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Written by Patrick Fink

May 25

2017

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Skiing the Wyeast, Fast

After a few months of playing phone tag, Tom Nelson and I finally managed to get out for some skiing this past weekend. Tom is a financial planner by day, ex-nordic skier, and strong skimo racer by night. For a guy with a wife, kids, and business, he really finds a lot of time to go run up hills.

Tom smiling above Vista top shack.

Our choice for the day was Mt Hood’s Wy’East face. I’ve skied this before, but Tom had never been. It was a good choice for our first outing together before seeking out some steeper objectives. I still think that this run is one of the crown jewels of cascades volcano skiing when it’s in good condition. Unfortunately, spring has been rocky out here, and just a week ago the mountain saw almost 30 inches of new snow.

Clouds, inversion, and cold East wind.

Read on →

May 23

2017

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Haute Route Part 2: Verbier to Arolla

Miss Part 1? Go back and check out Haute Route: Chamonix to Verbier.


Our fourth day in the Swiss Alps began with an early start from the Prafleuri hut to ski the length of the Lac des Dix before the sun would warm the snow along this exposed traverse.

Taylor reaches the street sign atop the Col de Roux. That way to Zermatt ->

Cresting the Col de Roux after just a short climb from the hut, the Lac stretched out below us as the morning light threw a glow on Mont Blanc de Chelon in the distance. Our next hut lay at its feet, some miles away.

The end of Lac des Dix trailing off into the river that leads up-valley through the Pas de Chat (Cat Pass). Light strikes Mt Blanc de Chelon to the right.

The traverse along the lake was blissfully firm, so we made good time despite being forced to cross an occasional patch of grass and one considerable pile of wet avalanche debris. Read on →

May 01

2017

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Breaking the Curse: Mt Mcloughlin Ski Descent

Mt McLoughlin is an often forgotten volcano of the Cascades chain. Hidden in southern Oregon along the highway between the modest towns of Medford and Klamath Falls, it was a feature of Taylor’s childhood. Legend has it that her mother, Cecilia, hiked Mt McLoughlin with Taylor in her womb. We all know what that does to a child.

“We all know what that does to a child.”

Taylor has hiked Mt McLoughlin four or five times in summer, but never in Winter. As an isolated cone of a mountain, it just begs to be skied, so we’ve already tried twice. But we were cursed. It was not to be.

Climbing along the upper crater rim.

Read on →

Apr 27

2017

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Haute Route Part 1: Chamonix to Verbier

Taylor and I in Chamonix, enjoying a final cup of good coffee before hitting the road to Zermatt.

Our plan to ski the haute route was hatched casually. It’s easy to imagine success from half a world away, especially on a route deemed the classic of classic ski tours. In typical style, Taylor and I bought plane tickets and booked a few Airbnbs the better part of nine months in advance of when we would be in Chamonix. Our dates were picked based on the guidebook, aiming for deep snowpack but sunny spring weather. What else could we need?

Just. about. everything. It turns out that there is little to no beta about the haute route on the internet aside from guide’s descriptions of the route (Day 3: We’ll tackle massive glaciers as we cross the spectacular high terrain of the alps!) or mismatched trip reports. There’s no accurate or reliable information about what equipment is reasonable for an experience party. There’s not even a day-by-day mileage or vertical tally. Finally, there are certainly no fewer than six major variations on the route. Read on →

Apr 11

2017

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Chamonix: Vallée Blanche

It’s been quiet around here except for Ethan and Peter handing you the keys to the Grand Traverse castle and a couple other random tips. Even though Taylor and I went to Japan for Christmas, I still haven’t even downloaded those photos. It’s been crazy time, but the crazy time ended when we finally got married on February 25th, and to celebrate, we headed to France to ski and drink wine.

Isn’t she pretty?

It was a long trip over with PDX -> Denver -> DC -> Paris and then a couple of trains to Chamonix. The wait was worth it. I’ve never seen such a place. It’s a verdant valley, somewhat quaint, with intimidating and tremendous mountains rising thousands of meters to both sides. Unlike other mountain towns in France, Chamonix retains some dirtbag character, and there’s a funny mix of tourists, townspeople, and outdoors folk milling around town. Every third person on the main street is an IFMGA guide, seems like.

Victim of the duration.

The size of the mountains is a bit intimidating for a couple humble Northwesterners, and we needed to gather some supplies and pack before heading out on the main event, the Haute Route (more to come on that). So, our first day in town we grabbed a reasonably good coffee and shelled out the big bucks to ride up the Aiguille du Midi, where a cable car takes you up 2800 meters in about 20 minutes; green valley floor to 12,000-foot alpine crags in the blink of an eye.

Step 1: Coffee. Sure, the place is run by an American, but real talk: the french suck at coffee.

Read on →

Mar 07

2017

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Shorts: How to Wax Skins

This Saturday as we were skiing up on Mt Hood, I noticed that my skins weren’t getting amazing glide. The snow was a bit wet, and the skins are new, so it was no surprise. My solution to this problem is to wax the skins, a tactic stolen from the Euro race scene that is largely unheard of in the US. (Most US skiers will think of glop-stopper when talking about skin wax, but we’re talking about hot-waxing).

It’s hot-wax time.

The technique of skin waxing is simple and easy to do at home. It improves glide as well as water/glop resistance of the skins. It causes no damage to skins when done properly, and it takes just a few minutes to complete. I’ve waxed both nylon and mohair skins, though waxing nylon skins is pissing into the wind as far as glide goes. Read on →

Feb 16

2017

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Shorts: Hydrating for Running

Hydration can be crucial to happiness. But all things should be taken in moderation.

Seated at my computer in the ICU, I chuckled out loud while reading an interview with Kilian Jornet and Emilie Forsberg. When the nurse next to me asked what was so funny, I explained that this famous endurance couple clearly dealt with the same controversy as do Taylor and I: do you need to bring food and water with you to run or ski, and if so, how much? Kilian and I are on the same page: likely not, and if so, not much.  Emelie (and Taylor) say:

“He doesn’t like to eat when he is out! I take some food with me when I am out longer, like eight hours. And sometimes I wish that Kilian had some. I have been telling him that why can’t he have some chocolate in his backpack for me. Just in case. But it has not happened so far. So, I often take my own.”

Today I want to briefly address hydration for running, and my thoughts on the matter are governed by two observations. First, most people begin their workout dehydrated. Second, most people drink far too much during exercise.  I’ll add the caveat that you have to figure out what works for you, and you should be safe about it, but that said, here are some thoughts to chew on and a plan to be more effective with your hydration.  Read on →

Feb 13

2017

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Mt Hood Pearly Gates and Complete White River Ski Descent

With a wedding two weeks away and a honeymoon trip to the alps just over a month away, Taylor and I were quick to jump on a good-looking weekend forecast to escape to Mt Hood for some skiing, climbing, and skills practice.

It's good to be out in the mountains on a day like this.

It’s good to be out in the mountains on a day like this.

It’s hard to persuade me to go snow camping, as I am embarrassingly attached to sleeping within walls during the cold months, but since we’d recently scored some fun new gear, interest and excitement won out. A big impetus was the Black Diamond First Light tent that our family and friends gave us as a wedding gift; this single-wall bivy wonder-tent packs down to the size of a nalgene, which makes the pain of a heavy carry much nicer. We’d also acquired a Petzl Rad-Line static rope rescue kit to use as our glacier system in the alps, and we needed to practice our crevasse rescue tactics (more on this soon). Finally, after five and a half years of abuse, I finally sold my Dynafit TLT5P boots and joined the hordes wearing Scarpa F1s, and I was eager to give them a try.

We left the Timberline parking area after a casual start on Saturday morning and made a slow climb up to Illumination Saddle at 9200′ and set up camp. As we climbed we passed a huge group of skiers and snowshoers with the same destination and we worried that we were accidentally crashing a full-moon dance party at I-Rock. Luckily and adorably, it was a wedding party for a couple who were wed at the saddle with amazing shining sun and valley clouds that afternoon. We skied away from the saddle headed towards the summit crater as they started their ceremony. Read on →

Jan 26

2017

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Shorts: Airbag Packs

Airbag packs make you safer. Yes they’re expensive, but your life is worth it. They add some weight, but hey, you’re not being responsible if you’re not protecting yourself, right?

Right?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of conversations about airbag packs with family and friends, and I’ve been hearing a lot about them through various media. Slide: The Avalanche Podcast had an excellent discussion of their use, which partly informs my view. The Cripple Creek Backcountry Podcast mentioned their use in two recent episodes (here and here).

On Cripple Creek, they talk about how they insist that every shop employee wear an airbag, always. They say that they like the extra safety, especially when they’re trying to go faster or father when they might not communicate as much. They ask, could airbags have provided some trauma protection to Jason Dorais should he actually have been carried during a slide last year?

This talk makes me angry. Read on →

Jan 19

2017

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Holy Molé! Heart of Darkness!

This has been the busiest winter of my life, and it’s hardly over. School, Japan, Christmas, School… it has been nonstop. The blog has been silent.

For the last week, I’ve been in Utah skiing a great run of high pressure with my fiancé Taylor and staying with my parents for a belated Christmas. A couple of days ago, Taylor had to take off for a work conference, so I was left without a partner for today. That meant that it was time to check a couple of boxes in the back of my copy of the Chuting Gallery.

With low danger throughout the avalanche rose and protected powder on northerly aspects, conditions were right to do some silly things.

North Face of Cardiff Peak, the first run of the day.

North Face of Cardiff Peak, the first run of the day.

The day started with a cruise up the highway that is Cardiff pass, and I picked the first line that looked good and tight for a warmup. A few jump turns through the choke and a short powder apron were my reward before I climbed back to the ridge to boot up towards Mt Superior.

Along the catwalk atop Little Superior on the way to Mt Superior. The drop to the road is impressive.

Along the catwalk atop Little Superior on the way to Mt Superior. The drop to the road is impressive.

Read on →