Category Archives: Lifestyle

Torment – Forbidden Traverse – 7/31/17 – 8/2/17

Grade IV 5.6
Gear: small rack nuts, cams .5-3, 30m rope with tag line
Flew out of San Diego sunday at 6:30 AM to Seattle.  Took the tram downtown, checked in and spent the day admiring the scenery and did a little browsing at the map shop in Pikes place, ejoyed a beer and sandwich and watched the menagerie of folks passing by, had a nice dinner and a couple of glasses of wine before hitting it early.
My guide, Chris Simmons picked me up at the hotel at 6:30, we had a long drive, north to Everett and then east past Darrington into North Cascades NP. We chatted about the typical 40-something topics of life, real estate, and marriage.
Got permits and drove to the trailhead for Boston Basin, sorted gear and headed up the trail. Conditions were absolutely perfect, if a bit warm, we left raingear, shelter and down layers at the car, taking just a light tarp as a groundsheet.
The approach was long and began with a graded flat road, then up steeply up a rocky, rough trail, past several stream crossings and through dense forest, up to the alpine and the Boston Basin where the ridgeline of Torment, Forbidden, Boston and Sahale came into view.
I took a crap in one of the best backcountry toilets you can imagine with a commanding view of Johannesburg Mountain opposite the valley.  We traversed the moraine to the west, up over some polished slabs and shallow snowfields.  Chris punched through some shallow snow and slashed his shin, but his Navy medic training came in handy, he patched himself up and was back on the go within 20 minutes. We climbed through easy 4th class terrain, over a low rib to a perfect, albeit half buried bivy site at the base of the Taboo Glacier.  We chopped it out, it dried quickly in the hot sun, enjoyed a nice dinner while smoke was beginning to blow from the northeast in due to fires burning in BC.
Tuesday we started up the southeast face route of Mount Torment at 5:30 AM. The smoke had intensified overnight and the valley was coated in smog which would intensify during the day.  Heading up the glacier via moderate snow and an easily-crossed moat, we racked up at the prominent notch.  The route trends around the southeast face via a well-defined route, many short pitches of fun and exposed climbing.  Using various dihedrals and ledge systems, trending around the face to a 3rd class gully, then over another notch to a good break spot, we dropped packs and continued around the summit block on easy 4th class terrain to the summit. Views were expansive, including El Dorado Peak, Sahale Peak, Granite Peak, and Moraine Lake.
From here we rappeled twice into the southeast face of the ridge on easy terrain to a notch, where we could see El Dorado peak and Moraine lake below.  The Torment glacier below was steep and heavily moated.   Chris rappelled down and was forced to put crampons on while hanging in the moat.  After what seemed like an eternity, he gained the snowfield, gave me a belay while I did a free-hanging rappel on to a ledge and across the snow bridge, finally climbing up out of the moat on about 3 meters of near-vertical snow.  Crossing this moat took nearly an hour and was the most challenging section of the route.
Once on snow, we traversed about 100 meters of a 50 degree steep snow slope to the bottom a dirty, loose rib, working around the north side of the rib to cleaner rock where Chris did 3-4 pitches of exploratory 4th and low 5th class, finally to arrived at a prominent, flat snow notch that  Chris called the V-notch, which allowed for faster travel along the ridge, using the shallow moat to bypass the low rock towers.Generally working around the towers and alternating from the south to the north side, we moved relatively quickly, through a second notch Chris called the U-notch, and then ultimately ending up at a broad, grassy, melting snowfield where we had water and a break before moving up a loose and sketchy south-facing slope to the top of the ridge.
At the top of the ridge we covered several hundred meters with huge exposure on both sides, culminating in a series of sidewalk-like flat blocks which could be walked over with ease. I was so exhausted I really could only barely enjoy it, but I stayed upright for the most part.   We did a short rappel off the top of the ridge to some 4th class ledges and ultimately scrambling up to the bivy notch, a perfect spot on the north side of the ridge adjacent a snowfield, with a nice gear storage area just above, one of the classic bivys for sure.  Had dinner, chatted, passed out just after sunset and 14 hours of sustained climbing.
Wednesday started a bit late, around 6:30.  Smoke had now completely filled the valley and visibility was minimal. We broke camp and headed up the west ridge of Forbidden, starting immediately with an easy, airy step-over, then following mostly 4th and low 5th class terrain up the ridge, avoiding most difficulties by staying on the north side.  A few short fifth-class moves including some low angle friction slab traverses, a slab boulder problem which gave me a bit of trouble, an exposed traverse on which I slipped on a dirty step but caught myself,  and an easy 5th class downclimb off a tower just below the summit. Chris knew all the tough spots so it was easy to just follow instructions and we moved fast.  At the summit we could see that the smoke pollution was intense and the entire area was cloaked in smog.  Overall the climbing was fun, sustained and not too challenging, this really lived up to it’s reputation as one of the 50 classic climbs and was generally a blast.
The descent route from Forbidden is very complex. Descending the west ridge was primarily down-climbing, with a few sections where Chris lowered me. Overall very positive holds, no major difficulties and we moved well.  We passed 3 guided parties coming up and Chris chatted with some of his colleagues. Back at the notch, we descended loose 4th class terrain to a prominent rock rib between two gullies.  The first 2 rappels went over low-angle terrain.  Rap stations were easy to find and were solid, with fixed pins, nuts, and nicely equalized rope anchors.
At the top of the 3rd rap an unguided party came up the gully to skier’s left, an unsafe place to be due to rockfall hazard.   The leader darted around the anchor before moving above us and I noted he made me nervous.  Chris rapped down and I followed.  As I reached the belay, we heard “Rock” shouted from above and lunged into the small cliff at the rap station.
A toaster-sized block came flying down and narrowly missed Chris’ head and exploded on the ledge.  Chris politely notified the party above of their carelessness but thankfully no one was hurt.  The belay was carefully chosen to provide shelter and it was much appreciated.
Watching another climber move from being in a rockfall hazard zone, then to climb above us to then create a rockfall hazard, confused me. it took me several minutes to accept that it was out of my control, but a part of me was angry at myself for not confronting the climber at the belay.  I knew he was unsafe.  I could have asked him to wait at the belay until we were out of the fall line.  Chris snapped me back into reality, something he is very good at, and we moved on.
The 4th and 5th rappel took us out of the fall line onto solid high angle rock, and finally down above the snowfield, where we did one final 6th rappel to the glacier, Chris belayed me down the steep snow, then walked and then glissaded the low-angle slow, the moraine, and finally the long, hot, dusty and intensely buggy hike back to the car, arriving about 11 hours after we started.  I was profoundly exhausted.
This trip was extremely demanding and took every ounce of my mental, physical and emotional energy.  The terrain is complex and the exposure is constant, which drained me after 14 hours of sustained climbing with a pack.  Most of the terrain was on good quality rock but there were some loose sections that were nerve-wracking. There is no easy way off the route so once on the north side of Torment the party is committed to finishing the traverse, rappelling off the south side of the ridge would require many steep rappels and uncertain anchor opportunities.  The area is remote and even a small slip could lead to serious injury, so it took constant focus and concentration.
All that said this was rewarding and there were long sections of fun and satisfying climbing.  The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak was very enjoyable.  I was looking to push my limits and was not disappointed.   Chris was a beast and put tremendous effort forward, leading every pitch, managing the rope, and handling the complex route-finding so I could focus on moving across the terrain.  Watching Chris I learned a lot about careful movement in the mountains, route-finding, and careful, efficient gear handling.
The big lesson for me was that alpine climbing requires a different mindset and skill mix than typical pitched out rock climbs.   It’s a mix of hiking, scrambling, rock, snow, and the objective hazards are much higher and to a certain extent the margin of safety is not always in your control.  Good judgement is more important than climbing ability as you can usually route-find your way around most major difficulties.  But some obstacles will simply be impossible to pass without strong rock, rope and snow technique.   For my next outing, I also will need to lighten my load – ideally carrying less food, and smaller pack as a starting point.

Mt Whitney – Mountaineers Route – 4/27-28 2017

I drove from San Diego to Lone Pine Thursday 4/25. Got a late start. Made camp at Lone Pine Creek.

Friday morning, we drove up to portal and scouted around the trailhead, saw some German tourists get their Honda Civic hung up on the snow, but didn’t see our party. We did an acclimitization hike up to about 10,000 feet. Jonathan pointed out terrain traps, rotten snow, avy danger. It was early, the snow was firm and deep, the sky was clear and air was cold. I worked on my snow travel technique and we kicked a lot of steps. We passed through some avy debris at around 9,000 feet from the previous weekend which had taken out a climber who ended up requiring a helo evac. Stopped past some narrow ledges called Clyde’s Traverse, a bypass of the creekbed in summer. We stopped at a shallow draw just above the exit of the ledges. Hung out for an hour and caught some rays. We encountered a few climbers descending, all who reported strong winds and unsuccessful summit attempts.

Made an early start, coffee and breakfast then drove up to Portal with “A Long Way to the Top if you Wanna Rock n’ Roll” blasting. The cold weather led to perfect bootpack and we made fast time to Lower Boyscout lake where we met a party of 3-4 climbers who had bailed from their summit attempt previous day and were heading down. At Lower Boyscout the altitude began kicking in, the landscape transitioned to alpine and we stopped to melt snow for water.

I came across some other AAC members, Lee & Rani, they had just come down from a successful summit and were breaking camp. I found out that two other AAC members had attempted to summit the previous day but were turned around by winds, and had already descended and left the mountain. Without my partner, no tent poles, stove or fuel, I made the decision to descend with Lee and Rani. Lee had to pee, so I headed over to the edge of the steep slope below Iceberg lake to give them some privacy.

Just as I arrived at the top of the slope, Jonathan was slogging up, he had detoured to the bottom of the draw, far below the final steep slopes near the bottom Keeler Needle and Crooks Peak, thinking that was Iceberg Lake. He ended up adding about 500 feet of climbing to the already big day. He was toast, but he was there, and shortly after the rest of the party showed up, Jonathan Wachtel, chapter president, Tom Vokes, trip leader, Tim, As well as Sunshine and Tim who planned to climb the east buttress. The warm sun was almost t-shirt weather, but the minute the sun dipped behind the massif, temps dropped out.

We had a lively dinner where Tom learned the buttery joys of instant mashed potatoes and Jonathan W. enjoyed his Everest-grade down suiting. I learned a crucial lesson: if you’re camping in the snow, and you need to melt snow for water, and you have a liquid fuel stove, bring the liquid fuel stove, not the wobbly torch stove and a tiny 4oz fuel can. A pair of coyotes circled camp but kept their distance. My feet got cold, especially my left foot. My sleeping pad blew a baffle, I climbed in my bag before 7PM and slept like shit, but I was plenty warm all night.

We got an early start and were on the mountain in firm snow. The long main chute chute yielded to a rocky notch which revealed the final 400 feet, an exposed and steep snow slope to the summit. The crux turned out to be a short section of rock, that was unnerving but easy. The consequences of a fall here could be serious, and one of our party just ahead took a belay which I gladly glommed onto. The bootpack was well-established and it was an easy climb to the top.

We popped a few Guiness’ and took photos, lingered on the summit in the cold, clear air, admiring views in all directions. We decided to rap the chute, which was a nice way to descend, although slower than downclimbing, and it wasn’t a terribly difficult downclimb. Rappelling over the rock sections was definitely the right choice, although we did dislodge a toaster-sized rock when pulling the ropes. The alternate walk-off descent to the west was avy-prone and extremely steep, and not recommended at all.

In the mid-day sun, the east-facing main chute had softened, the descent was easy and we were back in camp after about 2.5 hrs. glissade conditions were in full effect. Terrain traps abounded in the warm sun as the glissade tracks led directly into man-sized ice-water pits. We broke camp and glissaded almost to the parking lot, enjoying numb buttcheeks and good laughs. Burgers, beers and a failed attempt at a cappucino ensued, as we learned of Ueli Steck’s death on Everest, a bittersweet moment to an otherwise fantastic weekend.

5 hours later I dropped off Jon, drove home, showered and crawled into bed.


Caronas Sandwich Shop

A new series where I review one of my former jobs. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

In 1995 I took my second trip cross country, and upon arrival at my half-brother’s house in San Diego, broke up with my hippy, vegan, dreadlocked girlfriend, Caitlin. She and I had come to the point in our relationship where constant bickering over life’s inconsequential minutiae had become surprisingly less entertaining than expected.

Alone, immature, and crashing at my then thirty-something brother’s pad with his new wife proved inconvenient for both of us, namely him, so it was on me to get a jobby job and find a place of my own. This being  San Diego’s mid-90’s salad days, I was quickly able to find a job at a Mission Hills sub shop,  the most menial possible job possible within a bike ride of my temporary home base in Normal Heights.

My job was clear: I’d do all the sh*t work that no one else would be bothered to do. In food service this means lots of cleaning, from grease traps to ovens, and then for a treat,  the lowest end of food prep, i.e shredding lettuce, cooking bacon, and slicing tomatoes, i.e. anything that requires zero cooking skills.

The boss was Steve Carona.   His namesake eatery was a typical non-descript sandwich joint in that one spot that has turned over 10 times on an otherwise nice little restaurant row.  Steve had a standing order for at least a few dozen subs a day on to the base, which basically kept the place running while he squandered any meager profit either on one of his many ex-wives and mistresses or more likely, up his nose.

Steve was a massive pain in the ass, but was rarely there.  My day started with Howard Stern on the radio while sweeping the leaves from a nice, shady upstairs eating area.  Then it was time to prep for the lunch rush.   My least favorite job was in the afternoon: protecting the private, shared parking lot from non-authorized-parkers, something which basically involved me counting minutes while staring into space. Occasionally, I had to clean the grease trap, or cook 50lbs of bacon at a time, and inhaling bacon grease vapor is not something I would recommend to anyone.

Honestly, it wasn’t a bad job. It was one of those jobs that’s just exactly what you’d expect.   The paychecks cashed and the people were nice.  I made friends with the  lead cook and we’d sometimes hang out at her under-furnished North Park apartment and drink beer.  Eventually I saved up enough to get out of my brother’s house.  I think I quit because I found a better job somewhere else, and no one really cared one way or the other.  Carona’s closed a few years later.

15 years later,  I find myself picking up a pizza pie from my favorite local place, and who’s standing outside, greeting customers and answering the phone?   None other than Steve Carona.  I shake his hand and tell him that I worked for him a dozen years ago.  His interest piqued, but clearly having no idea who I was, he responds like he was running the place:  “Oh yeah?  Well, I’m over here now”.   That was pretty much about what I’d expected.

More Fashion Fun

Some more musings on corporate men’s fashion…

  • Wearing all-black does not really make you stylish. If you are over 30, it makes you weird.
  • If you are over 30, resist the urge to shop and H&M or Zara. Those clothes don’t fit you anymore. You can find lower-cost adult clothes at places like Lands End.
  • The hem of your pants is probably the most important detail of all. Your pants hem should touch the sole of your shoe in the back for a full break, and about an inch above for no break. Showing your socks or man-ankles is absolutely forbidden. Similarly, walking around with sacks of cloth on your shoes is not good either.
  • If your pants are hemmed too short, get them fixed at the tailor, don’t sag your pants down to make up for it.
  • Invest in more than one pair of shoes. A good basic selection would be a black plain or cap-toe oxford, a brown oxford, and a brown loafer. If you wear the same shoes every day, people will notice.
  • Wearing the same pair of Gucci Horsebit loafers every day is not going to cover the fact that you only have one pair of shoes. Instead of spending 500 dollars on those, get 3 pairs of Allen Edmonds on sale.
  • Wearing loafers with a suit really doesn’t make sense. Loafers are casual shoes.
  • Sportjackets are casual, not dress clothes. However in ‘business casual’ offices, you will get a little grief for wearing a jacket. Just keep at it and eventually they won’t notice. I’m wearing one today.
  • A tie and a dress shirt is not really any dressier than not wearing a tie at all. If you wear a tie, wear a jacket too. No jacket, no tie. You can just wear a sportjacket with out the tie as well.
  • If you wear a jacket, keep it on. If all you want to do is take the jacket off the minute you get to your desk, ditch the jacket entirely.
  • Buy a pair of socks that stay up. Baggy socks are definitely a no-no. Club Room socks have EverStay technology and really do stay up!
  • Socks match your pants. Not your shoes. So grey slacks and black shoes means grey socks.
  • Please, for the sake of everyone else in the office, wear an undershirt. I can see your hairy man-nipples through your white shirts.
  • If there is one and only one piece of advice I can offer, it is to either learn how to iron your clothes or go to the dry cleaner and get your clothes professionally pressed. You can’t just keep wearing the same shirt again and again without getting them pressed. My rule is 2 wears per laundering.

Turkey Time

I am a big Thanksgiving fan.  It’s a holiday with the sole purpose of getting together, eating, drinking, and being merry.  There’s no religious overtones, no consumerism-tainted gift-guilting, and it’s a one-day thing – no endless parties and social events around it.  Plus, it’s a 4-day weekend just when you think you’re about to go insane from not having a day off since Labor Day.

For me, a proper Thanksgiving is a must.  No need for new traditions here.  Just turkey, taters, gravy, wine.  See you in the food coma, kiddies!

Suiting with Sassy

There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to wear a suit. It might be a job interview, business affair, wedding, funeral, or a fancy night out with that special someone. Despite current trends towards ‘Dressy Casual’ jean & t-shirt combos and designer track suits, the venerable men’s suit is still the preferred choice for most formal occasions.

It’s probably easier to talk about what not to do than what makes a good suit. In basic terms, you want a wool suit that fits properly, 2 or 3 buttons, wrinkle-free with pressed slacks, dress shirt, tie, shined shoes. Couldn’t be simpler, right? Well, I guess not.

The biggest problem I see is “swimming in the suit”. Most men seem to be wearing clothes that don’t fit. Too-big jackets, too-long pants, sagging pants are all-too-common. I’ve talked about the importance of pants that fit before, so I’ll talk about the jacket, which can be a tough thing to figure out.

The basic rule of thumb it’s OK to have a jacket that is slightly too small but not OK to have a jacket that is at all too big. There are a few easy ‘tells’ when trying on a jacket that will make it easier to get one that fits. First, ask the salesman for a shirt in your size. This is important. Make sure it fits correctly and ask for him to measure you if necessary.

Button up the shirt all the way and button the sleeves. When you try on the jacket, you are looking for about a half-inch of your shirt collar to show above the jacket at the very back of your neck. If the jacket covers your shirt collar, it’s too big.

Watch out for over-padded shoulders – the easy way to tell this is to stand with your shoulder against a wall – your arm should meet the wall before the shoulder pad of the jacket.

See how the jacket fits in the chest. Button the top button (or 2 of a three-button) and place your fist under the top button. It should fit comfortably and snugly without too much extra room. If you can pull the buttoned jacket 5 or more inches from your chest, it is too big.

Your jacket’s sleeves can be hemmed. If the jacket fits in the chest and shoulders, hem the sleeves so that about a half-inch of shirt cuff shows with your arms at your sides. You can go even shorter (to about an inch) if you are young, slim, and want that hipster look. Some modern cuts also have smaller, more tailored arms which are nice for taller men. Look for these, they prevent the dreaded “football shoulders” which is hard to avoid.

A couple more things to remember:

  • A sportcoat and slacks is not a suit.
  • Don’t wear a tuxedo shirt without a tuxedo.
  • Don’t wear french cuffs unless you are wearing a suit.
  • Your tie should reach your belt. Too-short ties are an instant barney maneuver.
  • Get your suit tailored, steamed and pressed before you wear it.
  • Shine your shoes!
  • If you can only buy one suit, it should be black, navy, or dark grey. Striped suits are for your second or third suit.
  • 3-button suits are better for men with thinner upper bodies; both 2 and 3 button suits are appropriate. Be careful with the 4-button suits.
  • Your jacket should have a vent (center or sides). A jacket without a vent looks like a sack.
  • If you wear a black suit, wear black socks and black shoes and a black belt.

My Backyard

My Backyard, originally uploaded by Sassberto.

This photo is a couple of months old. It’s amazing how much more stuff has grown since then.