Monday, June 11, 2018

Running races, 2018

An ongoing summary of summer running races.  All the standard race disclamers apply.  Going into running season, I am honestly a little burned out with racing.  Not in a bad way, more that I am not super fired up to work hard to produce top level performances, and am trying to give myself a little psychological break and just train for fun.  I have had a few minor tweeks going into the running season (foot and groin), so I would rather get on a better injury trajectory than worry too much about fitness.

Riverbank 10k  I signed up just a few days prior and didn't really taper.  I had a great race for so early in the running season.  I settled behind much-faster Cory Soulliard, and just tried to hand on as he cranked out my goal pace 5.55ish miles.  It hurt a lot earlier in the race than I am used to, but I successfully hung on, running about as fast as realistically possible.  The last mile was a nightmare of pain.  36.35 or so.  Thanks to Leah and Sam for cheering on, and for joining me for a Snowbowl skin later in the day.

Governer's Cup Marathon  For a few disparate reasons, this race fit well into my schedule.  It is really early in the year to expect a great race, as I had only done two proper long runs prior to toeing the line.  On the flip side, ski season aerobic base is great, my body is accepting running quite well, and even later in the year I don't really want to put in the flat miles required to properly train for a road marathon.  So, I set of at 6 am on race day with a single goal of sub-3 hours.
The start.  I am half visible in the orange shirt behind Nico Composto, the uncontested winner.
The race went well, and I had a lot of fun.  The first few downhill miles were easy, but I was already distressingly taxed at the top of the biggest hill at mile 5.  From miles 5 to 16, I banked 10-15 seconds a mile on goal pace, and was running hard but not all out (HR in the mid 150's).  I kept the calories and water coming in, and to my delight I never bonked.  The field was quite thin, and I ran the first 25 miles a stubborn two minutes behind third place. There are a lot of hills in the second half of the course, and I was losing more time than I liked on each one, but I was already having light hamstring and calf cramps, so it seemed unwise to try to run any harder.  After reading about endless tales of getting crushed around mile 18, I rolled through 18, then 20, then 22, then 24 in mild terror, but nothing bad happened.  Coming out of the last hill around mile 24 I was about a minute behind goal pace, and although it was unrealistic to gain that time back, I at least tried.  My effort was enough to pass the 3rd place runner, but it was not enough to get under the 3 hour mark, and I crossed the line cramping and totally knackered in 3.00.40.

Although I missed my time goal, I am satisfied with race day execution, and don't really know where the 40 seconds could have come from without taking even more cramping risk.  The road running was much less monotonous and painful than I had feared, and recovery has been faster than expected.  With a larger running base, I think sub 3 is possible, but I'm not sure I want to try.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Missions, Cold Couloir

The Cold couloir in all its glory during our exit.
Jeffrey and I set out at a reasonable hour for a day of pleasant exploration in the Missions.  Admittedly, the words "pleasant" and "exploration" are rarely combined when describing trips into the Missions, but we prevailed with some Google earth research and a little luck.  The drive to the Terrace lake trailhead was scarier than I had hoped for.  The road is very narrow and rocky, and meeting an oncoming vehicle would be extremely unplesant.  Fortunately we didn't see anyone and were soon hiking up a new to us trail.  The trail up to snowline had a lot of downfall, but is well constructed and enjoyable.  From just above snowline we made the obligatory long traverse into Crow creek and popped up to Terrace lake.  Another short push put us at a col overlooking Cold peak and it's striking West couloir.  The day was heating up rapidly, so we made a beeline for the peak.  The couloir was terribly runneled, but we decided to have a look anyway.
Looking up to the approach col from Terrace lake.
Behold, a three step kick turn.  Avoiding punchy new snow wallowing at all costs.
Jeffrey climbing to the col on the approach.
With 8" of fresh and rapidly warming snow, I made a hard push up the couloir to minimize exposure time.  This also meant we did not have time to go to the exact summit.  The ski line is striking, but the snow quality was awful.  We took our time to ski it safely, and were soon at the base of the run, admiring our tracks and eating lunch.
Up.
And down.
But not down in the runnel!
In deference to the rapidly warming conditions and to preserve the pleasant mantra for the day, we shelved plans to add on another run and started reversing our approach route.  The ski run back down from the col to Terrace lake was great fun, as was the schuss down Crow creek.  The traverse to get back to the trailhead ridge was kind of hot and long, but it didn't matter.  Below snowline, I was content to walk it out, but Jeffrey wanted to run, so we pounded out to the car.  After many long ski days, it was nice to return to the car by mid afternoon not too tired.  I think the day was between 7 and 8k of vertical, and we were out for 8 hours.
Jeffrey exiting.
What a striking line and fun bouncing tour getting in.  While it must be possible to approach the couloir directly from Swartz, I think this high route from Terrace lake was better.  Although a surprising number of potential ski lines have weird cliffs and pinches, rendering them unsuitable, there is still a fair bit more skiing to do in the area.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Swans, Clearwater Lake Super Loop

Gorge lake and the Northeast wall of Ptarmigan point.
The day after skiing on Holland I rolled out at 5 am, refreshed by a relaxed evening of camping.  With high freezing temperatures, I had grand ambitions to catch the first run of the day in good corn.  The entire 5-mile road approach was on intermittent snow, and I lost count of how many times the skis went on and off.  I think the quickest way up Ptarmigan peak is to ascend the avalanche path just North of the peak, and the bottom of the path was fairly snow free and full of little whipper willows and alder.  Fortunately everything changed once I got into the avalanche path itself and I was soon cruising up firm, fast snow.  The 3,000 foot climb to Ptarmigan peak went by quickly, and I was poised on the summit a few minutes after 9 am.  I skied the East ridge, but instead of turning North down the Lick Lake couloir, turned South and skied down to Gorge Lake.  The top half of the run did indeed have good corn snow, and the mush was manageable below freezing line.  After a quick skate across the lake. I took a good sun and food break and enjoyed the ambience of a cirque that few humans every see.
Lots of little whippers to deal with before getting to continuous snow on the climb up Ptarmigan.
On Ptarmigan.  Excited to ski!
Looking down the good ski line to Gorge lake.
My primary goal for the day was to ski off the summit of Ptarmigan point, so I made the arduous traverse around to Doctor lake, then ground up 3,000 vertical feet of Montana's finest overbaked mush snow to the summit.  It was hot, and my legs were tired, and I loved every minute of it.  Although I should return some day to ski Sunday and Matt Mountains, this was the last of the major Swans summits in the Clearwater group that I had not previously skied.  The snow was pretty over warmed on the Southeast face, which detracted from the otherwise good run. Oh well.
Mushy mush on the climb up Ptarmigan point. 
Looking back on the Ptarmigan run during my exit stage skier's right.
I exited skier's right at the bottom of the peak and made an easy climb back to the crest.  I returned to the valley via the spectacular West facing avalanche path two paths South of the main Ptarmigan point path.  It also skied well off the top, but soon deteriorated to mush.  I had to be careful to manage avalanche danger, but with care, the skiing was safe.  The lower reaches of the gully were full of debris, and I had to ski over, around and through almost a quarter mile of 10 to 30 foot high debris.  It was pretty impressive.  And challenging.  Debris skiing is tricky.  I was pleasantly surprised to ski all the way to the trail, and to find a perfect stream of clean snowmelt water to refill my water bottle and knock back the thirst from two days of warm skiing.
Looking down my exit run.
Debris.  Interesting skiing.  There was a lot more than I could capture in one photo.
I made my way around the rest of the Clearwater loop road, and it was once again on intermittent snow most of the way.  My legs were pretty shot after 8k of vertical, and 19,000 feet of climbing in two days, so I enjoyed relaxing and just enjoying the slow process of exiting.  Having mistakenly not brought approach shoes, I skipped innumerable snow patches, and eventually just clunked out the last two miles in boots to my stashed approach shoes at the highway.  It is less than a mile along the two access points on the highway, and the jog back to the car in a light rain provided a nice little cool down to the day. About 10.5 hours, car to approach shoes at the highway.

Thoughts  It was kind of fun to do an outing like this that goes all the way around the Clearwater loop. Unfortunately, the West facing avalanche paths are melting rapidly, and are more or less out of condition for the year.  On the exit, I did note a fairly striking West facing couloir system on Sunday Mountain, and a return to ski around on Sunday and Matt mountains has been added to the list...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Holland Peak, West Face

Holland Peak, West Face, with ski tracks.  I skied the left of the two gullies.
With the family out of town, I took a day off work to ski.  Conditions were far from perfect, with high freezing temperatures, but I made the best of it.  The primary goal for the day was to position myself well to safely ski one of the ramps on the West face of Holland peak, and the secondary goal was to ski a lot and fulfill an informal goal to ski ten 10k days this season.

I slept at the trailhead and was walking by 6 am, with hopes of catching the narrow corn window on solar aspects before engaging the West face of Holland peak.  I tried a low approach in to Rumble Creek and ended up just bungling around.  Even with the failed recon mission, I arrived at upper Rumble lake with time to spare.  Since the upper flanks of Holland peak had undergone a reasonable freeze, it seemed prudent to attempt one of the steep Northeast ramps.  An hour of cramponing up punchy ice on the West side of the peak put me on top of the ramp.  The skiing was pretty good, with supportable corn up high and manageable mush for the lower half.  It a was fun to catch this fairly exposed line in safe condition.  The climb back out to the North exit notch was mushy, so I slathered on extra sunscreen and just got it done.  It was through the notch by 12:30 and on to the West face.
Looking down one of the Northeast ramps on Holland peak.
Tracks below the Northeast ramps. 
Steep slush skinning with the vast Bob Marshall wilderness behind.
There are two prominent ramps on the West face.  The more striking right ramp was out of condition and way over my head.  The left ramp had some moderate runelling and two exposed pinches, but looked doable, so I headed up.  The line is a sustained 45 to 50 degrees, and there was a lot of junk slop snow, but nothing was sufficiently difficult or hazardous to merit turning around, so I slogged my way to the top.  I did not summit, instead skiing from the top of the line, about 300 vertical feet below the summit.  The skiing was fine.  The upper gully was actually quite good.  The short traverse into the steep middle third was fairly rotten and exposed, but I punched across it without incident.  As expected, skis provided adequate flotation, and with care, I was able to stay on top of the rotten snow through the middle third.  Getting off the ramp took some doing, but I was able to ski cut and kick enough of the heavy mush off the crux sections to navigate them with an adequate margin of safety.  From there, it was smooth sailing to Upper Rumble lake.  I grabbed my stashed ski gear, skinned up to the small rise east of the lake, and took a long break to unwind and admire the line.

Looking up the left gully.
Ready to ski!
At this point in the day, snow everywhere was quite mushy, but I had time and energy to spare.  Next up was a climb to the low point West of Holland for a go at one of the two steep Northeast couloirs.  The thin snow was variable and rotten, but it was a fun line.  Quite steep at the top.  I was not feeling great about wet slide potential, and took another long break at the base of the run, mulling through options.  Eventually I decided to keep it mellow and ski two runs in the valley bottom between the two peaks.  It was a fun to drop my pack and enjoy grinding up and down low angle mush.

Having explored on the approach, I decided to explore on the exit, following old ski tracks down the drainage instead of climbing to the climber's trail.  Although the ski tracks kept going along the creek, I wasn't very happy about sketchy snow bridges, so I climbed out of the drainage and fought across tick infested dry ground to the mouth of the drainage.  Once out of the incised creek valley, I skied a bit then walked easily down to the main trail and out. I don't know if it was faster to exit this way, but the entire exit took less than 90 minutes, so it was in the same time ballpark as the normal exit, with a little more skiing. The rest of the evening was spent camped out, cooking a lazy dinner and reading about baby brain development. 10,400 vertical feet, done in twelve hours and two minutes car to car.

I skied the middle couloir and it was fun.
Nice ski lines, but too much recent debris to gamble with.
Thoughts The West face was a good objective, and it was fun to get my single biennial steep ski descent out of the way.  The two West gullies are aesthetic and visually define Holland peak from many peaks in the Missions and Bitterroot.  The skiing is good, at least in the gully I skied. My line is fairly steep and hangs over cliffs, and in marginal condition, dished up about as much risk as I was willing to accept.  The right gully is a step up, both in terms of difficulty and aesthetics (it is longer, and might be skiable from the exact summit).  I will not be skiing the right gully anytime soon, but for those eager to throw down, go check it out when it is in condition.  At a minimum, expect some difficult thin snow and easy mixed climbing at the bottom of the gully.  I speculate a savvy party could rig an anchor somewhere and bypass the lower cliffy exit with a 60m rappel.  Both lines were on their way out, and are probably already out of condition for the year.

Also, it was nice to get my tenth 10k day in.  At the risk of sounding elitist, I was able to consistently hit the 10k mark this year.  Only two of the days were yo-yo vert days, and many of the days had long approaches, difficult trailbreaking, bad weather, heavier gear, logistics, etc., and were not ideal for racking up vertical.  It takes a combination of an early alarm, reasonably light gear, smart pacing and efficient skinning, continuous movement, good trip planning, a stealthy routefinding nose, and awesome partners, but I really feel that the 10k mark is doable as a normal long day for fit parties. Thanks to my supportive family for allowing me the opportunity to get out for so many long and challenging outings this winter.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Swan range, Clearwater traverse

Great skiing in front of Fisher peak early in the traverse.
I really only had one big must-do tour for the year, so when spring finally emerged, I took a day off work to give it an honest attempt.  Although the route is a touch complex, especially on the South end, the concept was pretty simple.  Pick the best runs in the Clearwater group of each of the major peaks and link them up.  Unfortunately, no one from my small invite group was able to make it on short notice, so I pushed off from Missoula as Leah was putting our little one to bed, dropped a bike at Holland lake, and settled in for a few hours of sleep at the trailhead.

I started the day out at 3 am and threw a hairy curveball by jogging the approach.  On consolidated snow, I was able to run and walk all the way in to Fisher and climb the first thousand vert of the West face gully in running shoes.  The night was darker than I had anticipated, but Fisher's glimmering white face would pop out of the darkness as my eyes adjusted every time I flicked my headlamp off.  Kind of a wild way to navigate, but it worked.  I am not the hardiest psychological night warrior, so I was glad to see first light. I transitioned from shoes straight to spikes, and topped out on Fisher's summit ridge having not used climbing skins for a single step.  Windless sunrise views from the crest were something I will never forget.  I skied the Northwest couloir with firm, grippy ice and extended the run just far enough to access the next gully North.  I climbed back to the crest with crampons.  
Oh, you know, just out for a 5 am walk amongst monster piles of avalanche debris.
Nearing the summit ridge.  Lights on.
Missions in the background.
Too icy for ski tracks in Fisher's Northwest couloir.
The route to Ptarmigan point was in the sun on the East side of the range.  I traversed hard North for the entire first run, taking advantage of fast, firm snow to get some distance under my belt.  Since I was ahead of schedule, I took a short detour to ski a nice short bowl just South of Ptarmigan before climbing to the crest on the South flanks of Ptarmigan.  It was only mid-morning, but I was already half way done with the climbing, even at an easy pace, and was elated with how smoothly the day was unfolding.  I skied the classic Northwest line on Ptarmigan, once again stopping at a  point where I could traverse into the next gully North.  The climb to Ptarmigan peak involved two thousand vertical foot climbs separated by a short chalky ski run to link things together.  This part of the tour was a touch scrappy, but it went quickly, and the connecting run was fun.
On the crest.  I traversed to the treed bench ahead.
Nice bonus run, with ski tracks barely visible.
Still nice and icy on Ptarmigan's Northwest line.
Looking back to Ptarmigan's Northwest line.
Few turns in the sun on the connecting run.
From the summit of Ptarmigan peak, I took an excellent run down the classic East ridge/Lick lake couloir line.  I was treated to perfect corn on top, chalky powder in the couloir, and icy chunder for the bottom little bit just to keep things from being textbook perfect.  I sat down for a few minutes at Lick lake to eat, re-apply sunscreen, and generally psych up for the last two peaks.
Starting down Ptarmigan peak's East ridge.
The ridge is pleasantly exposed and super fun to ski, and the photo does not do it justice.
Looking out to the climb up Wolverine.  Although long, it was straightforward.
Climbing up Wolverine, looking back at the striking
East ridge/Lick Lake couloir on Ptarmigan peak.
The climb to Wolverine is a big one.  The snow had overheated in the bottom third, and was the only difficult skinning I would have all day.  Higher up, the snow had stayed as cool as could be hoped for on the solar aspect, and I was able to grind out a skin track all the way to the summit, arriving on top about 90 minutes ahead of schedule.  The only line I had previously skied on the peak was the complex West face, and it was dreamy to lazily arc turns down smooth sastruggi on the moderate Nort face.  Below the peak, I traversed as much as the terrain allowed, positioning myself as high as possible for the climb up Carmine.  It was only a thousand vertical to the top of Carmine, but all the climbing finally caught up to me, and I summited tired, thirsty, and ready to head home.
On Carmine, looking back at the North face of Wolverine.
A little tired and a lot happy on Carmine.
I took the conservative ski line on the North face, which required quite a bit of traversing on the summit ridge to access.  Fortunately, it skied shockingly well for so late in the day, with soft powder up high, and supportable icy corn all the way to the summer trail.  To my delight, snowshoers had walked up the trail, which made it easy to follow all the way out to the Owl creek/Holland lake junction.  I missed the junction, but a quick map check and some interesting sidestepping were all it took to get things back on track.  There was a lot of downfall and intermittent snow out toward the valley, but I had plenty of time and just worked through it.  I arrived at the trailhead in high spirits, and to my incredible luck, scored a ride back to the truck, which was great, since I was less than excited to tack an eleven mile bike shuttle onto an already long day.
Great skiing on Carmine...
And great skiing all the way to the creek.
Getting it done amidst a sea of downfall on the exit.
Ski to trailhead!
Thoughts  This was an incredible day, one where everything is just perfect.  One of my top five best ski days ever.  The line is long and committing, but the skiing is stunning, the country is wild, the peaks are memorable, and the whole thing links up logically.  Thanks to all of the public land stewards who make experiences like this possible.  It is possible to do shorter versions of the traverse all based off the Clearwater lake loop, but extending to Carmine and out Holland creek added significantly to the definitive nature of the outing.  Note, I focused on ski quality, and did not summit Fisher or Ptarmigan point.  Doing so would complicate the outing.

Statistics
Route: Up Clearwater lake loop road and Fisher peak.  Down Northwest couloir and upper West face.  Back up to crest.  Traverse and climb back to the crest.  Ski Northest bowl and climb to the shoulder of Ptarmigan.  Ski upper Northwest face.  Climb to the Northwest ridge of Ptarmigan point, ski a NF run, then climb Ptarmigan peak via the West face.  Ski East ridge/Lick lake couloir.  Up Wolverine via the East face and ski North face.  Up Carmine via the Southwest face and ski North face and gully to Holland creek.  Out Holland creek to the Owl camp trailhead. 
Approximate total elevation gain:  13,400 vertical feet
Duration: 13.5 hours 
Accomplices: No
Put in:  Highway 83, Clearwater Lake loop road
Take out: Owl Camp trailhead
Fuel: GFS sandwich, yogurt covered pretzls, Moose bar, Perpetum and a passel of bars.  Averaged about 150 cal/hr.
Equipment:   Dynafit Nanga Parbat skis, Dynafit PDG boots, Once race poles one whippet, light running shoes, Alu crampons, extra sunscreen. Headlamp with extra batteries, basic emergency kit.
Equipment left in car to save weight: Avalanche gear, puffy jacket, ski crampons, helmet.   
Tricks of the day: Running the approach in shoes.  Ordering up perfect weather and conditions.  Mellow, steady pace all day with adequate breaks to keep everything happy.
Number of ski runs: 8
Number of classic ski runs: 5
Fatigue factor (1-10): 8 (note, 9 is virtually impossible to exceed in a non-race setting)
Stoke factor (1-10): 10
Memories to suppress: Neuroma foot pain, which flared up fairly early but fortunately stayed at bay.  Lots of morning dark time.  A meager 3 hours of sleep the night before.