A Weekend With My Dad

May 20, 2013 | Posted in Snowboarding | By

It has been ages since I had a weekend with my dad – just the two of us, no fixed agenda and no rigid plans. Our time together is usually dictated by some compelling outside force that brought us to the same place at the same time. A wedding, a graduation, a family vacation, etc.; there was always something going on. Whatever that something was, it meant that our time and attention was already focused elsewhere. There was a plan – put in place by someone else, and we were lucky if we could sneak away from that plan even for an hour.
Last summer I did manage to steal away, from a week with relatives celebrating my cousins wedding, for the better part of a day with my mom and dad. It was a huge ordeal and clearly a disruption from the predetermined plan. The result was a hasty trip to the Shenandoah Mountains, where we felt rushed and in a hurry to get back. It was hard to stop and enjoy the moment.  (Not to mention the, while beautiful, Appalachian’s lack of rugged Cascade peaks to which I am growing accustomed.)
So, when my dad said he was coming in town for a weekend, just the two of us, I was quite excited.  I began to formulate ideas in the back of my head for things we could do together. The time was ours and we could spend it however we liked.
My family has always been incredibly active – A trait that I hadn’t adopted until recently. I wanted to share my passion for the outdoors with my dad, who I knew would appreciate the somewhat unique ways that I choose to experience. More importantly, my parents were to ones to first get my excited about skiing (and I guess snowboarding). They have been skiing since before I was born, but always at a resort.
I wanted to take my dad out backcountry skiing and he was all for it. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend either. A spring bluebird day on a volcano seemed like the perfect place to start.  The question then, where do I take my dad for a first tour? I immediately thought we should go to Camp Muir. A day touring on the tallest mountain in the state, with incredible views, would surely be impressive and memorable. But there was an element missing. The views on the way up to Muir are incredible, but arriving at camp is somewhat underwhelming. Rainier still looms above you and I always get a sense of incompleteness when I turn back at Muir. Incredible? Yes. Breathtaking? Sure. I can do better.
Last year, I climbed St Helens on my birthday. It was an awesome day, and something I had been itching to get back to. I remembered it as a much bigger day than Muir, but nothing toocrazy. I decided to leave the final decision up to my dad. I gave him the options Muir or St Helens (I know…I am a nice son). Both consist of (for the most part) fairly mellow touring, both have incredible views, both make for a great day. Muir ends up higher at just over 10,000’, but St Helens is a longer day with more elevation climbed, by a considerable margin. With St Helens, you get to stand on top of a mountain.
I tried to be objective but I think my desire to get back to St Helens was apparent. So when I asked my dad, which he would prefer, he said he was “up for a longer day.” So, St Helens it was.  I did have my reservations. My dad is 62, has never used AT skis, and has been living in the desert for the past several years. But, he is my dad and he is a badass. So when he said he was up for it, his enthusiastic attitude was all of the convincing that I needed.
I’ve come to realize climbing a mountain is a lot like many other pursuits in life. In the moment, you can push yourself sometimes harder and further than you could have imagined possible. After the fact, you completely forget about the challenges you faced, remembering only glimpses of your struggles, your memories dominated by the overwhelming satisfaction of succeeding at whatever it was you set out to do.
St Helens’ was easy last year. I woke up early, on my birthday and climbed a mountain. The view from the top was incredible and the ride down was awesome. On top of that, we were home at a decent hour, too.
So, I may have forgotten just how early we woke up. I may have also forgotten just how long it took to reach the rim and how late we got back to Seattle. Yes, it is a very doable day trip, but it is a longday.
My dad showed up Friday afternoon, after driving over from the Tri-Cities. I got him set up with rental skis and boots, touring in rental boots sounds absolutely no fun. The afternoon sipped by and by the time we were both hungry, our plan was thus: we are waking up early, to climb St. Helens and that was about it. I’d yet to look up how far the drive was, where we had to pick up the permits, pack food, or really pack anything for that matter.
On the way to dinner, it became apparent that my dad was exhausted. During the drive, he would ask a question, then fall asleep before I had a chance to answer. A few minutes later, he would wake up and, without a missing a beat, ask another question. At some point, I stopped answering. I was starting to get worried. I had just done the math, and realized our alarm needed to go off at roughly 4:30 am if we were indeed going to climb St Helens.
That was much earlier than I had anticipated or remembered. But, my dad took it in stride and was wide-awake and ready to go in the morning.  We made excellent time on the drive, stopping only once and well, twice if you count the speeding ticket.
Upon picking up our permits, we were delighted to discover that we were near the tail-end of nearly 375 like-minded individuals who wanted to spend the beautiful day climbing a mountain. I’d expected a crowd, but was yet again shocked by one of the small details that I had forgotten since climbing the previous year.
So we took off. There was still snow all the way to the car, allowing us to start skinning right away.  My dad threw on the skis and so began his first backcountry ski experience. There was a bit of a learning curve. It’s hard to relate skinning to any one other activity and it takes some practice and getting-used-to before you learn to balance and trust that you can indeed stand up straight without sliding back down the hill.
We weren’t in any sort of rush, so we took our time. After all, we didn’t need to reach the summit to have a great day. As we meandered through the woods, my dad started to get the hang of it. I was having a great time and I think he was too. The slog to the summit really is just a long push. There were a couple of short tricky sections where we carried our skis, but for the most part, it was just skinning, all the way to the summit.
In the morning, I set a turn-around time of 4pm, in case we hadn’t made the top by then.  During our last lunch-break, I looked at the time. It was 2:30 and my best guess pegged us at about 1000’ from the summit. Doable for sure, but my dad was clearly getting tired. I pulled out (one of several) energy reserves I had stashed in my pack and hoped that we would make it.
I’d been staying with my dad the whole way until this point, I didn’t want his first experience to find him climbing all alone and it was by no means a race. I knew my dad could make it to the top, but we were going to have to hurry. Apart from the lure of chocolate and beer, one of my best motivators is to not want to fall behind. So, I took off and told my dad I would see him at the top.
Sure enough, my dad made it to the top of Mt St Helens, just shy of our 4pm turn-around time. At that moment, I was so excited and proud. I think that anyone familiar with the sport would agree, for a first time in the backcountry, climbing to the top of Mt St Helens is no small feat.
While well over 100 people had already left tracks, down the south face of the volcano, we still enjoyed some fantastic spring corn and even found a few sections still pristine. The reward for a hard day’s effort. We were able to ride all the way back to the car, with just a few hazards to navigate. With the warm weather, it was likely one of the last days that you could ride all the way to the car without getting extra creative.
If the weekend had ended there, it would have still been fantastic, memorable weekend. But it didn’t. I think it was our ambitious plan that fueled a friendly father-son competition of sorts. It came to be that neither of us wanted to admit that we were in fact tired or sore. So, when one of us mentioned a Sunday bike ride, our response was, “sure that sounds fun!” It was like a game of chicken and the loser was our legs.
In all seriousness, we had a delightful bike ride, broken up with breakfast at Portage Bay Café (with mimosas!), a nap at golden gardens, and a beer at the Fremont Brewery.  It was actually really nice and, if anything, helped keep us limber.
The fun didn’t stop there either. When picking up the skis on Friday, my dad mentioned that a hike up Mt Si sounded fun. So, naturally we had to do it. We dropped off the rentals Monday morning and set off for a hike. The view from the top was spectacular. You could see south past Rainier and north up to Baker. The Olympics were in clear view, creating a dramatic backdrop for the Seattle skyline. Truly impressive, especially once we made it to the top of the haystack.
For whatever silly reason, we decided to trail run down. I’ve made the mistake before, but did it again. Running downhill destroyed whatever strength was left it our legs.
When we made it back to the car, I was thankful that we were parting ways, not because I didn’t want to spend more time with my dad, but because I was afraid of what bogus idea (we actually did mention trying to waterski, but just didn’t have time.) one of us would throw out next and I was seriously concerned that I was going to be the one to have to say no more.
So there you have it. A weekend with my dad, one of the most incredible men I know; spent backcountry skiing on volcanoes, biking through Seattle, and hiking up mountains. I look forward to the next weekend we can spend together and the wild adventures that we will accomplish next.

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Six Weeks

January 23, 2013 | Posted in Snowboarding | By

I went to my physical therapist last Friday. Strategically one day shy of the magic 6 weeks that bones typically take to heal. The intent was to make sure that I was actually healed and to get a final “okay” to go snowboarding. Well, to be fair both the doctor and the physical therapist both had given me the “okay” to snowboard, but with a strong caution to take it easy.

I didn’t really trust myself to take it easy, so against my strongest desire, I went for a 20-mile bike ride instead. Waiting until this week to strap into my snowboard for the first time in six weeks.

The visit with the physical therapist was somewhat superficial. By the time I set foot in her office I had already made plans to go snowboarding the following morning. She knew it too. She gave me a stern look of disapproval and left it at that. I promised to continue doing my exercises (something I had started to slack on) and the rest of our time was focused on getting rid of the bruise/numbness on my left hip with what equates to a 45 minutes butt massage.

You might think to yourself, “that sounds like a mighty fine way to start your Friday morning,” and I am here to confidently assert that it is, as a matter of fact, not a nice way to start your day. Ever. I am adding it to my list of things I probably wouldn’t experience had I not broken my back. It falls somewhere right behind ambulance ride, getting strapped to a backboard, and CT scan of practically my whole body.

I am getting somewhat distracted. This crazy weather we have been having in the PNW came at an inopportune time. For the first couple of weeks while I was out, it dumped. About two weeks ago the snow stopped. We were left with cold air and a high pressure ridge that kept the sun out and the cold air in place. For a couple days, this is great for riding. But soon a warm front moved in on top of the cold air, making the city cold and foggy, while the mountains – still sunny – warmed up, wreaking havoc on the snow.

So, come Saturday, I was determined to ride, but I wanted to find some soft snow (I am trying to take it easy after all). My crazy logic put touring in the backcountry higher on the list of safe activities than a day riding at a resort.  I had two options. Find mellow north-facing slopes that are well shaded and hope that the warm air and sun hadn’t completely destroyed the fresh snow. Or, we could find some south-facing slopes and hope that they had turned to corn. Neither option sounded particularly thrilling, so we decided to gamble and stick to the North faces.

We headed down to the Tatoosh range, where I knew there was some fun mellow north-facing terrain. The approach was promising. While we did find some impressively large surface hoar, the snow was nice and soft in the shade. In fact, there was nearly 6 inches of snow on top of an unbreakable crust. It was enough snow to have a good day.

Unfortunately, the higher we climbed in elevation, the air warmed considerably, and the snowpack degraded. Eventually we found ourselves on rolling hills that were glistening in the sun. There were pockets of snow that had survived, but most saw the sun at one point or another and were now glistening sheets of ice.

A solo skier with ski crampons passed us, laughing as we struggled miserably to make progress up the hill. It was more difficult than it really needed to be. Eventually we all made it to the ridge.

We ended up relaxing for about an hour. The sun was shining, it was warm, and, what I would consider the reason what Tatoosh is so fun, Rainier is right in your face. Not to mention, Adams, St Helens, and Hood visible behind us. I think I may plan an overnight trip down there. The view is just incredible. Most of us had spent the week trapped in the fog, so the sun was a welcome sight. Sitting on the top of the ridge was a much missed and welcome feeling. The six weeks I was out blew by quickly, but I was ready to be back.

Eventually, we finished our beers and had our fill of vitamin D. I stood on the ridge with my board strapped on. I realized this was the longest stretch I had been away from my snowboard for at least a year. Six weeks to the day was not so bad.

Behind me was a south facing meadow with a handful of tracks in it. We’d seen a couple skiers drop in and the corn looked great. We made up our minds to stay north and hope we could follow the shade the whole way down. I held my breath and dropped in. I rolled onto my heel edged, praying that the snow was soft. My edge held well – better than I’d expected. I opened up a little and took off down the hill.

A friend described the Tatoosh range as a putt-putt golf course. I can’t think of a better analogy. Rolling hills with a couple of points that we had to stop and navigate around. Always a safe way down though. Mostly, it was carefree riding.  We did find a couple zones worth coming back for. A hip with a long steep landing, a ridge with a cornice drop, and a narrow chute begging to be aired into. Not to mention the ridges in the distance, all easily accessible in a day and of course the three prominent couloirs on Lane peak. So much to do, I am sure glad this funky weather is nearly over.
Some people have sun lamps, I have the mountains. 

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Alex’s AK fund

November 12, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

I have this fantastically far-fetched idea of going to Alaska in the spring. I’ve been talking about it for years and I decided this is the year to make it happen. The only problem is getting to AK and funding the activities I hope to do while there is not exactly cheap.

My ideal trip would be to go with a few friends, get a bush pilot to drop us in the mountains for a week or so, and explore the mountains around us. Then again, that is just an idea, there is not really a plan. Nor will there ever really be much of a plan. I’ll just kinda go for it and see what happens. I do know it would be one hell of an awesome trip, if I can pull it off.

So, to get things moving, I had an idea. I post a bunch of pics on here and I have a ton more that never see the light of day. I have a growing list of pics I would print, if I could afford to print them. I want to print them. This is where my AK fund comes in. If you see a pic anywhere on my blog (or for those of you crafty enough, elsewhere on the inter-webs) that would would like to have a print of, send me a message (leave a comment or send me an email) and I will sell it to you, assuming we can work out at deal (I am fairly flexible).

I don’t claim to be an excellent photographer. But I do go to some interesting places. Think about it this way, you would be helping fund more adventures and getting a sweet picture with a story. Speaking of which, each picture will come with a story. There is always a story, and if there is one thing that I want, it is for the stories to stay with the pictures.

I will print on canvas. It’s what I prefer, so it’s what you’ll get. Most of the panoramas I take are custom sizes and typically require building custom frames. I can build frames, but that takes extra time so will cost a bit more. I’m happy to build the frames and stretch the canvas, but be aware, on top of time, it is much more expensive for me to ship the stretched canvas.

As far as sizing goes, I am happy to work with you and size will help dictate the price. Just as an idea of what to expect, a 13″x40″ stretched panorama will likely run in the range of $125-$150 plus s&h.

I have absolutely no idea how much interest is out there, or if anyone really wants to buy my pictures, but I thought I would throw the idea out there.

So, please, buy a picture, help me get to AK! Oh, and here’s a picture from St Helens that I don’t think ever made the blog, but is high on my list of pics to print.

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Camp Muir (Again)

May 17, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

My North Cascades trip ending a day early was almost a blessing of sorts. While I would have loved to stay there longer, it was a good time to leave. When we got back into town, I had a text from Stuart asking if I wanted to hike Rainier on Sunday. Seeing as it was 8pm on Saturday and I was still a solid hour from Seattle, I had to think about it for a few minutes. Rainier meant an early morning and my gear was all still soaking wet and in disarray. It seemed like a silly idea at first.

I quickly changed my attitude and realized how much fun it would be. Plus, I already told everyone I would be gone through Sunday, so I might as well live up to that promise. 
So, I hurried home and began the process of unpacking/repacking for the following morning. I was a little tired, so the process was slow, but I finally managed to get everything together by about 3am, just in time for a little nap before I was picked up at 5am. We made good time and watched a spectacular sunrise on the way down to Rainier. There was still not a cloud in the sky. We were in for an awesome day, further confirming my decision was in fact a good one. It didn’t bother me in the least that I was running on virtually no sleep and my body was already sore from lugging around gear for two days. 
I did unfortunately make a conscious decision to leave my camera gear at home (lucky for you, that means camera phone!). I was on day three and the extra weight did not sound appealing. Also, I know Stuart likes to hike fast. And hike fast we did. Well, at least according to my standards. We made it up to Camp Muir at 12:30, a solid 3.5 hours after we left the parking lot. To put it in perspective, thats a solid hour faster than when I did it two weeks prior on fresh legs. 
The view was spectacular. We could see not only Adams and St Helens, but Hood was visible off in the distance as well. After hanging out for a bit and drinking a mandatory beer, we began our descent. Rainier I believe I mentioned before, is not known for having particularly good snow. There a lots of people, and the weather has its way with the snow. Today was an exception. The snow was fantastic! We had a spectacular run down, stopping about 3/4 of the way down to meet up with some of Stuart’s friends who stayed low and spent the day building jumps.
We stuck around for a couple hours hitting some pretty cool features. I just hung out, feeling pretty exhausted and not trusting myself to hit much on my split. It still made for a fun relaxing afternoon. 
It all culminated in an interesting ride home. Due to some logistical details, Stuart and I ended up riding home in a different car. An Outback to be precise, without any roof racks, and 5 of us in total. That makes 5 people, 4 snowboard, and two pairs of skis (he wasn’t sure which ones he would need, so he brought two pairs). Now, if you are having a hard time picturing how we all fit, that is because we didn’t really. The gear took up a little over a seat’s worth of space, making for an incredibly cramped ride home. Something I don’t hope to ever repeat, but all we could really do was laugh about it.  

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Perhaps a new birthday tradition?

April 15, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

After celebrating Easter so successfully last weekend, I decided to take a similar approach for my birthday. I had never really considered climbing Mount St. Helens. So when I saw a post on TAY for someone looking for partners to climb it, I initially blew off the post. I figured I would need more mountaineering gear (I don’t have an ice axe or crampons…yet) and I wouldn’t have enough time. However, curiosity got the best of me and I started to look in to doing it. I mean, how awesome would it be to climb a mountain and ride down it on your birthday? So, I was happily surprised when I found out that St. Helens is a mellow climb all the way to the rim and a manageable ~6000ft over 5.5 miles. So I decided to do it. This makes weekend number two of wandering in the woods with strangers I meet online.

We left Seattle at 4am, thinking we would be getting an early start. By the time we got to Cougar to pick up our permit there was easily another 30 people already there and we were informed that there were 98 people who had purchased permits to climb. It was a lot more people than I was expecting to be climbing the mountain. 
Then again, mother nature gave me a nice gift for my birthday, clear skies and a perfect forecast for the day – so I can see why so many people were out climbing. 
The climb up was a lot of fun. We could skin pretty much straight up the entire mountain. I think I made less than 10 switchbacks the entire day. While climbing, you can look out across the face and plot any number of lines down. Pretty much the entire south face that you can see here is ride-able and the snow was really stable. It took us about 5 hours to get to the summit and the view was worth every second.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time I have been on the top of an active volcano. It is a really cool feeling, you can see steam rising out of vents, which is only a little ominous. You could walk along the ridge for a ways, though there were some large cornices, so you didn’t want to get too close. 
Yes, that is Mt Adams off in the distance that I am walking towards. In fact, from the top we had spectacular views of Adams, Rainier and Hood. Speaking of Rainier, we enjoyed taking in the stunning views, the best way possible – while drinking an ice cold Rainier beer, of course with Rainier in the background.
After a delicious pb&j lunch, we got ready for the fun part…a 5 mile, 6000ft alpine run straight back to the car. To put that in perspective, that is a taller, longer run than going from the top of Big Sky all the way to the base area. Here’s a couple pics just for fun.

The ride down was fantastic. The run seemed like It kept going forever and the terrain was amazing. There were ridges, spines and faces the whole way down. Nothing too technical, but it was a nice steep pitch the whole way. It made for some fun turns in the soft spring snow. 
We got back to the car around 3, grinning from ear to ear. It is hard to actually describe how amazing our day up St Helens was and I don’t think the pictures even begin to do it justice. I am thinking this would make for an awesome new birthday tradition. I might even try to squeeze in another day trip this month before it gets closed off for permit season. 

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