Photo Cred

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The 20-Hour Date

Every once in a while our schedules line up so that Erica and I can enjoy more than a couple of continuous hours together; so when it turned out that we both had Monday free, we did our best to maximize it.  She met me in Jackson on Sunday evening after I wrapped up an avalanche course, and after grabbing a bite for dinner we went to see the latest release from that master of romantic comedy, Quentin Tarantino.

Actually neither romantic nor overly comedic, Django Unchained was heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching, and excellent.  It was also really long.  By the time it let out at 11pm, I was just about full-pumpkin.

I've somehow lost the ability to sleep in, but waking up alarm-free around 7 on Monday felt pretty good.  Coffee and tea, big oatmeal-and-walnuts gluten-free dairy-free pancake breakfast for the two of us, big kibble breakfast for Rue, and we were out the door for a family backcountry ski outing.

Like just about any dog, Rue loves winter and powder snow.  As do we.

Whoa, here comes the Ruester!

She's learning to do her own skiing off the skintrack.

Our vet has declared that Rue is too young to porpoise along with us while we make powder turns (gotta let those joints finish developing,) so we've come up with an alternative...

Ears flapping and tail wagging.

Look Mom!  We're skiing powder!

This was also Erica's inaugural day on alpine touring ski gear.  As expected, she loved it and is scheming ways for us to get her a new setup for BC touring.  So much easier on her back!

And our new coating of powder was pretty freaking unbelievable.

Looking pretty good!  Damn, this is fun.

As with all good things, it had to come to an end.  But 20 straight hours together was pretty nice.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Skiing 'Round Our World

The concept was born in a hot tub while our wives listened with a mixture of yawning and "you're nuts."  Fellow Fitzgerald's teammates Dave and Katie Berglemann were unexpectedly also at Spring Creek Ranch for a romantic evening last fall, and the four of us ended up simmering in the tub during the pre-dinner hour.  As one might expect, the talk turned to cycling, skiing, and ridiculous epic adventures.

I mentioned that Trevor and Andy had linked up Oliver Peak, Mt. Taylor, and Mt. Glory years ago and Dave (always game for a Good Adventure or a Bad Idea) promptly upped the ante to skiing a monster loop that included those three PLUS a bunch of up-and-down on the south side of the highway.  Kind of a "what the fuck" idea that would probably never come together but could be a brilliant epic:

Start at Coal Creek.  Up the West Fork of Mail Cabin and then up Lone Pine.  Down into Burbank, over the divider ridge and down into the West Fork of Burbank.  Up to the top of Oliver Peak, down the Banana Chute and out Stateline Canyon.  Cross the highway, up through the scrappy brush to the top of Talbot's Ridge, up Wall Street and the West Face of Mt. Taylor.  Down the Southeast Ridge to Coal Creek, up to the top of Mt. Glory.  Down Twin Slides to Teton Pass.  Cross the highway again and ski down to the bottom of the Nose on Edelweiss.  Up the Nose, down the back of Edelweiss, up Columbia Bowls, down the back into Mail Cabin.  Out Mail Cabin to finish at Coal Creek and the car.  Lots of human-powered miles circumnavigating the west side of Teton Pass.


And then yesterday it all came together.  It's been weeks since our last significant storm, so we thought the trailbreaking would be relatively easy and with us both able to get the day off of work...

Of course, our gorgeously sunny weather totally crapped out and the skiing was more or less awful.  So it goes.

Dave chose his rando-racing Supersuit for this day.  The porn-star mustache is a nice touch.

The day got off to a ripping start when we skinned up Lone Pine in the foggy dark and skied down into what we thought was Burbank. The skin up seemed long but we just knew we were heading the right direction, and then we were standing at the top of the Do-It's.  I still can't figure out how we managed that.  An hour lost, maybe more.

But we recovered.  Down into the Burbank Bermuda Triangle and eventually up Oliver.  Remarkably, we mostly found existing skintracks for the first part of the day.

Ahh, Burbank.Photo: Dave Bergart

Where the hell are we?

Gentle skinning through the fog up Oliver.
Photo: Dave Bergart

Dave drops into the Banana Chute.  This qualified as good visibility.

Even after crossing the highway to the scrappy south-facing slopes across from Stateline there was a skintrack down low.

Could have used a bit more snow down low, but the skintrack carried on.

Eventually it ran out and we were breaking our own trail.  It turns out it's a long way from Stateline to the top of Taylor.  A really long way.  Miles and miles.

Photo: Dave Bergart

Any guesses about the prevailing wind direction up here?  Eventually even the Supersuit couldn't stand up to it.  

The wind finally kicked up as we got higher, and though it wasn't a total nuke-fest at the top we didn't waste time in our transition either.

The upper Southeast Ridge skied pretty well--at least it was reliably unbreakable crust, with a skim of fresh on top.  Once we got low enough for the temps to be a bit warmer, unbreakable became breakable and the skiing went all to hell.

Dave made it ski well.

Photo: Dave Bergart

Skinning up Glory it became clear that we were a couple of hours behind schedule, and would be finishing in the dark.  Probably skiing our last couple of runs in the dark, actually.  Such is adventuring.

The skiing down Twin Slides was relatively good, given everything else we'd seen.  Windblown new snowfall had pretty well filled in the frozen chunder underneath, so while we got bucked around a fair bit there was also some smoother turning.

I called Erica from the Pass to let her know we were okay, and intended to complete the loop in the dark.  She called us crazy.  Apparently Katie agreed.

The best turns of the day were the pitch from the access road down to the bottom of the Nose, and then it was a too-long skin up to the top of Edelweiss with upper-body cramping and night falling.  We both felt better on the skin up Columbia, aided by some food and a break in the clouds that let the near-full moon shine through.

**You might notice a lack of photos at this point in the story.  It was dark.  We were tired.**

While the skiing below the Pass was some of the day's best, the skiing down the back of Columbia Bowls to Mail Cabin was undoubtedly the day's worst.  And we were doing it by headlamp.  Regardless, we both got down it with all limbs attached and double-poled like demons to the car, food and chocolate milk calling our names.

And so we came full-circle, starting in the dark and finishing in the dark 12:45 later.  Due to GPS mishandling neither of us got a precise story of the route, but I'm figuring about 25 miles with 13,000' of climbing/descending.  What an adventure.

Then there was a day of rest.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Welcome To The Pleasure Dome

This is what winter training looks like here in Victor.  (I know I could be riding a snow bike, but I'm not.)

Back in the Fitzgerald's torture chamber, boys.

Bring on the pain.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

R-R-R-Romancing The N-N-N-Nugget


The thermometer at the First Interstate Bank registered -15F as Parker and I drove through Jackson on the way to the Park yesterday morning.  Who knows how cold it was at the Bradley-Taggart parking lot--colder than that, anyway.  Regardless, it felt good to start into the mountains under brilliant stars with the whole range silhouetted against the deep blue sky of dawn.

Once again, we skinned away from the truck with puffy jackets on, and ended up wearing them for most of the day.  Things just never really got warm, but they did get colder.

It was really cold crossing the lake.  Check out that mustache!

Parker had been up on 25 Short a few weeks ago and spied a long couloir shot spilling into Avalanche Canyon from the col between Nez Perce and Cloudveil Dome.  A little traverse below the top to get from the entrance couloir into the real run, a significant stretch of steep-and-narrow, and a monster chockstone at the bottom to add some excitement to the exit.  All told, 3000'+ of snow with gorgeous rock walls, with high enough consequences for falling to focus things in on skiing well.  

Fortunately he thought to take a photo of it.  Aah, the wonders of the iPhone.
Photo: Josh Parker

After agreeing that it would be a really fun outing and we should give it a shot we learned that it's called The Nugget--maybe in reference to the chockstone at the bottom?  Not the most inspiring name for a ski objective.  Oh well.

We got a brief chance to warm up in the sun skinning past The Platforms...

...before skinning back into the shade in The Meadows.

Once again, we broke the rules in our approach to climbing/skiing.  There are downsides to McLean's maxim about climbing your ski objective first: it forces you to spend significantly more time in the bowling alley, exposed to the hazards above, and it doesn't allow for ski cutting the top of a couloir to control whatever avalanche hazard may or may not exist before committing to it.

Besides, it's just so quick and easy to skin up Garnet Canyon to the entrance col.

Photo: Josh Parker

I had initially planned to take my snowboard, and got so far as to put skins on my approach skis and set the whole rig out on the deck.  Then 5 minutes before Parker showed up at my house I put the snowboard gear back on the rack and threw the Chipmunks on the Red Rockets instead.  Somehow skis seemed like the ticket.

Was that ever the right choice!  I had forgotten the joy of traveling through the alpine with lightweight skis and a light pack.  So smooth, so fluid.

Still cold.

This might be the coldest I've ever been.

It felt SO good to top out at the col and move back into the sun.  After cleaning out a small windslab at the top we pretty quickly got skis on and moved down to escape the spindrift showering around us.

A bit thin at the top!

Impressive wind ripping spindrift over Cloudveil Dome!  Impressive mustache, too.

Once down to more pleasant climes we took some time to thaw out and eat food.  Then the real fun started.

The couloir was full of honest-to-gawd stable powder!  Admittedly it was peppered with frozen chicken-heads here and there, but overall we found mind-blowing snow quality.  And it got better the further we skied down...

"I think I remember how to ski..."  (I've been doing a lot of snowboarding lately.)
Photo: Josh Parker

Aah, that's right.
Photo: Josh Parker

Parker frees himself from gravity coming out of the narrows...

...And keeps ripping turns.

This couloir just keeps going...
Photo: Josh Parker

...And going...
Photo: Josh Parker

...And going! 

Arriving at the chockstone after thousands of vertical feet of powder skiing was daunting; it was hard to tell just how big it was, but it was clearly freaking huge.  Some thoughtful soul had left an anchor, so after extending it with a bit of cord to make things more convenient we were able to throw the ropes and go.

Photo: Josh Parker

The big question was whether or not the ropes would reach to the bottom.  I started the rappel with plans to build another anchor at the lip if necessary, but when I looked over the edge I saw the ends just touching down on the sluff cone below--phew!

There's a sweet alcove under the chockstone with dripping water somewhere at the back of it that provided a huge powdery platform for us to hang out on while we packed away the ropes and got set for more powder turns down into Avalanche Canyon.

This was also where Parker discovered that the vital buckle on his faerie-slipper boots had snapped right off.  Rubber ski strap to the rescue.

And then it was fast powder turns all the way down to the shaded coldsink at the bottom of the canyon.  So sweet.  

If anything, the turns just got better and better.  It's not often that a line like that holds such amazing snow.  And we hit it on the one really sunny day in the last week.

I definitely have some day-after-a-really-cold-ski-trip-tenderness in my fingers and toes this morning, and a couple of spots on my cheeks. It was damn cold up there.  Darn fun too.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Doing What At 10 Below?!

I woke up feeling wrung out this morning after a cold day of guiding yesterday followed by some time riding the rollers in the evening.  But this was my first Sunday off in a while and the Fitzy crew has been doing Sunday group snowbike rides, and I had never been on a snowbike...

The thermometer actually showed -5 fahrenheit when I left the house on my old commuter bike.  (Brandon thoughtfully offered to let me use Scott's bike for the ride--what a guy.)  There was a whole crew sitting around sipping espresso in the warm cafe at the shop when I walked through the doors.

I showed up expecting a mellow Sunday spin with a bunch of friends, which is how it all started, up Baseline and the Old Jackson Highway under a brilliant sun.

And then JayP turned us up Rush Hour.  Now this is one of my favorite trails when it's dry and buffed--fast, flowy, and fun.  

Today it was none of those things.

Well maybe fun, but a crush-my-nuts-on-the-toptube, retrospective kind of fun.  Definitely not fast or flowy.

Apparently some people, like Rio, have experience with this whole snowbike thing and can successfully ride along the skinny little track of packed snow.  Picture riding a bicycle down a railroad track--not in the middle, but up on one of the rails.  The instant my front wheel rolled off the track it sunk to the hub and it was all over.  Add to that Scott's refusal to install a front brake on his bike and the term "singletrack" took on a whole new meaning.   Brutal.

Remarkably technically challenging, this whole snowbiking thing. To say that I loved it would be excessively hyperbolic, but I did enjoy it inasmuch as I generally enjoy getting my ass whupped.  

Room for improvement?  Lots.  Will I try it again?  Definitely.

And here I was getting all confident about my ability to steer a bicycle...