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Coming full circle on Liberty Crack

Yesterday I had one of those “coming full circle” moments in my climbing life. I first climbed Liberty Bell when I was 17 via Thin Red Line, and Liberty crack when I was 18, which was about 12 years ago. Both of those ascents were monumental for me at the time. On my long ago ascent of TRL I had my first real wall bivi experience and it was one to remember. My partner and I shared a single Fish portaledge and pretty much gumbied our way up the route aiding almost every possible inch of the route. On Liberty Crack we had planned on a one day ascent but of course didn’t send in a day. We pulled an all nighter making it back to the car by noon the next day. For me times have really changed since those teenage ascents. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a good majority of the last 10 years climbing, living and working in Yosemite. I’ve learnt a few things down there in those years. A couple of which are how to free climb and how to climb really big routes.

The only problem with spending all that time in Yosemite is that I haven’t really been able to climb in the Cascades much. Luckily for me I quit my job in Yosemite two years ago now which has allowed me to make it to some destinations other than the Valley during the summer months. Last year I managed to spend almost a month in Washington and loved it the whole time. So far this year I have only racked up a total of 5 climbing days here in the state. I’ve tried to make the most of the them though, a day at Si, Index, Der Sportsman on Prussik Peak, and two days up at Washington Pass.

I barely squeaked the two days in at the pass. It was actually a last minute decision to go up there on Sunday night. Kate and I were driving back from climbing up in the Powell River area of BC and had finished the route a little quicker than expected which left us with a little free time.

We had driven well into the night on Sunday night so there wasn’t going to be any serious pre-dawn starts for us on Monday. We slept in Newhalem (the last place with phone service) and had a leisurely morning. Without a guide book we were pretty limited in route selections, I tried to do some topo hunting on my Iphone but didn’t get to far. I was able to get some beta for the Independence route, from Jen’s Holsten blog and thought that would be a good option for us the next day. By the time we got out of Newhalem it was close to 11:00 which didn’t leave much time for anything but cragging. We decided on low commitment cragging on the first few pitches of Liberty Crack Continue reading

Madaleine crushed the Westie Face of Leaning Tower!

After a few weeks of effort Madaleine Sorkin made an early female free ascent of the Westie Face (V 5.13a A0) on Leaning Tower. She persevered through bailing partners and un-settled weather to send the route on Thursday. Kate was nice enough to go up with her on the day of the send so Madaleine could lead every pitch.

I wasn’t able to go up for the day of the send but Madaleine was willing to go back up the next day to shoot some pics. We’ve been having some crazy weather here in Yosemite for the last few weeks which has produced some great light. We were hoping for some of that great light but got skunked up there. The sun wasn’t able to burn through the dark clouds but I still managed to get a few shots in.


2009.06.12 Madaleine Sorkin free climbing on The West Face of Leaning Tower – Images by Mikey Schaefer

Elderhostel Photograhy Course photos

I just got back from teaching another photography course for the Dixie State College Elderhostel program.  We had a good time and got some good shooting weather.  A few scattered thunderstorms produced some great light.   As always, it is amazing to get to travel through such amazing places and get paid to do it.  We started in Zion National Park, then head north to Bryce National Park, the onto the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  6 days in total were spent shooting and travelling.  Headed back to Yosemite now.

Here are a few photos from the course.


2009.05.26 Elderhostel – Images by Mikey Schaefer

As the days go by on Middle Cathedral Rock

Yesterday was day 7.

Selft portrait high up on Middle Cathedral Rock

Self portrait high up on Middle Cathedral Rock

Does that make my new route on Middle Cathedral a grade VI? The funny thing is the route in probably only half way done as far as total work days go. So maybe it will take 14 days, a grade VI+.  If I was smart I would of spent those 7 days  down on the valley floor pebble wrestling (read: bouldering).  Supposedly that is my weakness as told to me by a well know “Professional Climber.”  When I informed him that I had actually been spending more time sport climbing in the last year than I had in the last 15 years he half joked and half stated that I wouldn’t want to work on both of my weakness at the same time….

Dana Drummond contemplating stepping out of the aiders on ground up 5.12 terrain

Dana Drummond contemplating stepping out of the aiders on ground up 5.12 terrain

But what is a weakness?  I can name a few more than the two weaknesses in myself that “Mr. Professional” kindly pointed out.  I’m not a great writer, I hate doing the dishes, I really dislike not being in control, making the bed is like pulling teeth and I never wash the van.  But I’ve found ways to deal with those weakness, I take photo’s instead of write, I only have one bowl, and one plate so I don’t have many dishes to do.  I became a climbing guide so I was always in control and now I work for myself.  I rarely make the bed, Kate just does it for me.  And well washing the van,  I haven’t really figured that one out.  I am ok with how I deal with my weaknesses, I’ve come to terms with them.  The same way I have with bouldering and sport climbing.

Jeremey Collins hand drilling

Jeremey Collins hand drilling

Does it bother me that I don’t boulder double digits or climb 5.14 sport routes?  No, not at all.  If that is what I wanted that is what I would be doing.  Currently I am doing exactly what I what to be doing, and that is climbing.  Climbing for adventure, climbing to climb a huge rock wall, to hangout with the birds and bask in the excitement of going ground up on a 2,000 ft wall without another route in sight.   But “Mr. Professional” is probably right I should be down on the valley floor pebble wrestling another 15 foot piece of rock covered in people, chalk and beta spray….

Dana Drummond coming down after a long day of whack and dangling

Dana Drummond coming down after a long day of whack and dangling

Back in Yosemite! Wooo Hooo!

Kate topping out on After Six, Yosemite, CA

Kate topping out on After Six, Yosemite, CA

Kate and I are back in the grandest giant ditch of the them all, Yosemite Valley. The weather has been a little unsettled but we’ve been able to get out and about.

Leaning Tower, Yosemite, CA

Leaning Tower, Yosemite, CA

Climbing and Shooting in Zion National Park

Just got to spend a week in Zion doing a little climbing and a bunch of shooting.  Had a good time with good friends and good routes.  Here is a little selection from my time there.

The first galleries is of Brittany Griffith and Kate checking out the extremely burly Brian McCray route called the Silverback. It had a show stopping off-width move on it that looked really hard. I am glad I was behind the lens and not on the sharp end for that one.


2009.04.09 The Silverback, Zion National Park, UT

The girls also got on Sheer Lunacy, a route that branches off left of Moonlight Buttress. One of the best routes I’ve seen in Zion. Good pitches on good rock with good gear. They didn’t get the send on their first day but went back and got the proper redpoint shortly after. I even got to climb this one, my one token climb in Zion.


2009.04.10 Sheer Lunacy, Zion National Park, Utah

The California Route on Fitzroy.

Here’s another story Kate wrote for thecleanestline blog.

A few years ago, my infamous and extraordinary friend, Cedar Wright, told the world that Patagonia was “light” – as in weightless, fluffy, insubstantial, carefree. So I sit, rolling that word, like a little rock, around my mouth. He was referring to the Internet weather forecasting, the coffee, the beer, the pizza, the access to town, in contrast to the remoteness of the Karakorum or the era when Jim Donnini and Yvon Chouinard first came here. Yes, this place is light; it has paved roads and fancy hotels. But who is he to say that this makes the climbing in Patagonia light? And who am I, as a rock climber, to be writing about alpine climbing when I hardly know the difference between neve and alpine ice?

When Mikey Schaefer, Dana Drumond and I climbed the California Route on Fitz Roy, and we turned our backs on the fog-obscured, wind-blasted summit, I did not feel light.

So here is the question: When do you decide to go down? Is it after shivering for three days? Or because the cracks are full of ice? Because you don’t really have any food? Is it when you don’t know where to go, up or down, and you can’t see the summit 80 meters away, and the wind is blowing really hard? Or is it when you get turned back? But who, or what, is it that turns you back? And what would a real alpinist have done? And is it “light”?

Regardless of the answers to all those “light” questions, this adventure was right up there on the crazy scale, alongside my experience riding motorcycles the length of Vietnam just to climb in HaLong Bay…

Fitz Roy, February 5, 2009

Up on one elbow, I held a half-liter Nalgene and my rain jacket. I was trying to block the space between the sleeping bag and the ground, keep out the wind-driven snow and take my water rations all at the same time. I couldn’t even drink the water. Three of us in one sleeping bag, trying not to let the wind in … light or not light?

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Day one had a 3am start from our snow cave at Paso Superior. The glacier hadn’t even frozen all the way and clouds obscured the stars. We headed towards the California Route thinking “fun in the sun in Cali” sounded reasonable for these conditions, and it was too frosty to try anything else. La Brecha is the steep icy approach to many of the routes on Fitz Roy’s southern flank, and the six or so pitches went smooth. At the base, Dana Drummond led us over the bergshrund in a blazing pink haze. The sun came up just below the clouds and blasted us with a fiery fog before disappearing along its course into the castle of clouds. Dana led each ice pitch without any problem, the easy neve went fast and the couple of steep ice pitches were fun in the early morning. We were racing the clock as pitches melted and fell away behind us.

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Hard Sayin’ Not Knowin’ A new route on Ag. Guillaumet

Here’s a short story Kate wrote for the cleanestline blog about our new route on Ag. Guillaumet down in Patagonia, Argentina.

If you want to see more photos from the trip you can check out my gallery here.

Me feeling worked after the long day

Me feeling worked after a long day

Hard Sayin’ Not Knowin’ 5.10 A2 70° Ag. Guillaumet

Fitz Roy Range, Patagonia

Mikey Schaefer and Kate Rutherford   January 2009

Two mornings ago I dreamt my way across the glacier, trying not to face plant falling asleep walking.  At 4:30 in the morning we had sat on our packs, finally back at the base of Guillaumet after finishing a new route. We ate some cheese and salami, drank a bit of slushy water and decided we would name it ‘Hard Sayin’ Not Knowin’.

This was my second trip to climb in Patagonia’s Fitz Roy range, and it was the first time I had been on top of a peek. The 26 hours of decent weather we had just climbed through had looked suspicious. The wind had looked low, but so did the pressure. We were itching to climb, and so we started up thinking we would get hit by bad weather and just come down.  However, we never had reason to turn around and so a few hours after midnight we stood on the summit of Guillaumet, looking down the other side at the dark.

The snow had fallen strait down periodically through out the day, but as we rappelled, the wind kicked up, and the cloud we were in grew in to a thick fog. Eventually we dropped on to the lee side of the ridge, and aside from Mikey’s exhaustion, we easily raped the Amy Couloir to the glacier. It was my block, after Mikey had laboriously kicked a thousand steps up the icy final pitches.

Our day started at 3:30 in the morning well rested at Laguna de Los Tres, and after following 3 too many teams toward the Brenner Ridge route we fell out of step with the rest and figured we would just start up the East Face of Guillaumet. There was a short splitter off-width that Mikey started off on. It led up to fun cracks, a tunnel through a strange jumble of pillars, and up a 5.10 hands to tips crack.

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Lost in the clouds

I lead the middle third of the route. Without gloves, I traversed left into another corner on disturbing loose flakes. Each crimp and foot edge had old snow to whack off before trusting cold fingers to keep holding on. I gave up and put my gloves on, scrambling up a snowy ramp. Kicking steps in my Mythos.  When I realized I couldn’t put cams in icy cracks it made me think, humm, “I’m so not an Ice climber.” The rock gods heard my wining, a perfect hand crack veered right, and I loved every jam in my gloved hands. Ok, maybe I could be an alpinist……

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