Skiing Mt. Yale

I’d been wanting to get out for a while. 18 ski days for the season before the end of December, and only 3 of them backcountry – and all on the hut trip. When I saw a vague photo from a condition report on that made it look like Yale went from the top, I started planning. The east face would no doubt have better snow, but from scaling a topo I immediately called it a no-go due to steepness. I decided to take my chances on the standard route up Denny Creek. Hans was going to come along, but couldn’t make it; fortunately, a sizable group from was going the same day. Continue reading

Two Weeks in Alaska

This trip was a long time coming. Though discussions started last autumn, things were cemented on this fateful night when Hans convinced me to join him (Lauren assisted) on a 12-day mountaineering course with AMS. Six months (and a plane ride, and 6 hours in the Ted Stevens International Airport and a 3-hour shuttle) later, we were dropped off at the Talkeetna Hostel, where we would be spending a night before flying out to the Pika glacier.

After dropping off our stuff, Hans and I struck out to check out the town (he’d been here before, I hadn’t).

Continue reading

A Long Day on Ellingwood and Blanca

After Culebra last Saturday, I thought the misery would be over for a while. It’s turning into spring, I thought. No more bitterly cold, painfully long, 11+ hour days for a while, I thought. We’ll have good, stable, easy to climb snow, I thought. And then this past Saturday happened. After driving for a few hours to the Lake Como road, and an hour of 4-wheeling (which included cutting branches and shoveling snow-drifts that were obstructing the road), we arrived at 10,100′ for a luxurious three and a half hours of sleep, my spot being the front passenger seat. It was not warm, and I was only able to be comfortably warm by wearing a puffy on top of my other clothes inside my 15 degree bag.

The 3:30 wake-up call was not a pleasant one. It was so cold that I abandoned my oatmeal plan, and just shoveled down a PB&J that I didn’t eat for dinner, and downed a bottled Starbucks thing that I grabbed at a gas station the night before. As tends to be the case, getting started in the morning was slow, and an hour later we were walking up the rocky road towards Lake Como.

Another hour and a half later, it was still bitterly cold, although it was finally starting to get light out. Shortly after crossing the lake, we saw a group of five or six approaching for Little Bear.

As seemed to be the case with everything this day, we took an approach line that, while beautiful, was certainly “interesting.” Continue reading

First Ascent Launch Party

As some of you may know, Eddie Bauer is launching a new product line called First Ascent that brings them back to the technical side of things. They’re doing launch parties across the country with the guides involved in the design, all of which are involved with RMI. It was essentially a short (10 minutes perhaps) pitch about the gear, followed by an hour of Q&A with Jim Whittaker, Peter Whittaker, Dave Hahn, and a couple more RMI guides. The gear looks great, though the shells are definitely designed with more of a bent towards climbing than skiing (a little more length would be nice) but otherwise solid-looking equipment at very reasonable prices. It was great talking to a couple of the world’s premier climbing guides about gear and strategery, and I got a photo with Jim Whittaker, first American to summit Everest:

Rock Climbing in Boulder Canyon

So today Hans, Mel, Sara, and myself went climbing in Boulder Canyon. I have no idea the name of the crag, other than it was about 14.5 miles past the bridge and required crossing a creek (which was not very warm). This was my first day out on the rock all season (I know, lame) and it was a blast. I just woke up from a nap so I’ll keep this one simple.

Hans leading the first route of the day, a 5.7.

Me, on that same route.

Sara, on the same route.

Mel, on the same route.

Hans leading the next route of the day, a 5.8.

Sara on the 5.8.

The last route before having to leave for the day was a 5.10a, which is just to the left of the route in the last picture (up along the large crack). I was a little hesitant, but with some encouragement and advice from below, I was able to send it. Hopefully I can get back out again before it gets into ski season, as the odds of me going climbing once the snow falls are pretty low.

Ending the Season on Pikes Peak

I thought my skis had been hung up for the year after the trip to Quandary last month. Luckily, I was wrong. Carl emailed on Thursday looking for a partner to ski the Y Couloir on Pikes, which was in good condition thanks to all the cool, wet weather the front range has been receiving lately. We were after the East branch, which is on the left in this photo. It’s skied less frequently than the West branch due to a more difficult entrance and a rock band about 500′ in that frequently requires downclimbing. The reward is a more sheltered and aesthetic line.

It was another early morning at 4:45, although that’s relatively late for June skiing. The plan was to drive to the top, ski down, and climb back up. We were stopped a half mile from the summit by a thin sheet of ice on the road.

This was no deterrent though. We all loaded up and made the rest of the trip to the top on foot. There was a pretty obvious rain crust, and we all hoped our line was sheltered from the rain.

Everyone else was wearing typical black/gray technical clothing. I was a little brighter and more colorful.
The undercast was quite a sight, as it always is.

This is such an amazing place.
Despite getting up to 80 in town that day, things were a little different at 14,000′. A high around 30 and a cold morning with strong winds made it such that quite a few tourists probably didn’t bother to exit the train.

The entrance was exciting. Carl aired into it, and hopefully the picture of that will turn up in a day or two. Here’s me shortly after dropping in.

And here’s Caroline getting ready to drop. She was hesitant, but did fine.

Here’s a great shot Carl took from a little way down the line. So much fun.

Lucky for us, the rock band had a line on skier’s right that was filled in enough to ski through. It was a fun little high-speed maneuver.

Here’s Caroline enjoying the last couple turns of the day.

We stopped skiing when it stopped being fun. The snow was softening significantly and the terrain was flattening out, so we traded our skis for crampons and started heading back up.

Such a beautiful place.
It was cooking in the couloir – about 50F, very intense sun, and no wind. I found a mini under-snow waterfall at the rock bands, which told me it was time to get moving quickly. Free water in the snowpack can be very dangerous. In sections, the bootpack up had meltwater pooling in the footprints, small natural sluffs were coming down the rocks, and a couple ice- and rock-fall incidents telling us we should get out of there. I put a chunk of snow in my helmet to help cool me off and went.

We all made it out in good time. Here’s Caroline pulling herself out of the couloir. In about three vertical feet, it went from roasting with no wind back to 30F and windy. It’s amazing what a terrain feature can do.

I couldn’t have chosen a better way to end the ski season. Until October…

I had a long weekend

It was a blast but I’m also glad it’s over with. As some of you may know, this Sunday was the Colfax Marathon. I signed up for the half with Nate a few months ago when it was BOGO, and have been half-assedly getting ready for it. That, along with the ill-fated Rainier trip, kept me from getting to the mountains much for a while. I decided to go climb and ski Quandary the day before the race.

Friday night I got to sleep around 10:30, which was a little late given the 3am wakeup call Saturday had in store. Got up, loaded the car, met up with Hans, Mel, Owen, and Aaron at the Morrison Park ‘n’ Ride about 4:15 and we were off. It was raining in Denver, and we were hoping for better conditions in the mountains. We got them.

It was horrendously foggy on the mountain though, and as we approached this CMC group (who absolutely trashed the snowpack by glissading and postholing everywhere), we were getting drenched with sweat. High humidity in the Colorado mountains, especially on spring snow climbs, is exceptionally rare. It was fairly miserable, although it was surreal not being able to see very far around you.
The snow was extremely dusty, and got worse as the day went on due to accelerated melt. Total melt-off is going to be quick this year.

Once we were above the fog, the views were very cool. There was little to no breeze early, so it just sat in the valleys.
Even once we were largely out of the fog, occasional light breezes would push it above us.
Where are we, British Columbia?
A couple hours after starting, we topped out to a beautiful morning. While waiting for the snow to soften up, I took a nice nap. Very refreshing, and necessary for the ski that was about to come.
It turns out we waited too long. When the snow was nice on the summit, it was a horrible slushfest down low. I failed to lock the toe on my Dynafits, and a stationary jump turn resulted in one ski popping off and careening down the mountain a couple hundred feet. I’m told photos of that will be following. I didn’t get any ski photos because I was too busy either enjoying the snow, or being miserable and fighting through it. Having to cross multiple glissade tracks and countless trashed areas didn’t help (thanks a lot, CMC).

We finally made it back down to the car and headed in to Breckenridge for lunch. I had a massive calzone at Eric’s, and was still back to hungry by the time I got home. I cooked up a big plate of pasta and hit the sack at 6:30.

After an amazing evening’s sleep, the alarms went off, again, at 3am. I downed some extra strong coffee, cooked a solid breakfast, got my bag together, and biked down to City Park for the 6am start to the race. I had a strong start to the race, down under a 7:30 pace. I figured it was just excitement and I’d settle down to my 8:00 target, which would get me done just under 1:45. To my surprise, I kept it up through miles 3, 4, 5…soon I was 8.5 miles in with a 7:24 average pace. I kept it up and not much later I was finished, an hour and 38 minutes after starting. 13.1 miles is now my personal record distance, and to do it with 7:27 miles felt great.

After grabbing food and my bag, I went back to the finish to shout at Nate for his finish. He met his goal of sub-two hours, and it was off to the beer garden for some seemingly alcohol-free Michelob Ultra. Shortly thereafter, Amy picked me up for breakfast, and brought me a mini-cake with a great little flag. Thanks hon:

The results:
Overall: 85/2294
Age group: 18/167
Sex: 72/846
Chip time: 1:38:35
Gun time: 1:38:38


…in some ways. When we arrived at Longmire to get our climbing permits, we were handed a hot-off-the-presses avalanche bulletin. The storm that looked like it would be relatively mild came with several feet of snow and 55+mph winds that were loading our routes so badly that it would have been suicide to attempt a climb. Within minutes we knew we were finished, but still tried to figure out a safe ascent route for half an hour before accepting the fact that we had no choice but to turn around and go home after 23 hours of driving and a few more hours sleeping in the truck. The start of the way back was quite a downer, as we drove through torrential rains for hours, but eventually the mood lightened and some great conversation was had. I also got some decent photos that I’m still going through on the long drive.

We’re going to shoot again for July, when the weather should be better. On top of that, we’re planning on Fuhrer Finger, a line I’ve dreamed of doing for a while now. Steve’s friend Darrel was attempting Liberty Ridge, a far more dangerous and committing line than we were. We were concerned for him, but the word came today that he bailed after finding a dangerous lack of bonding, so all is well. Next time…

And away we go

The final preparations have been made. The car is packed, I said goodbye to Scout for the week, and the weather is getting ready to clear. After years of dreaming and months of planning, it’s finally time to go. A 1,300 mile drive followed by less than 10 miles on foot accompanied by 10,000′ of climbing and we’ll be there. The schedule:

-Tonight, head to Steve’s for dinner, tie a few prussiks, load up the truck, and catch a few hours of sleep.
-About 4am tomorrow, hit the road. This will put us at Longmire a few hours before sunrise so we can rest and get ready to climb on Wednesday.
-We’ll hit Muir on Wednesday.
-Thursday we’ll take it easy, and wait for the weather to clear out.
-If all goes well, Friday is summit day.

I’ll be updating here and twitter from my phone as time, signal, and practicality allow.

Building the Gear Sled

This is something I’ve been going back and forth on for a couple months now. A gear sled is not entirely necessary on a spring ascent of Rainier, though it certainly can’t hurt. Without it, I’d likely have 50-60 pounds on my back during the trip from Paradise to Muir, which is over 4,000′ vertical. That’s a long way to carry a heavy load; since I bought the sled months ago, I decided this weekend that I would build it up.

After work today I stopped by Home Depot for some sticks of plastic pex tubing (3/4″ OD which I cut down to 6′ each), nylon rope (1/4″), and bungee cords. Construction actually went pretty quick. For the connection of the rope to the sled, I used a figure-eight follow-through, fed the rope through the tubing, then tied three overhand knots on the other end of the tubing to keep the rope from feeding back through. I finished it off with a doubled figure-eight with a couple biners for attaching to a harness. I was surprised at how quickly it went, maybe 30 minutes total build time. I intended to get PVC pipe, but I’m glad I went with the pex. It’s far less brittle, and will work as well or better than full-rigid rods at controlling the sled for the downhill.

Scout helped, and here you can see most of what’s going to get piled onto the sled before I leave.

Three days from now and I’ll be on the road. Holy crap!