World Ski Mountaineering Championships and Chamonix – Part 2

My last posting covered my first week in Verbier (Sunday to Sunday). Races, meetings, and the team were much busier the second week as the ‘big’ races (Individual and Team) were scheduled Monday and Wednesday. There were a lot of logistics and racer shuffling to get taken care of in the final days as well as get team plans for water, spare gear, and other on-course logistics sorted out. As a 1 man show, this was a significant amount of work.

Monday was the individual and an early morning. The team was on the bus at 6:30 heading to the starting line. As with the previous races, the weather was perfect. I knew the Individual course very well so I was excited to see the team off at the start, catch them on course and then meet them at the finish. The course was amazing with long climbs, 3 booters, hundreds of switchbacks, summiting Six Blanc twice and a final hair-raising descent.

World Ski Mountaineering Championships - Individual Race

Start of the Men’s Individual Race

I had a few hours after the race for quick tour with Rory and Colin. We had hoped to summit Mt Rogneux, but due to a late start and a ridge line that was much longer than we anticipated, we ended up making a couple awesome powder laps just off the summit shoulder, then made an extremely long ski and traverse back to Le Chable in time for them to catch the train home and me to get to the race briefing.

World Ski Mountaineering Championships - Individual Race

Chad and Rory on the saddle below Mount Rogneux

I followed the race briefing and team meeting with a late but extremely fun dinner with some of the Italians I have met in the past few years – Oscar, Carlo, and Riccardo and new friends Andre, Enrico, and Markus. We had dinner at a small restaurant owned by the famous Swiss alpine racer Roland Collombin. We had a great meal and several beers.

Dinner with Carlo, Oscar, Riccardo, Andre and others at the restaurant of an ex-pro racer

“The Italian Job”

Tuesday was the junior Individual so another off day for the team, but only a partial off day for me as I had meetings with the ISMF starting at 4PM. Freddy Grossnicklaus who guided us through the Bernese Oberland several years ago had given me several touring recommendations in the Verbier area. I convinced Logan and Rory to do some one of these tours (or a variation of it). We took the lifts up to Mont Fort then skied and climbed Rosa Blanche and Le Perrain and finished with a 6000’+ descent to Fionnay where we hoped to either catch a bus or hitch hike back to Le Chable in time for all my meetings. We had an amazing tour through the valleys and across the glaciers followed by a someone interesting descent into Fionnay. I was thrilled to be able to do this tour with 2 strong partners. We had great snow for all but the final couple thousand feet into Fionnay. To make this even better, we skied down the road into Fionnay and a waiting bus. We couldn’t believe our timing!

World Ski Mountaineering Championships - Verbier

Huge terrain of the Swiss Alps

World Ski Mountaineering Championships - Verbier

Logan with Le Perrain

World Ski Mountaineering Championships - Verbier

Looking down at Fionnay from about ½ way down our descent

Of all the races I have been to, the Wednesday Teams Race course sparked jealously that I wasn’t racing. The course was long (2200M for the men and 2000M for the women) with very technical ascents and descents. The Team had another early morning with the 6:30 bus and eventually made our way to the start. After some confusion of a delayed start due to ice, then an on-time start, we scrambled to get the team to the start and watch the initial >550M climb. It was amazing the pace of the racers as they disappeared up the mountain. After the women’s start (15 minutes after the men), we took the lifts to Les Attelas and joined the other 500+ spectators crowding the course. It was so much fun to see so many spectators and watch all the teams at the top of their second climb. Due to limited time and need to be at the finish line for the racer check (I was carrying all of the passports and if the coach is not at the finish line with passports and the racer is checked, they are disqualified) I had to descend after our last team went through Les Attelas. Our teams had amazing finishes with a top 10 and 3 more top 20 finishes. This was the most people we had ever had in a top 20 and was very exciting. I decided Wed would be a pseudo rest day with only the skiing during the race. After 9 days in a row and very little sleep (on average 6 hours a night), I was exhausted.

Team Race

Meredith and McKenna excited about their finish

Team Race

Nice to see friends on the podium – Letitia (1st), Marta (3rd), Gemma (5th)

Thursday was the final day. Many racers don’t like the relay race, but it is actually one of the funnest races to watch. You can either watch the entire race from the base or skip back and forth to see every racer twice. We had strong men’s and women’s teams and in the end we ended up with our highest finish of the week with a 5th place finish by our women’s team. Two of the three women were first timers at World’s so it was exciting to see them do so well.


Women’s 5th place team – Sarah, Meredith, Jessie

The closing ceremonies is alway quite the party and this year was the same. Numerous speeches (again), a food meal, and lots of wine and beer lead to an entertaining evening with several us of realizing that most of our rides back to Martigny had left and scrambling at the last minute to get a ride.

World Championships Closing Ceremonies

Chad representing the US (far right) on our 10th place finish.

World Championships Closing Ceremonies

Gemma, Gerard, and Marta showing off their Catalan moves

After a late night (getting to bed after 1AM with too many beers consumed), we were up at 6AM to catch the 7:20 train to Chamonix. I was not sure of my plans for the last 2 days and really wanted to get out and spend the night in a hut. About half of the team wanted to go to Chamonix so I decided that was my best best and I did not regret it. We were on the early train and didn’t have set plans other than go up the Aiguillie du Midi lift which rises 9000 vertical feet from Chamonix and is probably the most famous ski lift in the world. We arrived in Chamonix with no losing and not knowing what to do with our bags. Jon Brown and I were quickly able to get a room for 1 night and dropped our bags then suited up (skis, poles, crampons, ropes, harnesses, ice axes, ice screws, prussics pulleys, and all the rest of our glacier kits). It is crazy in Chamonix to see people in fully ice gear walking down the street next to someone in a fully length fur coat. A surprise awaited us at the base of the Aiguille du Midi when we met Glen Plake (a friend of Max Taam’s) who Max had planned for us to ski with that day. This was amazing. I grew up watching Glen in dozens and movies and was now going to get to ski with him. I felt like I was in a dream. Skiing off the Aguille du Midi in Chamonix with Glen Plake, it couldn’t be true.

Skiing Chamonix

Tram lines to the top of the Aguille – this was from the mid point station!

Skiing Chamonix

Gearing up with crampons and axes in the ice tunnel

Skiing Chamonix

Glen leading Scott and Jon down the knife ridge

Chamonix skiing with Glen Plake

Chad, Scott, and Glen getting ready to drop in

Skiing Chamonix

Amazing ice arch in the glacier

For the first run, we were a large group (13 people) who all took their time down Vallee Blanche as Glen pointed out all the famous cols, couloirs, peaks, and climbs. The descent was around 20KM from the top to town as we dropped the 9,000’. It was amazing. I was lucky enough to be able to make another lap on some bigger terrain with Glen, Kimberly (his wife), Max, and Jessie. This was definitely one of the highlights of my ski life.

We were all tired Friday night after limited sleep Thursday so we had a mellow night. We got a good sleep Saturday, then due to bad weather and poor visibility had a late start Saturday. We spent some time at the Chamonix Farmers Market and various outdoor stores before Jon and I skinned up Le Brevant booted up to Col Cornu, skied down to Lac Cornu and then made a round about traverse, ski, and skin back to the Col and into Chamonix.

Chamonix - day 2 - Le Brevant - Col du Cornu - Lac Cornu

Chad on Col Cornu

We enjoyed a last beer in Chamonix (a wonderful Belgian Ale which was the best beer I had the whole trip), the caught a shuttle to Geneva for the night. We ended up with a late dinner and another early morning to catch our taxi to the airport. I am writing this mid flight from Amsterdam to Detroit (then connecting to SLC). I am excited to get home after 2 weeks, but only have 12 hours once I get home to unpack and re-pack for a work trip to Chicago. My preference would be for Emily to be coming to Chamonix and to have another 2 weeks to ski as we left in a storm and far too much terrain went un-explored.

I had a great 2 weeks and can’t thank our US Ski Mountaineering Team for their great racing and dedication to the sport. We are an unsupported team so these people took time off work and spent their own money to come to Verbier to represent the USA in our best finish at World’s yet. Thanks also to La Sportiva for providing team uniforms and making the USA look so professional and to Voile for a couple of great pairs of skis (custom poplar core WSP’s and Vectors) to enjoy 13 days of skiing on.

USSMA_Color    Print      LaSportiva_Logo-1.jpg

Verbier and the World Ski Mountaineering Championships – Part 1

This year I was once again lucky enough to travel with the US National Ski Mountaineering Team to the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Verbier, Switzerland. I was in Verbier in 2014 just after my back went out and I was excited to go back in good health. The racers were scheduled for 05-12 February. With the weekends, I decided to leave 31 January and return 15 February. The job of coach can be challenging. Nick Francis and I split all of the duties of getting things ready (lodging, registration, travel, uniforms, etc) as much as possible before we left the US. One on Verbier, there are daily race briefings, numerous meetings with the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF), getting the racers to and from races, daily team meetings, social media updates, daily blogs, etc. The days get very busy and most days I hope for 2-3 hours of free time for some skiing between 6:00 AM when we get up and midnight when I finally get all the work done. Needless to say, it is exhausting

I will post a few photos in the blog, but will post a photo album in a few days.

The snow in Verbier had been very poor all winter, but the weekend I was leaving they were forecasted to get a huge storm. The storm ended up dumping close to 1M of snow on the ground in 3 days. I arrived in Le Chable (the village in the valley below Verbier) on Sunday night. I got off the train and was tired and ready for a bed. There was 30+ cm of snow on the ground as I drug my bags up and down a few streets until I finally found the place I was staying. I had found a room on that was just a bedroom in some people’s home. It was small and quaint, but made a great basecamp for a couple of days until the team arrived and I moved to Martigny down the valley

My small room in Le Chable

My tiny room in Le Chable

As normal with Europe travel, I went to bed early, but woke up around 2 and was wide awake until 5. I fell back asleep and was up at 8 ready to ski. Due to high avalanche danger I was not able to tour on Monday. I purchased a Verbier lift ticket and was treated to a huge day of >45,000 feet of amazing powder skiing. The resort is absolutely HUGE. I was able to ski fresh, untracked snow all day and had the best resort day of my lift.

Epic Verbier Powder Skiing on Day 1.

An amazing ski day in Verbier

I didn’t want to ski the resort 2 days in a row, but avalanche conditions were still very high so on Tuesday I decided to climb from Le Chable to Bruson and check out some of the Individual Race Course and tour on any safe terrain I could find. It was a 1750M climb to the top of Bryson and Six Blanc where the Individual Course would top out 2 times. There were massive avalanche crowns everywhere I looked. I was able to find a great ~25 degree slope off the back shoulder of Six Blanc that I skied 700M down the valley. When I got to the bottom, I realized that none of the other dozen or so tracks on the slope was an uptrack (I later realized on the map that people toured to Osiers and took the train back around). I slogged back up putting in a skin track and then skied back down Bruson to Le Chable. It ended up being a big day with over 2300M of climbing. I got to Le Chable with 20 minutes to run to get my bags and catch the train to Martigny to meet Sarah and McKenna (the first 2 team members to arrive).

Great Tour on Day 2 to Six Blanc

View from treeline skinning up Bruson

The 3 of us had a good dinner together and planned a tour for Wednesday. The avalanche rating was still Considerable so we planned a very mellow tour from the town of Loutier up towards Mount Rogneux. We took the train from Martigny to Le Chable, the quickly hitched a ride to Loutier. We found a trail tight from town and started climbing. After a couple hours and 1400M of climbing we reached Cabana Brunet, a hut/refuge on the shoulder of Mount Rogneux. We had lunch there then continued up. As we climbed, the clouds moved in ad our visibility got poor. We decided that this was a good sign to turn around. We had a great untracked powder run several hundred meters back down. We eventually hit a junction in the trail and decided to take a different route down. It turns out this leave to an upper trailhead leaving us well above Loutier and on the highway. We skied the shoulder, the rocks, and walked our way back to town. We missed the last bus to Le Chable by 10 minutes so we started to hitch. We were unsuccessful for about 30 minutes before a guide picked us up and even thought he was not going all the way to Le Chable, he went out of his way to drop us off there. We were elated for his help. We caught the next train to Martigny and met up with most of the rest of the team.

Day 3 tour with Sarah and McKenna to Mount Rogneuax

McKenna and Sarah at Cabana Brunet, our lunch stop

With the Team mostly having arrived on Wednesday night, Thursday was racer registration and getting people out on the course. Scott Simmons and I headed out to the Individual Course. At our first ascent, we were quickly caught by Killian Jornet. It was amazing to watch his ease and speed climbing up the skin track. We summited Six Blanc on the races second ascent, skied the steep descent, the climbed the third ascent for another trip to the top of Six Blanc. Instead of skiing down, I convinced Scott to traverse the ridge line a ways and ski down some untracked powder. We were treated to an amazing descent all the way back to Le Chable. We arrived in time for lunch with the team and then the opening ceremonies which included a parade of nations and far too many speeches in French while we stood in the freezing cold.


Scott showing me how to rip on skinny skis


Scott enjoying the amazing Verbier Pow


Opening Ceremonies – Parade of Nations

The first race was the sprint race held in Champsec on Friday. The team was excited about the sprint even though it is typically not a strong race for us. We ended up with all 4 women making it to the quarter finals (although due to a timing error, McKenna ended up being omitted). We also ended up with 2 of our men reaching the quarter finals. This was extremely exciting for us as we had never advanced any men and only 1 woman (Nina) before.

World Ski Mountaineering Championships - Sprint Race

Champsec Sprint Course

Saturday was the Vertical Race, but it didn’t start until 4PM so we had some time to ski in the morning. I didn’t have time for a long tour so I took the lifts up to Mont Fort and then planned to ski off the back side down to Lac de Cleuson and around to Tortin then take lifts back to Verbier. The mini-tour was fantastic.

The course for the Vertical was amazing as it wound through the streets of Verbier then finished part way up the mountain at Les Ruinettes. Thousands of people lined the streets for the race, then jumped on the lifts to get to the top for the finish. There were at least 1500 spectators lining the last 200M of the race. It was truly like watch a Tour de France race.

The highlight of my Friday was getting to catch up with Gemma. Gemma had been living in Park City teaching the last 3 years, but was unable to get a work visa this year so she is back home in Catalonia. She was excited to see her Wasatch friends.


Sunday was a rest day for the team as it was the Junior Individual. I was hoping for a day to tour, but due to some problems with ISMF, I had to be back to Le Chable by 2:00 for a long afternoon of meetings and straightening out registration and other problems. I was able to accompany Logan, Andy, Rory, and Brian on a start of their tour. They were going off the back of Mont Fort, then just touring around and coming out either back at Verbier or down valley and catching a ride. I was sad to leave them just as the terrain was getting amazing. I climbed back up to Col de Prefleuri as they descended to the Prefleuri hut. I was treated to an amazing untracked run back to Lac de Cleuson, then as I had done before took the lifts and skied to Verbier and down to Le Chable. After a tiring few meetings, I was able to get back to the hotel for dinner a little after 7:30.


Brian and Rory admiring the massive terrain

Part 2 coming soon.

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.


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

Irwin Race Results


Wasatch Skimo Series. Photo stolen from Andy Dorais –

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


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.


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.


Post Christmas blower Powder in Mineral Fork.


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.


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.


One of the massive Jackson climbs. Photo by Joe Risi


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 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.





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.
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.
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).


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.

Wasatch Citizen Series Race - 25Feb

Our nighttime skimo race series


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.


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).


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.


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.

Bald Mountain Skiing Wheeler-Peak-020-1.jpg Skiing NW Couloir of Twin Peaks

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.


Rime storm on Mt Adams


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.


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


Benn congratulating Emily at the finish


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.


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


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'


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.

Rainier RouteRainier Route

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.



  • 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).



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)


      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.


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.


     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.


     Heading out to dive 


Dive #1


     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.




     Enjoying another great night

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


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


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 adventures of Emily & Chad