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All posts by Skiy Detray

10 Alpine Climbing Tips

Are you dreaming of high alpine peaks? Beautiful sublime faces of rock and ice? Surreal corniced ridges and crimson sunsets? Alpine climbing is one of the most committing and unforgiving forms of climbing, but with a little practice and solid game plan it can be safe and extremely rewarding!

Here are a few tips that will help make your next alpine adventure enjoyable and fun!

1. Pick your partner wisely.

It’s one thing to go cragging for the day with someone. But going to Alaska for 21 days to attempt a nail-biting alpine climb is another story. The last thing you want is to argue and bicker like an old married couple. You might be the best of friends at sea level, but after a few days shivering on icy ledges, tensions can spin out of control quickly! I like to do some warm up climbs with potential partners–see how our personalities mesh, and how the vibe goes. I seek partners that are solid as a rock, cool under pressure, and can find comedy even in the most rugged and challenging of situations.

2. Leave your comfy lightweight inflatable mattress at home.

As tempting as it is to splurge on the expensive blow up mattress with a high R-value, you’ll be left trying to care for it like a fine piece of china. It will more than likely pop when you need it most, and leave you shivering and sleepless all night. Take a closed cell foam pad cut down to just provide coverage for your body.

3. Take extra gloves

Your glove quiver is the single most critical item on the mountain. By day’s end, after brushing off snow and belaying wet ropes, your gloves will be wet and soggy. And if your hands get cold, frostbite can set in quickly, rendering you almost useless, a very dangerous place to be. Gloves never dry out, not even in your sleeping bag, and will freeze over night. It seems ludicrous to bring 5-8 pairs of gloves for a 5 day alpine mission, but I do!
4. Drink your water cold to save critical fuel

Water is very important when you’re working 12-16 hours a day. It will help prevent cold injury and ensure maximum athletic performance. As delicious and soul-warming as it is to sip hot tea at every stop, save your hot beverage for the bivy. Remember fuel is heavy! I ration one medium 250 gram can of gas per day for two.

5. Mitigate objective hazard

I scrutinize a route for hours, days, even months! I am careful to note potential terrain traps and loose rock, keeping in mind prevailing winds and snow pack. I do my best to avoid climbing under seracs and am always considering my retreat options.

6. Bring at least one adze for the team

After climbing all day, the thought of spending two hours chopping a bivy platform is agonizing. But comfortable sleep won’t come until you do. Having an adze will streamline your efficiency and get you off to dreamland sooner so you can be fresh for your next day of adventure.

7. An iPod Nano or Shuffle can boost moral like no other!

I usually download half hip-hop and metal to get me fired up, and than some mellow reggae to cool me down. Additionally, my small point and shoot camera goes on a tether off my micro zipper and lives in my left chest pocket near my skin in a base layer. This ensures the battery stays warm and functional.

8. Take a lightweight sleeping bag and wear all your layers to bed

Sure, I strip off wet Gore-Tex if need be, but often I just crawl right into my bag with my whole kit on excluding my boots. This provides an extra layer of warmth and saves precious time. Often I want to stay tied in, so I sleep in my harness or use a sling around my waist. I sleep with my boot liners in my bag to keep them from freezing.

9. Master the art of the descent

Rappelling a 5000-foot face can seem daunting and downright terrifying. But with creativity and ingenuity, descending can be fun and rewarding. Often it’s safer then slogging down avalanche prone slopes. Slings and cordelettes can be cut up and equalized. Nuts, if placed correctly, can be bombproof and much cheaper than leaving a cam. V threads in the ice are the most efficient and low impact. I simply tie a loop knot in what ever I’m rapping off to avoid leaving costly carabiners. And remember, the Prusik back-up is paramount in the event you’re hit by falling stones or must fidget with your next bombproof anchor.

10. Most importantly, bring your positive attitude and be ready to adapt and overcome to what ever is thrown at you

The mental challenge is what I like most about alpine climbing. Like in life, things do not always go as planned. Successful people are good at improvising and can stay motivated even in uncomfortable and difficult situations. Stack the odds in your favor before going, and practice pertinent skills – ice and snow climbing, dry tooling, aid climbing, rope ascension, self-rescue, and first aid. And remember, if things start to go wrong, and you feel like you’ve gotten yourself in over your head, retreat and come back to fight another day!

The Big Year Part 3: Upping the Ante

Two in the afternoon, and I’m shaking uncontrollably.  One second I’m freezing, the next I’m burning up.  It hurts to move, to breathe, to blink my eyes!  I reach for the phone, and call for life support.  Uncle Stu, in his warm apartment in Bishop picks up the phone.

“Stu,” I meekly say, “The flu has me in a death lock.  Can you get me some Gatorade and chicken soup?”

Sitting in the campground, all alone in my van, the big year has come to a screeching halt.

I think to myself: What am I doing with my life?  I don’t have a job, I don’t have a girlfriend. Climbing feels like a chore.  Gosh, this is the unromantic and difficult part of the big year.

March slowly passes into April, and before I know it, I am about to leave for Alaska to tackle my next big alpine objective.  Just prior to departure, I manage to completely and totally throw my back out traversing an undercling pitch. Laying on the ground and writhing in pain, I wonder how I will manage to recover in time. I’m supposed to be landing on the glacier in a weeks time!

Days later, with the help of some muscle relaxers, I manage to pack my bags and hobble onto the Alaska bound aircraft.  To my good fortune, a storm is ravaging the Alaska range.  My partner Alik and I hole up with my good buddy Mad Dog in Anchorage for seven days while the storm settles and my back mends.

As we crest one of the final hills en-route to Talkeetna, we can see the entirety of the Alaska Range.  Suddenly, like a strike of lightning, my stoke is rekindled!  As we pull into town, you can feel the excitement in the air.  Climbers from around the world have come to test themselves on Denali and neighboring peaks.  We fill up on coffee and a lumberack’s breakfast at the Road House Cafe and waddle over to Talkeetna Air Taxi to manifest ourselves.

1.  the Alaska Range

The Alaska Range

We land on the Buckskin Glacier, at the foot of the massive and incredibly imposing East Face of the Moose’s Tooth.  With 5,000 feet of vertical relief, we are left staring in awe and admiration.  Alik, in his always calm and casual demeanor, comments.  “Looks good.”  I take a gulp, try to act cool, and respond: “Yup, sure does.”

The East Face of the Moose's Tooth Our route takes the most direct path directly up the center of the headwall

The East Face of the Moose’s Tooth Our route takes the most direct path directly up the center of the headwall

The next morning, drinking my coffee in the Alaska sunshine I have to turn and face away from the Moose’s Tooth.  My stomach is doing somersaults and I’m nauseous with uncertainty and fear.  Alpine climbing at its best.

Our eyes are set on a new route:  2,500 feet of snow, rock and ice, leading to a 1,200 foot rock headwall, sequining to another 1,500 feet of snow and ice to the summit.  We hope the rock will go free at a reasonable dry tooling grade.  Our first attempt proves solid, but we are thwarted by heavy snowfall and forced to retreat in a gully of torrential spin drift and powder avalanches.  Character building at its best.

Retreat from the storm

Retreat from the storm

Once back in camp, we make a few satellite phone calls to family, gorge ourselves on steaks, chicken, and bulky carbs, and patiently wait for the weather to clear.  As luck would have it no more than 48 hours after returning to camp we get the all clear.  Back up the mountain we go, fatigue still deep in our legs.

The first two days go well, and we are established half way up the face.  The morning of the third day onward melt into a blurry haze.  Alik and I push ourselves far into our reserves.  We opt to employ El Capitan speed climbing tactics to the headwall.  The leader short fixes climbing in blocks, while the second jumars.  Eighteen hours later, exhausted and with no good bivy platform in sight we employ our bat hammocks.  They prove almost non useable, I am too cold to sleep, after two hours we opt to continue.  Looking out across the Alaska horizon in the near 24 hours of light, I feel as if I could be high on a Himalayan face.

Alik taking in the veiw, 3rd pitch on the headwall

Alik taking in the view, 3rd pitch on the headwall

The climbing is loose, sharp and tedious at a grade of 5.9, A4.  Topping out the headwall in light snow flurries at 4 pm, we push onwards through 1,500 feet of fantastic moderate snow, ice, and rock to the summit plateau in a 48 hour push!  We take in the view, snap a few pics, and relish in the moment – but our peace is short-lived.  Worried about a encroaching storm, we’re determined to keep moving, and thus begin the 32 hour decent back down to the valley floor.  Sometime on the third day, I drop my ATC and am forced to finish the rappel with a carabiner brake rack!  Our timing is perfect. Snow began to fall the second we touched flat ground.

Arriving back in back in base camp, we had been on the move for 80 hours.  Sipping hot toddies and frying up some meat and pasta, Alik and I savored finally being at rest.  Endorphins, exhaustion and sleep deprivation had us feeling incredible, but also talking gibberish to each other.  I’m sure we looked like drunken fools!  Some time later, we realized that we had both been hallucinating the squawking of ravens for much of the route.  Hence a route name was born:  Illusions of the Raven. (Read the full story here: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web15s/newswire-new-route-on-east-face-mooses-tooth)

Upon my return to civilization I felt like I had endured the Spartan battle of 300.  I was totally and complete wasted.  For two weeks I holed up, slept, ate and kept good company with friends.  It would take months to recover mentally from this effort.  The mountain had required much more of me than expected. The Moose’s Tooth had given Alik and I an experience of a lifetime – an opportunity to look far inside ourselves.  Adventures of this magnitude settle deep into one’s inner core and radiate out.  Reflecting back now, I find that I have been sculpted by my most challenging experiences.

Coming back from this adventure, I often think of what Ammon McNeely, says:  “There is a fine line between bad ass, and dumb ass!”  In my mind, the line is there for us to creep up to.  It feels incredible to get close to it, but it’s up to each one of us to decide how far under (or over) the line to go.  The freedom to explore these boundaries is intoxicating and exhilarating, but also humbling when things go wrong.

Weeks after Alaska, I hobbled back into Yosemite Valley.  A good friend of mine (and current women’s El Cap Nose speed record holder), Libby Sauter, suggested we climb the classic East Buttress of El Cap.  Chatting like song birds and swinging from holds like monkeys, we simul-climb the route with smiles and an extra helping of laughs!  But as fate would have it, this climb would be the straw that broke the camels back or, in this case, my back!  I had eked out the Moose’s Tooth, but now I was paying the heavy price and my back was injured.  I sat in the cafeteria at the Yosemite Lodge, grimacing in pain, angry that I was showing weakness, depressed that I needed to rest.

 Enjoying a great day out on El Cap with Libby Sauter

Enjoying a great day out on El Cap with Libby Sauter

I opted to try new things and relax.  Whale watching, hiking, cycling, sea kayaking.  I started physical therapy and tried to mend.  Six weeks came and went, and still no relief.  Instead of setting up a tent in the Dolomites and pushing my rock grades, I rented a room in Bishop from a good friend and focused on PT, lots of cycling, and top rope climbing.  Instead of climbing El Cap in a day or linking high Sierra peaks to prepare for my upcoming expedition to Nepal, I was doing mini traxion laps in the Gorge.  I found if I climbed with perfect upright form like a stiff robot, it didn’t hurt.  This is not how the big year is supposed to go, I thought.  But in life things do not always go to plan.  Sometimes we are served up a plate of humble pie.  I remained optimistic.  The months passed, the MRI came back negative, and slowly I regained form.

 

The Big Year – Part 2: Forging a Partnership

With my sights set on a new alpine route in Alaska in the spring, I needed a partner I could trust and could also commit to the time off.  I scrolled through my black book and landed on Canadian crusher Alik Berg.  Thing was: we had never climbed together.  He recommended we do a trial run on his home turf of the Canadian Rockies.  So I loaded up the Chevy van and pointed north once again.

On arrival to Canmore Alberta, located 20 minutes east of Banff, I was immediately very intimidated by how massive the peaks were looming on all sides of me.  Wow, I thought, this is the Yosemite of Alpine climbing!

After climbing the classic The Day After Le Vacances du Monsouir Hulot on the Stanley Headwall,  Alik proclaimed we were ready for a real Alaska warm up.  He held up a black and white photo with a line going up a mountain.  “What do you think?” he asked.  I saw what looked like 3000 feet of steep snow up to a rock head wall of about a 1000 feet.  I thought to myself: Sure why not, we will figure it out.

“Sure man looks cool,” I said.

 

The red line furthest to the right is the route we would attempt the Greenwood/Locke on the N. Face of Mt. Temple.

The red line furthest to the right is the route we would attempt the Greenwood/Locke on the N. Face of Mt. Temple.

With heavy packs and back country skis, we departed the car on Feb 25th with a solid weather forecast.  The seven mile skin in was beautiful; big trees with a deep pine fragrance.  Tracks of moose and other critters dotted the trail.   We left our skis at the base and strapped our crampons on.  To our good fortune, the snow on the lower portion of the route was solid neve and we made quick time to the headwall.  Two pitches of M5-M6 brought us to our bivy platform on the first snow band.  Cuddling up in my bag I was feeling strong and confident.

“Man looks really steep up there” Alik announced.  “I bet its really run out.  We will be lucky to get any pro.”  I inquisitively peeked out of my snug bag.  It was at this point that Alik started to regale me with all of the tremendous lore of the route.  “Its turned back close to a dozen parties in winter,  only the legend Raphael Slawniski with Ben Firth have managed it.  One guy degloved his hand trying, the legend Steve House fell 80 feet and broke his pelvis.”

“Dude,” I feverishly announced, “stop talking, your freaking me out!”  Luckily, exhausted from the days efforts, I managed to doze off for a few hours of sleep.

In the early morning light we traverse the first snow band to access the Greenwood/Locke headwall

In the early morning light we traverse the first snow band to access the Greenwood/Locke headwall

We awoke early and started climbing just before sunrise.  We climbed 1200 feet of spectacular 5.10 limestone with ice tools and crampons.  The exposure was magnificent and the climbing was genuinely fun and took gear well.  The winter conditions had frozen all the loose bits in place, and we both agreed it should be a modern mixed climbing classic!

Climbing amazing M6 on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

Climbing amazing M6 on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

The Clam pitch on the Greenwood/Locke, one of the most amazing alpine pitches either of us have seen.

The Clam pitch on the Greenwood/Locke, one of the most amazing alpine pitches either of us have seen.

Putting the off-width skills to use high on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

Putting the off-width skills to use high on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

That night I spilled a half-liter of Gatorade in my sleeping bag, and had a proper freak out with the sub zero temps!  Alik, cool and calm, said, “dude chill, its gonna be fine”  I knew then and their Alik would be a great future climbing partner.  The following day we summited and had an amazing panorama of the Canadian Rockies.  It was news to us we had made the second winter ascent.  http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web15w/wfeature-mt-temple-history-winter-ascent.  We began to make plans for Alaska.

Returning to Alik’s house and standing in the hot shower with a beer in hand, I felt the warm water soak into my bones and I had a deep sense of satisfaction.  I was happy that 20 years of constant dedication to a sport I loved was finally paying off.  That we had just completed a rather difficult climb with great joy, confidence and enjoyment.  Sure, we suffered.  But with out the suffering, the shower and soft bed would not feel nearly as good.  I relished in my worn, fatigued and battered body.

Two days later I said good by to Alik and the Canadian Rockies,  and packed the van up to head south back to Bozeman, Montana.  I was slated not only to assist but also to participate in the Sierra Club veterans ice climbing week in Hyalite hosted by Montana Alpine Guides.

Volunteering has taught me one thing.  I never regret doing it!  Every time I put others before myself it feels incredible.  I get back double what ever I put into it.  It is medicine for the soul in more ways than one.  I cant explain the psychology of it, but for me it works wonders.  As a veteran myself of three tours in Afghanistan as a Air Force Pararescuman, I find great solace and personal healing when helping other vets get out side and into the wilderness.  We share a common bond, a common thread.  The intrinsic team work the 12 of us shared was unforgettable during this 5 day ice climbing course.

Veterans ice climbing week with the Sierra Club and Montana Alpine Guides.

Veterans ice climbing week with the Sierra Club and Montana Alpine Guides.

The Big Year – Part 1 (casting off)

What would you do with a full year off of work?

A few years back a friend of mine proposed that question.  Hmmm.  Like school kids we sat around and day dreamed.  Patagonia, Pakistan, Nepal, Italy, Spain…. the list went on.  About a year after this conversation, I decided to start saving my money and make this dream a reality.  Eighteen months after that, I finished up my last work stint in Western Africa and moved what I needed into a 94 Chevy van.  Late December, with music blaring and sunglasses on, I headed towards a year of adventure!   Here is a recap of 2015, my big year:

I have always had an affinity with the east side of the Sierra in California.  With countless seasons spent in Yosemite Valley, many of my friends reside in the small high desert town of Bishop.  I spent my first three weeks here, clipping bolts in the Owens River Gorge and bouldering in the Happy’s and the Buttermilks.  Rest days usually involved hanging at the Black Sheep coffee house and soaking in the local hot springs.  Amazing how easy I found it to fill days even though I didn’t have a job!

The author climbing in the Gorge, Photo credit Jean Tucky.

The author climbing in the Gorge, Photo credit Jean Tucky.

In the third week of January, I made a last minute decision to attend the OR trade show in Utah.  Expecting to be away from Bishop for only a week, I even made climbing plans for my return.  But after a great trade show I received a call from the inventor of the big year, Justin Griffin.  “Its going off up here in Bozeman,” he said, “come on up.”

Well I thought I am already half way there.  The stars are pointing me towards the north! 

About a week later, I found myself bouncing and bumping on a Montana back road with a PBR in hand, riding shotgun with Bozeman hard man Justin Griffin.  “Its going off in Cook City, stuff that hasn’t come in in years is in shape,” Justin said.  “I have my eye on a three pitch unclimbed line.”  That night we slept in his beater old tow behind travel camper just minutes from the climbing.  We were up early and stepping outside the cold bit my face hard, my eyelashes freezing together.  That day we established a new line: Thunder Bird, 600 feet M7 WI6.  It was a spectacular day out with a good friend.  As luck would have it, I would forget my ice tools below the last pitch hanging perfectly off a stone.  The second ascent (which still awaits) will receive a nice little prize!

Thunder Bird

Thunder Bird

Feeling confident after our ascent of Thunder Bird, I asked Justin for the beta for Winter Dance, a cult classic in Hyalite Canyon.  I had been dreaming about this climb for the last 15 years.  A monstrous four hour approach is required for this gem established by Alex Lowe and Jim Earl in 1998.  It’s a beautiful four pitch climb rated M8 WI6, that starts a dizzying 3,000 feet off the valley floor.   To my good fortune, a good friend of mine, Ken Kreis happened to be in Bozeman looking for a climbing partner for his first ever trip to climb in Hyalite.  “I have the perfect climb for us, Ken,” I deviously said!  The climbing proved steep and exhilarating, this combined with the interment snow flurries, gave it a big mountain feel.  Fun day in the hills, and Ken did great!

Winter Dance pitch 2

Winter Dance pitch 2

Ken Kreis atop pitch three Winter Dance

Ken Kreis atop pitch three Winter Dance

When I finally arrived back into cell reception, I got a voice message from Justin, “Get some chow on your way home.  We are climbing with Jack Tackle tomorrow.  4:30am wake up call.”  I looked at my watch.  11:30pm.  Oh man, this is gonna hurt, I thought to myself.  But, I had never met Jack before, and being a long time hero of mine, I knew I had to go!  We climbed Petrified Dreams, a climb in Yellowstone National Park that Jack had put up back in the 90’s.

Jack Tackle, Justin Griffin, and I, Petrified Dreams in the background

Jack Tackle, Justin Griffin, and I, Petrified Dreams in the background

Sadly this would be the last time I would climb ice with Justin in his home territory. Justin tragically passed away in Nepal nine months later pursing his dreams as an alpinist.

Stay tuned for my five part blog series the big year.

Trango Welcomes Skiy Detray to Team Trango

Trango is thrilled to announce the addition of Skiy DeTray to Team Trango. DeTray, a native of Bishop, CA, is a prolific climber and mountaineer with over 20 years of climbing experience. In addition to his extensive climbing resume, Skiy continues to be a contributing and influential member of the climbing community through education, rescues, and construction work.

IMG_0157

Over the years, Skiy has logged hundreds of days ice and mixed climbing up to M9, and WI6.  He authored a new route (Illusions of the Raven), which scales 1500 meters on the infamous East Face of the Moose’s Tooth Alaska.  He also made an impressive second winter ascent of the fabled Greenwood/Lock on the N. Face of Mt. Temple in Canada.  In 2011 he traveled to Pakistan and spent 25 days on the East Face of the Great Trango Tower attempting to repeat the Norwegian Pillar 6c, A4 1500 meters.

Alian roof finish Rostram Yosemite 12b

Skiy spent 4 summers as an integral member of the prestigious Yosemite Valley Search and Rescue team.  While living at Camp 4 in Yosemite, he has been transformed into a granite climbing machine.  With 30 El Cap routes under his belt, to include 5 El Cap speed records and the ability to free climb 5.12 trad and A5. On October 3, 2014, he climbed the 16-pitch A4 El Capitan testpiece Zenyatta Mondatta, shaving several hours off the speed record.

Given his unique background of climbing and mountaineering, Skiy feels ready to put it all together on the biggest, unclimbed lines in the world!

Alias

Skiy Detray

Hometown

Bishop, CA

Motivation to Climb

I love the places climbing takes me, the connection to nature and the amazing people I meet along the way. I relish the quit focus and the raw intensity required to find my limits. Climbing gives me an opportunity to overcome and confront fear and self-doubt on a regular basis. But most of all I climb because it's fun!

Most Memorable Climb

There are so many! One experience in particular was In 2011 when I traveled to Pakistan to attempt the Great Trango Tower. Andy Hoechal, Pierre Ollsen, and I tackled the spectacular and sheer 4,400 foot east face. We spent 24 days living in portaledges battling high altitudes, storm conditions and a myriad of technical climbing challenges. The cultural experience mixed with the raw elements of the climb proved to be an amazing journey.

Favorite Climbing Spot

Tonsai Thailand is my favorite spot. Nestled in a ocean paradise nook and speckled with dreamy limestone. Bungalows near the ocean and hot spicy Thai dishes. Doesn't get much better than that!

Bio

I grew up on a farm in Spokane Washington thirsting for adventure as early as 8 years old when I did my first solo overnight camping trip. I began climbing in earnest during collage throughout Montana, California, and Utah. Unsatisfied with my professional direction at 24 I tried out for Air Force Pararescue, for which I served 6 years as a Pararescueman. This hardened my resolve and sharpened my reflexes for my burning desire to become an alpinist. At the age of 30 I bought a van and moved to Yosemite securing a spot on the Yosemite Valley Search and Rescue Team. For four summers I cut my teeth surrounded by world class climbers, during this time I was transformed into a granite climbing machine, mastering cracks and big walls. In the winters I honed my ice and mixed climbing game. Now with 30 el cap ascents to include 5 speed records, the ability to climb A5, 5.12 trad and WI 6, I feel ready and stoked to take it all to the greater ranges! Most recently, Canadian Alik Berg and I forged "Illusions of the Raven" on the East Face of the Moose's Tooth 5.9, A4, WI 4R 5500 feet which required every trick in the book!

[full bio]

Visual/Written/Motion

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