Stories from the Vertical

the one & only

the one & only

While spooning our haul bags and slowly feeding out rope from the GriGri all I wanted to do was throw up what little food and water I had left in my stomach. Dan, Wes and I were on Lurking Fear which sits on El Capitan’s Southwest Face (the most sun exposed wall of this cliff) in the midst of record high temperatures. I had done plenty of aid climbing before but our progress in this heat was just too exhausting and we were slowly running out of water. The three of us on a two man portaledge (not recommended) made it half way up before we decided to bail after an unfortunate accident involving dehydration, canned peaches, coffee and a mishap with a WAG bag.

Topping out on that monolith consumed my thoughts. I mailed Wes a new copy of Yosemite Bigwalls to see if he was interested in a trip back there sometime.

A climbing trip to California in July typically involves time in the High Sierras. But the temperatures in the Valley were too perfect. High’s of 75-80 degrees were perfect for hanging out on a wall. An Icebreaker t-shirt and a Patagonia Houdini were the perfect paring most of the time.

After picking up some groceries in Oakhurst we B-lined it to the Valley. In the midsts of grilling hamburgers, sorting gear and few too many beers we somehow decided upon Zodiac. It was, after all, the shadiest part of the Captain. “If it gets too hot, we’ll climb at night and sleep in the day.” Wes said.

the assortment

the assortment

I woke up to the roar of the MSR Windburner and the smell of strong, black coffee. We fried some eggs and bacon and loaded the entire rack consisting of a few sets of cams, 2 sets of brass and alloy wires, and all the iron and hooks. After shoving in the final lead rope I found that picking up my haul bag to be quite challenging. Making our way up the scree to the base we found ourselves below the clean golden granite that characterizes the lower 4 pitches of Zodiac. Wes led the first pitch as I  jugged and cleaned. Starting off on pitch 2 I stood off the belay bolt and reached for the Black Diamond Yellow X4 off my harness. As I shifted my body weight onto my aiders I failed to hear the treacherous sliding sound cams can make when they’re poorly placed in blown out pin scars. Then POP! The next thing I knew, I was 15′ from where I was the second before . I jugged back up knowing Wes was not excited that I just took a whip onto the belay on the very first C1 pitch. I pushed my fear aside and continued on. My movement was slow. I felt disorganized as the rack weighed almost as much as me.  

pitch 3 zod

Wes working over rivets and hooks on pitch 3

Halfway through the pitch I felt the immensity of the 3,000′ cliff come down on me. Fear and the commitment required to climb this thing over powered all my senses. I tried placing a cam hook but then saw it slide 3 inches down the crack with me on it, ready to take yet another ride on an easy pitch. Two Hours later I reached the bolted anchor and fixed the rope. Climbing over rivets and hooks Wes made quick work of pitch 3. In the process of cleaning I somehow managed to drop an etrier and a glove. We fixed our lines and I was crushed. My mind drifted to far off places and I felt my energy and psychness for climbing drift away. Low pressure and rain settled into the Valley for the next two days giving my mind a chance to recover. 

wes racking

Racking up at the base with the Nose and the Cathedral Spires in full view

With four days of food, water and whiskey, we worked our way to our starting point. On day two I found myself volunteering to lead the Nipple Pitch. As I jugged up to the belay, the wall became steeper as the air under my feet became vast. My motivation decreased significantly. “You sure you don’t want to lead this pitch?” I asked Wes. I found the courage somewhere and started fishing in DMM offset brassies into the blown out pin scars. As I made it to the wide section I found great comfort standing in my aiders imagining the first ascensionist, Charlie Porter, in 1972 laying back this behemoth of a crack all by himself with no modern gear to protect the wide off-width . More thin gear led to our hanging bivy underneath a roof.

Yosemite Bigwalls refers to this pitch as "wild"  Nipple Pitch C3

Yosemite Bigwalls refers to this pitch as “wild”
Nipple Pitch C3

 Two days later we pulled ourselves back onto horizontal terrain. My legs knew how to push down but when I tried for any forward movement, they gave some resistance. Both mine and Wes’ El Cap cherries were popped.  As is typical of summiting, the finest moments in life never seem to be overly joyful. El Capitan had always been my goal ever since I first started climbing ten years ago and to be up there with my local hero and all around bad ass, was very special. With nowhere important to be we decided to watch the sun set over the High Sierras while the Northwest Face of Half Dome caught the alpenglow and burn orange. The stars were bright and the wind was calm. There is truly nothing more spectacular than open bivies in the mountains.


View from the top with Half Dome and High Sierras 

With a day of rest and and a night in North Pines Campground we decided to return to the uncompleted route we had attempted 6 years earlier. A limited time schedule forced us to climb ground up leaving us carrying our body’s weight worth of gear, water and food on our backs to the base of the wall. The movement was slow and the sun intense. The climbing on Lurking Fear was technically easier but more slabby, making hauling more strenuous. With the fear of thunderstorm clouds moving in from the southeast we climbed as quickly as possible while keeping a close eye on the air pressure on my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak. After our plush bivy on Thanksgiving ledge we reached the top right before a heavy down pour which made walking down the slabs slow, tedious and frightening. After two El Cap routes in 11 days we decided that a dinner and a bottle of wine at the Ahwahnee would be appropriate.

Till next time…

Underworked and overpaid

Underworked and overpaid

What’s in your Rainier kit?

Trent and Hannah trying to find a solution to the ferocious winds

Trent and Hannah embracing the ferocious winds. photo: Andy Dahlen

I remember my first mountaineering trip to climb Mount Baker with the Outdoor Education Program from the University of Utah. The amount of equipment that I had no familiarity with was completely overwhelming.

Fast forward 8 years later and a few weeks ago, a few of us from Second Ascent had the opportunity to climb Rainier while testing out some new equipment. We all come from varying backgrounds….Hannah who’s climbed and skied Rainier over 50 times, Andy (our climbing buyer) had never been on Rainier but is a skilled ice climber and really strong rock climber. And then there’s Brennan & Trent (our footwear gurus) and myself who, amongst the three of us, have climbed or been on Rainier 5-6 times.

After spending 40hrs a week together, who knew we could get along so well in the mountains?

After spending 40hrs a week together, who knew we could get along so well in the mountains?

While only 2.5 hours from Seattle and at 14,410′  Rainier is a very attainable goal.  This mountain seems to have its own weather system…  A week earlier the weather, temperatures and wind looked calm and ideal. But once Wednesday arrived, a day before our voyage,  Rainier’s weather forecast, had changed significantly.


75mph winds sound no fun

Gear List

My goal is to provide a clear concise way to look at what to wear and pack for a typical summer ascent of Rainier without going to in-depth with crevasse rescue equipment and the 10 essentials

I Clothing – I utilize every bit of clothing I bring with me. The key here is layering, versatility, nothing excessive and NO COTTON! (for obvious reasons)


Ice Breaker 200gm wool long sleeve top– Wool next to skin is fantastic! It regulates better than synthetic fibers and it doesn’t smell bad after wearing it everyday for a week.

Smartwool 150gm Bottoms – same benefits as listed above.

Patagonia Simple Guide Pant– Lightweight and synthetic. Grey and khaki are ideal for not soaking up all the solar heat. Great for summer and winter use as I tend to adjust the how warm I want them to be by choosing the correct baselayer.

Patagonia R1provides nice warmth and loft beneath my wind shirt

Patagonia Houdini Windshirt– One of the greatest jackets I’ve ever owned. Keeps light rain off, breathes incredibly well, and keeps me protected from the wind. Packs down to the size of a small baseball.

-Mont Bell Alpine Light Down Parka–  I leave this in the top of my bag at all times making it easily accessible for when I stop to take a break or need it for around camp. At just 13.3 oz it makes a nice addition to staying warm in your sleeping bag or wear it around camp.

Julbo Explorer Glacier Glasses- There is nothing worse than fried eye balls. Protect your pupils with the dark lenses and side shields of some quality French eyewear.

Meez- Black Diamond Work Gloves, insulated  Rab Latok gloves, two pairs of Darn Tough socks Patagonia Sun Maks and a beanie to keep your noggin warm.

"I believe you're supposed to sleep inside the Black Diamond First Light"...Trent holding down the tent in the midst of fierce winds at Camp Muir.

      “I believe you’re supposed to sleep inside the Black Diamond First Light”…Trent holding down the tent in the midst of fierce winds at Camp Muir. Photo: Mrs. Hannah Carrigan 

Sleeping System

Your sleeping bag is only as good as your sleeping pad. Sleeping bag ratings are completely subjective and since I sleep fairly warm this allows me to get away with just a Montbell 800 fill #3 30 degree Down Hugger for summer time use. At 1lb 8oz, it is definitely one of the lightest sleeping bags on the market and it packs down to the size of a miniature football. When mountaineering or doing anything in the winter owning a sleeping pad with an R-Value of 4 or higher is key! Keep in mind that you’re sleeping on snow and a poorly insulated pad will zap all the warmth you created within your cocoon. The Exped DownMat UL 7 paired with a Thermarest Z Lite Sol is sure to keep you high off the ground and warm.  Since I’m a sucker for comfort and getting a good night’s sleep, I like having the Exped Air Pillow. It packs down to the size of a matchbox and it stuffs easily with my sleeping pad. I never notice the extra 75 grams of extra weight it adds to my system.

6                     5

III Technical Gear


30 meter Glacier rope

-Black Diamond Sabretooth Crampons

-Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe

-3 season mountaineering boots

-Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet

-Black Diamond Couloir Harness

-crevasse rescue kit

-Black Diamond Expedition 3 section poles

SMC Picket

-22cm Black Diamond Ice Screw and Grivel v-thread tool

Digging snow platforms at 10'k is good way to build strong lungs

Digging snow platforms at 10’k is good way to build strong lungs. photo: Andy Dahlen 


If you’re gearing up for Rainier or any other voyage and need some direction from some very knowledgable staff, drop on by Second Ascent. Until next time – SA

What rope are you?

I try my best to live a simplistic life. This means that every time I buy a new shirt, I sell one to Second Ascent. And although I’ve worked in the outdoor industry for many years I do my best to not accumulate too many unnecessary things. But climbing ropes are a different story.

The terrain and climbing in Northwest is incredibly diverse. And unfortunately, there’s no such thing as one rope that is good for all types of situations. When looking for a new rope, the first question to ask yourself is, “What are my ambitions and goals?” If climbing Mt. Rainier and the greater Cascade Volcanoes is your ultimate goal your needs will be much different than if you want to climb the sustained cracks at Index’s Town Walls.

I break down climbing ropes into three categories…glacier ropes, cragging ropes, and alpine climbing ropes.

Glacier Climbing ropes tend to operate within the 8mm-8.3mm range and typically come in 30 meter to 40 meter lengths. My favorite go to is the Mammut 8mm Phoenix.  All glacier ropes will also come dry treated which is critical to not having your rope freeze up into a steel cable.

Kahiltna Glacier

Kahiltna Glacier

Work Horse (cragging rope) – For any rock climber, owning a good, solid workhorse is essential. 20 years ago 50 meter 11mm-11.5mm ropes used to be common. But as technology progresses ropes become thinner and longer. I personally use the Sterling 9.8mm 70 meter Velocity. This is obviously something I would not want to drag up the Dissapointment Cleaver on Rainier but is something I can use to work on my projects at Index, take many falls on, run over edges and abuse while aid climbing.

Apologies to Walter B  Index, WA photo: Truc Allen

Apologies to Walter B
Index, WA
photo: Truc Allen

Alpine Ropes- There is no problem with bringing your 70 meter 9.8mm rope back into the mountains. But picture this: a lot of the pitches you may climb are not longer than 50 meters in length which means that at each belay, the leader is having to pull up an extra 20 meters at each pitch. That’s also 20 extra meters you’re hiking in too, adding to your overall pack weight. Rope drag is inevitable and communication is difficult when climbing pitches longer than 60 meters anyways.

While speed and efficiency is a key components to mountain safety one is typically not pushing their technical climbing ability when in the backcountry. A 5.11 climber at the crag will usually not be breaking into the 5.12s while seven miles from the car. This means you can get away with a thinner diameter rope.

For mountain use I like having 3 different rope systems to choose from…

The first question I ask myself before reaching for my set of double ropes or twin ropes is, “Am I going to have to rappel off this route?” The Twin rope is ideal for ice and alpine winter scenarios where you’re swinging and kicking with sharp tools. example: Sterling Fusion Photon 7.8mm

The double rope system gives you the ability to cut down on rope drag and better while staying safe on difficult to protect routes. It requires skilled rope management but once you get your systems dialed, double ropes can be invaluable. example: Petzl Salsa 8.2mm

When it's in, it's in! Justin Busch taking advantage of the rare but cold weather window by climbing Snoqualmie's Flow Reversal photo: Andrew Magnussen

When it’s in, it’s in! Justin Busch taking advantage of the rare but cold weather window by climbing Snoqualmie’s Flow Reversal
photo: Andrew Magnussen

The rope system I use more than anything else is just a single rope. It is the easiest and least complicated and great when rappelling is not necessary. There are now single ropes such as the Petzl 9.2mm Volta and the Sterling 9mm Fusion Nano. . When pushing the limits of my technical ability there’s a chance I could take some falls, so I like climbing on something a little thicker such as the Mammut 9.5mm Infinity. This rope handles beautifully, climbs like its skinnier counterparts and is very durable.

The world of ropes is a confusing one but with one of the largest climbing rope selections in Seattle the staff at Second Ascent are here to help you find your right match.

Where the 5.11 finger cracks seem easier than the 5.9 enduro pitches.  Jeremy Park on Moratorium. Yosemite, CA photo: Andrew Magnussen

Where the 5.11 finger cracks seem easier than the 5.9 enduro pitches.
Jeremy Park on Moratorium. Yosemite, CA
photo: Andrew Magnussen

June Events at Second Ascent

LW Rockfest

Second Ascent is proud to be a part of the greatest climbing festival west of the Mississippi. The  annual, two day Leavenworth Rock Fest will be June 13th and 14th. Create a 3 person team and compete in the Der Klettergarten Boulder Competition, or take a clinic sponsored by Northwest Mountain School. At the end of the day, the BBQ will be cranking and beer will be flowing at Fromm’s. If nothing else, John Sherman will be at the party giving a slideshow!

Send & Social

It’s back and it’s coming to a climbing gym near you…Starting June 9th the American Alpine Club’s Send and Social will be hosted at the Seattle Bouldering Project, Vertical World Redmond, VW Everett and VW Seattle! Climb, then come over to the Second Ascent beer garden and re-fuel your depleted muscles with a cold beverage from Georgetown Brewery and socialize!


Join us for the 1st annual Redmond Adventure Sports Expo; hosted at Vertical World Redmond, Sunday, June 28th. Food, live music and good times are sure to be had.

Sleepless Outside Seattle

It’s without a doubt that Washingtonians live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world. I like fine dining and foie de veau as much as the next person but some of the most romantic locations do not happen in a cocktail bar or a 3 star Michelin Restaurant. In honor of not limiting Valentines Day to 4 walls and a roof, the Second Ascent Staff have provided you short stories and a guide to some of the most romantic locations in all the Pacific Northwest and the gear needed to keep you there.


“Late spring camping at Smith Rock under the stars, playfully identifying constellations after a day of multi-pitch trad. Our weary climbing bodies were cocooned by Mont Bell Down Hugger sleeping bags and Thermarest sleeping pads, while dusty Black Diamond Camalots gleamed in the firelight, awaiting the next day’s adventure.” 

Smith Rock (jill)

Photo: David Pate


A romantic bicycle adventure involving a pair of Kona Roves

A crisp Northwest sunrise over Mt. Baker we boarded the Ferry for Orcas Island. Upon arrival a beautiful 15 mile ride to Moran State Park via rolling farm land and lush old growth awaited us! While setting up camp along the pristine Mt. Lake we planned day routes through the park’s many scenic bicycle trails. After a rewarding afternoon of testing our new Konas on some epic terrain we spent the evening together around a roaring fire enjoying drinks and a fine dinner.

Greg's Bike Photo

Greg Collection


On a warm September afternoon my girlfriend and I climbed 6 pitches of clean splitter granite to the top of Washington PassNorth Early Winter Spire. While relaxing on top of the spire I reached into my Black Diamond Bullet Pack to open a bottle of Condrieu and a wedge of morbier cheese. While sipping out of our Snow Peak Titanium mugs we took in the sun setting over the entire North Cascades while the sky began to develop various shades of blue.


Photo: Jay Dufresne


After 4 years of living in the Evergreen State, I finally got the opportunity to take my girlfriend on her first true backpacking trip. Resulting from her general interest in gardening and flora, she was quite interested in checking out the Hoh Rainforest, and especially since we had already enjoyed several trips to the peninsula car camping. We chose the Hoh River Trail because for the greater distance of 11 miles to Lewis Meadow Campsite (beautiful spot by-the-way) there is only a gain of about 500 ft. making it not too challenging. I was cruising along with my 65 liter Arcteryx pack and Scarpa Zen’s enjoying the smells, sights and sounds of the old growth forest. When we arrived at camp, we were living in luxury with our Marmot tent, Big Agnes sleeping pads. And of course my Mont Bell Thermawrap hoody (that I take everywhere) was the perfect source of warmth while we sat around cooking dinner on the MSR Wind Pro

Insiders Tip: To couples headed out this way, Lewis Meadow is definitely a wonderful campsite. Pass the meadow at the camp entrance and when you get to the rocky shore of the Hoh River head down stream. We found a nice little nook privately tucked away behind a downed tree with a soft, sandy spot for our tent, a fire pit and wood already gathered for us. If you continue down another 80 meters or so, there is a beautiful stand of old growth pines and the best location for camping beneath their canopy. 

Photo: Trent Collection

Photo: Trent Collection

Holiday Gift Guide: Your Local Backcountry Shop Edition

The holidays are a time to spend with loved ones and to reflect on the past year, but it’s easy to get sidetracked by the glitter and excitement of holiday shopping.

The folks at Second Ascent aren’t about selling “stuff,” but outfitting the community with gear for the life-boosting experiences we get while in the backcountry, and we’ve come up with a few ideas on how you can give a gift that endures beyond the holidays:

Give the Gift of Warmth

Being cold can ruin an otherwise magical outdoor experience for many adventurers. A crisp sunrise bike commute can go from blissful to agonizing when the relentless wind chill numbs the fingers and toes; or camping on a beautiful ridge can be marred by a night of shivering without proper insulation.

Our staff have first-hand experience with cold weather adventures and are more than happy to guide you to giving the gift of warmth to the adventurer in your life.

Anne, our assistant apparel buyer, recommends the Black Diamond Cold Forge Hoody. “It’s warm and water resistant but still down. The stitching is unique, and the brand is one of my go-to’s.”

Give the Gift of Safety

BCA Tracker 3 avalanche beacon, Endura Luminite II bike jacket

BCA Tracker 3 avalanche beacon, Endura Luminite II bike jacket

Backcountry exploration can come with some inherent risks. Safety isn’t just about the physical security of your adventurer but also the physical safety of their backcountry partners and the peace of mind of loved ones at home. We might even say that gifts geared towards safety benefit the giver as well as the recipient.

Now that the snow season is well underway and the days get shorter, avalanche safety in the mountains as well as visibility on the road are major concerns. Beacons and airbag packs make excellent gifts for your backcountry adventurer. More urban adventurers will appreciate bright, reflective bike clothing and blinking lights during their rides.

Benny from the bike shop recommends the Kryptonite Series 2 bike lock in merlot: “I love my bicycles and I like to keep them safe.”

Give the Gift of Adventure

Our mountains in the Pacific Northwest are deep and can be hard to access when filled with snow. With the right gear, winter in the Cascades can be a magnificent playground. Skis, snowshoes, or boots allow the adventurer in your life to explore hidden glades, alpine lakes, and glaciated mountains. Whether for multi-day trips or just an afternoon, guidebooks, backpacks, and paniers will let your adventurer pack a lunch for a day trip or pack for the PCT.

Aaron, our ski and bike tech, recommends the WXB Pro-Barrier glove from Pearl Izumi. “We all have waterproof pants and tops for when the weather gets bad, but your hands connect you to your bike and a good pair of gloves makes all the difference. The palm has just the right amount of grip for wet conditions. Dexterity is really important to my ride, and I’m finally expiring an old pair of Pearl Izumi AmFib gloves that are bulky, cold and pretty much good for inner tubing.”

Give the Gift of Second Ascent!

Winter Gift Card

It can be hard to find the right gear for someone who seems to have it all, so give us a call at the shop and get a gift card to help your adventurer gear up for the next trip.

Supporting your local outdoors shop has a positive cascading effect on the community. We host fundraisers and events, safety clinics, and lecture series to inform and support the backcountry community. As always, we support our favorite local brewery by serving Georgetown Brewery to appropriately-aged customers.

Brennan, our shoe specialist, recommends a good boot after a full, interactive fitting experience in the shop: “For all the people I measure, it’s rare that they get a good fitting experience, especially during the holiday season rush. The power of knowledge and a good fit session means that I can help them have the best time after they leave the shop.”

The amazing Maya Angelou once said “people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Give the gift of experience instead of things this year and contribute to their next adventure.

We’re here to help!

See you out there,


New Events for November!

November is steadily building up with some cool events before we all get crazy with family and holiday Thanksgiving plans. We’ll be adding more as they come and hopefully planning well with everyone’s schedule with December too!

Right on the heels of our well attended Teton Gravity Research and Reel Rock Fundraisers, we’re proud to host the following events:

November 12th Wednesday – Get Your Ski’s Ready! A Free Nordic Waxing Clinic. 

nordic nite        Link to Event:

November 15th Saturday – Tokul Mountain Kona Demo Day

KONA DEMO      Link to Event:

November 18th Tuesday – Free Avalanche Clinic with Northwest Avalanche Center and Ian Nicholson

avy awareness     Link to Event:

November 19th Wednesday – Climbing Washington’s 100 Highest Peaks with Tim Halder

TIM1      Event Link:

November 20th Thursday – The Pursuit: Featuring and Presented By Rab Athlete Aaron Mulkey

thepursuit_poster_2ndascent      Event Link:

So there you have it – a jam packed and short schedule for your month of Thanksgiving, Movember, or November!

Looking forward to having you. – SA