Terra Incognita


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Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 13, 2011 - 10:08pm PT

We're bursting at the seams! The World recently "welcomed" it's seven billionth inhabitant. Where are we going to put them all? Thank God for mountains! The two most densly populated continents, Asia and Europe have 64% and 25% of their respective land masses covered by mountains. Although Europe may be out of the running, every other continent still has terra incognita largely because of the existence of mountains- a condition, I know, that is near and dear to the heart of every supertopian.

I love poking my nose into unexplored terrain, and, contrary to what most people think, it's still there!  In the last four years I've climbed six previously unclimbed peaks in Patagonia. One had some 5.11 crack climbing but the others were mostly "approach problematic" with nothing over 5.8 on the actual climb. No, they're not around El Chalten (Chamonix Patagonia) but a little research and "voila" you'll be on your way.

Last Summer I got to do a beautiful 14 pitch route with a tad of 5.10 on an unclimbed 16,000 ft peak in Tajikistan. Guess what, there are probably hundreds of similar peaks in Central Asia alone.

The take home message here, broaden your horizons; put your hand in a place that a hand has never been before, spend a night on a ledge that has never felt the weight of a human, wake up to a vista that has never been photographed- all you need is a sense of adventure. Hell, you aren't going to leave your children social security, why leave them unclimbed mountains? Get going! We may be the last generation of Americans that can easily travel to the terra incognita that remains.

Some may question why I am trying to get MORE people to explore the blank spaces on the map (figure of speach) that remain. No worries, the realist in me knows it won't happen.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Nov 13, 2011 - 10:21pm PT
On the one hand, google earth says there is none left. Om the other there is a ton of it left even here in CA.

With my limited time and energy, I still manage to find a little, even if for a day.

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Nov 13, 2011 - 10:24pm PT
Little new is better than no new.

this thread needs pics...


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2011 - 10:25pm PT
Micro or macro, new is where it's at.

Yeah, it's all on google earth, but try to actually get to some of those places.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Nov 13, 2011 - 10:35pm PT
Exactly. Terra incognita could be a new hold or two. It's not significant, but it will do for the day.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2011 - 10:38pm PT
Funny thing Tom, when I was younger the micro sufficed, now I'm into the macro- no really hard individual moves involved.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Nov 13, 2011 - 10:41pm PT
Yeah, I hear you, but I have a two year old and another on the way.

You got to take what you get sometimes. Right now I seem to be getting a lot of second first ascents.

I have my eyes on so many spots, but no time.
john hansen

Nov 13, 2011 - 10:44pm PT
I have often wondered what you do for a living to allow you to live so much of your time in the mountains... a guide? Sponsored? Maybe your own buisness ,, 67 years old and still going strong.

Think of all the empty land in the Tiaga regions of Canada and Russia, but not as nice to travel in.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Nov 13, 2011 - 10:53pm PT
Six weeks, three grand, and a bunch of mules we could rock the Sierra.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Nov 13, 2011 - 11:01pm PT
Donini: It is wonderful and a blessing, how few climbers stray from the roads and Guidebooks.

This spire in Idaho is about 16 miles from a road, and the last few miles are "off-trail."

It was first explored by Robert Underhill in the 1930's, and first climbed in a direct-aid "struggle" by Fred Becky & Pete Schoening in the late 1940's.

It has been climbed only a few times since.

Wolves, Dragons, & other unknown terrors lurk there.

When I finally got up there in 2006, and by a different approach, again in 2009: there was no sign of recent visitors. It is: for most climbers: "Terra Incognita."

Have fun in Patagonia this winter!

A long way from where I started
Nov 13, 2011 - 11:05pm PT
Think of all the empty land in the Tiaga regions of Canada and Russia, but not as nice to travel in.

Maybe the Taiga isn't much fun, but there is still mountain scenery left in Canada that no one has yet laid eyes on. I was fortunate enough to be the first person to see a fair number of mountains in the back of beyond, and it's an amazing feeling.

I've posted this shot before, and someday I'll get around to a proper TR, but in the meantime, here's to terra incognita.


Social climber
Nov 13, 2011 - 11:06pm PT
Nice pics. Always wanted to climb North Raker but was put off (like most folks) by that approach.

Big Wall climber
total Disarray
Nov 13, 2011 - 11:06pm PT
That's Kiguti behind your tent, eh, Ghost?
Even if(and especially if) it isn't, then what a beautiful spot to pitch at, huh?
Nicely done, sir. Terra Incognita.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Nov 13, 2011 - 11:20pm PT
Chances are better when the people are fewer.

from where the anecdotes roam
Nov 14, 2011 - 07:15am PT
the terra stands as terra. one's need to disseminate is what turns a personal experience
into a world "incognita no mas." take your memories with you when you go

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 14, 2011 - 10:29am PT
I don't have a trust fund, far from it. I just decided a long time ago what was important (exploratory climbing) and built my work career (in the outdoor industry) around it. I also retired as soon as I could, to me work was always a means to an end not an end in itself.


Trad climber
Somewhere halfway over the rainbow
Nov 14, 2011 - 11:54am PT
Now that's an American dream I'd buy into if I could afford it..
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Nov 14, 2011 - 04:36pm PT
I'm an explorer. I have put up more than my fair share of new climbs here in Ontario back in the day, but these days I continue to discover and explore new terrain. In fact, I can say with certainty that over the last half-dozen years, I've added more than seven miles of brand new Terra Incognita, and every inch of it right here in the continental US of eh, eh? However all of my Terra Incognita that I have added is actually Subterra Incognita.

See, I'm part of the group that is exploring and surveying the Mammoth Cave System in central Kentucky. It's the world's longest cave by far at around 400 miles of known and surveyed passage - and you can put me down for a dozen or so miles of it. I work mostly in the Roppel Cave section which has private and gated entrances, which is outside of the national park boundaries and therefore a little less problematic to access.

Lots of the cave we discover, explore and survey is only big enough to crawl through. But every now and then we get nice sections of walking passage, plenty of domes, and occasionally a giant new room or streamway. When we find something new, we begin surveying it, starting at an existing survey station and stretching the survey tape into the unknown. We take compass and inclinometer bearings front and backsights both, and make a detailed sketch of the passage. The data is later plotted into the computer, which spits out a lineplot upon which the map can be drawn. So I can look through my survey notes, and tell you precisely how much Subterra Incognita I added to the world. I haven't added up the last two years, but in 2009 - a really good year with some cool new discoveries - I chalked up a little over 9000' of new cave passage. This took over 600 survey shots, so it is time-consuming work, for sure. But it pays off - a detailed and accurate survey helps you discover new places, or make shortcut connections to other places.

The surveys and lineplots of Roppel Cave, and the entire Mammoth system, look like a big bowl of spaghetti as the cave is developed on a number of different levels. What's really cool is that "anything can go anywhere any time in Roppel Cave." Literally any little hole under a breakdown block, any little unchecked crawlway, can lead to miles of new virgin passage. Of course she's only a virgin once - after you survey 'er and put her on the map, you have to find new booty to plunder. So you keep pushing tight little crawls, proggling through breakdown, following the air through the cave, and bolting into upper-level domes in the hopes the passage you think you can see up top actually goes somewhere. Caves are not for those people who dislike tight or dark places.

Generally speaking, the likelihood of discovering new Terra Incognita is proportional to the discomfort in reaching it. Jim mentions this above - he travels the world to find cool new places to climb. But it's not just about going far, it's about being smart when you get there. Jim isn't busting his [ancient] ass necessarily climbing super difficult or remote climbs and mountains - he does his research and finds stuff that others have overlooked or never even seen, and does the easier, cooler and funner ones first. He does his research, and uses his noggin. [Don't get excited you stoners, I said "noggin" not "noggen"]

Our limits of exploration in the cave are often miles and many hours one direction from the entrance. We make 24- to 30-hour push trips, surveying through the dead of night, dragging our climbing kit into the farthest reaches of the cave. Sometimes it goes, and sometimes it don't. We grovel and dig and climb and slither and get cold and wet and muddy. Yeah, if you're gonna be a caver, you've GOT to love the mud!

We spend a lot of time researching our objectives ahead of time, reviewing the lineplot and checking old survey notes and picking each other's brains for ideas. Much the same as Jim must do before his expeditions, looking at aerial photos or Google Earth. Our cave's chief cartographer has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the cave, and has the nearly-hundred-miles of survey not only stored in his computers, but also stored in his head. He is very smart and very anal, just the kind of person you like looking after your data. He has lots of "secret leads" that he hasn't told any of us about, thinking that one day he may get back, although he is mostly retired these days. The wise caver will be at his bedside with notebook in hand should he ever be about to die!

Not all of our trips are push trips, however. I've only climbed El Cap once in a push, as I prefer big wall camping. In the cave, we have set up little basecamps in a few places over the years, in areas rich in leads and where we expect to return. In late 2008, we decided to install a little camp out in an area of the cave that had been first explored 25 years earlier, but had been ignored ever since. Three years later, we still haven't finished everything in the area! One discovery leads to another, and even three years later there is still plenty more to do within short travel time from our basecamp, although it is more mop-up in nature. However, you only have to find one passage that "goes" and suddenly you could bust out into something new! Our cave camp is bitchin' - it has running water and stone furniture that would make Fred Flintstone proud. It's about three miles from the entrance, I guess.

Last year we found a substantial shortcut from camp to a nearby entrance, maybe only a half-mile away or so instead of the three miles by the usual route. However the half-mile of passage was so tight, nasty and especially muddy - you came out completely covered - that we only did it one time. It was enough to tell us that it wasn't really a viable shortcut.

So we like to take a gentlemanly approach to our caving. My usual parter, Dick Market, just turned 70 years old this year. And now that we've got his blood pressure back under control - {wink} - he's ready to grab his aid climbing kit and come down and rejoin us. He's not as fast as he used to be, but he still gets the job done, even on those 30-hour pushes. I want to be just like Dick when I grow up!

I'm heading down again over US Thanksgiving, more exciting leads to check. Again between Christmas and New Year's. Climbs and pits - we do lots of SRT in the cave - and hopefully a hundred new survey stations. It's a 700-mile drive for me from up here east of Toronto, but I get down there every six weeks or so, except during wall seasons.

If you have ever wanted to discover some real Subterra Incognita, and "go where no man has gone before", you really can do it. Drop me an email and we'll talk, eh? One of my best caving partners was a climber first.


but not "Pass the Pitons", though. The cave remains the same temperature all year round - 54F - and so there is no freeze-thaw action to create cracks like you find outdoors. Pass the slings and bolts, more like it.
Josh Nash

Social climber
riverbank ca
Nov 14, 2011 - 04:46pm PT
there's a whole lotta stuff around if you are willing to hump the load.....

Morgan Hill, CA (Mo' Hill)
Nov 14, 2011 - 06:57pm PT
We are working on some projects on a 3000' rock right here in California that has a mile wide section with only one route - the one you see in this image.

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