March 23, 2014
Posted in Splitboarding, Trip Report
For a trip that was planned in the comment section on a photo, you would think we’d take a few pictures. Bad light, no room in the pack, laziness (yes, it is still possible to be lazy while touring in the mountains), whatever the reason, some days taking pictures is the last thing on your mind and it is a refreshing change of pace.
While at Berthoud Pass, the sun was out and I was stopping every five minutes with my camera, trying to find interesting shots. The day was incredible; blue skies and fresh snow, but the trip felt more like a photo shoot and less like a day of riding, which just seems a little backwards.
We did not have blue skies yesterday. In fact, we bailed on our original plan of exploring Porcupine Gulch in favor of a more familiar area, Butler Gulch, that we knew we could still navigate with poor light. So, the camera stayed in the car and it snowed on us all day. What started off as light flurries, turned into a respectable snowfall throughout the day.
The snow was decent in the morning. A little bit of wind transport meant there were plenty of stashes of good snow to be found. Butler Gulch was a new zone to me; mostly mellow rolling terrain that just barely pokes up above treeline. It’s an area that you can feel comfortable when the conditions aren’t great, enjoy romping around in the mountains, and make a few turns along the way.
In my typical eager and blindly ambitious form, I spotted a knoll with a good approach and a steep, open landing that was just begging for me to jump off of it. I figured I could stomp out a little kicker in a few minutes and have some fun. As if hiking for turns wasn’t enough effort already, stomping out a makeshift kicker will definitely get the heart rate up. Well, it turns out I suck at building jumps (at least when I do it on a whim) and we all had a good laugh at the build up for what was ultimately a complete failure.
That’s just the vibe that I get from Butler. It’s a playground where you want to have fun and try silly things.
Right as we were transitioning for our second lap, the storm picked up and the snow really began to accumulate. The day was just getting better. We decided to take a break after our second lap and eat some lunch in the woods while the snow fell. Normally breaks aren’t very noteworthy, just a regular part of the day where you sit down and enjoy your $2 Safeway sandwich or cliff bar, at least that’s how my breaks usually go. But yesterday was different. Between the four of us we’d brought, leftover pizza, a fancy sandwich (aka not pb&j or safeway), some homemade jerky, venison I think, a few bite-sized Snickers, a cliff bar, and most notably, a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff meal.
Who brings a hot meal splitboarding? That means not just the meal, but the stove/pot to cook it in! For a day trip, the idea of hauling all this gear and taking the time to prepare it just sort of blew my mind. I will say, those few hot bites did taste pretty good. It was a little bit of a luxury for what is normally a not very exciting part of the day.
The long meal break served another purpose. While we hung out in the shelter of the trees, the snow was falling hard. In fact, we timed our break pretty well because just as we started moving again, the snow began to let up. By the time we got to our intended zone, the weather was back to more or less a flurry and a few inches had accumulated. We rode the shoulder of a ridge, eventually dropping into drainage, making for some low angle surfy powder turns, the best of the day.
All told, it was a great day to be outside and we all had a fun time. Butler’s an area that I’m sure I’ll be back to, I’ll probably replace the camera with a few beers, attempt to make another kicker (and likely fail), and who knows, maybe even pack in a hot meal.
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March 18, 2014
Posted in Splitboarding, Trip Report
Last week I made it up to Berthoud Pass for the first time. I’d hear this area as one of the mecca’s for backcountry skiing in the front range. Not necessarily the best, or the steepest. But a sort of fun playground with some safe mellow tours that makes for a popular destination for a quick lap or two.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and most pictures I’ve seen from the area are your usual skier pow shot, or some other tight framed shot that, while it looks nice, doesn’t give much perspective to the area as a whole. In fact, something a lot like this.
So, I was a little surprised when I got out to Berthoud Pass at just how large the area was, and how diverse the accessible terrain was. While we stuck to some mellow lines for the day, the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Mixed with the 4 or so inches of fresh snow, it was what I would consider a perfect day to be out in the mountains.
And we weren’t the only ones out there. It was a Wednesday, and by the time we made it back to the parking lot, the lot was full and cars were driving around trying to find a spot where they might be able to squeeze in if they got creative. There were a few other groups of people headed to the same zone as us (it’s name escapes me at the moment), but there was enough terrain that we were all able to find out own lines, and I was able to get a few good shots of some of the other skiers. Thanks anonymous tele skier! I don’t know who you are, but you made some nice turns down this chute!
It had been a few weeks since I’d taken the split out and it was starting to show. After two short laps I was completely worked. It was kind of pathetic, but it was about all I had in me. Thankfully one of the other guys had to get back early for a work, so I didn’t have to make any excuses.
In all, it was an incredible day and felt amazing just to be outside. If anything it reaffirmed my love of the mountains and reminded me that I need to get out there more often.
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December 27, 2013
Posted in Splitboarding
Mount Rainier behind some icy branches.
Here in the PNW we are having what I would refer to as a below average snow year. Snoqualmie Pass doesn’t have enough snow to open and the other resorts are still a little spicy down in the lower elevations. Back in November everyone was starting to get the itch to ride. Some early low elevation snow helped drastically increase the stoke and people were getting out to make turns. Even the resorts were getting in on the early season goods, with some impressively early starts; though it is understandable if you don’t consider spinning a single chair and throwing a few rails in a patch of lingering snow an actual “opening day”.
The excitement of the early snow gave way to anticipation that is yet to be fulfilled. An occasionally front moves through, bringing just enough snow to maintain the marginal snowpack that exists. Normally the fronts come mixed with sleet and freezing rain to dissuade any potential thrill seekers from getting too excited.
All that being said, I’ve had some awesome day’s so far this season, each one seemingly better than the last and it is in no way thanks to mother nature. So, it’s my goal to provide you with the insights that you need to have fun out there.
Step One: Take whatever your expectations are for the day and lower them.
If the weather report claimed 4-5 inches in the last 24, I don’t want to hear anything about an epic pow day. The 20-30 mph winds inevitably scoured the 4-5 inches, which were sitting on top of a bulletproof crust anyways. So instead, think to yourself, “if I hunt for some protected leeward slopes, I might find some pockets of still fresh snow if I am lucky.”
Or, “sure, it hasn’t snowed in the last week, but it hasn’t rained either. So there’s a chance that I may still find something.” This is a good start, but again…lowering your expectation can never hurt. Try something more along the lines of: “Well, the sun might break through, so at least I get to stretch my legs and hopefully we will get a pretty view.”
The important thing to remember is that your starting expectations, no matter how well intentioned, are still laced with optimism. I applaud the optimistic outlook and yes, we are going to have a fantastic season, no worries that it is already late December; the season is still early and there is still time! But, if you want to guarantee yourself to have a fun day, I promise this will help.
In fact, that’s about the only advice I have right now. Sorry for not having anything more insightful. I will say that in the last three days of touring, I’ve lowered my expectations to the point where just the other day I was thinking, “as long as I find something that isn’t ice, I will be happy.” Sure enough, the snow we found on a north-facing bowl was superb. I mean, in reality it wasn’t anything to write home about, but in comparison to the ice I’d set myself up to expect, this snow was the most incredible conditions I’d seen all season. Maybe we really did get lucky. Maybe the snow really was better than I am giving it credit for.
Maybe, that’s not the point at all. Last fall I tried to take an early season lap on the Muir snowfield. No matter how low you set your expectations for the day, Mother Nature was hell bent on making you lower them even further. To give an idea, it felt like I’d bundled up in my snow gear and jumped in a pool. Upon climbing out of the pool, I was in the middle of a monsoon with sheets of rain somehow managing to make me even wetter. And if that isn’t bad enough, the wind picked up with unrelenting gusts blowing the rain more sideways that up-and-down. Amidst it all, we were all laughing and in good spirits.
So maybe, the point is actually to shift your expectations away from the snow entirely.
When you go out with the expectation of having fun with friends and strangers, to get a little exercise and to have an adventure, then there is no way you are going to have a bad time. No matter what snow you do find, if you find it while smiling, I think it is safe to assume that you’ll meet your expectations and come home feeling pretty good about what you found.
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May 21, 2013
Posted in Mountaineering, Splitboarding
When I moved to Seattle, well to be frank Mt Rainier was nothing more than a mountain. Surely impressive, but mountains were yet to captivate my imagination. It was merely an impressive and iconic backdrop to the city I lived in. Over the years, climbing Mt Rainier became a fantasy. It was a place for mountain climbers that I romanticized with a childlike fascination. To stand on top of that mountain, so close to Seattle, seemed so impossibly far away. Three years ago, had you invited me to climb Rainier, my imagination would have inevitably wandered to the fantasy of standing on the top, but reality would have set in and my response would have been something along the lines of, “Are you crazy?”
It is funny how perception can change over time. It started with snowboarding. I stopped sleeping in the car and starting staring out the windows. “Look at the line on that mountain! I bet that would be fun!” Dreams. At the time, I was confined to chairlifts. But as my eyes widened, I began to appreciate the mountains. When I started backpacking, I stopped simply looking at the mountains with wide eyes and started exploring their vast riches. Alpine lakes, waterfalls, and beaten trails marked the true beginning of my shift in perception.
My fascination with mountains grew the more time I began to spend in them. I came back from Montana completely absorbed in the snow-capped rugged peaks of the Cascades. Armed with new tools, knowledge, and a driving passion, I began looking at the mountains renewed. The lines I have stared at dozens, possibly hundreds of times, are no longer unobtainable fantasies, but plausible excursions. No longer do I simply look at a line and think “Man, wouldn’t that be awesome.” Instead, I think to myself, “That would be awesome, how accessible is it? Could I get there in a day? Who could I get to go with me?”
When I first started snowboarding in the backcountry, Rainier was still a fantasy. While my world was beginning to open up, it took nearly a year (and some incredible adventures) before I realized that Rainier was no longer a dream, but a goal. Once I made that shift, staring at Rainier from the city became insufferable. That mountain was sitting there, taunting me in all of its iconic majesty.
I started hearing of other people climbing it. I was even invited once or twice and had tentatively agreed to go with someone. But for one reason or another, I never made it. I kept saying that I would go for it during the next nice weather window.
Weeks began to slip by, and that wouldn’t be so concerning if I weren’t leaving for the summer. I began to realize that I was quickly running out of time if I were going to try to climb Rainier.
When my buddy Stu texted me, to see if I was interested, I was in the middle of hiking Mt Si with my dad. This was Monday. He wanted to go on Wednesday. I had work and was already exhausted. By all means, I had plenty of excuses for why I shouldn’t climb Rainier.
I thought about it for the rest of the afternoon. I was laying in my back yard, napping after the weekend excursions with my dad and I realized that I needed to go with Stu. I needed to work and I needed to rest as well. But I had an overwhelming desire to fulfill that goal – to climb Mt Rainier and snowboard off of the summit. I knew that if I didn’t try, I would sit at work staring about the mountain, daydreaming about being up there with my friends. Work and rest would have to wait.
We were ill prepared for the trip. None of us had much (if any) glacier travel experience and we had hastily thrown together an amalgamation of gear that we deemed sufficient to summit. Stu had summited once a few years ago with a guide, but apart from some vague recollections, he didn’t have much memories of the trip. At least not that would be beneficial for us while climbing. We were predicted to have sunny and warm weather for the next few days and coupled with our excitement, our concerns dissipated.
We laid out all of our gear in the paradise parking lot, taking up most of a parking space. We weren’t exactly traveling light. The crew was Stu, Eric, Laura, and myself; apart from me, it was a crew of Mt Baker instructors, all killing time between the end of the season and the start of their respective summer plans. Though only Stu, Eric, and I planned on summiting, we were carrying three days of gear and supplies for the four of us. The heavy pack and the warm weather made for an interesting day getting to Camp Muir.
Though we’d gotten an early start, it was dusk by the time we started setting up camp and we all decided that we should take a day to chill before attempting to summit.
The following morning, we took our time getting out of our tents, waiting for the morning sun to warm everything up before we decided to crawl out of our tents. After a drawn out breakfast of oatmeal with trailmix (a bit too heavy on the peanut MnM’s) we opted to take a lap down to the top of the Chute that drops in to the Nisqually.
The corn snow was fantastic and only a little slushy near the bottom.
On the hike up we ran into a couple of Eric’s friends from Seattle. The 6 of us chilled in the snow for a while, eating lunch and throwing snowballs at a ski pole. Ah, the joys of being easily entertained!
Our down day went by fast and made for an enjoyable way to spend a day relaxing in the sun and preparing to make the push for the summit.
After talking with the rangers and other climbers coming off of the mountain, we were growing increasingly weary of the conditions on the two routes we could take. The Ingraham direct route was well marked and, before the sun hit it, the snow bridges were holding well. However, as soon as the sun hit, the bridges were getting soft and icefall from the seracs was a huge problem. Basically, not somewhere you want to be after about 7:30 am. The other route, up Disappointment Cleaver, had it’s own issues. The unusually warm weather created an isothermal snowpack not conducive to climbing or riding. Not to mention, there was a sharp cliff at the bottom of the route, so it was unstable snow with high exposure. Oh, then there was the rock fall hazard during the day.
We stayed optimistic. Ultimately opting for an early, 2 am start, with the hopes of climbing Ingraham Direct and riding down the DC before it warmed up too much.
At 2 am, you are moving slow. I thought we were making good time, but with firm snow and an earlier-than-anticipated transition to crampons, by the time we made it to the toe of the Ingraham and roped up, the sun was starting to peak over the horizon.
We met up with another group of skiers on their way down, who were in a similar situation to us. They had started around midnight, giving us some good beta on the routes. Ultimately they bailed for reasons that would soon become apparent.
We got to the entrance to the Ingraham Direct route. It peeled off from the skin track and headed ominously straight up into the seracs. While we had heard the route was in good shape, I think we all agreed that our inexperience with glacier travel made skipping that option a no brainer. We continued on to the DC. At the base of the route, the snow was crummy. While we could have continued on, we were all now thinking about the ride down. It just didn’t seem worth subjecting ourselves to so much risk. This would be as far as we would make it.
While we were all a little bit defeated, we were not upset. As much as I wanted to reach the summit of Mt rainier, once a mere fantasy, we tried and we came close. I hadn’t fulfilled my goal of reaching the summit, but I put a large dent in achieving that goal. There will be other attempts and the knowledge I gained just from trying, will help me in the future.
When we turned back, it was still early. We made our way to a safe zone and stopped to rest. We’d been awake since 1 am and all that was left to do at this point was enjoy the sunrise and wait for the snow to soften a bit.
Eventually, we got impatient and made our way back to Camp Muir on firm snow. The ride back wasn’t exactly pleasant. Hard snow and disappointment are not exactly ideal conditions. After breaking camp, we threw our still-heavy packs on our backs and enjoyed some fabulous corn turns back to the car.
At the parking lot, we stripped our packs (an most of our clothes, did I mention it was hot?) and enjoyed the few cold beers that remained from our hidden stashes. (We presume one was found, I hope someone enjoyed those cold beers!) Driving off of the mountain I had mixed feelings. Sure I was disappointed that we didn’t reach the summit. But we gave it our best shot and it was factors outside of our control that ultimately led to us not making it. Could we have pushed it and made it to the top? Probably, but there was something satisfying about being able to make the tough decision to turn around. That was rewarding in itself.
Also, I now have some rad calf-burns. Pro-tip, if you roll up your pants, if only for a few minutes, apply sunscreen liberally. Snow-burns are quite pronounced and happen quicker than you think. Then again, who doesn’t enjoy funky tan lines?
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May 20, 2013
Posted in Snowboarding
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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April 23, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized
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?
BPA: Where are you coming from?
[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?
[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!
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April 15, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized
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.
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March 13, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized
“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!
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February 19, 2013
Posted in Snowboarding
Hindsight is always 20/20, but in the moment there are a lot of factors that can send our decision making process awry, inevitably leading us down a path that might be less than ideal. For instance, Friday afternoon I knew I had plans for a big tour the following morning – yet after attending happy hour at 4, then migrating to an art show with a free keg, the logical decision to go home, pack and set my alarm for 5 am was lost to me. No, in the moment, meeting a friend in Ballard for drinks sounded much more logical. As was the shot of tequila at 1 am.
This was the first of several decisions that, at the time sounded logical, yet proved to be tragically flawed. I did manage to drag myself out of bed in the morning, but the drive to the mountain was rough.
Our original plan was to ride Jove peak, but the rain and the hangover made us change our minds. Instead, Ben and I decided to join up with a few other guys who were planning a more mellow day. After what seemed like an eternity of staring at a map, we finally took off – our destination, Lichtenberg Mountain, not too far away.
There was a strong contention among the group on how to navigate in the backcountry. On one end of the spectrum lie Ben and myself. We both rely on our knowledge of the area, having toured the area before and studied maps while at home. We don’t set fixed objectives, but are willing to adapt to the conditions and the environment. After all, half of the fun is getting out and exploring new areas and the best way to do this is to allow you to wander. On the other end of the spectrum lies Ryan. On the approach we were following a forest service road. It’s incredibly easy to follow. After all, it is a road. Not to mention we had agreed about our turnoff point, at the first switchback – A prominent feature that is damn near impossible to miss. Still, Ryan opts to stop every ten minutes to check our location on his GPS to make sure we were still on track.
It made for a long, slow approach (something I didn’t particularly mind as the hangover was still kicking my ass), with frequent stops and lengthy discussions about whether we were going the “right way”. I never really got the sense of exploration that I enjoy while touring. At some point, you need to be able to just look up and make a decision based on what lay in front of you. Is it good to have a plan? Definitely. Should you force yourself to always adhere to the plan? Nope.
Eventually we made it to Lichtenwasser Lake, a high alpine lake sitting not too far below the summit of Lichtenberg Mountain. The hangover had subsided and I was starting to gain energy. Perhaps the shift from a light rain to a steady snow was helping lift my spirits as well.
With Lichtenberg directly ahead of us, we split up. Ben and I opted to follow a direct approach; the others followed Ryan – taking a circuitous route along a ridge. After a nice little lunch break, Ben and I greeted the others when their route eventually met ours just below the summit. Neither was “right” nor was either approach “wrong”. They were just different. We followed our own decisions, informed by different information. We both made it to the same place in the end and that’s what counts.
There are two peaks on Lichtenberg, the true summit and a slightly lower peak just to the west, separated by a short saddle. We were just below the eastern summit and it looked fairly easy to access. It was a distinct point, but there was a snow ramp that ran all the way to the top. Ben and I decided to climb it. Sure, we would get a couple of turns, but we were climbing it purely because it was so close.
With the summit less than 100 feet away, our plan started to deteriorate. The snow was well bonded, but was on top of smooth rock and there was a large air pocket between the snow and rock that made the steep face incredibly unstable and difficult to climb. Both Ben and I made it to a rock outcropping just shy of the summit. I tried to get to the top, but had to give up within 10 miserable feet of the summit. Discouraging for sure, but we had wasted more time than we wanted on our foolish quest for the top. Our true objective, a chute off of the western peak, was still a ways off.
To make matters worse, the storm was picking up and the visibility was rapidly decreasing. We made a handful of underwhelming turns then quickly transitioned for what we hoped would be our final climb of the day. A large cornice blocked the better entrance to the chute, though we were able to find an alternate entrance that would definitely work. The whole face was wind-scoured with a hard crust, exposed, and the chute funneled down to something I would not exactly consider wide. We made a lengthy decision and ultimately concluded to abort our plan and go elsewhere.
This left us with two options: 1) We could circle around Lichtenberg, ride down to Lake Valhalla, hike across, then ride down to the Nason creek drainage and finally skin back out to the car. Or, option 2) Head back the way we came. There would be a few turns along the way, but mostly it would be nothing more than a long ride back to the car. It would likely take longer than option one without much in the way of snowboarding. To make matters worse, it was already after 4 pm and we were still a decent ways from an exit.
We chose option 1. There was one issue with this plan. To get to Lake Valhalla, we had to descent a face that we knew cliffed-out in numerous places. Not exactly the most inviting terrain when visibility was low. With Ryan’s GPS, we felt confident that we could navigate the cliffs and make it to the lake just fine.
Everything was going smoothly. We were about half way down the ridge and thought we had managed to avoid the cliffs successfully. We hit a row of trees with chutes that all looked like they ran out into a clearing. Granted, we couldn’t see very far. We’d been taking turns leading and I drew the lucky straw for this particular section. With the snow accumulating throughout the day, the chute was surprisingly well filled in. I dropped in, picked up speed and slashed a heelside turn on the wall of the chute. I kicked up more snow than I was expecting and found myself lost in the powder cloud.
Not a big deal I thought, I’ll just hang on till I am through, already setting up for my next turn. But I didn’t get the opportunity. Before I was able to see again, the ground disappeared from under my feet. Cliff. But how big? I had no idea it was there and I still couldn’t see. Okay, let’s just hang on, keep our balance and get ready to land. Then there was that terrible feeling, that feeling in your stomach where you are still falling, well after you had anticipated landing.
In that instant, lots of thoughts started to flood through my mind…I hope this isn’t too big, I really hope my back is ready for this, did anyone follow me, will anyone be able to follow me? And just like that, I found the ground. I bombed the landing, but hey, I was just happy to be in one piece. About all I managed to get out was, “Cliff!” I didn’t want anyone else to make the same mistake I just had.
As I started to collect myself and figure out what exactly what was going on, I began to notice something strange. The snow around me was moving. I was moving with it. I still couldn’t tell how bad it was, but I was definitely moving. I yelled back at the others for a second time, another one-word-callout, “Avalanche!” And just like that, the snow stopped. My legs were a little buried, but I’d managed to ride on top of the snow for the most part. I looked behind me to find a solid 25’ cliff band and at the base of it, a crown line that extended nearly 30’, though thankfully only a couple inches deep.
Now, there were five guys still above me, all they had heard from me were two words, “cliff” and “avalanche”, my route didn’t really seem like a viable option for them to reach me. To make matters worse, just below me there was a larger cliff band. A cliff that I would most certainly not enjoy haphazardly falling over. There appeared to be a couple of lines that ran through the upper cliff band, so getting to me was only a minor inconvenience. Only, the chutes ran onto a section that hadn’t slid yet and I didn’t want anyone triggering a slide that would drag them over the lower cliffs. Plus, I wasn’t even sure there was a way out yet. For all I knew I was stranded.
All of this was quite difficult to convey with the heavy snow. I couldn’t see anyone and we could barely hear each other by yelling. Soon, two guys managed to make it down to me, though tension was high with everyone. Thankfully, there was a chute off to our right that looked like a promising exit. I said I would go check it out. When I first got to it, I couldn’t see the bottom and thought it cliffed-out as well. Then, we finally got a break. The snow slowed up and visibility came back dramatically. The chute ran out clean. Partially because I wanted to be done with the situation and partially because I wanted to show everyone that there was a way out, I rode out to a vantage point, well out of harms way and now visible by everyone. I collapsed in the snow, still shaking from the adrenaline.
Eventually, everyone made it down to me and we were all okay. The mood had shifted dramatically. Nobody seemed to be in high spirits anymore. While the visibility had returned, the daylight was quickly fading.
We pushed on, made it to Lake Valhalla, hiked across it and were eventually rewarded with what amounts to the longest and what I would consider the only real ski descent of the day. We silently made the last transition and those of us who had them (it’s a long story but I had somehow misplaced mine) turned on our headlamps.
The skin out was easy going and we were back at the car right around 7. It was a long day. Longer than it should have been.
Looking back, staying up late drinking – probably not the best idea. Wasting nearly an hour trying to summit a peak, just because, also not smart considering we knew how many hours of daylight we had left. Lastly, trusting the GPS and dropping into a chute completely blind – definitely a bad idea. I spent the whole day complaining about how it is important to use your eyes, pay attention to your surroundings and NOT rely on a device to tell you where to go. When the visibility dropped and the terrain was unfamiliar, I relied on the GPS and ended up in a really sketchy situation.
Could we have made better decisions? Sure. I knew I didn’t have a headlamp, so getting out in daylight should have been more of a priority. I could have gone home for dinner instead of going to Ballard for a birthday party. I could have taken the chute much slower and relied on what I could see to dictate where I went. Then again, in the moment the decisions all seemed sound. Climbing Lichtenberg was really fun (even if not for the riding). I had a fantastic time at the bars. While we gave Ryan shit all day for incessantly relying on the GPS, it hadn’t led him astray, so I had no reason to believe it would for me.
It is easy to look back at where I went wrong, but making decisions in the mountains can be difficult. You need to respect the mountain, take the time to evaluate your situation and make informed decisions. The consequences if you are wrong can be very high. I consider myself very lucky.
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February 13, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized
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.
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