Monday, March 31, 2014

Training for Anidesha Chuli

I was sitting in the famous Num-Ti-Jah Lodge by Bow Lake at my friends wedding. Halfway to being drunk, I was not feeling like dancing but rather picking the brain of an extremely knowledgeable Mountain Guide and now friend, Mark Klassen. I was pressing him for advice on how to train for climbing at altitude, and I'll never forget his response: "Ha, train for altitude? Go out on Banff Ave, get seriously drunk, wake up two hours later, put a hessian sack over your head and try and run up Sulphur Mountain." Marks point was that no one knows how you will perform at altitude, everyone is different and there is no real way of knowing how you will do until you're there. The other point I took away from his comment was that regardless of your physical condition, altitude will always dictate progress and health. Obviously being super fit will help but it won't make you immune to coping with less oxygen.

* Climbing steep ice in Canada.
My training over the last six months in preparation for our expedition to Anidesha Chuli has been quite varied. During my last remaining months in Canada I was trying to spend as much time in mountains as possible. Enduring time in the cold, carrying a heavy pack, climbing steep ice and mixed routes. I also dedicated a lot of time to the gym, often spending hours cycling, running, weight lifting and swimming laps. My training Mantra has been "Lungs, Legs & Core". Since being back in Australia my training has obviously shifted a little - no ice to climb here. I've maintained the same mantra but switched my pursuits a little. I'm lucky enough to live 5 minutes walk to a nature reserve - Mt Ainslie. My house sits 233 metres below its mighty summit of 843m so I have been running small peaks and linking trails to create anywhere between 10 - 20km hill running circuits. I've also been training pack fitness, as that is the most relevent fitness I will require. This involves filling a big Backpack full of 25litres of water and walking up Mt Ainslie or other local hills. Road riding has also been a fun way to build a strong base of fitness while also maintaining great muscular endurance for the legs.

*Pack fitness training on Mt Ainslie, Canberra
The only golden rule I have had while training for Nepal was: 'Listen to your Body'. I have been way more paranoid about overtraining and injuring myself than going on this expedition not quite as fit as I would have imagined. I set goals and push myself but if I feel an old niggling injury starting to creep back in I stop, stretch and rest. In having said all of this, I have been unlucky enough to develop some bad lower back pain. After physio I think we have concluded it is due to a number of things, imbalance in muscle groups in my back, very tight IT bands, poor sleep and stress. I walked out of Physio today, two weeks before departure with a long list of physio exercises to correct niggling knee and back pain. I'm still training but have lessened the intensity and have stopped running. Uphill pack fitness, yoga and body-weight exercises will have to suffice.
                                                       * Training on the back deck at home.

I'm really excited at the prospect of experiencing altitude and to see how I perform. Knock on wood all goes well but perhaps after a few days of sitting around with headaches, coughing, waking up from periodic breathing and having no appetite I will think back to writing this and kick myself...time will soon tell.

Six days until departure, excited, nervous, happy, anxious, positive - an invigorating and refreshing whirlwind of emotions is slowly enveloping me and its intensity is only going to increase over the following two weeks.

I'll post again before I leave with more details on the trip and a rough itinerary of our movements while there.

Thanks for the encouragement and for following along!

Friday, March 7, 2014


Canada? Mentors? Mileage? Talk about writers block, It took me a long while just to settle on a title for this simple blog post and all I could come up with was "Canada...".  The procrastination of choosing a blog title stems from the indecision about how and what exactly I want this post to reflect. A mix of things I guess, exactly as the failed title ideas at the start of the page would suggest. I want to share some of my highlights in Canada, reflect upon a community that accepted me with open arms and say thanks to many climbing partners and mentors who have had the patience to climb with me over the past two years.

When I arrived in Canada on the 12th of January 2012 I knew I had a long way to go before I would prove myself a respectable climber to....myself - sounds funny but its true. I moved to Banff with a very clear goal, to better myself as an all-round ice, rock and alpine climber. Upon moving to the Bow Valley I quickly realised I was surrounded by a world-class community of strong, psyched and extremely talented climbers of every discipline. I had plan of how to fast-track my progress as much as I could - by assuming the role of grasshopper.

Through chance meetings and being introduced to the right people I quickly became friends with some very strong, active and talented recreational climbers and guides living in both Canmore and Banff. It's no secret that climbing with people stronger and more experienced than you will fast-track your progress but I approached it with obsession by taking up every possible opportunity that arose. Often waking up at 5AM to climb multipitch rock routes before having to open the Patagonia Banff store at 10AM, calling upon far too many favors at work from staff members to cover shifts. I never told a word of a lie about my abilities, always being honest about my experience or in many cases lack thereof but I showed I was incredibly psyched, had half a brain and I knew when to listen and when to shut up. I watched my partners closely, asked lots of questions, and still do. Climbing is full of subtleties which can hugely impact efficiency, and in climbing, especially long or committing routes, efficiency is everything.

As time passed I slowly began to my swing my ice axes with more precision, coil ropes with more finesse and unlock mysteries of route finding on big, broken limestone walls. I would speak up and offer more insight on decisions that were being made in a vertical world. My confidence grew as did my appetite for bigger, longer, more committing routes. Before long I felt like I knew most of the community and certainly climbed with a larger network of people than I had ever imagined. A large number of my climbing partners now comprised of very well traveled recreational climbers, guides, and sponsored athletes. I could write pages and pages, listing special climbs and individual mentors and their impact they had on me but you would be asleep long before you were to finish reading, instead I will highlight a number of moments that were of significance to me:

  • Climbing the North face of Mt Athabasca with Rob Owens, Andrew Querner and Mike Stuart. We climbed the North face with the goal of filming a short advert for a new Jacket Patagonia had made, the Troposphere Jacket. You can view it here: 

  • Starred in one of Joe Mckays - Mike Barter Climbing Tools youtube videos - having watched joe's quirky instructional videos for years this was pretty cool thing to get to do with him. 

  • Stanley Headwall  -  Going to Night of Lies and waking up  5 hours later to climb 'Man Yoga' with Ian Welsted. We managed to both onsight the first four pitches before bailing as a result to the sun going down. Beers and a late start were not an ideal setup for success but I realised that day I should believe in my climbing ability more.

  • Mt Temple - Climbing the Greenwood Jones route on the North Face of Mt Temple with Jasmin Fauteux. We managed the route in 14 hours car to car, no speed records by any means but a time we were happy with. 

  • EEOR - Linking Generosity & Reprobate on the East End of Mt Rundle with Samuel Lambert. Combining these two routes offered us a day of 24 pitches of both traditional climbing!

  • Red Rocks  -  In 2012 I spent over a month at Red Rocks, Nevada. Samuel Lambert and I climbed almost every day and we manged to tick our ultimate goal - Resolution Arete, a 2500ft old school beast of a climb. We did it on one of the shortest days of the year. It was a 17 hour day. Below: Mt Wilson, Resolution Arete follows the turreted arete on the right hand side of the face.

  • Alaska - In May of 2013 my friend Brendan Maggs and I flew to into Alaskas Ruth Gorge. We climbed three routes, two of them on the Mooses Tooth - 'Shaken Not Stirred & Ham and Eggs Coulior. A few days later we climb the Japanese Coulior on Mt Barrill but abandoned plans of Peak 11,300 due to short weather windows, single boots and frost nipped toes. 

  • Mt Slesse - Jasmin Fauteux and I attempted the NE Buttress of Mt Slesse. We woke on the very base of the ridge at our exposed bivvy to an intense lighting storm and rain and had to bail. We then drove to Squamish and managed to salvage the afternoon with a the four pitch classic 'Rock On'. We were pretty devastated to get shut down with the weather on that route.

  • The Grand Wall - Due to bad weather all across the ranges we decided we had little chance of success at big alpine objectives and settled for a week at Squamish. While there we managed to climb The Grand Wall. Far from doing so in great style I still managed to lead the Split Pillar, it was a great pitch, complete with whippers. 

  • Attempt of Grand Central Coulior on Mt Kitchener - Me, Kris Irwin and Jasmin Fauteux attempted the Grand Central coulior on Mt Kitchener  - We ended up bailing at the base of the Doyle / Blanchard ice strip that was not formed, we could have climbed the mixed corner but my feet were freezing and the cost would have been too high. Despite bailing I still managed to do damage to my toes.

  • Swiss Cheese - Every winter starts with pumpy days at the playground, I love climbing pure ice but last winter i seemed more drawn to mixed climbing. A definite highlight of my season was sending 'Swiss Cheese' a M9 dry tooling route at The Playground just outside Canmore. When projecting a climb my friend Sarah Huenekin used to tell me to believe, really believe. Now when working hard on a route that word rings in my mind, Believe...

  • Fearful Symmetry - What an incredible way to bring in the New year. I climbed this route on New Years day with Joe Mckay. After watching his youtube videos for years in New Zealand I never thought I would be rope gunning him up elusive famous ice routes in the Ghost River Valley.

  • Curtain Call: Jasmin Fauteux and I climbed Curtain Call the previous two winters. This last time I got to lead the second pitch - a very rewarding pitch of ice to climb!

  • Sea of Vapors - Trophy Wall. Paul Taylor, Jasmin Fauteux and I climbed the ultra classic Sea of Vapors. I could not ask for a better climb to wrap up two years of climbing in the rockies.

These are only a small handful of special climbs and memories that I was lucky enough to share with great friends. While my life almost entirely revolved around climbing I was lucky enough to meet and befriend many other people who inspired me in their own way. One friend and mentor who inspired me greatly was Paul Zizka. During quiet times at Patagonia shop I used to sit and browse his collection of awe-inspiring photographs. One night when I saw him post one of his many impressive Aurora Borealis shots I decided to contact him through facebook. He responded swiftly and after chatting back and forth it was not long before he invited me to go chasing Auroras with him, offering to lend me his back up camera and tripod. Paul's generosity with his well earned  knowledge and precious time was incredible and I was so excited to have found yet another mentor in another discipline I was extremely excited to better myself in. Over the next few months we shared ideas and collaborated on night climbing photography projects - some of these images went on to help Paul gain incredible exposure and well deserved attention by several media outlets. I'm so happy as it was a small way of being able to say thank you to someone who otherwise I would not be able to offer a great deal, aside from enthusiasm and company on cold nights out shooting.

Here are a series of photos Paul Zizka took on some of our nights out together, the formula was pretty simple - I would climb frozen waterfalls by night and he would take photos, the results were pretty magical..

.* A shot of myself climbing at Haffner Creek, Kootenay National Park, British Columbia.

 *Haffner Creek, British Columbia. 

                                                    * Myself climbing at Johnston Canyon.

I feel that no matter what I manage to write on this space it will not even come close to portraying how special the Bow Valley and my friends there are to me. I'm no where near a skilled or patient enough writer to do my experiences, epics, triumphs and friendships justice but one has to try. My time spent in Canada was overwhelmingly positive. Never before have I felt I belonged in one place so much. It felt like everyday I would make new friends to learn from and laugh with. So here's to you friends of the Bow Valley - thanks for having me and helping me grow - I might just be seeing you sooner than expected.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anidesha Chuli 2014 Expedition, Nepal.

I first met Paul Hersey when I started working at Bivouac Outdoor in Christchurch, New Zealand. I had read both his books 'High Misadventure' and 'Where the Mountains Throw Their Dice', which left me laying awake at night, gripped both with fright and inspiration by tales of climbing success and tragedy in New Zealand mountains and peaks abroad. Paul worked at Bivouac once a week, every Tuesday. Having read his books and with constantly seeing his name in the climbing magazines, I was pretty excited about working with him. My co-workers at Bivouac described him as the big kid, and they could not be more accurate. Paul and I quickly became friends, and spent our shifts together drinking way too much coffee while talking climbing. Paul was one of my first mentors, and I had no idea that just three years later he would be asking me to accompany him and his wife Shelley to attempt an entirely unclimbed mountain in the Nepalese Himalayas.

    *Anidesha Chuli 6900m, Photo Credit: Ben Dare.

On the 7th of April I fly out of Sydney to Kuala Lumpur where I will reunite with Paul and Shelley before boarding our flight to Kathmandu. We plan to spend three days in Kathmandu after which we will travel by bus and jeep to Taplejung. We will then trek 8 days on route to Pang Pema, the base camp for Kangchenjunga - the worlds third highest mountain. A further two days trekking will take us to the upper Ramtang Valley, where we will establish our base camp at an altitude of roughly 5000m.

Anidesha Chuli is an incredibly beautiful unclimbed mountain which lies in the Kangchendzonga region of eastern Nepal. It rises from the Ramtang Glacier to a height of 6900m; a respectable altitude which will provided challenging conditions. The Kangchendzonga region was only opened to trekkers and climbers in 1988, and is still considered a "restricted" area by the Nepalese government. Our plan is to climb the Northeast face and East ridge from our base camp in the Ramtang glacier. From base camp to the summit there is about 2000m of vertical to ascend, and once acclimatized we expect the climb to take between 6 - 8 days. We have chosen to climb alpine style as a team of three, carrying all of our bivouac, cooking and climbing equipment with us on the route. We have allocated about four weeks time to spend at or above base camp, allowing us adequate time for acclimatization and two summit attempts.

In April/May last year, Rob Frost led a team of strong kiwi climbers to attempt the first ascent of Anidesha Chuli. Unfortunately, one of the climbers took a long fall high on the Northeast face and sustained serious head injuries. The team then impressively partially self-rescued themselves to a lower altitude, and were later evacuated by helicopter. Rob and the other members of the 2013 expedition have been extremely supportive and helpful in the preparation of our upcoming expedition, offering a huge amount of information and insight.
    *Anidesha Chuli, photo by G. Dingle, from 'Wall of Shadows' 1976

Our 2014 Anidesha Chuli Expedition is part of an ongoing project called 'Backyard and Beyond', started by Paul Hersey, Shelley Hersey, Jamie Vinton-boot and Troy Mattingley. The success of their first film 'One Fine Day on a Mountain' has inspired us to document and produce a film about our expedition to climb Anidesha Chuli. In order to do this we require a large amount of hardware, including dolly sliders, tripods, multiple DSLRs, small point and shoot cameras and GoPros. We will also take a laptop and another external hard drive to base camp to dump footage on during our trip. Over the past year I have been incredibly inspired by other photographers, namely Paul Zizka and Jon Griffith, to pursue my own photography more seriously. A few months ago I bought a Canon 6D, Canon's lightest full frame camera which handles low light and high ISO extremely well, making it a perfect fit for a climber who is interested in night time and landscape photography. I am extremely excited to document our trip in Nepal, and my mind is reeling with ideas of different ways to tell the story of our adventure: from isolating distant summits, shooting wide open at a bright blanket of stars, to star trail experiments. I'm almost just as excited for the photographic opportunities as I am the climbing.

   * Power of the 6d. A shot I took during a night ice climbing session / shoot at Haffner Creek, Canada.

For the past two years I have been living in the Canadian Rockies, working 3 - 4 days a week, spending the remaining days climbing ice and mixed routes in the winter months, and rock and alpine routes in the summer. My time here has been invaluable for my climbing progression, and I have achieved goals I thought would take me twice as much time. A large part of this personal success is a reflection of the community I have been surrounded by, and the psyche, experience and patience of mentors and friends I have climbed with and learnt from. My experiences here have grounded, inspired, scared and humbled me, and without the mileage from the last two years I would be no where near ready for an expedition such as this. In preparing for Nepal I have changed the emphasis of my training from power and strength to cardiovascular endurance with my mantra being "Lungs, Legs, Core". I am currently nursing frost-nipped toes, so the treadmill, rowing machine, stationary bike and swimming pool have been my weapons of choice for fitness to avoid the cold whenever possible.

In three weeks I fly back to Canberra, Australia. I have not been home in two years, and am excited to touch base with friends and family. Once back home, my training will be more outdoors focused, as I will be battling heat, not extreme cold, and my frost-nipped toes won't be a concern anymore. I'm looking forward to road riding, hill running, weight training and climbing warm sandstone. 

This opportunity could not have arrived at a better time. When Paul originally emailed me asking if I wanted to join the team, I was struggling with deciding what to do next in life. Move back to New Zealand? Apply for another work visa and stay in the Bow Valley? Moving back to Australia is always an option, but having fallen in love with climbing mountains it makes it a rather challenging place to live. I look upon this next adventure as a door of opportunity that has opened to further my climbing career, and a stepping stone that presented itself at the perfect possible time. I'm honoured to be invited on such an expedition, and look forward to a grand adventure with two fantastic friends. Regardless of failure or success, it will be an incredible experience in an awe-inspiring landscape with endless learning opportunities. As for what happens afterwards? Well that all depends on a lot of things, but I do know that a trip like this will at the very least offer me some clarity as to where my heart longs to live.

If you're interested in following our trip then keep an eye on this page. Here are a few other links that you can find us on:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mt Temple, North Face, Greenwood Jones, V, 5.10

Rising an impressive 1500 meters from the bottom of Paradise Valley, the North face of Mt Temple commands respect. I wanted to climb this face ever since I laid eyes on it from the Lake Louise town site car park. I remember staring up at it and telling myself I had to climb it before I left Canada, a definite milestone for my climbing career. I wanted to climb it in the summer of 2012 but the stars did not align, partners, conditions, weather, the usual things.

One of my regular climbing partners, Jasmin Fauteux and I had been talking about climbing this face and we quickly decided on the classic Greenwood Jones route. This line climbs the North East Buttress, providing one of the safest lines up the formidable face. The route starts off following a quartzite rib that leads to a steepening limestone headwall, with a few loose, hard to protect, somewhat sketchy traverses in between. The route is typical to classic rockies alpine climbing with a combination of loose rock, tricky route finding and questionable gear. Once you have finished the face, you meet the east ridge and the summit ice field, where you traverse the final stretch to the summit.

I was intimidated by this route, reading many trip reports of people bivvying and or getting off route and finding themselves in a less than ideal situation. Jasmin and I decided on climbing as fast and light as possible. We agreed on taking one single rope, which would offer faster rope management, meaning we would move quicker but it also meant we were more committed. Retreating with only a single 60m rope on a big face like that could be epic, not to mention extremely time consuming and expensive (we would end up leaving our whole rack behind). We climbed with 30l packs, one ice tool each, crampons, pair of climbing shoes each, a puffy down jacket, headlamps, energy bars, 2l of water, a jetboil (incase we had to bivvy and needed to melt snow for water), and a pack of ramen noodles each for dinner if we got benighted.

On the 9th of July at 2:30am we drove from Banff to the Paradise Valley car park in Lake Louise. We left the car and started our approach at 3:30am, reaching the base of the face at 5:00am. We wasted no time in identifying our buttress and started off with an initial 60m pitch. This rope length positioned us onto the face, amongst easier terrain, where we both agreed we felt comfortable enough to take off the rope and solo for a while. We moved quickly and made a few hundred meters progress before we pulled out the rope and started simul climbing. The climbing was fairly straight foward, every now and again we would reach a section that was steep enough to warrant a belay but our transitions were fast and efficient and we kept moving at a good pace.There were a few pitches where the rock was absolutely terrible, and the odd microwave sized rock was knocked down. A cool head and delicate climbing skills were definitely strong assets for some sections of this climb.

*Jasmin gearing up at the base.

*Jasmin on the sketchy traverse

Jasmin standing underneath the upper limestone headwall.

Before we knew it we had negotiated the chossy traverse and were hanging off a fixed pin belay at the base of the limestone headwall. Eight or so pitches and we would reach the summit ice field. The rock quality improved and just as well because the climbing was getting steeper and more exposed. I lead the first pitch of the headwall, an old school 5.8 crack. It provided secure climbing but was quite run out. I stretched the rope and managed to build a belay in a small alcove beneath a wall of loose rock. I decided to belay jas from the alcove, hiding from anything that he might knock down from above. A wise decision, affirmed minutes later by a brick sized piece of rock landing where I was standing just moments earlier.

* Jasmin coming up the second last pitch of the Headwall

*Jasmin leaving the belay and setting off the tackle the final pitch. I deliberately 
pitched it here to get this photo!

*Me coming up the final pitch, the exposure is wild! 

* The Summit Ice Field.

* Jasmin on the final traverse to the summit. 

* Taking it all in, Moraine Lake in the valley below.

The climbing was incredible and the rock quality so much better than expected, on par with some of the more solid routes on Yamnuska. We found all the pin belays the book spoke of and we avoided getting off route at all, which we were stoked about. The exposure on the final two pitches was mind blowing, we were so high up. The trees resembled blades of grass and the lakes looked more like tiny ponds. We were making excellent time, using the seracs to our right as a reliable gauge of how high we were on the face. We topped out at 1:30pm with only the summit ice field and conriced East Ridge left to negotiate before reaching the summit of 3544m. We took off our climbing shoes and changed into approach shoes and crampons. This setup is lighter than climbing with and carrying mountain boots but does not offer the same stability and security. There was less snow than I would have liked on the final stretch of the ridge and this last section definitely felt like the most exposed and insecure part of the whole day.

We reached the summit at 2:30pm where we shared a hug and enjoyed the post climb euphoria that is like no other feeling in the world. This feeling is yet so fleeting and keeps climbers hungry for more for the rest of their lives. We were disappinted to find there was much more snow on the descent than we excepted, which made for a tedious, slippery, ankle breaking descent. Three and a half hours later and we had reached the Moraine Lake car park where we talked to friendly tourists into driving us a short ways down the road back to our car. In the end it was a 14.5 hour day, car to car. Considering we were mentally prepared to get benighted or spend 24 hours climbing on the route we were happy with the style in which we climbed the route and the time we did it in.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Alaska Part 1: The Mooses Tooth.

When my friend, Brendan, sent me a Facebook message on the 27th of January saying; "Alaska? May/June? Just looking at the guidebook now."  I did not really take it seriously. Of course I wanted to go to Alaska, but I was not ready for alpine climbing in the Alaskan range, plus I was barely scraping through in Banff. There was no way could I afford a month-long climbing trip to Alaska. The logistics alone were overwhelming, not to mention the prospect of actually climbing there. ‘Alaska’: it's such a powerful word; it has this intimidating mystique about it. Then you couple the words, ‘Alaska’ and ‘climbing’ and my stomach churns. All I can think about is reading about Mark Twights epics in 'Extreme Alpinism'.

After talking to a few people, securing a loan from my ever loving and supportive family, breaking the trip down into achievable chunks and letting my psyche grow more and more, I came to the realisation that it was a possibility. Within a week, I had told Brendan that I was committed and that we had to make it happen. We decided that we would like to climb steeper, more technical lines, as opposed to what the majority of people go to Alaska for - The West Buttress of Denali; simply a walk at altitude. After both looking through the guide book and talking to friends who had climbed there we quickly set our sights on the Mooses Tooth. We wanted to climb two routes on the South Face, 'Shaken, Not Stirred’ V, AI5 and ‘Ham & Eggs’ V, 5.9, AI4'. These are two beautiful couloirs that rise steeply to the summit ridge. Having spent more than seventy days climbing waterfall ice in the Canadian Rockies over the past two winters, I was so excited to put my new found skills and strengths to use in the Alaskan Range.

 With Brendan living in Australian and myself in Canada, we organised the trip and hashed out the logistics through emails and the odd broken Skype conversation. Brendan and I decided to write sponsorship propositions to a few companies, not because we were doing anything new and amazing, far from it, but more because we were both interested in learning about the process of obtaining sponsorship for future expeditions and were excited about the prospect of free swag. Trips like this are expensive and even a few hundred dollars worth of kit can make a big difference. Patagonia Banff very kindly sponsored our trip, giving us some great pieces of technical clothing, including a M10 Jacket, (an incredibly lightweight alpine climbing shell) and the all famous R1 Hoody.

We met in Anchorage on the first of May, I flew there with a good friend of mine, Kris, who was also heading to Alaska for a climbing trip. Twelve hours before I was due to flew out of Calgary I stacked my bike, resulting in six stitches in my head and a very bad case of concussion. With my head pounding we decided not to rush heading into the mountains, instead we spent two days in Anchorage running around getting everything we needed for our trip. We hired a satellite phone, bought $500 worth of food and picked up the last pieces of equipment from various gear shops. On the third of May we took a shuttle to Talkeetna; the gateway town to the Alaskan Range for all climbers. Talkeetna is known as the "quaint little drinking village with a climbing problem". We asked our shuttle driver to take us straight to the Talkeetna Air Taxi office, as we were scheduled to fly into the mountains the following day and wanted to check in as soon as possible.

Brendan and I jumped out of the van and headed for the TAT office, dodging giant puddles on the way, a result of a heavy snow season and a spring that was reluctant to arrive. Upon opening the doors we saw Steve House and Vince Anderson chatting away to one another.... yes, we were definitely in Alaska...

 We met the TAT crew, who told us were we could weigh all our gear and tag our bags. After filling out our expedition paperwork and aptly calling our expedition team the "Ginger Ninjas", we headed over to the Park Rangers Office to register our expedition, pay our park fees and pick up our ‘Poo Pot’ - a small container that Brendan and I would intimately share for the next two weeks. With the weather forecast looking uncertain, we were told that with luck, we would fly in the following day. We spent the afternoon weighing our gear and sorting food - the total combined weight coming in at 325lbs! (147kgs)

Hearing that the TAT bunk house was very busy and we would likely be sleeping on the floor anyway, we decided to sleep in the weigh station. There were some wooden beds upstairs that we could lay our sleeping mats out on. That night we watched the climbing film, ‘The Moonflower’, and got excited when the people in the film were packing their bags just downstairs from where we were sleeping right there and then! The next morning we woke to grey skies.  Not hopeful about flying into the mountains, we walked over to the TAT office. They informed us we were on standby and told us to check in by 10:00. Perfect! It was time to go and eat at the famous Talkeetna Roadhouse. After stuffing ourselves stupid with food and drinking bottomless coffee we wandered back to the TAT office and were greeted with good news, we were flying in that afternoon! A few hours later and we were high in the sky, aboard an ‘Otter’, a small ski plane that managed to fit seven climbers, a huge amount of gear, food and of course our pilot, the legendary Paul Roderick.
Talkeetna Air Taxi Otter
Getting psyched flying in.
The flight in was both awe inspiring and intimidating. It felt totally surreal; like I was watching someone else sitting in a ski plane, flying into the Alaska Range. Upon landing, we jumped out of the plane and started unloading our kit; making a chain where everyone passed bags to one another, throwing them in separate piles on the glacier. We landed on the Root Canal glacier, directly underneath the South face of the Mooses Tooth: WOW! I had been staring at images of this mountain for the past few months and now, I was standing beneath it, I remember laughing to myself; feeling so happy.

Just a little bit excited, Ham & eggs Couloir behind me.
Our ride, complete with Kangaroos on the plane with Ham & eggs Couloir rising behind.

Once we had piled our gear, we strapped on as much as we could to our sleds and started hauling our gear across the Root Canal glacier. We were only relocating a few hundred metres from where the plane had dropped us off! Fearing the huge ice fall that claimed the lives of two climbers in 2011, we walked as far out of the way of the ice fall as we could, setting up camp a short way up a mellow rise on the glacier. Digging out space for two tents, a kitchen, a toilet and a hole for the meat we needed to freeze is no easy task and took us around five hours.

View from the kitchen. Denali in the background.
Staring at Denali, light at 11PM.
After setting up camp and brewing up a couple of hot chocolates, we walked around camp and got to know our neighbours, anxious to get recent conditions from parties who may have just climbed both routes. We met well-known mountaineer, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and her husband Ralf Dujmovits. They had been on the root canal for four days and had been waiting for calm weather to climb ‘Ham & Eggs’, but had not been so lucky; they were trying to acclimatize and using these as warm up routes for the Cassin ridge on Denali. They flew out the following day without having climbed anything. We decided on having a rest day, as we were quite tired from travelling and my head was still pounding from concussion. The weather was splitter and it was hard to sit around doing nothing while these incredible routes were rising directly above us! That morning we did the social rounds and found out what other parties were planning on climbing the following day, after all we did not want to be on the route with any other parties, if we could avoid it. It appeared that ‘Ham & Eggs’ was the choice for two parties, with no one attempting ‘Shaken, Not Stirred’. Even though it was the harder of the two routes, we decided we would take advantage of the good weather and lack of traffic and climb ‘Shaken’ first. My incredibly awesome brother, Nick, was texting us weather forecast updates on our satellite phone every morning and night. It was calling for light winds, overcast skies and lows of -20c. It would be a cold start, but we were in Alaska, during an unusually cold year, so a cold start was to be expected. That afternoon, we walked over to the base of ‘Shaken, Not Stirred’, and then dropped off one of our ropes and most of our heavy climbing equipment. We wanted to try and get a good look at the route, lingering cloud and the laughable zoom power of our $20 monocular made it a little challenging...
Scoping Shaken, not stirred.
  It was so hard to sleep that night, it was light enough outside to read a book until midnight, so sleeping was a challenge, especially the night before one of the most exciting and challenging alpine climbs of my life! Also, it was very cold; I was wearing a big down jacket, laying on three sleeping mats and wrapped in two sleeping bags. I was warm enough, just anxious and excited. I think I managed two hours of broken sleep that night, at best. The alarm went off at 03:30, giving us an hour to crawl out of our "warm" tent, eat breakfast and gear up for a 04:30 departure. It was fucking cold, I mean, really fucking cold! I have had many early morning winter starts whilst ice climbing in Canada, so I'm no stranger to cold mornings but shit, this was hard. I had to take off my gloves to carry out the finer tasks like lighting the stove and lacing up my boots. As soon as I took my gloves my hands would sting violently, screaming for me to put them back on. I totally convinced myself that I would wear my puffy synthetic pants on the approach and climb with them all day, until the sensible, slightly more experienced John spoke to me and reminded me that if I did so, I would overheat, sweat horribly, soak my base layers through and be even colder for the rest of the day.
First pitch of Shaken, not stirred.
Low on Shaken, not stirred.
Being Alaska in May, it was already light enough at 04:30 to travel without a headlamp. We roped up and crossed the root canal glacier, listening to the snow squeaking and crunching underfoot. Every few minutes I would stop and swing my arms a few times, desperately trying to force blood into my hands.

We arrived at the base at 05:00 and adjusted the rope, switching from glacier travel mode to pitched climbing. We decided to block lead; a technique we thought wise to use as it would help keep us both warmer. My toes would go from a state of numbness to a state of intense pain, known as the ‘screaming barfies’. It is a sensation of overwhelming pain, caused by your hands, or feet, getting extremely cold from a standing around, then when you start moving again, the blood rushes back into your extremities, causing a intense stinging pain (imagine someone stabbing your finger tips with thousands of needles and you will come close to understanding) and sometimes making you nauseous. The first pitch involved a small awkward move to gain a low angled but thin sheet of ‘snice’, very mellow but awkward. There were no options for protection before this move except for a laughable piton, which I placed anyway. I decided to bash a snow stake into the firm snow, before the step, after all, if I blew this move I would slide 50 metres down into the bergschrund: not ideal! I took out my snow stake and bashed, once, twice "Ping". My hammer broke off my axe and flew down the slope, great start to the day! I moved a little higher, cleared some snow and found a bomber #1 camalot placement which gave me the confidence to make the awkward move.

*lower pitches of ice.

Brendan on the sharp end.
Loving life
*Lower pitches.
 As the day went on, we slowly warmed up, but not much. We simul-climbed all the steep snow pitches and pitched the ice. The ice was incredibly fun and varied, from shoulder width narrow ice ribbons to short, but steep and in some places overhanging ice bulges. We were able to move fast while simul-climbing, placing ice screws, rock pro and clipping old fixed rap anchors as we went. We had every flavour of ice; dinner plates, sticky Styrofoam and unconsolidated snice.

*The famous 'Narrows'
*Steeper than it looks
*Brendan catching some sun
Beautiful climbing!
Both Brendan and I were convinced we had climbed the crux, although when I turned a corner on one of the snow pitches, I looked up and realised we had not. Compared to some of the frozen waterfalls I had climbed in Canada, it was nothing, but there were a few things at play here; I was running on little more than two hours sleep; my head was pounding from exerting myself with a bad concussion; due to a number of injuries before the trip, this was the first real exercise I had done in six weeks; I was wearing a pack; I was dehydrated and at this point, we had been on the move for around 12 hours. I was both excited at the prospect of more steep ice, but at the same time totally demoralised and struggling with a contradictive mix of emotions. Wanting it to be over and longing for easier angled snow slopes above; I launched into the ice and worked my way up to the top of the flow. There was a small hole in the ice curtain and this feature provided nice stemming. There was literally one metre of steep ice to go. I swung my right tool, adjusted my feet and pulled my body up... “ARGH!” My bicep tendon spasmed and my hand, without my brain telling it to do so, instantly let go of my ice tool. I gripped hard with my left tool, tensed my core and managed not to swing off balance. Fuck, what happened? I grabbed my tool again, convinced it was nothing and tried to weight my right arm again. Same thing, the tendon in my arm felt like a steel cable that was about to snap. Seriously? One metre of this final ice bulge left and I can’t even finish it? I tried a few more times, adjusting my position but nothing was working; I could not weight my right arm. I tried aiding on ice screws but the quality of ice was inconsistent and seemed like it would take a long time, especially when I only had one working arm. I placed an ice screw, clipped in and proceeded to kick a hole through the six inch thick ice curtain. After twenty minutes I managed to create a hole big enough to crawl into. Now I was squashed underneath the giant frozen chock stone, it was a creepy yet strangely beautiful position. I knew it was not going anywhere but all I could think about was the rock moving and being squashed in a tomb of ice and granite. I placed two screws and brought Brendan up to finish the final metre of the crux, far from stylish but a bad fall avoided. For a few short moments I was upset at what happened and my ego was damaged, but I quickly reminded myself of where I was and pushed away any negative thoughts. I remember Brendan saying to me, "You made a good decision; remember it’s when you stop making decisions that shit goes bad." That will echo with me for a while.


 After the crux we had about six pitches of steep snow to Simul-climb, a 10 metre traverse and then few more rope lengths of steep snow to Englishman's Col, which was to be our high point. It was cold and the higher we climbed the more exposed we became to the strong winds, the hairs inside my nose were frozen and felt like coarse wire.We topped out after 13 hours of continuous climbing, a pretty mellow day in the world of alpine climbing. Upon reaching the ridge there was about 15 metres of visibility and the wind was gusting around 50+kph. With the wind chill I estimated the temperature to be at least -20c, probably colder. I was wearing five layers, two of which were a lightweight synthetic puffy (Patagonia Nano Puff) and a big down jacket (Patagonia Fitzroy), and I was still shivering violently. I had only decided to climb with 1.5 litres of water and did not drink enough before leaving base camp or on the approach. Dehydration was a big factor in how cold I was. Brendan and I looked at one another, and we instantly knew what each other wanted to do. We turned our backs on the west summit and started our descent. It took us three hours and 18 or more rappels to reach the glacier. The descent on both Shaken not stirred & Ham and Eggs couloir are very friendly. There are many fixed rap anchors from over the years, mostly comprised of old pitons and nuts. On our way down we would bounce test the anchors, before transitioning from one rappel to the next, ensuring they would not rip on us.

*Traverse pitch before the final rope lengths to the col.
*Brendan coming up to our high point.
*Brendan rappelling into the abyss.
Upon reaching the glacier conditions had improved and the bad weather seemed to be localised around the summit of the Mooses Tooth. I was a little disappointed we had not pushed for the west summit but with such poor conditions up high and thinking back to how cold I had been, I was at peace with our decision pretty quickly. We kicked off the crampons, strapped on the snow shoes and headed back to camp.

On the way back to camp, Brendan mentioned his toes were quite painful. Once we reached camp and took our boots off he realised both his big toes were red and swollen and his toenails had turned black. Front pointing for a thousand metres for 13 hours in -20c will not do wonders for the feet. There just so happened to be a Denali Park Ranger & a doctor who were climbing together on the root canal. Brendan spok
e to them about his toes. He had badly frost nipped (first stage frost bite) his toes. The Doctor said, and I quote: "As a doctor I should tell you to fly back to Australia, sit on the warm beach and drink beer, but as a climber I know you're not going to do that. Take care of them, keep them warm and be careful with the rest of your climbs, don't push it." We were in single boots, despite double boots being more common, singles are usually fine for the lower elevation climbs within the Ruth gorge but it was unseasonally cold this year. With Brendan's toes feeling worse for wear, we decided to rest a few days before climbing Ham & Eggs. We spent the days reading, eating, sleeping and discussing future expeditions. Friends came and went and our kitchen became a social hub for surrounding camps. Consuming whiskey and salami, we all shared stories from different walks of life; guides, literary agents, artists, Black Diamond engineers, sponsored athletes and modern climbing legends were amongst the motley crew that we passed time with.
*Twid Turner, Bill Brody, Bruce Ostler & Freddie Wilkinson hanging at camp.
*Twid Turner & Freddie Wilkinson.

*Crampon Cheese

*Cooking dinner.

 *Still very light out..
* Bumped into Patagonia Ambassador, Vince Anderson.

After giving Brendan's toes a three day break we decided to climb Ham & Eggs. Ham and eggs was very similar to 'Shaken, not stirred'. The main difference being there was less steep ice on Ham & eggs and more snow climbing. We climbed Ham & Eggs in nine hours camp to camp. Brendan said he was happy for me to lead most of the ice as I would probably move a bit quicker. We fired up the route, this time with my right arm feeling fit and strong, no issues! When we reached the summit ridge, we had similar conditions to when we topped out on 'Shaken, not stirred'. Poor visibility and strong winds. We had spoken to other parties who had given us beta on reaching the main summit from the top of the route. It was taking parties around four hours to get to the summit and back to the couloir, involving precarious corniced ridge travel and somewhat sketchy snow climbing. With Brendan now sporting sore and swollen toes, we knew it would be unwise to continue to the summit. We started our descent and rappelled the route in a little over two hours.

Here are a few shots of Ham & eggs...

*Brendan coming up on Ham and Eggs.
 *Brendan after battling through spindrift.
*Brendan taking us up the last little flow of ice before the final snow slopes.
 *First Crux
 *Second Crux.
*Loving life.
*At the belay.
 *Tired & Feeling unfit after six weeks of rest due to a number of injuries.
 *Rapping Ham & Eggs.
*Final traverse to get back down to the glacier, spooky soft snow.

When we arrived back in camp that afternoon we heard that the weather was closing in the day after next. We wasted no time in calling Talkeetna Air Taxi on the satellite phone and quickly organised a flight down into the Mountain House Base camp for the following day.We decided to fly down instead of walking as we had three weeks worth of food and equipment, which meant travelling through the ice fall with overloaded sleds would be slow and dangerous. The next day we packed up camp and spent most of the day sitting on the glacier, waiting for the plane to chapter of the trip was over and the next was about to begin...

We are currently putting together a short film of our trip, in the mean time here is a little teaser put together by Brendan Maggs.