Skin-it-to-win-it was a super fun day up on Dollar Mtn. I raced in a 4-person team that ended up on top at the end of the day. Each member of the team took turns racing to the summit of dollar and skiing back down. Our team turned in 13 laps in 3 hours. There was only one other snowboarder in the race and he made an impressive showing in the solo race category. Prizes were cool, commodore was great and the outdoor community continues to be the coolest people on earth.
It’s amazing how warm 20F feels after the deep freeze of late. Riding our bikes to work every morning I realized I have a pretty good streak of riding my bike to the office every day since I took the position in September. Windbreakers turned to ski jackets and then full puffy’s and snow pants. As my eyes watered and my eyelashes froze shut one morning I realized goggles were necessary and now I don’t leave the house without them.
This last week, however, has felt downright tropical as temperatures jumped 60 degrees into the mid forties during Jerrod’s visit. We skinned back to The Mushroom in Galena Pass sweating in t-shirts. The following day was much the same as we trenched through 40 cm of facets weakened and angled by our weeks of subzero temperatures.
The smell of earth has returned for the first time in weeks, and the roads are fast with only small patches of ice on the corners we know to expect it. Tomorrow we will head to Ketchum for the Skin it to Win It Randonee race to benefit the Avy Center and kick off the Nordic Festival. I will be a part of a 4 person team including the forecasters of the SNFAC as we complete as many laps as we can from the bottom to the top of Dollar Mountain.
The Nordic Festival will bring all sorts of fun events to the valley including the Banff Mountain Film Festival which Robyn and I always look forward to if we are near a showing.
With the warmth in the wind though brings thoughts of hiking, bikes and climbing. Today Robyn and I checked out the YMCA climbing wall and had a blast getting ridiculously pumped after a 3 week hiatus from the rock. Fresh pump in my forearms got me thinking ahead to my goals for 2013.. And with the nice ring of 20 twelves in 2012, why not shoot for a 5.13 in 2013? Along with our climbing goals, we also have a few others up our sleeve – one of which is already underway. A few weeks back Robyn and I enrolled in a Spanish course and have been supplementing it with online games and trainings. By the end of the year we plan to spend two weeks in Mexico climbing (hopefully with some of you) in El Potrero Chico.
I wont write down anymore of our goals just yet, because I am a firm believer in sticking with them once they are set in ink (or Times New Roman). Some of these will take a bit more planning and prep, and I don’t want us to spread our psych to thin. Let’s just say at this point there is no lack of motivation to get out and explore.
The jury is still out regarding the best part of this weekend. Was it the 2011 The Abyss from Deschutes? Was it two days of stunning blue skies and perfect powder at Galena Summit? It could certainly have been the true satisfaction of sharing my love for the snow with the Sawtooth Avalanche Center’s awareness course on Saturday. It is such a great feeling to share your enthusiasm with a class and have it met with equal excitement, thoughtful questions, and new discoveries. Equally satisfying were the enchiladas Robyn greeted me with upon my return from the field, a New Belgium Snow Day (this winter’s best new brew) in hand and the Backcountry Film Festival at the Liberty Theater that followed.
Of course today wasn’t shabby either, a lazy morning and cold -15F start that nipped our cheeks and froze the breath in our nostrils. As Trixie finally warmed up we were already at Galena summit snapping pictures of the immaculate view of the Boulder Mountains and nearby Smokey Mountains and Sawtooth Headwaters. Starting up the trail our gear creaked and our coats crackled, stiff and brittle as an old tarp. As we toured through the trees I remembered how much I love the forest. Climbing steadily, the trees thinned and the mountain views seemed to grow even more spectacular with each switchback. Our +9,000ft summit offered a 360 degree view of relatively untouched and infrequently traveled Idaho Wilderness. We have seen, skied, hiked and climbed in many mountain ranges all over the west but there is something special about this intersection of Central Idaho ranges.
After increasingly enjoyable laps on “The Cross” we cruised back to the car and rolled down to Galena Lodge. Galena Lodge is where it’s at. Nordic trails spur in all directions leading to mountain huts and snaking valleys. The lodge is rustic, comfortable and warm. The staff and everyone lucky enough to spend time there can’t help but exude a relaxed and cheery demeanor. Kids are sledding, dogs are hanging on a sunny porch and parents sit by the fireplace sipping beers amongst 36 miniature pairs of socks and ski gloves.
Back at home another homemade dish from Robyn wafts my direction from the kitchen. Our minds are whirling with potential adventures, mountain bikes, Nordic skis, summer summits, and backpacking trips. There are so many zones to explore, so many runs to do and miles of Nordic trails to learn on. It’s hard to believe we only made it north of Ketchum a few times this fall – climbing tugged us further and further south as the temperatures reflected the dipping sun.
So what was the best part of this weekend? I guess it’s hard to say, but in the spirit of living in the moment it’s the homemade peanut satay vegetable pizza that just emerged from the oven…
I absolutely love winter. I love wool socks and foot booties. I love coffee beverages and teas. I adore colorful layers and Pendleton blankets. I love snow surfing, cross country skiing, and snowman building. I love it all. To me, ‘this is the most wonderful time of year…’
Up until recently, however, my mind has been on climbing (we are gearing up for our two-week climbing trip to Red Rocks). My stoke is high. Maybe I’ve been a bit unfair to winter, but having the option to climb until late December and early January is pretty amazing, especially after feeling robbed of a climbing season in Valdez. It’s been really nice. You can bet, however, that after our mega-trip to Nevada, we will be ready for the ski season – psyched as ever to explore new mountains, meet new people, and enjoy every frosty bit of it.
Last night, the weather gods opened their wintry gates and dumped only the very best kind of snow on us – light, fluffy, and delicious! They sure know how to get me psyched for the ski season. I am itching to get out there and play!
Although we couldn’t attend ULLR Fest in person this year we were there in spirit and put together a slideshow from last years record breaking winter in Valdez. It’s hard to believe how beautiful Valdez is in the winter and how lucky we were to climb, ski and stare in wonder up at the peaks of the Chugach!
Check the slideshow here! –> It’s large in size so you may need to adjust the size of your browser: Mac’s can (command -) or “view zoom-out” in Safari and Firefox.
Soupy day in The Pass had Benny and I splitting into a crag at the Worthington glacier to climb. Most of the climbs were wet but the best one (Sweet n’ Sour 11b) was miraculously dry. Cornices were collapsing and falling from 80 feet above us on either side but our perch was snow free. We dug in a belay platform on 10 feet of snow and clipped into the second bolt to start the climb.
James didn’t waste much time bagging one of the most sought after lines in Thompson Pass. Heli-skiers frequent Mt. Dimond and there are several ways down but arguably the most aesthetic of all are the “Gun Barrels”. While within the realm of a day tour from the road, James and I wanted to try our hand at digging and staying in a snow cave up on the glacier for a few days to enjoy the sunny Chugach spring weather.
Day one was a grueling slog in the spring heat to get the sled to the glacier and build the shelter but man was it worth it. Cozy snow living with a hell of a backdrop. Plus no hurry to get out the door or get down from our lines since we could literally ski to our front door from dozens of chutes including the Gun Barrels.
Day two we set our sights on the Gun Barrels. Meeting with the Brown Brothers at the Shrund we deliberated on how to cross the massive crack in the glacier to continue up our lines.
The Brown’s took the first chute to a saddle below the summit while James and I traversed out above the schrund to our line and began the long ~3,000 ft bootpack to the summit. The weather turned for the worse and by the time we reached the top it was whiteout and lightly snowing. With no hurry to get to the car we decided to try and wait out the snows hoping it was just a passing shower. After an hour on the snowy summit however we decided to bite the bullet and pick our way down the 55 deg spine entrance into the chute below.
The line itself was absolutely sick. The upper spine was steeper than we wanted to deal with in a whiteout but we picked our way down the bootpack using the definition in our quickly filling footprints to navigate by. Once on the main face the turns to the entrance of the gun barrel were some of the best I have ever had. Steep, deep and butter smooth. The chute provided more contrast and we were able to open it up a bit, carving our way back to the schrund in two large sections. Back at the schrund we had planned to air the crevasse, but with flat white conditions we were forced to traverse its edge again as new snow sluffs went zipping by off the steep rocks above – certainly a hair raising experience.
I landed a gig guiding clients up Rydor’s on East Peak visible from town in a Piston Bully 300 for 907 Snowcat. Here are some pics from our first day out.
Also completed our final courses for the Introduction to Backcountry Skiing course (ODS 121) I taught through PWSCC. Great class! It was really fun to see everyone gain confidence. After our last course we stopped in at the new Tsiana Lodge to rub shoulders with rich European heli-skiers and sit on leather couches. This weekend is a 3 day weekend for Robyn and I and we may find ourselves in Fairbanks for a long procrastinated visit. A job I applied for as a Snow Ranger on Mount Washington closed today. Fingers crossed. Other prospects are Chile and possibly Ketchum or Lander. What’s next? Nobody knows.
Ski update. This spring is shaping up to be the best ski conditions Valdez has seen in several years. Hopefully it stays nice for all our friends planning their AK dream trips come March and April. We are playing host for several groups of friends rolling up here starting with a friend of a friend for a week starting the 24th of this month. A bit of a break and James will arrive for 3 weeks, and the last two of those during Tailgate Alaska he will be joined by Curry, Bubbles, Jerrod and Theo. As soon as they ship out Ben literally gets here the same day during the start of the World Heli Challenge and we are planning a hut based boat-in boat-out ski trip out at some cabins in the sound.. So much to look forward to in the final months of winter.
Here are some recent photos of our ski trips here lately. A highlight was standing on top of both Tones Temple and Sapphire in the same day with Sarah. We skied the NE face of Tones and then broke trail to the summit that gave us both frostbite last year. The most amazing position I have experienced in The Pass to date. Been soaking it all in but also looking forward to our big climbing road trip coming up this spring… More on that later!
Latest pictures from around these parts. Went up right behind the house with Robyn and members of our AIARE Level 1 that we held earlier this year. Explored some steep terrain in hopes of finding an easy up track. We didn’t get anything easy but the steep skinning and short bootpack at the top provided some EXCELLENT turns. Robyn is a natural in the up-track, looks as if she was born to tour!
A couple days later Sarah and I tried to access the goods behind the house again. Skinned through a wild old-growth stand and battled our way to the first bench… No luck on an easy up-track yet, but we did have an exciting run down an area that had me pointing pillow lines with little room for error next to an ice fall..
Yesterday I skied out Mineral Creek with Aaron and Stu to try and access a peak behind Jago Chute. 2.5 miles along the creek bottom led us to a 4,700 ft climb to a wild perch on a sweet spine. In the ONLY semi technical point of the climb my crampon came off my boot and provided momentary high blood pressure as I punched in for handholds. No summit option from where we were but the pow was memorable nonetheless and Jago Chute is top notch skiing from the cirque 2,000 ft or so to the valley bottom.