Discovering Alpinism, Dark Star Car to Car

15 07 2009

I thought I knew what alpine climbing was about. I thought that Dark Star would be a walk in the park surrounded by hours of hiking.  Boy was I wrong!!

The description for Dark Star includes around 17 pitches with a bunch of 4th class and only two pitches of 5.10.  While the base of Temple Crag sits just above 11,000 feet I was confident that we could make good time by simuling much of the climb and soloing the easiest pitches.  The goal was a sub 24 hour which was a pace our friends had done the year before.

Darkstar - July 09 003

Rushing to Big Pine to get as much sleep as possible.

After a five pm departure from San Diego we made fairly good time and were at the trail head in big pine by 10:30.  We set our alarms for a mind blowing 2:15 am and went to sleep as fast as possible. After 3+ restless hours we awoke filled with psyche and were met with a practically full moon. Konstantin had been to Temple Crag before and lead the way as we hit the trail at 2:50am. The next 6 or so miles passed fairly easily as we gained a few thousand feet of elevation towards a set of three alpine lakes.

Darkstar - July 09 005

The blurriness of this picture shows what it feels like to get up at 2:15 am

We crossed the river on a crappy log bridge just below Third lake and hopped across the talus field towards the base of the very imposing Dark Star. It was getting light out and I was happy with our timing thus far.  However I forgot to fill a water bottle at the stream crossing which stung us later on.

Darkstar - July 09 008

~5:30 am below the massive Dark Star

After a bit more hiking and a scree approach we dropped our packs and went in search of the spring that usually runs all the way down to the base of Dark Star. With no sign of flowing water we mixed snow in with the water in our nalgenes and set off with two liters of slush and a half liter of Gatorade. Looking up at the first pitch I noticed the obvious difference in the granite from the weekend before. As I had read the rock was much more featured and was filled with bands of Quartz. I felt the crux of the entire route was about midway up the first pitch.  Some tricky stemming and use of poor face holds gave way to a good fingerlock and then better foot holds.  Following with the full pack was a bit tricky and was a harsh warmup.

Darkstar - July 09 016

Looking up from the base at the first pitch dihedral

Darkstar - July 09 021

Konstantin right before the hardest moves on the whole route (pitch 1)

Darkstar - July 09 025

A successful onsight for Konstantin of the first two pitches!

Konstantin lead the first two pitches and then I lead the next three. The third pitch was my favorite of the route with exciting step across to a hollow flaked followed by cool moves up to a lazer cut thin fingers crack in a left facing corner. The rock was perfect and the crack was just thin enough to make it exciting.  The end of my three pitch block put us at a chockstone belay inside the “intimidating” chimney.

Darkstar - July 09 028

Luke trying to keep the sun off his neck with his  new Buff

Darkstar - July 09 027

Second (closer) and first lakes. Such pretty water!

It seemed that the best thing to do was tunnel through the chimney and Konstantin made his way up and after no gear for the first 15 feet he placed a cam and stepped out around the corner into the light.  He made it a long pitch and ended on a very comfy belay in the sun. After exiting the cold chimney it seemed we may have been a bit off route but we continued on very easy ground up the ridge. After reaching the belay and snapping a few photos Konstantin set off again and we simuled a long block to the top of the first tower over fairly easy ground.

Darkstar - July 09 029

Sun is shining life is good!

Darkstar - July 09 031

Konstantin searches for pro as he exits the chimney.

After a downclimbing and making an exposed traverse we were at a set of ledges below the next tower. We couldn’t quite figure out what the topo mean for the first pitch on the upper tower and nothing seemed obvious. There was a bit of a trail further across a ledge so Konstantin and I moved the belay and set off into the unknown. Konstantin followed some chalk up the next loose pitch doing an excellent job by not dropping any rocks on my head. It was a long lead and I was happy to rest since I had not had enough sleep the night before.

Darkstar - July 09 038

The cave monster escapes!

I lead another loose pitch to reach the ridge which hopefully got us back on route. The altitude had not been too bad thus far as we approached 12,000 feet and I had been able to eat enough food only feeling like I wanted to vomit once. Back on the ridge we simulated until the ropedrag became really bad. In retrospect we should have either been soloing or have tied back in at the halfway point to simul on 30 meters of rope.  I lead another block of simuling along the ridge that ended in a rap anchor.  We tried to line up this with the topo and guessed we were near “pitch” 14 meaning we would be rappelling again shortly, however the next bit of climbing convinced us otherwise.

The weather for the day had been amazing so far and I could see my arms burning in the sun since I had been expecting to be wearing more than my T-Shirt. I tried best to keep my Buff up over my neck and ears to keep off the sun. There was practically no wind and few clouds and we had only seen one other party at Temple.

Darkstar - July 09 049

Celebrating the perfect day and the six amazing pitches so far!

I was getting worn down by my belief that we were lost and it was eating into my psyche. The climbing was not hard but it was just challenging to have no idea where to go. I suppose my lack of alpine experience made it seem that the obvious route (the easiest line) was not the right way. I am far more comfortable when there is only one “possible” line.

After rappelling Konstantin started off around the next tower on the right side on a set of 3rd class ledges. The climbing became 4th class and we simuled a little until having to stop again due to bad rope drag. This belay was on top of a very pretty tower and a jagged line of spires were between us and a large red tower shown in the topo.

Darkstar - July 09 043

Riding the spire! How could it be so warm above 11,000 feet?!?

Konstantin lead off again on easy terrain only to find a rap station about 150 feet later. I thought this meant we were back on track and told him to stop. After find the belay and the kind of odd rap station I was not so sure so I kept going and downclimbed about 50 feet (5th class for sure) and did a bit of traversing to reach a better looking rap station.

Darkstar - July 09 053

The Big Red Tower from the topo can be seen in the back left of this photo.

This rap put is in a gully that I believe is described in the Croft topo. We opted for the easy and obvious 3rd class way on the left side of the next tower. This took us past a bit of snow which we happily ate to stay hydrated.  16 pitches completed the next belay put us back on track with a very obvious rightward ledge traverse following yellow lichen. This was at the base of the large red tower and concluded the technical section of the climb. I was mentally exhausted and wanted to be moving as fast as possible. I was worried about time it would take to  climb the remaining 500 feet to the summit. Konstantin kept good spirits and helped me calm down and stay safe.

Darkstar - July 09 054

Konstantin makes his way across a ridge of chossy spires.

Turning the corner we saw a large section of ledgy terrain that I insisted we solo. I wanted to be moving faster and was confident that we would save time (speed = safety in alpine climbing) by moving at the same time. At above 12,00 feet there was no way I could move too quickly but putting away the rope sped us up and we were in the top in no time. The temps quickly shifted as we entered the shade and the wind picked up. We both happily donned our jackets for the first time since the chimney belay.

Darkstar - July 09 058

5 Hour Energy Summit Celebration!

At the summit it was 6:30 pm and we had been on the go for over 15 hours. Konstantin had brought a couple of the 5-hour energy drinks which we happily finished hoping they would keep us energized all the way to the car.  A few summit shots later we started working our way down the talus to the final rappel.  With the summit in the bag I was feeling better since the way down was obvious.  Konstantin, having found the way down in much worse conditions, led the way and in no time we were in Contact Pass hiking towards our packs.

Darkstar - July 09 060

Good thing it only took us 4 hours to get back to the car!!

I chose to take the faster, yet more exciting, way down the snow filed while Konstantin stuck to the talus. I got a bit wet but was down in time to find the spring (which was still running but just didn’t make it all the way down to the base of Dark Star), fill up our water bottles, and sort all of the gear I had. The mosquitoes were out in full force and despite putting my Buff over my head I got many bites on my scalp. Once Konstantin arrived it was 8:15 and we still had 7 miles to go!

Darkstar - July 09 062

To Dark Star and its many loose pitches with breathtaking views.

Racing against dusk we slid and ran down the gravely talus as fast as possible.  By crossing near the second lake we could hopefully cut off some time on the decent and we would be able to get back to the car sooner. Reaching the old road and the two nice bridges we were back on the main trail and Konstantin surged with energy. I had been keeping up so far on the uneven ground but I was no match on the main trail. With headlamps illuminating the trail and my trekking poles swinging furiously we tried to make up as much time as possible. Almost running at times we made it back to the car by 10:30!! This gave us a sub 20 hour time (19:40) and we were psyched at our success.  Despite our 12 hours on route (which seemed slow to me despite 17 pitches or ~2500 feet of “climbing”) we had done the approach and decent quite quickly.  I had never hiked so fast and Konstantin made 7+ mile  summit to car push in a speedy 4 hours.

Darkstar - July 09 063

Luke celebrates his first time to 13,000 feet!

Doing longer routes car to car is an interesting experience and so far I have felt fairly good the day of only to have the fatigue hit me later in the week. On Dark Star I felt the need to rush and was not so sure of where we were going beyond “up”.  I think it would have been a bit more fun if I had relaxed but it was hard due to all of the loose rock. I usually enjoy long granite routes because of the crack climbing which was sadly absent on Dark Star. It was wild to find so many incut holds on granite but the gear placement was trickier and there were many sections where you just couldn’t fall.

Committing to a C2C adventure adds a new twist to any long climb and makes one think about how best to utilize sunlight and good temperatures. As well going for 12+ hours changes the mental game as the mind struggles with decision making while exhausted. So far Dark Star took the longest of any climb I had done to date which is strange since it had the least amount of “technical” climbing.  On Positive Vibrations our 12+ hour time was due mainly to slow leading on the harder pitches not the length of the climb.  On the Red Dihedral our 16.5 hour C2C time was slow mainly due to the wind and cold.  One thing I find similar between Positive Vibs and Dark Star was the confusion and slowness due to tricky routefinding.

Dark Star was an important learning experience for me and makes me wonder about how far I am really interested in taking Alpine climbing. Possible I was spoiled by the splitter cracks on the Incredible Hulk and was expecting a longer version of the same thing on Dark Star. Regardless the climbing was beyond beautiful and it was a good challenge to climb at altitude.

Thanks for reading!

– Luke


Bishop In the Snow

9 01 2009

Lizzy and I spent our New Years vacation in Bishop and Mammoth. After a series of winter storms we were worried about the weather in Saint George and the consequences of becoming a belay popsicle while sport climbing.  


With plenty of jackets and the strong California sun we thought we could brave the weather in Bishop. To stay motivated we split the time by snowboarding  in Mammoth on our rest days from bouldering. We had many sunny days and our trip was stress free and fun. After visiting Bishop each of the last two months I am more psyched than ever on bouldering. 

After spending Christmas around the DC area we came back to San Diego on the 27th. Lizzy had managed to escaped a snow locked Seattle and we had a great Christmas with my Mom and family.  After repacking we headed up to a chilly night of camping on snow at the Pit in Bishop.


Lizzy warming up on sweet jugs!

The cold night and snowy landscape had us overdressed for our first day at the Buttermilks.  While Christmas had been brutal with a mix of rain and snow the midday time temperatures were quite reasonable. A seemingly cold morning quickly warmed up and although I was brushing snow out of the occasional finishing jug, I was wearing a T-Shirt and Pants. 


Starting up Flyboy (stand)

The friction was excellent and I was happy to do many problems on the Tut Boulder that I had stayed away from due to the heat on previous trips. The highlight of the day was trying Flyboy. I had heard much talk of this classic V6 but had yet to try the problem. Dynoing is far from my style and I was apprehensive about the dynamic last movie. I was able to latch the lip twice but did not believe enough to commit to the massive swing. 


Luke reaches for the last crimp before the jump on Flyboy

Catching the snowy lip was very exciting and really pushed my mental limits. I look forward to going back, controlling my fear, and sending this this problem! We stopped by the Ironman Traverse for a little while before the sun fell behind the mountains. While there was still plenty of light the temperatures quickly started dropping and we were back in the car by 4pm. Plenty tired we spent the rest of the day looking at hotel rooms and got to bed early.


About to fall off Flyboy.

The next morning we drove up to Mammoth and enjoyed a bluebird day. The sun was out and the snow was good. It was pretty warm at the bottom of the lifts but higher on the mountain it was colder.  It was my first time to Mammoth and my first time snowboarding in over three years. Lizzy had been to Mammoth around the same time two years previous. The day was fairly fall free and we got back in the groove of snowboarding. We met up with Dan Beall, from San Diego, who was up in Mammoth skiing with his family and girlfriend

We spent a very warm New Years Eve at the Happy boulders. I was able to finish up a few projects from previous trips and checked out some sweet new climbs. First I dispatched Rave, easy V7, from the sit start. On a previous trip I had done the stand but couldn’t hold onto the crimps of the start. The rest of the day Lizzy and alternated trying problems to stay fresh.  After she worked on Wavy Gravy, a crimpy and sharp V2, we moved on to The Gleaner V6. I had tried this problem breifly but hadn’t made it past the first two crimps. After attempting the  drop knee beta, I figured out that a toe hook was necessary for me. This allowed me to move staticly through the crux to gain a sharp deep pocket. Two tries with the toehook yielded a send and the day was going well.

I had never tried or seen the classic Serengetti V5 and had wanted to give it a good flash go. There weren’t any people near by but a few dudes stop by and I mooched some beta. I had a good first try and fell two moves below the jug. A different method on the 2nd go yielded the top and I was stoked to climb this classic problem so quickly. We moved from the sun into the cold shade of the rim. I was anxious to try Every Color You Are V6 . I had tried the problem a month prior on our pre-Thanksgiving trip and had gotten close to sending. After a few tries I stalled at at similar high point and vowed to return with more energy. We headed back towards the Hulk and after briefly trying Big Chicken, three-star V2, Lizzy was able to flash a fun V1 to the right of Solarium

My last objective of the day was to try out Redrum. This probe is hidden in a cave right next to the Hulk and follows a steep set of pinches to a much easier headwall. My energy was quite low and I no longer had the body tension for the moves. The holds were quite amazing and I am psyched to get back to it. 

New Years yielded perfect conditions at Mammoth and before noon the lines were super short. I think we managed more runs between 9am and 11am than we had in twice the time a few days previous. The afternoon was a bit crowded but we still had a bunch of fun. Our final day snowboarding was quite the different experience with wind, mixed ice/snow and low visibility. Because the mountain was so windy the upper lifts were closed concentrating the crowds on the lower areas. We stubbornly braved the conditions and the first few hours were quite good. 

On the morning of the 3rd we moved camp back to the Pit and got ready for our final day of bouldering. As Lizzy mentioned she pulled a muscle while coughing and was unable to boulder on the last day. Being a trooper she still agreed to hike up to the Druid Stones since we had never been. The hike was long and icey up a steep hill but it was quite worthwhile. There were no other climbers, aside from a guy hiking around with a guide book. In an effort to keep the day short I did not bring a pad but still brought my shoes. This turned worth while as the area was quite beautiful and the problems interesting. Inspired by a photo of Tiffany Cambell in the guide book, who evidently developed some of  problems in the area, I hopped on The Greatest Imperfection. This V6 looked pretty fun and the crux was close to the ground. I was able to work out the moves with a series of knee bars to a final dead point. After sticking this sequence I jumped off to err on the side of safety. While patina jugs lead to the top the final moves were a grovely series of slopers. The guidebook warned of these awkward and scary moves and I did not want to risk it.

We moved on to the Thunder Wall where I quickly worked through the moves of the classic ThunderV3  and Kredulf V4. It will be fun to go back with a pad and top out these problems! Prostrate to the Higher Mind, a short V5 lies on the right side of the wall on much different holds than the main patina covered face. Small sharp crimps stick out of the steep wall. This problem finished on jugs and after a few tries I was able to top it out. For a non climbing day I was doing well! The harder lines on this boulder warranted padding so I only fooled around for a short while before moving on to the Skye Stone. 

The Skye Stone was another amazing piece of rock and our final stop so we didn’t spend too much time on these tall problems. The routes all look spectacular and have a nice position overlooking Bishop. Despite the long hike it was well worth it. The setting and solitude alone make it a worthy detour from the more popular areas of Bishop. If all goes well Lizzy and I will return one of the next few weekends with pads and I will get to complete some of these classic problems.

Our six days in the Sierras left me yearning for more climbing. The snowboarding was fun and a good distraction but no where near as cool as playing on the amazing holds of Bishop. The bouldering is like no other granite I have climbed on. There are so many more crimps and features that allow for spectacular movement on boulders in a spectacular setting.

Happy New Year,


Still Snowing…

21 12 2008

We now have about 8 inches at our house, which is less than 100ft above sea level. And it’s still snowing.

snow-dec-08-159Snowy house

To distract myself from worrying about my flight tomorrow, Maddy and I went sledding. It was sweet.

Maddy also built a snow daschund, which is also pretty sweet.


Setting up for the yearly Christmas photo for my mom. The dogs are Charlie, Zoey, and Wally (from left to right)

snow-dec-08-157The snow daschund

You know you’re missing out.


Maddy and Wally


Getting good use out of my new DAS Parka 🙂


Things to Do When It’s Snowy Outside

20 12 2008

Watch funny videos on the internet! These are two of my absolute favorites and I hadn’t watched them in a while, but they’re just as good as they were the first time I saw them.


Here’s the original, “Lazy Sunday”:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And here’s the West Coast response, “Lazy Monday”:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Snow in Washington

19 12 2008

The forecasts came true and now there is snow all over Washington. I think the Arlington area got the most – over 2 feet according to the news. Redmond, where I grew up, got around a foot. Here in Poulsbo we only got a couple inches, but everything still looks beautiful. Some photos:



These photos are a view from the front of our house. The water is Hood Canal and the mountains are the Olympics.

Right now we just have cold weather (the daytime high is below freezing) before some more snow tomorrow. Check out what NOAA says about what’s coming in:


Interesting… hopefully I can make it to the airport on Monday night, although it’s not supposed to snow as much there.