The Swift Cabin

Some time back, my former co-workers Dave and Ben Swift told me about a cabin that they had built with their father Paul Swift many years ago. The cabin was built in an area that I and been cutting firewood in and I knew the area some what. Located up a faint trail off of a four wheel drive road at mile 13 of the Haines Highway, it was built by hand utilizing logs and timbers of Spruce and Pine from the forest it is located in. Anything that the forest did not provide, had to be hauled in on foot up the 1500 foot climb up from river level through the steepening forest to the cabin site.

Angela and I had plans to go on a hike today, so we decided to drive up river for a hike across some Pine covered ledges overlooking the Chilkat River I had discovered and traversed a couple of weeks earlier. Upon arriving to the scene, we decided we wanted to do something different. I remembered the cabin Dave and Ben told me about, so another mile drive up river brought us to the four wheel drive logging road and the start of our forest walk.

Up the old road we go; some erosion and boulders had drifted into the roadway over the winter. Mental note: must remove boulders before firewood season this year in order to get the truck up here. Soon we come to the blotch of spray paint marking the trails entrance into the forest, and soon we are deep within it. The hike is ever slightly steepening for about 35-45 minutes and eventually one gains a flat shelf perched below the final steep section of the ridge. The cabin is located here and is in a nice location with obstructed views of the Chilkat below. A worthy hike indeed to a true blue Alaska wilderness cabin.

 

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Glacier Point (Big Waves in a Little Boat)

Fine spring weather and a weekend off urges me to pack up the skiff for a first -time-this-year-sailing. The 12 foot Lund has some leaky rivets, and the 39 year old Johnson 9.9 horse motor is about as decrepit as they come. Still, it was time to get out across the water and explore. I pack the boat and call Angela to roust her from whatever she was planning for the day, and soon we are humming along in dead calm ocean water; headed for the opposite side of the Chilkat Inlet to explore the Davidson Glacier and the areas around Glacier Point. We spot River Otters, Sea Lions, and Humpback Whales along the way. The weather is the sort you dream of in Haines: sunny and partly cloudy skies, warm temperatures, and not even a wisp of wind. Soon we are beached on the shores of Glacier Point, and before we can get camera gear into backpacks for a trek up to the glacier, we spot a Humpback whale surfacing and spouting it’s blow hole. Within seconds the creature is back in the depths and without notice, the Humpy has breached the water and is airborne. Our jaws drop, and we expect it to end there. Over the next 5 minutes or so, the Humpback breaches and spins and tail swats airborne style at least 10 more times, causing great and rewarding splashes. We are in awe of the spectacle we have just witnessed. I have never seen anything like it, not even close. I was so riveted by the performance, I refused to grab the camera for some action video. My dinky 105mm lens likely would have produced unsavory results anyhow. As it was, I’m certain I got much more out of the experience with out the camera in my hand. As much as I want so bad that great shot, I want the experience even more.

Soon we are trudging up the dirt access road to the Davidson Glacier where we marvel at the beauty of the magnificent and engaging ice, as well as admiring spectacular views of Mt Sinclair and Mt Elba and the bulk of the heavily glaciated Alaskan Coast Range visible north of Juneau. On the way back we find a flock of twenty strong Snow Geese nestled into the coastal grasses of the surf plane, catching up on some well earned rest.

That night, the wind picks up and we are thankful we had decided to pitch the tent after all. In the morning, we see the storm clouds a brewing and the wind picking up even further. A quick escape is in order, and soon the boat is packed and we struggle to get the tiny skiff past the swelling surf and into deeper water where we can fire her up. Soon the motor is running and we hightail it back up the inlet, punching the small vessel through the two to three foot swells. This feels like survival boating and Angela is wearing the only life preserver we have. For fear of capsizing the boat, I stay on the decaying throttle to keep the craft moving directy into the oncoming surf. I am white knuckled, cold, and concerned. After a bit, Letnikof Cove appears and soon we are pulling up to the boat ramp and loading the truck. The storm never actually took foot, but it sure made for some big waves in a little boat.

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Lunar Ecstasy

After sending this story to Rock and Ice, the Alpinist, and Climbing Magazine with no interest, I’ve decided to publish it to Just Rolling By for all to read, for better or worse. Enjoy!

 

LUNAR ECSTASY

By Linus Lawrence Platt

 The early nineties was a confusing, but glorious time for me in regard to bouncing from location to location in search of a climbing scene with the most caliber and diversity. Having spent a year and a half in Moab, then heading to Boulder for a 5 month stint there, I was ready once again for a change. I had the wall itch flowing in my veins and I figured a trip to Zion for a spell was in order; at least it wasn’t too far out of the way going to the Valley from Boulder. Driving west, I swing the decrepit van south onto Highway 191 to my old stomping grounds in Moab to hang with my buddy Kyle and learn that an avalanche in the La Sal mountains just outside of town has killed several of my friends. It was a long and grievous week that followed and when I finally did get back on the road,  I felt like I was heading to a gregarious gathering of climbing and new friends that I hadn’t yet met. Zion was calling.

Back in those days one could drive into the Park and scope out climbs and approaches, cook meals in your van, and pull off the occasional incognito bivouac at the Zion Lodge parking lot, which, on that late evening in February 1992, is exactly what I did. Being a newbie to the walls of Zion, I set my eyes on soloing the Touchstone Wall on the Cerberus Gendarme, figuring it to be a good initiation; even though Navaho Sandstone was not unfamiliar to me, jumping in moderately seemed appropriate, especially solo. I fix the first couple of aid pitches and rap for a retreat to town. Later that night, at the Bit and Spur sitting at the bar, I strike up a conversation with local Springdale climber Brad Quinn, who mentions he wouldn’t mind doing the Touchstone with me if I wanted the company. Brad was a sandy haired, good natured fellow who was born and raised in Rockville and Springdale, making him a true local. His list of activity and first ascents in Zion were impressive and being so easy to get along with made me want his company on this climb; I liked him immediately. I say “Sure Thing” and by the next evening, we are happily descending from the Gendarme’s summit. The day had gone without a hitch and Brad and I seemed a good pair. On the descent, while simul-rapping, Brad tells me of an unclimbed route he had been scoping for a couple of years or so…  A thin line to the left of the omnipotent classic, Moonlight Buttress.

In those times, Brad’s house, the “Rock House”, named for it’s construction of stone blocks, proximity to the park entrance and world class bouldering, and the fact that it’s occupants were all climbers, was the de facto hang of the Zion Wall climbing scene; the Camp 4 of Zion, if you will. 1992 was an exciting year to be in Zion; there was an abundance of activity in the park that season and it was the year that I met the likes of Barry Ward, John Middendorf, Alan Humphrey, Jeff Hollenbaugh, Chris Circello, Eric Ramussen, Darren Cope, and many, many others.  An unusually high number of quality, modern classic aid lines were ticked that year. Brad and I spent hours at the Rock House contemplating his new proposed route, but it wasn’t for a couple more days ’till we drove up canyon to have a serious look. After scoping with binoculars and scribbling notes, we are certain it will go; thinking it will most likely be a semi difficult nail-up. Later, Ron “Piton Ron” Olevsky, a fixture of Zion climbing back then, had told us he had “scoped the line” but deemed it “too thin to climb in good conscience”. Thin was what we were looking for and the thought of such a new route stoked us up.

After a couple of days of free climbing, swimming in the river, and Brad showing me his secret bouldering circuit, we began the process of getting together the gear and logistics for the adventure ahead. Two days later, after procuring the necessary hardware and food, we found ourselves fiording the Virgin River and humping our loads to the base of the route. In an attempt to create a line of originality and a sense of it’s own, we opted not to follow the first couple of pitches of Moonlight Buttress, but instead start in a left leaning corner system that branched off Moonlight’s first 60 feet that we hoped would lead to the steep and monolithic features that characterize much of the route. And lead us to those features it did, but 2 or pitches of less than desirable rock had ensued to attain this. Such was the price. The first “real” pitch was one that concerned us slightly, as it appeared from the road to be a featureless wall of scallops and traversing that we certainly took for granted to be a drill fest. Upon casting off on this “Half Moon Traverse”, Brad found the pitch to be a mixture of drilled and natural hooking, some nailing, and the crafty use of Tri-Cams. After cleaning said pitch, I arrived to find Brad standing there, on a tiny ledge, the headwall we had so appreciably desired looming above his shoulders, and a shit-eating grin adorning his mustached face, with the wind blowing his sandy hair above his boater’s cap, signifying we had reached our goal and the route was under way. While perched upon that tiny ledge at our day’s high point, a clear view of the thinnest part of the route above lay clearly visible, even in the waning daylight. The crack in question was not even a seam at the level of this “Farewell Ledge”; in fact it didn’t become a feature capable of accepting even the thinnest of Bird Beaks for at least a couple of body lengths. We drill 3 bolts, rap to the deck, and head to the Rock House for celebration.

We spend the next 24 hours resting and getting some thin nailing gear together, revamping our drill kit, and swedging together rivet hangers and other miscellaneous. The year before, while putting up routes near Moab, Kyle Copeland, who had the year prior, made the first ascent of The Fang in Zion with John Middendorf, taught me a trick for an alternative to bathooking on sandstone. He would drill a 3/8″ hole, about 3/8″ deep, and instead of bat hooking the hole, tapped a Bird Beak into it. it’s removal could be achieved by a simple twist and the Beak would simply pop out. I figured that to reach the portion of the seam that would finally take gear would require a technique such as this, so we adjusted our drill bag accordingly. That evening, hitting the sack early, I dreamt of flawless vertical fractures and of pitons and of great exposure and of seeing the world from high above the earth. I sleep.

After jugging up fixed lines to Farewell Ledge, the sharp end is mine, and I cast off; a series of drilled Beak and hook moves then finally a sequence of Beaks in the fissure, gain reward by means of tied off KB’s, giving way to tied off Arrows. By the time I  sunk in a Baby Angle, I was in looking at a possible 60 footer right onto Brad. Finally getting in some TCU’s provided relief, and at ropes end, I drill another belay. Brad’s next lead was a dream pitch consisting of perfection in the form of  a parallel splitter, mostly blue Alien size. Leapfrogging this outstanding pitch, provided not one of the hardest, but certainly one of the best pitches of the route. Cleaning the pitch found me arriving at the belay with Brad already having set up the porta-ledge and sipping a victory beer. Soon joining in after organizing the rack for the following morning, I too felt the immense sense of gratitude, being on this magnificent first ascent of such a fine line, relaxing on the porta-ledge our first night out, sipping beer, and watching the phosphorescent moon rise above the north face of Angel’s Landing, we felt a place of purpose and dignity in the world. Soon we sleep… That night, very late, I awake and peer into the deep sky of night and the stars and moon come alive within me and I feel as free as any Man on Earth. The canyon’s presence is a deep impression in my soul and being on this climb, this wall, imposes a larger than life sensation that is a parallel to my own life and why I am here.

We are up before the sun and soon I am slithering up a thin KB corner, then gently tip toeing across a sizable Amoeba flake that seems to be entirely detached from the stone. Once past the offending protozoa, I am able to drill a Beak hook past a blank section where the corner changes direction; a dicey free move deposits me onto a small ledge and I am grateful for it. We are moving with intent on this new route: not too fast but not too slow; after Brad fires off another straightforward pitch, a big ledge appears and we are in the mood to relax and enjoy our last night on the route. The porta-ledge is assembled, regardless of the big ledge, and our gear spread out in a luxuriant fashion for reorganizing. Sleep comes earlier than usual and allows us an early start in the morning for what turns out to be the unexpected crux of the route: the final pitch.

After packing the bags and putting away the ledge in anticipation of descending from this Stone, I cast off, up a loose corner, and peer above. A headwall of steep and varnished rock looms wildly above. I consider this for a moment, and decide that it could be a time consuming nail fest and in the interest in getting off this route, opt for an escape to it’s right. On the third ascent of the route, Brad Jarret climbed this headwall and that’s the way it’s been done ever since. Traversing under the headwall, I spy an easy looking flake system that is topped by a small roof. Above, lay a shallow and sinister looking groove that spirals to the summit. I clamber up the hollow sounding flakes, aid climbing on questionable hardware, tossing in the occasional free move to shake it up, and peer beyond the roof. I can see the top, but to get there, I’ll have to pull some tricks out of the bag. Over the roof, a sloping hook and a KB put me into the groove and I can see all of it’s inability to receive gear. After fumbling with Beaks in the back of the groove to no avail, a small Tri-Cam decides to stick long enough for me to fire in a LA at the feature’s end. Soon I am running up 5.6 slabs with abandon and latching arms around the Juniper tree at the top. Brad cleans and I haul the worst haul of my life: the nasty ‘ol pig scraping loudly across loose choss and sandy slabs, all the while knocking debris onto Brad’s vulnerable skull. Soon and without mishap, Brad and I are standing on the summit, grinning wildly and filled with ecstasy that we pulled of a fine climb. A quick scramble down some 3rd class blocks puts us onto the paved tourist trail where friends are waiting to help hump loads to the bottom and ease our pain; we are a grateful pair, Brad and I.

Throughout the climb, I had been shooting pictures and once on the deck, I was anxious to get them developed for a slide show at the Rock House once we were settled and de-rigged. A couple days later, I stroll into the photo joint in Springdale to pick up the shots and look them over quickly on their light table. Anxious, I split for the Rock House where a party ensues. The photos, having never been looked at that night, were set aside and in a drunken haze, I crawl into my van for some much needed slumber. Upon entering the Rock House the following morning, I see Brad pacing nervously. Looking upset, he seems to be searching; the picture are gone he says. Only a couple of loose slides lying on the table remained.  Somehow, over the course of the evening party, the photos of the climb had disappeared. We spent the next few days searching and hoping they would turn up, but alas, they never did. A snapshot of climbing history vanished.

A week following, on the second ascent of Lunar Ecstasy, as we called the route, Jim Funsten, on that last mysterious pitch, couldn’t get the Tri-Cam to stick and wound up drilling a bolt at the crux. Such is the evolution of an aid climb, especially one on sandstone. Later, on the 3rd ascent, Brad Jarrett avoided the funky last pitch altogether and climbed the steep headwall at last, providing not another crux, but another fine pitch to the route. After Lunar X, I stayed in Zion for another 6 or 7 months, ticked off a few more walls, made a little money, and headed to The Valley in the Fall.

 

Southern Stones

Way back, in the winter of 2010-2011, my last winter in Moab, I shot a series of footage featuring some of Moab’s best known bouldering and some of Moab’s best kept secret bouldering. The climbers featured in those shots were locals Jake Warren, Lisa Hathaway, and Jim Mundell. I wanted to show the enormous potential of bouldering in the Moab area and it’s diversity from one extreme to the other. Alas, that winter I was preparing for a 5000 mile bicycle trip departing in just a few short months, and spent most of the time riding my bike, training, working, and planning. Little time it seemed, was available for filming, and in the end, I got what I got. After moving to Alaska, I began sifting through the footage and realized there was not much of it, and the project got shelved. I wish there was a lot more of it, but there is not. These last few weeks, I re-opened the project and began to cut together what I had and came up with this; “Southern Stones”. It is not spectacular, but it is a snapshot of some of the bouldering that was going on at that time. So, it is what it is, as they say. Enjoy….

The Last Leg of Summer

Up ahead, just past the top of the long, mellow hill we are climbing, I can see the junction of the Elliott and Richardson Highways, where we will turn south and enter the sublime alpine beauty of the Chugagh Mountains, Alaska’s splendid “coast range”.  Last night’s camp, just past Kenny Lake was a fine birch forest scene with good weather and flat ground. Located just minutes from town, we were happily snuggled into the tent by early evening and a good night’s sleep was to be had. As we approach the intersection, there is a roadhouse visible just a few yards to the north and we decide to stop in for a coffee and some browsing at the roadhouse “garage sale” they are having. Angela begins browsing in a serious fashion and soon her arms are filled with trinkets and goods: a bicycle seat, a bicycle helmet, a candle holder, and assorted other comodities. I cheerfully remind her that we are traveling by bicycle; she reluctantly shelves her armload and we hustle inside to see what we can see.

After some local chat and too much cheap coffee, we are back on the road and headed south, toward the Klutina River.  The last few days have been filled with their fair share of cool temps and lots of rain and mud; as a result there has been little activity in the form of bathing, swimming, and river laundry, and right now, that’s exactly what I need. The Klutina River is just another fine example of a spectacular, yet small, Alaskan drainage, filled with fast moving, glacial melt water the color of a grey, cloudy sky. The water is ice cold and sweet to the thirsty tongue.  Ever since I began stomping around in these northern woods, I have seldom treated water for drinking. If it is standing water, such as a lake, I always filter; but generally, fast moving, glacial fed rivers are considered excellent “as is”. The Klutina is no exception and I drink freely and fill all of my bottles. A quick body dunk in the runnel is about all I can stand before a serious head freeze develops. I rinse a few clothes and hang them from my bike for a drying session while pedaling, and Angela and I are happilly heading, once again, up and into the alpine zone of Alaska’s mountains. Onward, the pavement snakes; deep into a forested valley filled with Birch and Spruce, Cottonwood and Alder. There is not a dearth of trees in Alaska, especially in the south, where permafrost is a rareness. Black Spruce taiga appears occasionally, a hallmark of the permafrost zone, but in the warmer and wetter areas of southern Alaska, large White Spruce and hardwoods are far more common. In fact, as we converge on the lower slopes of the Chugagh, the trees are very large indeed; magnificent specimens of a rich and healthy environment.

Looking ahead, I can now see small glaciers adorning the rocky peaks; sitting there quietly, keepers of time, observers of pattern, practitioners of routine. Collect, pack, advance; sit, melt, retreat. Repeating it’s endless yearly cycles, filling the rivers’, allowing the Salmon, feeding the Bears’, making the world. This is the interminable rythym of The North; it’s scale of balance all things wild and free depend on. Soon we are climbing upward; around every bend in the road, another glacier, each one bigger than the last. One is hanging in space, threatening to collapse and feed the one below it, like a hand me down from an older brother. As we ascend, the clouds become thick and a mist develops that is all but rain. The vegetation becomes greener and thicker, yet more sparce. Soon it is all tundra, and the final climb to the nearly three thousand foot Thompson Pass engages. Even though we are wet, we are ecstatic. This is another new place for my visual feast, for I have not been here before. New places always excite me, especially in Alaska. At the pass, it is damp and cold: we don more clothing for the giant descent towards the sea. Soon we are whizzing down, mile after mile, at high speed. 35 miles per hour in fact. Eventually it flattens out and we find ourselves deep within lush forest of Alder and Hemlock. Large firns are sprouting from the forest floor; a sign that we are nearing ocean. We cross a small stream and see the first of the Chum and Silver Salmon runs; ahead a bit further, there is a small black bear having a feast on the Salmon eggs, not even bothering with the flesh of the several dozen carcass’ lying about.

As we near Valdez, it begins to rain again, as it would do for another couple of days; in fact, early on the trip, we had promised ourselves a motel room somewhere, so now, in the rain at Valdez, it seemed appropriate. So a night with hot showers, a soft bed, and a rain free envoronment were to be had. We head to the ferry terminal the next morning, only to find that AMHS (Alaska Marine Highway System) had changed they’re schedules in the few short days time period since we had called for information; that meant another night in Valdez. So off down a trail we go, leading to the inlet of a small brook, to the kelp covered gravel beaches of the Valdez Arm. We stop for a bit and take it in, then head back the way we came to find a spot for the tent. Coming across another creek, it is seething with Chums and Silver’s. The grass on the shores of the water are totally flattened: we have just missed the Bears. We cautiously walk the perimiter of the area and see Salmon lying on the bare earth, with fresh bear tooth punctures. They must have been here seconds earlier. Had we startled them off? The scene is fantastic: a bear feeding ground, surrounded by salt water and a lush scene dominated by the peaks and glaciers of Valdez.

We board the ferry in the morning and across the Prince William Sound we go. Incredible coastline and calving tide water glaciers dominate the experience and soon we are in Whittier. Miraculously, the clouds break, and the sun shines strong upon our backs. A painless hitch hike through the Whittier tunnel (mandatory) puts us at Portage Lake and a spectacle of more glaciers and icebergs. It is still early, and we decide to try to make it to Girdwood by nightfall, which, after a couple of hours of battling heinous head winds, we accomplish. We camp next to a fast moving river, with glaciers viewable from camp, directly across from the Alyeska skii hill. Another great Alaska camp indeed. The pedal into Anchorage the next morning was filled with the terrible traffic of the Seward Highway, famous for it’s dangerous nature. we persevere and soon find ourselves in the hills above Anchorage, staying at Angela’s friends’ house. They are wonderful hosts and treat us like kings and queens; that night a delicious supper of Silver Salmon that was caught in Prince William Sound just few days prior. Stacey even supplies us with a box for angela’s bike to be shipped and gives her a ride to the airport. Angela and I say our goodbye’s for now; she is heading the the lower 48, and I heading to Eagle River, where I will meet my buddy Sven and we will drive back to Fairbanks and begin the fall season of training dogs for the upcoming winter, of which I will be staying in Bettles, AK.

It has been a glorious summer; nearly 2800 miles of pedaling, both solo and with Angela, across mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes, and ocean. I do love The North!

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San Juan Island

After spending the morning in Anacortes at a coffee shop, writing and sorting photos, I managed to catch the 2:40 pm ferry to San Juan Island.

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Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor is a small community situated on the east side of the island, and reminds me a little of Homer, AK. It is part fishing village, part tourist destination, part normal town, yet seems to have a for-real alternative feel to it, and that pleases me.

I’m here to visit my old friend Ben, whom I knew from Utah over the years.  Ben works as a local carpenter and lives a simplistic lifestyle, in the woods, and off the grid. His current living situation involves a wall tent erected on a framed, wooden platform with his solar panels mounted to the tent’s roof; primarily for lights and refrigeration.

I call Ben after getting off the ferry, and in minutes he whips around the corner in his pickup and we head to his workplace to look at some re-claimable lumber. The next morning, Ben convinces me to accompany him to the yoga class he frequents in town.  It has been a long while since my body has experienced this type of movement and it was difficult for me, yet enjoyable. My Angela (Aote) also teaches and guides, among other things, yoga as well, and going to this class in Friday Harbor reminds me of, and makes me yearn for Angela’s instruction. I am certain she would like it here on “the Island”.

Later, after breakfast, we go back to Ben’s workplace and load his flatbed trailer with said re-claimed lumber.  Then it starts to rain, Washington style, and he shows me around a bit.  Later, at his place, we sip tea and discuss topics ranging from solar energy to bike trips in Alaska. Back in the 90’s, Ben rode his bicycle from Moab to Fairbanks and back. It was a journey of over 6000 miles

Monday morning, Ben heads to his work and I to mine.. I head up north to Roche Harbor and then down the spectacular west coast of the island, for excellent views of Vancouver Island and Haro Strait.  Today I will catch the ferry back to the mainland and catch up with Dennis and Pat to do some fishing and get ready for Alaska..

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The Massive Mt Baker

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This is Ben!

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The awesome camp in Anacortes

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