Rock Climbing Colombia

Rock Climbing Colombia

Hopefully I will update this post with more directions, stories, and trip beta someday to help out the future travelers. But for now, I will let the pictures do the talking!

 

 

 

Bishop bouldering and highline

Not a bad view around here...

Not a bad view around here…

Bishop, California is one of America’s top destinations for bouldering. Although I typically sport climb with a rope and harness and such, I’m growing to like the simplicity of bouldering. Each problem is only a few moves, and relatively low to the ground. You can try really hard moves again and again with low consequence to failure. This is not true on a sport climb, since each attempt takes several minutes of preparation tying into the rope and getting to the crux. With bouldering, a crew of climbers can set up crash pads and try the same problem as many times as it takes to pull it off. With bouldering you can do harder moves. It’s a very pure approach to climbing, since it’s just you and the rock, no extra weight to drag along and no gear to distract you.

I’ve come to Bishop to get stronger, and test my limits with outdoor bouldering. Before this trip, my hardest outdoor bouldering send was V5. Even though I’m coming off a rest season, I’m feeling really good and have high expectations for this trip. I already sent two V6 boulder problems and several other V5’s. Since I’m planning to be here for another week, I think I’ll be able to step it up again before leaving. My goal is to pull off multiple V7s or a single V8… exciting new territory for me.

I met a cool crew of climbers from Casper, Wyoming. They were setting up a highline between the two largest boulders in the Buttermilks. I went to check it out, since I’ve been wanting to set up a highline for years. The guy on top, Ryan, invited me up immediately to try it. I was hesitant at first, but I decided to at least check out his set up to see how he rigged it and such. It was the safest setup I’ve ever seen. The line was 1″ webbing, standard slackline material and length. Taped to the bottom of the webbing was a dynamic climbing rope as a safety backup. Each side had three expansion bolt anchors, the same type I trust my life to when climbing. He also used a dynamic rope for a tether, attached from the climbing harness to the highline by a figure 8 rappel device. This was backed up by a secondary tether as well, an unnecessary but comforting extra backup. After examining the setup, I felt totally comfortable taking whips out there. I decided to give it a go.

Ryan advised me to start the adventure by jumping off the boulder and taking a whip right off the bat to get the jitters out. I wasn’t afraid of the whip, but I decided to suss it out differently. I scooted out a safe distance from the boulder, and tried to stand on the line from a sitting start. This is more difficult than walking onto it, but I wanted to get a feel for the line in a safe location. I didn’t want to fall right next to the boulder and risk hitting it on the swing. Eventually, I was able to stand, but I wasn’t comfortable enough on this line to walk it yet. After several small falls, I took a full value whip on the tether, swinging from the line upside down. It was a little scary as expected, but the rig held no problem and I had taken care of my jitters. I climbed over to the opposite boulder, walked onto the line, and crossed it successfully the very next try. Ryan and I were the only ones to try the line that day, and he had sent it on his first attempt before I arrived. Double send!!! 🙂

 

Lake Tahoe backcountry

Tahoe has long been a favorite ski destination for me, so it was an inevitable inclusion on this circuitous road trip. In fact Northstar at Tahoe is where I began skiing way back on my 2nd birthday in 1987. Since then, I’ve made a pilgrimage to this place every couple years. It always treats me the same, with fresh snow, steep terrain, and bluebird skies.

My buddy Dave kept telling me it was a bad winter and he was jealous of the snow in the Pacific Northwest. But I assured him that storms have been following me around this year, and Tahoe is going to get dumped on when I arrive. Sure enough, a midweek storm left 2 feet of powder on the Sierras, and the sun emerged for a perfect weekend. Dave and I made plans to ski the backcountry in South Tahoe.

Dave is a friend from the old Seven Springs days. We used to ski together in high school, back when learning tricks on jumps was the focus of our skiing. My mom would joke that I made 2 runs per day, one to the terrain park in the morning, and one back from the terrain park in the afternoon. Of course I would argue that we typically bombed Gunnar once, too. We would spend all morning building a massive jump, then all afternoon sessioning it. These were the days before terrain park crews did these things for you, and before the resorts were even cool with it at all. We would borrow/steal shovels from the lift huts and build jumps in hidden places, trying to get a few hits in before getting caught. We had escape routes to elude ski safety rangers in our daily cat and mouse game. We learned to go big, throw nasty tricks, and not to be scared.

It was no surprise to me that Dave wanted to ski some gnarly lines when I came to town. He had been waiting for the right conditions and the right crew to tackle a few crazy couloirs, and this weekend was perfect. I didn’t know what we’d be doing, but I trusted Dave’s judgement. We met Saturday morning and started an early hike up Echo Peak.

The line we skied that day is called “Hall of God”, and it’s every bit as epic as it sounds. It’s a couloir, a steep crevice cutting through a cliff face that holds just enough snow to ski. This one is 45-55 degrees steepness for about 1000 feet of vertical descent, and only about a ski length wide at the choke point. Of course there’s those buggery exposed rocks to deal with also. Here’s a picture of the line from a distance. We skied the middle of the three couloirs seen here, dropping in from the tip of the arrow:

"Hall of God" couloir descent of Echo Peak as seen from Mt Tellac

“Hall of God” couloir descent of Echo Peak as seen from Mt Tellac

I’ve skied plenty of steep chutes, but I’d never done a couloir with this kind of vertical before. Dave also said this was the gnarliest line he’s skied all year. But the conditions were right, and stoke levels were high in our crew. So after digging a pit at the top to verify the avalanche risk was low, we dropped into this beast, leaving our mark as the first sets of tracks since the new snow. The video at the bottom of this post shows Dave’s descent from his helmet mount, so sick.

The next day we hiked Mt. Tellac with Dave’s fiance, Kim. She’d been up there before, and suggested we ski another couloir called “The Cross”. The line we took was plenty steep but not as narrow as the “Hall of God”. Here’s a photo showing the cross, as well as one I took from the top showing the line we skied:

"The Cross" on Mt Tellac - photo taken in spring

“The Cross” on Mt Tellac – photo taken in spring

Scoping our descent for "The Cross" - the line we skied is directly above my head where the tracks are

Scoping our descent for “The Cross” – the line we skied is directly above my head where the tracks are

The descent of Mt Tellac was epic, but it deposited us on some heavy east facing snow. Fortunately, we knew of a ridge to our west that would have some good north-facing snow on the other side. We traversed to cross it and found knee deep pow on the other side. The combination made for a perfect descent from a well-earned summit. What a weekend! Thanks to Dave and Kim for hosting me and guiding me.

Also, shout out to Luke, the VP/Engineer of Moment Skis who gave me a gracious tour of their factory in Reno. Moment skis are right up my alley for powder and big mountain skiing, and I would definitely recommend them to anyone in the market. They have some radical new designs coming out in 2014, particularly their “dirty mustache camber” and “mullet camber” concepts. I was really stoked on a ski called the Deathwish. http://www.momentskis.com/shop/category/skis/

Check out the video and photos from this epic weekend in Tahoe:

San Francisco climbing gyms

After Chico, I headed to San Francisco to visit my good friends Qasar and Val. Unfortunately, I had to visit during the week and they were both working during the day, so we really only got to spend the evenings together. But on the upside, it gave me a chance to visit the famous SF climbing gyms and spend some time getting back in climbing shape. With all the skiing I’ve been doing lately, my climbing has taken a backseat. But I’m now accepting that winter has peaked and climbing is now in session. Time to get strong again 🙂

San Francisco has the best climbing gyms I’ve seen in the country. Although the Atlanta gym may be the largest, I’m confident that no place in the US compares to the scale, quantity, and quality of the rock climbing gyms of SF. They are so good. The average gym here is larger than all the Chicago climbing gyms combined into one, for real. But there’s not just one super gym, there are lots. The two main companies are Touchstone and Planite Granite.

Touchstone is the original and they have the most locations – 8 gyms total all within about an hour’s driving radius. Their gyms are some of the best in the country, on par with the famous Movement gym in Boulder, Colorado – except there are 8 of them in the same region.

On top of that there’s Planite Granite, the new supergym that puts all others to shame. These gyms are literally double the size of Movement, and everything is cutting-edge modern. They have three locations in the region, each capable of hosting 200+ climbers at once with no one left standing around. They bouldering and lead climbing are top notch. They even go so far as to create routes on some sections of their lead wall without tape – they just use all the same color holds.

So basically I spent 3 days getting spoiled rotten 🙂 Check it out:

A few peaceful days with Grandpa Brian and Grandma Cindy

An important part of this journey by van is visiting my scattered network of friends and loved ones along the trail. I had the pleasure of visiting my Grandpa Brian and Grandma Cindy at their recently constructed home in Chico, California. It was a great visit and a pleasant retreat after my many exhausting adventures in the backcountry.

Our activities featured a tour of Sierra Nevada brewery, a hike in the upper Bidwell Park in Chico, and a longer hike to Feather Falls. I’ve included a short video of the Feather Falls hike at the bottom of this post. In general, our days were very relaxing. We spent lots of time talking about family, politics, and watching home videos from years past.

The brewery tour of Sierra Nevada was particularly impressive. I was amazed to learn what a great company they are, and I really can’t say enough positive things about what they do – in addition to providing great beer :). Sierra Nevada produces about 80% of the electricity they consume on site. About half is accomplished through solar panels and the other half fuel cells. Sadly, the fuel cells run on natural gas, so they are not renewable energy sources, but they are a better alternative than electricity from the grid. On the upside, they capture waste heat from the fuel cells and use it in their brewing process. They were also an early adopter of fuel cells, helping to promote the new technology by installing their system eight years ago. In addition, they treat all their waste water on site in a very impressive sounding process that includes a biogas digester from which they capture waste methane and, once again, re-use it in their brewing process. Since they produce their own electricity and treat their own water, they have gone to great lengths to conserve both water and energy throughout their entire operation. They have been chosen as the US EPA green business of the year 2 years in a row. They also treat their employees extremely well. Employee benefits include on-site day care, company medical office, company masseuse, land provided for employee gardens, pet insurance, and a case of beer with every pay check. As a person who likes to vote with my dollar, I’m planning to buy much more Sierra Nevada after learning of these commendable values. Surprisingly, this free tour included samples of 9 beers, including 2 quads, a barleywine, and an imperial stout. Clearly they enjoy experimenting with new recipes, and they produce limited releases regularly that won’t ever be seen again. They had a new quad made with prunes, and another that was aged in brandy barrels. They also had a beer made with shiitake mushrooms and a hint of rice. So rad!!!

My Grandpa Brian is a really interesting character, and I would like to say a few words about him. Although he’s turning 75 this year, he’s in better health than most Americans. Both GB and GC have gone to great lengths to live healthy lives, and he said he doesn’t feel any different mentally or physically than he did in his 30s. He’s very interested in politics, and we spent hours debating and discussing global issues. His wise conservative perspective often clashes with my educated liberal view, but as open individuals we were able to dive into a broad range of issues and see eye to eye. It was enlightening discussion, leaving us both with food for thought.

Grandma Cindy made wonderful meals, both healthy and delicious. We enjoyed talking about food and exchanging recipes. I also got to make them a meal one night, Thai coconut curry. Their new house is very comfortable, and I felt right at home. They have a nice plot of land with vibrant landscaping and a surprising amount of wildlife. I was delighted one morning to see my first bobcat in the wild – the wild being their back patio, lol. It strutted across like it owned the place. In additions they commonly spot coyotes, rattlesnakes, a variety of birds, and even mountain lions in their yard. How cool is that?

Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho

I left Rossland Friday morning just as the winter carnival was beginning. Although I missed the festivities, I caught a little of the snow carving – very cool.

2013-Winter-150

 

I was headed to Sandpoint, Idaho with an appointment to get my broken rear window replaced. I was part bummed, because it meant I would miss a ski day and spend another unexpected $200. However, I was very thankful that the US welcomed me back in with minimal hassle, considering my expired passport and broken window. I got my window replaced in no time, and the repairman even complimented me on my van setup 🙂

Looking for something to do in Sandpoint, I google searched for a climbing gym. I found a great one, Sandpoint Rock Gym. It felt very DIY, and reminded me a lot of Off Belay, the bouldering gym I helped build in Chicago. I was greeted by the only employee there, and he had me sign in between turns in the dyno contest they were having. There was a solid crew of climbers, and they all introduced themselves when I walked in. I never felt so welcome at a gym. In fact, they didn’t even charge me. I didn’t have cash, and they welcomed me in anyway since they were only open for another hour. I was amazed how quickly I felt like friends with the climbers there, what a cool scene. The walls were not that impressive, bouldering only, no top-outs, plain plywood. But they made it a great place to train by the atmosphere they created and the routes they set. Route-setting makes all the difference in a climbing gym. I even got to meet the owner, Christian. He told me about the origins of the gym and how they built a culture of climbers where there was none. This story helped confirm my belief that climbers exist everywhere, whether they know they’re climbers or not. It’s simply a matter of exposing those susceptible to it. He and his crew did quite the job here, well done.

The following day I headed up the mountain to Schweitzer. I rode the bus up and left my car 9 miles below in the lower lot. I met an interesting character on the bus, Owen from Crested Butte. He was on his way to BC to drive the powder highway, similar to what I had just done. I helped him out with his bus fare since he was now the one without cash. We had a great chat about skiing. Turns out Colorado doesn’t have any snow for the 2nd year in a row. Climate change is hitting them hard right now, major droughts. Owen builds sustainable houses for a living. He just finished a 2 year project on a wet clay straw house. It’s a technique similar to straw bale, so we had lots to talk about on the way up. It’s great that people like Owen can make a living doing construction like that, and also have a lifestyle with so much skiing.

Schweitzer has character. On both trips here, I’ve met some great people with hardly any effort. I made it a point to talk to everyone on the lift, so many good people and good stories. I even met a woman from the family that owns it. It was built by a family logging business, and took 25 years to become profitable. I met a guy from Pittsburgh (of course), and a farmer with a geothermal system.

The mountain is really fun to ski. They had some new snow, so everything was fresh and soft. I spent the day picking lines through the trees. Schweitzer has more glades than any resort I can recall skiing. Every run seems to be open in the middle, with progressively denser trees as you move toward the edges. You start by finding fresh snow down the middle, then move deeper into the trees to find the lurking freshies at the end of the day. All day long I found fresh lines. One slight problem with it is the flat spots though. It has these big expansive bowls serviced by a single lift. So you get lots of terrain options, but they all end with a long flat haul back to the base of the lift. Even these sections were fun, because the flats are full of boulders, gullies, and interesting terrain. However, I could see that on a really deep snow day it would be a problem to keep your speed. All in all it was a great mountain and I was glad I made the trip here.

 

 

Red Mountain backcountry (Rossland, British Columbia)

I had a great trip to Red Mountain for the 2nd year in a row. It’s a little off the beaten track, but that’s what’s nice about it. You don’t come here for its convenience or luxury, you come here to ski. I was so happy Mike invited me to visit him again here. He rents a cabin every year for the month of January, and he knows the mountains like the back of his hand. He’s been skiing backcountry here for the past 10 years, so he knows where to find the snow and how to have a good time.

I don’t really know where to start describing this trip, but if a pictures worth a thousand words then this gallery should do some of the talking for me (click below)

I had 4 days of backcountry skiing around Red Mountain, BC. Suprisingly, I didn’t ski the hill once. “Ski the hill” is backcountry lingo for skiing at the resort. Lift tickets were $50-$75 per day, so I was glad to save some money by earning my turns instead of buying them.

I arrived at Mike’s cabin just in time for my second dinner. I had eaten early, and when they placed a pile of mussels in front of me with a side of salmon and cauliflower I couldn’t resist. Delicious. This crews knows how to eat well. I came to discover eating well is crucial to big backcountry days. In a typical day of backcountry skiing, you can burn well over 2000 calories. This is in addition to the 1500 calories your body burns per day just to function normally, so it’s essential to eat well to keep up for back to back ski days.

Day 1: Record Ridge with Keith

Although it seemed like a large crew would be touring from the night before, the morning revealed a different story. Mike had joint soreness and could barely move, Jim’s back was acting up, and Rob didn’t feel well. So Keith and I set out on our adventure. We drove up a ways, parked aside the highway, skinned up and started to walk.

Keith is a big time mountain enthusiast. He skis all winter and climbs the rest of the year. He makes his living as a climbing guide, skiing guide, avalanche safety training instructor, and a part-time therapist working for the government. He lives in Rossland, BC, in a straw bale house with his skiing family. His wife and two kids are all backcountry skiers as well.

We hiked continuously uphill for about 2 hours, switchbacking our way up an avalanche chute until we gained the upper ridge. The skinning was easy on the stable snowpack and conditions were very safe. When we reached the summit ridge, Keith checked his altimeter. We had climbed 3015 vertical feet. Not a bad start to the day. The first run was a good one, 1700 vertical on creamy untracked snow. The day was bluebird, and we planned our runs to catch the soft conditions on sunny slopes. Our first run was east facing, soaking in the morning rays.

We skinned back up, reusing our previous track most of the way, then veering left to catch a southern aspect for the second run. Our plan was brilliant, because we noticed the conditions change as the eastern aspect went into the shade. A crust was forming and we were wise to change aspects. The second run was great also. We took it all the way down to the road for the full 3000 vertical. However, the bottom 1000 feet was mostly bushwhacking through thick vegetation in the drainage, one of the necessary evils of backcountry skiing. I’ve always like skiing the woods though, so I never really mind this part even though it can be a challenge.

We finished around 3:00pm. It was a great intro and training day for longer days to come. That night we feasted on steaks and potatoes, recovering calories and stocking up for the next day.

Top of the world, Keith on Record Ridge

Top of the world, Keith on Record Ridge

Day 2: Old Glory with Keith, Ann, Jim, and Norm

Mike’s joints were still acting up, so I set out with the rest of the crew for another backcountry tour. We had our sights on Old Glory, the highest mountain in the Rossland range. At just under 8000 feet, it sits at the fringe of treeline. Given the stable snowpack conditions and high visibility, it was a good chance for us to ski the summit. Mike loaned me his ski crampons, a device I’d never used and wasn’t sure I needed. But halfway up the first ridge, we encountered a series of traverses over a frozen crust that the skis wouldn’t break through. Without the crampons, my skis were sliding sideways and I couldn’t use the skins for traction. However, with the crampons on, my skis held and I climbed with ease. These things make a huge difference! Without them, I would have to bootpack for sure.

Ski crampons improve traction on frozen crusty slopes - the difference between skis on and skis off

Ski crampons improve traction on frozen crusty slopes – the difference between skis on and skis off

After a few hours hiking we crested the first ridge and Old Glory came into view. It looked close, but we still had more than 1000 feet of climbing to go. As we rested momentarily and ate a snack, an old man with a long gray beard and skinny cross country skis came strolling up the ridge from a different approach. He wore blue jeans and gators over his boots. His gear showed his age, but he still manages to get around on it. As we marveled at him passing us by, Jim summed up his feelings about the sight, “If we get up to Old Glory and that old bugger shows up, I quit.”

"If we get to the top of Old Glory and that old bugger shows up I quit" -Jim

“If we get to the top of Old Glory and that old bugger shows up I quit” -Jim

We scoped the lines and made a plan to ski from the summit down the east face. This seemed to be the safest choice given the size of our group and the amount of daylight we had. If you look at the picture below, our ascent went from right to left across the base of the mountain, switchbacking up the steep left side to the ridge, and then up the back of the ridge to the summit. The descent was from the direct summit down the avalanche chutes at an angle to the left. Although it looks like a traverse in this photo, it’s a direct fall-line as evidenced by the avalanche chutes. The pitch ranges between 30 and 40 degrees, comparable to a typical black diamond.

Old Glory peak

Old Glory peak

The summit was beautiful. Just as we deskinned and got ready to ski, the sun came out providing perfect visibility and a bright orange sky on the horizon. The top portion of the run skied like crap. Frozen coral reef. But the terrain was really wild and inspiring. I could imagine it on a good day, what a line. The bottom half was actually great. The sun had softened the crust on the lower angle slope, giving us spring-like corn snow. The softened crystals yielded perfectly under our skis and sounded like broken glass as our spray skittered down the slope. We skied right down the center of the avalanche chute in the wide open direct fall-line. On less stable days, this route wouldn’t be possible, but every line has its day.

We finished the day by skinning back up the first ridge (where we saw the old bugger) and skiing Hannah trees. They were steep and north-facing. Although we expected more frozen coral reef, conditions were surprisingly good, the best of the day. I finished the line with a mini-cliff drop into the open snowfield below with a soft and forgiving landing.

View from the top of Old Glory

View from the top of Old Glory

Day 3: Hannah Peak with Crystal

On Wednesday they were calling for snow. Mike was back in action, but he wanted to use the hill (the resort) to access the backcountry. That way he wouldn’t have to push it as hard, and it would be easier to bail if he needed to. I wasn’t too keen on the lift ticket price, so Jim suggested I meet up with his friend Crystal for a tour. We decided to repeat the good conditions we’d found in Hannah trees the day before.

We made 3 fast laps on Hannah Peak, skiing steep glades on north facing aspects. It was fast and fun. Crystal is a strong backcountry skier. She skis telemark and doesn’t slow down for much of anything. She takes a steep skin track, preferring the direct approach over the path of least resistance. I was totally down with that. Crystal is a hardcore outdoorswoman. She works for the Canadian forest service as a firefighter, and loves her job. She gets the winters off but more or less sells her soul in the summer, since she’s always on call. But she gets to spend lots of time outside, and spends her time off skiing and trad climbing. She loves surfing, mout

On our final lap it began snowing, yay! The visibility started to go and we decided to call it quits there, saving some for tomorrow.

Our discussions that night concluded that if there were 20cm’s in the morning, we’d ski the hill. If there were 10cm’s, we’d do another backcountry tour. Everyone kept saying 10cm’s would make the backcountry awesome again.

Day 4: Kirkup with Rob

The morning came with 11cm’s of fresh snow. It came in from the southwest with a little bit of wind, and we figured we’d find the deepest snow on the leeward aspects – northeast. Jim and Mike wanted to ski the hill. I was thinking about the plan from the night before, and decided to hit the backcountry again, this time with Rob. We headed to Kirkup in my van.

Rob is an experienced mountaineer. He lives in Salt Lake, and typically skis and climbs the Wasatch range, but he’s been all over the world for climbing and skiing. He’s had surgery on both knees, but it doesn’t slow him down much. He gets up early, does elaborate stretches, and goes for daily walks to keep his joints loose. He told me the story of his torn ACL. He was skiing backcountry in the Wasatch range on a powder day. The fluffy new snow hadn’t bonded well with the layer beneath, and he triggered an avalanche on a moderately steep slope. “I’ll never forget the way the entire slope began to boil. I instantly knew what was going on.” Rob jerked his skis to the side taking a downward traverse out of the slide path. He made it out, but ended up partially buried with a torn ACL in the process. Had the slide flushed him out with the rest of the debris, he doesn’t think he would have survived. He was skiing alone. It was a fair enough trade.

I told Rob of my desires to ski mountaineer. I want to skin up Mt. Baker and ski down. I’d also like to do Hood, Shasta, Adams, and Ranier. He encouraged me, but also had some strong warnings. He said now is not the time. Do it in the early summer. There’s a reason everyone climbs the mountains then. The risk is too great otherwise. He advised me to look at current trip reports as well as trip reports from the previous year to get an idea when the right time is. People typically post their trip reports online for the benefit of other climbers, a great resource to have. Rob also recommended a book, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. He said it’s too detailed for most people, but with my technical background I would understand it and appreciate it. He tries to read it every year.

We had a great ski day. I parked my van aside the highway, and we skinned up the fresh snow, taking turns breaking trail up the north side of Kirkup. We discussed the snowpack and wind effects along the way, observing our conditions. Our first run was sweet. We went all the way to the summit and skied the northwest aspect. The first few hundred feet above the trees were wind-scoured, but the rest was fantastic. We cut the first tracks in the new snow, taking our pick of the best lines the whole way down. We skied one at a time, each person keeping the other in sight. The run consisted of a series of open alpine fields separated by tree bands. We skied an open slope, ducked through some trees, found the next opening and did it again. The run was so good we couldn’t resist a second lap.

On the way up the second time we saw another person utilizing our skin track. He was the only skier we saw all day. The next run we decided to ski a different aspect, dropping over the back of the ridge we skinned up from the summit. It was the northeastern aspect, where we’d expected the most snow. Sure enough, the snow piled up twice as deep on that side. There was an obvious sun crust underneath the snow here, and had some uncertainty about the bonding to the old layers. We decided to ski carefully, one at a time, keeping to the low angle slopes. It was great skiing, and again we took our pick of lines since we were the first skiers to arrive. Here are our tracks on the top half of the run:

Fresh tracks in the boulder field

Fresh tracks in the boulder field

We planned to ski the full descent, but about two thirds of the way down we ran into a fog bank. It was the sea of clouds we’d skied above every day. We got into it, and instantly couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t see the ground. Playing it safe, we decided to skin back up from there instead of skiing into the unknown.

Here you can see Rob descending into the clouds. We had to stop there because visibility was so bad you couldn't see the ground you're standing on.

Here you can see Rob descending into the clouds. We had to stop there because visibility was so bad you couldn’t see the ground you’re standing on.

Once again, it was so good we had to do it again. Rob broke trail up the deep snow, and I struggled to keep up with him. About half way up he stopped and commented how he felt tired, but he sure didn’t show it. This was our fourth lap, each consisting of 1000-2000 feet of climbing. We stopped at the top for a lunch break, it was only 1:30pm. We skied the same slope, enjoying every turn as much as the first lap. On our way back up we decided to avoid the wind-scoured skiing at the direct summit, and instead punch a track up the ridge. It was a steep track, and the last 150 feet were too steep to skin up without ski crampons. We decided to bootpack it. Rob made the track again, carefully assessing the conditions as he went. I stayed clear of his path, hanging back until he gained the ridge. When he gave the ok I started up, following his footsteps straight up. The crust was under about 6 inches of snow. It was too thick to break with our skis, making skinning impossible, but with ski boots we could kick holes in it creating steps to climb up. It worked great, and we were skiing again in no time. We finished the day skiing down our original line. It was our 5th run of the day. I’m not sure how much vertical we skied that day, but it was by far the biggest day of the trip and the best skiing. We hardly slowed down at all, only stopping at changeovers long enough for a drink of water.

But for every yin there is a yang, and we discovered the only downside of the day when we got back to my van. The rear glass was blown out. At first, I thought I’d been robbed. But a closer look revealed a snowplow had broken the glass with its debris as it drove by. The driver probably didn’t even know. Must have been a rock in the spray or something. Fortunately, all my stuff was still there.

No day can be perfect, but this one was close until this happened. Snow plow damage to the rear glass.

No day can be perfect, but this one was close until this happened. Snow plow damage to the rear glass.

Back at the cabin, Mike helped me clean up the broken glass and tape a piece of plastic over the broken window. We cleaned the surface with rubbing alcohol and used a hair dryer to get the tape to stick. It looked like it would be good enough to get me back to the US, where I would get it repaired. All in all it was well worth the experience and the great day of skiing. I’d much rather ski like that and have a broken rear window than not ski and not have a broken rear window. Fair enough trade.

Although I did not get to ski with Mike this trip, it was great to spend some time with him. He is a great person and true outdoorsman. He has also discovered a way to make his hobby of woodworking into a career in historical restoration and remodeling. He showed me pictures of one of his projects. It was absolutely amazing. He built a gazebo and elaborate trellis as part of a landscaping project using massive oak logs. The amazing part was the way it was built. He designed it and cut all the pieces in Pennsylvania, even though the project was in Ontario. Having looked at the arcing roofline and the way he jigsawed pieces together, it looked unfathomable to me to pre-cut the pieces on spec. In my experience building with wood, there’s always a little fussing you have to do to get the right fit because of the living nature of wood. It bends and bows, shrinks and grows, but somehow he got all the pre-cut pieces to fit. He used mortise and tenon joints and tied it all together with wooden pegs. It’s amazing to build like that on the scale he did, using hand-hewn oak logs up to 8″x8″ dimensions.

Mike and Jim have a special friendship. You can tell from spending time with them that they are not only good friends, but partners in adventure. It can decades to find a reliable partner for the outdoors, but they’ve found it. You need someone with similar motivation, interest, time off, and risk tolerance. The harder you push it, the harder these people become to find. Mike and Jim have taken many adventures together, from skiing the backcountry to bike touring across the USA. They had more stories than they could recall, and they were often discussing future adventures in the works. It’s great to see a duo like that.

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