El Potrero Chico
Posted by sibylle in Mexico (Friday February 24, 2006 at 4:25 am)

PC sunrise.jpg

Dawn at El Potrero

David Goldstein wrote that he’d like to read more about “something related to the fun climbs”. Last year at this time, Dave and I went to Potrero Chico (Read about Dave’s famous ‘Passive Head Restraint System for Road Trips’ in “The Mountain World”).

Neither of us had visited Potrero Chico, but Dave had a hit list of long, hard routes, whereas I wanted to start on easier climbs. We went to the Mini Super Wall and climbed one pitch routes. After three climbs, Dave tired of “grid-bolted” routes and suggested we cross the road to try a longer climb.

We walked to “The Jungle” where he’d scoped out the four-pitch Jungle Mountaineering. The guidebook states: “tradition demands that this be your first climb in the Portrero.” Though not our first climb, it would be our first multi-pitch route, with pitches at: 5.9, 5.9, 5.9r and 5.10a. By the time I’d put on my shoes, Dave was halfway up the first pitch.
“Put me on belay when you’re ready,” he yelled.

The pitch seemed easy so I felt comfortable swinging leads. The second pitch continued on slabby limestone with good holds on solid rock, with bolts whenever I wanted one. I’d heard about Portrero Chico’s run-out sport climbs, but the bolting seemed fine.

Dave quickly followed my pitch. “Those pitches both seem easier than 5.9,” he said. I agreed that the grading seemed soft. On the next pitch, Dave clipped every other bolt “to add a bit of challenge.” After my fourth lead, at the next belay, a line of bolts continued up the rock.

Why would bolts continue past the fourth pitch? Perhaps someone added a pitch? We assumed each stance after 100 feet indicated the end of a pitch. Perhaps the pitches were 200 feet long, and the intermediate bolts were for rappelling?

I continued up. If our pitches were 200 feet, I might as well run it out. I feared running out of draws, so I skipped clips whenever I could. After another 100 feet, I arrived at a belay stance. More bolts continued up.

When Dave arrived, we discussed our predicament. We’d climbed five pitches, and faced a sixth pitch ahead. He thought we must be on another climb.
“That could be why those pitches seemed so easy,” he said. However, we had no idea what route we could be on. We saw Space Boyz to our right, and Jungle Boy, left of Jungle Mountaineering, had only two pitches.
“Let’s keep climbing as long as there are bolts,” Dave suggested. This was fine as long as any hard pitches we encountered were his – Dave was comfortable on 5.11s and easy 12s; I was happy leading 5.10.

Dave led pitch six, which seemed somewhat harder and I led pitch seven on excellent rock with abundant pockets. By now, I was hungry and thirsty. At the end of pitch eight, we saw two climbers rappelling down. Finally, someone could tell us how many pitches were left, and how hard they were.

“What route is this?” I asked.
“You’re on Yankee Clipper,” they replied. “It’s 15 pitches, but most people skip the last two. The register is at the top of pitch 13 and two pitches, 10b and 12a, go to the summit.”
“Let’s do the rest of the climb,” Dave enthusiastically suggested.

They gave us their topo. When I remarked that we’d brought no food or water, they shared their water and gave me some chocolate goo. With seven pitches remaining, Dave combined pitches 10 and 11 and I combined pitches 12 and 13.

At the top of pitch 13 we reached a notch with a view down the other valley. Clouds rolled in, making it windy and cold. We’d done 16 pitches, including the warm-up climbs. As it got colder and nastier, Dave agreed that we could sign the register and descend. I was happy to reach firm ground, with water and snacks.

After managing 16 pitches on our first day, we both felt more optimistic about Dave’s ambitious climbing plans, which included trying both Space Boyz (11 pitches, 5.10+) and Snott Girlz (7 pitches, 5.10+) in one day. That would total 18 pitches, only two more than we’d done today!

Frisco Gold Rush
Posted by sibylle in skiing (Friday February 17, 2006 at 1:39 am)

Sunrise from Ptamigan Mountain

On Sunday, February 5, I raced the Frisco Gold Rush. I’m showing this picture of sunrise in Silverthorne (near Frisco) because during the race we had a blizzard!

The thermometer read a chilly 8 degrees Fahrenheit, confirming my decision to classic ski instead of skating. With a 9:00 a.m. race start it seemed unlikely that the day would warm up noticeably before the race, and classic skiing is easier in the cold. The 6 – 8 inches of snow that fell overnight reinforced my belief that classic was the way to go.

I hadn’t raced since 2004 and nordic skied very little this winter, so I wanted to race as training. I try harder in a race atmosphere, and I hoped this would get me in shape for running races and climbing in summer.

I applied a base of blue wax, tested my skis, and added more special blue for the steep sections. The last time I raced here the course was on the Frisco Bay Trail, a pleasant blue trail. Today’s course on Buzzsaw, a double black diamond, negotiated several long, steep uphills followed by correspondingly steep downhills.

When my wax worked well on the first steep uphill, I congratulated myself for adding more blue wax. Despite my waxing, a young man passed me on the hill. Though exhibiting little smoothness or technique, he had a lot of energy, shown by his enthusiastic bouncing stride. His downhill skills didn’t quite match his energy. As he skied down from the crest of the hill he crashed, spread across the trail in the curve near the bottom.

Carefully negotiating my way around the sprawling man, I descended the hill safely, though loosing speed to avoid obstacles in the trail. After a flat section, followed by another steep hill, I was discouraged to find myself passed again by this man. Was this my curse for the race - to get passed on every hill and then be stuck behind him as he fell his way downhill? Apparently, as he fell again on the next curve downhill. This time, he fell more to the side and not across the trail, which was wider here. I kept up more speed and slid into the track directly in front of him. Inspired by the need to stay ahead of this guy or get waylaid on every downhill curve, I exerted my utmost effort and panted and gasped my way up the next hill.

To my surprise, he didn’t pass me on the next hill and I continued striding up (mostly) and down Buzzsaw. Soon we hit the Frisco Bay Trail and headed back to the finish. Luckily I knew this trail, as visibility deteriorated with snow blowing sideways. Snow covered my glasses and I couldn’t stop poling to wipe them off.

Fresh snow and temperatures near 10 degrees produced a slow course. Eventually, the nordic center appeared through falling snow and we headed in to the final loop. No other women were near me, so I sprinted with less than 100% effort to the finish, happy to finish at all in these conditions.

When I went to the tent to get a cookie, I got a gold medal! Not only had I won, but I beat the woman who won the race two years ago. Perhaps I should have found the guy who kept falling in front of me, and thanked him for inspiring me to ski faster uphill so that I wouldn’t have to pass him on every downhill!

Beyond The Void
Posted by sibylle in slide shows (Wednesday February 15, 2006 at 2:04 am)


Last Thursday I was lucky to see Simon Yates’s spectacular slide show, Beyond the Void, at Neptune’s. I say lucky, because I had no ticket - I had no idea that they sold tickets or that these might be sold out. As I was trying to convince the ticket collector that I was a friend of Gary Neptune’s, who would surely let me in … (I hoped), someone overheard my so far unconvincing argument that even though ticketless, I surely deserved to see this show.

“Let her in,” said the man, whom I knew only as the local librarian. We’d talked about trail running, and he told me he’d read my stories, but I’d never seen him outside the library. “She can take my place,” he continued. In the end, I got in to see one of the best shows I’d seen in years. I’ll have to ask him which of the things I wrote encouraged him to this kind act of charity.

Yates displayed typically British self-deprecating humor as he recounted his adventures, not only with Joe Simpson as described in Touching the Void, but around the world since then. He told how he set out to climb with “the accident-prone Simpson” in the Peruvian Andes (the scene of Simpson’s fall and miraculous survival after Yates cut the rope).

“They called me ‘Slasher’,” Yates recounted, describing how when working on construction sites in England, he’d find notes taped to his helmet, including “Mac the Knife”. “Not much you can do but laugh, really,” he said; and laugh I did, through much of the show. Yates showed stunning photos of the Andes, Alaska, and central Asia. He finished with photos of a trip to Tierra del Fuego in a friend’s ocean-going yacht. “You know you’re getting middle-aged when your friends own yachts,” he explained.

If this show is coming anywhere near you, I’d advise going out to buy a ticket soon and not relying on the kindness of others to see it.

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