The Commitment

What is the farthest you have ever been from home? Double that.

What is the farthest you’ve been from a road? Double that.

Do you remember that feeling you had when you were in that place, far from home and far from a road? Elation? Homesickness? Vulnerability?

Now imagine yourself on another planet. You’re Mark Watney. Only this time, you’re watching the space ship take off and leave you alone on an alien planet. Only unlike Watney, you have a partner.

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The Stoke

A year ago this May, I took a trip to the Ruth Gorge and the west fork of the Ruth Glacier.  It was meant to be a trip of a lifetime.  A chance to put up new routes with my friend and climbing partner Phil Straub.  We had an amazing time, but for both of us, I think it’s fair to say the trip led to some soul searching.  I have a multitude of conflicting feelings about this trip.  It scared me.  Scared me more than anything else I’ve ever experienced.   It has taken over a year to feel ready to write about it in a complete way.  Hence this post below and others to follow.


“I feel like we have lots of stoke right now, but we haven’t felt what it’s like to climb here yet” Phil said reflectively. We were making coffee under cover of our kitchen tarp in one of the most beautiful places on earth: the west fork of the Ruth Glacier. I looked up, an avalanche was starting off the north face of Mount Huntington. We watched it fall for a long time before we heard the roar.

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Sitting in our kitchen, drinking Turkish Coffee and discussing our Stoke


Trips like these don’t start when your boots leave the tarmac at the Talkeetna airfield. No. They start months even years before that. With the first picture that clicks in your mind, or the first email between friends: “I’ve been hoping to get back to the Ruth next summer. Ham and Eggs and Peak 11,300 are some awesome looking objectives. They’re both great for a team of two… I need a partner… I’d like for it to be you.”

What followed was a series of emails and phone calls. Applications to this grant, or that grant went out. We saw lines on Google Earth that looked unclimbed and made them our objective. The Mazamas, a mountaineering club in Portland, and the American Alpine Club chipped in their coin.   It only took eight-months from the first email to my flight landing in Anchorage. In the middle there were 20 days of ice climbing in Canada and Montana, miles of running, and hundreds upon hundreds of weighted box-steps, preparing my legs, lungs, and heart for the work to come. The spring of 2015 I also defended my Masters Thesis in North Carolina, leaving for Alaska 5 days later.

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David Hurley on Starshine (WI3+) in North Carolina.

I had the stoke. The drive to leave green places and friendly faces for Alaskan Glaciers. But the stoke didn’t equal experience in the mountains. The stoke didn’t give me the mental preparation needed to silence the fear I would find in those mountains. The stoke is not all that is needed to succeed in places like these.


I looked up. The avalanche spread like a flood across the glacier. We’d be feeling the air blast soon. A shiver went up my spine.

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A quiet avalanche.

Complete East Buttress of Hall Peak (Leaning Towers Part 2)

Being able to see almost the entire east buttress from the ground was a benefit and a problem on our rest day, we were able to take zoomed in pictures of our proposed line, scan the ridge with binoculars, and hypothesize huge obstacles that we couldn’t see.  The largest blank spot in our vision of the route came within the first two pitches: a sizeable roof that appeared to be the route’s crux.

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The complete east buttress is the middle ridge line.  The 1975 route on Hall peak climbs the right ridge.  The overhanging pulpit is on the left.

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Climbing Trip into the Leaning Towers Part 1

“We’re 4 minutes of scrambling from the summit!” Winter yelled down around the corner to me as I sat at the 17th belay on the East ridge of Hall Peak. A parched: WooT! Is my only reply”

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(Photo courtesy of John Scurlock)

Are you an alpinist or alpine rock climber or even just a frequenter of the Patagonia catalog? If the answer is yes then chances are you’ve heard of the Bugaboos and chances are… you haven’t heard of the Leaning Towers. They are a group of three notable peaks 50 miles south of the Bugaboos. They feature similar age granite (granodiorite) to that of the Bugs but the 16 km approach that requires a significant amount of bushwhacking keeps the crowds away.

Several hundred years ago every journey began with a plea to the reigning king or queen for funds to cross the pacific. Today, it would seem that every journey begins with hurried emails and Google Earthing. When I first saw the Leaning Tower two years ago on John Scurlock’s website, I knew I had to visit them…

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Because sometimes – You just have to go on a drive

Sometimes there’s an itch you can’t scratch.

You just have to Go – leave for a while.

It’s 4 o’clock. Time to think dinner, but not quite yet….

 

No, it’s time to watch the miles wind by.

Looking out your window.

The clouds casting dappled shadows.

 

Open your window to the smells:

Big sage mixed with rain.

The earthy solidarity of wood fired stoves.

 

Take no gps, leave the maps.

“I wonder what’s up there” drives you.

 

It’s four o’clock, and it’s time to get lost.

 

Walk across the room. Grab the keys. And Keep on going.

It’s time:

To catch the light just right

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To see something

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To Smell Something

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Open your eyes and turn off your mind

Just Drive.

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