Winter lasted well into June in Anchorage. Snow patches lingered in the yard till June and we were still climbing snow couloirs like it was May in mid June. Then the July rains came early… rock climbing consisted of long drives to Hatcher only to turn around and drive home, mountain climbing was out of the question. Even the fishing sucked. So I made some calls, coordinated with friends and family, cashed in my Alaska Airlines miles and headed south.
Any trip outside of Alaska usually attempts to coordinate as many visits with as many friend and family within (reasonably) close proximity so I took 2 1/2 week and planned to climb and drive all over the place.
I began by flying into Helena MT where my old friend and climbing partner Brad Hornung now lives. I hadn’t climbed with him in 5 years and hadn’t met his 3 year old son, Logan, yet (only a Canadian could get away with naming their child after the highest mountain). I spent a night and morning at his house visiting with his wife and son – then Brad and I were off to Wyoming. We drove 5 hours to Green River lakes where we shouldered ridiculously heavy packs and began the 17 mile trudge to the West Face of Gannet Peak. 2 days later, after 10 miles on a good trail and 7 miles of no trail, boulder hopping and tree crawling we crashed at the base of Gannett Peak.
The next morning at 5 am we were up and moving by 6:30. The route began with 700′ of boulder hopping, then a glacier crossing and then 500′ of moderate snow topped by 500′ of more boulder hopping till we reached a col. We dropped our crampons and ice axes and soloed up 200′ of excellent 4th / easy 5th class rock to reach another 300′ section of snow. Crampons and axe were below us so we dug out the rope and rack and belayed each other up the rock next the snow. After that we dropped the rope and strolled to the summit where we hung out for an hour in the sun with no signs of clouds or other people.
We then downclimbed the ridge, rapped the rock step and headed back to camp. After a brief rest we packed up and hiked a few miles back – and the next morning easily made it down to the Green River by 1pm where we inflated out packrafts and floated out the Green River.
Brad then drove me to Idaho Falls, ID; we said goodbye and I rented a car and drove another 6 hours to Elko NV where I met my youngest brother, Charlie, and his fiancee, Liz. Charlie and Liz showed me the good Elko nightlife – and Charlie hooked us up with local hardman, James Welton for a day of cragging in Lamoille Canyon.
James dragged my fat gut up his and other Lamiolle locals 3 pitch classic “Casino Queen”. It began with a nice overhanging 5.8 pitch, then a pitch of wide 5.9 and finally a delicate 5.10 pitch complete with an intricate blatancy crux, 2 big roofs and a final off width to the anchors. The route was excellent but in my infinite wisdom I had neglected to put sun screen on my legs (I never wear shorts in Alaska so it didn’t even register) and I scalded my legs and got a mild case of sun poisoning.
The rock in Lamoille is excellent… and the hospitality of the locals makes it a great place to climb. Just be sure to get up early as it gets HOT!
I left Elko a couple days later and drove to Boise ID where I picked up Yvonne. We drove an hour east and spent another day with Charlie and Liz at Liz’s family home and then Yvonne and I once again headed East.
We drove to Jackson, WY, picked up a friend from Anchorage, J.T. Lindholm, then drove another few hours to Big Sandy Lake where we shouldered monster packs and headed into the Cirque of Towers.
We spent 5 days climbing in the Cirque of Towers and made it up Pingora’s South Butress, Overhanding Tower and the classic East Ridge of Wolf’s Head – a 15 pitch climb consisting of a classic opening pitch where you have to climb a 40′ “sidewalk” that is 2 feet wide. After that it’s numerous pitches of intricate traversing, chimney squeezing and hand traverses.
On day 5 a storm rolled in so we left the Cirque early and drove to the Tetons where Yvonne and I climbed “Guide’s Wall”. It was my 3rd attempt of the route – the first attempt was in 1995 and we bailed at the top of pitch 3 due to a thunderstorm. The next attempt was in 2001 where I made the call to bail at the top of pitch 2 after hauling my 13 year old nephew up the route and didn’t want to take him any higher.
This time thunderstorms once again rolled in but we pushed up and soon were at the top of pitch 5 after climbing the stellar 5.8 flaring cracks. We bailed off just as the thunder started and were back at the car by 6pm.
We left Jackson the next morning to return once again to cloudy skies and rain.
Edit: 3 months after I posted this James Welton (34) fell to his death on Touchstone in Zion Nation Park. It was a tragic accident that hit the Elko community hard. You can read the accident report here.
James’ enthusiasm and willingness to introduce others to the great climbing in Lamoille left a great impression on me. I saw him again briefly before leaving Elko and he expressed desire to come visit and climb in Alaska.
When my brother called and told me about his death I was shocked and saddened. Elko is a small community – the climbing community there even smaller – and I can only imagine how they are feeling.
I’m sad that I won’t be able to return the hospitality that James extended to me. He was a great guy; a graceful climber and I feel privileged to have spent a day climbing with him.