Monday, July 11, 2016


So recently Danielle gave me editing permission on her blog. And by recently I mean a year or so ago. She has been patiently wondering if I would ever actually contribute to the blog. So today to Danielle's astonishment you get to hear from the other much less talented contributor to Luma Solem.

Note: All the images have a title. Hover of the images with your mouse to read them.


Devon and I had planned on doing Squawstruck last year right after the Koberstein reunion. However I managed to crack a rib the week before we were scheduled to do the route. (And yes it was cracked despite what the other blogger said about it previously) This was very disappointing to me but I only had myself to blame. But my dearest wife Danielle told me that if another opportunity came up to do the climb I should fly out to do it. It just so happened that Devon was in the area this past week.

Final plans were not made for the trip until a few weeks before the trip. It felt a little hectic but it was also nice to not have any time to stress about it. During my preparations I realized I would miss my Father's birthday as the trip was on the same weekend as his birthday. It was sad but I had already committed to the climbing trip before any birthday plans were made and the tickets were non refundable. So I decided to head out on the climb anyways. Sorry Dad.

I have done a few 'big' climbing trips in the past few years. Details can be found on my mountain project page. So far most of my routes have been in the easy range. However Squawstruck is the longest and hardest route to date. It is a 5.11- and 1900 feet of climbing broken up into 22 pitches. I was very excited to try something hard that required a little bit of skill and ability. I was looking forward to testing all the training I have been doing while Dawna and Larry are in their climbing class.

Devon and I decided to start our climb at midnight. This would require a little bit of climbing in the dark but would help us avoid the heat of the day. Unfortunately I had to travel and work on Friday and didn't get to sleep until 10pm. This is why I look a little bit crazed in this 1 am start-of-climb picture.
We did not coordinate our outfits. It just happened.
Fortunately the climbing was interesting and hard enough that I did not feel tired again until after we were safely back in Provo.

The only snafu during the climb happened on the first pitch. We climbed up an intimidating roof which had some good pockets that made it easier than it looked. And then when we got to the top I was moving my belay device around and it jumped out of my hands. I heard it hit the rock by my feet once and I shouted something incoherent. Devon felt it slide past his feet and then we heard it hit something soft on the ground 110 feet below us. At this moment I knew that I had again ruined our attempt to finish the route. You need two belay devices to do a climb like this. We talked about options and Devon decided to rappel down on his device and look for mine on the ground. We didn't hear it hit the rock on the way down so IF we could find the device it should be safe to use for the rest of the climb. With little hope I waited in the dark at the top of the first pitch to see if Devon could find the device. Amazingly he found it just after he lit upon the ground. I heard a loud shout of joy and then he climbed up and we were ready to go again. Also this gave me the chance to use the Munter hitch as an improvised belay device. That's the first time I've had to do that. Glad I have spent the time learning how to do that.

After a several hours of climbing in the dark the sun began to show up. I was happy to turn my head lamp off. Climbing in the dark makes finding holds harder and my light was getting dimmer making it harder as I went. The only down side about the sun is it mean the dreaded heat was coming. We hoped that the rock wouldn't get too hot to hold in the afternoon.
Sunlight approaches!

Unfortunately the most interesting photo opportunities in a climb like this are not easy to capture. Because you are holding onto the cliff attempting to not fall off. So you end up with a bunch of pictures at belay stations or near them like this one.
Chilling 900 feet up the route.
So I'm going to have to use words to explain a few of the interesting things we saw.

Pitch 2 has the leap of faith. You climb up a pillar and then have to down climb 10 feet of the far side of the pillar and step jump onto the face of the wall next to the pillar.

Pitch 3-5? At one point during the climb I went to stick my hand into a pocket and a large wolf spider (3 in across) crawled out. It surprised me a bit and I decided to skip that pocket. Luckily it was on easy terrain and didn't require me to use that particular hold to climb through.

Pitch 6 was my hardest lead. 5.10c. I was pretty pleased with myself at this point and even considering leading something harder. However some unexpected falls when I was following Devon in the next few pitches reminded me that I am prone to falling as the grade approaches 5.11.

Pitch 9 was the Orange Julius pitch. It started off with a small cave that had a mystery liquid dripping out the bottom. I suspect it was bat guano. A little further up there was some of the strangest and worst rock of the trip. It was oozing yellow-redish rock. It was more a mix between clay and rock than actual rock. I'm really not sure why it was oozing.

Between pitch 11 and 12 was a cave or mine.

Last shade until we hike down.
The cave was supposed to be a nice place to cool off from the sun but fortunately it hadn't gotten too hot yet. As we climbed higher the wind picked up and kept us from boiling in the afternoon.

Pitch 14 The crux pitch. Devon lead this pitch (he also led the other 5.10+ pitches before and after this one). He did an amazing job and only fell twice at the crux. These where his only two falls for the whole trip. I unfortunately claimed quiet a few more falls on the climb. But not too many more than Devon.

Pitch 15 was missing a bolt on the crux. I hate to admit it but I was glad that Devon also lead this one. It looked scary with the missing bolt. It would have been a pretty good fall after the missing bolt.

Pitches 17-22 We thought that since we had passed the crux the rest of the climbing would be easy.
Getting up pretty high now and nearing the top.
However we forgot that some of the following pitches were nearly just as hard as the crux. All the way to the last pitch the climbing was pretty tough. The "easy" climbing included several roofs and difficult moves and all felt much harder than the rating would indicate. I think the long day took it's toll on me. These last pitches had some very very sharp rock as well. There were pockets that had razor sharp crystals like the inside of a geode. The limestone up here and was so sharp that the slopping holds felt like they had little pin head sticking out of them. It was nice because it made it easier to hold onto the rock but we also paid the price for the nice sticky rock.
The back of my hand.
Also at about this point I ran out of water. 3 liters was not quiet enough water for comfort. I had to climb the last 4-5 pitches sharing water with Devon. He only brought 2.5 liters of water but doesn't leak water as much as me.

Topping out!
Finally we reached the top! When Devon yelled back that I was on belay he startled a group of girls sitting near the flag. They were not expecting to see two smelly men crawling up the cliff face.
Now all we had to do was hike down with no water. Seemed like a small task at this point. On the way down I began to feel something touch the back of my throat. I tried to spit it out but it would not move. Panicking a little bit I asked Devon what was in my mouth. It was my uvula. Apparently if you don't drink enough and breath a lot (due to hard climbing) you can dry your uvula out enough for it to swell from the irritation. It was an odd feeling to have your uvula dragging around on the back of your tongue. Fortunately it quickly healed once we reached the drinking fountain near the bottom of the climb.

I recently heard a famous climber say that the best climber in the world is the one who is having the most fun. By this metric I definitely have a chance at being the best in the world. I know that I am the luckiest. I have a wonderful family who supports me in my crazy adventures and even tags along with me when I'm not trying things that are too crazy. Between a great climbing partner, my wonderful wife and my four perfect kids I truly am the luckiest and at least the happiest climber in the world.