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Mt Adams Skiing, the Long Way

I’ve been really frustrated with skiing in the Pacific Northwest this year. A big part of my frustration comes from living in Portland, which is not somewhere that you live if skiing is a priority for you. The weather has been the source of the rest of my frustration: week after week we’ve had storms with significant moisture roll through, but temperatures hovered just a few degrees too high. Sure, I’ve gotten a few good days this season, but largely I’ve put in a lot of work to ski some pretty bad snow.

A couple weeks back, I was seriously considering shelving recreational winter skiing in the PNW. Next year, I’d focus on skimo, and I wouldn’t think about going out until corn season, which is the only good thing going around here. Thankfully, before I could make a rash and bitter decision, the weather turned sunny and it started looking like the corn might have arrived.

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Based on a report of what sounded like a pretty miserable car-to-car mission on Mt Adams, Taylor and I planned a two-day trip up there to try to ski the Southwest Chutes. Both Taylor and I have skied the South side of Mt Adams a couple of times, including car-to-car efforts both (TR from Peter here), so there was no need to suffer excessively and try to get that done in a day. Instead, the SW Chutes offers a 4000′ fall-line alternative in the 35-degree neighborhood: very appealing.

Image stolen from Skinsanity: Denied on Mt Adams. Annotation is mine. Photo links to original post.

Image stolen from Skinsanity: Denied on Mt Adams. Annotation is mine. Photo links to original post. SW chutes descend SW from the false summit of Mt Adams (Piker’s peak). The South climbing route follows the large snowfield on the right.

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Three Fingered Jack Backcountry Skiing

This past weekend, a bit sad that we weren’t driving out to Colorado for the Grand Traverse, Taylor and I went looking for some new terrain in the Mt Jefferson wilderness. Neither of us had ever been to the Three Fingered Jack backcountry off of Santiam Pass (near Hoodoo ski area), and the forecast looked favorable for skiing on Friday and Saturday.

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Approaching Three Fingered Jack through the burn area.

On the North side of Santiam Pass is Three Fingered Jack, and to the South (and slightly more distant) is Mt Washington. While Mt Washington is a picturesque peak reminiscent of the Paramount Pictures logo, Three Fingered Jack is a much more rubbly remnant of a volcano, forming a sawtoothed projection aligned from North to South. Read on →

November in Gothic

On the second to last day of October I came across a set of bear tracks. My friend Richard and I had set out from Gothic on bikes and were six miles up valley when the snow became too deep to ride. The tracks appeared in the snow, large and clawed. Unmistakable. We followed them for over half a mile up the road until they meandered up the hillside. Strange, I thought, that the bear should be wandering up in elevation, into deepening snow. Surely it was focused foremost on food, in the midst of building the last of its fat layer before hibernating. What it hoped to find in the snow I know not.

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Bear tracks are good reminder that there are animals out there that can kill you. Photo by Richard.

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Troll Hunting: Ski Touring in Iceland, Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of Ski Touring Iceland, you can find it here.

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After almost a week in Iceland and several days of skiing touring on the North coast of the island, we thought that we’d learned the tactics needed to put together an amazing line. The right approach, timing, and snow conditions would let us choose and then tackle a king line. With just a few days remaining before our flights home, the countdown was on.

Dalvik Round 2

Each afternoon after skiing, we had grown habituated to collecting our thoughts at the Kaffihûs Bakkabrædra. While slamming down coffees and sampling the full depth of local pastry, we stared up at the mountains around us. To the East, towards Akureyri, was the head of the promising valley called Skíðadalur. At the head of the valley was an enormous slope visible from the café,  stretching thousands of feet at a perfect thirty-five degrees. It was no extreme descent, simply an extremely appealing line.

Tempting views from the coffee shop.

Tempting views from the coffee shop. There’s nothing quite like a verdant valley surrounded by perfect ski mountains.

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Backpacking The Sierra High Route

After graduating college and spending a month on the PCT, I received an exciting invitation. It was from my badass mountain biker/backcountry skier/climber/ER doc (sound familiar?) cousin-in-law Tom, and it was for a week-long backpacking trip in the High Sierra. I’d just hiked the entire JMT, but I knew I had to go back to the Sierras because 1: they’re incredible, 2: it would be my first trip with Tom, and 3: he promised me the trip would be a “fine counterpoint” to the JMT (in other words, way better). The plan was to traverse west to east across the Sierra during the second week of September, mostly following the spine of the Great Western Divide. Our route would essentially be a summertime crossing of the famed Sierra High Route (SHR), a classic ski traverse seen by many as California’s answer to the Haute Route of the Swiss Alps, sans plush mountain huts. Since it is typically done over snow, the SHR is entirely off trail save for the first and last few miles, and it also stays high above tree line for the vast majority of its duration. This means it’s void of people, heavy on talus-hopping, and highly conducive to peak-bagging. Read on →

Troll Hunting: Ski Touring in Iceland, Part 1

Click here for Part II

It has finally started to turn cold here in the UpperLeft USA, and the Fall chill has everyone thinking about their favorite sport: CYCLOCROSS. Forget that. Fall is a season for ski stoke and impatient waiting. To fuel your stoke I hereby present the first half of a two-parter on ski mountaineering in Iceland. It was an amazing opportunity to travel internationally to ski, in the summer while somehow also in medical school, and I’m excited to share it with you.

I am grateful as always to the support of Icebreaker, who’s gear I used for this entire trip without washing, and which looked at the end of it all as if it had never been used. It feels good to smell good.

Iceland, panoramic.

Iceland. It won’t even fit in a panorama.

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Living, Working, and Running at 9,500′

I’ve been spending the summer living and working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL, pronounced “rumble”) in Gothic, CO. Life is good. First of all, I get to pursue my love for ecology while being immersed in an inspiring community of scientists and students. Also, I get to run in the mountains every day. Read on →

Thru Hiking the High Sierra

Three weeks ago I was chasing a burnt orange sunset over Sonora Pass with my friend Andrew, trail name Sunshine. Sonora Pass marks the northern terminus of the High Sierra mountain range and mile 1017 on the Pacific Crest Trail. We had spent the evening anxiously looking up at thunderheads, and now we were looking up at the stars intermittently so as to not trip over rocks in the darkness. When we laid out our sleeping pads at 10:30 that night I had finished hiking over 400 miles since hopping on the PCT 27 days prior. Sunshine had hiked over 1050.

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South Sister Ski Descent

I ran into my new landlord at 6:30 am this morning as I was unloading my Uhaul trailer in the rain. “Damn”, he muttered, “I was hoping you’d be lazier and I would have time to take photos of the place before you moved in”. I laughed. “Brian”, I said, “I don’t have time to be lazy”.

It’s true. As a medical student, the primary obligation of my time is to my studies, and they fill sixty hours of my week at a minimum. That means that if I can’t stay focused at school, or if I don’t use my time wisely to tackle errands in my spare time, then I have little left for the other things that I love to do. To be able to spend waking time with Taylor, run around in the mountains, cook good food, and write this blog, I have to be ruthless. There’s no time to be lazy.

If I want this kind of time, I have to make the time.

If I want this kind of time, I have to make the time.

Last week, the pace was different– it was one of those rare weeks after a week of final exams when the demands of school totaled closer to six hours than to sixty. I needed to move from one apartment to another, a daunting task that would consume much of the week. Still, I had three days all to myself, an embarrassment of riches.

Saturday: Taylor and I rallied up to Mt Hood to explore new trails with our man Eric, who lives up in Government Camp. With quorum for a shuttle, we dropped a car at the highway and drove to the apex of the ridge just East of Mt Hood. From there, twenty miles of singletrack wound down a few thousand vertical feet through changing forest. The view from the top of Lookout Mountain, a side mission through some snowdrifts and muddy road, was well worth the trip.

Taylor on Lookout Mountain with Mt Hood and the Central Oregon Cascades beyond.

Taylor on Lookout Mountain with Mt Hood and the Central Oregon Cascades beyond.

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Mt Hood Circumnavigation Attempt

It is true for many endeavors that mistakes are a catalyst for learning and growth. Two Sundays ago I made a mistake and broke of one of the most important ski mountaineering commandments: Thou Shalt Not Get Cliffed Out. My hope is that by sharing my story I can cement the lesson I learned and help you avoid making the same mistake.

I’ve dreamed of circumnavigating Mt Hood on skis ever since Patrick and Ethan did so in February 2013. After a season with a healthy dose of long days, steep snow climbing and avalanche terrain navigation, I finally felt confident enough to attempt the “High Orbit.” Furthermore, I saw this objective as a capstone to my three years of climbing and skiing in the Pacific Northwest, and I thought it would provide satisfying closure before graduating and moving away.

After climbing and skiing the Wy’east Face and Superbowl on Saturday with Patrick, Taylor and Hallie, my legs and spirit felt hungry for more. I began skinning from Timberline at 4:45 am and soon thereafter found myself transitioning on Illumination Saddle.

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Wy’east casts its shadow past Illumination Rock and over waves of coniferous forest.

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