Embrace the Chaos

July 12, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

Sometimes, life will get a little chaotic. It’s a good thing. Go with it. Unfortunately, when life gets a little crazy, things tend to slip through the cracks. And once things start to slip, it can be painfully difficult to get back on track.

That’s why I am sitting here, over a month since my last post, struggling to figure out what to write. So I guess I will write about struggling to write. But it’s not about just writing – it’s about getting back into anything that you let slip when life get’s a little bit chaotic.

About a month ago I parted with my beloved home in the PNW (don’t worry, I am going back). I packed up my car and headed to San Jose for a summer internship with a very large tech company.

As a side note, I can assure you, if you find yourself in a similar situation; when looking longingly at your splitboard trying to decide if it is worth throwing in the car to take with you the answer is unequivocally no. THERE IS NO SNOW. Okay, that is an exaggeration – thin white strips speckle the peaks and if you are willing to make the 6+ mile trek at over 10,000 feet, you might be able to connect 2-3 turns. For all I know, I may find myself doing just that at some point this summer as well.

The point is, I found myself heading to anew place, with a lot of unknowns. It’s not the first time – but every time is a little different. Just getting to San Jose was a wild adventure. Fueled by newfound friends and a desire to make the absolute most of the whole experience, I was so busy enjoying life that I kind of forgot to write any of it down.

Then I arrived in San Jose, met a couple of my new awesome roommates and before I had a chance to get comfortable or unpack, I found myself at my first day of work. I quickly found that the “real” job lifestyle eats away at your day, and by the time you eat dinner and unwind from the day, it’s already time for bed. At least that is what it felt like at first. The day’s flew by and soon it was Friday afternoon.

I’d let a few things slip, but I was going to make the most of this summer and that meant exploring all that this magnificent area has to offer. Dammit, I wasn’t going to let everything slip. Re-invigorated, I made a quick inventory of what I would need, and packed my car as fast as humanly possible the second I got home from work. I made it out to Yosemite in good time.

By good time, I mean I gave up trying to find somewhere to camp around 11:30 and accepted that I was going to sleep in my car with a bottle of wine to pass the hours. Of which there weren’t many – backpacking permits in the park are an interesting endeavor that involves waking up at the crack of dawn so that you can wait in line with fellow last-minute adventurers. To think that the only thing I’d forgotten was my hiking boots was rather impressive.

The drive to Yosemite is a doable weekend – but a long one. I found myself getting back late Sunday. A new roommate had appeared at some point over the weekend and, if anything, I was less unpacked than the week before. Another week came and went. My daily routine of walking to the office had been replaced by a stuffy car ride. Long overdue for an oil change, the AC on my car conveniently stopped working just as the heat picked up. Add that to the cracked windshield and the ever-growing list of things I know I should fix but never make the time for.

At the end of the week, I was a little more prepared, having packed in the morning so that I could leave straight from work. This time, the destination was climbing near Tahoe. Another amazing weekend, another late return.

Yes, that is what I wore to work they day before. And yes, I found these rad guys on the internet. And yes, we are chilling at the top of the second pitch on Haystack (a classic 5.8 on the East Wall at Lovers Leap). Oh and yes, I lugged my damn camera up this wall, who knows why I did that.

Not only am I still unpacked at this point, but now dangerously out of clean (I use the term clean loosely here) laundry as well. So it seems completely reasonable that writing is the last thing on my mind.

That’s where you would be wrong. I have had some incredible experiences. Seen incredible places, met incredible people, and learned interesting things about the world and myself. If anything, I should be writing more, not less! I don’t go off on adventures looking for interesting topics to write about. But when you remove yourself from the distractions of everyday life, you give yourself time to dwell on your thoughts. And when you surround yourself with nature, its beauty inspires imagination.  It is damn near impossible to come back from an adventure and not have some thought that I want to write down.

It started to bother me – Not writing, that is. Instead of writing, I would make mental notes and try to remind myself that I should write. But I never would.

So the fourth came around. Taking advantage of what turned out to be a paid holiday, I yet again disappeared to Tahoe. Not four days since my last time making the trek.  I had no plans, other than to relax. After three full days camping, I woke up in my tent and decided it was time to get back on track.

Nearly a week later I am finally sitting down to write. And for the record, I did finally unpack, and I have done laundry. And yes, I am packing my car (still no AC) so that I can leave for Yosemite after work tomorrow afternoon.

I am bummed that it has taken me so long to get back to writing. I have stories that are worth telling. The new friends who made a lasting impression, all because of a little whiskey. The backpackers who were kind enough to let me join them – from whom I learned so much about the Jewish religion and hiking the PCT. Even the holiday of solitude, where my thoughts turned inward. All are stories worth sharing.

So, let life get a little crazy. Embrace it and go with it. I promise you will have some memorable experiences if you do. And when life gets a little crazy, accept that you might drop the ball on something. But recognize that the hard part isn’t derailing your life – that’s as simple as hopping in your car on a Friday afternoon with zero plans, or drunkenly booking a plan ticket to that far away place that you always wanted to visit. It’s getting back on track that is tricky, because life doesn’t stop, or even slow down and wait for you. It can be overwhelming and easy to put off.

But make yourself get back. You will be happy once you do. I may not walk to work anymore – but I’ve managed to replace the walk with a pleasant bike ride (a fair substitute in my opinion). I still have a lot to write: nomadic pursuits, insights into earning trust, and an enriched world perspectives are just a few things I’ve delved into and hope to share in the near future, along with some rad adventures all over the place!

Read More →

Walking

May 1, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

When I was growing up, my mom always used to get mad at me for not walking fast enough. I don’t think I have ever been in a hurry to get anywhere. Besides, you tend to see more and enjoy your surroundings just a bit more while sauntering than you do marching briskly.

I didn’t much enjoy walking back then.

I started walking to and from campus every day last year. At first it took effort, soon effort gave way to routine, and now I don’t even notice anymore. Without thinking, I throw on my shoes and head out the door. I do a lot of thinking while I walk and it gives me a nice break in my day. It’s less about the exercise and more of an excuse to take my mind off of work and get outside in the fresh air.

Walking is an activity, like so many things, that we tend to take for granted. It is something that I do for at least an hour every single day.

When I broke my back, I never lost feeling in my legs. But I remember lying there in the snow – checking to make sure that they still worked. Then again when I was put on the backboard, fleeting thoughts or paralysis raced through my head.

I was discharged from the hospital the same day, walking on my own accord. No brace, nothing. I never really gave the thought of paralysis a second thought.

Today, I was walking home and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I came damn close to never being able to walk again. I mean, yes, they were relatively minor fractures.  But the location of the breaks and the nature of the breaks put me very much in the category of lucky and thankful.

I could easily bus (I even have a free bus pass), bike, or even drive. So when people ask me why I walk, I simply answer, “Because I can.”

Read More →

The Hair

May 1, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

I spend an awful lot of time thinking about my hair. I don’t know if that is something that I should be proud of, but I am not going to deny it. I think there is a reason I fixated on my hair and I am going to try my best to tease it out in this post. (No pun intended.)

The hair goes back a couple of years now. Throughout college, my hair slowly got shaggier, but it was never really that long and I certainly could not (nor would I ever consider) put it into a ponytail. The hair really started to grow out as I seemed to loose control of my own life. I hit a point where I was unhappy with who I was. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do or why.

This bothered me. I was frustrated with myself and to be honest, I was probably a little depressed. The lack of getting a haircut started as apathy, but grew into something more. As both the hair on the top of my head and my beard – well it never really filled in; it was more a ragged and spotty mess – grew ever longer, I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t recognize myself. My hair became an outward portrayal of the inner struggle I was going through.

And that lasted for a while. I enjoyed not being able to recognize myself. I don’t think my family felt quite the same way.

Then I finally decided to do something. In fact, starting to write in this blog regularly was part of doing something. So was moving to Montana.  

Before long, I began to figure my shit out. I was no longer unhappy and, while I still often wonder what I am doing, it is not an overbearing concern that drives my life with frustration and fear. I found that I love to get out and explore. It’s a desire that often is in tension with getting work done. I like to be active, at the very least walking to and from campus on a daily basis. I start to get antsy if I don’t go outside for too long. I find beauty in the world, and find myself getting just as distracted by a tree on my walk to school as I do by a mountain vista high in the Cascades. I think there is nothing more peaceful and relaxing than a weekend of solitude with a good book, tucked away in at a remote alpine lake and there is nothing more exciting than plotting a trip up a snowy peak and snowboarding down, fueled by your own willpower.

So when I finally began to figure out who I was, I took a good hard look in the mirror.  To my surprise, I realized that the man with the long hair and tattered beard wasn’t so unfamiliar anymore. The hair had become part of who I was. One could make the same argument for the flannel shirts as well. Of course, I did eventually shave.

The journey of the hair started as apathy, transformed into a means of hiding, and finally became part of my identity. But the journey doesn’t end there. If it did, my hair would still be in a ponytail as I sit here typing, and I assure you, it is not. When I am walking to and from class, I spend a decent amount of time thinking about identity. Not just how do I identify myself, but what does it mean to identify with certain groups and more importantly, by identifying with a group, how does that influence my own behavior.  Ultimately, when I walk in my door and put an end to my internal dialogue, what I remind myself is that I know who I am and the people and groups that I identify with are based on that, and not the other way around.

The question then, bringing hair back into the discussion; what role does my hair play in my identity? Throughout the process of figuring out who I am, my hair played a silly but important role. Now, I don’t feel like my hair is a particularly important part of who I am, apart from some lingering attachment to the journey that it went through with me.

So, I cut it all off. (Well, a lot of it anyways.) Enough to donate to charity, which is a pretty cool feeling. The cool thing about hair is that it grows back. So, in case I decide I really do miss it, just give it a few months and it will be back.

Read More →

When all else fails, go North!

April 23, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

Border Patrol Agent: Hi, identification please.
[Hand BPA passports]

BPA: So, what brings you to Canada?

Greg: We are going skiing! (Both of us with huge grins on our faces.)

BPA: Okay, how long are you staying?

Greg: Until Sunday, so two nights.

BPA: Are you bringing any mace, bear spray, firearms, or any other illicit materials with you?

Greg: No.

BPA: Where are you coming from?

Greg: Philadelphia.

Me: Seattle.

[BPA now looks slightly puzzled]

BPA:  How long have you known each other?

Greg: …um a couple of days.

BPA: And how did you meet?

Greg: …An Internet forum for backcountry skiing.

[BPA with a now very confused look on her face]

BPA: Okay…Um, who does the car belong to?

Greg: It is a rental car

BPA: Of course it is. Where will you be staying?

Greg: At a family friends house in Pemberton.

BPA: And how do you know them?

Greg: My family has taken ski lessons from them for the past 10 years.

Me: I don’t know them.

BPA: Alright. Are they Canadian citizens?

Greg: Um, no I don’t think so. They are German and I don’t think they have naturalized.

[BPA now completely confused and slightly flustered]

BPA: Okay then.  Are you bringing any mace, bear spray, firearms, or any other illicit materials with you?

Greg: No.

[A long pause]

BPA: I guess just pull in over there and head inside.

We went inside where we got pretty much the same line of questions. I think they even took the time to look up the TAY forum to make sure we weren’t lying. Well, I guess we did lie. We had only met mere minutes before, not “a couple of days”.  But that wasn’t even the icing on the cake. Once we were clear of the border, Greg looks over at me and says, “I am really glad we didn’t get searched… I just picked up this weed in Seattle.  This shit is way better than anything I can find back home!”

Paraphrasing most of the conversation, I think you get a sense of how bizarre this trip began. We hit the border at 8:30 pm on Friday, after leaving my car in Sumas –less than four hours since I left work and ultimately made the decision to head to Canada.  Greg was on vacation and hunting for good snow. I was itching to get out, and I hadn’t had much luck finding anyone else who wanted to brave the less-than-ideal weather forecasted for the Cascades.

We were heading to Pemberton to stay with Uli and Brigitte – A retired German couple who had moved to Canada to live their dream. Now in their 15th year as ski instructors, countless tales of biking and canoe trips, a seemingly endless supply of homemade wine, a garden full of fresh vegetables, and a spectacular view of Mount Currie; it is safe to say that they are very much living their dream to the fullest.  I have to admit that I felt a little awkward arriving at their house late Friday night. I had never met them and I was packed for a night of camping at the car. It was after all a very last minute plan. While I couldn’t shake a lingering feeling like I was imposing, Uli and Brigitte were incredibly friendly and their hospitality was warm and welcoming. They treated us to a very traditional German breakfast of homemade bread, delicious cheese, homemade jam, yogurt and granola—the perfect start to a day of touring.

Speaking of touring, on Saturday, Greg and I headed to Joffre Lakes, an area he had visited previously with a guide. There was intermittent snow and low clouds all day. Visibility was okay and we were only marginally prepared. When we hit the third and final lake on the approach, I was breathless. Though the clouds and flat light made for marginal pictures, you will have to take my word that the scene was breathtaking, Blue glacial ice loomed over us, clinging to the rock wall, marking the way to Mt Matier.

We opted to head right of the hanging glacier and made our way up Slalok Mountain. Experience, snowpack, and time dictated our approach.  We ultimately booted most of the way up a couloir on the NW face of Slalok but ended up bailing before the top. The snow was variable and I was starting to get concerned about wind slabs in the upper snowpack. Visibility was dropping, and our late start in the morning meant even though we had not gone too far; it was already getting on in the afternoon. Greg was largely relying on my decisions, so I decided to call it.  

In hindsight, we could have easily kept going, but being so far away from home, there were enough factors at play that I was happy with what we had accomplished. The snow was good. Pockets of fresh pow, mixed with an occasional crust. Once we exited the couloir, the lower apron made for some super fun high speed turns back to the lake.

A quick skin across the upper lake, and we stopped one last time to enjoy the view. The rest of the ride out was typical spring slush. The ride out twisted through the trees and rode like a mellow bobsled track. It was fun going the whole way! Back at the car, we enjoyed a beer in the sun before heading back to our German hosts for delicious burgers made from fresh organic beef. Not a bad day!

The trip was capped off on Sunday by an unexpected but welcome surprise. Uli and Brigitte had two comp tickets left for Whistler. They practically insisted we take them, claiming they had no need for them anymore.

We awoke to fresh snow and another delicious German breakfast. Armed with our touring gear and no real plans, we packed the car and headed to Whistler.  A free lift ticket takes away from the pressure of making the most of your day. If I am going to pay $100 bucks, dammit I am going to get the most of my day on the mountain.  Sunday, if they snow sucked; we could leave whenever we wanted.

The snow was…interesting. It was still snowing and the fresh snow sat atop a bulletproof crust. Just enough snow had fallen to hide any obstacles, but not enough to really hold an edge.  We were able to find pockets of good snow in the alpine but we were both about tired of it by 2 or so. Then, we saw a bunch of people hiking out Blackcomb glacier and we decided to check it out. We did after all bring our touring gear with us to the resort. We might as well put it to use.

We headed through the gate and found ourselves in Garibaldi Provincial Park. A quick skin out to The Spearhead and we were greeted by endless bowls of untracked powder. Greg and I were stoked. The only downside was the time. It was already 3 and even though we wanted to stay out there until the sun went down, we knew that we still had a 5-6 hour drive ahead of us. So, we opted for a quick run down the NE face of The Spearhead and headed back toward Blackcomb. Our last run, a bowl that dropped in to Blackcomb Glacier, was absolutely incredible. Not to mention, we could follow the trail all the way down to the base of the mountain. My legs were a bit tired by the end, but it was an awesome way to end the day and weekend!

We hopped in the car, and headed back to the border.  The sun was out and we had the pleasure of a sunny drive down the sea-to-sky highway, a feat that has escaped me the last few times I made the trek to Whistler.
No trouble at the border and my car was thankfully still where I had left it. All in all, not a bad weekend!

Read More →

Bad luck can disrupt even the best plans

April 15, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

When we made it back to the car Saturday evening, all I could do was laugh. Just about everything conceivable that could have gone wrong, did. So much so, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the car battery was dead, or we had a flat tire (though we had two spare, so even that wouldn’t have been a huge issue). We weren’t even supposed to be back at the car on Saturday. Camp was (and still is) set up 14 miles away from where we parked the car.  That is where we were supposed to be. Posting up in our tents, trying to dry off our soaked gear.
But we never made it that far. A string of bad luck mixed with a small dose of human error made the 14 mile trek to camp completely impossible. When in the backcountry, you prepare for bad luck. That’s why I carry a few ski straps, a healthy amount of duct tape, a first aid kit, a knife, a few other basic tools, and various other things that could be useful. Normally, bad luck comes in the form of a bit of malfunctioning gear, or something breaking. It’s all part of the adventure and you learn to take it in stride. Broken pole? I can splint it together with some duct tape and a tree branch. Lose a screw in your binding? A bit of cord will suffice. There is a whole article on how to survive a day when your skins fail, or you forget them all together. Things break and you deal with it. So how did bad luck force us to abandon our plans?
Before I delve into the details, I should go back to the beginning. Friday morning, I was about to head off to work when I got a text message from David. “If you aren’t going to St Helen’s this weekend, do you want to come with us to Monte Cristo?” This was a no-brainer. David approached me a couple weeks ago about joining up for a few projects this spring. Working with Soulryders, a local film crew, we shared upcoming plans and talked about planning some trips together in the near future. So when I got the text, I knew they already had a base camp established deep in the mountain loop highway and they were planning to head out there for the weekend to do some filming. For all I knew, they just wanted me to come help haul gear and access to my pink expedition sled.  It didn’t matter why – it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up.
So I packed up my gear and anxiously waited to be picked up. They were running a little late as they were still picking up spare parts for their newly acquired snowmobile. For anyone familiar with Top Gear, this was essentially the equivalent of a cheap car challenge. They found a sled on craigslist for under 500 bucks and the thing was in incredible condition. With no time to find an equally cheap trailer, they had resorted to renting a uhaul to carry the sled. The result was a fairly comical yet surprisingly badass rig for rallying to the mountain.
The original plan was to make the trek to camp on Friday. With delays in acquiring parts, we opted to sleep in the car at the trailhead and wait for morning to rally in to camp.
We awoke to snow. Lots of snow. It was coming down hard as we packed up our gear, got the snowmobile off the trailer, hooked up my pink sled to the back (full of camera gear), and began shuttling people and equipment 7 miles (as far as we could get on sled) down the road. The process was slower than we’d anticipated but by around 1pm the four of us and all of our equipment was with us and ready to be hauled the rest of the way to camp on foot.
All of the gear, except for one boot. Somewhere along the last trip, Jeff’s boot had come off of his pack. The snowmobile had been running great up to this point, and we all were okay with Jeff rallying back to look for his boot. Without any gear, it should go quickly right?
Well, Jeff did return in under an hour with his boot. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of our two spare gas cans. The bungee cord broke and the gas cans were nowhere to be seen. Unbeknownst to us, the sled was running on fumes. Begrudgingly, Taylor and I decided to track down the lost gas cans and took off – fully aware that running out of gas was a very real possibility.
About a mile down the road, the inevitable happened. We were out of gas and from what we gathered, the gas cans were likely still several miles down the road. Taylor and I decided at this point that the best course of action would be to double back and reconnect with David and Jeff to figure out what to do. As we unstrapped our skis/board from the sled we were hit with the next bit of bad luck. Taylor’s binding had somehow broken. We were completely baffled as to how, as they had spent the entire day strapped to the sled. But here we were and his binding was clearly broken. The frustrating part was that it looked fixable. With enough force, we figured the pieces that had separated could snap back in place. Using the sled as a hard surface, Taylor proceeded to slam his ski against the snowmobile in a futile attempt to fix his ski.
In one particularly hard hit, the ski came out of Taylor’s hand, strategically hitting the sled in a way so as to cleanly sheer the choke switch completely off. Shit. We looked at each other and couldn’t help but just laugh at our misfortune.
After a few more hits, we gave up and Taylor rigged his binding back together with one of my ski straps. It’d work, as long as he didn’t need to do any actual skiing. We retreated back to the others.
It was now that we accepted that we should turn back. We were all soaked…snowmobiling in the snow gets you surprisingly wet. We had a broken sled, lost gas cans, were a few miles in either direction from camp/a way out, and it was now getting late. We admitted defeat and began the retreat to the car.
No more than 5 minutes down the trail my pole snapped clean in half. I looked down at it and laughed. I spent 5 minutes trying to duct tape a splint for it, but everything was snowy and I was impatient. When my splint failed I pulled out the broken section of pole and resorted to using one pole and one make-shift cane. About 10 minutes later, David’s pole snapped on him in a similar manner.
I can’t even make this shit up.
Soon, we passed the snowmobile and said our farewells. Figuring the gas cans were still miles away and with the broken choke, we all figured it we would have to wait until another day to retrieve the sled. Not long after, I broke off ahead of the pack. Following people like Stuart, I have gotten in a habit of skinning quickly. I put on my headphones and was getting into a groove. Then I saw it. The first gas can.
I am not sure what inspired me. Maybe it was the clearing sky or a good song. I dropped my pack and doubled back, armed with a functional ski pole in one hand and a gas can in the other. I met back up with the rest of the group, who were all a little surprised to see me. After a few words of encouragement, a quick lesson on how to start the sled (did I mention I hadn’t driven the thing yet?), and giving me a leatherman, I continued on my quest back to the snowmobile, not entirely confident that I could get it started.
It was another 40 minutes before I made it back to the sled. I figure a solid 2 miles of backtracking. The snow started up again and I was beginning to question my decision. I pour the gas in and prayed it would start without the choke. It didn’t. I looked at the sled for a few minutes grasping the leatherman. Screw it. How complicated could the thing be?
I pulled off the cover and peered inside. Shit. I began pulling out screws. To get to the choke, I had to pull off three panels. Here I was, in the snow – over 5 miles for the car – tearing apart a machine I am completely unfamiliar with.
Eventually, I found the choke and figured out how it worked. I bungee corded the throttle open, pulled the choke with one hand the rip cord with the other to start it. Nothing. I peered inside and my woes were not over. The gas line had disconnected from the engine. With nothing to secure it, I re-attached the gas line and prayed that it would hold. Side note: add zip ties to my repair kit. I pulled the rip cord again and the sled sprang to life.
For a few moments, I stood there, simply basking in the feat that I had just accomplished. Eventually, I reattached the panels, bungeed my board to the back and took off. I don’t think anyone expected me to get the dang sled running again, so when I caught up, everyone was pretty excited.
I still had a loose fuel line and anytime the sled cut out, I had to take off all three panels to pull the choke again, but the snowmobile ran. We hooked up the camera gear, and not wanting to strain the sled too much, I took off alone. I made it all the way back to the car and even found the second spare gas can on the way.
Once I’d secured the camera gear in the car, I made the decision to go back and pick up the others. The sled was running well, all things considered. So, I took off back up the road. This may have been a bad idea. The fuel line was getting worse and came off all together once. Not long after I ran out of gas and had to use the last of our gas cans. I made it out to the rest of the group only to find that without a good seal, the engine wasn’t getting enough fuel and was severely underpowered. It wouldn’t run with more than one person. After apologizing that I couldn’t do more, I took off once more on the sled.
About 50 meters later, I was out of gas.
The high of getting the sled running quickly turned into disappointment as it hit me that the snowmobile was now definitely going to be left there. There was nothing else we could do for it. The four of us skinned the rest of the way back to the van together.
We headed back to Seattle a day early. Monte Cristo had bested us.
I have never had so many things go wrong in a single day. It was a complete shitshow. But that is part of adventure, even the best plans can unravel. I still had a great day. I had some quality snowmobiling time, a fair bit of exercise, and met some pretty rad people.
As it stands, Saturday marked the first avalanche fatalities of the season for the Cascades. It is really a sad undertone, and I hate to even bring it up. The avalanche danger skyrocketed with the new snowfall and, from the reports I’ve heard, most slopes were incredibly unstable. Maybe it is for the best that we never did make it to our intended destination.
I have to give a special shout out to our hero cross-country skier dude. He found Jeff’s boot buried in the snow, and pulled both of our gas cans out of the snow and left them in prominent places. He seemed to be around whenever something went wrong and was probably laughing at us the whole time, I know I was.

Read More →

Black Hole Couloir

March 13, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

“Definitely a BIG day, not quite epic, as I rarely feared for my life.”
Josh, you and I have different opinions of what it takes to make a day “epic”. I on the other hand prescribe to the belief that the sheer fact that the day took 20 hours is enough to consider the day epic.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. It was an adventure, and an incredible one at that.
The Black Hole Couloir is a 4000’ vertical foot couloir that rises pretty much straight out of the valley floor, running all the way to a notch at the top of Bandit Peak. It is an incredible line, just begging to be ridden. The problem – Bandit Peak is not exactly the most accessible mountain in the all of the Cascades. The allure of standing at the top, with views of Glacier Peak in the distance, was enough to convince me that it would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Our day started Friday evening around 8:30. Mike and Josh picked me up and we hit the road. Making good time, we were at the trailhead by 11:30 – just in time for a quick nap. We weighed the pros and cons of just starting right then; Josh forgetting his sleeping bag was going to make for an unpleasant bivy in the parking lot. We all ultimately agreed that a couple hours of sleep, three to be precise, was better than nothing and we would be thankful later.
We hit the trailhead at 3:25 am. I recently watched a TED talk on why 4 am is the most miserable hour of the day. At 4 am we were well on our way deep in the woods, having passed several “Private Property, do not enter” signs, a motion activated camera, and a sign that simply read “Shooting Range. No access to road”. By 5 am, we hit the stream crossing. Thanks to previous trip reports, we knew it was coming. The reason we traveled through the private property, was to avoid a much larger river crossing. Thankfully we were following a snowshoe track that seemed to know where they were going, leading us to a makeshift crossing. It wasn’t the best crossing I have ever seen, but it would do and at 5 in the morning, I didn’t have any desire to keep looking for something better.
When the snowshoe tracks disappeared and a skin track emerged, we came to the conclusion that we were following the tracks of someone who knew considerably more about the area than we did. Snowshoes would have made the initial slog through the woods WAY easier. In a similar vein, ski crampons would have made the next leg of the traverse much more enjoyable as well. Hiking through the west bank of the valley, we had the pleasure of dealing with an enjoyable melt-freeze crust that was broken up only by the numerous slide paths full of icy debris.
Despite the conditions, we made good time. We were at the base of the couloir by 10:30. The sun was out and it was turning into a beautiful day. As we sat there, eating a quick snack and preparing for the climb, Josh said exactly what I had been thinking, “My body is ready to turn back.” What he didn’t say, what he didn’t have to say – we weren’t going to turn back. The fun part was just starting.
We threw on our crampons, pulled out our axes, and started to climb. From the base, the couloir didn’t look like much. Small kinks and turns in the col kept you from seeing much more than a couple hundred feet ahead at any given point. The base of the couloir was full of avi debris. The warm weather of the past few days was causing the mountains to shed snow, we were just hoping the couloir would be protected from the sun and we would quickly pass the debris. The debris did not end anytime soon. In fact, after climbing for over an hour and a half, we were still in the avalanche path and still climbing. I paused, looking down at our inevitable descent. It looked miserable. The only thing I could hope is that the afternoon sun would hit it and the icy boulders would soften up considerably. Wishful thinking, I am aware.
Eventually we did make it above the avalanche path and found some good snow. The upper couloir was well protected from the sun and was staying nice and cool. The snow was surprisingly light. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing the snow around modestly and a wind slab was forming. It wasn’t enough to cause us to turn back, but it did give us pause.
After nearly 4 hours, we made it to the top. Well, as close as we were going to get. We decided to not make the final push up a steep narrow constriction, the snow just wasn’t worth it.
The view, was incredible. Glacier Peak was sitting prominently in front of us and steep rock walls guided our journey back down to the valley floor.
We leapfrogged down the upper col, though even going last the snow still rode well. I never felt comfortable opening up and really charging. Between the wind slab up top and the huge debris field below, staying safe was on our minds. On a day with better snow, man this would be one hell of a line.
I borrowed a camera to document the adventure, so in a rare treat, I have more than just a few pictures to share. Enjoy!
I stopped filming once we were back in the debris field. Well, that’s a lie. I actually filmed all of it, but I don’ think anyone wants to watch three guys side slipping an icy slope for 30 minutes. It was, without a doubt, the worst snow (if you can actually call it that) that I have ever had to ride. The icing on the cake was we were coming down in the afternoon, when the west faces were all getting sun. Just as we were getting to the main slide path, a slide came down the mountain. Had we gone 5 minutes earlier, we likely would have been caught in the middle of it. We spent the rest of the journey out of the couloir anxiously taking turns going from safe zone to safe zone. There was a huge sigh of relief once we made it out at the bottom.
But our day wasn’t over yet. We still had the trek back to the car. For the most part it was uneventful. Apart from losing our skin track several times, it was just long. Everyone got quiet and we settled into a rhythm, one foot in front of the other.
At some point we hit a clearing and stopped. I looked up at the stars, which were now out in full. The night sky is stunning. I couldn’t help but lay down for a minute and gaze up into the dark abyss. I could feel every muscle ache, but it didn’t seem to bother me. I just stopped, reveling in what we had just accomplished, and the sheer beauty of where we were. It could have been 1 minute, 5, or 30, I have no idea how long we stopped for. But soon enough we got back up and continued on our way with our heads down, putting one foot in front of the other.
It was around 10 when we hit the stream crossing.  The last thing I wanted was to be soaking wet for the last hour and a half of the hike out. But the crossing wasn’t bad so I wasn’t particularly concerned. It was just an obstacle breaking up the monotony of hike. But, the day had different plans for me. So, with my board strapped to my back, I started to climb down to the shore so that I could get onto the log which crossed the stream. No more than 2 feet from the ground, my foot punched through the snow and, left off-balance, went tumbling head first towards the water. The exact last place I wanted to be heading. Somehow out of sheer dumb luck, I landed perfectly between two large boulders. My headlamp fell into the water, as did the tips of my boards, but apart from that I was dry. Lucky me.
The rest of the hike out was uneventful, we passed the friendly welcoming signs, joking that it was probably good that we were getting back so late. Finally, we arrived back at the car at 11:30, exhausted.
In the end, we traveled over 23 miles, climbed over 6,000’, and it only took us 20 hours. Not bad for having only taken a 3 hour nap beforehand!

Read More →

It’s Called Responsibility and It Sucks

February 22, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

Honestly I cannot complain about where I am in my life. I love my research and the freedom that grad school offers. I may be expected to work 60 hour weeks, but they are any 60 hours I choose and if I don’t sleep, well then there is plenty of time for other activities! Okay, so perhaps that is an exaggeration, but I am responsible for managing my own time and there is nobody telling me what I can and cannot do, as long as I make my deadlines.

But sometimes, every once in a while, the snow will start falling and I find myself stuck behind my glowing computer screen. You likely know this feeling. The day you miss the big dump because you cannot get out of some other obligation.

Today is one of those days. I think the word for it is responsibility. It’s a miserable feeling. The worst part is, whatever the reason you aren’t on the mountain getting face shots with your friends – you inevitably aren’t doing the thing you are supposed to. Instead, you sit in front of your computer with a cup of coffee, reading the weather forecast, checking the snow telemetry at your favorite resort, looking at pictures your friends are posting from the lift lines, and daydreaming about dropping in on your favorite lines.

It’s almost as if you are there on the mountain. Except you’re not. You are sitting in front of your computer not doing the things that you thought were important enough to warrant not skipping them.

The worst part of it all, at the end of the day you inevitably didn’t finish what you needed to and are left with that undeniable sense of guilt. Why didn’t I just take the day off?

Read More →

Friends and Fresh Snow

February 13, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

I have turned into a weekend warrior. It’s an odd lifestyle after spending every day in the mountains last year. Sure, I have occasional lapses where I forget that I do need to work. But for the most part I spend my weeks working during the day, spending my free moments climbing (or at least as often as my body will allow). Come the weekend, as my roommates can attest, I disappear.
The result of this lifestyle is a bit of a mess. My jacket and pants are draped over my chair to dry, boots tucked up against the heater (the smell is delightful), split leaned up against the window, base layers and socks discarded in the closet patiently waiting to be washed, gloves stuck on the handle bar of my bike, you get the idea. It is a good mess. It’s a mess that signifies an active and busy lifestyle. It doesn’t bother me much because during the week I am either at the office (often synonymous with coffee shop), or climbing – my room is a glorified storage area where I happen to also sleep.

Come Friday evening, I managed to remember to start a load of laundry before heading to the bars and the disaster in my room all wound up stuffed into my pack, ready for the morning’s adventure.
With an early start, we took off for Stevens Pass. The plan was to hike up Heather Ridge, drop down the north face, climb up Tye Peak, drop down the northwest face, make our way out to Lichtenberg Mountain, and exit off of the southwest face towards Yodelin, where we would hitch a ride back to our cars.  

Eric, Evan, Ben, Wiktor, and I set off at a decent time, though we were all dragging a bit. Whether or not we would complete our full circuit was still a little bit up in the air. It seemed to take us ages to even get out of the parking lot and we knew it was going to be “one of those days” when Ben realized he’d left all of his water at the car. We did a quick inventory to make sure that was the only thing we’d forgotten, I stuffed my camel back with snow to supplement our already sufficient water supply and proceeded to give Ben shit about it for the rest of the day. Don’t worry, he did remember the beer.

On the first climb, our tired legs were trying to convince all of us to revise the plan and turn back early. Then we made it up the ridge and found couple chutes that were screaming to us. After a row of trees, the chute spit us out into a clearing that, from what we could see, looked like great snow with no tracks. I gingerly climbed out onto a short spine between two lines and set up to take a few pictures. Not bad for first turns of the morning.

Funny, how those first couple of turns makes you forget all about the sore muscles and tired legs. Stable, fantastic snow opened up the possibilities and we were set to make the most of it.

I stopped once more on our first run to take pictures. Sure, I made some great turns, but stopping in the middle of a run – especially when you are setting the first tracks, isn’t something I am overly fond of doing. Once everyone flew past me, I packed up the camera and vowed that I was done documenting the day and was going to start fully enjoying it interruption free.

That was mostly true…I did set up once more to snap a few photos but that was merely because I found myself in the right place at the right time. The northwest face of Tye Peak has some fun terrain. The top section is an open, steep face. A few features to hit, but mostly fun for slashing big pow turns. The bottom section we aptly named “The Playground” as it is overflowing with magnificent pillow lines. Each of us choosing our own line, we hopped our way down to the nameless lake.

The lake made a perfect place to stop for a little snack and goof around for a little while. We were reeling from the first two runs and looking forward to our last, which we anticipated to be even better.
Hiking out to Lichtenberg went better than I expected. We ended up making it to the foot of the mountain in good time. Apart from a minor disagreement in route finding (I’ll admit it, my route was WAY worse), the ascent of Lichtenberg wasn’t too bad. By this point, two members of our group were starting to get exhausted. When we rounded the mountain and Yodelin came into view, they decided it was time to call it. The three of us remaining were determined to keep going. We continued onward, still a long was from the summit.

Once we hit a clearing without a single track in it, we made the hard decision. We all knew we could push on for the summit, but we didn’t want to leave the others for too long and it was getting to be late in the day.  Painfully, we all agreed to stop there, saving the summit for another day.

I can’t complain much about this decision. The run out to Yodelin was incredible. The snow couldn’t have been any better on the upper section. We were able to open up and carve huge turns down the face. These are the turns that make your day of hiking entirely worthwhile. There was nothing holding us back as we whooped and hollered down the mountain.

Yes, the snow down low did get a little heavy, but that’s to be expected when you are riding below 4,000’. We yet again found ourselves on some fun pillows that, with the heavy snow, we found ourselves cartwheeling the whole way down. On our short skin back to the road, we ran into the rest of our group and the five of us made it back to the car together.

Now, my gear is back splayed out across my room and I am left to wonder when my roommates are going to start complaining about the smell. I had tentative plans to ride on Sunday as well; alas your body does still have limits when you are coming off of a broken back. I resigned to spend the day moving as little as humanly possible.

I think I should try yoga.

Read More →

A Day with Jonny the Ski Bum

February 10, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

Every once in a while you meet someone truly interesting. I first met Jonny last spring when we rode the Slot and Crooked Couloirs together on Easter.  I ran into him again a few weeks ago at an event put on by the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center and we agreed that we should ride together again.  I was just getting back into the mountains and I didn’t want to burden Jonny with a slow, mellow day – so I held off calling him until I felt comfortable that my back wouldn’t be a hindrance.
The thing about Jonny is; he is a ski bum. I mean that as a compliment.  I idolize the ski bum life. Being able to follow the snow, camp out wherever you please, and ride every day. Jonny does this. It is more than just the opportunities the ski bum lifestyle provides. It is also the carefree attitude and the ability to live in the moment.

All I had to do was shoot him a text to see if he was in the area, and in the matter of a few minutes we had plans to meet bright and early the following morning at the Summit Pancake House on Snoqualmie Pass. For future reference, the pancake house does not open until 7 am on weekdays – causing only a minor delay in our efforts to get an early start.

But the ski bum lifestyle comes with a price. You are living out of your truck. For people like me, this sounds fantastic. You can go anywhere, sleep anywhere, and chase the snow. In reality, it isn’t that glamorous. The truck bed is not overly comfortable and storing your entire livelihood in the truck means there isn’t much room for yourself. Nights are cold and filled with interruptions from a variety of sources – for instance, snowplows clearing your parking lot. I never did ask him where or if he showers, but my guess is he doesn’t bother too much with that apart from when he ventures to his parents house to do laundry.

It is not a lifestyle I could live, as much as I would enjoy spending all of my time in the mountains, going wherever and doing what I please. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoy riding with Jonny and I look forward to many more. Hopefully next time I will be able to actually keep up as he breaks trail.

After pancakes and coffee, we set our sights for a knob to the southwest of Kendall Peak. This was, without a doubt, the easiest access tour I have ever done. We parked at Summit West, crossed the street and hopped on a skin track just under the I-90 bridge. Within 5 minutes we were starting to climb.

Jonny, having toured in the vicinity the previous day, had prepared me for the mashed potatoes we were likely to find. After 45 minutes of climbing I jokingly shouted up to Jonny as I casually flicked my pole in the snow, “so, uh, is this the mashed potatoes you were riding yesterday?”

We were both a little baffled at what we were finding. The snow wasn’t warm and soupy like we were expecting. It was light and fluffy and nearly a foot deep (yes, there was a solid crust below…but we weren’t complaining).

Just as we made it out of the forest and into a clearing about half-way up the hill, Jonny had to stop to take a phone interview. If you didn’t have a grasp on Jonny’s lifestyle before – perhaps this will help clear it up a bit.

As I waited, I blazed on ahead, setting a track up to a forest service road. Not wanting to get too far ahead, I transitioned and made a few turns. The interview was taking longer than I thought and I could hear the patrollers at Alpental setting off some rather large charges, so I dug a pit while I waited. As expected, the snowpack was stable and I couldn’t get anything to propagate. I was a little rusty and happy Jonny showed up to take over and further check the snow, agreeing with my assessment that the snowpack was stable.

We forged on to the top of the knob making good time. We were at the top of a long open meadow, spotted with a few open glades. With the better than expected snow, we both opened up and made some spectacular turns down to the bottom of the clearing. Not pausing long before heading back up for another lap.

It was a weekday and I’d set a pretty early cutoff because I had every intention of making it back to the city and putting in a full day’s worth of work. It was 11:30 and I let Jonny know that I only had time for one more lap. We were both pretty bummed about that, considering this was some of the best snow either of us had seen in a while.

We ended up compromising. We took another half-lap, only riding down to the forest-service road that cut through the middle of the meadow.  I gave Jonny my camera and couldn’t resist having a little bit of fun.

The final lap we rode out to the car. Just below the meadow the air had warmed and the snow turned into mashed potatoes that we had been expecting to ride all day, so neither of us was complaining. We found a few fun pillow lines and made the most of the exit. Before we knew it, we were back and the car and I was hustling to get back to the city.
I was disappointed I had to cut the day short, but glad that I was able to get out and enjoy some fantastic turns with Jonny the Ski Bum. 

Upon re-reading my post, I am concerned that I didn’t do justice to the wonderful person that Jonny is. He has his level 1 and 2 avy certifications, I think WFA, and is planning on taking his CAA industry level 1 this year. Jonny teaches avalanche courses, which is where he earned the title “Ski Bum”. He has run ultramarathons, biked across the country for charity, and is working on becoming a guide (which seems like it would suit his lifestyle well). While every time I have ridden with him, Jonny has been living out of his truck, he has a girlfriend in Portland and I believe a place to stay there as well, but I get the impression he almost enjoys the truck. 

Read More →

Sometimes Everyone Just Needs a Good Laugh

February 4, 2013 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

My crazy adventures tend to manifest themselves during busy weeks at work. I will start the week refreshed and ready to go. As the work builds, my mind starts to wander. By Tuesday, I often find myself looking at the forecast and perusing recent trip reports. Wednesday, as the forecast for the weekend becomes more clear, I start to narrow down possible trips and start to hash out a few of the details. Thursday, I find myself doing a lot more of the same. On Friday, I inevitably end up scrambling through work, trying to get as much done as humanly possible, so that I can sneak away for the weekend without getting behind.
Actually, that is a good week for me. Many times I have zero plans for the weekend and resort to hastily throwing something together Friday evening over beer. Planning ahead isn’t one of my strong suits. All that is certain, is that I will find someway to make the most of the weekend by getting outdoors.

This past week was particularly hectic at work. I had a couple of projects that – every turn I would take – was met with more unexpected challenges. I often have to stop and remind myself that these intellectually stimulating challenges are what I enjoy. In a sense, working through a difficult problem is much the same in the office as it is out in the backcountry.  The difference is in the reward – one being code compiling and running properly; the other an incredible view or deep untracked pow turns or, if I am really lucky, both.

The frustration began to set in early in the week. The challenges kept building and the reward was still a long ways off in the distance. I did what I do best; I procrastinated by planning for the weekend. Last week sucked, so the weekend adventure was going to be something big. Suddenly, a day trip just didn’t seem big enough. Thursday morning I’d figured it out. An overnight trip would surely help offset the frustrations of the long week.

The four of us, Wiktor, Enrique, Ben, and I met at the Nobel Fir to peruse maps and plan out our trip. I don’t know if it was the beer or everyone else having as rough of a week as me, but everyone was excited about our tentative plan. It was a bold plan nonetheless. We had to build an expedition sled, drag it in roughly 2.5 miles to where we would set up camp. Build a 4-person snow cave. Then, somehow find the time to tour an additional 16 miles in the surrounding mountains. 

Friday night, after surviving the week, we met at my house for sled construction. I should’ve known when Ben arrived with a pink sled that this weekend was heading down a very different path than any of us had anticipated. After laboring over the sled for an hour or two – running cord through our hand-drilled almost-evenly-spaced holes, installing wakeboard fins to keep the thing going straight (and to make it look more badass), and stickering the shit out of the thing – we had ourselves an expedition sled.

With our sights still set on a long weekend tour, we awoke at 4 am after a meager 2 hours of sleep. We were at Stevens Pass by the time I would normally wake up for a day of riding. The sun was just coming up as we loaded the sled and hit the trail.

We made great time with the sled. Well, great time considering we were carrying about 20 pounds of alcohol, a bundle of firewood, and a couple of tents just in case our snow caving endeavor were to fail. Oh and two dslrs to document the whole weekend. Everything was going smoothly until we tried to take a shortcut straight up one of the switchbacks. Erique decided to take a crash course in skiing down the bulletproof rain crust and the rest of us struggled to drag a sled full of beer and whiskey up a hill. We all eventually made it, but I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. This was the first time over the weekend that I came dangerously close to pissing my pants.

By now, the sun was out and we were in t-shirts. The snow was terrible and though nobody said anything, we all knew our ambitious tour was turning into something else entirely. Soon thereafter we made it to a clearing where we began to set up basecamp. Step 1: dig cooler for beer. Step 2: Drink beer. The rest would sort itself out.

After nearly an hour of digging and drinking, we all took a break and voiced what we had all been thinking. The tour was off. It was a beautiful sunny day, we had a ton of alcohol, and frankly we all needed a little work on our suntans. The rest of the afternoon we took turns digging in the snow cave and digging out our fire pit, all while remaining appropriately hydrated.
Spirits were high and we spent a healthy amount of time messing around just laughing. I can’t really do justice to the fun we had, though the pictures hint at a small portion of the entertainment. 

We ended up digging an impressive snow cave with plenty of room for the four of us. It was a roaring success – so much so, we decided to mark off the rather than destroy it. We will be back. On that note, if you stumble across our cave (the tang staircase is a dead giveaway) and want to use it, you are more than welcome – just leave it better than you found it. I know I plan on leaving a case of beer inside in the future.

After a failed fire (yes, even with the firewood we dragged in we couldn’t keep a fire going), we retired to our cave along with our gallon flask of brandy and lemon iced tea. I don’t know what compelled us to bring a gallon of such an obscure concoction, but dammit it was delicious. We ended the evening with the game of “kill the flask”. Ambitious? Yes. Did we win? Of course.

With the snow still crummy and a fair bit of alcohol left, Sunday degraded quickly. We were all content hanging out at camp and enjoying the day. And enjoy the day we did. We all practiced our flipping techniques.

We invented a new sport that involves using an ice axe to fling snow blocks and slicing them out of the air with a parang.

We even tested the idea that a tree could be used as a catapult.

When that failed, we resulted to jumping from tree to tree, with mild success.

Once we shotgunned the last of our beer, we decided to break camp and retreat home.

The fun wasn’t over yet, as the ski out proved eventful. Not wanting to be defeated by the hill that had challenged us on the approach, we opted to not take the easy way around. Getting dragged downhill by a sled was entertaining for everyone.

With a mellow downhill road out, we opted to take off our skins and practice our skiing. It was definitely a good call. In spots the road was steeper than I had remembered and without edges or any lateral support, all we could do was keep our weight forward, stay in the track and pray for the best. We may have done zero snowboarding, but the ski out was a blast.

In the end, our bold plan inspired by a hectic and frustrating work week didn’t happen. It didn’t matter to any of us. Sometimes the best escape isn’t about going deeper into the mountains and setting ambitious goals – but being able to stop, relax, and laugh so hard you almost piss your pants.

It’s now Monday and I am ready to get back to work, though I suspect if you ask me tomorrow, I will already have some idea for next week’s adventure.

Read More →