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Written by Patrick Fink

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.

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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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Jul 02

2016

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Mt Baker Easton Glacier Ski Descent

Author’s note: This post is one week old. I’m now sleep deprived and sporting the dorky combination of scrubs and a white coat. Looking back on this gives me a satisfied smile. Enjoy!
I’m on a ferry, out on puget sound, sailing from Friday Harbor to Anacortes. Despite my best efforts (hours of quietly watching at the rail), I’ve yet to see an Orca. That’s the only hope I had for this trip that I have yet to fulfill.
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Sunset over Mt Baker

In eighteen hours or so, I’ll be starting one of the rights of passage that every medical student is forced to endure: a surgical rotation. For four weeks, I’ll work longer than twelve-hour days for six or more days per week. Sometimes I’ll be there overnight. Thank goodness there are restrictions; I’m not supposed to work more than 80 hours per week averaged out over four weeks, or more than 28 hours at a time. So reasonable.
That’s not to say that I resent the rotation, or that I’m not excited. I don’t, and I am. This is what I signed up for. Still, it’s a transition moment from a few months that have afforded me a lot of time in the mountains to a few that will afford me little.
To mark the occasion, and to ornament some travel that we were making to a wedding on San Juan Island, Tay and I decided a few weeks ago to climb and ski Mt Baker It is one of the cascades volcanoes that has managed to avoid attempts by either of us.
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Punching through the snow line.

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Jun 06

2016

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Mt Adams Southwest Chutes Speed Lap

Earlier this season, Taylor and I walked a really long way to try to ski Mt Adams’ southwest chutes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite spring, so we didn’t get to ski the route. April passed, and so did May, and now in early June the conditions are fully ripe for cascades corn harvesting, so I made a quick solo trip to try to nab the route before it melts away.

Mt Adams looking mighty fine.

Mt Adams looking mighty fine.

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May 22

2016

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Skiing the Bomber Traverse: Part 2

This is the second part of a two-parter on our trip to the Talkeetna Mountains. If you missed the first part, check it out here. For our map/beta of the route, click here (pdf).


 

The ski down from backdoor gap was our first taste of surprisingly good snow. Five inches of recrystalized snow blanketed every slope approaching a northerly aspect. It wasn’t deep, but it skied fast and soft.

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Our first north-facing tracks down the pennyroyal. And with heavy backpacks no less.

A quick skate at the floor of the valley let us to the Bomber Hut, and much roomier and lighter affair than the mint hut.

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Taylor makes a quick skate on the way to the Bomber hut with the Pennyroyal glacier shaded in the background.

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May 13

2016

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Skiing the Bomber Traverse: Part 1

I first learned about the Bomber Traverse while doing something that I often do: reading a guidebook while sitting on the toilet. Some time ago, I heard about The Alaska Factor by Joe Stock, and I’d ordered it on impulse. Then, in January, in the depths of boards-study distress and desperate for something to look forward to, I was looking for an adventure idea. Taylor and I had a meeting. We nixed the plan we’d been talking about to travel to Japan; it was too soon and too much money. For once, I had no other ideas. Until I sat on The John.
Descending into Anchorage over the Chugach.

Descending into Anchorage over the Chugach, building stoke.

The Bomber Traverse is a ski loop outside of Palmer, AK, in the Talkeetna mountains. It begins near the locally famed touring zone of Hatcher Pass and cuts a modest circle of 20-ish miles and 6000’ across two passes. It’s clearly possible to ski in a day (and it has been many times), but three huts situated around the loop make it equally well-suited to going heavy and skiing the surrounding terrain.

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May 08

2016

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30th Birthday Mt Hood Circumnavigation

I’m still wading through all of the photos and video from our Alaska trip. It’s making my computer crash just to think about it. In the meantime, and more importantly, my fiancé and chief adventure partner Taylor turned 30 this week. To celebrate, she wanted to take on an epic day. With good weather stretching onwards, we settled on the Mt Hood ski circumnavigation.

Thirty. Dirty Thirty.

Thirty. Dirty Thirty.

I’ve been around Hood this way ages ago. Peter took a crack at it but with my nonspecific beta, he got sidetracked. For detailed beta on the loop, I have a post for you here.

Skinning up timberline

Skinning up timberline

We were later in the season for this loop than the last time that I did it. That meant more open crevasses and more ropework to make the loop happen safely. Where Ethan and I had been forced to walk with crampons, Taylor and I skinned. Where Ethan and I had skied unroped, Taylor and I skied roped and belayed across bridged crevasses.

Reid Glacier

Reid Glacier

The loop is still a favorite of mine, as there’s so much of Mt Hood that so few people get to see.

Taylor on the Reid

Taylor on the Reid

Headed down the first real glacier of the day, Taylor and I found that what had been a ‘couloir’ for Ethan and I was now spanned by a deep crevasse. Out came the rope, crampons, and classic sit-on-planted-skis hip belay.

Crevasse hijinx

Crevasse hijinx

Taylor sent the first crux with no sweat, and we cruised down into the sun, where we started sweating.

Past the first crux.

Past the first crux.

 

Yokum ridge

Booting the broad Yokum Ridge towards the Sandy Glacier.

Sandy glacier

Sandy glacier crossing, Taylor dwarfed.

The warm temps did mean that we had little hard snow to mess around with, so travel through the middle of the loop was pleasant and smooth.

Cathedral ridge

Cathedral ridge

Cathedral ridge

Exiting Cathedral Ridge to gain the Ladd/Coe glaciers.

 

Seracs

Seracs on the Ladd Glacier

The Ladd and Coe glaciers gave us some food for thought, with lots of refrigerator-sized ice blocks littering the crossing, dropped unceremoniously from the seracs above.

Pulpit rock

Below Pulpit rock, considering more serac trash.

We made quick passage under the seracs, which have a nasty tendency of collapsing without any warning. Though the scientists seem to think that collapse has little correlation to daytime temperature, it’s hard not to think that it’s more likely when the sun is hot. The sun was hot.

Debris on the Coe

Taylor jog-stumbles through debris on the Coe glacier.

The exit from the Coe glacier involved a quick scramble up what the local guide outfit refers to as Dick Pumpington ridge. I’ll leave you to consider the name.

Dick pumpington.

Dick pumpington.

We skied roped across and down the Eliot glacier amongst some big cracks and sagging bridges. This is one of many places where Ethan and I had it easy, and where Taylor and I had to pull out all the safety stops.

Our tracks on the Eliot.

Our tracks on the Eliot.

Exit from the glacier was considerably easier than on my last loop, and we made good time gaining altitude towards Cooper’s spur to begin our last descent.

Up Cooper's spur.

Up Cooper’s spur.

After kicking off wet slides all the way across the Newton and Clark glaciers, we made it to White river and a view of the car.

Exiting white river.

Exiting white river.

At a generally casual pace, we wrapped up the trip in 8 hours and 40 minutes, with 13.4 miles and 6700′ of elevation gain.

Parking lot.

Parking lot love.

Much love to this one!