Monthly Archives: February 2012









I am getting old. Every year, I recover more slowly from big days out. Injuries have started to accrue rather than heal. My climbing partner has an artificial hip. The day I’ll have to back off is on the horizon. But I can still climb Ovisight, so that day has not arrived yet.

The hills don’t care who you are, what you do, or how you feel. The Ovisight/ Legg creek drainage cares perhaps a bit less than other sections of the world’s terrain. The approach is always just as treacherous and choked with snow, no matter the conditions elsewhere in the valley. This year was no different.

We got a late start, so it was mid-morning before we stood at the top of the approach pitch, where the entire drainage funnels through a gap you can stretch your arms across.

We slid and wallowed our way up to the first pitch. The ice was easier than usual, more five-ish than six-ish.

The second pitch was, as usual, harder than it looks.

At the top of the pillar, the snow was deep and the hour was late, so we went back to climb the first pitch again rather than pushing on to the final column of ice above.

As we were wrapping up, two teams of younger guys arrived at the first pitch. They had started at noon. I was impressed until I checked the clock. They hadn’t moved any faster than us, it was just that late.

We made it back to the car as the sky faded from blue to black and the coyotes began to call to each other. We were whipped and I think if either of us were asked at that moment, we’d have said we wouldn’t go back to climb Ovisight again. But, being old, we would forget that moment and next time the first pitch peeked around the ridge at us, we’d head back up for another Alzheimer’s onsight.

As our little diesel cranked and caught we looked back at the climb one last time and we saw headlamps wink on high, high up the valley wall. I shivered. Age had its advantages after all.

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Spray and Beta : Climbing Social Media

In college freshman English, we had to read Beowulf. The assignment was onerous for most of my classmates, but one woman seemed to suffer above all. She sighed and rolled her eyes through every class discussion; I expected a convulsion at any moment.

And finally, it came. During a passage where the hero holds forth about what he’s going to do to Grendel’s mama, she burst out, “You know, that’s what I hate about Beowulf. He’s constantly bragging and showing off. In fact that’s all this whole story has been about. It is the shallowest thing I’ve ever read!”

I was dumbfounded. “No,” I offered,” it’s not bragging, it’s a kind of oath. He says all those things, in front of those people, there’s no way he can come back empty-handed.”

Beowulf’s soliloquy was Spray. Even back then, when I was a measly scrambler armed with a piolet, the climber inside me recognized it. Since the beginning, when climbers have encountered other climbers, they have sprayed about what they did and what they were going to do. From Cham, to Sheffield, to Camp 4, if you talked smack to those in the know, when you sobered up the next day, you had to fulfill your destiny.

My brother used to yell at the TV. He had all kinds of advice for the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive squad. He really did know something about football and often the coaches would actually do what he yelled at them. Nevermind he had never played football. And, he was 12 years old. But he didn’t seriously think he was advising the team. The tirade was just a means of vicarious participation. In climbing terms, it was Beta.

Spray and Beta are not such bad things in person. You can see the sprayer getting wound up to do something. The Beta, though it can be a little much, has an encouraging tone. However, Spray and Beta shifted to the internet, stripped of tone and context, come across like bragging and showing off, and the result is the shallowest thing you’ve ever read: climbing social media.

Of course, few things are all bad. The four main climbing sites, (Mountain Project,, Summitpost, and Supertopo), have some great photos, gear reviews and  trip reports. In other words, with some editing they’d make decent online magazines. The problem is, they don’t have a good editing process and they don’t want to just be magazines, they want to be guidebooks and chatrooms as well.

The community content guidebook is a guaranteed failure. A good guidebook gives the reader a sense of the area, provides inspiration and gives enough specific information to get a climber up the routes without sucking the adventure out of it. To effectively accomplish those tasks, the guidebook needs the unity of purpose a single author/editor provides. Otherwise, it ends up a pile of puke – you can sort out a few savory bits, but they are partially digested and tainted by the mix.

A chatroom might seem like the ideal internet venue for climber Spray, but think back to Beowulf for a moment. When he stood up to Spray, the audience could see his scars, his sword, and the crazy in his eyes, and he could see that they were not much different. Participants in an online forum are just lines of type with silly pictures next to them. The people behind the words may be anchored to their chairs, a wide load in their khakis, a coke and a sandwich their only comrades. In such circumstances, Spray inevitably devolves to wanking.

So, save yourself the trouble and buy a reputable guidebook if you want to go climb in a new area. And if you want to look online for information or inspiration, stick to regional sites like Gravsports or Montanaice.

 But for those who love bad movies, Twinkies and True Stories of the Highway Patrol and can’t help but lurk – I mean look (and I’ll confess to all of  that), here’s a quick rundown of your climbing social media choices:

Supertopo: Cali-centric with some (intentionally) amusing forum topics and good gear reviews. Typical user may have some difficulty urinating, may also be a member of Mountain Project. Mostly about rock climbing.






Summitpost: Cosmopolitan, with the best fund of information. Typical user is chronically constipated, may also be a member of  14er’ and eHarmony. Mostly about mountaineering.


 Some interesting and (unintentionally) amusing forum topics. Typical user sleeps in a bed that has a canopy or is shaped like a race car, may also be a member of Access Fund and Explorer Scouts. Mostly about what the name says, more sport than trad.





Mountain Project: Colorado-centric with great photos. Typical user owns a letter jacket and loves to give nuggies, may also be a member of Supertopo or Summitpost and a porn site. Mostly about trad climbing.

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Best of Cody – Mean Green

The moose which used to browse along the trail to Mean Green has long since gone, but the climb is still one of the best in the valley. With its neighbor High on Boulder, Mean Green is one of the handful of routes that occasional visitors to the Southfork aspire to climb. It is spectacular, with contiguous pitches at the start and finish, and it is long. You must have your system tuned up to get it done in daylight. So, though the vast majority of the climbing is WI 3, you ought to be solid at WI 4 if you expect to do the whole climb.

Mean Green from the Cabin Creek parking area

The climb follows the next drainage East (left, down stream) of  High on Boulder. From the end of the Southfork road at the Cabin Creek parking area, cross Cabin Creek and follow the trail left until it brings you to the gravel flats. Cross the river by whatever means necessary and keep walking pretty much straight toward the High on Boulder drainage until you intersect the Southfork trail. Turn left and walk until you see a sign that says “No Trespassing, No Hunting, Stay on Trail”. This is where you want to leave the trail. Don’t worry. The folks who posted are worried about people hunting, camping, cutting wood and generally tearing up the land and disrupting their cattle operation. In winter, if you are just passing through, you’ll be fine. Angle up toward the drainage and cross into the stream bed. Do this just before the drainage narrows, it should take just a single step down from the bank if you’re in the right spot. An easy hike gets you to the bottom of the first pitch.

First two pitches

About 50 meters of nice WI 3 leads to a belay at the base of the short 2nd pitch.

There were bolts and chains at a protected stance on the right, but I haven’t seen them for years. They are either gone or consistently buried now. Belay at ice anchors pretty much right in the line of fire. Send up the partner with the lightest touch to lead pitch# 2.

A short hike gets you to the short third pitch. Belay anchors can be a problem above the pillar.

Pitch #3

Look for ice anchors higher in the gully or use, uh, this…

Alpinism! Two slung chockstones and a 3" diameter pine tree

A bit more walking gets you to pitch 4. This is the kicker. It is much harder than any of the other climbing on the route, WI 4-5 depending on the year and the time of year.

By this time, you will have seen the upper slabs. They look like they’re just about 5 minutes up the way. This is due to something called ‘foreshortening’, a phenomenon where our optimistic little brains, lacking intermediate reference points, tell us that things are closer and steeper than they really are. It’s a solid 30 minute walk with some significant sections of ice bouldering. The slabs themselves are 75-80 meters of easy WI 3. Rappel and downclimb the route, the walk-off is a Bear Grylls sort of thing (gratuitous hardship undertaken due to foolishness or inadequate skill to avoid).

Upper slabs, top right

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