Chamonix, France

Finally we had a good spell of weather forecasted and plenty of dry rock to climb on. The Eiger would have to wait for warmer weather and if I wanted to climb it, I would have to be there in late August. Unfortunately, that is the beginning of the school year and as a school teacher I will be unable to get back to the Eiger when the conditions are dry and a bit warmer. So I am happy to have seen it, hiked up part of it and climbed a few meters of the wall that guarantees no ascent.

Chamonix on the other hand is full of routes that are dry and easily accessible and Mike and I were chomping at the bit to try a few of them out the final days of our trip to Europe. With a great place to stay and reasonably priced multi-day lift passes we planned our next few climbs and sampled the walls around the valley.

Riding the lifts is a blessing and a curse. Here is why I think so. You are stuck riding up and down the mountain only when they are available. That means that you are at the mercy of the crowds to get up the mountain and down the mountain. You can not say that you will be anywhere in particular at a certain time unless you sleep on the mountain itself in a tent or in a hut. With so many people using the lifts to get into the mountains routes are often filled to parties of climbers. The norm is a group of 3 heading up one of the trade routes. My suggestion is to never pick a trade route unless you and your partner can climb fast and try them a few hours later in the day. It will certainly be more enjoyable rather than being tied up in a line at hanging belays. The other challenge with the lifts is that you need to be back to them by the time that they close. Otherwise you are sleeping over (which is no big deal unless you need to be somewhere) or hiking down thousands of feet of very steep knee destroying trails. The trails are beautiful and switch back down the mountain but my beat up and worn out knees can only take so much bashing in one day.

Now for the climbing. There are routes on every formation that you can see and they often criss-cross each other making finding the “line” a challenge. Routes come close together and guidebooks don’t usually include all the neighboring climbs so it is very possible and easy even to get onto another route without even knowing it until you are on terrain that is way too easy or way to difficult. Additionally, in France they use bolts everywhere. Not that every route is a clip up, but that every route will have bolts on it somewhere. Sometimes next to a crack, sometimes on the face and sometimes there will be anchors just a few feet from each other. All the bolts should make things easier but in the end they were a bit confusing for us.

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The Eiger

Once the weather broke in the mountains we jetted up from Croatia though Slovenia, Italy and into Switzerland. I had always wanted to see the Eiger and try to climb it, so we were going for it. Not knowing the conditions or even how to get to the climb we started off slowly, but confidently. Switzerland uses the Swiss Franc and the conversion was easy as it was a 1 : 1 conversion with the US dollar meaning that it was worth the same. Anyway, that being said Swiss prices are 2 to 3 times more expensive than in the United States. Passes to ride the train up the Jungfrau (The Eiger is next to it) are high, but it saves 3-4 hours of walking before the normal 1.5 hours approach to the route.

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After talking with some guides and shop employees in town we had a pretty good description of the route and how to get there, the problem was that we could never see it from town. The clouds just hung right over the Geneva Pillars (where the climb was located). This made it difficult to actually understand the descriptions that we received. So we headed up the mountain to find the route as it was already late in the day with hopes of climbing it tomorrow. We brought our gear with hopes of stashing it at the approach rappels. After an hour or so of walking in a cloud up steep slabs and alongside snowfields we came to a cliff. Even though we couldn’t see through it or down it we believed that we were at the rappels for the route. We decided to remain there for a while in hopes of actually seeing the rock. After about an hour of wandering through the clouds a tiny opening emerged. It was maybe 50 foot wide. We saw enough to think were were there yet not enough for me to be sold that we really were there. In the end we left our gear under a rock and headed back to catch one of the last trains down the mountain. Nothing seemed correct about where we were and even after walking further up the mountain and down climbing the cliff that we ended at something seemed amiss.

It wasn’t until the following day that we saw where we walked and where the climb actually was located. It is amazing what a lack of clouds does for visibility. Anyway, with a forecast for afternoon showers we explored the valley instead of the north face of the Eiger and headed out early the next morning. When we arrived at the climb another unforeseen thing happened, the entire upper half of the was running with water while half of the bottom half was running with water. We were foiled. We had another option which was to lower in to the bottom half, climb the upper steep 70 meters of the lower 100 meters (the first being a slab) and then try the neighboring route. So we did just that and realized that it was freezing cold on the wall. It is windy and around 32 degrees while we climbed and as our feet and hands went numb during that top rope we both felt like it was the wrong time to be on the wall. We were also surprised to see a film crew filming the upper half of the other route that we were going to try. I was willing to try the other route but when the professional climber that was getting filmed was unable to make it up the route due to the harsh conditions, we felt ok about heading back down the mountain and to Chamonix, France where the weather was soon to be stable and dry.

 

Paklenica, Croatia

This is where I ended up 8 hours after I landed in Milan this July. This was where the weather was dry (and a bit warm) but the climbing was awesome. This climbing and hiking park is located on the coast of Croatia next to Starigrad. The beach is at the head of the canyon and boasts tons of bolted and partial gear climbs.

Details: you have to pay a parking fee and a personal user fee each day that you enter the park. I think that to park a car is 10 dollars a day and a individual persons pass was 5 dollars a day. (Remember I am talking about the Croatian Kuna which at the time was 1 : 6.3 when compared to the US dollar (which means that your dollar goes far)). Anyway, the climbing is worth it. You can go to the restroom in the canyon (in very nice well kept tunnels) built into the canyon walls. If you need a guidebook just buy it in the canyon while you are walking in past the initial climbs. There is a plethora of beginner and intermediate climbs from single pitch to multipitch spread from 1 minute from your car to about an hour. The trails are well marked and many of the most popular climbs have labels to make it easier to find what you are looking for. The walls are labeled as are the trails and you have routes in the shade all day depending on what side of the canyon that you are climbing.

We chose to climb a few the 300 meter routes (which would be a great practice) for the hopefully dry conditions in the Dolomites that we were hoping for later in our trip. Each of the routes required plenty of quick draws and a single set of cams to supplement spaces between a few of the bolts. The grey limestone was incredible to climb and we got to experience some wild runnel grips made from water carving through the rock.

My partner Mike and I were here waiting out the Alp rain that we encountered upon arrival. You may ask why we drove this far south? The answer is that I have climbed at many of the other drier options closer to the Dolomites and I didn’t fly to Europe to sport climb(not that it isn’t great here), I just wanted to climb long routes. Paklenica has both with dry weather so it was a good choice.

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Whew

At Rifle today and I saw a parent forcing their kid up a route to the point of screaming, absolute terror, more screaming and tears. I never knew this was what climbing was all about. There had to be 30 or more people at the base of the wall watching and listening to the total meltdown of the youngster and to the parent not lowering their kid. I am not trying to be judgmental, but making your kid cry while “doing a sport or activity” doesn’t seem to make for fond memories for that kid. I suspect that it will lead to hatred in the long run.

I would love it if my own kids grow up passionate about climbing, but the last thing that I will do is force them to do it.

On a positive note, I did see a bunch or younger climbers at Rifle today who were having fun and enjoying being outside, hanging with friends and climbing. It is amazing to me to think of how the climber population has changed in Rifle. I have observed over the last 20 years how it has gone from being primarily males in their 20’s to families and now back to the college age climbers. As for the rest of the climbers, they are teachers, professors, engineers, programmers, students and professionals all coming together to try their fitness (mentally and physically) on the canyon’s walls. Who would have thought this place would become so special to so many people.

Remember, climbing (as with any activity) is supposed to be fun and bring joy.  Be sure that you are a part of the positive when you are out there enjoying yourself.

Four Days into Summer Break

I have been lame at taking photos for quite some time. I am working on it. Anyway, the kids and I have been busy in the first four days of break.

Day 1: We slept in due to the fact that we stayed up past the boys 7:30pm bed time. The end of the year staff party at a coworkers home was great fun. The had a beautiful home in Grand Junction with all the entertaining amenities. In ground pool, big backyard, huge trees for shade, multiple corn-hole games and a deck that surrounded everything. The boys immediately jumped into the pool and enjoyed 3 hours of splashing and retrieving underwater toys. After Orson drank too much pool water they took a break and ate some hamburgers and hot dogs and played corn-hole. Rowan had one of the house dogs eat his burger right out of his hands and learned a valuable lesson about dogs and picnics.

Day 2: We played cards in the morning after making homemade pancakes. Then we headed to the JUCO game at 10am. JUCO stands for the Junior College World Series. I was told its all the kids who couldn’t perform academically in a D1 school that have the talent to go pro. Who knows. The game we watched was 9-0 and pretty good until the meltdown occurred and the loosing teams pitcher beaned one of the batters. After that they called the game because they earned 9 unanswered runs. Rowan is super competitive and loved watching the game and keeping track of balls and strikes. Orson sat in my lap and enjoyed all the stimulation from the fans and the game. Then it was back home for a Treadwall session and then a mini construction session. I built a swing shower. I used a long piece of 2 inch PVC pipe and drilled a bunch of holes on one side in a row about 2 inches from each other. Then I attached it to the bar over my swing set with a hose in it. I turned on the hose and let the water create a shower over the two swings and then a waterfall off the end of the pipe. The boys were engaged for the rest of the day. It was awesome. I watched and wrote lesson plans for next school year.

Day 3: We were supposed to meet Mike B at Rifle to play and climb but he re injured his foot and we were able to change plans. So we finished packing for Ohio and seeing my parents and then drove east. We stopped to hike a canyon off the interstate and got eaten by gnats. Then ate lunch at the river in Newcastle and looked for disc golf Frisbee in the tall grass along the river. After that we walked over the new bridge in Glenwood Canyon and checked out a rock shop that made the boys drool. After that we hiked Grizlee creek in Glenwood Cayon until an afternoon shower came in. Finally, we crashed at Mike B’s house in Eagle where we ate dinner and made smores to one of the finest backdrops in Colorado.

Day 4: We were supposed to climb a Flatiron with Timmy Oneil but Rowan felt sick all morning and we had to abort that mission. We ended up hiking in Morrison and explored the dinosaur tracks and fossils. Then we stopped at my old place in Golden and rested until Rowan felt better. In no time we were on Clear Creek playing on the river and in the park. After lunch we bought some new shoes for Rowan since his sneakers were beat. Since Earthtreks Golden was so close we popped in for a session and hung out with the great Charlie Mace and Dan Mirsky. I belayed my boys until they couldn’t do routes anymore and then they bouldered until they were pooped. After a little WWE wrestling on the mats we made a huge chicken and rice dinner and pulled weeds in the front yard of my old roommates place.

Day 5: Going to climb in Eldo with the boys and take them on a multipitch cause it’s supposed to rain in town and we don’t have them time to do the whole Flatiron. Then it will be off to SCARPA to visit the North American headquarters and bs with the crew.

Day 6: Waterworld, need I say more. Every kid should get to go there at least once a summer. I vow to make that happen for my boys and Thursday will be that day.

Day 7: Fly to Ohio to see the family. Let the good times roll.

See you all soon.

Summer Vacation

It is finally here. Another year in the books teaching high school. I have 15 years teaching under my belt at this point and can’t believe how quickly school years fly by.

This summer I have a few plans. As usual, I will head to Ohio with my kids to visit my family. I will also take a climbing trip to Europe and try to climb a few mountains and big walls if the weather cooperates. Then I will head to the Arcteryx Climbing Academy in Squamish to teach and climb a few pitches. After that it is the Outdoor Retailer trade show time in Denver. Finally, after all that work begins again at my high school. Once back, I will have to design new curriculum, help train the two new science teachers at my school and meet about 150 new learners.

In the meantime, I will go camping, fish, hike, swim and play in the mountains with my boys and try to enjoy the down time between teaching. Today was my last day and I was so tired that I felt like I couldn’t even enter the final grades in the computer. A task that is so simple, felt overwhelming at the end of the year. I will recover in a few days and be excited again, but right now I am beat.

If you are in Cleveland in June, look me up I will be hanging with my parents and training at the Cleveland Rock Gym at night. If you are in the Dolomites in July, drop me a line and maybe we can meet up on a big wall and trade some belays! And if you are in Squamish in mid July take a class withe me and find out why I break cams.

Looking forward to the rest of 2018 because the first half has worn me down.

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