Risking it all on Sundance

July 20, 2008 at 10:25 pm

On Sunday morning we got up at 5:30a. We threw the tent in the car, stopped for a fast food breakfast, and were hiking out of the Lumpy Ridge parking lot a little more than an hour later (~6:45a). No, Mark didn’t have a helmet. Yes, we were set on climbing Mainliner (5.9).

There’s a few pictures from the day in the gallery.

We arrived at the sign at around 7:45 in the morning

Sundance Buttress is a dominating and beautiful formation on the ridge. It is the most distant formation, and the hike to the base is about 3.5 miles long. We buzzed up the trail surprisingly quickly, hitting the base of the wall by 8:30a.

For all of our earliness, for all of our work, we still arrived at the base of our climb second. We were willing to risk Mark’s head because we so desperately wanted to climb this amazing 5-star, fantastically beautiful line. And there was another pair on it already. About halfway up the first pitch. With gear in the wall every 4ft. Not only were they on the route before us, but they were moving slooooow.

Clear skies and amazing views at 8:30am

We bummed around the rock for a while, starting to consider other routes in the area. Note to self: when hiking out to a remote destination, bring gear for more than one climb. We brought mostly small gear and nuts for Mainliner, which meant many of the long, classic chimney/offwidth climbs on Sundance were just too dangerous for us that day. Most of the thin routes on the wall were harder than Mainliner. The rock was beautiful, and the 1000ft wall was covered in amazing looking lines, but we were a bit stuck.

Eventually, we knew we were wasting time, and we found ourselves at the base of The Guillotine. The hard part, or crux, is just off the ground and easily protected. Mark and I dug deep, and pulled through the 10ft loong flaring thin crack crux. The rest of the pitch went at pumpy 5.9, and our climb was supposed to ease up to the 5.7-5.8 range after this pitch.

An hour later, and the storms have blown in

When I left the ground, it was at about 10am. There were already large, dark clouds forming in a line reminiscent of a frontal boundary just to our west. Where most faces on Lumpy Ridge face south or south east, and weather is often a surprise, these climbs on Sundance face west, and you are constantly aware of what is coming your way off the continental divide. And on Sunday morning, it did not look good.

I cleaned and climbed the pitch. I took a few hangs in the crux and then one further up the climb. When I reached the belay 100ft up, there was thunder rumbling in the clouds. The idea of continuing our exposed, difficult route, for 6 more pitches, and then do a 5th class down climb, in rain and lightening just seemed idiotic. Mark lowered me down, and then set a bail anchor and rapped off himself.

Not a good day to climb on that rock

We packed up as lightening began striking the valley below us and the ridge above us. Rain began sprinkling down, so I packed up the camera and we headed home. As we hiked out, the clouds came and went. Lightening appeared and disappeared. In the end, we were lucky everything worked out the way it did. If we had made it to Mainliner first, or earlier, we would have been in a rough position when the storms blew in. As it was, we got in a pitch of hard trad climbing and 7 miles of hiking. The rock will always be there. Even next weekend…

A Lovely Day in Rocky Mountain NP

July 19, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Mark and I made reservations at a campground just outside the park, found a friend to watch the dog, piled all of our gear into the car and took off for the mountains on Friday night. We had planned on getting up early the next morning and climbing and awesome, long, grade III route the next morning. But, Friday night, after putting up the tent, we found out that Mark didn’t have a helmet.

While many people (and even many trad climbers) might feel completely comfortable climbing any route without a helmet, it didn’t seem worth the risk to me or Mark. So, we decided to drive back to the Fort on Saturday morning, grab the helmet (and a few other forgotten things) and then head back to Estes. We would climb someplace low and easy on Saturday afternoon, and then get up early and do our long climb on Sunday.

There’s good pics in the gallery.

Rocky Mountain National Park

But, it turned out that Mark’s helmet was not back at the house. It wasn’t in the basement, car, backpacks, front yard, or under the poppazon. It was gone. We drove back to Estes empty handed. Neither one of us felt much like climbing when we got back to the national park just before lunch. Instead, we took our picnic lunch up Trail Ridge Road, and sat and ate it at 11,000ft.

Beautiful rock and snow

We drove over the continental divide – our first time on this road in a few years – on a lovely day. It was also our first time above treeline all year, and we were both happy to find that neither one of us had a problem with the altitude on Saturday.

Eventually, we randomly found ourselves at the Poudre Lakes, the actual start of the river that carved the beautiful and amazing Poudre Canyon and runs through Fort Collins. We were so excited to find this spot, that we parked the car and headed out for a quick afternoon hike.

Wildflowers in the glacial valley

The Poudre River trail runs along the side of the river, through glacial valleys and rocky canyons, until it pops out near Joe Wright Reservoir off of highway 14 near Cameron Pass about 20 miles to the north. I would love to backpack this trail someday: start at Trailridge road in Rocky Mountain and end up in the familiar playground of the southern Rawah Mountains at the top of the Poudre Canyon. What a great adventure!

Standing in the young Poudre River and looking down stream

This weekend, though, we were not prepared for that adventure. We walked a long the scenic trail for a couple miles and then headed back to the car. We drove back over the divide, gawking along with the tourists at huge herds of elk and yellow-bellied marmots along the way. We ate junk food for dinner, chased mule deer out of our neighbor’s campsite (one got away with a banana), saw a badger for the first time, and enjoyed a mountain evening.

We talked around and around, and eventually decided we could do the climb without Mark’s helmet the next morning. And that’s a story for another post.

Dancing Around the World

July 16, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I saw this video on The Adventure Blog this afternoon and just fell in love. Ok, so the premise is corny, but I think the result is lovely.

Mark and I have been very lucky to travel as much as we have, and we have plans for much more in the coming years. How to balance careers, family, climbing, travel and eco-conscious desires is a topic of constant debate in our household.

It looks like Matt here did it right. And he definitely got to experience the best part of travel, which is meeting new and amazing people all over the country and all over the world. I love how happy everybody is in this video. I hope people really feel this way.

Mark looses 2 nuts in Learning Experience

July 12, 2008 at 10:18 pm

In which, we learn about climbing on all passive pro, and can’t stop making stupid toilet-humor jokes.

There are lots of pictures from the day in the gallery.

The Magical Chrome-Plated Semi-Automatic Enema Syringe (5.7)

A series of random decisions and strange events landed us at the bottom of The Pear on Saturday morning, at around 11am, with blue-bird skies above, and not another person around for miles. We decided it would probably be a good day to try to get all the way to the top of Magical Chrome-Plated Semi-Automatic Enema Syringe (5.7).

We’ve done the first two pitches of this climb earlier this year, and even climbed La Chaim (as a two pitch to the lower walk-off) before as well. But we’ve never topped out the Pear.

Also, we decided on Saturday that it was time to try a “true Lumpy Ridge rack”, which included almost two sets of nuts, and only 5-6 cams. This didn’t seem like such a big deal when we were on the ground. We’ve been trad climbing, using chocks and cams, for almost 5 years now. Surely we’d have no problem with this lighter rack!

The second pitch was definately a learning experience

Problems started on the first pitch, when it took me about 15 minutes of banging on one nut with my nut tool to get it out of the rock. Mark and I have been trad-climbing together for long enough that I am usually pretty darn good at getting his very weird placement puzzles figured out. He usually leads, and I usually follow, and I’ve always considered myself “The Nut Queen!” Usually I can pop those suckers out in no time. But on Saturday, my mojo was not flowing.

Mark was having his own problems as well. His pieces were good for down-pulls, but as the route has a twisting and traversing nature, he started having a few pieces actually pull out of the crack behind him! Yikes!

On the second pitch, I left one tiny nut, that was so far back in the crack I couldn’t even see it, behind on the route. In the anchor, I wailed on a giant purple chock with everything I had, cussing and scraping up my knuckles. I left two dents in the bottom of that chock, on on either side of the wire, and it never budged a millimeter.

Nuts falling out of cracks, nuts stuck in cracks, these are things that we haven’t had problems with in years. By the time I made it up to the top of the second pitch, I was feeling defeated and humiliated. Like a total n00b who shouldn’t be on the rock. I tried to convince Mark that we should walk-off, go home, and come back some other day when we had more cams.

Mark happily sits below a giant rock butt

But Mark chalked it up to “kinks in the system” due to our recent break from climbing, and he led on up past the escape ramp. I had no choice but to follow him up the rest of the route, and now I’m glad we kept going.

The fourth pitch turned out to be a lovely little crack climb, and the giant rock butt for which the route is named came into view. Mark joked about climbing the 5.9 variation that jams straight up the, eh-hem, crack, but we didn’t feel like we had the gear to protect it that day. The whole time I sat at the belay below that HUGE rock butt, I just couldn’t stop giggling. I’d think I had myself under control, and then I’d look up, and just start laughing all over the place again!

Mark finds an awesome rest spot on top of the Pear

We summited the rock at around 4:30 in the afternoon. We stood on top of the butt, victorious, with the rest of our nuts still on our rack (see, I can’t stop!), at around 4:30p. There were a few distant clouds, but the sky was still clear, which was a small miracle for that area this time of year. A larger miracle was that we had not seen another person on our climb or rock all day! On a Saturday! On Lumpy! Amazing.

We screwed around a bit. Took some pictures. Eventually Mark found the rap anchors and then called me over. The book assured us that we only needed one rope to rap off the back of the summit, but looking over the edge, all we could see was a dark hole in the rock. A dank abyss beckoned us downward.

Looking up at the rappel from the summit

Mark, of course, went first. He made it down and I could hear his voice echoing out of the darkness “Don’t worry! The rope reaches! This place is amazing! Take pictures on your way down!!”

My eyes were not adjusted for the dark, and getting on rappel with my rope disappearing down into blackness was really creepy. I did not stop to take pictures. But it was a fun rappel.

It turns out, the rappel leads to a secrete space behind the Pear. A hallway was formed in the distant past. With vertical walls nearly 100ft tall on either side, and only about 4 ft apart. It looked like the rock had simply separated. A giant crack had formed, perhaps as the slab of the Pear inched slowly down the face of the ridge.

We enjoyed the cool darkness, and the scent of ferns in our spot. Then it was time to head out. The hike back to our bags was long, but not hard. We were packing up at the base of the climb by 5:30p, and in the car driving home around 7p. It was an amazing day, for many reasons. And I’m glad we got all of the kinks out of our systems. Heh heh.

Next time, we’re climbing with more cams.

A Secrete Space

And it’s called EPmotion…

July 11, 2008 at 7:45 pm

So, for years Mark and I worked for Beckman Coulter (originally SAGAIN), writing software that controlled huge, expensive, very smart automatic pipetting machines. I knew more about the intricacies of fluid transfer via automated pipetting than just about anybody in the world. Mark was the first Software R&D employee at SAGIAN, and had spent 10 years working on the software problems surrounding driving smart liquid transfers.

So, yes, we laughed sooooo hard when we say this commercial this afternoon. Mark is still walking around our house singing the song. You deserve to automate…

Storm Chasing

July 6, 2008 at 10:02 pm

We did the drive back from St. Louis in one day, leaving my parents’ house at around 6am and getting back to Fort Collins at around 8p. We’ve done this drive before, and while it is long, it’s not too hard. It’s fun to put an audio book on and just cruise across Kansas.

We manage to pass the storm by

Usually we’re doing the drive on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, or New Year’s Day. We’ve hit ice storms and blizzards along this stretch of I-70 that were powerful and murderous. In July, however, it’s not the snow you have to watch out for. It’s tornadoes.

Rotating wall cloud with funnel clouds below

So, yes, I’m an atmospheric scientist. And I certainly feel sorry for the people who have had losses due to violent storms. But, I can’t help myself. Tornados are cool!

There’s more pictures from the heavy weather on our drive home in the gallery.

We saw storms building in western Kansas, and a quick trip to the NWS website from the iPhone confirmed my suspicions, there was a tornado on the ground to our north. However, there was so much rain, we couldn’t see it.

Later, in Eastern Colorado, I spotted a beautiful, huge, spinning supercell, and Mark stopped so I could get out and take some pictures. And then we drove closer. And took pictures. And then a little closer. And then the storm got closer to us. Standing outside and watching this beautiful, amazing storm was an incredible experience. The wind was blowing so hard I felt like I had to hang on to the car to stay standing. And it was all blowing into the bottom of that wall cloud.

Still looking for a tornado below the storm

The storm rotated and moved across the plain like a giant hoover, sucking up huge amounts of air. The lift from the updraft in this storm was so intense that a local extreme low pressure was forming below the cloud. That low pressure caused what little moisture that could be found in the hgh plains air to condense into low clouds below the rotating saucer above.


Then it started to hail. So we turned around a high-tailed it back to the interstate. Another check using the iPhone confirmed we were watching a super-cell storm. The national weather service had identified it as a large tornado via Doppler radar. This means that the cloud droplets were definately rotating around the updraft. But we never saw a tornado on the ground for any length of time. So, it’s doubtful that there was an actual tornado on the ground that day.

It was definitely fun to watch, though.

Relaxing on the 4th

July 4, 2008 at 10:42 pm

As our week of relaxation and humidity rolled to a conclusion, we had one more big event to look forward to: the celebration of the 4th. In the last 4 years, or so, Mark and I have shown our patriotism by finding the most remote backpacking or climbing local we can, and spending the long weekend there. This year, we got to eat my Dad’s famous Baseball Pizza (hotdogs, cheddar cheese and mustard on pizza crust – really tasty), my Mom’s famous macaroni salad and Miller’s infamous lime beer.

The family hangs out at the park in the evening

There’s a ton of fun fireworks pictures up in the gallery.

Amy and Murray spent the afternoon hanging out with us and playing song after song on Rock Band. It turns out, Amy has rhythm, Mark has strong hands and very fast fingers, and I am completely tone deaf and but know all the words to all of the songs. If we turn down the volume on my singing, we make a pretty kick-ass band.

In the evening, Amy headed to her friend’s house in Webster, and we rode our bikes down to Kirkwood park for the show.


It was fun being back at Kirkwood park with the family for the 4th again. When I was in highschool, we’d spend the whole day at the park, throwing frisbees and hanging out in the sun on the grass. This year we had just enough time for Mark and I to get a snow cone and Dad to beat me at cribbage before the lights went off and the explosions started.


Liv is terrified of loud noises these days (we had an unfortunate evening with a cannon firing into our apartment a few years ago), so we left her at home in the basement. She was pretty happy to see us when we made our way back later that night.


It was a great week and great vacation. I’m glad we had a chance to spend the holiday with old friends and family. Thank you everybody!


St. Louis Osuwa Taiko

July 3, 2008 at 10:01 pm

One of the best parts of our trip to St. Louis this summer was the chance to spend some time with my childhood friend Amy. She’s living a fantastic urban life in St. Louis, and loving it. Last year, she took a chance and tried out for a local Taiko group.

Taiko Practice

This is a Japanese performance art, with roots that go back thousands of years. The drums are huge and loud, and your chest and heart thumps along with the music. The drummers sing and dance as they play, with long beautiful lines and roaring passionate screams. Amy is incredibly, and surprisingly, good at this. Surprising because Amy has had very little in the way of musical, dance or performance instruction in her life. In fact, some of my fondest memories in highschool are of hanging out with Amy at football games and making fun of the band. Now here she is in, essentially, a hardcore drum line!

To see a cool video of the group performing last year, check this out. For more pictures of the thursday night practice, head to the gallery.


While Mark and I were in town, Amy asked permission, and Mark and I were allowed to come watch one of their practices. The group practices 3-4 times a week for 3-4 hours at a stretch. The drumming is a huge workout, with long arm swings and leg lunges. The drummers use their whole body to produce the music, and it is a sound unlike any other. Mark and I were entranced by even their timing exercises and the song which they practiced over and over again that night. I took about 300 pictures before the evening was up, and Mark took some video.

To get a real feel for what it’s like to just watch the 8 or so people who showed up that night practice, plug your computer into a 30″ bass amp and turn the volume up to eleven when watching this video.

Amy and I had long conversations the next day about how drumming and dance were so much like rock climbing. Both are moving mediations, ways for our restless western minds to focus pure attention on a single moment. In life, you learn more about yourself in those quiet times, those places between thoughts, than you ever do in the normal clutter and clatter of brain work. Whether it’s pounding a drum, jamming a crack, spinning and dancing or sticking that dyno, when we find a way to truly focus ourselves on a single task, we find the source of all of our personal power.