Alaska is on the bucket list of almost every skier I know. Eric and I are no different and have been talking about a ski trip to Alaska for many years. This was our year! With busy work schedules, we deccided on the last part of April and early May. It was easy to convince Tom Diegel to join us and the 3 of us were excited for another adventure after last year’s attempted Highline Trail Ski.
Plans were discussed, modified, updated, changed again, and we finally had a loose plan to get dropped off on the Pika Glacier in Little Switzerland of the Alaska Range for 12 days of base camp/expedition style skiing.
None of us ever having done an expedition style trip, we built out our menu and just didn’t think it could be correct to need quantities like 20lbs meat, 14 lbs cheese, 48 bagels, 60 tortillas, and the list went on until we were at $600 and around 160lbs of food. It didn’t seem possible to need that much, but that came out to 3.8lbs/person/day for 14 days of food (2 extra days)
Our first indication that this may not be the ski trip we had planned should have been the delay in getting in due to a several day storm and a questionable 5-day forecast. Undeterred (or maybe not smart enough to know what was to come), we were excited to get onto the glacier and start skiing. We flew in on Sunday with plans to get picked up 13 days later.
The glacier landing in fresh powder snow was amazing, you just floated down not really even knowing you were on the ground.
With our gear unloaded, we started slogging loads and getting camp set up. We had a short window to ski after setting up camp and little did we know, it would basically be the end of our ski trip and the start of ourshoveling trip.
On day 2, we were able to sneak in a partial day of skiing before “The Storm” moved in. We ended up with a storm that lasted 9 days with only a short clearing on the 9th day giving us long enough to get picked up by TAT before the next storm moved in. We spent 8 full days at camp only leaving twice (once to check out another camp and another time during a 2-hour clearing to ‘try’ to ski). Like any good ski trip where you plan to ski for 7-8 hours per day, on our now shoveling trip, we were shoveling 7-8 hours per day with rarely being able to go more than 4 hours at a time without digging out camp. We passed our time pretending to be funny, reading, playing scrabble, eating, and sleeping. Luckily the 3 of us travel very well together and were able to keep each other’s spirits high in light of the grim situation.
By the 5th day of the storm, with the limited forecast we could get, and what we had not looking good, we made the call to TAT that we were pulling the plug for the next available transport back. They had no clue when the storm would clear as all long-term models showed snow with a couple breaks in 4 or 5 days. So – we continued to shovel. We attempted to leave camp, it didn’t work, it took us 20 minutes to go 300 meters.
So we shoveled some more.
And occasionally were treated to some views of the surrounding peaks
By the 7th day of being tent bound, our creativeness was really starting to develop and we invented the great new sport of competitive shoveling. We really hope this sport takes off next season as after 70+ hours of training, we felt we were in a good position to do well at competitions. Here is a tutorial on the new sport.
As the days passed and the storm didn’t, we were starting the discussions of food rationing. On day 8, we knew we had 8 more days of food but were unsure if that would be enough as there were other groups on the glacier already 5-7 days overdue. Finally, on day 10 we woke up to clear skies. Unfortunately, Talkeetna was stormed in. By mid-morning, the fog had rolled in and visibility dropped to zero. It cleared and fogged in a couple times. It would be clear on the glacier and foggy in Talkeetna. This continued until late afternoon when things cleared up and we received the pickup message.
Glad to be out of shoveling mode and hoping to sacrifice the ski trip, we made our way to Hatcher Pass for a few days of skiing in the ping-pong ball (low visibility and flat light). We had 3 days of poor weather. We skied the Bomber Traverse in a day in character building conditions (5 miles of downhill skinning in low light and isothermic snow).
Our final day was the best weather of the trip with partially cloudy skies and bright sun.
We savored 3 runs above Independence Mine and then had to head back to Anchorage to pack and get ready for early flights out. A great completion to a failed ski trip and a successful shoveling trip.
For some reason, I am obsessed with the Highline Trail across the Uinta mountains of Utah. I first backpacked across the trail around 2005, did a solo run across it in 2010 to set an FKT, then ran across it again in 2013 to set another FKT. I have wanted to attempt a ski traverse of the Highline Trail and started to plan it in 2014. Snow, weather, ski partners, car shuttle drivers, etc just never seemed to work out to be able complete the traverse. Eric Bunce and I committed last spring to get it done when we could get the logistics to all line up. We wanted a third person to join us and we reached out to Tom Diegel knowing that he is always up for an adventure. The text string below for inviting Tom would probably sum up our adventure.
I was excited to have a strong set of partners for what I knew would be a very challenging few days (I also now have a feeling these partners may second guess any future adventures I invite them on). We were planning for a traverse Thursday to Sunday, then due to deteriorating weekend weather, bumped up the start to Wednesday. We knew this risked not having consolidated snow from the last storm, but hoped for the best.
We had everything lined up with a very simple plan
Tuesday I would borrow the neighbors truck and loaded my sled.
Tuesday night we would get together to finalize gear and logistics. We reviewed with Emily and Jackie our options for bailing out and the trailheads we could end up at. None were good options and all involved well over 15 miles of skiing to get to a road plus at least 3 hours of someone driving to get us
Jackie would drive us to the trailhead on Wednesday morning and then mt bike in Vernal on her way home.
We would ski for 3-4 days using a Delorme InReach to mark our progress and to call out for a ride if we had to bail out.
Thursday Evan and Paul would take 2 snowmobiles up Mirror Lake Highway and ski for the day leaving 1 sled and a pack of gear for us at the west Highline Trail Trailhead. They would stash the sled, key and bag and hope it was all there when we reached the trailhead. They would leave the neighbors truck and my trailer at the trailhead for us to get back home with if/when we finished.
We would eventually reach Mirror Lake Highway and drive the sled towing 2 skiers back to the trailhead where our (hopefully) waiting vehicle and trailer would be there for us to drive back home.
As Paul clearly pointed out, what could possibly go wrong with this ‘simple’ plan.
On Tuesday we decided that a later morning start with more sleep would allow us to go longer into the night as our goal was short naps and move as much as possible. We left Summit Park shortly after 6AM on Wednesday and we were walking up the access road by 9:30 for what we thought would be a 4 hour approach to the Leidy Peak Trailhead that ended up taking us 7 hours with 14 miles and 3700′ climbing as well as some good bushwhacking and lots of trail breaking. By the time we reached the actual start of the Highline Trail, our feet were already in bad shape from being wet for so long from trail breaking through ankle+ deep wet snow. We continued on with hopes of making it to Chipeta Lake shortly after dark. By the time we reached Whiterocks Lake (5 miles from Chipeta), we had to stop for the night due to foot issues. Trenchfoot was now turning into frost nip. We had travelled about 23 miles and climbed 4800′ in 11.5 hours. In the entire time, we took our skins off once and made 8 kick turns through stiff breakable crust.
We lit a fire and setup our bivies and attempted to dry out some socks and boot liners. This would prove to be impossible and we spent 3 days in wet boots. I had a restless night for my first winter open bivy, but woke up Thursday morning feeling restless and excited to get moving.
We had a slow start Thursday getting gear situated and feet fixed. We enjoyed some long gradual climbs and even had a few turns on Thursday. We were able to take advantage of the descent off North Pole Pass to make good mileage traversing into the massive Fox Lake and Kidney Lakes basin. We were not making great time. We were breaking trail through breakable crust in the mornings; through soft, unsupportable snow in the afternoon; and then back to breakable crust in the evenings. We were expecting to be able to use gravity and cost across some areas, and this just was not happening. We were hoping for ~3mph as an average pace and were making barely over 2mph. We talked about options, do we bail out at Painter Basin for the 18 mile skin to Henry Fork road, do we push on and hop to beat the storm, do we push on and hope the storm is delayed, etc. We sent out a request for a weather forecast via our InReach and the storm was still scheduled to hit us on Friday night. The winds would pick up and by Saturday night it would be -8F wind chills. We knew we would need to be done by 2 or 3 on Saturday to get out of Mirror Lake Highway before the storm really hit. Day 2 had us covering about 25 miles with 4300′ ascent and 3600′ descent in 13 hours.
We had our decision to push on, we would hope to camp in Yellowstone Basin Thursday night. After the skin from Kidney Lakes to Painter Basin took far, far longer than expected, we were not willing to ski down the thin snow and exposed rocks of Anderson Pass in the dark so we camped at the last stand of trees in Anderson Basin. We had made it around 26 miles in 13 hours. We made a fire to attempt to try boot liners and went to bed with the alarms set for 4:30 to get an early start in order to make it to Rock Creek on Friday. Around midnight, the winds started to pick up in earnest. I had a completely sleepless night as I listed to the wind howl, the trees shake, and tried to keep my already failing bivy system from being blown to shreds. When we woke in the early morning, I knew we could not safely continue on. The winds was gusting 40mph and was expected to pick up to 60 mph gusts by end of the day. We would be climbing from 11,500′ where we were camped to over 12,000′ and we had 4 large passes to climb all into the wind. Eric thought we could make it; Tom wasn’t sure, but didn’t want to take risks; After being the person who pushed the others to commit to the finish on Thursday, on Friday morning, I knew we had to pull the plug as we had 40 miles to the snowmobile and we were at our only bail out option. We made the hard decision to bail and sent the ‘come get us’ message to Emily, Jackie, and Ashley at 6AM as we were on our way from Painter Basin 18 miles to the road where we could get picked up. The wind was fierce on Friday. I have skied up to King’s Peak 5 times and have always dreaded the long skate across Henry’s Fork Basin by Dollar Lake. With the massive tailwind, all we did was hold our arms out and get pushed across the flat basin. Eric clocked us at 20 mph across the flat basin (which was a lot of fun when we hit the breakable crust sections). Once we got to Henry’s Fork Creek the next set of fun began. The snow was supportable for a while as we crisscrossed the creek on questionable snow bridges and eventually was unsupported and we were forced to skin the final ~5 miles to the road. We reached the road and couldn’t get our boots off fast enough as we ate through the remains of our food and waited for Jackie and Paul to come and rescue us. Our bail out was 18 miles with 1600′ ascent and 3700′ descent and took us 7 hours.
Unfortunately, the adventure wasn’t over as on Saturday we had a borrow a snowmobile and go 20 miles back up Mirror Lake Highway to retrieve our exit sled.
I think the trip can be summed up with blisters, sore shoulders, sunburnt lips, long hours on skins, and an even larger desire to go back and ‘get it done’.
Things I learned
Really great partners are a necessity for crazy long adventures like this
You can actually get frostnip toes and trenchfoot in the same day
Before your first bivy, test out your bivy gear – my bivy sack wripped open night 1.
The odor that develops when you don’t take off wet boot liners (or skimo race suits) for 3 days is worse than I ever could have imagined
Click on the gallery below to browse the photo gallery and click on each photo to see full size with captions.
The second part of our trip was planned around relaxing. After another late night, we caught an early morning bus to Girona, rented a car and headed to the beach. The coast was HOT and it didn’t take us long to remember how much we hate heat and humidity. We relaxed on the beach Tuesday afternoon, then got to our hotel in Tossa de Mar to learned it had no AC or wifi. We were planning to use some of this time to catch up on work and emails and now this would not be possible. Our hotel room was over 32C, so sleep didn’t look like it would happen. .
We had booked 2 scuba dives on Wednesday with a friend of Gerard and Marta’s then had an amazing sea side dinner on a private terrace (thanks to Gemma’s roommate’s parents who are friends with the owner and made reservations for us) followed by a very warm night. It was so hot, I soaked a pillow case on water and laid it over my body to attempt to cool myself.
We were excited to dive on Wednesday as we don’t get an opportunity to do it very often and always nice to see under water in different areas.
Afer diving, we drove to Villafranca in the Penedes area to tour and taste cava. We had planned to spend 1 night in this area and we were very happy we extended this to 2 nights. Cava is the traditional sparkling wine from the Penedes area. Any Spanish sparkling wine can be called cava, but the only certified cava (each bottle has a certification sticker) comes from Penedes. We were staying right on a vineyard in a 12-room boutique hotel shaped like stacked wine bottles. The base of the bottle was the windows and our windows overlooked the vineyard.
Our fantastic boutique hotel at Mas Tinell in Villafranca, Penedes
On Thursday morning, after a run through the vineyards and hillside, we had a cava breakfast and hit the road for some tours and tastings. We had an amazing time learning about cava and tasting the differences. I think we both may have become cava converts.
After several hours of tastings (probably a few too many), we needed a walk and some groceries. In town, we found a nice meat and cheese shop. Everything in the shop was Euro/Kg (so we thought). We found the Iberico Jamon we wanted, ordered 300g and when the bill came to $43 Euro’s, we realized that the 4 Jamon’s on 1 of the tables were Euro/100g. We quickly changed plans from meat and cheese as a snack and quick lunch to focusing a good meal on this amazing meat. The quality was not wasted and we thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this delicacy. We had a truly amazing meal accompanied by cava and wine tasting at our hotel that night and had a plan to get on the road to Calafell on Friday morning with a stop for a trail run along the way.
Calafell was a little too touristy for us, but there was a Starwood hotel there so we could stay for free on points (one of the few perks of business travel is that we used frequent flyer miles for our airfare and could stay on this beach on hotel points). We checked into a beautiful Le Meridian hotel and quickly went down to the beach. I was once again reminded of my distaste for heat and humidity and didn’t last long on the beach. We decided we needed a relaxing night so we planned our dinner to be tapas in our room. We already had top shelf meat, we just needed a few other items and we were quickly able to put together an amazing meal of Iberico Jamon, tapenade, salmon pate, white anchovies, gazpacho, bread, and wine. It was nice to sit on our patio and have a long, relaxing dinner.
Our last day would be spent driving back to Barcelona. We had spent time in Barcelona a few years ago so we didn’t want to spend much time there. What we hadn’t planned for is that most everything would be closed on Sunday. We were disappointed to miss out on a few shops we wanted to check out (mostly the huge Mercado). We were able to take in a Jamon tour and tasting which while a little touristy, was very informative.
Jamon tasting in Barcelona
We capped the night off with dinner at 7 Portes which is known for their paella (although Gemma’s mom’s was much, much better) and an early night back at the hotel as we had to leave for the airport at 4AM.
Since spending a week training for Hardrock 100 in the Pyrenees 2013 during a break between work trips to London I have wanted to get back to the Pyrenees to run the GR11 trail (this is part of the Grande Randonnee long distance trail system in Europe). Emily and I started to plan a run across the GR11 over 10 months ago. Or original plan was to run the entire trail (when we thought it was ~500km during initial research). After more detailed research, and learning that it was an 800km trail, we planned to run the best 500km from Candanchu in the west to the Mediterranean Sea. With help of local Catalan friends Gemma and Jordi, we put together a great route utilizing a combination of huts and villages for an 11-day running adventure. As winter and plans progressed, Emily was sidetracked from training with a pulled hamstring from skiing. Plans were once again modified and reduced to a 300 km and 8 day run that would start further west, but be equally beautiful. Since we were no longer covering as much of the GR11, we also modified plans to visit some key locations off of the GR11 (like visiting friends Marta and Gerard who run the Refugio de Colomina a 1-day run south of the GR11). Spring work schedules were busy, Chad’s work travel schedule was unrelenting, training was not what it should have been, Emily’s hamstring was not healing, and the day before leaving my back went out once again leaving our trip and all of our running plans in question. Some good drugs for Chad, a change of plans for Emily to do fewer running days and do some biking with Gemma and we decided that we would see what happened on the GR11 and best case I would do 250-300km and worst case we would have to bag those plans and just have a good Spanish holiday.
I had visited Gemma’s home village of Guils de Cerdanya in 2013 and could not wait to return to the village. It is a small place of ~100 homes on a hillside overlooking the town or Puigcerda and the beautiful mountain valley.
A couple days were planned in Guils to recover from travel. Gemma treated us to amazing hospitality, a rapid adjustment to Spanish time (dinner at 10PM), and a reminder that we are not as young as we used to be and just can’t party till 5AM any longer.
After a short night sleep after the Puigcerda festival, we were on our way to Gavernie, France where we would spend the first day running to the GR11, but also get to take in some great Tour de France history as Gavernie is at the base on Col du Tourmelade one of the famous TdF climbs.
We started out climbing past the highest waterfall in Europe (Le Grande Cascade) to Refugio des Seraradets, Passamos de la Brecha, Collado del Descargador and finally to our resting spot of Refugio de Goriz.
I continued from Goriz to the summit of Mt Perdido while Emily and Gemma went on a shorter run.
We were all tired after a lot of climbing on day 1
Day 1 Recap:
Route: Gavernie – Refugio des Seraradets – Passamos de la Brecha – Collado del Descargador – Refugio de Goriz – Mt Perdido – Goriz
24km,2720M ascent,1790M descent,2 passes,1 summit
Gemma returned to Gavernie and Emily and I continued to Parzan. Gemma was going to pick up Emily in Parzan for a couple days of road biking in the Pyrenees with her friend Enrique. It was day 2 where I realized how slow going the ‘running’ was going to be. The ascents and descents were all very steep and there would not be much running on these. I also quickly realized that I did not want to move fast as I wanted to stop and enjoy the amazing mountain scenery and take photos.
Day 2 Recap:
Route: Goriz – Collado de Goriz o de Arrablo – Collado de las Olsd o de los Maquis – Collada de Anisclo – Refugio de Pineta – Collodeta Plana Fonda – Collata las Coronetas – Parzan
33km,1560m ascent,2600m descent,5 Passes
I would spend the next 2 days covering long distances alone. I was looking forward to some mountain solitude. My back was doing ok. I was able to go a little further each day before the pain and sciatica started. By day 3, I was up to 4 hours pain free (which meant 5-6 hours in pain). My legs were tired and I didn’t have the ‘pep’ in my step that I had hoped for. It was also very hot and the heat was taking a toll on me and preventing me from sleep. I was going into day 3 with about 10 hours of sleep in 3 nights.
Day 3 Recap:
Route: Parzan – Collado de Urdiceto – Refugio de Biados – Puerto de Chistau o de Estos- Puen de San Chaime
42.5km,2460m ascent,2140m descent,2 Passes
Emily spent the day biking and had an amazing time riding TdF cols.
Day 4 would be my hardest day. I caught a 5AM bus to get 4km of road out of the way. I was exhausted with another night of 4 hours of sleep and since it was still dark when I got off the bus, I curled up on the side of the road and slept for another hour. Waking up at sunrise freezing cold, I started the ~1800M and 10km climb. I just could not get moving and for the first couple hours had a hard time staying awake on the trail. I continued to slog upwards trying to gain motivation from the mountain beauty. I never really got moving this day and what I thought would be an 8 hour day took over 10 hours to get to Refugio dera Restanca where Emily was meeting me. I slogged in and started the normal ritual of stretching, eating, drinking, and attempting to recover. I realized that this time that I had 2 huge days of over 50km and 3300M ascent planned and that there was no way I would be able to complete these days. We did some re-routing and I decided that after day 7 I needed a rest day and since Gemma had left her car for us by Espot, Emily would drive me to Andorra and I would cut out about 75km of difficult terrain.
Day 4 Recap:
Route: Puen San Chame – Collado de Vallibierna – Refugio de Cap de Llauset – Collado de lid Ibones – Refugio de Conangles – Port de Rius – Refugio dera Restanca
40km,2702 m ascent,2053 m descent,3 Passes
I awoke on day 5 feeling good and felt like I had probably gotten over the ‘hump’ of big days and I was starting to get into the rhythm of my days. We left Restanca for an amazing day to Colomina. The terrain was challenging with lots of scrambling, and steep descents, but I was happy to have company again and we would spend the night in the presence of friends. It was great to see Gerard (Marta was doing an adventure race and was not there) and spend some time catching up with him.
Day 5 Recap:
Route: Restanca – Coret d’Oelhacrestada – Refugi Ventosa i Calvall – Coll de Contraix – Refugi d’ Estany Llong – Collada de Delluir – Refugi de Colomina
27.5 km,2150 M ascent, 1750M descent,3 passes
With the re-route, day 6 would be my shortest day and Emily and I would drive to Andorra to enjoy a relaxing afternoon and a much needed good night sleep in a hotel. The weather forecast was for afternoon storms so we got an early start and decided to summit Pic de Peguera on our run to Espot. This turned out to be a pretty bad decision as the storm moved in 3 hours early and we hit the summit as the clouds blanketed us. We had a difficult time down climbing off the summit in minimal visibility and hit Collado de Monestero just as the lightening and hail started. We started down the steep col as quickly as possible and finally found a large rock to escape the now marble sized hail and put on rain pants. We spend the next 10km running through a torrential downpour. We were able to easily hitch a ride with a couple other runners from Espot to la Guingueta d’Aneu where Gemma had left the car and after a short lunch stop we were on our way to Andorra.
Day 6 Recap:
Route: Refugi de Colomina – Coll de Peguera – Pic de Peguera (2982M) – Collado de Monestero – Estany de Saint Maurici – Espot
18.6 km,670 M ascent,1750M descent,2 pass
We had an early start in Andorra La Vella where Emily planned to run the first 2 hours (all uphill) with me, then return to the car and drive to Guils. The climb out of the town was over 20% and was slow going. I would spend this day running almost the entire way across Andorra and ending at Gemma’s house. It was amazing terrain and scenery, but on and off rain, strong wind, and cold temperatures until the afternoon. I enjoyed the run through the cattle pastures and was excited to see Emily and Gemma as I approached Guils.
Day 7 Recap:
Route: Andorra La Vella – Refugi de Fontverd – Refugi de Riu dels Orris- Refugi de I’llla – Coll de I’llla – Cabana dels Esparvers – Portella d’Engorgs – Refugi de Malniu – Guils de Cerdanya
38.5 km,2450M ascent,2075M descent.2 Passes
Gemma had invited us to her friend Chavi’s birthday party on Saturday night and while being tired, we couldn’t pass up the invitation and this turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We arrived at normal Spanish dinner party time (show up at 9PM for 10PM dinner) to a long table set for 28 people. There was traditional Catalan foods (salad, meets, bread, olives, chips, wine, beer) and a group of amazing people that treated us like old friends and loved the chance to practice some English. The night was capped off with Zac playing accordion for the entire group. This was like something out of Bon Appetite for both of us. We capped this night off with another festival in a small village of just a couple dozen houses that had drawn about 400 people. Another 4:30 AM night and we had mixed emotions of if we could really make good Catalans or if we were too old for this.
Sunday was a rest day with a long hike through the hills around Guils followed by late Catalan lunch with Gemma’s parents and grandma (none of whom speak English). Gemma’s mom taught us how to make Paella (which was amazing) and we had a traditional salted code salad (also amazing). It is too bad the Norwegians cured their cod in lye and not salt as if lutefisk tasted like this salted and reconstituted cod, I would be much more eager to eat it at Christmas.
The last day of running became a short day on the GR11 with a focus of running 4 of the peaks and ridge line visible from Gemma’s house. This also took us into the ski town of Nuria named after the virgin Nuria that so many Catalan’s are named after.
Day 8 Recap:
Route: Puigmal de Llo (2801M) – Pic de Segre (2843M) – Coma de Finestrelles – Puig de Coll de Finestrelles (2827M) – Nuria – Puigmal d’Err (2909M) – Tossa del Pas dels Lladres
21 KM,2050 Ascent,3 passes,4 summits
We did our last laundry, packed up, had an amazing last meal with Gemma and on Tuesday morning we were on our way to Tossa de Mar for the next stage of our trip. Looking back, we had such a wonderful experience being taken in by friends and friends of friends. We met so many people and truly go the experience we strive for when traveling (to be able to live like a local). This is something that will always be a highlight of this trip for us.
I have done a few 2-3 day fast pack trips, but never a long trip with refugios and villages so it took some planning to figure out what to take. We wanted to pack as light as possible while still being able to be semi-self-sufficient if things went bad. In the end, we decided that we would pack a space set of running cloths and a mylar bivy so that if the shit really hit the fan, we could survive a night out although it would most likely be type 3 fun. My total pack weight was around 6Kg.
CAMP Raid Vest (20L): A 15-17L pack would have been ideal, but I didn’t want to purchase something new
We make a point to always spend our anniversary together (and have only missed 1 of 17) and things were not looking good for this year. The work stars aligned and Emily and I were both scheduled to be in Sacramento for work over our anniversary. We were able to spend an amazing anniversary night with an amazing meal at Mulvaney’s in Sacrament.
There is no such thing as bad snow, just bad skiers.
That can be in important ski mantra when spring skiing. When Eric and I skied Mt Adams and Mt Rainier a few years ago, we had absolutely horrible snow conditions, but still great skiing. Since Emily and I were both in Sacramento, I was able to convince her into spending a spring weekend skiing instead of running. She had never skied a 14-er.
The weather wasn’t great so we decided to play the weekend by ear and just see what happens.
We decided to work until 1 on Friday, then ski west facing corn off of Shastina, just ski anything possible on Saturday based on a very bad forecast, and then climb as high as possible on Sunday turning around either at the summit or when the wind was too strong to ascend any longer.
We had a Cadillac SRS rental car and quite possibly made the first drive into Diller Canyon with a Cadillac. The narrow rocky road didn’t do much for the new rental car’s pain job leaving it very scratched up and the horrible tires got us stuck a couple times. We eventually parked it and walked to snow line (we could have only went another 1/3 mile before the road was blocked by downed trees so we didn’t do too bad). We had a super fun dusk patrol on Friday with a 1.3 mile and 1,100′ walk up the road to snow line, then 5,000′ of climbing to just below the summit of Shastina (12,330).
The climbing eventually got hard so we switched to booting for the very deceiving ‘short section’ of 1500′. Kicking in this booter myself proved to be exhausting. The temperatures were warm, but the wind was merciless. It was blowing hard at 35-40mph with gusts hitting us hard and pelting us with ice crystals.
We reached the ridge just a couple hundred feet below the summit of Shastina and I was blown off my feet twice by the wind gusts. This was our sign that it was time to turn around and enjoy a 6,000′ descent of great late afternoon corn.
A wonderful Indian dinner in Mt Shasta, a few beers, and we called it a great day.
Since Saturday’s forecast was so bad, we decided to climb Casaval Ridge or West Face Gulley until the weather turned us around. This ended up being only about 4,000′ before the lightening was on top of us, visibility was nil, and it was snowing hard. We retreated for a short day with great corn due to the green-housing.
We used Saturday afternoon to catch up on work and make plans for a potential summit bid on Sunday. We figured round trip on the summit would only take 6 hours so we set the alarm for 4:30 and got packed up, checked out of the hotel and were at the trailhead by 6.
There was no one else at the trailhead, but there were fresh footprints on the snow so at least a couple other groups had left early in the morning. We were skinning by 6:15 “enjoying” skinning through the frozen sun cups.
Once at Helen Lake, we could see dozens of people making their way up Avalanche Gulch. We made great time up Avalanche Gulch and into Left of Heart and were on track to summit in 5 hours.
When we got into well into Left of Heart, the going got slow with a combination of very high winds, hard trail breaking, ice, and a steep slope. Added to that, we were well above 12,000′ and Emily was feeling the effects of elevation and going hard for 3 hours. We continued on, not sure what to expect at the top of Left of Heart. We were planning for super high winds, but it was no worse than what we had been in so we continued up Misery.
The dozens of people climbing up Avalanche Gulch were all in various degrees of climbing and retreating off Misery. It made us happy to have taken the alternative route even though it was harder and slower. We continued up Misery and on towards the summit moving quite slowly from Emily feeling the elevation. We ended up summiting in about 6.5 hours. Since Emily was not feeling great, she walked off the summit for the first 400′. I chose a narrow, steep icy couloir off the summit, pulled skins and dropped in for a tooth rattling icy, sastrugi decent.
Summit of Mt Shasta
We suffered down the sastrugi until the top of Left of Heart where we were treated to powder (and some wind board).
The powder led to corn, which led to zero visibility cloud cover which eventually opened up allowing us to enjoy the fast corn to the trailhead.
The trailhead was sunny, warm, and busy. Our Voile WSP/WSG skis drew lots of interesting looks and questions. We enjoyed the obligatory post summit beer, dumped lots of wet and smelly gear in the car and hit the road back to Sacramento. Within1.5 hours of being on the summit in Arctic conditions (well below zero wind chills), the car thermometer was reading 87F.
There are dozens of amazing routes on Mt Shasta and I can’t wait to return to ski the North and East sides.
I have been slacking on blogging for the past several months. A combination of too much working, too much work travel, and too many ‘side jobs’ has just not left time.
We had a good ski season in the Wasatch and I had a good season finding ‘new’ things to ski and was able to see lots of new places. I left lots of objectives undone once again (like Highline Trail and HR100).
I put together a few photos to recap the season missing on lots of good things (like an interesting Powder Keg weekend).
Fall is the Wasatch is a great time. Cool temps, the overgrown trails start to die back for good running, quick desert trips to remember what summer is like, and a huge drop in running miles in favor of duck and elk hunting. By October my body is ready for a break from running so the relaxed pace of hunting is a perfect transition season for recovery before ski season starts. With any luck, the seasons transition perfectly with hunting ending at the end of October and skiing starting the first of November. If the snow doesn’t come early, by November Emily and I are usually both ready for an long weekend of running in the desert.
While not racing much this year, I had some great runs and other fun times (and a few not so fun times with my uncle’s death). As I was looking through photos from the summer, I thought a summer photo recap would be a great seasonal transition.
I spent several months working 1 mile from Valley Forge National Park and was able to do some great training (even on dirt) for Jemez 50.
I suffered through Jemez 50 as much as it looked like in the photo.
The Uintas is my favorite place in Utah. I didn’t get there enough this year, but was at least able to get a little trail time out there.
My first ascent of the South Ridge of Mt Superior with Nina, Pete, and Dom
After 13 years in Utah, I finally climbed the South Ridge of Mt Superior. It was a first for Nina, Pete, Dom, and I. Sticking to the ridge like we did definitely increases the pucker factor.
Chad & Ryan McDermott Relaxing in Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range
Chad & Ryan McDermott on the Dinwoody Glacier During out Gannett Peak attempt (Wind River Range)
An amazing trip to the Winds with a failed Gannett Peak attempt.
We had a hard 2 weeks in late August and early September as Gary passed away. The night after his passing we honored and toasted him with an amazing bottle of bubbles.
I was honored to pace Chip Duross for just over 30 miles of his first 100 (Bear 100)
Proud parents (Galen and Ashley) and God parents (Emily and Chad) with Ben and Emma
And to wrapped up summer (or at least this got us to 05 October) celebrating Maddison Ashley Selzler’s baptism in Steamboat. We were honored and thrilled to be asked to be her God Parents.
With the middle of October having started, we are running the Corner Canyon 50K which is benefiting our best friend Christian Bacasa from his 4+ year ordeal with lymphoma, then directly after the race I am off to the airport for a 2 week work trip in Europe from which I get home and 16 hours later head to Indianapolis for a 4 day work trip. So, it is only 16 October, but I miss the best season in the Wasatch and hopefully it will be ski season when I return.
My uncle Gary passed away on September 2 after a 10 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Gary was an extremely important person in my life and was much more than an uncle. I was asked to say a eulogy at his funeral and I wanted to post this along with some photos as a lasting tribute to Gary.
Over the past week, I have been thinking a lot about “Who was Gary”. He was so many things to so many of us. He was a Son, Brother, Uncle, Friend, Travel Partner, Chef, Teacher, Role Model, Care Giver, Philanthropist, and much, much more.
To me, Gary was many of these things – Uncle, Best Friend, Travel Partner, Teacher, and Role Model.
Uncle Gary was the name so many people called him. He only had 4 nephews and 1 niece and yet so many people called him Uncle Gary. I think that says so much about who he was. He was an Uncle to so many, many people and everyone wanted to call him Uncle Gary as it was synonymous with the fun, compassion, and generosity with which he led his life.
To me, Uncle Gary was a Best Friend. Gary treated his friends like family and he treated them all so very well. Gary was one of the people who taught me the importance of treating friends like family and the importance of that extended family. Living so far away from our family, this is something that Emily and I now live by.
Gary loved to travel and was an amazing Travel Partner. He helped instill in me the importance of traveling which is something I have tried to live by. My first trip to Europe was with Gary and I still have fond memories of that trip. Most of us have heard stories and seen pictures of Gary’s amazing travel adventures with Barb, Craig, Hansi, Angela, and many more of you. All around the US, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Norway, Italy, Greece, Hong Kong, China, and many more. He loved to experience new places and cultures. He cherished all of the places he went and made life long memories in those places. Much of the art in Gary’s homes shows his love of traveling and the cultures he experienced. Traveling with Gary was always a mix of art, history, food, and of course lots of fun.
Gary was a Role Model to me. He was one of the classiest and most dignified people most of us knew. Many of us learned so much from him about style, art, cooking, entertaining, and more. I always loved going to Niemen Marcus with him and seeing him greeted by name by the staff as they would show him the latest arrivals that they felt he would like.
Gary treated everyone so well that they couldn’t be anything but nice to him. He was an extremely generous person to family, friends, and the organizations that were important to him. His impact on people became so apparent after his passing, when several of the people who had helped take care of the Scottsdale house for many, many years came by the house. Their extreme sadness and tears showed just how much he impacted everyone he came across. I only hope that someday I can be this type of role model.
Gary was also such a great Teacher. For me, his greatest teachings were in the kitchen. He was one of the critical figures in teaching me how to enjoy great food, be a good cook, and throw an amazing party. In looking through photos over the past few weeks, so many of my photos were of Gary in the kitchen with his favorite apron on (put on apron). I was surprised in how many of these photos he was wearing a polo shirt, boxer shorts, and an apron. I am not sure this was the style that the sales people at Niemen Marcus were going for, but somehow, he made it work.
We all know how much Gary liked to throw a party and we could spend hours telling stories of his parties we have all attended. These parties were great times and great memories of Gary. I hope we can all continue his tradition of great parties and memories.
So as we are all sharing stories and memories of Gary, take time to think about who Gary was to you. For me, every time I put on an apron to cook a meal for family and friends I will be thinking of Gary. For those of you who were around for Gary’s last week, he was ready to go and would look you in the face and intently say “Emily, Let’s Go”, “Craig, Let’s Go”, “Kari, Let’s Go”. At the time, we weren’t sure where Gary wanted to go, but now we all know the final party that Gary was ready to go to, so “Let’s Go”.
The other Eulogies were by my sister and 2 cousins. I wanted to include a part of my cousin Russ’s Eulogy where he ended with ‘Gary’s recipe for life’ as I felt this was just wonderful.
We have wanted to visit the Wind River Range in Wyoming for years as friends always talk about how amazing it is. We planned a quick weekend with a short run Friday, then a 50+ mile loop fast-pack style for Saturday and Sunday. Our friend Eric Bunce decided to join us for the Saturday/Sunday loop. We were excited to see a new place and to try out some new fast packing gear (especially our new CAMP Raid packs).
Friday’s run was a beautiful cross country run from Half Moon Lake
After a great run on Friday, we setup camp (ie, parked the truck) at the Elkhart trailhead and got gear ready for an early Saturday start. The forecast had been hit and miss all week with storms forecasted, then clearing. We woke on Saturday to grey skies and left the trailhead in a light rain.
Based on the forecast, we assumed the weather would clear.
Unfortunately, the weather only got worse and it eventually started raining very hard. On our climb up to Lester Pass the rain turned to snow which turned to a full on blizzard. We were now running in winter conditions and packed for summer conditions. We were all saturated through and cold. We dropped off Lester Pass and reached a trail junction 16 miles into our run. Right would take us ~10 miles up to Titcomb Basin and eventually to Peak Lake where we planned to bivy for the night. Left would take us ~12 miles back to the trailhead and try gear. None of us wanted to make the smart choice but we all knew that left was our only option as the weather appeared to have set in hard and going right could quickly be Type 2 or Type 3 fun. Of course by the time we dropped 1500′ to the trailhead the weather had cleared down low, but the high country still was socked in so we were glad we turned around. We ended up with a great 28.5 mile run.
We started to re-plan Sunday. Do we run in a few miles Saturday night or stay at the trailhead for a longer run on Sunday. We ended up staying at the trailhead and had options for anything up to ~45 miles for Sunday.
Sunday we woke to great weather and headed up to Titcomb Basin. We decided it would be great to see the basin and scope out that as a route to Gannett Peak (the highest peak in Wyoming). We ended up with a 36.5 mile out and back into the basin and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves along the way. We took our time on the run up enjoying the sites and taking photos. After turning around, we kept a decent pace trying to make time back to the trailhead knowing we had a 4 hour drive back home.
The Winds are as amazing as everyone says and we can’t wait to get back (hopefully with better weather).