Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Aardvark and the Ferret

Above is a shot looking out the window before my flight to the UK. McCarren International. Las Vegas Nevada.

Its good to be back in the United Kingdom. We've been riding our bikes around lots, and I've almost been hit a few times. The streets are narrow, and people drive on the left side of the road over here. The bike riding is almost as sketchy as the headpointing. The terrain is 'heads-up', mate.

Last year my friend Harold vividly described the beta on 'the Aardvark and the Ferret' at his native crag, Avon Gorge. Avon isn't a world class venue by any stretch, but for an urban crag its pretty damn good. Only a three minute bike ride away from Hazel's flat, this crag is a whacky combo of grit-like rock and fossil-infused limestone. The movement is a blast, and you are never far away from a frosty pint.

Harold is an excitable lad, and I'll never forget him pantomiming 'the ferret move' on this Avon Gorge classic. Sunday dawned perfectly clear, and I convinced Madeline and Harold to venture into the gorge.

Here's a few pics below.

This is me doing the dreaded "ferret" move. Or is it the "aardvark" move?

Harold leading off into the great unknown.

Madeline coping with some devious corner work. Respect.

First lead attempt on the Ferret. Note the Kokanee toque. These come in select 24 packs of Kokanee if anyone is interested in acquiring one.

Nothing beats finishing the day with a Gem. So, so smooth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I love the East side of the Sierra.

Since first coming here in Grade 11 with the McColl boys, Dave Nykyforuk and Jason Kruk, the Buttermilks still take the cake as my favourite bouldering area in the whole world. I am here for a couple more days before heading to the United Kingdom. I wish I was a bit stronger to top out these mega-highballs. Time to hit the gym this winter. Here's a few shots of my buddies having some fun in the desert.

Trott and Enzo warm up the old-fashioned way.

Open road outside of Lone Pine.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Southern Belle

On Nov 1, Alex Honnold and I repeated the Southern Belle on the South Face of Half Dome. It was first climbed in 1987 by Walt Shipley and Dave Schultz and freed the next year by Schultz and Scott Cosgrove. In 2006, Leo Houlding and Dean Potter made the second free ascent.

Hazel left to go back to the UK on October 8th, which left me a few weeks before I had to leave Yosemite too. Jason Kruk and I had an Arc'teryx photo gig to attend in Joshua Tree on Nov 5. Alex and I had made plans to climb together and were shooting ideas around on email. We hoped to get on a big wall but October's weather was surprisingly unstable. Storms were rolling in every week, it seemed. Perhaps a one-day mission was the go? The idea of climbing the Southern Belle had been floating around in my head for a few years. I popped the idea to Alex. He responded, "Everything I can find on the internet says that it's certain death, but I guess you never know till you try."

As soon as I figured it was game-on, I cranked up the Strokes on the I-pod and hiked the three hours to the south face in a raging rainstorm. I stashed a rope, rock shoes and water at the base.

When we arrived at our stash on try number 1, the rope and shoes, despite being wrapped in multiple plastic bags was all wet. There was verglas on the approach, and we hoping that route was icy, too. It was one of those days where we were looking for any excuse to bail.

On that first attempt we both onsighted to the crux, a 12d near vertical pitch of micro-holds. We spent a few hours try to figure this pitch out. Alex tried, I tried, then Alex tried again. A real head-scratcher. Finally, Alex saw through the sequence and we both dialed it in. The next pitch, named 'the Cuntress' by Walt Shipley, is a 150 foot left leaning micro-seam protected by very small wires. Leo told me to bring a double set of micro-wires, and that beta was critical. Its graded 12a, but the grade doesn't really do it justice. I spent about an hour trying to onsight it, and grabbed a cam a stone's throw from the top. I dropped about six of Alex's nuts in the process and arrived at the belay completely fried. Alex, terrified at the belay, stopped looking up and just payed out slack.

It was obvious the route wasn't going down that day, but we were psyched. Alex arrived at the belay bug-eyed, and said, "this route is a good adventure!" We rapped down, had pizza at Curry Village with Alex's girlfriend Stacey, and made plans for the next round.

The next round came about a week later. We blasted the first few pitches pretty quick. Alex led the fourth pitch, and I took a few falls on toprope, then sent it from a mini-ledge, no hands stance about 15 feet above the last anchor. From there we didn't fall again. The Cuntress went smoothly. Just knowing what was in store for me made all the difference.

From there we were adrift in a sea of open slabs, tick-tacking our way to the bolts, trying to make good decisions. I was concentrating really hard, and don't remember much. Dean Potter told me it was the only route that made him feel nauseous from the runouts. I can relate.

We swung leads to the top. Just as the sun started setting we pulled over the top of Half Dome. My feet hurt like hell and we were thirsty. We dunked our heads in puddles and sucked back as much H20 as possible. "Maybe there will be base-jumping chicks at the top with cookies!" said Alex. No such luck.

We loped down the tourist path, drained of adrenaline.

Ben Ditto, Brad Gobright and I snapped some shots a couple days later. The next day I drove down to Joshua Tree, met my best budJason Kruk. We drank scotch until three in the morning at the Travelodge, catching up. We spent three days in Josh filming with Brian Goldstone and Angela Pervcival. I repeated a few old Stonemaster highballs, like So High and Up 40. Everything paled in comparison to the runouts of the Southern Belle.

Jason Kruk photo.

After that, Jason and I drove up to the Bow Valley. Hazel was there for a North Face athlete summit. We tried to go climbing at Grassi Lakes. Between the driving and climbing, I was worked.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I have been in California for about a month now. Hazel was here for a few weeks before she flew back to England. It was great to revisit some classics with Hazel, and see some new ones as well. First up was the Regular Route on Half Dome. She had done the first few moderate pitches a few years back, but aside that minor asterisk, she onsighted the whole route in a day. Katie Brown has also done that.

We both shook our heads in amazement at the top, imagining ourselves ropeless like Alex Honnold. Still the boldest rock solo ever done, in my opinion.

Next was the Bachar-Yerian, a bold classic on Medlicott Dome in Tuolumne Meadows. Again, a stellar fall-free onsight for Hazel. We swung leads. I have wanted to climb this route since I was a kid.

Since Hazel left I've been fooling around on the right side of El Cap, trying to piece together a line. Jason Kruk and I tried to free the Waterfall route a couple years ago, but turned around in the face of loose rock. A week ago, a giant rockfall obliterated the line we were trying. Often I wonder if the fear I am feeling on routes is justified, or just nervous hocus-pocus. This section of wall is really sketchy, and I think we made the right decision a couple years back.

Photo by Tom Evans.

While dabbling on the top pitches of the Waterfall route, I've had the pleasure of hanging out with Brits Jason Pickles and Leo Houlding, who are trying to finish their long term project: the Prophet on the right side of El Cap.

Their route finishes with a pitch they've dubbed the A1 beauty- I like to call it the Cobra Crack of El Cap. Yesterday I awoke at 2 AM to hike up and help film Leo lead the crack. I'm no videographer, and seem to start shaking ever so slightly whenever I have camera in my hand. It was so cool to see Leo send the pitch. He was jacked- now, every pitch of his ten year mega project has been sent. All that's left is a ground up push.

The whole experience charged me up more so than any recent climb of my own. It is inspiring to see those boys stick to the process, year after year, through injuries and setbacks, and revisit something until they see it to completion.

Here's a shot of Leo lacing up for an evening bid on the A1 beauty pitch of the Prophet. I love the mornings and evenings up there.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Turret's Syndrome

Andrew has that hell-bent look in his eyes. He scratches his fingers in the back of a grotty finger crack, seeking any sort of jam at all. “I don’t know how you did this!” he yells into the wind. I try to smile through chattering teeth, and belay him up to my stance: A few nuts and a undercammed TCU shoved sideways into a strange, beautiful horizontal crystalline crack. Nobody has ever been to this little cave before, and I get an uncomfortable, eerie feel from it. I’ve butted us up into an impasse. Loose and steep to the right and left, and a roof above us. Now, the weather, threatening all day, has morphed into a full-fledged hail storm. We are a stone’s throw from the top of the Turret, and I am scared.

Andrew Boyd is a legend in Squamish circles. Uncompromising and unsponsored, he consistently establishes bold, beautiful routes in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor. Since I was a kid, his lines have inspired me. Last year, we roped up together for the first time on a free bid on the East Face of Slesse. We made it five pitches up before realizing our light-and-fast tactics were no match for this 3500 beast of a face. More importantly though, I had a found a partner with a no-nonsense, go-get-it-done attitude and a similar risk tolerance to my own. I rapped off Slesse humbled, but happy.

I’ve never ridden in a helicopter to get to go climbing before. From Kinbasket Lake near Golden, I am wearing a t-shirt, shorts and a ball-cap. 10 minutes later I’m on the glacier, struggling to heft 48 Pilsners and two bottles of Scotch to our bivy, a 15 minute walk from the Turret. I am immediately sold on heli-access. This place is unbelievable, and we take a swig of booze to celebrate our arrival.
“Jesus! What are you wearing?” asks Mountain Guide Craig McGee.
“Chill out. This isn’t the Karakorum,” I reply, jokingly. I will later come to regret saying that.

As Andrew takes over the lead on pitch two of the Turret, I am again reminded that he is among the best climbers I’ve ever seen. He navigates overhanging choss, hopscotching corner systems at a steady clip, placing gear at intermittent intervals, never once hesitating or second-guessing himself. Then he hands over the rack, and it’s my turn to live up to the bargain.

After plowing through the lower dihedrals, we arrive at a halfway ledge delineating the lower-angled rock from the steeper upper half. The rock here is excellent: laser cut corners, arĂȘtes and face edges. I peer up into the corner above me. It looks too thin for fingers so I slam a couple pins and boulder out left, gambling that the next corner over is a bit wider. It is.

“Tag me my waterproof!” yells Andrew. I open the bag and delicately fish around for his jacket with wooden fingers. Andrew has found a way to escape the crystal cave by venturing down and left. His movements, characteristically smooth and calculated, have turned aggressive and punchy. We are now in a whiteout.

I can’t hear much when Andrew finishes the pitch: Just vague murmurs in the wind. I need to lower out about 30 feet or face a hideous horizontal pendulum. I’m really cold now, and not thinking very fast. I take the cam out of the crack and lower off a couple sideways nuts in the strange crystal rock. If they rip I’ll go for a terrible whip. Now, out of the cave, I’m in the storm completely. I clean the pitch and meet Andrew at the belay. I’m a jabbering mess and gear hangs from my harness in disarray. Andrew’s eyes are gleaming.

From here the angle lessens off. I throw on a fleece and burrow into a chimney for warmth. “We can stay here until it calms down!” Andrew yells at me from a foot away. I’m nodding, or shaking- I can’t tell which. The storm looks to be holding off. 20 minutes later we are on top of the Turret. We trace the edge of the south face for a rappel line but come up empty handed. It looks like our only option is to rap the north-west face and hike down 1000 feet of snow in rockshoes. We’re unbothered, though. The storm has relaxed for a bit, just long enough for us to escape.

Back on the glacier at dusk, Andrew punches up the snowcone at the base to retrieve our boots. I take off my climbing shoes and sit down on a rock. Clouds are rolling in. We hike trudge back to camp as the rain starts to spit again.

In camp we brew up some tea, mixing in some Grant’s whiskey. “How long do you think we could’ve stayed up there waiting out the weather?” we ask each other, between sips. As always, there are no answers, only more questions.

The storm doesn’t relent for four days. Finally, our heli-pilot Don braves the conditions and flies in to get us. Toni and Benno, our German friends, stay in the cirque to continue attempting a different route on the Turret.

Three days later, my girlfriend Hazel and I visit Benno in the Golden Hospital. He has rappelled off the end of his rope, taking a 50 meter plunge to the glacier. Miraculously, he has only broken his leg. I leave the hospital reminded, yet again, that this climbing game is a delicate business.

FFA of the South Face of the Turret
Via Turret’s Syndrome
5.11+ Grade V 600 meters
Free for leader
Andrew Boyd, Will Stanhope
August 2010

Big thanks to Arc’teryx for making this trip happen.
And to Peder Ourom for hooking me up with photos and beta over coffee at Starbucks in Squamish.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Link Up

I awoke at 4AM last friday to attempt a link up on the Chief. 4 AM is both a wonderful and terrible time to be awake. I always get a high off early mornings: the potent mixture of grogginess and excitement. When the alarm starts beeping, its go time. No more time to dwell and worry.

Alex Honnold was frying eggs in his van. A self-confessed monk, Alex abstains from wobbly pops, coffee and tobacco. His only vice? Cookies. I pounded back an espresso and while we jabbered over what gear to bring. I was a little intimidated to be climbing with Alex. Since we first met 4 years ago, he has been on a ballistic climbing rampage... truly. 5.12 big wall solos, 5.14+ bolts, v11 highballs, insane El Cap pushes...

First up was the free Grand, a route I had just climbed with my girlfriend, Hazel Findlay. We started in the dusky half-light, but were drenched in sweat by the time we hit the Split Pillar. There are two hard pitches on this climb: the Underfling and the 5.13b slab pitch. Alex hadn't freed this line in 4 years. I climbed the slab, then explicitly explained to Alex which holds to grab. He nodded, then did exactly what I pointed out. I have never seen anything like that before. Alex is a good listener.

We were back at the van by 7 AM. Hazel was brewing up tea. She is from Britain. She loves tea very much. Below is a pic of Hazel with some tea in the High Sierra.

We picked up a few more cams and jogged towards University Wall.

Alex led the first three pitches of U-Wall together "When I encounter rope-drag, I stop placing gear," said Alex. We continued up the Roman Chimneys and were back at the car around 11 AM.

At this point, I pounded my first Red Bull of the day while Alex drove the van to the North Walls. It seems everyone is very critical of Red Bull these days, after team Red Bull/ David Lama left a junk show on Cerro Torre. I still like Red Bulls. Alex, being a monk, had some bread and cheese instead.

Northern Lights is a strenuous outing on the North Walls of the Chief. It is a meat-and-potatoes climb, much like Astroman. It has some overhanging flare climbing, some long corners, some greenery and some choss. Northern Lights is scruffy, rough around the edges- much like Squamish in years past. Less yoga-and-granola, more bar-fights-and-strippers. I like Northern Lights, and I wanted very much to include it in the link up. Honnold, more familiar with glacier-buffed Yosemite, had some words to say at the top: "These last pitches are a piece of shit." Alex does not mince his words.

The hike off Northern Lights is an overgrown death march. We arrived back at the van around 4pm. Then we charged towards Freeway without shirts, as the route was now baking in the afternoon sun. At this point, I started to get a little wobbly on my feet, a little more conservative with the runouts. Alex, unfazed by the previous three routes, was still gunning at mach-speed. "Dude, I thought you were going to take us to the top?" he said, as I cautiously fiddled in a small cam, on the long 11a corner. But we kept plugging.

We ambled back to the van at around 6:30pm, approximately 13.5 hours after starting. Hazel and Jason Kruk had taken the trouble of picking up some orange juice for Alex, and some Kokanees for me. Over the course of the evening, I downed four: one for each route.

The next day I guided two folks from Seattle up the Chief in a sedated daze, liberally slurping back Red Bull throughout the day to keep from falling asleep. Alex took one rest day, then climbed 2 5.14s and a 5.13.

Hats off my friend, and thank you for a day I won't forget.


The Free Grand (with Apron Strings start)
University Wall (with Roman Chimneys)
Northern Lights

Approximately 13.5 hours, give or take... we didn't note the exact times for starting and finishing. No falls for Alex or I.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Here's a shot of me holding the pin that ripped on Flight of Challenger. I narrowly avoided hurting myself really bad, just hitting a dirt patch dowhill from some leg-breaker rocks. It's always the easy ground that gets you... I know that sounds arrogant, but to be honest, I have done those moves innumerable times; it was that nonchalance that just about had me hobbled for the whole summer, maybe longer.

Let's all stay safe so we can sit back, relax, and enjoy fine publications like this... for many years down the road.

And here's a snap of Hazel being cute on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, after successfully climbing the building.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Arch Project

Here's a few shots that my buddy Ryan Olson took of a new project of mine at Murrin Park, Squamish BC. I originally got tipped off on this rig a few years ago when my friend Zack Smith told me about it. Apparently, he did all the moves but couldn't link it. I tried it a couple years ago... without any luck. Now, it seems feasible. Runout and hard. It's a wild line up an otherwise totally blank section of rock.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Room On Fire

Room on Fire is a great album by the Strokes, after their 2001 debut, Is This It. I love these guys. Perpetually drunk, lead singer Julian Casablancas once broke his leg falling off the stage, only to spend the rest of the tour singing on a stool, still boozing it up.
Julian has since sworn off the sauce, but Room on Fire was recorded during the height of their partying days. "The room is on fire as she's fixing her hair." Classic lyrics.

Last week Jason Kruk and I had a rare day off work, so we booted it up to Squamish. Jason had intermittently been trying an old Perry Beckham project at the Solarium, a leaning splitter up an otherwise blank wall. I had tried it last year with him once. One day off, decent weather in early march, and a first ascent waiting to be plucked... what could be better?

Jason swore up and down that the route would be in the sun, and I believed him. Upon arriving at the cliff, it became clear that the sun wasn't high enough in the sky to warm this shady little cliff. It was frigid. Frozen toes, numb finger and balancy granite weirdness. On my second try, I barely stuck the moves, willing my feet to stay put, and enjoying every last move. At the end of the line, the climber is forced to leave the crack and bust out for some slopers on the lip, at the very top of the wall. I barely stuck it and crawled my way to the anchor with bleeding, buzzing fingers.

The next day at work I was grinning like an idiot, so happy to have caught a bit of sun between the storms. Everything seemed so much brighter.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bellingham Slideshow

Tuesday March 16, at 7 p.m. at the Bellingham Library, Fairhaven Branch (1117 12th St.) in the Fireside Room. It is free and open to the public. This is a Bellingham Mountaineers meeting. Here's the website:


So... this should be blast. If anyone finds themselves in Bellingham Washington, come out, and we'll talk about rocks, climbing and all that fun stuff.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wintertime Inspiration

I am typing right now with buzzing fingertips, fresh off a 10 day trip to Bishop California. I am sunburnt, sleep deprived and sore, but in other ways refreshed and inspired. I love eastern sierra: the gigantic boulders, stellar sunrises over the mountains, ice-cold PBRs over the campfire. The buttermilks is still my very favorite place to boulder, more for the scenery than the razor sharp rock.

Above is the Grampa Peabody boulder, home of Ambrosia, Kevin Jorgenson's gigantic highball.
On the trip it was great to meet up with Kevin and Alex Honnold, then witness Alex casually stroll one of the most impressive boulder problems I can think of.

Here, KJ and Alex spot the landing zone, arrange crash pads, and strategize.

Then Alex threw down, as he always does. Impressive.

Right now it's hammering rain in North Van. I leave in a month for the Utah desert, so training is in full effect: Time in the Edge Climbing Center, dark nights under the bright lights of the gym, conditioning and plastic, all the while dreaming of big granite.

Jeremy Blumel, Klemen Mali, Sonnie Trotter and I spent some time snooping around obscure spots of the Chief this winter.

Could this be Squamish's next hard crack? All I know is that it would be way, way harder than the Cobra. Approximately twice as hard. I'll be back in the summer to investigate some more.

On this recon mission I ripped off an important hold, but I'm still keeping the faith.

Andrew Boyd, granite magician, tops out a blank slab underneath the Grand Wall after the sun has set. Nobody, not anyone, knows Squamish granite like this guy.

Subtleties. Intricate, little subtleties.

Boyd polishes it off, which always begs the same

What's next?