News Mid June — Chainsaws, Honnold and Robson

Post by blogger | June 12, 2017      

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?


23 Responses to “News Mid June — Chainsaws, Honnold and Robson”

  1. Matt Kinney June 12th, 2017 10:35 am

    Excellent insight on Honold effort. Thanks lou.

  2. Jack June 12th, 2017 3:02 pm

    Lou, you might check out Espar heaters. Diesel fired, compact, require 12V. Used in trucks originally. I’ve seen marine installs that were very clean.

  3. Mitch R. June 12th, 2017 7:49 pm

    Toss out the chainsaws and be a Real Man with a Silky Katanaboy 650. More fun and a beter workout.

  4. Camilo June 13th, 2017 9:45 am

    The MS 311 is only rated to a 20″ bar, according to their website? So it’s underpowered for a 24″. Also check out these guys if it’s cool to post a link. . . I asked for one for father’s day but they might not be restocked in time:

  5. XXX_er June 13th, 2017 12:44 pm

    Sthil and Huskavarna make homeowner / farm n ranch / proffesional grade saws and the respective brands all look the same … are you sure you are not running mediocre saws ?

  6. Dillon June 13th, 2017 1:30 pm

    Hey Lou (or others). I was watching a youtube clip on the Honnold climb and came across some vids of Lonnie Kauk climbing and bouldering. Am I correct in my assumption that that must be Ron Kauk’s kid?

  7. Dillon June 13th, 2017 1:52 pm

    Ok, I decided to do the hard work of googling it myself. Yes, he is Ron’s kid.Sorry for the off topic randomness I inflicted on ya’ll.

  8. Lou Dawson 2 June 14th, 2017 7:19 am

    Hi Camilo, apologies, I’m actually running a 20 inch bar, not sure where I got the 24 number (I edited). Male fantasy while writing, perhaps? In any case, the saw clearly would run a 24 if needed though it would perhaps struggle a bit making a full length test cut through a 24 inch diameter hardwood log. The lengths are only recommendations by Stihl, not requirements. Longer bars can be nice for a lot of things, and with proper chain tension and copious oiling, can be optimized.

    By the way, I’m only cutting softwood, aspens and spruce. Forgiving, for sure.

  9. Lou Dawson 2 June 14th, 2017 8:01 am

    Xer, they seem to be good saws, I’ve used a lot of chainsaws over the years. I’m of course not a full time logger, not sure how those saws would do if pushed to perform for normal work weeks year in and year out, yeah, that would probably require something more along the lines of the Stihl “pro” saws, if not simply for longevity.

    Huge push using them for the last 6 days or so, got it done. Matt showed up yesterday with another MS 311 and lent a hand, much appreciate Matt, and Doug as well. Ended up loading Matt’s yard up with firewood from our project. Fun days in the mountains. Lou

  10. XXX_er June 14th, 2017 10:03 am

    sthil husky jonsered is like ford vs chevy they are all pretty good and they all look the same in their respective product lineup so people can’t see why they should spend top dollar a pro model. IMO that is false economy cuz after you burn out 3 cheap saws you will have spent the same $$$ as if you went pro, you will have had a poopy time doing it and you still need to buy a new saw … read about that scenario on the webz all the time

  11. Lou Dawson 2 June 14th, 2017 10:28 am

    Xer, I think the quality mid-grade saws are the sweet spot for guys like me. Like I said, I’m not using it 5 days a week, month after month. But it’s still fairly heavy use compared to say a homeowner cleaning up his yard after a heavy winter.

    On the other hand, if I needed a new saw and knew the exact power and size I wanted so I’d be 100% sure my spend would be for exactly what I wanted, I’d perhaps upgrade.

    Are Husqi and Sthil made in the same factory?

  12. XXX_er June 14th, 2017 11:07 am

    Husky owns Jonsered Poulan Weedeater McCullough Gardena makes guns sewing mc and motorcycles, Husky is swedish sthil is german and its all on wiki

    I don’t run a saw all the time either but when I do its usually for 6hrs at a time so my experience is to look at the spec sheet at HP and weight and go pro cuz even in a smaller size they are gona take being run hard, some of those cheap saws ^^ including the huskies have plastic engine cases that you dont wana get too hot

    IME a Pro saw is gona cost me less than a new pair of DPS so really I get alot for my money

  13. Matt Kinney June 14th, 2017 4:01 pm

    Most modern saws run quite well. I have a 12yr old 16″ Josnsered. The most important thing is knowing when the chain dulls and how to sharpen it to the T. It’s not that easy and takes a mentor, or youtube along with the right tools. A dull chain overworks any chainsaw (and your body!) and just lessens it’s life and one’s ski time.

  14. Jim Milstein June 14th, 2017 6:48 pm

    Last couple of seasons I’ve been using an electric chain saw for trail maintenance, clearing windfall mostly. Pretty wonderful. The electric saw with a 20″ bar is sufficient for 98% of the logs, and it’s much lighter, quieter, less vibratory, and it brakes to a stop really fast. We carry two batteries, but have never got very far into the second one during a day’s work clearing a trail. As mentioned, keeping the chain sharp is key. Not hard. I do it freehand; it takes ten minutes at most with a short bar.

    I notice the voltage rating for portable electric gizmos like chainsaws is going up year by year. I think that’s to allow smaller gauge wire and therefore lighter weight. Fine by me.

    As for Hannold, I think he should be DNA tested to ascertain whether he is in fact a member of Homo Sapiens. If he is from planet Krypton, say, automatic DQ.

  15. Kyle June 15th, 2017 9:02 am

    The pro models do have more longevity if you fall lots for work like I do. Longer bars and bigger saws that push them like a 372 390 or the Stihl equiv like the 460(now461) and the 660(661) are heavier by a lot but if your bucking a lot of stuff on the ground the longer bar is much easier. Depending on your height of course. For me a 28 inch bar is perfect. A husky 365 will run a 28, but for just a tiny bit more weight your much better off with the 372, more power and better longer lasting saw. I also run tech lite bars which are significantly lighter. (No Lou they aren’t made by dynafit)

    The smaller saws are awesome though both stihl and husky and great for trail work, and good to have in the back of your truck for those forest service roads. The silky saws are incredible too and cut anything. With one of those a small axe and a wedge you could clear most anything with time off a logging road or trail.

  16. Lou Dawson 2 June 15th, 2017 10:53 am

    Ditto on the wedge, I’ve become obsessive about using it. And yeah, the Husqui tends to live in my truck tool box, just for those times a tree is down across the road. Or, at least a “normal” tree. We ran across one in the PNW a few years ago that was so huge and complex I could not have touched it with my equipment, at least not without a full day to fool around. Lou

  17. brian harder June 16th, 2017 10:21 pm

    Stihl has a sweet new sharpener that handles two teeth and a raker all in one pass. Very efficient way to keep the banana peels flying. A vice is nice to hold the bar but not essential with this tool.

  18. bruno schull June 16th, 2017 11:38 pm

    About chainsaws, sorry, I can’t resist. Three points: 1) Is Husky is DPS of the chainsaw world? Does the ignition mechanism involve a secret handshake? Even here in Europe, Husky seems to enjoy a cult following. 2) Electric chainsaws? Isn’t that a contradiction? Light weight and efficiency aside, isn’t the whole idea of an electric chainsaw a bit effete? I mean, the Timbersports World Championship ( just wouldn’t be the same with electric chainsaws. 3) Considering that this website is about human powered skiing, I am deeply shocked and offended that you aren’t comparing the virtues of bucksaws and two man cross cut saws, used by loggers of days gone by. Those guys were real men (and women?). Imagine the carbon footprint of a gasoline powdered chainsaw vs. human powered saw. Shame! (Disclaimer; this comment is my attempt at humor; not offense intended).

  19. Jim Milstein June 17th, 2017 7:26 am

    Of course I’m offended, Bruno. My manliness is not to be questioned, even in jest. And, as for carbon footprints, an electric saw competes very favorably with a crosscut when charged by the sun (I live off-grid). Take that!

  20. Lou Dawson 2 June 17th, 2017 7:46 am

    Thanks for the laughs Bruno. Lou

  21. Bard June 19th, 2017 6:17 pm

    I didn’t know your rock climbing background was that extensive Lou, always thought you were an alpine/ ice guy, nicely done. I liked the Times article on Honnold. There’s some good stuff on ST about the deed. One of my favorite posts says something like “I love what Alex does, but sometimes I just want to chain him to a tree” ?
    Sorry to hijack the chainsaw thread.

  22. Bard June 19th, 2017 6:19 pm

    ? was supposed to be 🙂

  23. Lou Dawson 2 June 19th, 2017 6:31 pm

    Brad, it was a long time ago… I had a great time for a few years being one of the early climbing bums, but some injuries and my varied interests changed my life path. Lou

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