My Introduction to Zion Canyoneering

I planned this summer to be a summer of fun and adventure. I was not planning on much racing and my back/leg nerve issues this winter solidified that decision. Luckily, it did not have much of an impact on my adventure plans (other than shortening the duration of the adventures). My head has been filled with all kinds of ideas for the summer, but other than the volcano skiing, the best ones have been unplanned.

A couple weeks ago I had an email from Tom Diegel asking how long the rope we use for the Powder Keg fixed line up Mt Millicent was. Always curious, my response was 250-300M and what type of adventure are you scheming? This was enough to get an invite for a weekend of canyoneering in Zion National Park. There were no exact plans so we put in for last minute permits for Imlay and Heaps Canyons for Friday and Saturday and figured we would fill in other canyons or runs on days we didn’t draw a permit. Jared Campbell spends a significant amount of time in Zion linking together amazing adventures. My first call was to Jared to find out what I was getting myself into, if I was in above my head, and if I could borrow some gear (pack, wetsuit, rope, etc). As usual, he had a plethora of information and gear and was eager to encourage me. Not wanting to purchase much gear, I was able to remove the soles from an old pair of New Balance MT1210 running shoes and glue on Five Ten Stealth C4 Dot soles. I knew this wouldn’t be perfect, but it would have to do. My timing wasn’t perfect and I ended up cutting and sanding them at our Thursday night campsite.

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Shoe grinding at our campsite

Tom, Paul Diegel, Colter Leys and I loaded a ridiculous amount of gear into my truck on Thursday and as we were read to leave the city we got our permit lottery results and finalized our plan. We would get a walk-up permit for Icebox Canyon int the Kolob section of Zion for Friday, pick up our lottery permit for Heaps Canyon for Saturday, and play Sunday by ear.

We had an amazing campsite on Thursday night overlooking the Kolob and were treated to an amazing full moon.

Icebox Canyon Canyoneering Trip with Colter, Paul, Tom

The Kolob from our campsite

I had had only been canyoneering twice before and both times were on guided trips when I was out of the country (Australia and Nepal) so when we got up early on Friday I was a little bit nervous. Luckily Icebox canyon had some familiar terrain, our 7+ mile walk out would be on the trail from Kolob Arch to Lee’s Pass Trailhead a section I have run a few times. We loaded gear and we were off quickly headed down the trail, then bush whacking and scrambling to the North Pass entrance. Not being much of a climber any longer, I was a little nervous on the first rappel, but quickly settled into the groove of quickly moving in and out of rappel stations and getting ropes setup. Canyoneering is a very different mentality than climbing and I continually looked at anchors and gear and questioning it. In climbing, you are taught to have 3 points of protection. Many of our canyoneering anchors were a single bolt or 1-2 pieces of webbing slung around a rock or tree. In climbing you use 10+mm ropes and usually rappel on a double rope. In canyoneering, in order to save time we only let out enough rope to reach the ground or water and then tied it off with a ‘biner block’. As a precaution, I had learned an ‘auto block’ using a prussick to backup my rappel. Most accident happen on rappels so I wanted to be sure I was doing everything in my control to be safe. I ended up using this technique on all rappels that didn’t drop us into pools. Icebox was a lot of fun, we took our time, enjoyed the sites, took lots of photos, had relaxing snack breaks, and then cooked in the sun for the 7+ mile hike out. This was a great introduction canyon. It was not overly challenging and had the perfect amount of rappels, swims, scrambling, and down climbing to get me ready for Heaps.

We reached the trailhead, rehydrated with a beer, ate a little food, then headed to Springdale. We were able to complete Icebox in an easy 9 hours to cover the 12+ miles.

It was late afternoon and we still had to pick up our Heaps permit and stash the long rope at Emerald Pools for our last 300’ rappel out of Heaps. Tom and Colter stashed our rope while Paul and I took over 3 parking stalls in the afternoon sun to dry our gear. We got done with all of this at 8:30 and started looking for dinner. Being a weekend, of course Zion was packed busy. It was 10PM before we finally got to where we were going to camp and still and to get gear packed up and ready to leave by 4:45AM.

Heaps would be a completely new beast. It had a long approach with over 3000’ of climbing; it had long, dark, wet sections; significant amounts of scrambling, and a massive 3 rappel exit with the final rappel being 300’ (and free hanging).

Heaps Canyon Canyoneering Trip with Colter, Paul, Tom

Final Heaps Rappel to Emerald Pools

We had a great hike up to the West Rim Trail from The Grotto and were treated to sunrise just before the rim. After about 3 hours we reached the start of Heaps which was a 65’ rappel, a knife ridge scramble, the a 205’ rappel. This canyon was going to start ‘full on’. We then had a great hike down to the bottom of the wash followed by some great slickrock hiking. From the wash, the real fun of Heaps would being. We donned wetsuits, gloves, and hoods and headed into the dark and wet narrows. We would spend the next 5-ish hours rappel into pools, swimming and wading, crawling out of potholes, down climbing into more pools to eventually find an exit that was still high above the canyon floor. There had been rain causing flash floods several days prior so the water in the narrows was high and full of debris. This was great for escaping pot holes as we didn’t have to deal with any challenging escapes, but it meant we spent more time cold and wet. The narrows were an amazing corridor carved into the sandstone with sunshine visible a couple thousand feet above our head at the canyon rim. It was truly amazing. After 10 hours of hiking, rappelling, scrambling, and swimming, we arrived at the exit point. We got out of wet and cold wetsuits, snacked, warmed up, and then got ready for a short 5.4 climb, then 3 massive rappels out of the canyon to Emerald Pools. We talked through our plan in detail for this exist as there was very little room for error and we would be very space constrained on the rappel ledges so we needed to have things planned and organized. The first rappel dropped us into a small crack with a tree anchor. It was small, but plenty of space for 4. The last rappel station (above the 300’ rappel) would be a small 3’ x 1’ ledge. We talked through our plan of rope management, pack management, etc and headed down. Tom, me, Paul, then Colter. Once Colter was firmly on top of us (there really wasn’t anywhere else for him, we commenced setting up the final rappel. We were all getting tired so we talked through each step, checked and double checked ropes/anchors/knots, then proceeded with caution. We would tie our 120’ and 200’ ropes together, belay Colter down on the 120’ rope, then he would be tied in below the knot and rappel the 200’ rope. He would then get our 250M rope from where it was stashed, we would pull it up, rig it then the 3 of us would rappel on a single strand of this long rope. We had been warned that if we did not plan fully, this could take 4 hours. It was definitely time consuming and we were all stuck in uncomfortable positions on this ledge. It took us 3 hours from the start of the exit to Emerald Pools and 1.5 hours just for the last rappel.

We were all happy to be on the ground. We had a snack and loaded up all our gear for the ~2 mile hike back to the trailhead. We were all giddy on the hike out over the amazing experience we had during the day. After 20+ rappels, lots of swimming and scrambling, and 13.5 hours, we were back at The Grotto trailhead. I found it more mentally exhausting than physically exhausting. We snacked, had a beer, and headed into Springdale to find much needed dinner (and more beer).

After another late night, we were back at a campsite with a plan to do Pine Creek on Sunday. We would hopefully be able to get a walk up permit on Sunday morning. This would be a great canyon as it would take less than 3 hours which would allow us to get home by early evening.

Arriving at the Zion Visitor Center on Sunday morning, I immediately saw Adam and Lindsay from Sedona Running Company. It turned out they were also planning to do Pine Creek. We spent some time catching up both while getting permits and at the trailhead, then we moved on. We had a long drive ahead of us. Pine Creek was a beautiful slot and a nice and easy excursion after the prior 2 days. We enjoyed taking it easy through the canyon with 5 rappels and about 30% water. We enjoyed ourselves and took it easy on our hike through. It was amazing how different all 3 canyons were. We were in a small area and yet each was as diverse as they could be.

My introduction to canyoneering in Zion was amazing. I can’t thank Tom enough for the invite and I can’t wait to return.

Instead of posting a bunch of photos, I merged them into this video of the 3 canyons.

 

Volcano Double Header

For many years I have wanted to do a big volcano tour skiing Rainier, Adams, St Helens, Hood, and Jefferson in 5 days. I have never been able to find the time or the partners for such a large undertaking (which I am not actually sure if physically possible for me). This winter Eric, Nick and I decided we would do some type of volcano tour in the spring. After watching the weather for weeks we had a window starting June 11. Work and weather appeared to be on track until the 10th when the weather changed. This pushed our trip back 4 days. Unfortunately Nick was not able to make this window, but Eric and I were still going to go for it. We had to reduce the scope to 2 or 3 peaks in 3 days and we only had 4 total days which included the ~30 hours of driving round trip from SLC and between peaks. We decided on Adam, Rainier, and if possible Hood.

We left SLC early Sunday morning and arrived at Cold Springs Campground at Mt Adams in to cold and cloudy weather. We hoped to climb the south ridge and descent the SW Chute. We knew the weather wouldn’t be great for the Monday climb. We decided to climb the South Ridge (Suksdorf Ridge) and descent the SW Chute. We had an early start on Monday morning

Leaving Goliath for Mt Adams

Leaving Goliath for Mt Adams

The 1 mile walk to snowl line

The 1 mile walk to snow line

and were making good time enjoying the views (while they  lasted).

One of our few good views of Mt Adams

One of our few great views of Mt Adams

A horizon that goes on forever

Climbing against a never ending horizon

Up high on Adams, the wind was strong and the wind chills were very cold (single digit or colder wind chills with a rime event occuring at the same time). We were not expecting these temps and both were quite cold.

Freezing on the summit of Mt Adams - 12,280'

Freezing and getting rimed on the summit

We had to have an early start in order to ski the peak and make it to Mt Rainier to get our climbing permit before the ranger station closed. This meant we skied most of Mt Adams on very frozen snow. The decent was jarring feeling like it would rattle your organs loose. The last ~800’ before the mile walk to the car was the only good turns we had.

Mission complete

Mission Complete

We didn’t move as fast as we had hoped, but covered the 12.6 miles and 8,250’ of climbing in 6:11. Our goal was around 5 hours but the the cold temps and poor visibility caused us quite a bit of delay.

Our route up (right) and down (left) Mt Adams

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After a beautiful 4 hour drive from Adams to Rainier

The amazing greenery of on the drive from Adams to Rainier

we arrived to what is probably typical Rainier weather:

The best view we had of the base of Rainier

Mt Rainer Visitor Center is back there somewhere

After getting our permits we sorted gear, reviewed maps, and had a huge dinner. The forecast was for very cold and windy. The summit forecast was 4F and 40mph winds! We figured we didn’t need too early of a start based on this forecast (big mistake as it turns out). We wanted to ascend and descend the Fuhrer Finger as opposed to the standard highly traveled routes. With a little bit of new snow in the forecast, we were excited for the skiing possibilities of this route.

Leaving Goliath in a light rain

A rainy start

We left the parking lot at 7:45 (a true Texas alpine start) and struggled in 20M visibility for the next 2 hours. It took us those 2 hours to get 1500’ with much of the time spent getting safely across the Nisqually glacier and finding the base of ‘The Fan’. We had our first view of Rainier just before entering the Nisqually and it was eye opening. It made us immediately realize the enormity of the mountain, the complexity of the terrain, and that this was indeed going to be something not to take lightly.

Our first (intimidating) view of Rianier from the Nisqually Glacier

Our first intimidating view of Mt Rainier from the Nisqually Glacier

We broke trail in 2-8” of snow from just above the trailhead for around 5,000’.

Starting to work out of the fog after ~1500' of climbing

Climbing out of the fog at around 7,100′

We started to leave the fog at about 7,100’ and realized why the description of the Fuhrer Finger route says it can get hot. We were fully exposed with no breeze until we exited the Finger. Our Texas alpine start was turning into a large error.

Navigating the crevases to the base of Fuhrer Finger

Navigating Wilson Glacier to the base of Fuhrer Finger

Crevases on Wilson Glacier

Entering the Finger we were looking forward to skiing this incredible line in the good snow we had so far.

Looking up the choke of Fuhrer Finger

Looking up Fuhrer Finger

As we climbed, the snow got deeper, denser, and trail breaking got much harder.

Upper Nisqually Glacier

Breaking trail in heavy snow on the upper Nisqually Glacier

After the finger, the snow quickly got very hard and turned into sastrugi which proved for some challenging climbing.

Booting up the edge of Nisqually

Booting up the hard pack (more like ice pack)

These sastrugi fins were above my knees!

The massive sastrugi on the climb

We were starting to doubt our ability to descend this snow.

Eric booting through unskiable snow

Eric trying not to be discourage about the snow condition

We continued up the never ending mountain. The climbing was never hard, but the terrain was complex either due to low visibility navigation, trail breaking, route finding, or traveling on the bad snow. These conditions caused us the climb to take much, much longer than we had anticipated. At about 11,000’ we finally entered the wind and it continued to get stronger and stronger the higher we climbed. We kept our heads down and continued to plod up. With the summit in view, it looked close, but was still over a 1,500’ climb away.

We were able to switch back to skinning for the final several hundred feet before reach the summit. We expected the round trip to take us 8 hours and it we were at the summit after 9 hours!

Summit of Mt Rainier - 14,409'

SUMMIT!

Based on the snow conditions of our climb and the late time we had decided that we would descend the Disappointment Cleaver route. We knew the snow couldn’t be any worse and it would be wanded so we would not have to do any route finding. What commenced was 4,000’ of absolutely terrifying descending in strong winds on rock hard snow and sastrugi. It was survival skiing that was rattling our bodies apart. We finally reached somewhat softer snow just before Muir Camp on the Cowlitz Glacier.

Looking down at Camp Muir across the Cowlitz Glacier

Cowlitz Glacier and Camp Muir

We stopped briefly at Muir Camp and chatted with Billy who was there guiding and lives in Utah in the winters. We then were treated to a thousand or so feet of nice breakable crust followed by about 1,000’ of soft snow, then manky snow to the trailhead

Mission Complete - started in the rain, ended in the rain.

Start in the rain, end in the rain!

Our final stats for the route were 30.4 miles and 11,200’ of climbing in 11:11.

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We were tired, but not wrecked, but we also knew that since it was late in the day and a 4 hour drive to Mt Hood that skiing another peak was out of the question. By the time we got gear stashed and had a snack, it was almost 8pm. We planned a celebratory beer and burger in Ashford and decided we would end the trip with that.

Post climb reward!

All this and dessert too

We had a restless sleep on Tuesday night, got up Wednesday and after a big breakfast pointed the van southeast for the long drive home.

 

Gear:

  • Voile WSP skis
  • Scarpa Alien 1.0 boots
  • Black Diamond Whippet
  • Black Diamond Raven Ax (never used)
  • Grivel Race crampons
  • Camp X600 pack
  • Black Diamond Vector Helmet
  • Crazy NRG skin Suit
  • CWX Expert Tights
  • IO Bio Merino Wool base
  • 3 weights of gloves (Black Diamond, Scarpa, CAMP)
  • 2 HooRags neck bands
  • Smith Pivlock glasses
  • CAMP Anorack Jacket
  • Patagonia Puffball Vest
  • Patagonia Down Sweater
  • OR Centrifuge Jacket
  • Suunto Ambit
  • Magellan Explorist GPS

Food Sources: 600 calories on Monday; 1500 calories on Tuesday

  • Hammer Gels
  • Hammer HEED
  • Hammer Recoverite
  • ProBars
  • Snickers
  • Sweet potato bars (recipe from Feed Station Portables book by Allen Lim)
  • 5 hour energy

 

Spring Skiing Fever

I have been slowly getting back into running after my back and leg issues over the winter.  This means I am only running a couple of times a week and only short distances (my longest run has been 10 miles).  Since I am not able to run long distances yet, I have been keeping my ski season alive.  We have had a great spring with over 18″ of snow falling from 07-11 May.

As I mentioned in prior posts, spring is always a fun time as you can get into areas I usually don’t feel comfortable on in mid-winter (due to avalanche conditions).

On 03 May, Mark Christopherson and I skied the NW Couloir of Twin Peaks. This is a great line and one of the most visible ski lines from the Salt Lake Valley.  The approach to this is long (5300′), up Broad’s Fork to the summit of Twin Peaks.  After skiing the shot, you can either skin back up and ski down Bonkers and Broad’s or make it an adventure by exiting out Deaf Smith Canyon.  In the spring, Broad’s is typically too warmed to be safely skied (at least for me) so I enjoy the fun of the bushwhack out Deaf Smith. On the approach Mark and I were lucky to be able to start skinning (sort of) at the bridge up Broads.  We had great snow for the climb.  For the descent, wehad variable snow, but we were able to ski 4100′ which limited our walking/swacking to only the last 2000′ descent.

Here are a few photos of our Twin Peak ski (click on image to enter slide show mode)

The following week, Chip invited me down to Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park.  Wheeler Peak is the second highest Peak in Nevada at 13,064′ (although the highest peak is not technically a peak since it is a sub-peak of a peak in California).  I could’t pass up the opportunity to ski a big peak.  It was also a rarity for Chip to be able to get away for a night and not having skied with him much lately, I jumped at the chance.  We left after work, drove the 3.5 hours and camped just outside of the park.  We were accompanied by Roland, a friend of Chip’s, and none of us had done a significant amount of research into the area.  We knew 3 good ski options off of Wheeler Peak and 3 more off of neighboring Jeff Davis Peak.  We had hoped to ski a shot off each peak.  We camped close to the entrance of the park and were woken a couple hours after going to sleep with a very wet tent.  We fixed a few items and restlessly slept a few more hours waking up at 5:30 with everything pretty wet.  We knew when we left SLC that the weather was not looking good, but we figured we had the time we should go for it.  Waking up wet, we were starting to second guess ourselves.  We packed up a wet camp, found a shelter to cook breaky under and talked ourselves into it.

None of us are sure if it was a good idea or not.  The snow levels were high, we were left with a 4 mile road walk to the trailhead where there was enough snow to skin, then we spent a lot of time skinning through rocks.  We had little to no visibility the entire day.  In fact we were never able to actually see Wheeler Peak and had to check the GPS to ensure we were actually standing on it.  We picked our way down through the rocks for the first 1200′ before getting into the NE couloir of Wheeler.  The snow was variable at top, but very good down low.  We enjoyed the turns and eventually hit the summer trail again where we had to skin back to the road for the long walk back to the car.  We had high ambitions that since the  weather was so back maybe we could ski part of the road, but those were short lived and we had a long walk ahead of us.

The storm that dampened our Wheeler Peak day made for a great weekend of skiing in the Wasatch.  One of the best things about spring skiing is that most people have given up on skiing so you can have the Wasatch all to yourself (almost literally).  Tom D and I headed out Saturday morning with no specific plan and ended up having an amazing day.  We arrived at Alta to find no skin track up Flagstaff at 8AM (in mid-winter after a storm there is a skin track up Flagstaff by 5AM).  We made a run down Flagstaff in great snow, climbed up and made another great run into Days Fork.  We decided the Hallway would be our next stop and had another set of first tracks there.  Climbing up Cardiff from the bottom of the Hallway, the visibility was poor, but we still had the place to ourselves so we broke a trail up Ivory Flakes.  When done we were trying to determine our exit and Tom mentioned skiing Holy Mole.  Neither of us had skied this so we thought we better try this out.  After missing the entrance our our first attempt and booting out, we both loved the steep shot.  After a quick skin to Pole Line Pass, we finally crossed another set of tracks to ski back down to LCC.

Saturday Emily and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with an amazing meal at Gliterind at Deer Valley followed by a leisurely Sunday morning.  I finally left the house a little after 9 and eventually met up with Eric and Jackie for a few laps.  The weather on Sunday was full on winter with nuking winds, snow, and cold temps.  Not the standard spring skiing conditions.  This made for some tricky snow conditions to find snow that was not wind affected, but we finally found some great snow in West Bowl of Silver Fork.

According to the forecast, this is likely our last storm of the season in the Wasatch.  With over a 100″ base, we should have at least another 3-4 weeks of good skiing.  Eric, Nick, and I are also planning a volcano tour where we hope to ski 4-5 volcanoes in the same number of days (Rainier, Hood, Adams, St Helens, and Jefferson).

 

Sayulita

After being together for almost 22 years and married for almost 15, we decided it was time for our first beach vacation.  We had spent a day here and a day there at beaches before, but never done a true beach trip.  We decided on Sayulita, Mexico as it would give us a chance to see Chris and Ashley (our Aspen Lane neighbors who moved there a few years ago), it came highly recommended from several friends, and it wasn’t touristy like most well-known beach areas.

We decided against racing at Steamboat on 05 April an instead had an amazing Whiskey Ski Tour (Alta to High West; 16.3 mile; 7550′ ascent; 9,200′ descent)

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      Whiskey at High West after touring there from Alta

24 hours later, our backpacks were loaded on the local Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita bus and we were enjoying a Pacifico in route to the beach.

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We had a  relaxing first evening walking around town and having our first of many  meals of fish tacos from the numerous street vendors and enjoying a few beverages and the amazing view from our balcony.

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     View from our balcony

Monday Emily took her first surf lesson and I spent most of the day reminding myself how to surf.  We enjoyed the first of several evening with Chris, Ashley, Alex, and Trace.

My back had given me issues the week before vacation and I was on a dose of Prednisone.  As has happened other times I am on this, my immune system was weakened and just like other times, I ended up getting sick on Monday night so I spent Tuesday resting.  Emily enjoyed the ocean for another day.

This area is not well known for scuba diving, but since it had been several years since we had the opportunity to dive, we took a 1 day dive trip to the Marietas Islands.  It was a lot of fun to dive again.  The area was all volcanic rock so there were lots of caverns and tunnels to dive through. This was a new experience for us and a lot of fun.

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     Heading out to dive 

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Dive #1

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     Underwater selfy with a GoPro

We figured we needed to have at least 1 dinner that was not street tacos and enjoyed an amazing meal at Don Juan’s.  We made a great evening of it walking around the area and then as usual, retreated to the balcony to watch the ocean and have a few beers.

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     Enjoying another great night

Thursday we enjoyed another night with Chris, Ashley, Alex, and Trace and an amazing meal of fresh caught tuna.

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The sunsets from Chris and Ashley’s are truly amazing.  I can see why they love Sayulita so much.

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Each day was filled with surfing, relaxing, reading, more surfing, street tacos at least once, and numerous beers and margaritas in the sun.

It was great to get up on Saturday morning and get 2 hours of surfing in before heading to the airport.  Just 24 hours after surfing, I was back on skis in the Wasatch feeling refreshed from the week.

 

The Sliver – A Wasatch Classic

Hogum Fork is one of my favorite places in the Wasatch. It is topped off with the Pfiefferhorn (my favorite peak) and is a massive alpine area with lots of great ski lines. Two of the classics are The Hypodermic Needle and The Sliver. Andy Paradis and I had hopes of skiing both lines on Saturday, but ended up just skiing The Sliver. In The Chuting Gallery, Andrew McLean gives this line a 5- our of 7 for steepness and mentions that the top section ‘can be a mildly technical mixed rock and snow climb in low snow conditions.’ The Wasatch definitely has low snow conditions this year. When you look at the Sliver from the bottom, it doesn’t look like it goes all the way to the top, but once in the chute, you can see a very narrow choke the allows access to the ridge. Three years ago we climbed the Sliver to access Coalpit Gulch and since that time, I have wanted to get back to ski it.

Andy and I decided to approach The Sliver via the longer route from White Pine Trailhead, up to Red Pine, across Maybird, over ‘Small Pass’ then across all of Hogum Fork. The approach was 5.5 miles and 3200′ of climbing just to get to the base of The Sliver.  Once at the top of the Sliver we enjoyed the great views of the western Wasatch and Salt Lake Valley.  Looking over the edge put butterflies in my stomach.  I measured the top section to the choke at 58 degrees.  Add to this, slipping or falling in this section would have made a person into a pinball off the rocks. I was a little nervous, but once my tips were over the edge and I dropped in, I realized it was exhilarating and not nearly as bad as it looked.

 

Ski Mountaineering Season Is Here

Most people anxiously await spring as they are ready to hit the trails, garden, bike, and do other warm weather activities. For me, spring means a new type of ski season starts. As the high elevations move into their warming and freezing cycles, the snow strengthens allowing us to safely get into the steep and alpine terrain. More and more each year, spring for me is about climbing peaks and skiing some bigger lines that I don’t venture into during the winter.

Over the past several years as I have done more skimo racing, it has allowed me to do more big ski mountaineering days in the spring. My back is still healing from January and I am unable to run yet so I am excited about a big spring of skiing. This weekend felt like the start of ski mountaineering season with a lot of big lines skied and people getting after it in the Wasatch. On Friday I mounted a pair of the new Voile Wasatch Speed Project skis and I was excited to try these. My hope was that these would be my go to ski mountaineering skis for this spring since I felt they would combine the light weight of a race ski with the ‘ski-ability’ of the rest of the Voile line of skis.

I wanted to try go ski one of the main chutes of LCC on Saturday with plans to go big on Mt Nebo on Sunday. Without a set plan, Blake and I headed up LCC on Saturday with a leisurely 9:15 departure from the city. We were contemplating Tannners or Little Pine. Since Blake had skied both of these, we ventured further east to Limber Pine. Had we planned this out ahead of time, we should have left earlier and tried to ski the triad of Limber Pine, Little Pine East, and Jedediah. Our late start prevented all 3 and our leisurely pace meant we only were able to ski Limber Pine before the snow warmed up too much.

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Looking up the choke of Limber Pine – it was mostly skiable

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Blake booting up Limber Pine

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LCC/BCC Ridgeline with the LCC road 3,100’ below

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Blake skiing Limber Pine

Limber Pine was a great ski for a quick ski day. I am excited to return of ski the triad.

Sunday was the day that Eric, Nick, and I had been planning all week. We had the hopes of ascending Mt Nebo from Pole Canyon and skiing the Champagne and Northwest Couloirs. There are 2 northwest facing couloirs off the North Summit of Mt Nebo that start at 60 degrees and then ease out to about 45. I was excited to ski these as it would be the steepest terrain I would have ever skied.

Unlike our leisurely Saturday morning, my alarm rang at 4:15 on Sunday morning and I was out the door by 5AM. We were able to 4-wheel my pickup farther up Pole Canyon than we had planned saving us about 500’ of climbing. We were walking up the rode in trail runners by 7:30 and reached snow after only about 20 minutes.

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We skinned up the road missing turn to boot up the basin to the base of the couloirs so we climbed to Wolf Pass then took the ridge to the summit.

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Chad & Nick on the ridge from Wolf Pass to Mt Nebo (photo by Eric Bunce)


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Nick (foreground) and Eric on the ridge

We skinned and booted the ridge to the Mt Nebo summit to find the Champagne couloir looking in rough shape. The top 100 vertical feet was blown off down to the rocks and would require a down climb. The Northwest couoir looked to be in moderately better condition, but would either require a down climb or some creating side-sliding and side-stepping to get into.

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A cold and windy Mt Nebo North Summit

While contemplating these objectives, we all agreed that the northwest to southeast aspects looked amazing and we decided that we better give those a try while we decided what we wanted to do about the couloirs.

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Creamy snow on the NE aspects (photo by Eric Bunce)

After climbing out of the first run, we decided we needed one more run on these aspects. The snow was great and the terrain was huge.

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Booting up in the warming day

The day was warming quickly and by the time we got to Wolf Pass after 2 runs we needed to make a final decision: 1) down to the road from the pass, 2) up to the summit again and down the NorthWest Couloir, or 3) up to North Peak and gamble that there was enough snow to ski out. No one really had a big preference other than based on already having climbed over 8,000’ and it getting later i the day we felt the NW couloir would take too long. Always up for an unknown adventure I voted for North Peak and no one vetoed (at least not very loudly).

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Mt Nebo from the North Peak Ridge

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Looking back at Nebo and the aspects that we skied

We skinned and booted to the peak, then had to boot down to snow line where after a little bit of creativity, we popped out into a great west facing gully with 1,000’ of perfect snow. We were lucky to have a fairly easy exist through the avalanche path and back down to the road. The road was a mix of corn, hardback, and ice and we were quickly at our ‘shoe stash’. We grabbed our shoes and continued to pick our way through patch snow to within a 5 minute walk to the pickup.

We had a great day on Nebo and it really just opened the door to some amazing terrain. There is an almost limitless amount of lines to ski in that area and almost guaranteed solidarity. I will definitely be heading back down for some big days.

The WSP skis did not disappoint me at all. Over the weekend I was able to ski them on ice, powder, corn, and breakable crust and for a ski/binding combined weight of 880g, they skied amazingly.

Ski Mountaineering Technique Tip

I have wanted to start putting together some ski mountaineering tips posts for quite a while.  Stano at www.skintrack.com does a great job of this and as a race director and racer, I especially like his post on race organization.

After being at World’s last year, I started to spend more time on skin waxing.  With Emily racing this year and having to wax 6 pair of skins before every race, I feel like I have perfected my technique. This is not the only technique and probably not the best one, but I have found it very successful.  I put together this short video ‘how-to’ on hot waxing skins.  I would love to hear feedback in the blog comment of other techniques people use or if they find this method useful.

 

Coupe du Monde de Ski Alpinisme – Verbier

I had what I thought would be the perfect plan. I had to be in London for client meetings 13-17 January. Looking at the skimo race schedule, the first World Cup race of the season was scheduled for 17-19 January in Verbier. A couple of quick calls and I found out that my round trip ticket would be $400 cheaper flying out of Geneva on Monday and I could fly from London to Geneva on Friday for $120. To complicate the schedule a little bit, Emily and I would be racing Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Resort, Colorado on 11 January. With a little bit of complicated packing/planning I think I had it figured out how to pack for 2 race weekends on different continents plus a week of client meetings.

Heathen Challenge was a great race. Long, but not a lot of vertical so it was a great chance to work on my gliding. Emily and I both had good races (Heathen Challenge Results ).

Heathen Challenge

Emily at the finish of Heathen Challenge

I was flying out of Denver on Sunday so after the race, I rented a car and drove to Boulder for the night to visit Matt and Walter. I was excited to catch up with them and have a trail run on Sunday.

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Matt and Walter

After a trail run on Sunday, I was off to the airport. It wasn’t a good start with a security flag of some type being put on my ticket and it taking me over 90 minutes to get checked in. I missed the first leg of my flight, but was able to get a later flight out and still get into London on time.

It was a busy week in London with client meetings, but I was really looking forward to the weekend and getting to race my first Euro Skimo race and then getting to free ski in Verbier for a day. Wednesday morning is when things went bad. I was stretching in the hotel in the morning and something in my back ‘snapped’. When this happened, I was hardly able to get off the floor. The only time I had experienced something like this during Leadman in 2012, but this was worse. I struggled through the next 2 days of work in constant pain and just hoped for the best. I was barely able to make it through the airport at Gatwick to my flight to Geneva on Friday. Every few steps I would have to stop breathing hard and sweating from pain. This was not good. I arrived in Geneva, picked up a rental car and headed to Chamonix to pick up Meredith and Wild Bill. It would be Meredith’s first World Cup race.

We arrived in Verbier and quickly starting catching up with race friends. I was excited for the World Cup race weekend .

Verbier World Cup Individual Race

Chad, Meredith, Martha, and Wild Bill

I knew the only way I would be able to determine if I could race would be to get out and skin a little. Meredith and I did a short 1100’ climb from Verbier. The climbing felt good, but when it was time to transition, I could reach my boots and bindings. When it was time to ski, I was not able to engage any of the lower back and leg muscles on my right side and therefore could hardly turn left. That pretty much made my race decision and I was extremely disappointed and bummed out. I had done all this traveling and had built up a lot of excitement about my first Euro skimo race and I was going to be sidelined.

At least there was still work to do. There was an interesting coaches meeting on Friday afternoon to review all of the new and updated ISMF rules. It was great to get clarification of them. Verbier is also the host of the 2015 World Championships so I was able to get a ‘lay of the land’ for next year’s races. Meredith was also really nervous so being able to support her in a ‘coaches’ role would be very beneficial to her and at least make me useful.

The pre-race briefing had lots of ‘show’. There was the parade of nations and presentation of numbers for the top 5 men and women racers.

Verbier World Cup Individual Race

The best of the best in the world

 The blistering fast start pace of a World Cup race

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Melanie Bernier of Team Canada at the first transition

Verbier World Cup Individual Race

Somewhat obscured view of the top of climb 2 (up the ridge on the right) and climb 3 (straight up the front)

Verbier World Cup Individual Race

Martha on the final climb

Verbier World Cup Individual Race

Meredith on the last climb

The race was great to watch. My back got much worse when walking near the starting line and my foot sunk through a hole and my entire body seized up trying to hold the fall. This was not good and it only got worse throughout the day. By night I was not able to even stand up out of a chair. I was not in some of the most severe pain I had ever been in my life. After a tough night of sleep, I wasn’t able to get out of bed on Sunday. Unfortunately I missed the race on Sunday as I knew I couldn’t get up and down the mountain. I was not a lot worried about my back and my ability to get home the next day. After the race, we drove back to Chamonix for the race. What should have a dream for me, was more about pain management and I didn’t really get to enjoy my time in Cham.

I am now on the flight home and trying to feed the pain with Vitamin I and Valium and not sure of what to do next.

I had a busy week planned with the OR Show Race and OR Show meetings for the Powder Keg. I can’t imagine at this point being able to be on my feet for any amount of time for OR and am having doubts on being able to ski for a few weeks. I have dealt with back pain for many years, but this is like nothing else.

 

Wyoming Roundup Race Recap

3 Skimo Race, 15,000’ climbing, 18 miles of distance, in 2 days

At first thought, the idea of putting all that in 2 days sounded crazy. The Wyoming Roundup would be the newest US Skimo Stage race. It would combine The Jackon race, Grand Targhee Classic, and add in a new Snow King Sprint race. It was guaranteed to be a very busy weekend. Drive to Driggs on Friday, race Grand Targhee Classic Saturday morning, drive to Jackson, attempt to dry out gear before Saturday’s second race at Snow King, try to sleep, race Jackson on Sunday, then drive home. It makes me tired even recapping the plan.

As is typical for this race weekend, the weather forecast was cold. It was going to be snowing, below zero (F) temps, and very windy.

Emily and I were both excited for the race weekend. For me, it was to return for the third year to race Targhee and Jackson and for her it was to have her first big multi-race weekend.

We had a great Thai dinner in Driggs with Jason D, Josh, Nick, and Brita, then were back at the hotel to get our race gear ready. A 9AM start on Saturday allowed us a somewhat relaxing morning. The weather at Grand Targhee was socked in, windy, and cold as expected. There was a nice layer of fresh snow so we were hoping for good skiing conditions until Andy (the RD) told us to expect otherwise since the 40mph winds of the previous afternoon had scoured everything up high. We warmed up for a while, then had to wait for a 30 minute race delay for avalanche control work. We warmed up again and the race was off with the standard ‘stupid, fast’ pace. I struggled to get into a rhythm on the steep first climb. A fast and good descent got me into my rhythm for the second climb and I enjoyed the climb and the booter up Mary’s Nipple. The second descent was what I was worried about after last year’s breakable crust. Expecting the snow to get bad at any time, I skied cautiously. The snow stayed good, but was very thin. The last climb was long. I blew both skins and lost 4 places. After replacing skins, I pushed the pace up to regain 2 of the places. I reached the top and was excited about the steep couloir off the top. It skied great followed by a straight-line descent down the apron and onto a groomer. I crossed the finish line in 1:55:48 for 12th place. I was 2 minutes slower than 2013 which was disappointing as I was hoping to be around 10 minutes faster. I got some warm cloths on and waited for Emily at the finish line. Emily came across very cold with frost nip on her thumbs at 2:40:21 for 11th. Full Grand Targhee Classic Results.

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Emily at Grand Targhee Classic Finish

We waited for awards and were on our way over Teton Pass by around 1. With lots of wet gear, we had things spread around the car as much as possible to dry. We go to Jackson and checked into our luxurious Super 8 room and went about getting our gear dried. Heater on high, doors and windows wide open. With Mark, Emily, and my wet gear the room did not have a good smell. Emily Sullivan came by and wouldn’t come past the door way it smelled so bad. We weren’t left with many options. We had just over 1 hour to get our gear as dry as possible before the Snow King Sprint Race.

We loaded up and headed to Snow King a little before 4. We got ready and started to warm up on the sprint course. The race would be 3 laps of 400’ each with several switchbacks and a booter. Sprinting is neither of our strong points so we just hoped to survive. When the gun went off, I felt very good and was able to push hard. All of our practice at transitions definitely paid off. Was was able to finish the 3 laps in 21:03 for 8th place. Emily finished in 27:54 for 7th.

Chad transitioning at the sprint race: http://www.jkaphanphotography.com/#!/portfolio/C0000xkYKqzUSodI/G0000GT2Z_NATWZw/8

We went straight to dinner (another Thai meal), the back to the hotel as quickly as possible to get our race gear ready for the next day. I decided against waxing skis and skins and instead just wanted to get things ready and off to bed.

Jackson was an 8AM start so we were up early. We arrived at the resort to cold and windy weather. Forest (the RD) announced it was -8F and 40 mph winds. Frostbite would be a real concern for everyone. Most people grabbed an extra layer ‘just in case’. As usual, we got warmed up and anxiously waited the race to start. Jackson is a big race. 10 miles and 8200’ ascent with some super steep descents. It is intimidating on fresh legs and even more on legs with 2 races on them.

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A Speedy Jackson Start (photo by Jackie Concannon)

Jackson Start:  http://www.jkaphanphotography.com/#!/portfolio/C0000xkYKqzUSodI/G0000GT2Z_NATWZw/21

I was having a great race. The ascents felt good and the skiing was very good. I kept a steady pace and tried to maintain my warmth. As I approached the Corbett’s booter, I put on an extra pair of gloves.

Chad topping out at Corbett’s ladder: http://www.jkaphanphotography.com/#!/portfolio/C0000xkYKqzUSodI/G0000GT2Z_NATWZw/33

After topping on on the Corbett’s we were in the full strength of the weather. It was so windy it was hard to stand up and it was so cold it was hard to breath. We moved our frozen bodies to the top only thinking about getting down as quickly as possible. When Emily arrived here, the volunteers told her she could not continue without going inside as her cheeks were white. She went in the patrol shack and as quickly as possible thawed her cheeks and thumbs and then was out on course again. This was standard for lots of racers and many who went in ended up dropping so it was great that she was able to dig deep and continue on. I got off course descending from the top of the tram not able to find the course in white out conditions. Once back on course, I pointed the skis down and did all I could to make up time. This descent is over 4000’ and it hurt. Your legs are burning and you know that you have 1 more 1200’+ climb left.

I reached the last transition, put on fresh skins that I had saved for this painful ascent and set out on a pace with Stevie and John on my tails. The 3 of us had been pushing each other all day and it was going to come down to this last ascent. Any mistake would cost me a place so I had to make sure everything went perfect. My fresh skins proved to be a great idea and I avoided any skin issues and the 3 of us topped out within second of each other. Time to make it a race. 1000’ of big moguls, then a groomer. I pointed them down and hung on. I crossed the finish line in 3:04:32 in 9th place.

I expected Emily in about 4 hours. That came and went and she came through very cold and frostbitten in 4:29:05 in 10th place.

I ended the 3 race series in 9th place in 5:21:23. Emily ended in 6th in 7:27:51.

The overall Jackson results and Wyoming Roundup Results can be found here:

STAGE RACE RESULTS WOMEN:    https://app.box.com/s/yozz1f16vuzgwu5u8j98
STAGE RACE RESULTS MEN:     https://app.box.com/s/5lnszm9ze72k33inwa71

JACKSON RACE RESULTS WOMEN:     https://app.box.com/s/28j6uhc20780t72qwruq
JACKSON RACE RESULTS MEN:      https://app.box.com/s/bxh9obbjgq8sfali0luh

We have a very busy couple weeks coming up with lots of racing.

  • This Saturday (11 Jan) is Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Resort
  • Next Saturday (18 Jan) I am racing the Swiss Cup in Verbier. I am in London for work and I was able to sneak in a side trip for this race.
  • 21 Jan is the OR Show race
  • 28 January is another Citizen Series race.

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Impacts of racing in -8F and 40mph winds

Utah Ski Mountaineering & Wasatch Citizen Series

7 days until the first Wasatch Citizen Ski Mountaineering Race! I hope everyone is ready. The snow conditions will make for a challenging time with a good course.

Our goal of the Citizen Skimo Series is to grow participation of the sport by introducing people to ski mountaineering races in a fun and non-intimidating atmosphere. The races have grown from ~15 people at the early races to over 70 people at the races last season.

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We have been very lucky for the past 2 seasons to be able to make the races 100% free. Unfortunately due to the growth of the races we have had to formalize the races more than prior years and for the 2014 season, we are faced with very large insurance costs this year. We need to raise $2500 to cover the insurance for 7 of the 8 races (not including the OR Show Race).

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We have started the non-profit Utah Ski Mountaineering association to promote and sponsor skimo events (races, clinics, etc) in Utah.  We have submitted our non-profit application and hope to have 501(c)3 status by the end of the year.  UT Ski Mountaineering will be the official organization that will put on the Citizen Series.  Please consider joining UT Ski Mountaineering to support the Citizen Series.  An annual membership in UT Ski Mountaineering is $30.  100% of the membership fees go to support the Citizen Series.  For those not wishing to be members or if you do not know if you will race very many races, we are recommending a $5 donation each time you race to help cover these costs.   Some of the benefits of your membership include:

  • Entrance to and support of 8 great Citizen Series races
  • Entry into an additional end of season opportunity drawing for great prizes (skis, clothing, etc)
  • 15% off a skimo gear purchase at Gear 30 in Ogden
  • We will be providing additional benefits as the season progresses including some swag and discounts at local retailers

We will also be requiring a race waiver this year. Please print the race waiver and bring it to the first race you attend this season.

Please see the membership page of www.utahskimo.org for more details, to join, and for the race waiver.

See you all Thursday in the fight for the first pie of the season.

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The adventures of Emily & Chad