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Tagged ‘ski mountaineering‘

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.

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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 →

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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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 →

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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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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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.

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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Skimo Racing Vertfest Mt Bachelor 2016: 2nd Place

Last weekend, Taylor and I drove to Central Oregon for the second skimo race of the short PNW season. Mt Bachelor hosts the smallest of the Vertfest races, but of the three (others: Brighton and Alpental) it has the most lighthearted vibe and fun atmosphere.

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Aaron, Me, and Tosch, getting ready to warm up under less-than-sunny skies. (Photo: Jesse Hambley)

I raced skimo here two years ago and surprised myself with a third place finish. Coming back this year, now with unflattering speed suit and real race skis, I wanted to win. The week before the race I felt well-trained and strong, but I also went backcountry skiing a bit too much. A couple of long days left my legs feeling a bit flat, and when race day rolled around, skimo psych wasn’t particularly high.

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Sprinting off the front after the start (Photo: Jeff Snyder)

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DIY: Resizing Fixed-Length Ski Poles

I have a quick tech tip for you today. Fixed-length poles are becoming more popular for backcountry skiing because they’re stiffer and generally lighter than adjustable poles. They are, however, not adjustable. If you get too big a size, you’ll find yourself walking around with your hands up like a mummy, feeling like an idiot with cold hands.

When we were in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, we stopped by Skimo.co to say hi. The store is amazing. If you like skiing lots of vert on light, capable gear, you’ve got to check the place out. When we asked Jason if he would shorten Taylor’s carbon ski poles, he suggested a simple home fix: boil the handles off, cut, reglue. Perfect!

Skimo.co: all of the lightweight european kit that you can't buy anywhere else.

Skimo.co: all of the lightweight european kit that you can’t buy anywhere else.

So, if your poles are too long, or you can find a great deal on longer poles and want to cut them down, I’ve got you covered, step by step. All you need is a big pot of boiling water, a hacksaw, and some glue. Buyer beware: some poles have a tapered shaft, and if cut too short you’ll have a hard time filling the extra space to glue the handle back on. Read on →