top. Really, really draining.

Two days until I have to be at home to work... At times like these, I look up to my climbing heroes and ask myself "what would they do?" Sonnie, Nico, Segal, Rolo... those guys are so tenacious. It is INSPIRING. They push hard...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mental hurdles

For the past week or so I have been trying the East Face of Monkey Face in Smith Rock Oregon. My good buddy Charlie Long has accompanied me on this adventure, patiently hiking up to Monkey to belay me many times. Having a psyched partner is critical. Charlie has only been climbing for a few years, but he's amped, which is the most important thing.

I have been trying to wrap my head around leading the Monkey. Ideally, I would like to repeat Sonnie Trotter's '04 ascent, skipping all the fixed protection and placing all the gear on lead. Now that I've deemed myself fit enough for an attempt, all that remains is the mental prep. If I pitch at the top, I could go for a huge fall. It's safe. But punching it hard, facing a 50 footer is always a bit disconcerting. So right now I'm running the sequences through in my head, thinking positive, and psyching myself up to try with everything I have.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Garibaldi, full blown pirate, enjoys a few litros of Heineken after taking us across Lago Puelo in his Zodiac.

Granite gold.

Pleasant night-time reading before bed.

A caballo gets saddled with an Arc'Teryx Naos 85.

A little bit of samba dancing in BA never hurt anyone.

Paul, Lucas and Jorge. Hooligans through and through.

Awesome trip.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A little help from my friends

Right now I´m back in Buenos Aires. The city is bustling, as always. Hostel dwelling travelling kids compare bus routes, beautiful women strut down the street dressed to the nines, taxis swerve and honk, shirtless old men pass each other the mate gourd on street corners. Argentines are emotional people. I have never seen so many people sobbing and kissing at a bus station before. Male friends all kiss each other on the cheek in greeting. That just doesn´t happen back home.

Tomorrow I will be back in North Van. It has been a two month trip for me, which is usually longer than I like to do. By this point, my motivation tends to wane a bit. But it has been a good trip, if a little draining at times. But I can feel my psyche level cranking back up again, mostly proportionate to the number of cafe con leches I drink.

I can´t remember who said it first, but I totally agree on the sentiment: who you go climbing with is more important than what you climb. This trip started off with one of my best buddies, Matt Segal, picking me up at the airport in El Paso. After a week of bouldering in Mexico, Matt put aside a week of his time to support me on ´Musta Bin High´, a route I wanted to climb in Eldorado Canyon. In Squamish last summer, I skipped work to belay him on the Cobra Crack.

It mostly snowed in Boulder. On my last day, hours before my flight to Patagonia, I had yet to send. Musta Bin High is notoriously sketchy, and a fall could result in injury. I had only one good day of sussing it out, hardly enough to lock the sequence into my brain. Given any other circumstances, I would have thrown in the towel and waited for another day. After all, this wasn´t just some sport climb. If the half-driven knife blade broke at the crux, the consequences would be dire. But the clock was ticking. As the sun was setting, I blocked out the nervousness, tied in, and climbed it. The next morning, Matt dropped me off at the Boulder bus station and I was on my way to Patagonia.

It all reminds me of an old story I heard about Jim Bridwell, one of the most accomplished climbers to ever live. As with most climbing stories, perhaps the specific details have been blurred over the years. But the theme remains the same. As the story goes, at the bar one night, when asked about his most proud accomplishment, Bridwell pushed the question aside. ¨In the end, it doesn´t matter what routes you climbed. All that matters is how many people you helped along the way.¨

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Not Going Crazy

One of the most difficult parts of climbing is having the ability to chill and wait out bad weather. My friend Sonnie is a master at the art of hanging out. He can switch off the anxiety, sleep for a dozen hours at a time, watch movies, and stay absolutely blissfully content. And, when the sun finally breaks through the clouds, he can hit the rocks without skipping a beat. I envy him big time in this regard.

I am in Boulder right now, slowly losing my mind. Today Matt Segal and I went climbing at the Rincon Wall in Eldorado Canyon. Matt tried to convince me that it wasn't a good idea- the temperature in Boulder was hovering around 0 degrees celcius and Eldorado is substantially colder than town. Still, we hiked up there. I couldn't feel my hands at all, let alone muster the psyche to drop the hammer on sketchy 5.13. So it was back to the car, back to waiting...

Soon I'll be in Patagonia, a land that fosters cabin fever like no other. Month long stints of solid bad weather are commonplace. It is an area that can "turn even the most mellow hombres into cajey lunatics," as Kevin Thaw pointed out. A week of subzero temps in Boulder is merely a warm up for the serious chilling I'm about to do down south.

The last couple years of Patagonia have involved endless sessions passing the mate gourd, sipping Quilmes, tinkering on the local boulders and talking about the pressure. Is it going up? Going down? The most successful Patagonia climbers can chill like sedated turtles, then crank up the psyche at the first hint of good weather and make it happen in the 'pine. It's not easy. Patagonia beats you up. But the peaks and walls down there are so beautiful that I am hopelessly in love.

Paul McSorely, Andrew Querner and I are about to head down to Turbio, a mostly unexplored valley somewhere south of Bariloche, close to the Chilean border. To get things started, we have to raft across a lake then hike about 50 kms into the middle of nowhere. With any luck, we'll be surrounded by some sweeping big walls. In Patagonia, it's always a gamble with the weather. But if you gotta roll the dice to win...

Friday, January 23, 2009


I left Vancouver ten days ago.  Matt Segal, John Dickey and Matt's friend Robert picked Sarah Watson and I up at the El Paso airport.  From there, we drove 7 hours south of the border to Pinoles, a deserted bouldering area ripe for first ascents.  We spent 5 days climbing and exploring.  It's the sort of area where you can do whatever you want, whatever suits your fancy.  For me the highlight was seeking out proud lines, ones that called to me.  

It's a cool creative process.  Wandering the desert, eyeballing features, assessing the hazards, and eventually bucking up to give it a try.  For me, first ascents are rarely about sheer difficulty.  It's all about aesthetics- swooping cracks, triangular faces, big boulders.  I can't explain it, but it's all about beautiful lines.  

Ermanno Salvaterra, Italian alpinist, once compared Cerro Torre and her "sisters" to women.   Having made countless trips to Patagonia, Salvaterra had clearly fallen in love with these peaks.   Clearly obsessed, Salvaterra won't let those mountains alone.

Climbers, by nature, are obsessive people.  On this trip I realized that I am very susceptible to the draw of beautiful lines.