Orizaba Ramblers

Steve Fassbinder watches Mehl play in the surf

Windmilling his kayak paddle into the breeze, Luc Mehl, 34, pulls onto the sandbar at the mouth of Mexico’s Rio Antigua and squints at the novelty of a seascape horizon in the hazy afternoon glare.  Two days of sleepless dysentery have drained Mehl’s prodigious vigor and his hands are blanched and clammy as we high-five. Still, he’s grinning with accomplishment in the salt air.

Eleven days earlier we’d set out pedaling bikes strapped with mountaineering and whitewater paddling gear in Cholula de Rivadavia, a ciudad sixty miles east of Mexico City. Without ever having visited Mexico before, Mehl composed a 220-mile bike/hike/packraft triathlon first to Pico de Orizaba (18,491 ft) and then descending through rainforest hamlets to a whitewater river. Now at sea level, we stand at the end of Mehl’s line. Continue reading


First, I want to give a huge thanks to Doug at Iceaxe.tv and SuperG at Smith Optics.  Thanks so much guys!

The term “trip of a lifetime” gets thrown around a lot with a jaunt like this and while the phrase hints at how special the trip is, I don’t like it because it insinuates that I might never go back.  It was hard to get pulled away from a lifetime-worth of aesthetic alpine lines after only a handful of days.  Shoot, a lifetime wouldn’t be near enough time to ski all the best lines on the Antarctic Peninsula.  Doug Stoup clearly feels the same because he has already begun organizing the 2013 trip. Continue reading

North Face of Timp

The North Face of Mt Timpanogos is a steep, seldom-traveled place.  Andrew McLean and Brad Barlage skied a direct line decade ago before descending a poorly protected series of rappels down the 600 foot cliffs that stripe the lower face.  Since then, the line has seen little action.  Derek and I had eyed an elegant sneak down a tucked-away couloir in the cliffs on prior ski tours, but the face above was just too intimidating to try it on a whim.  The windloaded, hanging snowfield below the summit avalanches frequently, often sliding to the ground.  Unlike some areas on Timp, the North Face snowpack trends towards shallow and sugary.

This spring, after making and then aborting plans to ski the line a few times, Derek, Tom and I headed back.  Cloud cover kept the spring snow from softening but the firm snow made me confident that we need not worry about avalanches.  The Ali Babba sneak couloir was filled in, which I’m not sure happens every year.  There was no need for ropework where the beta photo is marked “Rap.” The line we skied was something I’d envisioned for a few years and so naturally it felt great to ski it in safe conditions.

Here’s Derek’s trip report.


NW Cascade Super Chute

Mark often imagined lines down the west face of Cascade Mountain.  Wide alpine bowls tighten to rock lined chutes before ending abruptly in a massive limestone cliff band that wraps for miles around the peak.  The chutes are in plain sight of  Orem and Provo, Utah but the wide band of chossy rock is unappealing to rock climbers and skiers alike.

After scrutinizing the cliffs with binoculars, Mark hypothesized that rappelling the cliffs might not be as bad as they look.  Some bands of limestone appeared to be more solid rock, maybe rappelling them wouldn’t be so bad.

Armed with Mark’s brother’s bolt gun, a handful of rap anchors, and a comical quantity of rope, we climbed Cascade and ate a mid-morning sandwich while we waited for the snow to soften.  The snow was icy on top, covered in roller balls through the middle and didn’t get good until about the last 1000 feet of silky corn skiing.  While the route isnt steep, it’s hard to forget about the huge exposure below.

When we reached the end of the snow, where ramps of steep loose talus alternated with crumbling shale and limestone cliffs I began to rethink our plan.  From below the steep benches weren’t apparent.  On top of that, the best rock seemed to be just below the edge of the terraces which would make both bolting and clipping the anchors an intense chore.  Mark had hoped, if we put in some well-placed bolts, that the route might gain some popularity.  It certainly looks aesthetic from the valley.   But if we were forced to drill over the edge the bolts would be near impossible for others to find.

A little disappointed, we reassessed then began moving towards plan b.  We climbed over a nearby ridge and then began the long scramble down a ravine that cuts through the cliffs.  The route was less direct than what we hoped for, but required only a few short rappels before we were booting down the pine-needle-and-tree-trunk-covered avalanche debris pile below the cliffs.  Fat, old trunks violently deprived of all their branches and most of their bark were an unambiguous reminder of the huge slidepaths overhead.  With skis on our packs, we thrashed through the spring greenery back to the car.


Crestone Scramble

I first heard of the traverse between Crestone Peak and the Needle from Austin. He had just finished climbing the Needle’s Ellingwood Arrete and was enjoying the summit when a climber asked where the traverse began.  Austin pointed him towards the downclimbing that begins the route towards the Peak and was horrified when, seconds later, the soloist tumbled off the 2000′ face.

I decided to give the traverse a try in the opposite direction that the ill-fated climber took so that I’d be going up, not down, the hardest bits.  We’d been working on improving sections of the Broken Hand Pass trail with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and Mark Hesse of RMFI, wrote out a succinct page of beta with just enough info for me to find the route.  An adventure was  guaranteed by the broad strokes with which he described the route.

It was Friday the 13th and I left camp just as a blood-red sunrise stained the summits. Fittingly, I hustled up the the trail labeled “Friday the 13th Pass” on the OB master maps then out a narrow ridge that leads towards the north couloir of Crestone Peak.  The gut of the couloir looked loose and gun-barrelish so I followed Mark’s directions and began climbing a face leading out of the gully. I moved quickly up the large cobblestone holds. Even though it was mid-August, it was below freezing in the shade of the summit and every once in a while I paused to rewarm stiff fingers.  Near the top of the N couloir I crossed the loose redrock chute, and moved up a rib into the sunshine and onto the summit of Crestone Peak.

I added a “Fri the 13th” salutation to the summit register then skittered down the south-facing Red Gully before spotting a carin marking the beginning the traverse towards the Needle. Linking grassy benches interspersed with 4th class conglomerate ridges led to the base of the Black Gendarme and the crux of the route.  The weakness in the NW face of the Needle consists of a steep funnel of a gully obstructed by fridge-sized chockstones. Instead of following that chimney, I soloed the 5.6 face of the couloir on steep cobblestones and thereby lessened potential for getting conked by round clasts falling from above.

A few hundred feet further up, the final pitch to the summit of Crestone Needle is 5.easy but with 2000′ of air beneath one’s sneakers. That kind of exposure is what understated climbing guides call “attention getting” and so I climbed methodically, checking carefully for loose cobbles before transferring weight to the clast. Back in the sunshine on top, the sky was cloudless and I ate a late-morning lunch and watched climbers grunt to the top of the Ellingwood Arrete.  Soon, other peak-baggers began reaching the summit and as I started down I made an effort to stay out of the gully that is the most popular route to the peak. The round clasts, remnants of an Ancestral Rocky Mountains riverbed, are easy to accidentally dislodge and loose upon climbers below.

Headed down Broken Hand Pass, I was glad to be back on a trail and out of the path of falling rocks.  The traverse’s exposure and big views had been exhilarating but also risky because a small mistake could have large consequences.  Back at camp I began my favorite backcountry celebration sequence: untied shoes, peeled socks, rinsed off grime, and sat in the sunshine making pizza dough.

Brown Snow Skiing

Despite a layer of Utah-colored dirt covering the snow, Allison, Anna, Rohan, Kevin, Tyler and I went out for a couple ski tours near Leadville. Skiing down red-brown snow feels kind of how I imagine it might feel to go skiing on a shag-carpet covered mountainside: skis don’t slide especially well but then you cross a patch of clean, white snow and then they suddenly rocket forward. Its a constant battle to stay balanced as you get thrown forwards then backwards then forwards again. Even with weird snow, skiing’s still better than a day spent doing just about anything else.

The Book of Revelations

After two weeks of exploring and skiing in the Revelations we’re back to syphilization. Despite our pilot Rob’s estimate that the snowpack is less than 50% of normal this year, we found some really aesthetic lines to ski- long, continuous, and surrounded by vertical miles of granite. I have a pile of photos to sort through so look back for a trip report of some sort in the next couple weeks.

My first ski turns in AK were down the couloir that tops out in the notch to the right of the un-named peak. Since it was also the first descent of the trip we named the chute “alpha.”

Revelations, Alaska

Noah Howell, Andrew McLean, Courtney Phillips and I are headed into the Revelation Mountains on Monday. Due to notoriously bad summer weather and also being a long bush flight from anyplace you and I have heard of, the range has gone relatively unexplored in the 40 years since David Roberts first tagged a few peaks in the area.

The plan is to fly into the Revelations where we’ll mostly base camp, perhaps moving a few times, for about two weeks.  Since the area is relatively unexplored it’s hard to plan for specific objectives so we’re packing an array of technical gear and hoping for weather that allows us to plan as we go.  When we’ve had enough we’ll, in theory, ski down the Revelation glacier, cross a few braids of the Big River, then ‘shwack to bush pilot Rob’s hunting camp before flying back to Anchorage.

Currently, my biggest concern is the quantity of TVP that Andrew packed.  I didn’t see a Beano ration on that list…

Andrew is bringing his SPOT and will send periodic “okay” messages tagged with the location from where the message was sent. Bookmark this page or check back here to follow along.


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