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    Phosphate Mining: Sealing Southern Idaho's Fate?

    JWattIdaho-2 Flipping through travel planners and vacation ads, southeast Idaho sounds much like the glorious west of old. A wild untarnished space, home to elk, moose, deer, and many other species of wildlife, with hundreds of miles of rivers and creeks, all bursting with wild native trout. It is. Or at least was.

    Editor's note: Photographer, climber and family man Jeremiah Watt offers today's story for Cleanest Line readers. He writes about a corner of our country not often visited - and how the area's blessing of desolation is the very thing that has allowed it to become home to a mind-blowing number of Superfund sites.

    Today, it is home to 17 Superfund sites, thanks to phosphate mining giants Simplot, Agrium, Monsanto and Rhodia. The phosphate here is primarily used as fertilizer and the herbicide RoundUp. Currently 16,987 acres have been mined with an additional 7,340 acres slated for development. In addition 15,000 acres have been leased and 50,000 acres are identified as containing economically viable phosphate reserves. In total 2,500 square miles – an area larger than Rhode Island - have the potential to be permanently scarred or destroyed from the effects of phosphate mining. Ninety-five percent of this land belongs to you and I.

    [Sunrise on the Blackfoot River. Photo: © Jeremiah Watt]

    Continue reading "Phosphate Mining: Sealing Southern Idaho's Fate?" »

    Operation Algeria - Part Two


    End of Day Three here in Algeria and it’s safe to say we’ve already had an amazing adventure. Brittany and I have traveled and climbed in Mali, Morroco and Oman, so we are no strangers to the desert terrain of northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, but southern Algeria is a whole other level of endless, shoe-eating Mars-'scape. We arrived in the middle of the pitch-black night and in the morning we were stunned to realize how insane the terrain was all around us—endless hard-scrabble desert interrupted only by these crazy basalt towers. It was real. We were finally here: the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria.

    [Looking out at the southern Algeria desert. All photos: Jonathan Thesenga]

    We are a team of five: Brittany, myself, Mustapha (our guide), Aziz (our driver) and Zaoui (our cook). They are awesome travel companions, always laughing and joking with each other in Arabic (a fast, clipped language that to our Western ears sounds hilariously like they are constantly pissed off at each other). They speak to us in French… well, actually mostly just to Brittany, since she’s fluent and I only know 10 words.

    Continue reading "Operation Algeria - Part Two" »

    Second-annual Copp-Dash Inspire Award

    Copp-Dash1 Micah and I had been making more trips than usual to Eldo, trying to cross some of the more obscure, difficult routes off our list. Always working his weaknesses, Micah was on a ‘hard single-pitch redpointing’ binge at this time because he knew it would make him strong for the ‘real’ mountains. We’d had to make several return trips to finally redpoint some of the harder routes that had thwarted us. With Micah standing about 5’6” with little “chisel tip fingies” as he’d say, and myself at 6’4” with paddles for hands, our noses were about the only thing of comparable dimension, and for that reason we could never share the same beta on routes. Fortunately, this was a great excuse we’d commiserate on when neither of us sent the route, leaving us to come back another day.

    We knew logistically we weren’t ideal climbing partners for this beta-intensive single pitch stuff, but we always told ourselves that our difference in size would make us great partners in the mountains. “There’s no crack size out there that wouldn’t take one of our hands, feet or limbs,” we’d say, as ‘perfect hands,’ after all, always depend on whose hands you're talking about.

    Applications are now being accepted for this year's Copp-Dash Inspire Award. Hit the jump to continue enjoying Kristo Torgersen's story about climbing with Micah and find further Award details and application deadline. - Ed

    [Jonny Copp and Micah Dash enjoy the high point of their 2008 attempt to set up a new route on the feared West Face of the Petit Dru, Chamonix, France. Photo: © Jonny Copp]

    Continue reading "Second-annual Copp-Dash Inspire Award" »

    Operation Algeria - Part One


    Last week, 14 Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorists in southern Algeria kidnapped an Italian woman. The terrorists escaped with her across the Sahara and disappeared into the no-mans land of northern Niger. 2007 was an especially bad year in Algeria with a reported 375 people kidnapped; the AQIM claiming responsibility for 115. All of this has been a tense topic of conversation in our house over the last month because on February 13 Brittany Griffith and I will arrive in that same southern Algeria region for a two-week climbing trip.

    Editor's note: Patagonia ambassador Jonathan Thesenga joins the Cleanest Line crew today with the first in a series of posts we'll be bringing you direct from Algeria.  

    In the last 10 to 15 years southern Algeria’ Sahara desert has sadly become a super-sketch zone of AQIM hideouts, training camps and smuggling routes. So why the hell are we going there? Well, it’s also home to some of the most spectacular desert climbing in Africa. Out of the hardscrabble desert, basalt spires and massifs shoot up to 400 meters in height, and in other sectors smooth granite domes rise out of the endless sea of sand. Although the French have climbed many routes in southern Algeria since the 1950s (a perk of colonialism, I guess…), we are motivated to explore and find new routes, thinking we’ll find unclimbed crack lines that the French have historically avoided. Where we can or cannot go to, however, is still undetermined due to the recent kidnapping and the military responding by closing down “unsecured” areas.

    Continue reading "Operation Algeria - Part One" »

    Dirtbag Diaries: What Is Hardcore?

    045_what_is_hard_core Bust out the headphones, Fitz Cahall just released a brand new episode of The Dirtbag Diaries.

    Our sports have long heralded rating systems that let us know just how we're doing. We may bicker over their ratings, but we return to them again and again. They help us set goals, and push ourselves harder. But what happens when we go beyond the limits of these systems? How do you measure fatigue, thirst and mental resilience? When these elements merge together, we begin to enter the mythical realm of hardcore. Today, Brendan Leonard dives in with some simple ideas on who and what are hardcore. How do you measure up?

    Audio_graphic_20pxListen to "What is Hardcore?"
    (mp3 - right-click to download)

    Visit to hear the music from "What is Hardcore?" or download past episodes from the podcast. You can subscribe to the show via iTunes and RSS, or connect with like-minded listeners on Facebook and Twitter.

    Fighting Forty (pt. 5) - Anniversaries

    The 5th and final installment in Kelly Cordes' series about perils and pleasures of aging gracefully while slaying stereotypes (the first installments are here:1, 2, 3, and 4). A series of significant injuries - the most recent a severely torn shoulder - forced Kelly to bow out of an exciting trip to Patagonia. In this final segment, he marks the one-year anniversary since the string of misfortunes began. -Ed

    Packsled A year ago last week I sat grimacing in the snow in Hyalite Canyon, my shattered leg pointing east. I'd been feeling good and climbing strong, had just spent a terrific few days in Cody, and looked forward to big summer adventures in Alaska and Pakistan. In an instant, everything changed. Three surgeries, a haze of pain meds, crutches for three months, learning to walk again... Adapt, deal. Never mind my shoulder surgery and my pending "touch-up" leg surgeries - anniversaries are times to reflect. Times of growth, times of...enough of that crap. I wish it never had happened. But it did.

    Early in my recovery, my cousin asked me how I handle the uncertainty of it all. Truth is, I don't know. It's weird in a way - alpinism has everything to do with the unknown, embracing uncertainty, and I love that. It used to scare me, but I guess I'm used to it with climbing. Now, different uncertainties scare me.

    [Broken in the snow, Hyalite Canyon, MT. Photo: Cordes collection]

    Continue reading "Fighting Forty (pt. 5) - Anniversaries" »

    Girls Gone Wild Gypsy Van Chronicles—Part Two

    by Brittany Griffith

    Creek scenic

    As we barreled down I-70 headed for Moab, I suggested we try Ziji on King of Pain tower, which is part of the Bridger Jack formation at Indian Creek. I handed her the Mountain Project topo and her eyes lit up.

    “Four pitches long and only two pitches of 5.12!” She seemed relieved—it wasn’t nearly the amount of climbing as Moonlight, which meant we wouldn’t be as rushed and the route wasn’t going to be as continuous.

    Editor's note:Patagonia ambassador Brittany Griffith is back behind the wheel of Gypsy Van barreling down the road with Zoe Hart for Part Two of the Girls Gone Wild Chronicles. Be sure and read Part One first if you missed it.

    We started down the rough 4x4 road that led to the Bridger Jacks. There was a sweet campsite leading up to the towers, and I wanted it. Problem was, Gypsy Van wasn’t really built for 4x4’ing, but I had faith in her. I rolled her into a particularly steep, rocky section. Zoe clutched her armrest like an “oh-shit” bar, her eyes focused on the track ahead.

    “Are you sure?” she whispered, attempting to conceal her doubt of Gypsy’s prowess.

    “Yeah, maybe you should get out for this one, and make sure I don’t rip the propane tank off the bottom.” She jumped at the chance to get out and was quickly posted uphill to guide me through the gnarly section of rocks and sand that were the road.

    [The endless walls of Indian Creek at sunset. Photo: Zoe Hart]

    Continue reading "Girls Gone Wild Gypsy Van Chronicles—Part Two" »

    Cordillera Blanca Expedition Seeks Mountaineers


    Mountaineers take note: Put your skills to use helping monitor air pollution in the vertical environment of the high Andes. Read on for more details or visit the American Alpine Club's informational page. Hurry - the application deadline is midnight, February 19th.

    In June and July 2011, the Deep South Section of The American Alpine Club is spearheading an environmental mountaineering expedition to Peru’s highest mountain range. The Cordillera Blanca contains the highest concentration of mountains higher than 6,000 meters (19,685 ft.) in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the highest mountains in the Tropics. The purpose of the expedition will be to work with local and national governments, NGOs, and academic environmental experts to develop and institute a mountain-air-pollution-impacts monitoring program.

    Cordillera2 Section mountaineers and other AAC mountaineering scientists will be spending 2-4 weeks in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, where the group will team with local climbers. The team will collect valuable environmental samples from elevations too high and remote for most scientists to be able to visit. The data collected by members will assist local land managers and scientists to determine the environmental impacts of local and global air pollution and global climate-change impacts on the Andes Mountains. Volunteer mountaineers are needed to help complete this project.

    The American Alpine Club's Executive Director, Phil Powers describes the role mountaineers will play in this research: "The high altitude ice on our planet holds extraordinary fresh water resources in places to which climbers have unique access. These are the water towers of our world. Climber scientists play a special role collecting data from locations that house key early indications of the effects of climate change but are very difficult to access."

    Core sample The AAC's member mountaineers will work with local climbers from the Mountaineering School of Marcara, the region's eminent mountaineering institution. Key mountains near the continental divide of South America will have their environment sampled and documented for air pollution impacts. Mountaineers will scale the complete vertical aspect of these key mountains to obtain these samples and data. It is expected that snow and ice will be sampled from 4,500 to over 6,300 meters in 500-meter increments to obtain a vertical and horizontal profile of impacts on the range.

    Get more details about the upcoming expedition in this interview with AAC Deep South Section Chair, Chadwick Hagan and expedition co-leader Frank Nederhand.

    [All photos courtesy American Alpine Club's 2011 Expedition site.]


    Looking for Steelies

    1Taking the plunge.Stoecker 2 Taking the plunge (albeit it a shallow one) into the Ventura River in the spirit of Our Common Waters, Patagonia’s new environmental campaign, Patagonia editor Jim Little and a couple of friends spent the afternoon snorkeling for endangered southern steelhead trout. Along the way they sneak up on a few fish and discuss why the once plentiful animal is having such a rough go of it.

    The plan was to take a couple hours out of the workday to grab lunch at a taqueria and go snorkel the Ventura River looking for southern steelhead trout. It was late January, with 80-degree temps, light offshore winds and knowledgeable comrades: fish biologist Matt Stoecker and Ventura watershed watchdog Paul Jenkin.

    2peirano brothers Burritos (and fish tacos) in bellies, snorkel and camera gear in hand, we hit three pools looking hard for a now-scarce fish that once flashed the river in the thousands. When the steelhead ran back in the 1920s, Ventura’s public schools closed so kids could go fishing. But 90 years later, as we dragged ourselves through mossy waters trying not to swallow a single drop for fear of some gut-bending bug, I learned why the endangered southern steelhead are now so few.

    [Above - Into the river in search of steelhead. Photo: Matt Stoecker. Left - Back in the Good Old Days, the Peirano Brothers and others pulled lots of steelhead out of the Ventura River, 1920s.]

    Continue reading "Looking for Steelies" »

    Girls Gone Wild Gypsy Van Chronicles—Part One

    by Brittany Griffith

    Zion campsite Like a father handing his teenage daughter the keys to the family car for the first time, JT worrisomely handed me Gypsy’s keys. Gypsy was the newest addition to our family, a big white 2010 Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van. I gently grabbed the keys while simultaneously executing the extremely athletic lunge required to get myself into the driver’s seat of the big rig. My good friend Zoe Hart was already seatbelted in the passenger’s seat, attempting, for Jonathan’s sake, to hide her enthusiasm.

    Editor's note: Patagonia ambassador Brittany Griffith shares the first of a two-part story with us today. Look forward to more from Brittany and her husband (and fellow Patagonia climbing ambassador), Jonathan Thesenga, in the near future.

    “Alright… no speeding, no texting, no drinking and no sketchy bivies at rest areas or truck stops,” JT sternly instructed me. “If anything goes wrong with the van, call me first. Don’t try to fix it on your own.”

    I felt bad for JT. This was Gypsy's first extended roadtrip and he had to stay behind to work his job at Black Diamond. He had spent the previous two-month's worth of evenings building out Gypsy from an empty panel van into a super-deluxe road trip machine, complete with recycled-denim insulation, stove, sink, fridge, queen-size bed, benches, folding table, cabinets, cupboards, ceiling fans, heater, cork paneling, bamboo and paperstone counter tops, and interior and exterior LED lighting. Gypsy was rad.

    I leaned out the window and kissed Jonathan goodbye, then backed Gypsy out of the driveway into late afternoon traffic. “Whooooo!!!!” We hollered and honked the horn, leaving behind a dispirited Jonathan and began our Girls-Gone-Wild Gypsy Van Road Trip.

    [Home sweet home: Brittany unloading the Gypsy Van. Photo: Zoe Hart]

    Continue reading "Girls Gone Wild Gypsy Van Chronicles—Part One" »

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