Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grand Teton Ski Descent Speed Record!

Pointing at the wrong mountain, but you get the idea
The stars aligned yesterday and Jared, Jason and I were able to make a mad dash to GTNP to try and make a speed run at the GT.  Conditions this spring have been nearly perfect after the monster winter and the word was out that buddy Nate Brown had just set the standard at 7 hours and 15 minutes.  He realized this time would likely be broken and was incredibly encouraging, offering up key beta that the Chevy was still "full" and downclimbable.  His view on this project is refreshing and is that we (those of us that like stopwatches and tights) are all in this together and that we might as well try to further the collective goal of going as fast as possible.  No secrets.  Only positive vibes.  

For a little more backstory, we have all wanted to make a speed run all winter but Jared has really been the instigator of the "Light and Fast" mentality.  In fact, it was an email from him saying he was heading up to Jackson that got us all motivated.  I think we've developed a synergistic energy in SLC with all of us contributing ideas, different skills (ice, climbing, ropework/anchors), and motivation.  Nate's recent record added fuel to the fire.  

We arrived at the Lupine Meadows TH late Monday night and tried to grab a few hours of sleep before our 4:45 departure time.  Donning running shoes with our kits on our backs, we were off jogging the flats and fast hiking the up en route to Garnet Canyon.  This wasn't all that uncomfortable given we weren't carrying too much.  No ropes, no rock/ice pro, no avy gear, no bulky winter clothing.  Jared had Trab race skis and his DNA boots along with Camp Nanotech crampons.  Jason and I both had Dynafit Nanga Parbats, TLT Performance boots, and Petzl Dart/win crampons.  We also brought along two ice tools and Whippets.  

This first leg went well and we were skinning through the Meadows 1:16 into the day.  Nate had kindly provided us with splits at the Meadows, Glencoe Col, and the summit so we had targets to shoot for.  We were already ahead of pace.  From there, we skinned with ski crampons the majority of the way up the Teepee Glacier before switching to boot packing.  At this point, I began to fatigue a bit, but stayed focused on trying to keep contact with the other guys.  From the onset, I was worried I'd get dropped given a subpar fitness level secondary to TOO much work lately.  

Jared stated the other day that,

"Skiing in a group made us faster.  We know each other well, and worked well together.  In addition to some trail breaking, the collective mental energy (and the knowledge that your buddies would leave you for dead if you stopped to tie your shoe) made us faster." 

As I stumbled over the Glencoe Col, the other guys were already beginning their transition to crampons and pulling out their ice tools.  The watch read 2:38.  I took a minute or two to drink a coke and slurp down a couple gels.  When I looked up they were gone.  Damn.  Pulling around into the Stettner, they were a couple hundred yards up, nearing the entrance to the Chevy.  I put my head down and tried to grind out the last segment while getting bombed by ice chunks.  We passed a group of three in the Chevy who shouted encouraging words as we soloed past.  They appeared to be having fun and I hope they found the adventure they were looking for.  

Out of the Chevy and into the Ford, my rhythm became 75 steps and rest for 15 seconds, look up and curse because I wasn't closing the gap.  75/15.  75/15.  75/15.  Then, I look up and... summit block!  Then I hear Jared screaming at me, "DON'T STOP! RUN! RUN!"  Those guys were laughing.  I was laughing on the inside but was outwardly blown.  They were 3:27 to the summit and I was a few minutes back from that.  They had finished transitioning and choked down some food.  As I walked up, they grabbed my skis and pack to aid the transition.  I yanked off my crampons and switched my boots to ski mode.  By the time I stood up, all I had to do was step into my skis and we were off.  I loved it.  

One pic of how I felt on the inside...the other of how I looked (pretty messed up)

Not caring that the upper mountain was bullet proof, we dropped off the summit and made enjoyable turns down the upper face and Ford Couloir.  It was controlled group skiing on a mission and I loved it.  
Jared and Jason dropping off the summit of the GFT!
At the top of the Chevy, we put the skis away and pulled out the spikes and picks for the down climb.  First Jared, then me, then Jason.  We down climbed quickly and securely and were soon skiing the sloppy Teepee en route back to our shoes just past the Meadows.  

JD down climbing the Chevy

Jared below and myself, down climbing the Chevy (photo by JD)

Jared had more difficulty with the isothermic snow on his thin race skis and we were back in our shoes as he pulled in. The watch read 4:37.  Jason and I walk/ran through the patches of snow that remained and ran easy down the upper switchbacks until Jared caught back up.  From there it was three guys in tights, bombing downhill with skis and boots on our backs, scaring tourists with what must have been a mix of glee and despair on our faces.  Glee because the day was nearly perfect and the record was in the bag.  Despair because the legs were becoming less and less willing to keep the pace. 

A couple mishaps - my pack coming open and all the contents spilling onto the trail, slowed us by a few minutes, but we suddenly found ourselves on the broken asphalt that makes up the last few hundred meters before the Lupine Meadows TH.  Jason was in front shouting and laughing.  Jared and I were side by side happy to see the sign.  As Jason exited the trail, he was yelling, "Stop the watch!"  We thew down our packs/skis/boots, and the watch read 5:17.  I loved it.  

The cool thing...?

It will go faster.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ragnar Relay Running

This last weekend was the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay.  This is generally a 12 person relay race where each person runs 3 legs ranging from 3 to 9 miles.  The total length is 191+ miles.  Over 1,200 teams were entered with the staggered start ranging from 5:00AM to 6:00PM on Friday.  The teams are self seeded with projected times dictating where in the day they start, with the slower teams starting earliest.

Our team, The Ultra Gyno Girls, was put together almost a year ago by EC, an enthusiastic ultra running OB/Gyn friend.  She wanted to run the relay as a 6 person team and recruited JD, JD (wifey, also an OB), JH, DD, and myself.  JD and I originally committed as a show of support for wifey JD, but when she found out she was expecting (I've got a boy baking in the oven), she backed out.  Jake T was brought in as a last minute replacement.

A strained hamstring that I sustained while playing frisbee last week threatened to add 30+ miles to the other guy's legs.  But, I went for a light jog Wed night and decided to give it a try.

This is how it went:

End of Jake's 1st leg
The rest of the team drove up to Logan and got off to a mid day start while I went to work for the morning.  We rendezvoused in the town of Eden, 3 (really 6 but we were doubling up) legs into the race.  Jake took a botched handoff from Dave, who had been waiting at the exchange for 3 minutes while Jake stood in the crowd, oblivious to his presence.  Jason jumped in my car and we drove ahead to the next exchange.  The other car, now consisting of Jessie, Erin, and Dave, drove ahead to the 12th exchange where they hoped to eat and rest in preparation for their next legs.

JD blowing by some Weber guy
 Jason took off on his first leg with a former Weber State runner just in front of him, who would be handing off to former NCAA Cross Country Champion, Josh Rohatinsky.  Feeling his competitive nature surface, he ran down the Weber guy and put enough time into him to hold off Josh on the next leg.
One of the most interesting things about the Wasatch Back is the enthusiasm most teams bring to the event.  Every team has two vans, full of runners, that are decked out with car paint and various decorations.  Each team has a name and many make shirts that reflect that.  For the most part the team names are a play on words involving mild trash talking or displaying team camaraderie, but a few were more edgy and likely offensive to at least someone out there.  


Oh the language... 
 On their van????
I ran my first leg as a tribute to my man Lars Kjerengtroen, after whom I would like to name my first born son.  

Pronounced: Share-ing-tron.  Weird Norwegians.
 My first leg was up hill to the base of Snowbasin and went well enough until the last half mile when my gimpy leg tightened up causing me to limp into the finish and question my ability to finish my other two legs.  Jason and Jake were a bit worried they'd have to each run an extra 12 miles.

Captain America
At that point, I bummed some ibuprofen from another team, ate some pizza and bagels, and we drove ahead to try and get some rest before our next legs.

The drive was entertaining with all the costumes and the beautiful scenery.

Erin, Jessie, and Dave ran well and likely passed hundreds of runners advancing the baton through the night.  Jake was up next and was pretty psyched for his mostly down hill leg.  He thought it would be cold so dressed in long sleeves under his reflective vest.  
He was wrong and was soon bearing a fine midriff.

Sorry ladies.  Jake T has a girl.  

Jason getting the baton for the second time

My next leg was 12.4 miles and after the first 10 minutes, my leg loosened up enough to run relatively unfettered.  By now the routine was run, eat, drive, try to sleep, and repeat.  This went on a couple more times before all that was left was Jake's long 14+ mile last leg to the finish line.

Jason handing off after a strong run up to Gaurdsman Pass from Heber Valley.  Jake is off to a fast flat footed start.

Jake was my hero as he traded legs with me to allow me run a flat section since my leg preferred that to the hills.  This left him with the long 14 mile leg pounding section down from Gaurdsman.  Thinking the BYU team (eventual winners who started 6 hours after us) was hot on his heels, he sprinted in to the transition.

We made him down some gels and then sent him on his way to the finish line.

Wide eyed with a mission


24 hours and 40 minutes later

6 runners
191.6 miles
24:40: and change of running
A lot of gels, pizza, bagels, chips, pretzels...

Initially I was slightly chaffed to have to spend two of my only free days this month running a goofy relay when I could have been in the mountains.  Turns out the goofy spirit of the race was contagious and I think we all had a good time in spite of being ill prepared.  Might even be back next year.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Grand Teton via the Ford/Stettner: A Dream Fulfilled

With all the success JD and co (and here) had last weekend in the Tetons, I was beginning to go stir crazy stuck at work from 5AM to 6:30 PM every single day.  So when the opportunity arose to take Saturday off, I loaded up the car Thursday night and after work Friday, I drove straight to Jackson.  A marginal weather forecast kept us guessing as to what might be "in", or rather, "doable".  The only sure thing was that I wanted to get up the Grand.  

I suggested to my partner, BH, that we should maybe take a look at the Otterbody Couloir.  He instantly agreed.  An email exchange between Brian and Mark Newcomb left us wary but least from taking a look.  

Warning: This TR is full of excuses and what ifs...

Brian approaching the Otterbody Couloir
At first, the plan was to head up the Stettner/Chevy/Ford Couloirs, summit, and then drop down to the Otterbody if conditions felt right.  On the Teepee Glacier we caught a glimpse of some continuous ice that made me deeply want to climb up the Otterbody en route to the summit.  I love climbing what I intend to ski.  That way, we would know for sure if conditions would even closely approximate "right".  From far, it looked very doable, but as tends to happen with alpine ice/mixed, things look more difficult on closer inspection.  We had planned on a light and fast trip and had neglected to bring any real ropes, carrying only 6 mm cord for the rappels. We did have an assortment of stoppers, pins, and a picket for anchors, but no screws.  Brian sagely decided we probably shouldn't solo the unknown terrain.  Probably a good thing because my dumb ass was ready to jump on.  
Brian thinking about climbing some funky ice at the bottom of the Otterbody
Back to Plan A.  We traversed back past the Teepee Pillar and up to the Glencoe Col.  About this time I began to completely crash.  I think a combination of poor sleep (too much work), deconditioning (too much work), and not enough time in the mountains at elevation (too much work), had left me in rather pathetic shape.  This affirmed Brian's decision and made me grateful to have a partner who was willing to be thoughtful about the day.  

BH on the Teepee with ominous clouds on the horizon
My low continued to get lower and I slowly followed up the Stettner/Chevy/Ford Couloirs.  Luckily, Brian was a champ and was happy to break trail.  I took a short pull in the Ford but was moving a bit too slowly for his liking as he surged past.  The only other times I have felt this badly have been skiing with JD after working a night shift.  I guess sleep matters.  

View down the Stettner Couloir

BH on a short patch of ice in the Chevy Couloir
We soloed up the short icy sections, which are nearly filled in and were very casual as of 06/11/11.  Somewhere in the Chevy, clouds rolled in and the vis went to zero.  Early in the Ford, we decided the Otterbody was definitely out and stashed all our gear since we'd be coming back the same way.  Oh well, it's not like the Ford is a bad consolation prize.  Hell, it's the Grand Teton after all and this was my first time skiing it.  
I like this pic because Brian seems to be beckoning to move along with the summit in view

Clear shot back to the Ford with the top of the Petzoldt Ridge visible at the bottom of the couloir. 
On the summit, the visibility improved and we were catching intermittent views of the surrounding peaks.  Eager to have some vis on the descent, we dropped in right off the summit just as the clouds closed in.  
Brian skiing from the summit into the void
We waited a few minutes and were rewarded by stunning views and great light as the clouds parted briefly enough to enjoy the descent.
BH skiing the East Face to the Ford Couloir

BH in the Ford Couloir with my shadow visible
We found soft conditions up high that transitioned into breakable crust midway down the Ford.  Near the bottom of the Ford, we encountered unbreakable crust that might as well have been ice.  At this point, we were forced out of our skis and back into the spikes for a wind blasted down climb over the small ice bulges.  
BH near the bottom of the Ford Couloir
At the bottom of the Stettner, we transitioned back to skis and traversed back to the Teepee where we found near perfect corn making me really wonder what the Otterbody snowfield was doing (same aspect, maybe 500 ft higher).  
Looking back at the Teepee Glacier with the Otterbody visible as a thin strip of snow on the East Face.  
Wanting to eek out a little more adventure, we skied down the Dike Couloir and into Glacier Gulch since neither of us had gone down that way previously.  The fine corn continued until out in the Gulch proper where conditions began to get a little sloppy.  
BH finding a corn feast in the Dike Couloir with Teewinot in the background
As we were traversing around Delta Lake trying to find a reasonable exit down to Lupine Meadows, I turned around and found the summits again shrouded in clouds.  Reaffirming the decision to act conservatively.  
Glacier Gulch with Gunsight Notch in the center
I have felt for the last few years that being able to ski the Grand Teton would be a life long dream.  What I didn't realize is that these dreams are drugs.  I'm building up a tolerance.  The Grand was amazing.  It's position, history, and beauty make it an all time classic.  My partner for the day was the work horse of the trip and had a great positive attitude the whole time, in spite of just having skied the same line last week.  But, I feel like the climbing, skiing, and emotional high were slightly more mellow than anticipated.  Part of that is due to my brother and friends taking away the mental unknown as they skied it last week.  The other part is due to the fact that this is no long the "biggest thing" that I (and partners) might have a chance of  pulling off.  It was a beautiful thing, but not the biggest.  Adventure makes life more poignant and as I've mentioned before, I think success needs to be uncertain to have a real adventure.  In spite of the mediocre weather, our line of descent seemed "in the bag" (maybe because Brian was strong and was familiar with the route) with the real adventure laying further out on the East Face.  Regardless, I'm psyched! I feel my season is more complete.  I got my fix and can now go back to being a slave for the rest of the month.  But early next month...?

As Bill Briggs once said, "What's the point of living? ....Well gee, it's to have some adventure."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Guest TR: The Teton Trifecta by J. Dorais

I've been keeping this journal now for a year and a half and it has been mostly just a record of my adventures - something to look back on and reminisce about when I'm old.  Today though, I'm reposting in its entirety a TR by little brother JD because I think the accomplishment is huge and want to congratulate them.  I'm also excited because I believe it to be a sentinel event of things to come.

Last Saturday, the Inouye brothers, Brian Harder, and Jason skied the Grand Teton via the Ford/Stettner in near perfect conditions.  The Inouyes had family obligations and ended up skiing back to the car in the rather fast time of just over 7 hours for Patriarch Jared.  Sam hung out with JD and Harder for a while before staying true to his thoughtful character and skiing back down to spend time with his wife.

Stopping there would have fulfilled many people's lifetime goal.  However, Jason and Harder kept going up the North Ridge of the Middle, down the SW Couloir, up the NW Couloir on the South, and then back down and out in the ridiculous time of 11:55 - approximately one hour shy of Jimmy Chin's record.  The guys never really felt that much urgency, stopping to take pictures, eat, and take in the scenery.  I think this "Teton Trifecta" will likely become one of the all time classic ski mountaineering traverses and am excited to see how fast it can be done.  Unfortunately, work kept me grounded in SLC but I received text pictures to let me know what I was missing out on...

Which was this: (All text and photos from here on by Jason Dorais)

We've been talking about this one for a while now, The Trifecta.  Myself and brothers Sam and Jared Inouye met Jackson local Brian Harder with plans of skiing the Grand, moving on the the Middle to check conditions on the North Ridge, and hopefully continuing on to the South.  A 2:30 start had us skinning in the dark on firm snow. Other than getting lost once, the approach went pretty smoothly.

Brian heading to Tepee Col

We (except Brian, poor guy, his bindings didn't have the attachment mounted yet) stayed in ski crampons until just before Tepee Col and then booted the rest of the way.

Jared above close to Glencoe Col, Tepee Pilar in the Background

The Stettner, Chevy and Ford were filled in and unfortunately had very little ice.  This made for a pretty causal group solo to the upper snowfield.

Brian and Sam in the Stettner

Jared below a filled in Chevy

We ended up finding winter snow all the way up the Ford to the summit.  It made for a little bit slower travel but the skiing was fantastic!

Jared Inouye skiing off the summit of the Grand

Brian skiing pretty quick on the upper snowfield

Sam on the upper snowfield

Group Ski!

Brian and Jared in the Ford, more group skiing!

Brian down climbing the Chevy

Jared said he was going to keep his race skis on and try to side step the Chevy and the Stettner.  In retrospect it was probably a good idea he didn't, especially since I would have HAD to follow suit.  After a fun group down climb and it was time to split up.  Jared had to be in SLC around 3PM later that day so he headed home hopeful to make the car to car trip in under 7 hours.  With out all the wrong turns he probably would have made it, still, 7:21 isn't too slow. The rest of us headed to the lower saddle and on over the the N. Ridge of the Middle.

Brian and Sam coming up the N. Ridge

We took a long while wandering around trying to find the way over into the couloir that leads to the summit of the Middle.  Maybe a little too long, Sam's woman was waiting down in Jackson and being the gentleman that he is, he decided to go keep her company.  As we kept going, the climbing was pretty exciting, a little (a lot) exposed.


Down climbing

Traversing a little snow ramp over a lot of air

After a little under 2 hours we were in the couloir with a clear shot to the summit.


Brian on the summit ridge

Once we were on top of the Middle we thought all the hard parts of the day were done.  We sat and watched a party we bumped into earlier summit the Grand, pretty good view.

On top of Middle Teton

The SW off the Middle was ridiculous, it was filled in, fast, and soft.

Brian in the SW couloir of Middle Teton

Once off the Middle we skinned to the NW couloir of the South, headed up, and ate celebratory gu on the summit.

Brian towards the top of the NW

Turns out skiing the NW on the South was the sketchiest skiing of the day.  It was steep, slightly runnelled and narrow but once through the choke, we found dry soft snow all the way out of the South Fork.  We entertained thoughts of added a bit more on for the day but decided to head home happy with The Trifecta, next time...


Summits: Grand, Middle, South

Total Elevation Gain: 10,138? (my watch stopped working, I think that's what Brian had)

Time: 11:57

Ropes carried: 2

Ropes used: 0

Food: 12 Gu's, 2 Probars, 1 bag Juicy Oozers

Congrats guys!