Monthly Archives: October 2011

Best of Cody – Broken Hearts

Pitch 5 of Broken Hearts


If you could just do one climb in the Southfork… What an awful question. Still, Broken Hearts is the answer, no matter who’s asking. It has the easiest approach of the big, multi-pitch climbs, it’s mostly protected from the wind, it has some spectacular pitches, and it has about the widest range of difficulty of any drainage in the Valley.

Third pitch of Broken Hearts




The key to the whole trip up this climb is the third pitch. It gets sun in the morning and the top will disappear in warm, consistently sunny weather. It is visible from the road, if you drive a couple hundred yards past the parking spot for the approach.

First pitch of Broken Hearts

The first four pitches are moderate WI 3-4 climbing.


5th pitch, mixed form of Carotid Artery on the left.


Pitch 5 is a WI 5 pillar, with the WI 6/M7 pitch Carotid Artery just to the left.

6th pitch as fat as it gets.







Pitch 6 is a WI 6 pillar that often looks easier than it is. Pitch 7 rarely forms, but when it does – well, the photo speaks for itself.

7th pitch!

A few notes to supplement the guidebook Winter Dance, by Joe Josephson. The rappel anchor for pitch 3 is a tree high on the wall of the gully to climber’s right. The rappel atop the second pitch is from an ice anchor, check its integrity on the way up and be prepared to set your own or do the alternative descent if it looks dicey. Break the rap. down the first 2 pitches into two 30m sections, pulling the rope can be a frustrating experience otherwise. The ‘walk off’ described in the guide is feasible, but not trivial. It crosses some steep slopes and the break onto the ridge can be difficult to identify. Glass it before you try it and know that unless you have tracks in the snow to follow, it is the longer, more physically demanding alternative to descending the drainage.

3rd pitch rap.

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Big Horn Mtn.s, Far Reaching Return

East side of Big Horn Peak

On the East  side of Big Horn Peak, a pair of cirques hold some of the best granite mixed climbing around. It is hard to access; think Teton winter climbing. When the Circle Park road is gated, it’s a 7 mile trip one way through windfall, boulders and continental snowpack. But it’s worth it and this route is one reason.

Approaching the first pitch

A large rib divides the two cirques. Near the junction of the rib and the massif, a deep notch divides the rib. The route Far Reaching Return follows the South side of this gash. It is ‘in’ sometimes in late Fall, but reliably April through May. With lots of snow, it checks in at about M4. In a dry year or late season, it gets really good, M5+. The ice climbing is consistent at WI4+.

Off the deck, you get two pitches of mixed – real mixed, with one foot on the ice, one on the rock.

Atop the first pitch










The easy snow slope

 A section of easy snow climbing follows, with a tricky mixed step at the end.








Topping out on the ice.

 Next is a beautiful column of ice in a corner. This can be thin at the bottom, but if so, several finger to hand sized cracks are exposed and offer excellent protection. Above the ice, a pitch of easy mixed leads to a long snow slope.






Long snow slope in the middle.

The slope is broken by a short, slabby rock band about 3/4 of the way up. Above the rock band, the snow gets steeper, eventually becoming more moderately difficult mixed ground up to the notch.







Some of the easier mixed climbing in the upper section

 From the notch, and there’s no mistaking it, a traverse to climber’s right leads to 4th and easy 5th class climbing up to the top of the rib. To escape the rib, walk down about half way, looking for a steep snow field on the North side of the rib. Downclimb the snowfield, with one possible rappel. Then it’s just a wallow back around the toe of the rib to where you started.

View down from the notch



Nobody likes a smart-ass. A second order smart-ass even less. Yet  Appeal to Authority has to be the most common bogus argument floating about the cultural ether. I don’t have any solid numbers to back that up, but I read a lot, watch TV, and have a post-graduate degree.

If we are to continue using this argument, we should at least make an effort to better our odds of accidental correctness. When referring to an authority, please employ this reliability ranking, in order of  decreasing likelihood of making an accurate statement.

  1. Child under 3 years old
  2. Child between 3 and 6 years old
  3. Teacher of children 3-6 years old
  4. Game warden
  5. Nurse
  6. Journalist (print)
  7.  Journalist (visual media)
  8. PHD candidate
  9. University Professor
  10. PHD
  11. MD
  12. MD PHD
  13. Legal scholar
  14. High school kid
  15. TV talk show host
  16. FM radio pundit
  17. AM radio pundit
  18. Marketing consultant
  19. Politician
  20. Think tank Fellow
  21. Dennis Miller – the eternally flaccid penis of pseudo intellectualism

I will vouch for the validity of this ranking.


When I was a kid, our family doctor kept my medical record in a card file. He kept everyone’s medical records in a card file, each visit documented on one side of a 3×5 index card. The format gave him about two dozen words to put down the reason for the visit, a few salient physical findings, his conclusions and prescribed treatments. For easy, clear-cut problems, it was plenty of information. For the tough stuff, it was woefully inadequate, and he had to recapitulate the entire history and decision making process with every return visit for those complicated problems.

So, the next generation of doctors moved to dictated medical records. This new tool captured better the details of a patient’s past history and the doctor’s thought process . No return visits needed to be from scratch, the doc. just jumped back into the stream of consciousness where he, or the last treating physician, left off. The problem with the thought-to-paper system only became apparent when our society started to spend ridiculous sums for medical care.

The current pricing and payment system is a modified command system. It’s not optimal for a few elective procedures, like LASIK surgery. But given the practical impossibility of  determining individual value for medical care in all other cases, it is about the best we can do. Payments go with terms, defined processes (whether the type of stitch used or the number of steps in a decision), and sometimes even specific words. To get paid, doctors have to extract the valued information from the stream of consciousness. Or rather, the doctors  need teams of technicians to do the extracting. To compensate, doctors are switching from thought-to-paper to paper-to-thought records, otherwise known as templates.

Templates are forms tailored to individual diagnoses or complaints. Each form has billable terms to check off and short narrative sections for processes that produce a charge. As account sheets, they are wonderful. As a means of communication, they are abysmal. At worst, they are checklists gone bad, outlines for linear thinking. Some doctors even propose using data extracted from digital templates for research and quality control in their practices. Except in very limited circumstances, such endeavours will yield more information about the cognitive/behavioral effects of template usage than anything else.

Still, if doctors can learn to adapt their methods to the use of templates, the forms may help after all. The dictated record has dangers of it own. Because it looks so comprehensive, it encourages passivity. It also codifies miscommunication; it is the doctor’s interpretation of the patient’s words, often set down as from an omniscient narrator(“the patient recalls some chest pain, but was experiencing a number of severe stressors at the time”). A template can convey the reason for a visit, a few physical findings, conclusions and treatments – about two dozen useful words. Templates need intermittent narrative summaries as background, but if doctors can remember to use them like 3×5 cards and are granted the time to do so, we may just be off to a good, fresh start.


Devils Tower This Time

El Matador, Scott Leroux following, shoes one size too big!

It was a good year at the Tower. I spent more time there the last couple of years, than I had in the past. It isn’t good technical training for Alpine climbing; the gear is too plentiful and you generally don’t have to be too clever to place it. However, the Tower is a good place to test your resolve and endurance, both mental and physical. You can’t fake your way through things at the Tower.

Rich on pitch 2 of Carol's Crack

There are no clever traverses or ‘new moves’ around difficulties. Only rarely can you suck it up and climb through a crux to a good rest. Only rarely does a climb prove to be a one move wonder, an isolated crux with easy climbing on the rest of the route. It’s a good place to go with someone like my friend Mike. He’s one of those people who’s surrounded by a motivational field. Standing next to him at the base of Mr. Clean, 160 ft. of finger locks doesn’t just sound reasonable, it starts to sound like a hell of  a good time.

Mike stopping for photos of ptich 2 of Tulgey Wood before Rapping back down Way Layed

Mike McNeil on a warm day in the Clark's Fork


The Weird Season

   It snowed today. Tomorrow it will be 60 degrees. It’s hard to know what to do. Birds are leaving, hares are changing color, beetles and wasps are swarming. The whole world is just sort of milling about. The Needles highway is closed, but climbing at Devils Tower is still possible. It feels like getting some last licks in rather than progress, though. I suppose sport climbing or bouldering are options. Not consistent options, just things to bide time until winter. To harmonize oneself with nature’s state in this season only one activity suffices: climbing rock with ice tools.









It’s pointless and a little dangerous, but it feels right about now and besides, it makes waterfall climbing look downright reasonable.

Critical Thinking

 Climbs with a hard start are the best. Any commitment issues get resolved right away. Nantucket Sleighride is like that. Once you make those first few moves, your teeth are locked and the rest be damned. Fortunately, the fall protection is good in the first half of the route, where you face difficult climbing. That’s because you rely on a crack to place the protection yourself, so all the decisions are yours and you can let them evolve. After you leave the crack at the mid-point, you rely on bolts. Then you have to guess about the climbing between the bolts. Is it within your capabilities, and if so, how far within? You have to guess at the consequences of a fall. How far would it be? Might you bounce on the way down? You have to guess about the bolts. Do they look like they were placed by a Prussian officer or the guy down the road with the junked cars in his yard? Most of all, are you running on fear, ambition or reason? On Nantucket Sleighride, it all comes to a head at the last bolt. From there, you have 30 feet of climbing to finish, so a 60 foot fall if you blow it right at the end. The fall would be ugly, too. Twelve feet above the bolt, two harder moves guard the way, then the climbing eases. A right hand where the left hand should be could end badly right there. But the fall would be unpleasant rather than a catastrophe. After those two moves you get no reprieve psychologically, it is all physical, technical relief. The trick is to see the truth: the first twelve feet and the remaining eighteen feet are two separate things rather than one, as your inner child insists. Launching from that bolt is a real exercise in critical thinking.

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We made a mistake

In 1987, Jared Diamond published a paper in Discover magazine lamenting our species-wide career move about 10,000 years ago from hunting and gathering to farming. He called it, The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. That’s a little over the top, there are so many biggies to choose from. But he makes a good case. The argument is sound. The conclusions are not. He claims the change stuck because of the power structure it enabled. True, but that couldn’t initiate the change; it was a consequence. We shifted toward a settled life because we are social animals and because we loathe uncertainty, the one real catch of a nomadic lifestyle. We will trade anything – our health, our independence – for companionship and knowledge of our fate, even if  knowing dooms us. The price wasn’t just poor health and subjugation either. We were cut up sure as Ymir was. Compartmentalization allows the rest, and it is the one thing we’ve been trying to take back ever since we made the bargain and ate that domesticated apple.


As easy to attain here

                                                               as it is to lose here