Powder Skiing vs. Skimo Racing

That really is a silly blog title. There is no competition at all. Powder skiing will always reign champion in that battle.

We had a slow start to our snow pack this year so skimo training was able to take front and center for the first several weeks of winter when I was trying to avoid rocks and a faceted snow pack. This led to being able to create a decent base after far too long off of training (although not a good enough base for the early season races). We had several early season races (3 Wasatch Skimo Series races plus the Irwin race). The races were all fun, but I am definitely not up to the fitness level I would like to be at.

Irwin Skimo Race

Irwin skimo race. Photo by Joe Risi or Chris Thompson.

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Emily at Irwin skimo race. Photo by Joe Risi or Chris Thompson.

Irwin Race Results

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Wasatch Skimo Series. Photo stolen from Andy Dorais – http://slcsherpa.blogspot.com/

Regardless of the snowpack, it was time to get out into the backcountry after Irwin. We had several tours with less than optimal approaches.

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Very thin mid December snow pack in Silver Fork

And upon digging we would quickly find out that our concerns of low snowpack instability were valid.

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One of the reasons we have been playing things very conservatively

A pre Christmas rain storm up to ~9,000’ had us all concerned, but this rain quickly turned to snow and we were treated to a wonderful present from Santa with a week of the best powder skiing in the Wasatch in 2 years.

Mineral Fork Powder - 28Dec14

Our low elevation snow pack is still thin, Mineral Fork Road.

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Post Christmas blower Powder in Mineral Fork.

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Post Christmas blower Powder in Mineral Fork.

Epic Powder was replaced with high pressure and wind, sun, and rime crusts. Luckily that all came just before the Wyoming Roundup so it didn’t make traveling up to Jackson and Targhee for a weekend of suffering nearly as bad.

The Targhee race kicks off the 2 day, 3 race series. The weather at Targhee was great, about 40 degrees warmer than last year. An updated course this year gave us a hard booter and magnificent 2nd climb. The third climb was a long as always, but has great views of the Tetons. The skiing at the Targhee race was some of the worst imaginable. Ice and breakable crusts with frozen thunder thrown in was on the menu of every decent. I was able to finish in 1:43 which was 10 minutes faster than my previous best.

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First climb up Targhee. Photo by Joe Risi

With a longer than 1 hour drive back to Jackson, we had very little time to get ready for the Snow King Sprint at 5. I needed to be there at 3 to help Cary, Pete, and Nick get setup. The sprint is not my strong suit, but since I am good at transitions, I can usually do fairly well. I came in 11th in the qualifying round in 6:33. Since I was also doing the timing, I opted out of the finals.

A quick dinner, a couple too many beers, and a short night sleep and it was time to toe the line at Jackson. Jackson is the hardest individual race of the season. It is long (~8,200’) and has super steep and icy climbs. After 2 races in 1 day, Jackson is always daunting. I can usually do fairly well as my summer running (that is if I would have run much last summer) gets me in good shape for back to back hard days. The Jackson conditions were 60 degrees warmer than the -40F wind chills of 2014. After the long first climb (over 3,000’), we were treated to the first descent that had great snow on steep moguls. One of the fun parts of the Jackson race is that the skiing is full on steep shuts, moguls, and a long 4,000’+ descent.

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One of the massive Jackson climbs. Photo by Joe Risi

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Booting to the top of Rendevouz Mountain. Photo by Joe Risi

I finished Jackson in in 2:59 about 5 minutes faster than my previous best on the same length course (I was 10 minutes faster in 2013, but the course was slightly shorter due to no Corbets booter). I was disappointed with my finish in that I just couldn’t get into high gear (and thus the pain cave) on the last climb and lost well over 5 minutes on this climb.

Here are the full Wyoming Roundup Results

We returned from Jackson to a full on Utah storm that dropped 15” of snow at our house. I was able to get in a great Monday post work and Tuesday before work ski in Summit Park followed by Tuesday nights Wasatch Skimo Series race that had some of the best snow of any race we have had.

What’s next? It is just 2 weeks before I head to Verbier, Switzerland as coach of the US National Ski Mountaineering Team as we compete in the World Championships. Until that time, we have a Wasatch Skimo Series races, the Crowbar race, and hopefully lots more powder skiing.

Check back frequently to this blog and the USSMA.org blog as we will have daily blog posts from the World Championships.

Verbier Ski Mountaineering World Championships 2015 from Verbier Ski Mountaineering on Vimeo.

Reflections – Part 2

If you haven’t read, Part 1, please reach that first.

Taking a quick step back to May, we also started a large house remodel as soon as the snow melted. We extended our master bedroom above the 2nd garage (which had been a scab on at some point). The construction wasn’t without challenges. As with most remodels, there were a lot of unknowns as they began to tear into things and we encountered numerous setbacks in the first few weeks. Thanks to our great architect and friend Blake and Noah Bigwood our builder for doing such a great job. We now have an amazing master suite and my pride and joy of a gear room.

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EMGT was Emily’s last long run before Wasatch 100. Unfortunately, this was her first DNF as a slip at mile 6 caused a glute muscle pull that by mile 60-ish was no longer bearable. Your first DNF is always hard and Emily struggled for several weeks accepting it. Luckily, her glute recovered fairly quickly and she was able to enjoy a fall of fun running.

Summer and fall were a mix of things going on. I was working on getting a new job going back to work with some old colleagues from Accenture. I was excited about an opportunity to work in healthcare technology consulting, but getting the job finalized became a long engagement. I finally started the new role on 01 December. Our friend Stephanie who had gone through breast cancer 3 years ago was re-diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing rigorous treatments. Christian’s health continued to yo-yo with a couple more hospital stays and some challenging times for him. My uncle was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and began a rigorous treatment regiment. All of this lead to a busy, stressful, and sometimes sad fall. It is amazing the impact that the health of close friends has on a person.

Fall also had fun times with Nick and Brita’s wedding in Tellurirde, Coyote running, and seeing family.

IMG_3791.JPG Mt biking with Eric and Jackie in Telluride

IMG_3817.JPG The happy couple

Starting in November, my back started to do much better and the last 2 months have been the best of the year for my health. This allowed us to once again enjoy our long weekend of Coyote running antics. This year we were in St George and Zion. Jared Campbell treated us to an amazing Zion run that required wetsuits, ropes, and harnesses. We also had some great runs around the St George area.
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Coyote Running
November became the month we really weren’t home with 2 trips to Arizona to help care for my uncle and grandma. It was great to spend so much quality time with them and to be able to help my uncle through this challenging time.
We scrambled to get moved back into our house by Thanksgiving when Emily’s parents, sister, and nieces came to spend the week. By the time Emily’s family arrived, we hadn’t both been home at the same time for 3 weeks and our stress was increasing. Adding to the stress, I would start a new job on 01Dec, but be flying out the Sunday of Thanksgiving. I would be getting home and we would turn around and go to Crested Butte for the first skimo race of the season, then I would leave again that Sunday for another work trip. When I finally got home on 11Dec, we were both excited to have no travel plans and be able to spend some time recuperating, skiing, and finishing up working on the house. It had been since 04Nov since we had both been home and had time together. Another level of stress for both of us.
IMG_3957.JPG Skimo training at PCMR under the snow guns
We spent a quiet Christmas with friends and we were treated to a 70”+ storm over the Christmas week leading to some of the best skiing in 2 seasons.
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Amazing powder skiing over Christmas
The key I had been learning all year was how to no let all the different types of stress affect my health. It has proved to be a constant journey that is never simple. The new year is going to probe to be very busy with work, skiing, racing, Powder Keg, USSMA, and all of the other hobbies that we have. With hopes, I will keep the lessons I learned in 2014 close to me and be able to manage all of the responsibilities and stresses without letting it affect my health.
Here’s to looking forward to sunny days, powder skiing, friends, and family in 2015!
Mineral Fork Powder - 29Dec14

Reflections – Part 1

It has been a quiet year of blogging as it has been a challenging year. Unfortunately, that means that this post got a little bit long so I broke it into 2 parts. It was a challenging year for me physically and mentally. I started the year off with great fitness ready for a good ski and skimo racing season. That worked out very well with great race finishes (PR’s) at the Targhee and Jackson races. The Targhee race had decent weather but the Jackson race had sub-zero starting line temperatures with 40 mph winds at the top. Most of us were treated to a nice case of frostnip (or worse).

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Climbing Corbett’s Couloir at the Jackson Skimo Race

What wasn’t readily apparent to me going into the new year was my stress level. Work had been crazy with over a dozen trips to Europe during the year including a last minute 48 hour round trip to Oslo. Add to this stress the natural holiday season stress and the training the skiing I was doing and I was setting myself up for a giant fall.

The week after Jackson, we were off to Heathen Challenge in Sunlight Colorado. The race was fun and post race I was driving to Denver to catch a Sunday afternoon flight back to London for work. A great run with Matt and Walter, a quick shower and off to the airport. This was supposed to be a great trip that would involve a hard week of work followed by a quick weekend in Verbier to race a skimo World Cup race. Little did I know that my giant fall would come that week. On Wednesday I was stretching in my hotel room before going to work and felt something in my back ‘pop’ and then felt sudden excruciating pain. I have dealt with back issues for 20+ years so I didn’t think much of this. The pain increased during the day and I was able to find both a masseur and physical therapist over the next 2 days. By the time Friday came and I was supposed to be heading to Verbier, I could hardly stand up straight and carrying my suitcase and ski bag was miserable. I made it to Verbier, met Meredith and Bill and we had an easy skin to see if my back would behave. It wouldn’t. There would be no racing for me. I went out the next day and Bill and I cheered Meredith on at various location of the course. Sunday morning I could not get out of bed and was in the worst pain of my life. By the time the vertical race ended, I had made it out of bed and packed my bags. We were headed to Chamonix and then I would fly out of Geneva Monday morning. Lots of pain and drugs later, I finally was back in the US hunched to the side and barely able to walk. This is what started the next 10 months of rehab for me. My much looked forward to ski season would end up being only easy climbing on groomed runs for 6 weeks.

In normal fashion, I did race the CROWBAR and Power of Four races off the couch. My fitness was poor, but I still enjoyed racing and not pushing myself so that I would get hurt worse. I was able to complete my Level 3 Avalanche class in light of my back issues. I was concerned I would not be able to complete the class, but was extremely happy to have been able to expand my avalanche knowledge to this level. This all brought an end to February.

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Our nighttime skimo race series

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Sarah and Emily finishing Power of Four

March started crazy busy with the Powder Keg. We were the North American Championship Race and also was an ISMF Sanctioned Race so we had a huge turn out and our most successful race ever. It was in March that I finally started to put the puzzle pieces together and realize the root cause of my back issue – the combination of stresses (work, physical, personal). I had a good learning lesson and really appreciated the book Back Sense and the lessons it has to offer for anyone with chronic pain. After the Powder Keg, I was able to start skiing again, but being cautious while still trying to have fun. This allowed some fun objectives like Mt Nebo, the Sliver, and others.

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Skiing the top of the Sliver

I normally start training for running after the Powder Keg, but this was still out of the question with my back so I decided to continue skiing as long as I could. Emily and I planned a trip to Sayulita for April. This would be our first ever destination beach trip and we were both excited to do something completely different. I have done a little bit of surfing over the past few years so I was excited to be able to get in a full week of surfing. The day before leaving, we Paul D joined us for a ‘Whiskey Tour’ (Alta to High West Distillery in Park City).

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We left the next morning and had a great week of fully relaxation with lots of surfing, a day of scuba diving, great fish, and the chance to see our friends Chris and Ashley (and their kids Alex and Trace) who had moved to Sayulita a few years earlier. This was a great vacation for us. No racing. No plans. No stress. I felt better after this trip than I had felt all year. Things seemed like they were (hopefully) turning around for my back.

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True R&R in Sayulita

I still wasn’t running in May so skiing continued. A couple of standout adventures on Bald Mt, Mt Wheeler and Twin Peaks. Not nearly as much skiing as walking, but fun none the less.

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Gemma climbing Bald Mt; Chad hiking off Wheeler Peak in the rain/snow/sleet; Mark wading down Deaf Smith Canyon off Twin Peaks

June was still limited climbing so Eric and I went to the NW for a couple of volcanoes. We skied Mt Adams and Mt Rainier in 2 days for a total of over 20,000’ climbing and pretty much horrible snow and weather conditions. I had the worst frostbite of my life in June on Mt Adams. Skiing quality aside, it was a great trip. Thankfully we had Goliath (Eric’s Sportsmobile) to shelter us from the weather and provide a great base camp.

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Rime storm on Mt Adams

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Freezing on Rainier

Ski season had ended and I really wasn’t doing much running. I enjoyed short runs and some great mt bike rides through July and August. My work had been going through lots of changes so starting in April, my work load was very small. This was fun, but also added some stress as I never really knew if I would be laid off as several other’s on our team had been laid off and then they had dismantled our team. More stress was added when Christian’s health started going up and down. Christian is our best friend who has been dealing with lymphoma and all the treatment side effects for over 3 years. I tried to keep the lessons learned from Back Sense in mind and deal with those stresses ‘healthfully’.

In July I was invited on a Canyoneering Trip by Paul and Tom. A little unsure of my abilities, I was hesitant, but was ensured that the pace would be slow so it would not hurt my back. This turned out to be an amazing trip doing Ice Box, Heaps, and Pine Creek Canyons in 3 days (video). I am definitely hooked on canyoneering. I did sustain a nasty hematoma on my shin that would end up taking over a month to heal.

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Bashed shins

Heaps Canyon Canyoneering Trip with Colter, Paul, Tom

Final 300’ Heaps rapel into Emerald Pools

I also did the Pie N Beer marathon. I definitely wasn’t ready for that distance and just wanted to go out and have fun doing an easy paced long run. Unfortunately, I learned a side effect of the leg weakness caused by my back issues – extensor tendonosis. I was hobbled for about 15 miles by foot pain. This was a huge mental setback for me. I was planning to do the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse Run on August 19 and I was not very unsure if I would be able to do that. I rested until EMGT and 8 miles into that 40 mile race, had the same tendonosis break out. To add to this, we were running from Crested Butte to Aspen and had no planned return. We had a hotel reservation and a planned running route for the following day. After a good night out with friends and a few too many margaritas, I was able to hobble back to CB the day after the race. It would have been a tough day had it not been such a beautiful trail full of wild flowers as we went over Triangle Pass.

Aspen to Crested Butte Run  

Elk Mountain Grand Traverse – Summer Edition

I did my first Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (EMGT) race in 2006. I repeated the race in 2007 and 2008. At that time, the race was still a nordic race and we competed on metal edge, pattern based nordic skis with NNN bindings and boots. Since that time the race has changed as significantly as the gear. The race is now a full skimo race with competitors on the latest and greatest super light skimo gear. The winter EMGT starts from Crested Butte at midnight and you see very little of the course in daylight. When Wick and the rest of the Elk Mountain Events crew decided to start a summer EMGT in 2013, Emily and I registered right away. I was excited to see this terrain in the daylight and do it as a run. Unfortunately, the 2013 race was cancelled. We were excited when the race was once again scheduled for 2014. With the pinched nerve from my back still causing me issues with my right foot, I was not sure I could run 40 miles this summer, but we wanted to be part of this first year event so we registered and I figured that worst case I could walk the 40 miles and still finish within the cut-off times. To add a little excitement to this, we thought it would be fun to spend the night in Aspen and run back to Crested Butte on Sunday via Conundrum Hot Springs (this seemed like a much better idea than it actually was). The timing of this long weekend of running would work out great for Emily’s Wasatch 100 preparations as it would provide her long and hard miles 3 weeks before the race and allow her to go into her taper feeling well trained.

I love spending time in Crested Butte in the winter and over the past 2 winters have been lucky enough to spend several days there each winter racing and touring. I had never been to CB in the summer so I was excited to see it as everyone always told me summers were better than winters. I would disagree with this if the winters weren’t extremely cold in CB.

We arrived in CB before lunch on Friday and had a good shakeout run. We caught up with friends at racer check-in, then spent some time relaxing and getting gear ready for the race and the return run. We ended up lucky that our friends Emily Sullivan and Liz Gleason decided to run the team’s race. This meant that Brent and Stu would be able to take a bag to Aspen for us so that we had a fresh set of cloths and gear for the return run on Sunday and we would be able to all go out for a good dinner in Aspen after the race.

With a 6AM race start, we were in bed early for what unfortunately turned out to be a second night in a row of very poor sleep. The morning was chilly and the race started downtown CB as the sun rose in the east and the steam rose off the creek beds making for a beautiful race start. I felt great in the morning and the week prior to the race I had some of the best runs I had all year. The pace was hard as we traversed around Mt Crested Butte. As we approached Brush Creek around mile 6, I started to have a recurrence of the extensor tendonitis in my right foot that first reared it’s head as yet another side effect of my nerve damage during the Pie-N-Beer Marathon at the end of July. The pain continued to worsen as I ran on. At the Brush Creek Aid Station (mile 9.5) I wanted to drop, but decided that I would at least push on to Taylor Pass (mile 22) so I could get a ride down to Aspen. At this point, I continued to let people pass me as I maintained a slow but steady shuffle trying to find a way to reduce the pain in my foot. It only grew worse and would eventually lead to pain all the way up my shin (the anterior tibialis muscle in my right leg has been one of the most affected areas from the nerve damage and this is the muscle that was now in pain). I spent most of the run to Taylor Pass on my own, but leap frogged with Emily S and Liz several times which broke up the time alone. They would pass me on the downhills (I was unable to run downhill) and I would pass them on the uphills (I could still run and power hike these).

The scenery was AMAZING. I tried to spend as much time enjoying the beauty of my surroundings and not focusing on my foot and leg pain. I was enjoying identifying some of the areas that I had ski raced past and was even able to identify the 2 areas where I got lost during the 2007 and 2008 races. At Taylor Pass, I decided to keep moving as I could walk the 18 miles to Aspen faster than waiting for a ride down when the aid station would close 4 hours later. Since I couldn’t run down, my plan was that if the pain got too bad, I would drop at the top of Aspen and take the gondola down. I restocked my food from my drop bag, had 4 Advil and a 5-Hour Energy, then was off. There were a series of steep descents and climbs after the aid station and by the time we hit runnable terrain, my ‘cocktail’ had kicked in and I was able to run. I didn’t expect this to last so I pushed the pace as hard as possible. By mile 33 my quads and right calf were starting to cramp and I was out of electrolytes. I pushed on focusing on everything but my body.

As we ran down Richmond Ridge I kept thinking of how much this section sucks during the ski race. I was also now starting to recognize much of the terrain from the Power of Four Race and I knew the Aspen Sun Deck was very close. I grabbed some food and water from the Sun Deck Aid Station and started down to the finish line. By this time I couldn’t justify dropping, I was too close. I was not at all looking forward to this descent and with my cramping quads and calf I knew this was going to hurt. It was ~5.5 miles and 3500’ down to the finish line. The trail started out great single track and I was able to keep a good pace. After about a mile, I caught my right toe on a rock (something else I commonly do because of the nerve damage). As I tried to catch myself, my right calf completely cramped with my toe pointing straight down. This caused me to fall as I could not put weight on my foot. I was rolling on the ground screaming from the cramped muscle trying to work it out. After about 30 seconds I was able to get up and hobble a few steps, then work myself up to a run. By now the trail had gotten quite steep so with my camped muscles, I had to really push through some pain. One more toe catch (but luckily no cramping) cause me to go down hard on a tight switchback and 10 minutes later the finish line was visible. I pushed through the finish and just wanted to sit down. Brent and Stu had just arrived and I knew the girls were not far behind me (only about 15 minutes at this point) so we waited to cheer them through as the first place team. Emily would come through a couple hours later. We all agreed that the race was much harder than we had expected it to be, but we all had a great time.

I finished in 8:05:35, Emily S and Liz finished in 8:19:10, and Emily finished in 10:26:02

EMGT Race

Benn congratulating Emily at the finish

EMGT Race

None of these guys teams knew that had been ‘chicked’ until awards and the announcer made it very clear to them what had happened.

We all enjoyed a few beers from Aspen Brewing Company and some BBQ, then headed off to the hotel that Emily and I had booked. All of us got cleaned up, then have dinner together. Brent, Emily, Liz, and Stu then headed to rifle to climb on Sunday and Emily and I spent the night in Aspen to run back on Sunday. We had a great Mexican dinner filled with far too many margaritas, then it was time for everyone to take off. We made sure we had all our gear we needed and sent our wet, dirty, and smelly gear from the race home with Brent and Emily (I am sure it will smell great when we finally unpack it on Wednesday). Emily and I were tired and after 2 bad nights of sleep in a row, we were hoping for a good night sleep.





After another poor night of sleep, we got up Sunday morning tired with sore legs. Due to the cramping and tendonitis, my right foot, right calf, and both quads were very sore and even tender to the touch. We were questioning the wisdom of running back to Crested Butte, but at this point we had no option. We had our left over Mexican food for breakfast, packed our running packs, then grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to the bus station. We took the Aspen City bus a few miles to the Castle Creek Road, then hitchhiked the 5 miles up to the trailhead. We were lucky enough to get picked up quickly and before we knew it we were power hiking up the trail trying to get our legs warmed up. Emily was warming up quickly, but my body was completely rejecting the idea of any type of running. Finally around 5 miles in I found a nice easy shuffle/jog and we worked our way up to the hot springs. The trail was beautiful. After 8 miles we reached the hot spring and enjoy a quick 20-minute soak, ate some food, then continued the 2 miles up to Triangle Pass. This section of trail was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The wildflowers were absolutely amazing. We were running through a beautiful alpine meadow with flowers in full bloom and massive peaks all around us. We had great views of peaks like Hunter, Reefe, Hillard, Cathedral, Conundrum, Castle, and many more.

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Triangle Pass

The run off Triangle Pass was rocky which kept our pace slow (and made me happy). My legs were still crampy from Saturday so I stopped several times to stretch my calf and quads. By the time we got to Copper Creek, I was ready to be done, but we still had about 6 miles to go. We enjoyed our slow pace and eventually reached the trailhead just above the ghost town of Gothic. Luckily there were several cars there and a mt biker was just loading his bike and agreed to give us a ride into CB (the last thing we wanted to do was run the 3 miles of slightly climbing gravel to Mt Crested Butte, then run the 3 miles of asphalt down to CB). By 4PM we were in CB and went directly to Sherpa Cafe for some much needed food.

After a huge meal and a shower we went to Montanya Distillery for some of their amazing rum cocktails (this has become a post race CB tradition for me). Three cocktails each later and it was well past time to go home. We were lucky enough to be staying at our friend, Allen Hadley’s place so it was nice to not be relegated to a hotel room.

Montanya Distillery

Emily rehydrating at Montanya

After a 4th restless night of sleep, we got up Monday morning, decided against a run up Red Lady like we had originally planned and instead hit Camp 4 Coffee for a caffeine fix and then hit the road for the long drive home.

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.

The adventures of Emily & Chad