Climbing near the Fisher Towers
Posted by sibylle in utah (Saturday November 29, 2008 at 9:57 am)


Lizard Rock

My son and I enjoy climbing in the Fisher Tower area, despite loose crumbly rock, because they are so beautiful. The Titan soars majestically above all other towers. When Tristan first saw the Titan he said, “I want to climb that!”

I explained that the Titan required difficult aid climbing on treacherous rock, over several days, with bivouacs on small, lumpy ledges, and that perhaps we should start with smaller towers.

The first tower that greets visitors as they step out of their car is Lizard Rock, a diminutive and inconsequential “tower” only 60 feet tall as compared with the Titan, which rears 900 feet into the sky.

Lizard Rock would introduce Tristan to the joys of footholds that break off, handholds that come loose, and protection gear that’s difficult to place and not confidence-inspiring. The west face of Lizard rock appears lackluster and mundane. I never understood why it’s called “Lizard Rock” until I hiked up the hill behind the tower. I dropped down a steep, crumbly scree slope into the canyon and saw a different east side of the appropriately named Lizard Rock.

Lizard Rock, the first formation that we climbed in the Fisher Towers, provided a good introduction to the loose rock and steep mud that are the norm in this area. Few other guidebooks include phrases such as:
“Stem in mud, 5.7, with poor protection”, or
“continue up a sandy ramp …”
“Belay from a rope lassoed around a horn”

Lizard Rock provided easy climbing, with a minimum of loose rock and decent gear placements. We easily reached the top of the small tower and headed to other towers.
“I still want to climb the Titan, Tristan announced.


Entlebucher Mountain dogs in colorado
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 3:35 pm)


Hiking in the Indian Peaks

We have a female Entlebucher Sennenhund (a breed of Swiss Mountain Dog) that we want to breed. I spent two days looking for breeders and studs, to find that most of them seem to be very far away – in places like North Carolina, San Diego, or Canada.

I thought I’d try it the other way around – I’ll announce that I have a female Entlebucher, and perhaps someone with a stud will contact me! I bought Nanda Devi in Switzerland, when I travelled there on a journalism assignment. If you’d like more information about our dog, please contact me on this site and I’ll send more photos and her pedigree.


Hiking behind our house


Loose block on Three Penguins, Arches NP
Posted by sibylle in utah (Monday November 24, 2008 at 8:37 am)


Three Penguins seen from the road

The weather remained cool—pleasant in the sun, but nippy in the shade and chillier in the wind, so we opted to climb short routes. Tristan had never climbed in Arches, which left us a number of towers to choose from.
“Let’s do the Three Penguins,” Tristan suggested. “It’s got the shortest approach.”
We perused the guidebook for hints about what gear we might need and how to reach the climb. We followed a climber’s trail to the rim, traversed a ledge, and then crawled through a cave to reach an exposed ledge to organize our gear. I definitely won’t recommend this tower as a place to take kids or beginners!

I was happy to belay in the sun, though the crack remained in the shade. Tristan romped up the first pitch and I followed the crack to end at a comfortable belay ledge.

At the ledge, we encountered a large loose block. The block, which measured about 4 feet by 2 feet by 1 foot, moved if one pulled on it. It was sitting on the ledge, directly below the second pitch. We climbed past carefully, jamming the crack above the block. I was afraid to step on the block, but it was big enough that I couldn’t get past it without using it as a foothold.

We rappelled off the top to the base with one 70-meter rope, which just makes it. A 60-meter rope won’t reach, but would require an intermediate rappel from the anchor at the end of the first pitch.

I notified the park ranges about the block, which I felt was dangerously loose. If a climber knocked it off, it would hit the road, potentially injuring drivers.

The rangers said that they would send the climbing rangers  to look at the block and that they could temporarily close the road to remove the block, or close the climb. I hope they don’t close the route to future climbing. Large blocks can loosen further due to water freezing and thawing, and even though Arches has little snow, it does snow. Thus the block could come loose and it would still hit the road.

I think it’s best if the rangers climb up there and trundle the rock. Let’s hope they do.

Old Shoes (mariacher) and new link cams for desert towers
Posted by sibylle in utah (Saturday November 22, 2008 at 9:45 am)


Climbing in old La Sportiva Mariachers and the new Omega Pacific Link Cam

Sometimes, when I climb in old shoes, climbers accuse me of being old style. Others, who’ve climbed enough grungy offwidths and chimneys to be aware of the full-body struggled about to ensue, jealously ask, “Where did you get those shoes? I want some.”

The lovely purple shoes are my La Sportiva Mariachers, which I bought in 1991 when La Sportiva had a big warehouse sale. I already had one pair of Mariachers and they were an awesome shoe for the time. I promptly bought two more pairs, one a half size larger.

The pair pictured, the larger ones, I wear on offwidth and chimney climbs. I toproped “4 x 4” in Indian Creek, a 5.11-  hands and fists crack described as “harder for small hands” (my hands fit into #1 Camalot cracks). The Mariachers fit perfectly into the crack, making the foot jams feel like walking up a staircase. My feet wedged into the crack so easily, I needed to use my hands only for balance.

Few manufacturers today make high-top shoes, probably because the biggest markets are boulderers, gym climbers, and sport climbers. I wouldn’t use my Mariacher for that, nor do I use them on friction climbs in Tuolomne, long Squamish climbs, or thin cracks. I’ve got La Sportiva Mythos for thin cracks, Miuras for sport climbing, and old Boreal Aces for mulitpitch climbs with face and crack climbing.
For  wide cracks, they make  climbing much easier and I don’t get the skin scraped off my ankles. That’s why I wore Mariachers on this route – I’d already removed a chunk of skin from my ankles earlier and  wanted to  keep my painful scab intact.

The Jrat pants, which I wore over fleece-lined running tights, are equally retro. I wear these on chimneys and offwidth. I had worn through the rear of two other pants,  otherwise in perfectly good shape, and decided to find my old pants. They have a durable patch, made of a heavy weight canvas, across the rear and knees.

To show I’m not completely retro, I’ve got brand new gold Omega Pacific Link Cams, which I love for Indian Creek. This cam fits anywhere from a #1 to a #2 Camalot size and I save it for when I get really desperate.

You might be able to buy Mariachers on Ebay. I have a pair to sell -  size 39.

Dunce Rock, Utah
Posted by sibylle in utah (Thursday November 20, 2008 at 12:07 pm)


Tristan on Dunce Rock, Fisher Towers
On some desert towers, it takes as long to find the tower or  get to it, as it does to climb it.  I enjoy the adventure of walking into the unknown searching for a trail that may go to the tower. We  had spent a long time trying to find Willis Tower, and hiked through beautiful terrain I’d never seen and would never have visited except to climb.

We could see what we thought was Carson’s Tower, but turned out to be dunce rock,  from the Fisher Towers parking lot. However, a deep ravine with steep cliffs on both sides blocked our path. We scrambled down towards the edge and decided that we wouldn’t be crossing the gulch here.

While Tristan ate lunch (he eats all the time), I went exploring. I headed ‘upstream’  along the ravine until I could climb down into it. I hiked up the canyon, climbing up steep rocks, until I could cross up the other side. I skirted the canyon, heading down the north side, until I was able to head toward the supposed Carson’s Tower.

When I reached what we thought was Carson’s Tower, I found a trail! It headed downstream from below the parking lot and started from the campground at site #3. Returning on this trail proved much faster and Tristan and I grabbed our packs to climb the putative Carson’s Tower.

Our guidebook described the climb as 5.7. Tristan headed up to the first drilled angle, clipped it, and tried to climb past. After watching him struggle, I suggested that he grab the sling to pull up on it. This allowed him to reach the next drilled angle, on which he promptly grabbed the sling after clipping it.

Something was wrong. We had climbed Ancient Art, rated 5.11, and Tristan easily freed the bolt ladder, commenting that it seemed easy for 5.11. We concluded that the climb must be 5.7, A0, and he aid climbed up the remaining drilled angles. Even on aid, it wasn’t easy, as we had no aid climbing equipment and the pins were widely spaced.


Dunce Rock is very narrow

Luckily Tristan is over six foot tall with long arms. His nickname in Squamish was “tall son” and I started calling him “exendo-unit” as I watched some astounding reaches for the next fixed pin. I followed the route, stretching to reach the quick draws to pull my self up from pin to pin.  There weren’t many pins, so soon we were both hanging near the top of a narrow, wide tower.

“It’s a shapely tower,” Tristan commented.

Warren Harding and Yosemite
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, Yosemite, California (Tuesday November 18, 2008 at 4:08 pm)


Harding on El Cap - Alpinist 25

Alpinist’s anniversary issue, #25, features Harding climbing El Capitan on its cover. In a way, these symbolize the ultimate achievements of climbing in the North America for much of the past 50 years. Harding, the ultimate ‘hard man’ and adventurer, was the first to climb El Capitan, Yosemite’s iconic big wall and once the world’s biggest climbable monolith.

Sadly, Harding did not live to see this celebration of his vision and his achievements. Though we had many of the top climbers from the 60s at the Yosemite reunion, the man whose vision drove the first ascent of El Capitan was missing. I’m glad that at least the House of Representatives finally recognized his, and his teammates’, achievement, and that Alpinist chose Harding and El Capitan to grace the cover of their “silver” anniversary issue.


Harding’s book

Unfortunately, Alpinist also bit the dust, part of the detritus resulting from the crash of the stock market, the financial crisis, and the unavailability of money. At least El Cap survived and appears as hale and well as ever —clean granite walls still jutting up toward the sky, dihedrals of all sizes remaining to challenge future generations of climbers. Let’s hope it lasts a while longer —I’ve almost got my son talked into attempting aid climbing!

For those who can find it, read Harding’s hilarious spoof of the climbing culture, adorned with Beryl Knauth’s apropos cartoons.

Warren’s signature,  cover page

Delicate Arch, Utah
Posted by sibylle in utah (Monday November 17, 2008 at 10:32 am)


Delicate Arch  from Frame Arch

Our last hike of the day was to Delicate Arch, the iconic arch that appears on Utah license plates, calendars, and in picture books. I’d read that the best time to photograph this arch would be near sunset, so we’d timed our previous hikes to end about 3:00 pm so that we could eat a quick snack (my teenager won’t walk far without a constant food supply) and then hike the 1.5 miles  to Delicate Arch to await sunset.

When we arrived at the arch, which was my first time here, we walked down below to look up close. I wouldn’t want to climb this arch unroped — one risks a huge fall into a deep canyon from the arch’s far side. Dean Potter once climbed this arch and publicized his feat, to much dismay from climbers, controversy, and anger from the Park Service.

The Park Service found that they had no law under which they could charge Potter, but quickly passed one making it illegal to climb any named arch in the park.

Our sunset, which we and numerous other hikers had come out here for, began disappearing behind a building cloud cover.  At 4:30, we barely could see any sign of the sun and the clouds appeared to be getting darker and greyer.  I got colder, sitting under a dusky November sky with a stiff breeze, and we decided to forgo our chance at sunset photos of the arch and hike the 1.5 miles back to the car in the gloaming, rather than hike in the dark.


Delicate Arch

Skyline Arch and Broken Arch, Arches National Park
Posted by sibylle in utah (Sunday November 16, 2008 at 8:17 am)


Skyline Arch

After our short walk to Balanced Rock  (the Park Service forbids climbing this), we drove to the Skyline Arch Parking Area and went on another short walk — 0.2 miles—to Skyline Arch. We saw people in the arch with nordic walking poles, which made me think of Claire, who’s written a book on Nordic walking.


I’m hiking with my teenage son, so instead of sedately walking with poles, we generally jog the flat parts of our hikes. Even if we’re not both running, I have to jog every few steps to keep up with him, as he walks quickly on his long legs.

We then drove towards the Sand Dune Arch Parking Area and hiked a half mile to Sand Dune Arch, which sits deep in a narrow canyon with the towering sandstone walls on both sides shutting out the sun. I imagine this would be delightful on a hot day, but in November it was  cold.

Back on the main trail, we continued to Broken Arch, which isn’t really broken, only slightly cracked. From this arch, a loop trail goes through the arch and to the campground, but since we’d started from the Sand Dune Arch parking area, we returned the way we came. One could park at the campground and hike this arch as a one-mile loop.


Broken Arch

Tristan took one look at Broken Arch and said, “That looks easy to climb. I could climb right up the side.”
I reminded him that the park service had recently passed a law making it illegal to climb on any named arch and, besides, this one has a crack and is likely to go the way of Wall Arch.

Arches National Park
Posted by sibylle in utah (Friday November 14, 2008 at 10:00 am)


Balanced Rock

One day after a rainstorm, when it was a bit cool for climbing, we hiked to various arches and other landmarks in Arches National Park.
First, we walked the very short loop to Balanced Rock, a walk under half a mile.

From the parking area, and the beginning of the trail, the rock looks reasonably well-balanced. However, from the back side, it’s very askew and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear sometime that this rock has fallen off its pedestal!

Royal Robbins and Yosemite
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, Yosemite, California (Thursday November 13, 2008 at 10:15 am)


Royal Robbins

Royal Robbins completed the first ascent of almost every major cliff in Yosemite —except for El Capitan. In fact, the reason that Warren Harding decided to attempt an ascent of El Cap was because when he and his team arrived in Yosemite to climb their intended goal, Half Dome, Robbins had beaten them to it.

Harding in his typical inexorable style responded, “Well, since Royal beat us to Half Dome, let’s go try El Capitan.”

After Harding got the first ascent of El Cap, Robbins promptly climbed El Cap’s Nose route in 7 days, as compared with Harding’s 47-day siege effort. He then went on to climb a new route on El Capitan, the Salathe Wall (named after John Salathe), followed by the North American Wall (for the silhouette of the grey rock found there). Later he soloed el Cap via the Muir Wall, which goes between the Nose route and the Salathe Wall.

Robbins wrote one of the first  modern books on how to rock climb, Basic Rockcraft, in 1973 and later wrote Advanced Rockcraft. When I started climbing, these two books were the bible of every novice climber I knew.

When I was at the Yosemite reunion, Royal’s photo was in almost every book I owned, since he’d done the first ascents of most significant Valley climbs. As I found book after book with his photo, I asked him to sign yet another autograph, until his wife Liz remarked that I was relentless. I laughed and replied that it was his fault for writing too many books and articles, and doing too many first ascents that were pictured in everyone else’ books. Not a bad legacy!

Pat Ament wrote a biography of Robbins, Spirit of the Age, in 1992, which chronicles Royal’s accomplishments in greater detail.

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