Category Archives: Skiing

Skiing the Highline Trail

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.

Text Message Invite to Tom
Text Message Invite to Tom

 

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.

Spring Volcano Skiing – Mt Shasta

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.

Celebrating our 17th anniversary at Muvaney’s
Homemade Ding Dong
Homemade Ding Dong

 

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.

An ominous forecast
An ominous forecast

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 1.4 mile / 1100' ascent walk up to snow line
The 1.4 mile / 1100′ ascent walk up to snow line
Chad climbing up Diller Canyon
Chad climbing up Diller Canyon

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.

The never ending 1500' booter
The never ending 1500′ booter

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.

Chad skiing great corn down Diller Canyon
Chad skiing great corn down Diller Canyon
Emily skiing great corn down Diller Canyon
Emily skiing great corn down Diller Canyon
Stripping for the walk back down
Stripping for the walk back down

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.

Casaval Ridge of Mt Shasta with weather moving in
Casaval Ridge of Mt Shasta with weather moving in
Skiing the soup and snow down Casaval
Skiing the soup and snow down Casaval

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.

Skinning up for a fun day
Skinning up for a fun day

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.

Heading up Mt Shasta
Heading up Mt Shasta

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.

Emily skinning up Left of Hearth
Emily skinning up Left of Hearth
Emily skinning up Left of Hearth
Emily skinning up Left of Hearth

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.

Top of Left of Heart
Top of Left of Heart
Chad at the base of Misery
Chad at the base of 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

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).

Emily skiing corn on Left of Heart
Emily skiing corn on Left of Heart

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.

Prize beer after a 7200' descent
Prize beer after a 7200′ descent

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.

2015-2016 Ski Season

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).

Spring – Ski or Run???

We had a crazy winter in the Wasatch.  We set a record for the least amount of snow – EVER.  As everyone complained about the skiing,  I had an amazing ski season with lots of great ski days, not as much skimo racing as I would have wanted, a great trip to the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Verbier, a chance to ski in Chamonis, and too much work travel for my new job with PwC. Thanks to all the hard work that we (Emily, Nick, Eric, and myself) put into the Powder Keg, we had another very successful race.

I have had a hard rule for at least 10 years that I would not skip a Saturday or Sunday of skiing to run except for BoSho Marathon no matter how early I had a race.  With the low snow year, for the first time I broke my rule and transitioned to running earlier than normal to try to get back into running and do the Jemez 50 race on 23 May. In March, I kept my rule slowly increasing my miles during the week.  Starting in April, without much skiing motivation, I transitioned into running mode. Since the snow was marginal (at best) I wanted to take the extra time to ensure I was ready to run long after last year’s injury.
On 18 April, I ran BoSho Marathon.  As usual, the race was hard and it made me wonder if I could get into running shape.  I had my 2nd slowest time, but I was thrilled to be able to run with no pain in my back or leg.  It probably didn’t help that I only had 5 weeks of training going into the run and this run accounted for just over 12% of my entire annual mileage.  It was a great test of where the recovery from the pinched nerve in my back is at.  With a busy travel schedule and some family commitments, this weekend is my last chance for a long run so I will do 50K in the rain and snow on Saturday to really find out if i am ‘ready for a 50′.
My crazy travel schedule that I am trying to cram ultra training into has been/is
  • January:
    • 2 weeks in Chicago for work
  • February
    • 2 weeks in Europe for World Ski Mountaineering Championships
    • 2 weeks in Chicago
  • March
    • 1 week at Brighton for Powder Keg
    • 1 week in Chicago
    • 1/2 week in Denver
  • April
    • 2 weeks in Philadelphia
    • 1 week in Detroit
    • 1 weekend in Scottsdale to visit family
  • May (planned)
    • 3 weeks in Philadelphia
    • 1 weekend in Scottsdale to visit family
    • Long labor weekend in New Mexico for Jemez
  • June (planned)
    • Unknown work trips
    • 1 weekend at Pocatello helping out
    • 1 weekend visiting friends in Steamboat

If you overlap Emily’s work travel on top of this, our paths crossed only 4 days in February, we were only home together 8 days in March, and 2 days in April!

Here are a few photos from March and April.  Maybe I will start snapping a few running.
Powder Keg Week
Powder Keg week
Chipman Peak into Dry Fork with Tom and Blake
Thin snow on the ridgeline to Pfiefferhorn on our way to ski corn into Dry Fork with Blake and T-Dawg
Red Baldy to Tibble Fork with Andy
Skiing Icefall off Red Baldy with Andy – this might be the best corn run in the Wasatch.
Red Baldy to Tibble Fork with Andy
Cooking on our climb out of the Icefall – shirts off skinning at 11K in March!

Powder Keg

Skiing with Sarah and Blake after a 40″ April storm.  Best powder day since Christmas.

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.

Verbier-Day11-007-blog.jpg

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 booking.com 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.

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Scott showing me how to rip on skinny skis

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Scott enjoying the amazing Verbier Pow

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Irwin Race Results

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

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

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Very thin mid December snow pack in Silver Fork

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

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One of the reasons we have been playing things very conservatively

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

Mineral Fork Powder - 28Dec14

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

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Post Christmas blower Powder in Mineral Fork.

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Post Christmas blower Powder in Mineral Fork.

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

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

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First climb up Targhee. Photo by Joe Risi

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

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

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One of the massive Jackson climbs. Photo by Joe Risi

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

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

Here are the full Wyoming Roundup Results

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

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

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

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

Reflections – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3791.JPG Mt biking with Eric and Jackie in Telluride

IMG_3817.JPG The happy couple

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

Reflections – Part 1

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

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Climbing Corbett’s Couloir at the Jackson Skimo Race

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

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

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

Wasatch Citizen Series Race - 25Feb

Our nighttime skimo race series

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Sarah and Emily finishing Power of Four

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

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Skiing the top of the Sliver

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

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

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True R&R in Sayulita

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

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.

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Rime storm on Mt Adams

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Freezing on Rainier

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

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

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Bashed shins

Heaps Canyon Canyoneering Trip with Colter, Paul, Tom

Final 300’ Heaps rapel into Emerald Pools

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

Aspen to Crested Butte Run  

Volcano Double Header

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

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

Leaving Goliath for Mt Adams

Leaving Goliath for Mt Adams

The 1 mile walk to snowl line

The 1 mile walk to snow line

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

One of our few good views of Mt Adams

One of our few great views of Mt Adams

A horizon that goes on forever

Climbing against a never ending horizon

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

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

Freezing and getting rimed on the summit

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

Mission complete

Mission Complete

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

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

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After a beautiful 4 hour drive from Adams to Rainier

The amazing greenery of on the drive from Adams to Rainier

we arrived to what is probably typical Rainier weather:

The best view we had of the base of Rainier

Mt Rainer Visitor Center is back there somewhere

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

Leaving Goliath in a light rain

A rainy start

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

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

Our first intimidating view of Mt Rainier from the Nisqually Glacier

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

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

Climbing out of the fog at around 7,100′

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

Navigating the crevases to the base of Fuhrer Finger

Navigating Wilson Glacier to the base of Fuhrer Finger

Crevases on Wilson Glacier

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

Looking up the choke of Fuhrer Finger

Looking up Fuhrer Finger

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

Upper Nisqually Glacier

Breaking trail in heavy snow on the upper Nisqually Glacier

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

Booting up the edge of Nisqually

Booting up the hard pack (more like ice pack)

These sastrugi fins were above my knees!

The massive sastrugi on the climb

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

Eric booting through unskiable snow

Eric trying not to be discourage about the snow condition

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

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

Summit of Mt Rainier - 14,409'

SUMMIT!

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

Looking down at Camp Muir across the Cowlitz Glacier

Cowlitz Glacier and Camp Muir

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

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

Start in the rain, end in the rain!

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

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.

 

Gear:

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

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

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