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landoclimb

[TR] Mt. Hood - Yocum Ridge Solo 03/21/2020

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Trip: Mt. Hood - Yocum Ridge Solo

Trip Date: 03/21/2020

Trip Report:

"It's not my imagination, I've got a gun at my back!" 

-Revenge, Black Flag

 

Yocum Ridge is the first route I ever thought about climbing. I remember looking at the striking line from the bus stop in my elementary school. Even though I knew nothing about climbing at the time, the sheer beauty of the route captivated me. As I have accumulated some knowledge about climbing, I learned the route wouldn't go down so easy. Something about the jagged ridgeline dulled by rime gives Yocum a special sense of beauty. Today I set out to realize a childhood fantasy of mine. 

3:00 and I'm starting the slog up the mountain. My morale is already low because I forgot my headphones. This damn climb is going to make me absorb the sounds of nature! Two hours or so of walking takes me up to Illumination Saddle. Here I lay eyes on the silhouette of Yocum ridge by headlamp. Nerves turn to excitement as the clock strikes 5:00. The glacier crossing was easier than I expected thanks to all the action the route has seen over the past few weeks. The footprints take me to a headwall a little to the right of where the guidebook says to go. The squeaking and ringing of my ice tools puts me into a trance. After about 150 feet of steep-ish climbing, I gain the ridge. Yocum starts off with a tease. An easy and welcoming rime stepped staircase obscures the rest of the ridge from view. I'll play your game. 

When the first gendarme comes into view, I have to fight thoughts of doubt coming into my head. At first sight, the rime covered sentinel looks steep and unforgiving at every point. The closer I get however, the clearer the line becomes. My cold helmet feels like a gun against the back of my head. I know it's time. I start to the right of a cave and quickly cut left. The ice feels solid and I flow through a steeper gully. 30 meters or so in, I arrive at the crux. Solid snow and ice turn to dead vertical swiss cheese. Through delicate movement and prayer, I fire through the crux. Each stick felt like a weak handshake. The section required commitment to tools placed in an unknown mixture of snow/ice with dubious feet. Finally, I reach the top of the first gendarme. My blood pressure drops slightly as I soak in the beauty of the bladed ridge that lies in front. Here I am extremely grateful for the groups before me who did the heavy rime clearing and bollard building.

From the bollard at the end of the gendarme, I downclimb while on rappel to traverse across an exposed section to a big ledge. This beta worked well for me and seemed to alleviate problems some other groups were having. As I started the traverse pitch to the second gendarme, I felt something fall out of my pocket. I turn my head just in time to see my phone fly down the snow slopes and disappear into the glacier below. Perhaps my phone was the sacrifice the route required. Better phone than blood. Then, like clockwork, a raven swoops by me and perches itself on the tip of the first gendarme. We stare at each other for a minute and I thank him for allowing me to experience this route today. I know that I'm just a guest in the mountains. From here on I felt as if I had permission to continue my journey, hopefully my dues were already paid. 

The ridge widened the further I traversed down it. Passing the second gendarme was the most secure I felt since getting on route. More slogging took me to another bollard (this time with tat!) off of the third gendarme. I chose to rap north to avoid more thin ridge fuckery. Walking along the steep snow slopes took more energy than I thought. My calves burned and cursed me for bringing two single ropes to rap with. More training I guess. Even though some exposure was still present, I began to meditate with the route. Every swing, foot placement, and movement just felt right. As crawled back over to west side, the sun reared its ugly face, and I began to sweat my ass off. I followed more good tracks around to the right of the final buttress. The last buttress is like a fortress full of impassible walls and sneaky gullies. The first gully I started up took me about 150 feet and ended with impassible rime towers. I downclimbed and again, moved right. Here I could see tracks going to Leuthold from Yocum Ridge. Now I knew I was no longer under the gun. One of the rightmost gullies brought success. I tormented my calves up a few hundred more feet until I topped out the buttress at around 12:30. From the top of the buttress, one final ridge traverse took me to the Queen's Chair. 6 year old Landon would be proud. Looking down the ridge I could see all the minute details that made this route special. Negotiating the route was digging into the alpine bag of tricks and executing. 

I chose not to tag the summit because I wanted to search the base of the route for my phone (spoiler alert: the phone disappeared into a different dimension). Hiking down Leuthold gave me time to absorb the mountain more. Striking blue accents on rime towers, weird ice formations on the glacier, and the forest just miles away all presented themselves.

Days like this make me question the future. I'm sure one day I'll find something that will bring me peace. I often think about Mark Twight saying that climbing can be "too much but never enough." Yocum Ridge was one of, if not the best alpine routes I have experienced. Although it wasn't technically difficult, the sheer volume of spectacular movement truly makes this one of a kind. 

On the way down I wept. For some reason this route had a different impact on me. Maybe it was the feeling of complete peace and isolation, maybe it was the sheer beauty of it all. Maybe I'm just emotional. I stumbled into the Timberline at around 4:00 and unlocked my car. With the clicking of the lock, my reality had become just a memory. 

Gear Notes:
Basically a sport climb

Approach Notes:
Attack the ridge at about 8800ft
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Fuck yeah! Strong work. Sounds like an extraordinarily special experience. Keep it up.

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, nkimmes said:

Fuck yeah! Strong work. Sounds like an extraordinarily special experience. Keep it up.

Thanks for putting up the route this season! You guys had it a lot harder than I did.

Edited by landoclimb

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With more of life, most eventually find that peace you're searching for- but then the climbs (if one still climbs) tend to involve partners and are pedestrian, predictable, and safe. 

Now, you are in your storm years- raging, full on!  Good luck and stay as safe as you can.

:wave:

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1 hour ago, ScaredSilly said:

Did ya try the "Find my iPhone?" app??? Could of had the summit and your phone too!! 

Nice work :-).

I tried calling my phone too but all I heard was an angry raven

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Extremely experienced alpinists (like Jim Wickwire) use a rope on Yocum for a reason.  That's not to diminish the accomplishment or the vision, but come on guys, is this something you're comfortable encouraging?  I refuse to encourage a 19 year old climber to play Russian Roulette; if I'm alone in this, so be it

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29 minutes ago, ktarry said:

I refuse to encourage a 19 year old climber to play Russian Roulette; if I'm alone in this, so be it

Although I've never met him, I am pretty sure that @landoclimb isn't doing it because of any encouragement online.  The first swing into that rimey swiss cheese will bring that into clear focus. 

There is a long climbing tradition of the young and the keen soloing where the consequences are clear and unforgiving- much to the vexation of parents everywhere.  Doesn't make it right or wrong, it just is.  I don't think that is lost on anyone, let alone this young man. 

And, we've been around this bush with the likes of @Colin@marc_leclerc and many others over the years.  They didn't listen either. :wink:

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1 hour ago, ktarry said:

Extremely experienced alpinists (like Jim Wickwire) use a rope on Yocum for a reason.  That's not to diminish the accomplishment or the vision, but come on guys, is this something you're comfortable encouraging?  I refuse to encourage a 19 year old climber to play Russian Roulette; if I'm alone in this, so be it

The enormity of soloing and the consequences are not lost on me. I've not in the game for the kudos and I live with my actions. What I do gives me contrast against the sanitized existence we are all plagued with. I'm sure as hell no where near as good or as experienced as Jim Wickwire but I imagine we have different motivations. Living under the gun gives me the experience necessary to justify my existence, and nothing is as powerful as the dance.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/23/2020 at 12:15 PM, JasonG said:

I am pretty sure that @landoclimb isn't doing it because of any encouragement online. 

I bet that's why he has a professional instagram account and the post about this climb includes 30 hashtags...

I know what decisions I made when I was 20 years old, and I know the stories that I told myself to justify them.  I also know how they look now, with 15 years more accumulated wisdom.  I don't think pointing to Marc-Andre is a very convincing argument either, considering he left this world before his 30th birthday and left behind a grieving community.

I will now depart my soapbox and won't bring any more negativity to this significant achievement, but I am out of patience for seeing young/new climbers hanging it way out there and getting nothing besides "atta boy!" from this community.

Edited by ktarry
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10 minutes ago, ktarry said:

I bet that's why he has a professional instagram account and the post about this climb includes 30 hashtags...

I know what decisions I made when I was 20 years old, and I know the stories that I told myself to justify them.  I also know how they look know, with 15 years more accumulated wisdom.  I don't think pointing to Marc-Andre is a very convincing argument either, considering he left this world before his 30th birthday and left behind a grieving community.

I will now depart my soapbox and won't being any more negativity to this significant achievement, but I am out of patience for seeing young/new climbers hanging it way out there and getting nothing besides "atta boy!" from this community.

The social media game is shitty for sure. Unfortunately in this era, social media opens up opportunities. I would have to be a sad human to risk my life for a heart on the bottom of a post. You can come climbing with me if you want to know why I do these things. We both live in Portland. 

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4 hours ago, ktarry said:

I don't think pointing to Marc-Andre is a very convincing argument either, considering he left this world before his 30th birthday and left behind a grieving community.

That makes him perfect the example.  Life is messy.....and you often don't die the way everyone expects you to.  Most importantly, we are all going to die no matter what we do.  :skull:

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Sounds like an amazing adventure. I'm not one to tell you what to do or not to do. 

As Jimi Hendrix said, "I'm the one that's going to have to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my own life the way I want to" (If 6 was 9).

Risk is an essential part of climbing for many of us, and we all have to find the level that suits us best.

However, with maturity most of us come to realize that the pain our death or disability would inflict on our families, friends, partners, and communities is greater than we would experience ourselves.

Read this thoughtful piece from Colin Haley, a local legend who did a lot of soloing in his younger years....

https://www.colinhaley.com/a-brief-visit-to-patagonia-and-reflections-on-hard-solo-climbing/

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I would love to rope up with Landon ... yeah he is young but reading his posts there is some good stuff there that this well aged alpinist sees. Besides being young, he can carry the rope and the rack. Though he does seem a bit pre-occupied with Mt. Hood, I am sure that will change :-).

Edited by ScaredSilly
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Posted (edited)

Signing in to cash in my .02

I respect Kyle's POV and think that his perspective has it's place in this discussion - but I wanted to counter and speak in favor of Landon. 

1) Marc Andre Leclerc died while rappelling (likely swept). Guy Lacelle was swept by an avvie. So were Hansjorg Auer and David Lama. So was Ueli Steck. It is rare that a soloist dies on a technically challenging solo. It happens (Austin Howell, Jean-Chirstophe Laifelle, Ryan Jennings) but isn't the leading cause of death in the mountains for high end soloists, and it isn't clear if they would have survived (with the exception of Howell) had they been partnered. The greatest general risk factor in climbing is simply mileage in the mountains, the terrain traveled, and its associated cumulative probability. It stands to reason that we should shame people who get out and climb constantly, but we don't, because that isn't quite as scary to imagine as being on the Yocum ridge without a rope - the gear+roped risks are more familiar to us and are less obvious. It would also force us to question if we should be climbing at all in the first place - which is something that we are reluctant to do. 

2) The amount of risk taken on a solo is generally most obvious to the soloist themselves (assuming that the soloist is prepared and lucid). The rest of us can only assume, given that we do not know how solid the soloist is and how favorable conditions were at the time of the solo. I know Kyle climbed the Yocum ridge this season as well, so he has an idea of the risk that was taken by Landon (which is likely why he made his post) - however, it is entirely possible that Kyle took on more with the rope (given the poor nature of the gear on Yocum, Kyle's specific skillset + experience relative to Landon's and the mental blanket that gear can offer in otherwise fatal fall scenarios). That being said, it is impossible to know - we can only assume since we do not know the minutiae of both ascents and both climbers. 

3) Generally speaking, if you make a habit of soloing, your risk of dying while climbing is much higher than that of a casual climber. This has likely more to do with your threshold of acceptable risk + mileage in high consequence terrain than it does with the specific act of soloing. Our willingness to take on risk correlates greatly with what we have to lose, our cumulative experience, and our personalities. Our relationship with risk changes with age, and I have to say that I there are risks that I personally took as a younger person that I would not take today. I have also gotten in over my head before and survived - how much of that I can attribute to luck rather than innate skill, I will never know. If you make a habit of soloing, it is less likely you will survive to learn a lesson from your mistakes due to the thin margin of error that is allowed. 

I think Landon's accomplishment is incredible given that he has survived it. It is certainly an experience he will never forget. I also think that it is best to solo rarely and to have 99% of your climbing experience be with a rope, so that your odds of surviving a marginal scenario and learning from it are greater. Ultimately though, soloing is a very personal activity and is something that I would only criticize if I honestly believe that the ascent was sketchy. I have not climbed with Landon (or the Yocum ridge) so I cannot form an opinion about his judgement or skill. Landon is young, so he will inherently get more flak from the community - such is the nature of talking about your solo ascents. Consider it a rite of passage, every public soloist has gotten this reaction in the face of their accomplishments. The fear of this kind of reaction is also the chief reason there are also many mind bending solos that do not get reported first hand. That being said, I think that the spirit of his post is to share something that was deeply personal with a community that he admires (rather than spray to us) and I respect it for that reason. I would also lie if I said that I do not feel a chill to my core when hearing of other's solo ascents. We inherently struggle with accepting the certainty that comes with many solos (i.e. "you send or you die"). Anyway, also getting off of my soapbox - congrats if you made it through this wall of text. Good job Landon - this is a first class achievement. 

Edited by Artem Vasilyev
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Posted (edited)

Artem, you've climbed one easy route on Hood, and yet you're arguing that soloing Yocum might be safer than climbing it with a partner.  This is exactly the culture of risk that I'm worried about.  Please be careful out there and stay safe.

Edited by ktarry

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19 hours ago, ktarry said:

Artem, you've climbed one easy route on Hood, and yet you're arguing that soloing Yocum might be safer than climbing it with a partner.  This is exactly the culture of risk that I'm worried about.  Please be careful out there and stay safe.

I can see Artem's point. When neither belay anchors nor protection will hold a fall the rope merely binds everyone's fate. Those are the kind of routes that I try to avoid. That said, I recently soloed an alpine ice route I've wanted to do for 20 years but I have never seen in protectable conditions.  Soloing the route felt like the safer option, a judgment call made looking through the lens of 30 years of experience. 

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No conjecture is needed guys, I was on the route a few weeks ago, and vast majority of the high risk climbing could be protected with a rope.  Anyway, that's not the point, we don't need to argue about a route that most people in this thread have never seen up close.  I'm simply saying that there are a lot of strong young guys making bold climbs, and I'm worried about them.  Hardly seems controversial...

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Posted (edited)

-

 

Edited by DPS

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What Kyle is saying isn’t wrong. Being worried about climbers making dangerous climbs is completely understandable. At the end of the day I don’t think this discussion is productive. Speaking for myself, I didn’t climb this route because I thought it would be safer than with a partner, and I’m also not going to stop climbing in this style because of an online forum. We all know how personal the experience of climbing is to us. Its fine to have a different opinion about how someone climbs a route but people will be climbing dangerous routes and soloing until the end of time.  Neither Kyle nor I left any impact on the route that would detract from the experience of future parties so as far as the mountain is concerned, we had the same style. In 100 years from now everyone in this thread will be dead one way or another. We’re all just trying to stay as safe as we can. 

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EVERYONE IS RIGHT! 

GROUP HUG......CLIMB ON IN YOUR OWN WAY PEEPS!  (after the governor says it's OK)

:moondance:

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Posted (edited)

You've done some amazing things, landoclimb, I loved and shared your last two trip reports.

But I have something on my mind I want to run by you. I'm worried about coming across as a horrible person, but I'm not good at keeping these things to myself. Hopefully I'm wrong.

I attempted Leuthold's the day after you, and turned around at the hourglass. There was a ridiculous amount of ice coming down. Two days before, others attempted it and had extremely good conditions (see PNW Mountaineers on Fecesbook). I've never seen so much weird, cantilevered ice on the mountain, trickling down at all hours (especially night). The ice is in rapid flux.

That makes me doubt the bollards would've been usable after 9 days of intense freeze thaw with a storm thrown in.

Further, maybe I didn't look carefully enough, but I did look around and did not notice the tracks you would've left crossing Reid the day before. All discernable tracks went uphill, and I erred toward North to avoid falling stuff. Unless they were erased I would've seen your tracks.

Further further, what elementary school has a decent view of Yokum ridge, such that you'd identify a line and want to follow it?

Bummer about the phone. I wish we had pics.

I'm also surprised you didn't mention the wind. It was an extremely windy night/morning, apparently. One climber I talked to on my lovely slog up on Saturday (I spent the night on the saddle) said he dug a shelter out of fear, though to be fair nobody else did.

 

Please refute me without hate, but I wonder if this actually happened. Thoughts, comments? If it did (and I hope it did), from one soloist (though I'm not nearly as objectively badass) to another, hats off!

Edited by nonbasketless

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