Photo Cred

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gettin' Froggy Wid It

The Stats:

With Victor trapped in the clutches of a chilly, wet spring last weekend seemed like a great time to rally south for some desert riding--dry, sunny singletrack and temps in the mid-80's?  Mmmmm.

I had heard about the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow for years; friends raved about the fast, flowy course on the legendary JEM Trail.  So when a crew from the Tetons decided to drive down I signed up for one of the back seats and settled in for the 9-hour drive.

Pre-riding the course with Cary on Friday blew my mind--he was a little crotchety about the lack of technical challenge, but I loved the speed of the JEM Trail.  Pedal hard, don't touch the brakes, and hang on.  Swooping, bobbing, pumping the rolls, airing off of the rare rock ledges, maintaining momentum...

Race day dawned clear and warm, with a light breeze.

Here we go...
Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

** Temporary soapbox moment: What is up with these stupid "LeMans starts"?  I assume there's some historical reason that races started with a mass of bikes on the ground and the racers lined up a hundred yards away, set to sprint off the start line, find their bikes, and try to get onto the course without breaking bike or body parts in the scrum.  Sure, it might be part of 6-Hour/12-Hour/24-Hour circuit racing heritage, but I wish we could move past this archaic tradition and just race bikes.  If I wanted to run somewhere I would go back to racing triathlon, but I don't--I want to ride my bike.  It's the same reason I do my best to avoid cyclocross.  Running in cycling shoes sucks.

Okay, soapbox finished.

Despite my best efforts to start harder and place myself in a good position early in the race, somehow it still seems to elude me.  A forgotten last-minute change in bicycle placement led me to line up on the opposite side of the road from my bike's new location, which resulted in much confusion when I arrived at my bike's former location to find it empty.

Once I recovered myself I had to wait for the faster half of the pack to pass by before I could run across the road to my bike's new location and mount up.  Then it was pedal, track stand, pedal again, track stand again while the racers who were now ahead of me mounted their bikes and initiated forward movement.  Eventually we got rolling, but I watched in dismay as the lead pack crested the horizon and disappeared while I choked on dust, weaving my way through the masses to give chase.

I mashed hard to make up time, eventually catching Shannon Boffelli and Matt Woodruff a few miles into Lap 1 and rode with them until I blew a corner late in the lap.  With the speed of this course, by the time I recovered myself and got back on-track they had opened up a hundred-yard gap and would maintain that for the rest of the lap.

All by myself...
Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

I re-caught Matt somewhere in Lap 2 and traded leads with him for a long while.  Matt and I are well-matched, and I've had a great time racing with him the last couple of years.  (Thankfully he races on gears.)  The pack had thinned-out considerably, so for the most part it was just the two of us pushing eachother to ride faster.  And faster.

"Here we go, Matt!"  Cranking it out...
Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

After the first couple of laps I finally started feeling warmed-up and smoother, able to stay on the gas.  Inexplicably, this was also when my adductors started protesting against the effort and the deliberations began.  "What's your problem?  You can cramp all you want, but we're not stopping so you might as well just get with the program."  They would continue to cramp on and off for the remainder of the race, but as long as I just kept pedaling...

At the end of Lap 4 Matt stopped at the pit for something and I was alone for the rest of the race.  I felt pretty good overall, staying hard on the gas and maintaining close to a 15mph average speed.  (Pretty good for a singlespeed!)  I passed a couple of solo geared racers toward the end of Lap 5, and started wondering if I might be in the lead overall.  These circuit races are bizarre for maintaining a sense of placement in the field as racers pass eachother back and forth, and between my blown start and not having Erica there to feed me info about my position I really had no idea of who might be ahead of me.

Rolling through one of the few rocks on this fast course.  I love the LESter!!!
Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Not that it really mattered--all I could do was focus forward and ride the best race that I had in me.  It was a blast right up to the end, and it wasn't until an hour later that I found out I had finished second to a geared rider who I never even saw.  Matt rallied in a few minutes after me, taking the official second-place men's solo spot.  He's riding really strong this year--it should be a fun season of racing!

Photo: Kim Beres

The rest of the Teton crew put in a strong showing as well: Amanda Carey and Cary Smith won the Coed Duo division, Brooke Saindon and Beth Ward were both on the Solo Women 50-59 podium, and Joanne LaBelle barely missed the overall Solo Women's podium.  Sick!

The Solo Women's 50-59 podium.
Photo: Joanne LaBelle

The Coed Duo podium, with Cary and Amanda on top, Shannon Boffelli and Jen Hanks 2nd, and Chris and KC Holley 3rd.
Photo: Joanne LaBelle

Ahh, desert riding.  I'm stoked to have felt as strong as I did; now I'm just bummed that I have to wait a month before I get to race again!  This singlespeeding thing is addicting.

Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Now if only the skies would dry up around the Tetons...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Getting Wisterical

Our plan was to skin into the South Fork of Avalanche Canyon and check out this pair of couloirs on the North Face of Buck Mountain--the Bubblefun and Newc.

The North Face of Buck, with the Bubblefun Couloir on the left and the Newc on the right.  The summit of Mt. Wister is in the foreground.

The idea came up years ago in a conversation with Z--climb the Newc to the notch, scramble to the summit, and ski the Bubblefun.  Then, if conditions are good and we still have legs left, use the bootpack that we broke in the Newc to re-climb and ski that as well.  With schedules being what they are, Z and I rarely get to ski together these days, but Parker and Paul were up for the adventure so sunrise found us below the Wanda Pinnacle making the final climb up into the South Fork.

Photo: Josh Parker

The weather forecast for the day was for snow showers after noon and light winds--not a perfect bluebird day, but seemingly manageable.  As it turned out, the clouds and snowfall blew in earlier than forecasted, so as we broke trail up the sluff cone at the base of the Newc and then booted up some of the steepest snow climbing I've ever been on we watched the upper mountain disappear into a progressively thicker cloud.

Photo: Josh Parker

We made it up a little over 1000' from the canyon floor, watching small sluffs coming down periodically.  It seemed that despite the lack of wind and snowfall at our elevation there must be more storming up high, blowing through the notch and loading the upper couloir.

Then small sluffs progressively turned into bigger sluffs as we approached the narrows of the couloir, with easily enough volume to knock us over if we moved into their path.  It was a clear choice, though not an easy decision, to bail off of Buck rather than climbing into the barrel of the gun.

Photo: Josh Parker

1000' of steep powder turns was awfully fun, but then what?

Looking directly across the canyon, Wister came in and out of the clouds, presenting us with a lovely alternative.  I've been staring at the East Face for years, and Paul and I even gave it a shot a few weeks ago, bailing in gail-force winds.  But this day, with little wind and light snowfall, seemed like a prime opportunity.

Photo: Josh Parker

We would be climbing a south-facing couloir that had baked in the sun for a couple of days prior to the base of the East Face.  With Mt. Wister being 1000' shorter than Buck, and well-protected in the middle of Avalanche Canyon, it wasn't receiving the wind that was hitting the higher summits.  And with fresh powder falling from the heavens?  Mmmmmm...

Photo: Josh Parker

Climbing the couloir was quick and relatively easy, with firm snow for kicking steps.  We even saw occasional sunshine as the clouds flowed past.

Photo: Josh Parker

And then the short stretch of ridge over to the base of the East Face turned squirrelly for a little while.  Not particularly hard climbing, but a bit of exposure off of both sides made it ugly climbing for me, at least.

The East Face of Mt. Wister from Shadow Peak.  It seemed improbably to ski the upper section the year that I took this photo!

But the East Face was gorgeous.  Having looked at this thing for years, I've become pretty familiar with how the snow fills-in through the rocks, but this year there isn't really any "through the rocks".  Our snowpack is so deep that it's pretty much just snow, with a few rocks here and there for spice.

And beautifully steep.

Making some tentative initial turns off the summit, with a few thousand feet of relief below.  Voilé is making a new ski they're calling the V6, with the dreamy shape and flex of the V8 in a narrower, lighter package. (102mm waist)  My new fave for ski mountaineering adventures, they were the cat's meow for this day's variable conditions.
Photo: Josh Parker

Paul gets rowdy down the summit snowfield.

Parker makes it look easy.

Yup, this thing's steep!
Photo: Paul Rachele

Catching our breath at the base of the East Face.

And looking down at 2000'+ of north-facing powder to Avalanche Canyon below.
Photo: Josh Parker

From the base of the East Face, the route naturally banks to the north as it flows down to Avalanche Canyon below.  Being north-facing and relatively sheltered from the wind it often holds really high-quality snow, and we were delighted to find knee-deep, silky powder.  We left the hop-turns (chop-turns?) behind and were able to fully open it up, letting our skis eat up the vertical drop in big, GS turns to the canyon below.

Let the powder turns begin...
Photo: Josh Parker

Parker goes deep, with the full route to the summit in sight above.

It was sort of unbelievable, really.  We set out for a ski mountaineering adventure with little expectation of finding good snow, discovered avalanche conditions that we didn't like and forced us to change our day's objective, and ended up with steep, rowdy skiing up high on Wister and a long, steep powder run down the canyon bottom.

Wow--did we really just ski that?
Photo: Josh Parker

It did feel a little silly to have carried ropes and gear (that we were planning on using in the Bubblefun) all that way, but ultimately the consolation prize turned out to be pretty sweet.

My boot's-eye view back across Taggart Lake.  Still looks wintry up there!

We arrived back at Taggart Lake and returned to springtime, complete with insects gamboling about on the snow and birds chirping in the trees.  Winter still has the high country firmly in its grasp, but the lowlands are quickly changing seasons.  I have to admit that while the ski mountaineering is still pretty fun up high it feels really good to feel warm, sunny days returning to the Tetons.