Thursday, January 30, 2014

Grey Wolf 4X4

Near the bottom of the first run, looking out to Riddell lakes and a sea of clouds at dawn.
On January 23rd, I finally completed a long standing project of skiing all four aspects on Grey Wolf peak in a day. While not a high elevation peak, Grey Wolf is a prominent and rugged mountain with a rich mountaineering history. Nick, Ben and I failed on this link up last spring, so with adequate snow coverage and high pressure, I took a day off of work for a second attempt.

I started skinning from the truck at 4:40 am, and followed Blake's ski tracks up through the icy fog until it broke right at Riddell lake. After stashing the headlamp, I climbed the south couloir by moonlight, topping out at dawn. The south couloir skied perfectly - very firm but edgable, with smooth snow from top to bottom.

All smiles at dawn at the top of the South couloir.
Looking down the South couloir out to a sea of clouds at dawn.
Fine turns below the South couloir.
I transitioned quickly at the lake and climbed into the sun at the Riddell/Scenic divide. The downhill traverse to the east couloir went quickly, and I was soon skinning, then booting, then dancing up firm snow in crampons to the top of the couloir. At the top, I stashed both water bottles and dropped in. With a small cornice and no runnel, the couloir skied perfectly, and I was soon back at the lake, smiling and taking it all in. The second climb up the east was quick. The day was heating up, and I pushed fairly hard to beat any falling snow. I topped out at 10:15, pouring sweat, and ready to spend some time on the shady side of the mountain.  I had a blast skiing the West couloir.  This was my 7th full descent, and I can't get enough of what I consider to be one of Montana's finest ski mountaineering objectives.  I skied out of the shade and into the warm sun at the lake below No fish lake and took a full break, relaxing, drying skins, eating food, drinking water, and enjoying the perfectly cold and clear day.

Happy at Scenic lakes after a successful descent of the East couloir.
At the top of the East couloir.
Chalky snow in the West couloir.

Sun break, geting psyched up for the big push up the west face to the summit.
With firm snow, I transitioned from skins to spikes at the mouth of the couloir and walked up, pied a plat style. Pierre Tardivel would have approved. I traversed the snow ledge between the West face and the normal upper west chimney ridge route, surmounted one class 4 step, and climbed easily to the main summit.  This is the last summit that I shared with Chris Spurgeon, and I spent a minute on top, gazing at the mountain goat tracks, wishing they were Chris' running freely over the mountains. The North face was a wake up call.  I was expecting dreamy neve, but instead found edgeable ice. Over cliffs. Skiing meticulously, I made my way down the face and through the traverses before dropping to the small moraine at the base of the face.  The easiest return is to climb east toward Sunset Crags, but with a little extra time, I instead booted straight back up my tracks to the Grey Wolf/Sunset col for a crack at a new, steep return couloir to Scenic lake.  I completely botched the routefinding into the couloir, and ended up having to pull out some tricks including technical backing up over rimy wind lips and hacking through a little cornice with my whippet to gain access to the lower portion of the exit couloir.  In any case, it went, and I didn't fall into the gaping moat, and I was soon back at Scenic lake.  A quick climb put me back on the Scenic/Riddell divide, and a thrashy but quick ski put me back at the trailhead.  It was a perfect tour.  I love skiing.
Thinking of you, Chris.
Below the North face, looking back up at the ski line.
Heading home.  Just enough snow to ski cleanly out to the car on the trail.

This is a great tour. It is long but not too long, techy but not too difficult, committing but not too dangerous, and the skiing is amazing. I was glad to have perfect conditions. Upon my semi-recommendation, the brothers Vandenbos did the same tour the following day.  Nice work Nick and Ben! Today was a reminder that with good conditions, mid-winter ski mountaneering can be safer and easier than spring skiing. No runnels, no glare ice, no falling rocks, no hiking out in ski boots. All good things. This was also a good example of why I advocate for using light gear, since the light kit allowed me to move efficiently up the climbs, was adequate to fully enjoy the downhills, and allowed me to stay relaxed all day and still be back at the car well before dark.

In terms of conditions, I found stable, deep snow everywhere. The road is plowed to Twin Lakes, and it is icy but passable even to low clearance vehicles with snow tires.  The Riddell trail has a lot of donwnfall, but there is enough snow that one barely notices.  I am trying to get away from touring in spandex, but I did wear the racing suit, and it was, well, pretty much perfect. This was my first day steep skiing on the Nanga Parbats. They did OK. The early rise tail doesn't seem to provide as much support as I would have liked, and they don't appear to edge like the Broad Peak skis did, but they held their own, even with relatively flimsy boots. The chatter I was expecting never came, which was a surprise for such light skis. I would want a more traditional ski for really technical, icy skiing, but for my purposes the Nanga Parbats seem to be sufficient to get down the steep stuff, and have proven to be quite nimble and playful for their small size.  So, 1.8 thumbs up for now.

Approximate total elevation gain (based on topo map):  10,500 feet
Trip length: a little north of 10 hours
Accomplices: None
Put in:  Random turnout near Twin Lakes
Take out: Same
Ski equipment:  Dynafit Nanga Parbat skis, TLT speed race bindings, Scarpa Alien boots, One whippet, and one race pole.  Spandex suit, Camp Nanotech crampons,  Ski crampons.  Helmet. 
Sustinance:  Cold Taco del Sol buritto and cold coffee for breakfast.  2 liters of water with Perpetum and Hammer Fizz.  1.5 king size Snickers bars, two granola bars, bag of peanuts  500 calories of Gu.
Number of crampon transitions: 8
Trailbreaking effort:  None
Avalanche conditions:  Low, but moderate danger from falling snow and ice.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 7
Stoke factor (1-10): 10
Memories to suppress:  Dark and foggy morning.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bass Lake skiing

Leah skiing on Stormy Joe above Bass Lake.
With high pressure in the forecast, Leah, Blake, James and I headed in to Bass Lake for three days of camping and skiing.  The approach took us most of the first day, and we arrived at camp in the late afternoon tired, and with blistered feet.  After setting camp, we were able to squeeze in a beautiful sunset run just east of the lake.  Blake joined us at camp, and spent the evening regaling us with tales of dark and cold skiing in Alaska. With chalky snow, two fairly stable snow pits, and endless terrain right out the door from camp, we went to sleep well positioned for skiing the next day.
The view from the approach to Bass Lake.
Skinning to Chute de Bleu on the first day.  Photo: James Tricker.
Taking in the view.  Photo: James Tricker.
Sunset over St. Mary peak and the Heavenly Twins.
To our surprise, the second day dawned blustery and cloudy, so we had a relaxed morning at camp before heading straight for the striking Spurge couloir.  After sniffing out the entrance, were treated to chalky snow in the gut of the couloir, and everyone emerged at the bottom in good spirits.  Next up was the vast east face of Bass peak.  We climbed to the saddle between the North and South summits, and skied endless rolling terrain down to the drainage, navigating the complex cliff bands at the bottom. If only there had been powder.  From there, James headed back to camp, and Leah, Blake and I spent the remaining daylight bowl bouncing, skiing the second bowl of the Bass bowl bounce tour and Ben&Al's groove tube, as well as a second lap in the Spurge for Blake.  Back at camp, we spent an enjoyable evening of eating and drinking, swapping stories, and retiring early for a full night of sleep.

Blake sleeping at sunrise on his beloved bed of pine boughs.
Leah skiing the Spurge.  Photo: James Tricker.
Good times in camp.  Photo: James Tricker.
On the last day, Jeffrey arrived just as we were emerging from a cold but relaxed morning at camp. Blake headed out for another run in the Spurge, and the rest of us headed for the sun on the southwest face of Stormy Joe.  Fortunately, the strong sun had already began to work its magic on the snow, and the climb went quickly.  The skiing was superb - enjoyable and aesthetic with perfect corn in between patches of ice.

After bumping our packs about a mile down canyon, James and Blake skied out while Leah, Jeffrey, and I climbed one of the big avalanche paths on the south side of Big St. Joseph peak.  We hit our turn around time about 400 vertical feet below the top of the run, and reluctantly decided to call it a day.  The ensuing run was also superb, with good corn and interesting skiing.  The egress was a little sparky and icy, but we were at the car soon enough, reflecting on a wonderful weekend of perfect weather and good skiing with friends.

Frosty approach to Stormy Joe.  We skied the snow stripe just
looker's left of the prominent left buttress system.
Jeffrey skiing corn on Stormy Joe.
Hard at work on a steep track on St. Joseph peak.
Leah ripping on St. Joseph peak.
Brian trying to ski as well as Leah on St. Joseph peak.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wyoming Rando Roundup, race report

I spent a long and intense two days racing at Targhee, Snow King, and Jackson.  My best race by far was at Targhee, where I finished in 11th place, just in front of Chad Bracklesburg and Stevie Kremer.  Despite a mild cold, I was able to summon most of my normal energy reserves on the first climb, and topped out in about 15th place.  After a horrible transition, the remainder of the race went fairly predictably, with three good descents and two more steady climbs.  I had quite a bit of gas in the tank for the last climb, and was able to pass Chad as his skins failed, and only loose about a minute to Stevie Kremer.  Stevie is one of the strongest ultra runners in the country, and it was inspiring to see her burning up the skin track on the last climb with a huge grin on her face.  If only I could keep such a positive outlook on life from the depths of the pain cave.  I was able to pass Stevie on the downhill and stay ahead of Chad, but there was never much of a chance of catching John Curry.

The sprint race at Snow King went predictably poorly, playing to my weaknesses of poor transitions and hatred for stupid fast starts.  But it was great fun, and I am excited to keep working away at the sprint format where opportunities arise.  Consistent transitions and stronger resolve to push hard through the entire climb would go a long way toward improving my performance.

The Jackson race was hands down my worst race performance ever.  I woke up with a worsening cold, and from the start it was clear that sickness and low energy reserves would keep me from moving at a normal pace.  Accepting my fate, I settled into an even pace, gutting it out and trying not to loose much time.  The temps and wind were extremely cold, and I was not smart enough to stop and deal with them at the sixth transition, as I should have.  As a result, even with after Nate Brown bailed me out at the top of the Corbets ladder, I arrived at Corbits cabin with mild frostbite on my nose and a depressed body temperature.  I wisely heeded Forest Dramis' advice to duck inside the cabin and warm up.  I took a full 20 minutes in the cabin to thaw out my face and fingers, and let my core temperature rise to near normal.  Once the uncontrollable shivers subsided, I went ahead and finished the course, advancing from roughly 32th place to roughly 25th during the last two descents and final climb.  Although it was wise to duck out and address the frostbite before it truly set in, the entire race experience was a good reminder to keep working on a more smart and measured approach to racing, as a 2 minute stop to cover my face with a buff and don a jacket would have provided sufficient protection in the cold conditions.

  • Even with a mild cold, it was still worth showing up and toeing the line with so many fast skiers.  There are more and more middle of the pack racers every year, and it is fun to have a whole new set of people to battle with.
  • Stage races are fun. Why not indulge in 14,000 vertical feet or so of racing, given the opportunity?
  • I am excited to race again this year when I am 100% healthy.
  • Thanks again for all the race organizers and volunteers who made all three races happen, especially the volunteers who braved the extreme cold at the Jackson race.
  • I am excited to ski powder this weekend with Missoula friends.  Anyone in?
race results can be found here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Moving forward

The past few weeks have been filled with family time, a little skiing, and a little last minute training for ski racing in Jackson.  Most importantly, words can't express how excited I am to spend a lifetime with Leah.
We are very excited.
The skiing has been good too, with several morning Jenny Bowl circuits, a few days up Hyalite, a moderate tour with Leah in Beehive, and a spectatular Burgandy/Jenny Bowl New Years tour in perfect boot top powder.  Next up is ski racing in Jackson.  I'm not terribly well prepared, but am looking forward to playing catch up behind some of the fastest skiers in the country this weekend.
Avalanches everywhere.  Be careful out there.
Leah finding some good skiing in Beehive Basin.
New Year's rime in Burgandy.
Leah starting down Burgandy.