Friday, July 29, 2011

Devil Goes Down in Alaska

The Smiley's recently journeyed up to Alaska to attempt the Devil's Thumb, #30 on their list of 50 Classic Climbs. See what happens on the journey deep into Alaska's wilderness.

Devil Went Down to Alaska from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

Only a handful of climbers have set eyes on the Devils Thumb. Even fewer have put their hands on this stone. The weather is notoriously bad there.

Pointing Lulu north, we drove for 2.5 days from Seattle to Prince Rupert, BC where we got on a ferry to travel the rest of the way on the Alaska Marine Highway. At 3:00AM we arrived in Petersburg. The sunlight was already beginning to grow on the eastern horizon, and Devils Thumb was out. It was the start of a bluebird day. At 8:00AM we stopped by the Temsco hanger to see if we could fly that day. The lady in the office called the pilot, Wally, who told us he could go at 2:00PM!

Amped, we went into town for some breakfast and to get geared up. Taking over three spaces in the harbor’s parking lot, we spread out everything and stuffed it into two duffles, two packs and a couple other random bags. The climb would only take one long day. Regardless, we took food to be on the glacier for twelve, which would hopefully be enough to wait out the bad weather, complete the climb, and get out.

The heli flight is a really efficient way to blow 600 bucks in 29 minutes, but it’s totally worth it. Like a nature viewing three-ring circus on crack, the varied landscapes flew by. Passing over an inlet, then deep forest, followed by glacier, these views fit the bill for what a Jack London Alaska should be.

After landing we pitched the tent, made dinner and went to bed at 7:00, hoping to get an alpine start the next morning. Around 10:00 that night I woke to sound of rain hitting the tent. Welcome to the Devils Thumb.

For the next three days it rained and snowed. The emotional swing one goes through by sitting still for that long is amazing. After sleeping for 12 hours, you cannot sleep anymore. Thankfully we had cards, an ipod, and books to pass the time. The rain came in waves. We would peek our heads out during the lulls and getting out only when the call of nature became a scream.

On the fourth day the clouds began to break in the afternoon. Blue sky is so glorious after that long living in a milk jug. This far north the sun is up nearly all day, so we were able to take advantage of the sunshine to dry out everything. Ropes, clothes, sleeping bags, and climbing gear where spread out on top of the tent to let the sun work its magic.

I barely slept that night. In the last three days I had gotten about 30 hours of sleep, and now the stars were out over the Devils Thumb, I was just too excited.

At 1:30AM the alarm went off. An hour later we were walking across the glacier toward the start of the East Ridge. There was a breakable crust layer on the snow, which made for slow going, but we were amped and charged through it to the rock.

The first selection of rock was total crap. The rock was loose, covered in frost, muddy and downright scary. I had to pick my way up very slowly as to not knock down any rocks on Janelle. When we gained the ridge, and the early morning sunlight hit our faces, things were better. Janelle was not having the best time though. Her pack was heavy, making it hard to climb. The fact that we kept our mountaineering boots on made it even harder. We pushed on, simal-climbing half way up the first tower. When the hand-holds got thin I decided to make an anchor and pitch it out. On top of the first tower we went back to simal-climbing.

The traverse into the base of the second tower is pretty spicy, knife-edged awesomeness. I had the GoPro rolling for the whole thing, so check out the video for a real “description” of that section.

At the base of the second tower we put our rock shoes on for the first time. That made a world of difference. Angling up climber’s left (south) I picked my way though what looked like the path of least resistance. 2.5 pitches got us back to easier terrain. At the gendarme there was rime ice choking the path on the ridge, so we rapped down 200 feet to the south. This put us on extremely loose rock. To make matters worse the rime ice we were “avoiding” going this way was now directly above us. The hot sun caused several chucks to fall on us. That and we had to climb through a significant section of wet rock from this ice melt.

Once back on the ridge the terrain was straightforward. Back to simla-climbing, we progressed quickly. At this point Janelle was really shaken from everything. It had been harder than 5.6 climbing on loose wet cold mossy rock, with a heavy pack for the majority of the climb. Not a girl’s favorite thing. I was still going strong, but feeling Janelle’s fear more and more as we got higher. On the last pitch of the route, on the summit ridge, she broke down. “I’m done”, she said. She was ready to get off this thing.

I couldn’t believe it. We were literally within 5 minutes from the top. The Canadian side of the summit ridge was totally covered in snow, more moss, and ice, making it slow going. We had climbed the route, but I wanted to touch the top. I’m a dude. I need that definitive end point where I can brag to everyone that I “did that”. Janelle did not need that. In her mind we were there, the clouds were moving in, and she had had enough.

I shouted down to her that she could stay where she was, and I would un-rope to scramble to the “tippy top” (as we called Columbia Crest on Mt. Rainier). With the response I got, you’d think I just said I was going to cut off her toes with a dull knife. “NOOOOO, please don’t leave me here alone, Mark!”

I had to make a decision. Touch the top by unroping, getting that “I did it” feeling and hurt my marriage, or turn there, join my wife and comfort her. I contemplated the decision for nearly 10 minutes.

Finally, I decided that my marriage is more important than standing on that little chuck of rock, just a little higher than where I was. I built an anchor and rappelled down to Janelle. Her hands were shaking from fear. This climb had really gotten under her skin. I felt bad. I knew she wouldn’t be talked into going higher, so we rigged the rappel and headed down into the cloud that fully blanketed the south side of the mountain.

Ten rappels later we were back on the glacier, and heading to our tent. It was too late for a heli flight out that night, so we cooked dinner and went to sleep. The following morning we woke to clear skies. At 9:00AM Wally picked us up and at 9:30 we were back to Petersburg. Heli approaches are so cool. I want one for every climb I do.

After talking to the local climbing expert, Dieter Kloser, the "Keeper of the Icecap" we learned that Janelle was only the second woman to ever climb the Devils Thumb, and they turned at exactly the same spot we did.


July Beach Cleanup in the Bag

I just totaled up the damage from July's beach cleanup at the northern end of Jenness Beach this Wednesday. Despite the record-breaking hot weather (and presumable the hordes of people flocking to the beach), we picked up just 44 lbs of trash.

We snuck in a bonus surf session in the morning—the report called for ankle high ripples, but it was a classic logging session out there in the sun. Couldn't have asked for more (actually, warmer waters would have been nice). Pics to come.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

New T-Shirts!

I'm psyched to share my new NEMO t-shirt design. This new design has 2 color variations, the first is printed one asphalt, the second is printed on a forest green, both American Apparel.

The design was inspired from some photos we have used in the past that take unusual angles of common themes. I always love the thought of sitting at a campfire in the middle of the woods and wondering what creatures lurk in the shadows beyond the light of the fire.

Using negative space and exaggerated shadows the design itself become almost an abstract image at first glance. Once you get in and take a closer look the viewer gets and "aha!" moment.

One final cool feature on the green glows!

We plan to print another round of these because they are going fast, I have a feeling the next round we will have glow -in-the-dark on the grey shirt as well


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Through the Boat's Eyes

Professional kayaker and NEMO ambassador Jesse Coombs sent us this video that he, Mark Kettenhofen and Lucas Gilman recently worked on for B&H Camera. It's a short, fun one.


Friday, July 22, 2011


Great tribute today on the Google homepage to notable sculpturist/artist Alexander Calder.

Is it just me, or are they nailing these home pages lately between the Les Paul guitar and the Pacman game (all playable).


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sun Valley Love

Bill and I just got back from Sun Valley where NEMO was a sponsor of the US Cycling Mountain Bike Championships this year. We had a fantastic 4 days and met so many great folks out in Idaho who were in town for the event.

The Crit was held Thursday night in Ketchum town center. Before the main event, there was a fat tire relay, perhaps the most entertaining event of the weekend. If there are any doubts on the levels of entertainment, see pictures below.

We were lucky enough to hang out with the Scott folks who rented out Wiseguy Pizza and made sure there was an endless stream of pizza and beer flowing at all times. This, and the unblemished/un-humid air of Sun Valley must be why I look so happy.

The elite men's and women's races were a bit more serious, especially with Rebecca Rusch on the line in the women's field.

And as expected, we were lucky enough to get in some great riding, time with friends, trail running, eating, and drinking here in Sun Valley.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tomb of the Unknown Leftovers

We did a fridge clean out this morning here at NEMO HQ. While there has been some pretty nasty stuff unearthed over the years, this little treasure definitely takes the cake. It's truly... Unknown.

Yup, pretty nast. I think we're all looking forward to this bad boy waiting for us at the new Dover office, thanks to Caryl:

- Bridget

Monday, July 11, 2011

Go Forth to the Nearest Public Library!

Having spent a good deal of my childhood at public libraries, I've always been a fan of books, periodicals, card catalogs, and the Dewey Decimal System. But now in my adult life, I have a renewed appreciation of free movie rentals (when did libraries change over from Charlton Heston movies to complete series of quality shows like Arrested Development, Sopranos, West Wing, and Mad Men? I believe it was sometime in 1997.), new music, back issues of magazines I just want to thumb through and not buy, and events.

At the Nashua library, events span anything from cooking lessons, language groups, piano concerts, fly fishing technique classes, etc. For you lucky Granite Staters, NEMO friend Ben S. is giving some presentations at NH libraries about his epic trip from NH to Argentina on a motorcycle. Some of the presentations have already passed, but there are plenty more to come, all free and open to the public.

7/12 - Amherst, NH 7pm
7/13 - Wilton, NH 7pm
7/14 - Bow, NH 6:30pm
7/17 - Freedom, NH 4pm
8/3 - Epsom, NH 7pm
9/16 - New Boston, NH 7pm
9/21 - Durham, NH 7pm
9/22 - Dunbarton, NH 7pm
10/19 - Sommersworth, NH 7pm
10/20 - Salem, NH 7pm
TBD - Dublin, NH

Visit your local library (some of your tax money is going there, after all), check out some new books, and see/talk to people like Ben who have had incredible adventures.


Friday, July 8, 2011

NEMO Classroom Lesson #201: Setting Up Asashi On the Fly

Folks here in the office have been spending some time on the beach thanks to some spectacular weather in the Northeast. Bridget used Asashi "On the Fly" this past weekend, and wanted to share the easiest way to set this up with everyone.

For the "On the Fly" setup, you'll need the Asashi Footprint, Fly (no inner tent), and poles (all of them).

First, lay out the Footprint. The NEMO label should face up.

Make sure that the grommets on the corner webbing are adjusted to be as close to the Footprint corners as possible. Also make sure the webbing on the triglides is double backed so it doesn't slip out over time.

Insert the long main poles into the corner grommets of the Footprint, crossing at the center.

Pull the fly over the poles, making sure that the door is aligned with the long side of the Footprint. You'll know you have it right when you look inside the door and see the sewn NEMO label immediately to the right.

Secure the fly to the poles by trapping the grommet on the fly under the Footprint anchors.

On the underside of the fly, secure one of the poles at the center intersection (doesn't matter which) to the fly using the sewn in Velcro tabs.

It's easiest to insert the ridge poles from inside the shelter. Secure one end of the pole in the reinforced triangle area with Velcro, then repeat with the other side.

Where the ridge poles intersect with the main poles, use the sewn-in Velcro tabs to secure these poles together.

You should now have a perfect shade for hot summer days.

You can even add the Garage to this setup if you need more coverage.

Any questions?


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Just add water, and stir

Everything Is A Remix is not just an interesting and thought provoking concept, but also the title of Kirby Ferguson's latest video project.

Three of the four installments are up on his site. I'm anxiously awaiting the fourth.

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

The basic concept is that ideas are all derivative in a way. Ideas, media, inventions, products, etc. As a professional product designer, this is a little deflating to think about, but then exceptionally interesting. The examples that Kirby finds are instantly recognizable and have the universal effect of making people say, "wow, really? I never noticed that." The basic message is that innovation, the brand that we strive to achieve here at NEMO, does not come from the ether. Rather gathering and assembling and reconfiguring all of these things we have seen/heard/experienced in a new way. I think that's why we often hear people say things like "I could have thought of that."

As he points out, Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line, interchangeable parts, or even the automobile. It was having the insight to put all of these things together that produced something innovative. NEMO has over 50 patents in the works. I think we have some incredibly good and novel ideas on a daily basis, but it's interesting to think what we would have come up with living in a vacuum without all these designers/inventors of the past.

My favorite quote: As Isaac Newton once said "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants," which is what he was doing when he adapted that saying from Bernard de Chartres [who used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants]