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Written by Patrick Fink

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.

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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.

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Dec 12

2016

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How to travel like you can’t afford it.

Taylor and I have managed to do a lot of traveling. Enough so that our friends are always asking us how we make it work. Even now, as I wrap up the fourth week of a rural psychiatry rotation in Southern Oregon, we’re planning the final details for flying to Japan next week.

I think travel is pretty awesome. It expands your world. It expands your comfort zone. It brings you in touch with people and cultures that expand your appreciation for the human race. In the interest of persuading you to travel like we do, if only once, I’ve compiled a list of tips, hacks, and philosophies that make it possible to put together amazing travel experiences with less money than you’d expect. It’s not definitive, but it works for us. Over and over again.

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This adorable hut on the amazing Bomber traverse would never be here on this page if it weren’t for a half-cocked dream turned into reality by unbridled optimism and half-sane planning.

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Oct 18

2016

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Is it snowing?

October is a damned month, when the single track is ripe but all forces conspire to distract a fellow with the prospect of skiing. Highly-produced ski films, like Christmas decorations, come earlier every year, and the internet is abuzz with atmospheric predictions and ski porn live-streamed from South America.

I’ll admit, I am excited to go skiing, but with a trip to Japan scheduled for the middle of December, the feeling isn’t too pressing. There’s just no getting around the beautiful fall leaves and crip, clear days that make anything but skiing seem deeply appealing. I managed to work in day of turns-all-year quality skiing last week, so the piper has been paid for now.

Still, that’s not to say that I’m not preparing for the season. Two international trips and a wedding make it unlikely that I’ll be doing much racing this year, but I still want to come into the season fit and ready to go fast. Read on →

Sep 22

2016

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Complete Enchantments Loop, Car to Car

Some days I just feel lazy. Like lead, but with more natural affinity for a sofa. This afflicts me often, or on most days even. Like there just isn’t enough coffee in the world to get me going. But life doesn’t happen if you don’t make it happen. I don’t want memories of my sofa. I want to feel sore and tired and anything but stagnant.

Prussik peak, pristine snowmelt, and in a photo, why this 'run' is worth running.

Prussik peak, pristine snowmelt, and in a photo, why this ‘run’ is worth running.

That’s how I found myself driving out of Portland at 5 am on the way to Leavenworth, Washington. I’ve been talking for years about wanting to run the classic Enchantments Loop through what is certainly one of the most beautiful places in Washington, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I was busy.

This is the kind of immersive environment that can get me off of the sofa. At least, it can sometimes.

Asgard pass. Dragontail peak. This is the kind of immersive environment that can get me off of the sofa. At least, sometimes.

Inconvenience or not, I wanted to make it happen this year, and I wanted to do it right. As I see it, it’s not a loop if the beginning and the end aren’t in the same place. Lots of folks do this run from the Stuart Lake trailhead to the Snow Lakes trailhead and spare themselves the gap by shuttling cars. That’s the most bang for the buck, but if you’re driving almost five hours to get to the damn place you might as well do it right. Run the road. Make it happen.

Topo for the full enchantments loop. I recommend beginning at Snow Lakes trailhead and going CCW, running the road early and taking the trail itself in a generally downhill direction.

Topo for the full enchantments loop. I recommend beginning at Snow Lakes trailhead and going CCW, running the road early and taking the trail itself in a generally downhill direction.

On account of the long drive, I got a late start. Still, the road went quickly. It was hotter, far hotter, than I had expected. The eightish miles from car to trailhead took a bit over an hour and twenty minutes but a startling 60 oz of water. All of my electrolyte tabs were consumed, and I was a bit concerned.

Running up the forest road was a dusty affair. Thankfully, most cars slowed down to avoid dusting me. This one didn't.

Running up the forest road was a dusty affair. Thankfully, most cars slowed down to avoid dusting me. This one didn’t.

After a crucial toilet stop at the trailhead, the welcome shade of the forest singletrack took over. From Stuart lake trailhead to the Colchuck lake turnoff went quickly. Mostly runnable, some power hiking. After the turnoff, it’s a rooted mess that requires selective walking.

First views towards Mt Stuart climbing towards Colchuck lake.

First views towards Mt Stuart climbing towards Colchuck lake. Also, the first of many granite slabs.

I made good time to Colchuck lake, passing a woman who started telling her friend how this time last year she “was passed by some guy who looked just like that and they were running up Mt St Helens“. I had a good laugh to myself, and started cramping. First, my toes cramped, going around Colchuck lake. That was a new one, but it turns out you can run while your toes cramp.

seg

Asgard pass, shadowed by Dragontail peak, rises a grossly foreshortened 2000 feet above Colchuck lake.

Then came Asgard pass. It’s a cool two thousand feet in one mile of switchbacking scree dirt. My calves started cramping. As I power-hiked into the cold wind on top of the pass my watch read 3:30 and I was happy to have the climbing behind me.

The enchantments “core”, as the flat-ish four-mile stretch through the alpine plateau is called, is gorgeous. Gorgeous like the girl you can’t help but ask her to marry you a day earlier than planned. Problem is, you don’t get to look at it, if you like staying upright.

Dragontail peak from the rear. This shot, though not a great photo, accurately captures the texture of the enchantments core.

Dragontail peak from the rear. This shot, though not a great photo, accurately captures the texture of the enchantments core.

The running in the core is rough. Smooth trails are marred by the addition of granite boulders to pave the way so backpackers don’t have to get their leather hikers muddy. The only time that you get to look around is if you stop, which I couldn’t because I’d cramp, or when running down one of the many granite rock ramps that dot the route.

Hikers crossing a small patch of snow through the core area.

Hikers crossing a small patch of snow through the core area.

Navigation here is oddly challenging for such a well-traveled route. The problem is, people are everywhere, and they’ve made cairns and false paths this way and that. I’m sure it works if you’re going slowly and don’t care if you get side-tracked, but was on a mission. Thankfully, unlike my last trip through the enchantments, when my partner and I struggled to find the route out of the range, I found the exit near the mouth of Lake Vivianne without mishap.

Lake Vivianne and the iconic Prussik Peak. Knowing that the descent trail begins at the mouth of lake Vivianne is probably the single most crucial navigation detail for this trip.

Lake Vivianne and the iconic Prussik Peak. Knowing that the descent trail begins at the mouth of lake Vivianne is probably the single most crucial navigation detail for this trip.

Now this is a trail! Occasional cairns mark a zig-zagging route down steep rock slabs with sometimes startling exposure. I’m surprised that the forest service puts this one on the map, because it’s definitely not a wise choice for the typically unstable and overladen REI hiker.

'Trail' along the Vivianne slabs. Here, and only here, are cairns actually useful and accurate.

‘Trail’ along the Vivianne slabs. Here, and only here, are cairns actually useful and accurate.

Never mind that, they manage it anyways, and they were polite about letting me pass. I ran, stepped, climbed, and hobbled down. Down, down, down, 6500 feet downhill in one go. Connective tissue was tested and blissfully held true. My quads cramped, which drove me crazy because I never get cramps, so I ate all of my sodium-containing foods as quickly as possible.

Another bad photo, but this time of the typical descending trail beyond the Vivianne slabs: prominent roots, dotted with rocks, and startlingly steep.

Another bad photo, but this time of the typical descending trail beyond the Vivianne slabs: prominent roots, dotted with rocks, and startlingly steep.

The finish is monotonous. There are innumerable switchbacks, and the trail is just rough enough to bite you if your mind strays. I was focused, because I’m getting old hand at this kind of thing. Namely, my car had a cooler full of beer and New Seasons’s banana cake, which is heaven after a long run. Also, typically, I got fixated on finishing before a nice round-numbered time, so I kicked it down those switchbacks as quickly as I could manage and chugged into the parking lot with a moving time of 6:28:15, bumped irritatingly to an elapsed time of 6:31:59 by a bathroom stop at the Stuart lake trailhead.

Not to rest long, I savored a quick lager and some banana cake with my feet in Icicle creek before grabbing an obligatory Heidelburger and heading for home. By sunset, I was back to Mt Hood, kicking up my feet and heating up the sauna.

The spoils of war.

The spoils of war.

Sometimes, I just have to do it, or dammit, it’ll never get done.


Support Mountain Lessons and hook yourself up with a pair of shoes that were built for miles of rough descending, the Salomon S-Lab Wings.

racred_d2

Sep 04

2016

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Running Around Broken Top

Man, what a hiatus. This summer has been a rough one. I’ve been inside, doing the hard work of becoming a doctor by undergoing the rights of passage called Surgery and Internal Medicine. It’s a necessary sacrifice, but it hasn’t been easy to watch summer slide by without me.

Now, finally, I’m on to lighter stuff. Two-day weekends. In to the hospital after sunrise and out before dark. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. And now that it’s quickly becoming fall, it’s time for some long runs.

I’ve been mulling over the Broken Top loop for a while now. It’s a great distance (~27 mi) in the great high country above Bend, OR. It’s part desert, part alpine, and part Ponderosa forest. The smells are amazing. This weekend, Taylor was going to go backpacking with a friend, so I headed out along to get this thing done.

Processed with Snapseed.

In the first quarter mile, a mountain lion track. That’ll put some energy in your step.

Running Around Broken Top

The most direct way to begin the loop is at the Three Creek Meadow trailhead on the Northeast side of the mountain, about a 30 minute drive from Sisters, OR. I opted to go clockwise, as that put the uncertain navigation up front, and I knew from scrambling around near Broken Top with Taylor a few weeks ago that the second half of the loop would be prettier this way.

3M1H

Overview map of the Broken Top loop. (PDF) (Zoomable Map).

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