Saturday, April 17, 2010

WURL/Playing Pachinko, Part II

In my previous post I mostly talked about what we did. I think I’ll take some space now to mention what I think we could change and what I’d like to do next time. Also, I’ll steal some thoughts and words from Katsutaka Yokoyama, one of the peerless alpine climbing group, the Giri-Giri Boys from Japan. These are just my thoughts and don’t necessarily reflect Bart and Jared’s opinions, though I’d be interested to hear them after our disappointment settles a bit.

First, sleep, or rather a lack thereof, was a problem. Starting at 2 AM meant 1 AM wake up and 2ish hours of sleep for Jared and Bart. I made the mistake of napping on Thursday, thinking I might be able to sleep from 5 until after dark. I woke up at 6:30 and then wasn’t able to sleep at all after. I think a 5 AM start might make more sense in these winter/spring conditions especially since one of the technical cruxes is encountered early on. If thinking the whole thing might take 18 hours, we’d finish in the dark but should be starting more well rested.

Second, conditions were just OK. Waiting for the snow to settle to provide quick travel and easier skiing would save a lot of time and energy. And, would make toting around those crampons worthwhile.

Third, we carried too much water/food resulting in heavy packs. Too much, that is, if we plan on descending into Alta and climbing through Hidden Peak where provisions can be restocked. Which brings up some style issues. Should we go fully self supported? Have a car with a food cache at Alta? Fill water at Hidden Peak or bring a small stove to melt snow?

Last, and most important to me, is the route. We were trying to establish a winter version of the WURL, which stays entirely on the ridge from Broad Fork Twins, around the head of Little Cottonwood, and back along the ridge to Lone Peak. Because we are on skis, and want to incorporate some good descents it doesn’t make sense to stay on the ridgeline. Nor is that my goal.

This is where playing Pachinko comes in. Apparently Pachinko was a popular pin ball game in Japan in the 1970s full of erratic up and down movements on irregular trajectories. The Giri-Giri version of Pachinko is a linkup of multiple routes in the mountains. WURL stands for Wasatch ultimate ridge linkup and happens to go over all the peaks as a consequence. To do so it crosses through two ski resorts which when open, in my opinion pollutes the experience.

Yokoyama wrote, “Though climbers should leave no physical marks on a mountain, we like to believe our passion remains on the lines we draw. We want to follow the lines that only we can make out, that only we can climb….I realized that all of climbing is illogical. Because we live in a modern, rational world, the value of climbing increases with its irrationality. Pachinko – climbing up, coming back down, then repeating the process – has no rationale. It could be the answer to this age of advanced equipment, technical skills and information: Does our reliance on these means weaken our passion? If so, pick a mountain range. Open a map and trace a route, any route. When you do, you might see that we’ve only been playing on a portion of a mountain. The more you think about how to enjoy the mountain fully, the more possibilities you’ll discover. ”

Add skiing to climbing and it’s easy to watch the range grow as the possible linkups are much more plentiful than the lines themselves. I’d like to play this game again, but the most beautiful line to me would be a peak enchainment rather than a ridge traverse per se. It would include Twin, Sunrise, Dromedary, Monte Cristo, Superior, down to White Pine, up AF Twins, Red Stack, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Pheifferhorn, Chipman, South Thunder, North Thunder, Big Horn, Lone Peak. I would rather play Pachinko with the peaks outside the resort. This wouldn’t be the WURL and we’d lose a certain symmetry as well as Sugarload and Baldy from the experience. So what? They aren’t as aesthetic as the Thunders. And Lightening Ridge is far more beautiful than traversing above Alta.

Yokoyama talks about Ryoma Sakamoto, a nineteenth-century Japanese samurai and a Shi-Shi, a “man of inner resolution.” Yokoyama and a partner named an incredibly difficult route in Alaska Shi-Shi, to reflect that meaning. This route, in winter conditions will require self discovery that will push one’s limits. Who better to pioneer this particular peak enchainment than the SLC Samurai? (Not me, I’m the Sherpa who copied a blog name. But, I want to go along)

“I wanted to paint my way of living with the lines I climbed…In this world of boundless information, all you know for sure is what you see with your own eyes. But when you stand before a wall, you may have doubts. The act of climbing remains the only path a climber can trust. It is only when you act that you can truly see…Pachinko starts with a desire to keep climbing. And by continuously climbing, it takes on physical form. With fair weather, good luck and imagination, any modern climber should be able to discover his or her own Pachinko.”

-Katsutaka Yokoyama
Alpinist, Issue 26


  1. I like those quotes. Need to get a copy of that article.

    Still torn on the route. It would definitely be more direct if we skied off Superior, crossed the road, and headed up to Hidden Peak. North Thunder is a bit out there though. I suppose we could ski from the Pfeif, down Hogum, up the Needle, North Thunder, South Thunder, Chipman, Big Horn. . . . ouch.

  2. Yeah, I'll bring over that issue's a good one. And, ouch is right. I'm already apprehensive. Any thought on the traverse in reverse? Finish with NW face of Twin? Poach Pipeline down AF Twins? Ski Heart of Darkness to get off MC?