We call it WildSnow crossfit. I’m blogging from our field HQ at about 9,000 feet elevation in Colorado. We’ve got a chunk of undeveloped land that’s choked with deadfall, aspen trees and conifers needing “arborial curation.” Days involve one Stihl MS 311 that’s just about toasted, and a somewhat new Husqvarna 450 that makes “Huski” my favorite brand (with an 18 inch bar it cuts just as fast as the 20 inch Stihl and is much lighter). If any of you guys think running a chainsaw will punch our man card, think again, it’ll only wear you out — though living a life of constant danger has its pluses. (Kidding, but see below about lives of danger.)
In any case, we’ve always got hazard trees to remove and vehicle access to improve. Less brutal and more intellectual, I’m embarking on summer projects for the Wildsnow RV tiny house such as installing a small propane heater that’s popular for ice fishing shacks. Idea being we can get a quick warmup during visits when we only use the place as a day lodge. We’d still start a wood stove fire, but use the Nu-way to take the chill off just after unlocking the door. A cabin warmup, if you will. I’ll eventually experiment with diesel heat as well, such as the Trekker. Idea being that our project is somewhat of a test bed for other folks doing the same thing.
Other slated improvements: I’ll probably add one solar panel facing due west to catch the last hours of winter sun. Cost-benefit ratio on that appears to be quite good, due to limited sun in our narrow valley, along with the cost of more batteries or running our petrol generator. Tiny house has wheels but is jacked up on 6×6 inch cribbing. Last winter we felt an added 12 inches of cribbing height would be beneficial, mainly to reduce snow shoveling. The place is a bit out of plumb anyway, so along with leveling it I’ll throw in another two stacks of 6″ cribbing. Hassle will be raising the temporary deck. That’s optional, so we’ll see how far we get.
Moving along to global news. Speaking of constant danger beyond the siren call of howling chain saws; past weeks have been stunning in terms of alpine sports.
Firstly, 22 years later after Troy Jungen & Ptor Spricenieks made the coveted first ski descent in 1995, north face of Mount Robson got a second ski descent (VI D18 R4). Dylan Cunningham (from Revelstoke BC) appears to concern a bit over his “style” of descent but it looked OK to me. These things are never the same from year to year, and as long as a second “ski descent” honors those who pioneered it, I’m comfortable with the result. So hats off to Dylan. More here.
Along with Robson, there is Yosemite’s El Capitan. From my youth I’ve got four routes on the “Captain” under my belt. Trivial these day, but a nice resume back in the 1970s when my purpose in life was climbing. I free climbed (free meaning rope gear is used, but only for safety not upward progress) quite a bit on the big stone, making a substantially free ascent of the Salathe route along with Michael Kennedy, but more, having in 1974 tried the first aggressive attempt at a one-day ascent with partners Ray Jardine and Chris Walker. (We got caught in a thunderstorm, and failed to break 24 hours). Ray and I swapped most leads on that one, with Walker cleaning the pitches, but Ray had clearly brought me along as a “rope gun.” As a result I did a lot of aggressive free climbing to speed things up. But it was all protected by the rope and relatively safe so long as we minded our rigging.
So having been up there on the Captain, and felt that slick granite under my shoes, like trying to stand on the windshield of my truck, I’ll admit I can’t get over Alex Honnold having climbed the Captain free, no ropes, depending on his toes and fingertips keeping him from certain death from one, little, slip. I’ve been dreaming about it, fantasizing about it, and I simply can not get over it.
Thing is, most rock climbing shifted a long time ago from what was an often dangerous fringe sport, (due to it mostly being of the “trad” variety involving creating your own safety rope systems), to an activity that can still appear dangerous to the observer, but is most often safely done by clipping your rope to a series of pre-installed and closely placed rock anchors. While fun and incredibly athletic, the actual process is often no more risky than cleaning tarnish off Mount Rushmore, or for that matter, hoisted window washing.
Thus, in a philosophical sense, it interests me to see the attention Honnold gets for his clearly risky free solo climbing. This hearkens back to the earlier days when much of what climbers did was often the equivalent. Placing your own rock anchors while you’re climbing was and still is an inexact science (not to mention physically and mentally demanding), and the physics of falling are not forgiving. Thus, as a trad style climber much of your time on the rock can be spent doing exactly what Honnold did, only he had 0 chance of a fall turning out to be something to talk about later.
Apparently the crux for Honnold was something like “try to fingertip grip two slanted windshield wiper blades, on a vertical face, with no footholds, and 1,800 feet of air below you.” (That paraphrase is from New Yorker mag coverage of Honnold.)
Honnold had rehearsed and planned his climb to an impressive extent. Reminds me of myself and Jardine, as we did several climbs of about half of El Cap in preparation for our one-day attempt (I thought that kind of preparation to be excessive, but it was quality climbing so I went along with Ray’s agenda).
Thing is, rehearsing and moving around on the face like Honnold and other modern climbers simply amazes me as to how adroit of an activity it has become. They treat the thing like they’re fooling around at a rock climbing gym. I mean that as a compliment. The sport has evolved, gone to places I had never imagined.
Feats such as those of Cunningham and Honnold are not without controversy.
Skiing or climbing fall-you-die lines is not necessarily the peak of either sport, and forgive me for stating the obvious: it’s not for everyone. Indeed, if you aspire to these things you need to have shifted your life over to a total un-wavering commitment to being somewhat of a “gladiator” who’s role — hopefully richer than mere self gratification — is to inspire the rest of us, in showing what a human being is capable of.
So hats off. We are inspired to do better in all our endeavors. But don’t try this at home, and where do my chainsaws fit into the picture?