I moved to Mammoth Lakes, CA in 2000 right after finishing a degree in Nature & Culture with a GIS emphasis from UC Davis. As a kid growing up in Southern California, I spent a lot of time in Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra skiing and wandering around in the hills. Through my college years, we climbed our hearts out on Sierra alpine granite and sport routes in Owens Gorge. The goal: to run a GIS & technology consulting business out of some cheap housing and ski and climb my ass off. Sixteen years later, I am happy to say that I have been successful at achieving that goal, but the list of things that I want to accomplish has only gotten longer.
Nate Greenberg and Lorenzo Worster look at the snowpack.
As a new skier to the range, I was looking for mentorship and dismayed at the general lack of quality information that existed for this amazing mountain range. That is not to say that there were not resources, but in general, high quality avalanche forecasting and details on the lifetime of skiing opportunities throughout the Eastern Sierra was limited.
After several years of skiing and immersing myself in the community, I, along with a close friend, built a rudimentary online platform that was focused on sharing conditions information and trip reports to our growing community of backcountry skiers and riders. The appetite for what we were doing was surprisingly large, and we got a lot of encouragement to grow it. This ultimately led to the establishment of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center in 2006 which I helped form with a handful of committed local guides, snow professionals, and business folk. Now in its 11th year of operation, ESAC is growing and committed as ever to providing high quality information to help backcountry skiers and riders make good decisions in the Eastern Sierra.
In 2008, I set out to create a comprehensive and modern guidebook for California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada. After several years of skiing in the range, I was awestruck by the quality of skiing, and overall ease of getting into ‘real’ mountains – quickly. I, together with Dan Mingori, gathered combined years of first-hand experience to write Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra. In 2013, after five years of successful sales, we released the 2nd Edition with two goals:
Increase the terrain covered in the book
Implement a classification and iconography system to help users quickly look at terrain and make Go/No-Go decisions
My interest in writing a ski guide was more than just publishing popular descents and promoting this region. Rather, I was, and still am keenly interested in helping people make better decisions and terrain choices in the backcountry. I hoped that by providing the community with a variety of descents, classified by relevant characteristics, it would afford people options that they may have previously overlooked. While the 2nd Edition made inroads in this area, I had always wanted to do something more.
With my background in Geographic Information Systems, today I serve as Director of Information Technology for Mono County & Town of Mammoth Lakes, CA. Through my daily work, I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of information and technology, particularly as it relates to open data and geography, and how we consume information and use it to make (hopefully) good decisions and improve the world around us. I have also always had a keen interest in the intersection between sports and technology, and especially considered how important technology and information were in pursuits such as backcountry skiing where timely decisions are critical and immediately relate to safety and quality.
The thing that has long baffled me, however, was how generally lacking the winter sports industry was with respect to technology. Surely there had to be a lot of other geeks out there like me who loved to ski – so where were all the apps? Today, even when there are more mobile devices in the world than personal computers, the avalanche industry is still struggling to figure out what it needs, where it should be headed, and how best to deliver that to users While there is an ever-growing landscape of digital tools pointed at improving information dissemination and decision making, for the most part we struggle to figure out the best (and unified) path forward. This is not to say that there aren’t promising approaches out there – MountainHub for real-time data sharing and trip planning, AvyLab for data collection, and a litany of industry-driven mobile-friendly utilities to help us access avalanche center data.
About a year ago I was introduced to the small, Seattle-based app start-up, Rakkup. With a passion for climbing, the two partners at Rakkup set out a few years ago to transform the guidebook industry, and send it kicking and screaming into the digital world. Over the past 12 months, we have set out to rebuild their digital guidebook platform to accommodate winter backcountry content. The result of that effort launched on December 1st, 2016 with Rakkup v20 for iOS and two guidebook titles – Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra, and Teton Pass Descents. As of this writing, we are getting ready to release a third title: Backcountry Skiing: Crested Butte, Colorado by Andy Sovick.
The catalyst for this project and moment defining my path forward came to me while visiting my wife in Boulder, CO last year. Being a Sierra skier, I am naturally terrified of skiing in the Rockies, while simultaneously being drawn to the impressive steep terrain of places like Rocky Mountain National Park. As a trained and responsible backcountry skier, the natural thing to do was to pick up Mark Kelly’s guidebook and thumb through it, highlighting the obvious descents and making a short list for the weekend. The real challenge, however, came when I tried to apply the information coming out of the CAIC to the actual terrain that I wanted to go ski, and seeing if those nasty persistent weak layers lined up with my list.
Nate Greenberg navigating tricky terrain in the Notch Couloir on Split Mountain. Photo: Jim Barnes.
It turns out this is a challenging pursuit, even with all the resources and technology we have access to. Despite pins dropped on interactive maps showing recent observations, and some of the best avalanche forecasting in the US, relating information coming from avalanche professionals to the real-world terrain that we want to ski is a real chore. Especially as an outsider. Sure, the forecast says “avoid north facing terrain above 10,000,” but who in today’s world ventures out randomly to seek out non-north facing terrain below 10k? We want a list of objectives (with directions and definitions) of where we can, and should go. Furthermore, I wanted to know more about the descent that was being referred to in observations posted by Center staff or the general public. How steep were the Dream Shots? Was it a beginner or advanced ski? What kind of exposure was there? Oh, and how similar or different was it to the five other things I was looking at in the book?
All of these things drove my objectives and design philosophy for the initial product launch of Rakkup v20:
Establish a platform – that clearly displays content and provides users with interactivity – on which multiple guidebook titles could be authored
Leverage a business model that encourages and monetizes authoritative content development with easy to use authoring tools
Provide a set of search, sort, and filtering tools to help users quickly ‘Red Light’ terrain based on avalanche forecasts, and target terrain based on where the best skiing could be found
Work offline, on USGS topo maps and aerial imagery with approach/descent lines overlaid alongside your current GPS location
Display multiple photos with route lines, written descriptions, and other information that helps users find their way
Begin a conversation around developing standards for how we classify and categorize backcountry terrain features relative to difficulty and hazard
We hope, and honestly believe, this app will change the way terrain selection is taught, while simultaneously empowering users with the ability to quickly and easily apply everyday conditions to make solid terrain choices. We would also love to hear your feedback on how to make the product better and what kinds of things you would like to see added in the future. Feel free to contact me with any questions or thoughts at any time.
Spend even a short amount of time here, and you’ll quickly learn that Crested Butte, Colorado is the quintessential ski town. In my early twenties, I was a typical backcountry ski bum. I was looking for the perfect place for backcountry skiing. My guidelines: Lots of snow (preferably fluffy!), accessable terrain from by back door, safe routes and serious mountaineering objectives. I also required a ski culture, so that my employers would honor the “pow day” code. Backcountry skiing in Crested Butte meets each one of those qualities in spades! My girlfriend (now wife) and I were just a few of the countless powder seeking pilgrims who have come to this valley searching for the goods.
Author Andy Sovick way up the Slate River
In the winter, Crested Butte is literally at the end of the road, snuggled into the south end of the mighty Elk Mountains. Looking down on Crested Butte from an eagle’s view, the backcountry ski terrain spreads out like a fan. Coal Creek, Slate River, East River, Washington Gulch, Brush Creek, and Cement Creek. All of these drainages meet in the upper valley, and all of these drainages hold phenomenal backcountry ski terrain. The ski terrain varies over the entire spectrum. Steep and rocky fourteeners and thirteeners provide legitamate ski-mountaineering objectives, tight couloirs, big faces and ultimate adventure. The Anthracite Range, Schuylkill, Coney’s, and Snodgrass provide low angle glade skiing, classic steeper backcountry lines. The Majestic Mount Emmons watches over the town and is a 360 degree host of every type of terrain a backcountry skier can ever want.
Andy Sovick ripping around the Schuykill zone.
In the winter, unique orographic snowfall can put the western edge of the Crested Butte Zone at the top of the charts for the most snowfall in Colorado; famous cold temperatures can make newly fallen snow billow from your boots like fairy dust. In the spring, when the snowpack is deepest and generally gains stability, long gentle slopes and big skimo lines take form as small spring storms linger and refresh.
Lurking in the shadows of this backcountry paradise is Colorado’s infamous “continental” snowpack. Persistent slabs, buried surface hoar, rotten ground layers and extreme wind events only scratch the surface of the avalanche problems that plague Colorado’s snowpack. Crested Butte is no exception. As an avid student of avalanche snow science, I’m always amazed by the amount of variables that come along with avalanche forecasting. Conditions change, literally, every minute of every day. Forecasters and beginners alike are charged with doing their best to keep up on the information as it comes in, while remembering the past conditions, while predicting future conditions!
Matt shredding some quality Colorado fluff.
What is one part of the avalanche recipe that never changes? Terrain. Terrain is the only constant. One of the single greatest influences I ever had in my skiing carrer came from an instructor of a class I took when I was a teenager. The class was titled “Terrain and Route Finding in Avalanche Country”. From this class, the idea was born to create a terrain based photographic atlas of all backcountry runs. I believe that just as a kayaker scouts his run and commits it to memory, a backcountry sker should too. With Backcountry Skiing Crested Butte and Rakkup’s powerful planning tools, you can read your run the night, week, or month before. You can refer to it as you travel through the field assess your conditions and adjust your plan.
Buy Denny Cove here and save money versus purchasing from within our app via Apple or Google. It’s exactly the same guidebook, but offered at a lower price on rakkup.com.
John Dorough on the classic, Magic Meat , 12a
Denny Cove — a new crag to the Chattanooga area offering 154 (and counting) sport and trad routes. The rakkup Denny Cove guide is currently the exclusive guide to this brand new area. Chatt Steel edition II (due out 2017) will debut Denny Cove in print, along with several other new areas to the Chattanooga region.
Denny Cove is located down the street from Foster Falls and up the mountain from Castle Rock — putting it squarely in one of the most popular areas to rock climb in the South Cumberland region. Jason Reynolds (park ranger at the nearby Foster Falls) established the first routes at the cliff in 2011 and would later tell Steven Farmer and Cody Averbeck about the area. These two walked the cliff and were blown away by the variety of the different walls. Dubbing it a ‘Sandstone Buffet,’ the two recruited a core group of developers including John Dorough, Dave Wilson, Edward Yates, and Anthony Meeks. Over the next several years, the group would spend most weekends at the cliff knocking choss off of the buffet wall and making fun of each other.
Like Foster Falls, Denny Cove has a wall for everybody. Be it slabs, faces, to bunkers, Denny has it. Of special interest is the Buffet Wall which can really only be compared to the Lizard Wall in Little River Canyon, AL. Like Lizard Wall, the buffet wall is one of the driest walls in the region during wet weather. More importantly, the wall has a one of a kind climbing personality that blends limestone side pulling down low with classic pumpy Sandstone edges up high. This wall has nearly 50 5.12s with routes up to 100′ long — and is not to be missed!
In all, Denny Cove is a huge and highly valued addition to the Chattanooga climbing portfolio. It also represents a watershed acquisition project spearheaded by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund. 10% of sales from this guidebook on rakkup will go the SCC to help preserve climbing access at Denny Cove.
Buy Parque La Huasteca here and save money versus purchasing from within our app via Apple or Google. It’s exactly the same guidebook, but offered at a lower price on rakkup.com.
Gaz Leah on Prudence Clasico 5.13c , Virgincita Cave.
Hidden within the majestic valleys of the Sierra Madre Oriental, just outside the sprawling city of Monterrey, lies the wonderland that is Parque La Huasteca.
Gaz Leah on the first ascent of The Life You Can Save, 5.12+, Pico Independencia.
Gigantic spines of limestone cut the jagged landscape like knifes to the heavens and cascading canyons bestow hypnotizing vistas that reach as far as the eye can see. For decades, the park remained elusive to the outside world, an almost mythical place that few ventured into but the enigmatic Huichol people, whose annual pilgrimage to the pay tribute to Abuelo Fuego (Grandfather Fire) has been a tradition for millennia.
In recent years, the park has witnessed an awakening. The tales of it’s beauty have travelled far and wide, carried by images of it’s breathtaking scenery and signature views of Pico Independencia. Combined with it’s incredible selection of climbing routes ranging in grades from 5.7 to 5.14+, and boulders from V0 – V11, the park continues to attract visitors from across the globe and as far as the U.K., Germany and Sweden.
Clayton Reagan, Atodo Madre, 5.14a, La Bestia Cave.
Possessing a plethora of activities including sport climbing, bouldering, big walling, running, mountaineering, hiking, cycling, highlining, base jumping and camping, there is something to quiche the thirst of even the most ambitious adventurer!
Pargue La Huasteca Entrance.
Parque La Huasteca by Gareth “Gaz” Leah was last modified: January 16th, 2017 by todd
Buy Ouray Ice here and save money versus purchasing from within our app via Apple or Google. It’s exactly the same guidebook, but offered at a lower price on rakkup.com.
Ines Papert at the Ouray Ice Park.
Rock and Ice Magazine once came out with a statistic that Ouray had more climbers per capita than any other US city. I’m guessing they came up with that number during ice climbing season. I think it’s also safe to assume Ouray also has more ice climbs per capita of any US city.
Angelika Rainer on Careless Whisper, M11, The Remedy Crag.
Most people enter Ouray from the north. The experience of weaving through the desert like sandstone canyons south of Montrose and popping out in Ridgeway at the foot of the San Juans makes your heart skip a beat. Lofty snow covered peaks striated with cliff bands rise uninterrupted for seven thousand feet from the valley floor. Interesting enough, a glacial carved u-shaped canyon, lined with red rock, forms a sort of red carpet to welcome the visiting climber. It’s not long before you spot ice high on the hillsides and soon it’s forming alongside the road as well. Rubber necking at the cliffs as you wind your way around the corners it’s all you can do to keep the vehicle out of the river. Then, the mountainsides curve away and an idyllic alpine town with hot springs lays before you. Welcome to Ouray! If you arrived from the south, than likely you’ve been white-knuckling the steep exposed corners and wondering why the hell are there no guardrails. Yes, that canyon is full of cars that didn’t manage to make that turn. Your first stop will likely be at the brewery and you’ll be more than ready for a drink.
Jack Jefferies on Goldine, M10, The Posers Lounge.
Being in the southern latitudes for an ice climbing destination, Ouray benefits from short but often sunny winter days that help to build and refresh the ice via melt/freeze cycles. That, and ice farmers are hired to keep the ice big and fat in the Ouray Ice Park usually from mid-December till the end of March. The coldest of cold days have highs around ten degrees Fahrenheit, but often temps are in the 20s and 30s making for pretty comfortable climbing conditions.
Grant Kleeves on Fissure Out, M10, The Remedy Crag.
Ouray is located in southwest Colorado, where we boast 300 days of sunshine, coffee shops, several nearby hot springs, legal weed, and enough microbrews you could probably try a new one every day. When the cold icy terrain no longer seems your thing, Moab and desert rock climbing are only a couple hours away. Oh, and then there’s the access. Yeah, I know the Canadian Rockies are sooo big and there’s sooo much ice, but waking up at 4 am and driving several hours day after day to climb sure does get tiresome. In Ouray, drive times feel long if you go all the way to Silverton or all the way Telluride, at about 1:15 minutes. Otherwise, a car isn’t even needed for many of the climbs. Once you get the area a little dialed, you might work from the Chocolate shop for a few hours, then many step out and rope-solo 10 pitches in the ice park which might only take about 2 hours and feel pretty content with your day.
Kitty Calhoun at the Ouray Ice Park.
As of initial release, this guide has over 300 climbs, and more on the way. In the future, I’ll likely add Telluride and Silverton and more obscure local routes as well. In the meantime, the areas along highway 550 including around town, and Red Mountain Pass are covered. Of course, the Ouray Ice Park is covered and has some new climbs not previously covered in older guides. The scenic Camp Bird road or Canyon Creek Canyon (I never realized how redundant that sounded), is of course covered including Skylight, classics like the Ribbon and Bird Brain Boulevard, and the newer Hall of Justice. For those with overbuilt upper bodies and skinny little legs, you might enjoy the new Remedy dry-tooling crag that’s right in town. Viva Ouray!
Over here at rakkup “World Headquarters”, our homes in Seattle, we are climbers and we love climbing. But like many climbers, we live near the mountains and love playing in them in a variety of ways, and we have winters to get through. And in the Pacific Northwest, we have plenty of precipitation which turns into an amazing amount of snow at elevation.
Early Days – transitioning on a Voilé split, 2005
So, it’s only natural that Rob and Todd love to get out on the snow. While we both have skiing in our history, we’ve become pretty hooked on snowboarding. We can even claim to be pretty early splitboarders; here you can see a picture of Rob starting a transition in the Herman Saddle zone near Mount Baker in the winter of 2004-2005. What we can’t claim to be is snow experts. In December of 2005, we managed to demonstrate our lack of expertise by spending an unplanned overnight near Stevens Pass. (That epic led to our first purchase of a GPS, which eventually became the very unit we used to make the first rakkup rock climbing guidebook!)
We have had friends tell us for years that our app would be a great fit for backcountry snow. In the last year, two pieces came together to make that idea irresistible to us. The first is that our awesome partner, Wolverine Publishing, told us about the success and the quality of their guidebook Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra. The book’s author, Nate Greenberg, was interested in the potential of his content combined with an app, too.
Meanwhile, Rob had taken a couple of snowboarding trips to different zones in Alaska, with Jamie Weeks as his guide. As Rob and Jamie became friends, Jamie wondered aloud about what a great guidebook app would look like for the ski terrain near his home in Jackson Hole, and expressed some enthusiasm for the project.
Jamie Weeks doing the guide thing in AK
Nate is the director of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, and Jamie is an AMGA certified snow guide and avalanche educator, well known for his work as Teton Splitboarder. What Rob and Todd lacked in experience and technical expertise, they now had in their partners. All four shared a passion for the project.
Together we bring you the newest update to rakkup, and our first two guidebooks for backcountry skiers and snowboarders: Teton Pass Descents and Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra, a digital enhancement to the existing print title from Wolverine Publishing.
Lots of work went into developing guidebooks that are clear and easy to read, with symbology and maps that let you browse and choose quickly. We added topo maps with contour lines, a necessity in ski terrain. We are especially proud of our filtering feature that lets you apply criteria from your local avalanche center to eliminate runs in higher-risk terrain based on slope angle, aspect, and elevation and choose from the runs that remain.
Best of all: Search for terrain, or Filter based on critical information factors (like those presented in an avalanche advisory).
We’ve already been told that this app is the most compelling and exciting backcountry ski app yet. Yet we know that this is just a beginning. For one, we have many more guidebooks already in the works, from respected and talented authors all over. (We are always looking for more! Let us know if you want to write a guidebook.) Secondly, we have plans we think you will love, from sharing your adventures with friends, to visualizing the latest reports and information to keep safe. We’ll be adding features to make this app a tool you won’t want to head into the backcountry without!
So, get out there and shred your own patch of pow! Give one of our guidebooks a spin and tell us what you think.
-Rob, Todd, Nate, and Jamie
Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding — a new adventure for rakkup was last modified: December 14th, 2016 by rob
When people think of Arabia, they tend to think of big sand dunes with Lawrence of Arabia standing in a pose with his hand on his hip and maybe a falcon on his shoulder for good effect. They don’t think of the mountainous country that is Oman. Peaks as high as 3000m and shear faces of up to 1000m, which should appeal to climbers everywhere. While it is literally covered in rock, due to the tectonic plates being pushed up from the Indian ocean, it is difficult to find good rock or at least the kind that appeals to sport climbers. Oman is, in fact, an incredibly beautiful country that makes for a great escape for those climbers stuck in European or North American winter weather. Pretty much guaranteed sunny weather all year round with ample amounts of climbing and other activities, it’s hard to think of why one wouldn’t consider coming to Oman.
Historically speaking, climbing in Oman is relatively new. The first mention of climbing in Oman was when Frenchman Raymond Renaud climbed the aptly named French pillar in 1979 with siege tactics to tackle Jebal Misht (1100m). Rumor has it that the Sultan had a helicopter pick the team up from the top and whisk them off to a celebration to commemorate their ascent. While this seems unlikely, it wouldn’t be the first time something outlandish happened in the gulf. Renaud and other French guides have been coming to Oman ever since and indeed have been behind much of the early development. There were also a number of British developers as well. Jeff Horby for one, who developed many adventurous routes up Jebal Misht and elsewhere.
In more recent news, Oman has had several famous climbers come and climb and get media coverage. People may remember Alex Honnold’s visit to the coast doing some DWS documented in this post by Mark Synott Impossible Rock. Along with Jimmy Chin, Hazel Findlay and Mark Synnott, they made a short film about their climbs in Musandum, Oman.
Interestingly many of these routes had already been climbed by a group of British climbers (Tim Emmett, Neil Gresham, Mikey Robertson and Seb Grieve) and local strong men Read Macadam and Toby Foord-Kelcey.
A short time after that, Chris Sharma and Stefan Glowacz came to Oman to climb out of a cave, literally! They called the route, what else but “Into the Light”. This was the same name that Read Macadam and Jacob Oberhauser called the route they climbed out of at a nearby cave a month earlier. As unoriginal as these names seem Red bull had an issue with two routes being called the same name. As Red Bull paid so much money and spent so much time organizing the trip and expedition, Read and Jacob graciously renamed their route “Out of the Dark” (Has to make you smile, right?). Both climbs were filmed and are available online:
Speaking of films, it’s also worth checking out Read’s film Valley of Giants which gives a great snap shot of climbing and traveling in Oman
However, as far as sport climbing in the Muscat goes, it wasn’t until Patrick Cabiro and Nathalie Hanriot were commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism that Oman started to see its first modern sport routes (2008). In fact, they were the driving force in the development of Wadi Daykiah and “La Gorgette”. They were also the first to bolt in Hadash. More importantly, they gave the impedes to local residents to start developing their own routes close to Muscat.
Hamza Zidoum on Abracadabra 6c (5.11a) Wadi Daykia Photo credit: Natasa Silec
Enter Kim Vaughn and Bill Huguelet, two local residents keen to develop routes close to home, who developed several routes in Kubra Canyon. They spent a lot of their own time and money developing these routes. We have a lot of thanks to give to Bill and Kim as Kubra is still one of the best afternoon crags. It’s also a great place to start your climbing trip in Oman with lots of moderates and a great bolted multi-pitch. Bill and Kim first called Kubra “Secret Canyon” as they kept the development a secret from the now bustling climbing group. One weekend they surprised the group with a new crag! A nice surprise to a have an additional 40 some odd routes added to your climbing inventory.
Natasa Silec on The Bulge 6c (5.11a) Kubra Canyon Photo credit: Miguel Willis
So in a few short years, Oman went from about 5 sport routes to about 80. The only problem was that most of these routes were in the French grade 6 range (5.10). Very few 7’s (5.12) and no 8’s (5.13) had been developed. Not to mention one of the more picturesque crags (Hadash) was generally over looked. Here comes the Canadian influence, Read Macadam and Larry Michienzi. In a few short years Larry and Read started to develop Hadash to its fullest and easily doubled both the number of routes and a number of harder climbs in Oman. While Kubra and Daykia are home to some great moderates, Hadash is home to some of the hardest routes in Arabia and as the altitude of Hadash is 1500m it is a great place to climb from October to April.
Photo Credit: Natasa Silec
So while Kubra has some great moderates and Hadash has some great harder climbs Daykia is still home to the easiest approach (if you have a 4X4☺ ). You can literally belay out of your car if you want. It also has some fantastic 6c’s (5.11a/b)! and some nice moderates as well. Check out the slightly run out Turbo barbeque (6c/5.11a) and Agath Exit (6c+/5.11b/c) if that’s your jam. Insiders beta: head to Daykia early as it goes in the sun by mid-afternoon and even in the winter it can be quite warm.
Hamza Zidoum Gets beta from Local Photo Credit Natasa Silec
Two paper guides have been written about climbing in Oman. The Macdonald Guide (out of print) and a more recent guide also called ‘Climbing in Oman’ by long time Austrian climbing guide Jakob Oberhauser. While Jakob’s guide is very thorough it does lack the availability that an electronic guide can offer and also, while it has many details of the sport climbing in the area, it lacks some of the most up-to-date sport routes and topos. Of course, if it is multi-pitch climbing you are after, this is the guide for you. However, for those that want to do a little sport climbing in the Muscat area, this app is a very good supplement.
Bone Mountain VT: A Hike with Rakkup | NY Ski Blog
The New York Ski Blog author “ml242” writes:
…As I continued on the steep switchbacks of a work road, I ran into some No Trespassing signs. It was at that moment I remembered that I had a guidebook in the Rakkup app on my iPhone. Embracing the new technology, I put the first edition print back in my pack and clicked through the trail guide. The GPS showed I was slightly off course, so I wandered back and hit the go button to navigate to the top with some turn-by-turn.
NY SKi Blog: Bone Mountain VT: A Hike with rakkup was last modified: December 14th, 2016 by todd
Looking upstream from the top of ‘Shattered Illusions’, at the height of summer; the route’s anchors sit near the top of the Long Branch Buttress, rewarding climbers with one of the most amazing views in the canyon
Climbers are a quixotic breed. We are known to leave behind good jobs, family and loved ones to cross the country, camping in our cars or sketchy rest areas, pounding down twisting wash boarded backroads, living on fast food and cheap beer, bush whacking and hiking for miles, thrashing through thorns and stumbling across talus, to find great crags in unique settings.
Truly great climbs and climbing areas both challenge and inspire; they motivate us to push the edge, to ‘rage against the dying of the light’, and they return us to that quiet place inside, where wonder still lives.
These are the crags from which we return tired but renewed, exhausted and at the same time, restored.
The east end of the Sunshine Wall on a fall day, as seen from the approach trail; these conditions can persist into the middle of winter. Photo by Mike Gray.
Some of these destinations require great expense, deprivation, epic approaches, and hardship of every kind for the lucky and determined few who scale their walls. Others are tucked away, just around the corner, minutes from the main road, less than a morning’s drive from major cities, but somehow still lost to the masses; secret gardens to test strength, endurance, and mental control, in which we can, when day is done, find replenishment for mind, body and soul.
The crags that sit on either side of Long Branch, two miles downstream from Shreve’s little store in the heart of Smoke Hole Canyon, are the perfect setting for this dualistic pursuit of peace and adventure.
Heather Jiles spots Andrea Nelson on the 5.8+ Arete of the Sunshine Wall. Photo by Tyrel Johnson
Hidden behind a screen of trees and perched high on the ridge, the Guide Walls’ southern end was dubbed The Sunshine Wall for good reason. Here you can shed those layers and dance up lines like the long-distance 5.8+ Guide’s Arete, 5.9s Zendo, Funboy and The Never Ending Story, huck and crimp your way through the Guide’s 5.11 or George’s Dilemma, another great bucket tour that leads to a challenging 5.10 roof crux. If you’re in the mood to test your roof technique, try the Macdaddy Roof; weighing in at 5.10d, this body-length overhang will tax even the strong for the bucket at the lip.
Around the corner, on the crag’s middle section and northern end, the east-facing lines of the Ninja Walls offer climbers both summer shade and a haven from winter’s cold, as leaves and temperatures begin to fall.
The author and Andreas Czerwinski enjoying some fall sunshine on The routes of the Macdaddy Roof; the 5.9 Never Ending Story and the Guide 10b
Chris Beauchamp’s ‘Glossolalia’ kicks things off and Nick Kurland’s ‘Cu Rodeo’ ups the ante with thin holds on steep ground and a touch of run-out. Beyond these wait classic Ninja lines like ‘Destiny’ and ‘Hummingbird’, the 5.9- trad headpoint “Name Your Poison’ and mind-boggling roof of 5.10c/d ‘Carpe Diem’.
For a final burn of all remaining rounds, hike out to the north end and jump on crusher Mike Fisher lines like ‘Slight of Hand’, ‘Defenders of the Faith’, or Chris Beauchamp’s thuggish ‘Pon Hoss’.
On the south side of the creek, Long Branch is home to some of the tallest faces, as well as some of the most difficult technical lines, to be found in the canyon.
Tom Cecil’s world-class ‘Beautiful Loser’ checks in at a sustained 5.11 with 9 well-spaced bolts, nearby ‘Shattered Illusions’ requires a full bag of 5.10 tricks over the course of 11 bolts and a V-slot through a roof, while ‘Big Johnson’, ‘The Ron Jeremy Arete’, ‘The Darkness’, ‘The Lightness’, ‘Gone Sniffin’’, ‘Local Hospitality’ and Parker Smith’s new addition ‘Shorty’s Lament’, all lay solid claim to territory at 5.12 and above.
Michael Fisher cruising the bomber moves and stone of ‘Destiny’, one of the original lines at the Ninja Walls.
Troy Johnson and I first came here in the very early 90s, at the invitation of Darrell Hensley, the Seneca Rocks guide and WV native who explored Smoke Hole and climbed here before most people knew the canyon existed. Franklin Gorge, where we had all been climbing for years, was filling up with people and the number of new routes left for development was down to maybe a handful of good lines and a dozen or so more mediocre routes.
Troy and I drove up to Smoke Hole on a windy, rainy day, waving at Franklin as we passed, grabbing coffee at the Shell station at the light, then rolling up 220 through pastureland and river bottom farms. We stared up at Reed Creek and wondered again if the “No Trespassing” signs were bogus (it turned out that they were, but that is another story), waved at the old men of the Liar’s Club, drinking coffee on the bench in front of Kile’s Grocery in Upper Tract, and turned off just before the old iron bridge.
We rounded the curve, crossed the hill by the old Alt farmhouse, and dropped into wonderland. Cliffs rose up on both sides of the river, the nearest just ten feet from the car windows as we stopped to stare up at the huge roof of the Entrance Walls. Another shower drove us back into the car, and hid most of Eagle Rocks and the French Fin from our gaping view as we passed.
Tyrel Johnson fighting the good fight and looking for Zen on the steep Mike Fisher route ‘Defenders of the Faith’ (5.10d), at the Ninja Walls.
Eventually we reached Shreve’s Store, got our bearings, and had almost returned to sanity when we dropped into the lower canyon, and saw that all that had gone before was just a prelude.
We gibbered. We pointed, craned our necks and pointed some more, making nonsense noises and banging our heads on the windshield, spilling coffee.
Two miles beyond the store, we reached the destination Darrell had described and a breaking point at the same instant; parked, grabbed water bottles, and scrambled madly up the talus slope leading to the base of the Long Branch Buttress.
After half an hour of absolutely speechless wandering, we nodded to each other, returned to the car, and headed home to gather allies and supplies.
Troy came back and bolted “Local Hospitality’, ‘Big Johnson’, ‘Pigs on the Wing’, and began the task of ground-up bolting the visionary project that would eventually become Mike Farnsworth’s ‘The Lightness’. He took off from the start of my mixed route “Through the Looking Glass’ and gave us the superb 5.11 ‘Pigs on the Wing’.
The massive Long Branch Buttress, in the heart of Smoke Hole Canyon. Photo by Mike Gray
Rachel Levinson and Melissa Wine joined us, as did Mike Fisher, Greg Fangor, Chris Riha and a host of talented climbers from the Shenandoah and Albemarle valleys. Together, the group of us cleaned and put up ‘Shattered Illusions’, then Melissa and I produced ‘Hippo Head’ (the wall’s first all-female FA by Wine and Levinson), ‘Batteries Not Included’ and ‘Overtime’.
Taking a break from developing routes on the far side of the creek, at the Sunshine Wall, Tom Cecil, Tony Barnes and Darrell came over to bolt ‘Beautiful Loser’ and Tony’s mixed 5.10 line in the cave to the left.
Mike Fisher had dubbed our group the Five Deadly Ninjas, a tongue-in-cheek nod from his deep love of Kung Fu theater. Troy, Rachel, Melissa, myself, and Mr. Fisher decided that we needed a look at the walls they were developing on the other side of the creek, and the classic lines of the Ninja Walls were born in the following months.
Mike Farnsworth, on the crux of “The Lightness”, 5.12d, Darkside, Long Branch Buttress.
Life went on, our little crew drifted apart, and I moved off to the west. I would call Mike Fisher on my occasional trips home, and we would invariably wind up at Smoke Hole for a climb or three, plotting on the remaining lines in this apparently forgotten corner of West Virginia.
In 2003, I returned to the Valley, and we put up Funboy and Zendo on an overlooked ledge at the Sunshine Wall. Four years later, we bolted and led the routes of the Corvinus Cave, at Long Branch.
A recent surge in activity saw four new lines at or above 5.12, bolted and led by Michael Farnsworth, the guy who conquered one of the steepest routes of Seneca Rocks. Added to the already impressive set of routes in place, you have an area to test the mettle of climbers from around the globe.
Mahtaab Bagherzadeh eyes the long road ahead, facing the first of many cruxes on ‘Shattered Illusions’, the longest 5.10 on the Long Branch Buttress. Photo by Tyrel Johnson.
But don’t worry, moderate climbers and fun seekers… there’s still plenty of good times to be had, with enjoyable lines tucked in amongst the test pieces and enduro routes. Smile your way through sport warm-ups like ‘My Silver Lining’ (5.7), ‘Lost World Arete’ (5.7), or ‘Batteries Not Included’ (5.8+), mix things up with bolt and gear offerings like the 5.8 ‘Through the Looking Glass’, or take a break from the bolts and pull out the whole rack for the long trad adventure of 5.7 ‘Cherry Lane’.
Although the road is a bit bumpy, and even dusty and blessed with more than its share of potholes, from the crags of Long Branch and the Guide Walls, climbers are still less than an hour from hot food, showers and all the comforts of modern life.
Volunteers are constantly working to protect access, maintain the trails and improve old routes with new hardware.
Racked up and ready for ground-up adventure; the author clips in for the first ascent of ‘Cherry Lane’, 5.7, Darkside, Long Branch Buttress.
No bushwhacking, no epics, no ‘scene’, just great lines of all levels on great stone, a zen garden in which to find a bit of peace and quiet, in the beat of your heart, in the heart of the canyon.
Buy El Potrero Chico here and save money versus purchasing from within our app via Apple or Google. It’s exactly the same guidebook, but offered at a lower price on rakkup.com.
Outrage Wall Left-upper-sense-of-religion-right
Since its initial development, El Potrero Chico has always been known as a perfect winter climbing destination. The area is riddled with natural beauty, complete with a gorgeous circling mountain range, unique desert vegetation, a mild winter climate and of course, the titanic, pristine walls of El Potrero Chico. They are remarkable to look at no matter who you are, and for a climber they are a nearly endless playground. Even the locals, although few of them climb these walls, love and appreciate the intensely beautiful mountain that they live in the shadow of. And throughout the years the locals have always been open to the climbing community that arrives each winter when the conditions are ideal. Between October and February you’ll find climbers coming in from all over the world, especially from the United States and Canada. Come March, the exodus of climbers begins as the heat of the summer starts to set in. But no matter the time of year that you decide to visit, the local town of Hidalgo is always welcoming. Just keep in mind that if it’s a hot and sunny day, there is still plenty to climb in the shade. With the walls mostly being north or south facing, you can decide on where you want to climb based on the heat and sun situation.
Andrea Bessler on Baked Fresh Daily 5.10c.
Climbing started here in the late 80’s and early 90’s and has seen more than a couple waves of heavy development. Jeff Jackson and Alex Catlin really found a gem in the Northeastern region of Mexico. At first, coming down here and drilling with their gas powered drills was more than a little bit of a shock to the locals but the good times quickly started rolling with plenty of Tecate and tequila flowing. A few of the local families, influenced by the initial generosity of Homero Gutierrez Villarreal, have done major work on building the climber friendly community of Potrero Chico. The small backyards that housed a few tents back in the day are now excellent campgrounds that are home to hundreds of climbers during the climbing season. There is no amount of praise that is enough to Homero and his family for getting it all started.
Emma Ayling on Surfin the Wave 5.10d.
Over the years as climbers came and went, a few decided to set up a more prominent home in Hidalgo. Ed Wright, also known as Magic Ed, is probably the most well known because of all the help he gave out to climbers visiting the area. Airport runs, climbing information, and massive amounts of route development made him a legend in Potrero Chico history. He also spent a great deal of time helping out in the local community by getting kids get out rock climbing. His love for the area lives on every time someone gets out there and climbs one of his classic routes.
Evan Johnson on Dead-Man Walking 5.9.
With over 600 plus routes here, almost entirely sport, there is plenty of climbing available for everyone, even during the busy season. Although the crowds can seem a little daunting from mid December to mid January, if you are willing to step off the beaten path you’ll find yourself exploring the lesser known climbs here and I can assure you that there are plenty of gems tucked away in Potrero–enough to find you coming here season after season for a great Christmas and New Year’s getaway. Most of the climbing here is slab or vertical face climbing that will have you pulling on small crimps while balancing on miniscule feet to gain your way to anchors and summits. But for the lover of overhanging rock, don’t be discouraged! There are a few big crags here with overhanging headwalls, both single-pitch and multi-pitch. Only a handful of traditional lines remain including the epic ridge climbs that have only seen a handful of ascents, though they are best climbed in the off season when there is less climber traffic in the area due to poor rock quality and safety concerns for the people below you.
Mike Burdon on Bottom Feeder 5.12d.
Although the bolt lines can be packed tight in on certain walls, there is so much room for future development if you are willing to walk a little ways. Most of the current routes are within a 5 to 10 minute walk from the road which is nice and easy on the legs, but don’t let the longer approaches for certain crags keep you from checking out some really good climbs. With everything so close to the campgrounds, you don’t even need a car, making Potrero a fantastic winter vacation destination. And now with the El Potrero Chico’s new rakkup mobile app, all the amazing crags of Potrero Chico are even more accessible with all new color topo photos, route descriptions and climb ratings to help you find exactly what you want. As the area continues to grow, rakkup allows you to have an extremely up-to-date guidebook right in your pocket, without having to purchase new editions. In the future, a printed book will also be available.