Thursday, November 24, 2011

No Dougie Left Behind

Doug Shepherd mid way through the massive chimney system

Doug Shepherd left Colorado in the afternoon and our plan was to meet in Cody and then proceed to the trailhead and begin hiking under the full moon. At the brink of moonlight Doug and I began our trek back into Spirit Mountain where we had gotten a weather beat down nearly 6 months prior in the spring. I had scouted the mountain the weekend prior with my girlfriend Kelly. Our first date began with hiking up to the mountain in hurricane force winds and snow and then hiking over a pass into another valley to check conditions. Who knows how that didnt scare her off but for some reason she stuck around where most of my partners would have turned around ha.

Kelly mid way through the two miles of ice covered talus fields.

Doug and I reached the base of the mountain around 2am and quickly built our man cave and got some rest before sunrise. We awoke to blistering winds and the threat of a storm looming over the peak of the mountain, but we were fired up to giver. Realizing the route we’d spotted route last spring was not in, we opted for the most obvious chimney system on the mountain. We knew it had been previously attempted but spindrift, time and a chockstone pitch had frustrated the previous attempts. There was very little snow and we could see ice in the chimney, so we didn’t stand around very long discussing other options.

The red line marks the major chimney system.

Doug Shepherd heading up the first pitch through mixed terrain

Here you can see just how big the mountain is from a photo Tanner shot of Doug and I climbing

Aaron Mulkey heading up the 3rd pitch

Dougie heading up through easy ground above the 3rd pitch

Mulkey climbing a nice little vein of ice on the 4th pitch

Doug on one of the crux pitches of the chimney that took some gentle balance and swings with very little gear

The route was spectacular! From the very first pitch, Doug and I were having a good time. As we got into the chimney system, the wind became non-existent and we felt like we were entering the heart of the mountain. After the chockstone pitch, as you stare up a steep snow couloir, the mountain tricks you into thinking the hard climbing is over… but two more pitches of hard climbing protect the summit celebration.

Mulkey heading up the slopes above the 6th pitch

This is the large slope above the 6th pitch that would be very threatening if avalanche conditions existed

Mulkey climbing through the overhanging chockstones of the 2nd crux pitch

To achieve victory, we had to work to earn each piece of protection and elevation gained on the last two pitches. Our celebration was short as it was getting dark and a storm was beginning to take over the summit. Neither of us had been on the mountain before and the walk off wasn’t straightforward. As Doug packed up some of his gear, I walked toward the edge of the mountain where I believed the walk off began. I decided to hike off the edge, take a closer look and make sure it was the walk off I had pictured in my mind from a photo. Once I realized it was the right spot, I waited a few minutes, thinking Doug had seen me walk away and knew what direction I was heading. A few minutes later, as a massive storm started blowing in snow and darkness, I hiked back to the top of the mountain (about 20 feet), but saw no sign of Doug. I began yelling his name and walking back to where we had summited (200 yards away). I still could not find Doug! Minutes earlier we were celebrating one of the best days in the mountains, and then I lost Doug! I felt sick to my stomach. I began wandering around and yelling at the top of my lungs but the 40mph winds thwarted any chance of him hearing me and the blowing snow and clouds were cutting my visibility every second.

Doug enjoying the nice ice runnel on the upper crux pitch.

oh he was screaming....

Doug climbing the last pitch to the top which was not an easy one.

I love this shot. Doug enjoying the top views as I freeze below in the depths of the mighty chimney.

As darkness took over I wandered back to the walk off hoping I would see his headlamp, but still no signs of Doug. At this point, I began to think the worst…thoughts of Doug slipping off the edge…falling to the base, but I tried to stay positive. The top of the mountain was now engulfed in a full-on blizzard and I did not have enough clothes to survive a night out in the cold. Neither did Doug. After huddling in the rocks for a while, I decided the best option was to go down. I hoped that Doug had found the other way down or was in front of me. After making my way to the valley below, I sat on a rock, turned my headlamp off and just prayed to see a light in the darkness somewhere. I flashed my headlamp periodically, hoping for some sign that he was still alive. I decided to head over the pass towards camp and hoped that he would be sitting in the tent, wondering where I was. I knew that hope was far-fetched. As I descended over the pass towards camp, in the distance, I could see what looked like fireflies in the valley below. I knew that two of our friends, Tanner Callender and Chris Guyer, were coming up to climb in the valley. I began yelling at them as I got closer, asking them if Doug was with them. Eventually, I made it back to camp but found that Doug was not with them.

Moments before loosing Doug

Suddenly, two of our other friends showed up. Unknown to all of us, Rusty Willis and Daniel Burson were hiding in the dark in their tent with plans to scare the crap out of us. When they overheard the situation, everyone’s tone changed. Quickly, they split into two teams and began the search as I tried to re-fuel so I could head back out and retrace our steps. I was physically and mentally exhausted, but could not rest until I found him.

Rusty and Daniel made quick time heading over the pass, into the other valley where the descent leads. As they crested over the pass, they caught a glimpse of Doug’s headlamp high above and in the distance. Doug was still on top of summit plateau ridge, trying to gain his bearings and looking for signs of me. Prior to everyone leaving on the search, we created a way to communicate via headlamp. When Rusty and Daniel confirmed they found him, they communicated this to me and then I was able to communicate this to Chris and Tanner, who were heading towards the base of the mountain.

If you’re in the climbing game long enough, you will eventually have a friend or two pass away. Sadly, I am no stranger to those feelings but this time was different because I was fully immersed in the situation. Difficult thoughts and emotions consumed me. It’s hard to describe the emotions that pulsed through me…the thoughts of him being lost or even worse, dead…were some of the most difficult moments in my life. As they brought Doug off the mountain, he was blitzed physically and mentally and we began to get fuel back into his system right away.

There were many lessons learned on this trip, but the number one was don’t leave your partner’s side, no matter what. Wanting to save time and move fast, I thought going ahead to evaluate the walk off would save us time, and I just assumed Doug saw the direction I had hiked. Doug knew I was leaving but never took notice of the exact direction and, in a sea of boulders, it’s very easy to get lost. Now Doug and I always use the Buddy System and we haven’t lost each other since!

Here is the video of the route which started of the first Episode of The Regulators

The next TR takes you on to another new route in a series of FA's that gave Doug Shepherd and myself an early season stoke

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NEW Conditions Page

A new look is in the works with Coldfear, and the conditions page is one of the most valuable pages for many of you. Click the link on the toolbar on the right for the Coldfear conditions page or click HERE. Pics will be placed on the Coldfear Facebook page as well. I recommend you LIKE the Coldfear Facebook page for updates.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Hat Trick

"Climbing into the dark, catching the last bit of light is a great reminder why we climb"

The Hat Trick

Experiencing the world through endless second hand information is not enough but it’s what fuels the progression of ourselves. I have found the edge of my seat and the thrill of the next adventure through the eyes and words of others.

Injuries can happen so quickly; like one touch of the reset button, everything changes. A crowd cheers in celebration as I rise off my back from the turf and stare into the goal. My eyes see the ball in the back of the net but my body is not as excited about the ligament that just snapped down my leg like a rubber band. I would like to say it was the biggest futball (aka soccer) game of my life and I scored the winning goal for my team in some world class match, but it was only a pick up game and the team needed a player. The success of impressing my girlfriend and scoring a hat trick was shortly celebrated as I rose to my feet and could barely walk. A day and an MRI later, I’m told my ACL is blown and I have torn Meniscus Lateral and Medial and will need surgery right away.

"Some of my last moments with two good legs"

My body hit the reset button which created a reboot of my entire system physically and mentally. This is my first big Injury of my life and perhaps the most memorable timeout ever given. I was given two choices: either lay down and let it beat me up and cripple me or take a chance to sit in the back seat and take in a new view. So far the backseat has provided a new outlook, which has refueled new inspiration and appreciation for the mountains. Like a child if you take something away from me I want it even more and this time it’s my favorite playground. Mountains have always been the oxygen in my blood keeping me going; no matter how bad things got, they would always keep giving. The reset has been embraced creating a new drive and sense of empowerment.

"My last trip into the Beartooths in October with Doug Shepherd and Rusty Willis"

The day after my injury I had planned to be in Canada for the Banff Film Festival to support Rab and get out with my boys Stevo (aka Stephen Berwanger), Kevin Craig, Kenny Gasch and Tanner Callender. It was surely going to be a grand adventure full of incredible ice climbing and laughs with the boys but the injury made changes to my winter itinerary. Making the call to tell these guys I wasn’t coming was incredibly difficult, but as I made the calls an overwhelming feeling of stoke came over me. I was suddenly the armchair climber getting my thrills and psyche through others’ outings. Each day they went climbing, I awaited their story of success like an anxious child awaiting the next gift.

I realized the power all of us have to provide energy and inspiration to others. This exchange comes through many veins of communication such as blogs, fbook, forums, twitter and the simplest and effortless form of a simple phone call or text from your partners climbing stouts. This will be the first time in 13 years of ice climbing I have had to take the bench for the beginning months of the season and I believe there is a lesson to be learned from the Hat Trick that caused my delisting off the roster.

Within the injury lies a Hat Trick of goals for myself:
Physical Goal: My body is being given a period of recovery for the many miles of adventures it has endured. I know I’m the worst at giving my body recovery time and as John Frieh told me the day before my injury, Training= Work + Recovery/Rest, “Always”. Connie at the Alpine Training Center in Boulder, Co has been writing my training since September and has taken my training to the next level this fall. She has also preached to me about recovery but it has been so hard to embrace that philosophy even though I know it’s the right thing to do. Sorta like your parents telling you not to do it just makes you want to do the opposite. This timeout will be good on many levels of rest but will not be a full timeout on training. Connie has been given the difficult task to write training for a one-legged athlete for awhile. Training for the Ouray Competition was our goal but now it’s training for recovery and the true testing grounds. I will come back to the outdoor Octagon stronger then ever.

Training with Connie at the Alpine Training Center has been incredible for me"

Mental Goal: There is nothing more mentally challenging then a serious injury for an athlete. Kelly Cordes is one of the first guys that come to my mind when I think of climbers who have trained hard mentally and physically through injuries to kick them in the ass and rise above. I choose my own path of recovery mentally and it is surely going to be a first ascent of new terrain for myself but will be fueled by my incredible comrades providing plenty of motivating visual and mental climbing porn. I have already begun to experience a new energy and appreciation for the mountains. Along this path I have also realized the importance of the connections we gain through others’ adventures and how we are all fueled by each other to push the sport and ourselves further. Our motivation is simply a click away. Mountain ranges and climbs are more visually accessible then ever before and perhaps this is why athletes are accomplishing more now than ever in the mountains. We all serve a purpose to each other no matter if you have never climbed before or you are a seriously accomplished climber; we fuel each others’ drives and inspirations through our own actions.

Future Goal- Sitting now in the back of my seat I have seen things not visible from the edge of my seat which has changed how I view my world. We are all the makers of our authenticity and we will never know our full potential unless we push ourselves. The unknown keeps me awake at night but is also what I fear most. It’s this sense of passion and fear that creates a balance in my life. I want to share authentic experiences with my partners and others through visually-inspiring moments.

"I cant climb for a couple of months so I think I found my rehab plan"

I keep thinking I need to keep “winning” but I now realize I have already won.