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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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Apr 06

2017

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Notes From The Elk Mountain Grand Traverse

by Ethan Linck and Peter Innes

Two weeks ago, we had the privilege of lining up to race the 20th annual Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. The “GT,” as it’s commonly known, is a 40 mile point-to-point backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen. Because of the stunning tableau of mountains en route, the unpredictable weather, and its midnight start, it’s hard to think of a more iconic ski mountaineering event in North America. As both of us have served as winter caretakers at the nearby Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, where daily life provides ample preparation for a long day of low-angle mountain travel at high elevation, the GT is near and dear to our hearts as a celebration of one of Colorado’s more beautiful landscapes.

Gothic Mountain and the East River Valley: home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and yours truly, team Rocky Mountain Ski Lab. Photo (c) Ethan Linck

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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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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 →

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 27

2016

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Skiing Gothic Mountain

In the heart of the Colorado Rockies looms a mountain called Gothic. Its austere east face catches dawn’s first light and holds a looker’s awe like a medieval cathedral. Eight miles from the ski town of Crested Butte, Gothic stands sentinel to the West Elk Mountains and is also the namesake of a small townsite at its base, where I happen to live. Every day for the past eight months I have stared up at Gothic and wondered what it would be like to climb and make turns down its snowy face.

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Gothic Mountain in February, ft. white-tailed ptarmigan

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Gothic Mountain, May 25th

 

I knew I had to wait until spring in order to avoid the infamous avalanche danger inherent to the Rocky Mountains. April was very snowy (I was skiing boot-top pow April 27th) and conditions never felt safe enough to climb/ski the 3200′, 40-45º degree face. But now it’s almost June and Gothic isn’t so snowy any more. The first three weeks of May I watched the snow in the crux choke of the east face rapidly shrink. Despite numerous opportunities to ski it, intimidation got the best of me. A line always looks steepest when you’re looking straight at it, which is what I’d been doing all winter. Plus, I’d be skiing it solo. Without a partner to commit with and be emboldened by, motivation had to come from a deeper, more unquestionable place. It turns out this place is also home to fear of regret. Ultimately, I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t ski Gothic, or if I didn’t at least try. I realized you can think about an objective all you want, but at some point you just have to get up and go.

I hopped on my mountain bike Wednesday morning (May 25) at 7am, skis strapped to The Raven on my back. The sun had hit the top of Gothic at about 6:30. It was a later start than I’d hoped for, but with a solid refreeze overnight I figured I still had a decent safety window as long as I kept moving.

After a half hour or so I was at the crux of the biscuit. The choke was completely melted. Filled in it would’ve been a steep and fun pitch of snow climbing, posing more of a challenge on the way down than on the way up. Instead, I took off my crampons and sheathed my axe for about 50 vertical feet of class 4 scrambling. If I was more of an alpinist I would have dry-tooled the whole thing and saved time by nixing a transition. Overall the climbing was mellow and well within my comfort zone. Still, I had to be careful to avoid stepping on icy spots.

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The choke, bottom right. From there the route climbs the snowfield up and left until reaching the upper bowl. If climbing Gothic at this time of year, beware of a pseudo crevasse/bergschrund below the choke. You can see it in this picture, barely.

 

My crampons, axe, and whippet came back out after the choke. From here it was a long, 45º snow climb to the top save for two very short sections of exposed rock. I had been playing with the idea of skiing the face and simply down climbing the crux choke, but taking skis off for these sections would’ve been a bit of a nightmare as it was steep and exposed.

I topped out 3200′  from the valley floor in just over two hours. The last 200 feet or so to the summit ridge were quite slow and troublesome due to softening snow. I was post-holing to my knees in some places and couldn’t help but imagine triggering a wet slide. All I could do was climb as quickly as possible, which required using my shins more than my feet in order to maximize flotation. I reckon the top would’ve made for great and fast climbing had I started just a half hour earlier. Thankfully I had already made up my mind not the ski the face.

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Looking south from the Summit towards Mt Crested Butte (left) and Whetstone. The town of Crested Butte is below Whetstone.

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Looking east from the summit. The pyramidal mountain in front is Avery Peak, which I skied earlier this spring when it held more snow.

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Looking northwest from the summit. I walked down along this ridge to the sub peak in the center of the frame, from where I began my descent.

 

My plan was to ski down Gothic’s north bowl. The good thing about starting a little late was the north bowl would hopefully not be completely bulletproof. In terms of timing, the safest option probably would be to start climbing the face at 6 or 6:30 (earlier if planning on taking much longer than 2 hours to summit), then wait at the top for 30-60 minutes to let the north bowl soften.

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Gothic’s north bowl, shot from 4 miles up-valley on May 12. I skied from the sub-peak of Gothic on the right. The true summit is in the middle. Mt Crested Butte is in the background on the left.

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Looking down from the top of the north bowl. Maroon Peak is in the distance. At 9:30am the snow was still a little icy. I reckon by 10am it would’ve been perfect corn.

 

Jump turns soon gave way to mellow and blissful corn, then to avalanche chunder, and I touched down on the valley floor at 10am with feelings of elation and content.

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Route finding on the way down was easy. After exiting the bowl, curve around to the right and then straight-line it down this field of avalanche debris for maximum yard sale potential.

 

The past three weeks had been a constant inner struggle with doubt and fear in regards to skiing Gothic, which made my success all the sweeter. Although I was a bummed I wasn’t able to ski the east face, climbing it was perhaps equally rewarding. Kicking steps up the bosom of Gothic connected me to a part of my home that previously had been shrouded in wonder. There are many other lines in the valley I still long to ski. For now, though, I can sip my coffee and look up at Gothic with pride and knowing.

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My home beneath Gothic Mt, May 10th.

 

Caltopo map of my route here

More beta on skiing the east face here

Gear notes: Dynafit Cho-Oyu skis w/ Superlite 2.0 bindings, Scarpa Alien boots, Petzl Sum-Tec 52cm axe, Whippet ski pole, CAMP aluminum crampons, Free Range Raven pack, CAMP Speed helmet, CAMP wind mitten gloves, NW Alpine softshell pants, Patagonia sun shirt, Arcteryx wind shirt.

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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