Friday, May 28, 2010

First Rock Lead!

Last night I did my first lead on real rock. Craig and I went to Pivot Point Tuesday night and practiced mock leading a few climbs that we felt pretty comfortable on. Despite my crazy fears lately, it really felt right to me. Somehow I have worked through them and we decided we were both ready to lead.

So last night we headed back up to Upper Pivot with leading on the agenda. And I did it. It was very empowering. I have stood at the top of many ice leads with that feeling of accomplishment that you get from working through your fears and really pushing at the edges of your comfort zone, but this was different.

When I started climbing ice, I jumped right into leading. There aren't many areas where you can top rope ice and I wanted to be able to go out on my own, so I had to learn how to lead. Not to say that there wasn't any fear involved, but I jumped right in and never let the fear stir around in inside of me.

It's been different with rock. I started rock climbing after I started ice and it's really easy to just head to a crag and set up a top rope and play around. I declared myself a just-for-fun rock climber and didn't set any goals for myself in that area. I told myself I didn't want to lead rock.

But that wasn't true, that was just my way of not having to face my fears. I let them simmer for awhile and found other things to do in the summer like mountain biking and hiking. I knew this summer was going to be the year that I either start leading or stop rock climbing. Playing around in the crags is still fun, but I started to feel the pull of greater adventure.

But if I didn't learn how to lead, I couldn't go very far. So for the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about leading. I knew that when the time came to lead I would know, and just waited for it.

And the time came. It felt right and I just went for it. It was glorious!

I didn't get any photos, but I imagine it looked something like this...

...except I'm not that fit, and my hair doesn't flow like that, and it wasn't an overhanging 5.11b, it was more like a 5.8 with lots of bolts. But it's a start. And I just wanted to give you a visual. Hopefully someday that will be me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Climbing at Ravine Lake

Jill, Ben and their friend Mary Mae called Friday night and said they were heading up the Glen Highway to camp at King Mountain and climb at Ravine Lake the next day. I've been wanting to try climbing out in some of these areas outside of Anchorage for awhile, so I drove up Saturday to meet them.

None of us knew this area even existed. A few miles after Chickaloon, you turn off onto an old dirt road that goes 3 miles to Bonnie Lake and all along the way there are cliffs that you can climb.

We were hoping to find some more quality (less crumbly) rock than we climb on the Seward Highway, but alas that did not happen. This was part of the scree field that led up to the climbs. That boulder was actually sitting in the road.

We attempted to find a trail up in the woods near the lake, but ended up doing a scrambling, scree hike, buswhack up the side of the steep ravine that leads up from the lake.

The view from the top...

Ben led while the girls basked in the sun...

Then we played around on three different climbs for a few hours...

After we finished climbing we headed back to their campsite for some beers, sausages and corn on the cob... aren't they cute?

I ended up driving home late that night, because Sunday I wanted to get our house in order and plant my garden because we are leaving for vacation next weekend! Ahhh, the sky was still lit up at 11 PM on my drive home...

Starting this Saturday we will have two weeks of actual vacation. Brian and I were talking and we discovered that we have not had two full weeks of vacation since we moved here. AND we are actually traveling in Alaska! Crazy!

This will be my first Alaska trip (not work related) that I have to fly to. All of our other trips have been on the road system. I know it's really sad, but it's expensive to fly in Alaska and most of my money has gone to flying back home for Christmas and weddings and taking trips in the lower 48.

So I'm pretty excited, more on this in a few days.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Goat's Head Soup

More climbing fun was had by all down on the arm this week at Goat's Head Soup. I climbed my first 5.10 outside! Once I had the moves down, it was not as hard as I thought it would be.

No I did not lead it. Part of it was quite terrifying because we had to climb out over to a free hanging boulder, with only space and distant rocks down below.

It's hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, we were wearing down jackets and still stomping through snow. Here's Justin belaying in a t-shirt and bare feet. Bare feet I said!!!

Craig, nearing the top...

And there's me resting after the crux, with a huge smile on my face. Now above the trees I was able to look out over the arm.

This view is always more satisfying when you take the most difficult route up...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rides like a dream

I cannot believe I already have my new bike. After the drama of building the Puglsey this fall, I thought I'd never build a bike again. But guess what? It gets easier every time you do it.

My advice on bike building. 1.) Find a big sale on Jenson USA so that you can buy all the parts in one place and have them in a week. 2.) Find a friend and a boyfriend who like to build bikes 3.) Hand them tools 4.) Open beer 5.) Sit back 6.) Ride your new 29er the next day

In reality, I think it is a good idea for anyone who travels in remote areas on their bike to at least once put an entire bike together by themselves, especially women who are intimidated by the whole process. Once you do it one time and start fixing and tuning your bike yourself, it all starts to make sense. I honestly never thought I would know this much about bike building and maintenance and as painful as it was to get started, it has been a great experience.

After making a few more adjustments Saturday morning, we threw our bikes on Tim's car and headed out to the valley, where talk of dry trails lured crowds of mountain bikers.

We attempted to ride the course from last year's 24 hour race, but even though both Brian and I rode it 7 times in a row last year, we still got a little lost.

I knew pretty much instantly that this bike was going to be great for me, because it climbed the first section of singletrack so easily. I mean, I know I have been riding a lot this winter, but it has never been so easy riding a mountain bike. That's the bike, not me.

I used to call Brian a "cheater" for riding a 29er. Yep, it feels like cheating. But cheating never felt so good.

Thanks Tim and Brian for all of your help!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photoblog time

I have been wanting to get this project started for awhile and I finally got it off the ground. I wanted a place to hold all of my favorite outdoor photos (mostly taken in Alaska) where I could go back and look at them from time to time without the danger of losing them in some folder on my computer. Because let's be honest, 99 percent of the photos I take are crap and it's really easy for the gems to get lost in the shuffle.

It's been fun for me to go back through the past five years of photos and pick out my favorites. It's also motivation for me to start really learning about photography.

It took me awhile to find a template that I liked, but it is finally up and running. Click here to see it.

The latest photo is one that I took on the first dirt ride of this season up in Palmer. The other photos that I have up so far have been taken over the past five years that I have lived in Alaska. I hope to add a new photo almost every day (old and new), so check back often! And let me know what you think!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sunshine Ridge

Not much time to post because I have to go to sleep, but Sunday I got out with a group to play around on Sunshine Ridge. It was sunny as advertised, but really windy and cold and we were on the most exposed climbs on the Turnagain Arm.

Still it was a fun day out with my now regular climbing partners. Joe and Craig... quit yapping and gits to climbing!

Justin... our rope gun. (Currently the only one of us who leads)

Joe pulling an overhang...

Some random but nice people from Colorado...sorry you have discovered our crappy South Central Rock.

Even though it was cold, the views do not dissapoint...

It's funny how climbing in the gym all summer can give you a false sense that you are a good climber. Unfortunately I have been pretty uncomfortable climbing on real rock this year. After I get comfortable here, I'd like to do my first rock lead, but first I need to get some laps in and work through this fear.

More to come...oh yeah, and my bike is built, more on that when I have a minute...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


It's finally that time of year when all of the snow is melted in town and the trees start to burst with green. Last week was the city wide cleanup, so the winter trash is mostly gone and the we have been having many blue sky days over the past week. Spring is here!

After a brief hike with Niko on Sunday (he didn't get to join us on our gully adventure the day before), I headed out on Brian's cross bike. I always forget how much fun a road bike can be. As much as I hate riding on the road, riding on a road bike on paved trails can be exhilarating.

I headed out the door of my house with the intention of riding for 3 to 4 hours, taking lots of green pictures and exploring some paved trails that I have never been on before. I wanted to see how far I could get up to the Glen Alps or Upper DeArmoun area on a bike without actually riding on the road. I'd like to be able to combine biking and running as much as possible this summer, so it would be nice to be able to ride to the trailheads. Since the dirt trails are not dried out yet, I would have to do it via mostly paved trails.

I thought I would cut through the APU area on a new trail that I found this winter, but I quickly hit a swampy area and had to turn around. This trail is a snow highway in the winter, and my direct route to University Lake and FNBP. But in summer, not so much.

I eventually ended up on Elmore Rd, which has an awesome bike trail that runs the length of it from 36th all the way up to Abbot. In no time I found myself at Abbot Road and then at service high school. Road bikes are fast!

It was fun spotting all of the new growth around town. As much as I love winter, when spring arrives I start to feel full of energy again. I don't realize how much the darkness wears on me until I feel the sun on my face for hours and hours at a time. It stays light out past 10pm now.

I took the bridge over Abbot Rd to the Birch Road trail. This trail was a great hill workout. I followed it all the way to the end near Huffman and then followed a road that led to DeArmoun. I realized that I was really close to the Rabbit Creek Trail head. It was just about another mile on the road, but my goal was to stay off the roads so I turned back and road home the way I came.

It's nice to know that I can get to most of the trailheads in the Chugach now by bike and not have to drive or ride on the road. I'm hoping to have many multi-sport days this summer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Wow what a weekend. The weather has been so unbelievably nice in South Central. Brian and I plan on climbing Indianhouse Mountain next weekend via a route that we already know people have climbed, but this Saturday he wanted to explore a different route up to the point in front of Indianhouse, via a gully on the West face.

From Falls Creek we followed the trail up for about a mile and then started up the first obvious gully full of snow. In the past I have been a little uncomfortable on snow. Even though I know how to self arrest, there is a certain degree (I'm not sure what that is, maybe 45?) that the slope goes past and I start to feel vulnerable. Like I could start sliding and never stop.

But I felt unusually comfortable this day. Maybe because the slope was not very steep and the going was easy. About half way up we stopped for lunch and put our crampons on after the grade steepened and the snow hardened a bit. We could have made it up without crampons, but I just felt more secure with them.

We continued up the gully seeing what looked like a vertical rock face above us, but we've learned to not turn around until we actually walked right up to something because it can be deceiving. If I would have been able to see the gully we walked up from far away (which I did later) I may not have ever started up.

After a long slog up the snow, we got to a point where the gully split. Two of the routes were way too steep without a rope, but one looked manageable. We headed up the middle towards some alders and suddenly the slope steepened and the snow hardened and I started to become uncomfortable. It did not look promising up above, so I stomped out a platform to sit on while Brian continued on to check it out.

I sat there and thought about how comfortable I am when I'm on a rope. I will climb something that is vertical (or more than vertical) and have no problem hanging from a belay. But take the rope away and up the exposure and I start to get uneasy.

It's not so much the going up part that bothers me, but I like to keep looking back deciding if I would be comfortable coming back down the way I came. I do this because I have climbed myself into a panic situation more than once and it usually happens when I am blindly following Brian up something. It's always more tough to come back down because you are less stable facing away from the slope (unless you are down climbing), you can't see where your feet are going and you have to constantly look down at where you could fall. My wild imagination can make this quite interesting.

I have definitely upped my comfort level on steep slopes since we've moved here. Sometimes I envy the people who grew up in the mountains and seem to have no fear. But then I also greatly value this journey I have taken as an adult becoming increasingly comfortable moving around in the mountains. It's very rewarding to know that something that scared the crap out of me a few years ago, now is completely within my comfort zone.

Brian showed up again about 15 minutes later as I made myself comfortable with where I was. He had discovered a route that might be doable, but in his words, "You wouldn't like it." Which means, without a rope I would panic.

After down climbing the top part, we plunged stepped down the now soft snow and back down the trail. We briefly headed up the trail further to scope out another gully that Brian has had his eye on, but I was bonking and had had enough snow climbing for the day, so we ran back down the trail to the car.

Next weekend, Indianhouse proper!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Not exactly el Capitan

When I came to Alaska I wanted to be a climber. I didn't really know how to go about it, but I knew that I wanted to be like the girl in Rock and Ice Magazine who seemed to be floating effortlessly up the vertical rock, with her soft, shiny hair waving in the wind and a perfect look of concentration on her face.

Well, that didn't exactly happen. For one, my hair will never be soft and shiny. There is usually dirt in it. Secondly, my look is more of fear than concentration. Most importantly, there really isn't that much awe inspiring rock in South Central Alaska. There is nothing that I can look up at and say, "Some day, I want to climb that."

It's mostly just this crumbly pile of rocks we call the Chugach. Each summer, I start out saying, I'm going to climb more rock, but then read the guide books and look at the rock around town and my motivation falls flat. I pick up a bike or a pair of hiking shoes and find other fun ways to spend my free time.

But there has been something nagging at me lately. Eventually we are not going to live in Alaska anymore. I'm not saying that is anytime soon, but some day we will probably move away. I don't want to regret not spending my time here wisely.

There is great rock in Alaska. Huge towers of granite that cause even the laziest person to wonder, maybe I could get to the top of that. The problem is that these mountains are not close to town or close to anywhere that you can drive in Alaska, so I don't get to see them very often. But after seeing Brian's recent pictures of the Alaska Range, I find myself wondering, why are we not spending more time there?

The answer is, because I don't have the right skills. In order to climb peaks in the Alaska Range I need to be able to climb ice, rock, snow, and travel across glaciers. I've got the ice and glacier skills, and I have learned a little about placing snow protection (it's not rocket science), but the rock is where I am lacking.

That's what I intend to spend some time learning to do this summer. I have to say, climbing trad scares the crap out of me. I got a chance to do a bit of a mock lead last night and I would not want my worst enemies to fall on any of the protection that I placed. I definitely need more practice.

But I have got to start somewhere. On a night like last night, playing around on the rocks and lounging in the hot sun was not half bad. And now I have some good climbing partners to start exploring with. I think I might even stick with it this time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Am I really doing this again?

I know I said I'd never build a bike again. I'm just not very good at it. I'm clumsy and I get frustrated pretty easily. I like the idea of my new bike arriving at my house all shiny and put together.

But well, I want to try out a 29er AND Brian has a small Salsa Dos Niner frame AND it's orange AND it's basically a hard tail, but has one inch of travel in the back AND it's cheaper than buying a new frame AND there is a big sale on jenson usa right now so I basically got all the parts I need (excluding the frame) for under 1000 dollars.

There are also great advantages to putting a bike together yourself, for example, the satisfaction that you feel in the end, but most importantly you really know how your entire bike works and are able to fix it easily if you need to, say, when your forty miles into the interior of Alaska and there is no one around to tell you why your bike won't shift into granny gear and your legs are tired from mashing your pedals up hill after hill. (I bet Tim is cringing right now at all of my run on sentences)

All of the parts have been ordered, so the answer is yes, I am doing this again. Hopefully with the help of Brian and Tim this time so that I can get it working smoothly. I told them I would pay them in beer. I know they can't say no to that.

It's exciting to think that in a few weeks I will have a new 29er!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I hiked up the Dome and along the ridge towards Knoya last night. It was the first night of a busy week of after work play I have planned. I orignally was going to go out for a run in the woods, but when it looks like this out as I'm leaving the office I know it's time to get above treeline.

I thought I'd still be able to run a bit on the winding set of trails that leads up to the ridge, but the trail was impossible to run on. It was an off camber ridge of snow in the middle of the trail about a foot wide. If I slipped in the downhill direction I ended up in prickly bushes. If I stepped off the other side, I post-holed up to my knee.

But it was a beautiful day out regardless and Niko and I had fun playing on the tundra.

Niko had a bit too much fun. At one point as I was nearing the top of "Ice Cream Cone" I heard this horrible barking and growling coming from down below. My initial thought was that he was fighting a bear, and I whipped out the bear spray and got it ready. But as he came into view, I realized it was much smaller than that.

My next thought was a wolverine, which for some reason was less scary to me, but not good for Niko at all. Still I got closer and Niko kept barking this strange wild bark that I have never heard before. He was stomping around on the ground and tossing this thing in the air, until it stopped making noise.

Then he paced around it panting with his tail low and would not come to me or even look at me. I was honestly afraid to go near him because he seemed to be guarding it. I did not want to see what it was, because I felt bad that he killed something just for fun. I got this video at the very end of it after he calmed down.

I also blamed myself somewhat because I had run out of dog food earlier that day and tried to feed him cat food. What's that saying about never going to the grocery store hungry? I guess that applies to dogs and the tundra as well.

Finally I got him to come to me, but he kept looking back at the dog and hikers behind us, so I put him on the leash.

Other than that we had a gorgeous night out, with lots of great light for taking photos. I ate my dinner of a peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich on top of the Dome, watched some hikers glissade down the front of the mountain and then headed down a few hours later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Midtown Bike and Beer Tour

During this transition from Winter to Summer that some like to call Spring, we are often lost about how to spend our time.

Do we hang on to winter and go skiing and hope we find the elusive stash of powder that somehow survived warm temps and hid from direct sunlight? Sometimes.

Do we look forward to warmer days and try to get outside summer style? We try, but we often get our feet wet falling through a failed ice bridge, get stuck in the mud on a trail that hasn't dried out yet or freeze our fingers while clinging to rock that hasn't had time to warm up yet.

Or do we just stop fighting it and drink beer? Generally we go with this last option.

Friday night bike and beer tour. We toured around the midtown area, me on my Pugsley for lack of another vehicle, stopping at various bars along the way. A perfect way to spend a spring time evening.