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.