Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sky Pilot and then some via Gash, 2017

Andrew and I rallied out to Sky Pilot mid way through a period of cold high pressure.  Even after throwing around a few more creative ski tour ideas, it seemed prudent to just go for an old favorite tour.  Just a few days after hearing about Ben's avalanche fatality, I was on edge all day.  But it was good to just get out and feel the bite of cold air and mounting fatigue from a full day in the mountains on which Ben thrived.
Climbing above Bear Lake. Ski options abound. Our third run
is visible on the right margin of the photo. Photo: Andrew
We left the car a touch before dawn, and made the standard tour out to Gash proper.  The established track only went to the standard South bowl cutoff, and I think we were the first party past Gash this year, so it ended up being a full day of trail breaking.
Sky Pilot, from Gash, with the shaded North face beckoning.  Photo: Andrew
From Bear lake, we decided to head straight to the North face of Sky Pilot.  To my surprise, two hasty pits revealed only moderately bonded snow interfaces around 40 cm deep, but we continued up through relatively benign terrain to the base of the face itself and dug a third pit.  Extended column tests failed to propagate, and coupled with other signs of stability, we felt reasonable continuing to the summit.  To my minor dismay, chunky wind slabs skied remarkably poorly all the way down the peak.  Fortunately snow quality improved on the rolling terrain back to the lake.
Skiing to the tarn below the North face of Sky Pilot. Photo: Andrew
I had hoped to ski a second run in the vicinity of the lake, and there was just enough time left in the day, so we simply opted for the safest skiers left tree lane above the lake.  It was a big climb to the top, but we cranked it out, and were rewarded with good skiing back to the lake.  The exit climb was long as always, and I had some biting neuroma foot pain, but we were back at Gash soon enough, and the exit ski was fast and quite enjoyable.  By the numbers, 10,800 vertical feet, done in right around 10 hours car to car.

Thoughts:  I still contend Sky Pilot is one of the great long Bitterroot tours.  It was good to get out for a long day, and finally add an additional run to the tour, which makes it into a full and demanding outing.  It was great to get out with Andrew and ski a lot of stuff. For driving, plan on parking at the end of the snow plowing, about 1.5 miles shy of the lower trailhead.

Monday, January 9, 2017


Even days after hearing the horrific news, analyzing the avalanche report, crying alone on the couch, and spending a long day in the mountains in reflection, I have not been able to even begin processing the death of Ben Parsons in an avalanche in Glacier National Park. 

Perhaps I will have something more eloquent to add to the outpouring of memories and grief, but for now, all I can say is that Ben was one of a kind, a great athlete but a hundred times greater human.  I am heartbroken for his family and the community.  He wasn't supposed to die in the mountains.  It could have been me on hundreds of occasions.

To all he touched, we will get through this together.

Miss you, Benny.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Glen Lakes - proper tour

I finally made out to Glen lakes for an exploratory tour on New Year's day observed.  This zone has been a ski haunt for years, but without a snowmobile, I had never devoted a day to skiing around the lakes.  With a cold bitter forecast, we set the start time an hour late and headed out layered to the hilt.  Morning motivation was low. In fact, I kind of just wished I could spend the day on the couch with Sam.
Good times on the skin track.
The approach was fast enough.  We parked at a turnout at the end of the plowing (about a half mile past the Big Creek road junction) and skinned up the road a few miles before setting a skin track directly to the broad saddle east of the lakes. To our delight, there was not a breath of wind in the air, and snow conditions were good.  Motivation spiked to normal levels, and would stay high for the remainder of the day.  We more or less followed the summer trail to the upper lake and climbed to the ridge north of the lake. Short tree runs above both lakes are the obvious ski lines, but we instead skied the 2,000 vertical foot northeast cirque below the lakes, which drops toward Big Creek.  We lucked out by nosing our way into perhaps the best moderate line in the cirque, and were pleased to find boot top powder top to bottom.  After a frosty lunch break, we swapped trail breaking leads on the climb back out, and put a track in to the top of the obvious high point west of the lake.  A quick and enjoyable run, followed by a quick skin on our old track had us poised to ski the 2,000' shot again for our third run.  Our line was not so good this time, but I was happy with just skiing another big run with good powder on what we had all expected would be a cold, bitter, generally unpleasant day.
Climbing toward the sun after our first run.
Cold snow, crisp light, fatigue from a day on the move.
Backcountry skiing at its finest.
Andrew starting down the second run.
From the bottom of the run, we decided to climb directly south back to the summer trail (instead of returning to the lakes).  Fortunately, we spent very little time bushwacking, and the climb was quick and efficient.  We did kind of screw up the egress, but never got hopelessly stuck or lost, and were back at the car just an hour after ripping skins. About 7,500 vertical feet, done in a hair over 8 hours at a respectable pace with stops to deal with the cold.

Thoughts:  I was pleased about the relatively good low to mid-elevation coverage and reasonable stability.  Not a bad early season snowpack.  This was also my third day on new powder skis (Black Diamond Carbon Converts), mounted by the good folks at LB snow.  So far the skis are superior to the Huascarans in almost every way.
Runs in red, Approach/Egress in green.
Ski terrain was about what I had expected.  Although I don't think we took the best route, no matter how you do it, the approach to Glen lakes is long, about an hour longer than Gash, and the egress is fairly complex.  The obvious ski runs above the lake are all good, but short.  I think adding the big run into the day, however, makes the tour a lot more satisfying without a lot more effort.  A basic "proper" tour would be to snag a run just past the saddle on the way in (instead of traversing along the summer trail), ski the normal run above the upper lake, make a short climb back north, and ski the skier's left line on the bowl below the lakes, then exit straight back up to your uptrack at the saddle east of the lakes.  Done in this manner, a fit party should be able to spend a long day skiing good and relatively safe runs without too much approaching and egressing.  There are good options to extend the tour into steeper and deeper terrain.  Hidden peak, chutes south into Sweathouse, and chutes north into Big Creek.  With adequate stability and good fitness, look at a map and get creative.  A snowmobile, used efficiently, would save about two hours of approach/egress.
Looking across Big creek to the Heavenly twins.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

... And so it begins 2017

Track refilling between laps.  Good to be back on skis.
The first day back in Missoula also corresponded with my first full available day in the mountains in several months, so I went skiing despite a horrendous forecast.  With high avalanche danger, thin coverage, an a desire to simply get a lot of vertical in, I kept it simple and skied just outside the Snowbowl boundary.  The day was straightforward: skin to the top of Point 6, take a standard Jenny Bowl lap, then yo-yo the east shoulder of Jenny Bowl for the remainder of the day.  Although it is out of the way, I enjoy the east/skier's left shoulder for its low angle and generally wind protected skiing.  The weather deteriorated throughout the day as forecast.  By the end, trees were crashing down (one on the skin track, one adjacent to the track, and two in the ski area boundary), snow was blowing sideways, and it was easy to cut the day one run short to finish in the daylight.

Frosty grin between laps.
Lots of tracks, all my own, proper solo yo-you skiing.
The skiing was just OK.  I have had better first days, but I have also certainly had much, much worse.  As predicted, the snowpack structure is poor and bottomless and well below average at the mid to upper elevations.  Nevertheless, it was great to get back on skis and hammer out a respectable day.  Right around 10k vertical, done in about 9.5 hours at an aerobic pace with stops to manage the weather.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Minneapolis diaries, 2016

I spent a few fall weeks in the Twin Cities again this year.  I was able to get out the door to bike and run here and there, but most outings were before or after dark, since I was using vacation time to take care of Sam during the day.  It was great to allow Leah to focus on work for a few weeks, and I got to spend a lot of quality time with Sam.  As for adventures, here is a quick summary.  Sorry for the lack of pictures, but we pretty much just take photos of Sam these days, and most outings were in the dark anyway.

Biking:  I brought the cross bike this year and did a reasonable amount of biking, all at an easy pace.  Minneapolis has an extensive paved trail system, and it was a blast to start piecing routes together.

Murphy-Hanrehan loop - The morning after rolling into town, I spun a hour plus road loop around the exterior of the park before picking everyone up at the airport.  I misjudged the time and showed up late, but the bike ride was quite enjoyable.

Lake Josephine and North Mississippi River trail loops - Taking advantage of unseasonably warm temperatures, I rallied out the door in the dark two days in a row to explore.  Both 20-ish mile loops were enjoyable, new to me, and a great way to hammer out some miles and watch the sun rise.

Greenway loops - Leah freed up two evenings for a me to get out for a couple of hours.  The first loop was a 25+ mile route down the West parkway to the Mid town greenway to Cedar lake, and around the NW corner of the Grand rounds to the Mississippi and back via Second and Lowry ave.  The second was a similar loop on the Cedar lake trail all the way out to Hopkins and back on the Mississippi bluff/Greenway trails.  I think this is the best bike outing for fun, continuous riding on paved trails.  Both rides were cold and wet, but I did not care.

Grand rounds (mostly) 30+ miles - I spent a stormy Friday evening hammering out the Grand Rounds.  I took wrong turns near lake Hiawatha, and near Lake of the Isle, and cut out the Northwest corner of the loop from Lowry to the Mississippi, but otherwise did the full ground tour of the city.  It took longer than anticipated, so thanks to Leah for her patience.


Baldy:  I took a major driving break in Bozeman on the way out and finally did the M to Sypes to Baldy to Ridge trail loop.  It is a little techy and long to be an everyday classic run, but what a fun outing.

Snowy South Grand Rounds:  I spent a snowy Sunday morning running to a brunch date with friends around the South Grand rounds.  It had snowed 6" overnight, and only about half of the way was cleared, so what was intended to be a nice jaunt in the snow turned into a surprisingly challenging slog.  Wirth Parkway, Chain of lakes, Minnehaha creek, and across the Mississippi on the Ford St. Bridge.  20 miles and tired at the end.  Good to run the tank dry.

Stroller Running:  I did about a hundred miles of running behind a jogging stroller with Sam.  The paved trail system in town and at adjacent parks allows for a seemingly endless list of fast, flat and scenic runs.  To my surprise, running with a stroller doesn't seem to affect my pace or running ergonomics much, as long as the terrain is flat and well paved.  Highlight runs were a Broadway to Franklin bridge loop along the Mississippi, two big loops at Elm creek with Leah, two separate Two bridge runs on the Mississippi in the dark with Leah, and multiple mid day St. Anthony park triple loops.

Vampire runs:  I did a bunch of early runs from the house, typically out for an hour and back at sunrise.  Every day brought its own adventure.  Sub zero temps, rain, snow, stunning clear mornings, tempo runs, easy runs, shaking out residual fatigue, elation as the body slowly woke up.  It was all great.  Highlights were a stunning Cedar lake regional trail  loop with a skiff of fresh snow, and the many St. Anthony park loops.

State park walks:  Minnesota has an extensive and well-maintained park system, and we took full advantage of both the trails, and of the heated visitor centers. Carver, William O'Brien, Fort Snelling, Elm Creek.  All were very enjoyable.

Gym:  I made it in the gym at least twice weekly for hour of power sessions, focusing on leg strength and plyometric power for ski season.  Lots of heavy deadlifts and squats, plyo jumps of all kinds, core work, and general heavy (for me) lifting.  Thanks to Mike Wolfe and Mountain Project yet again for the training plans and advice. It was nice to get a block of consistent, high quality work done.  I also did a few intensity sessions on the treadmill, and it was good to start mixing hard aerobic work back in.  Fitness wise, I did not spend enough cumulative time on the move to maintain overall fitness, but I stayed healthy and was able to get in the ball park, and for that I am grateful.