Sunday, May 13, 2012

Goodbye Winter, Hello Summer Training

Well, the forgettable yet still enjoyable winter 2011/12 appears to be drawing to a close given the recent weather and ever receding snowpack.  Plus, with forecasted highs in the 80s all next week, I feel it's time to start turning my attention more fully to the trails and the training required for the various races and mountain running goals.

I got a bit of a head start to that end over the last couple weeks with a few ski days sprinkled in. Below is a sample of my training log a la Mr. Krupicka.

Week Summary: May 6-12

Sunday AM: 1:00, 2400' ~Mount Wire
Quick early run/fast hike up Mount Wire from the zoo trailhead.  35 min up and an hour car to car.
Sunday PM: 1:45, 700' up 2000' down, 14.5 miles
Started up East Canyon to the top of Little Mountain and then down Emigration to Sugarhouse.

Monday AM: Ski 2:15, 3000' ~Mount Superior South Face
Went up with Jared to find his missing gear.  Went 3/3 then linked up patches of snow down the South Face.
Monday PM: 1:00, negligible vert, 7 miles
Ran around Sugarhouse Park taking turns pushing the stroller with Jessie.

Tuesday AM: Ski 6:53, 6100' ~Broad's Fork Twin Peaks 
Started up Deaf Smith Canyon with Josh Anderson and skied the NW Couloir of the Twins.  Maybe the last day in the Wasatch this season?

Wednesday AM: 1:45, 3300' ~Grandeur Peak
Had a leisurely morning up Grandeur with Josh Anderson
Wednesday PM: 38 min, negligible vert, 5.6 miles
Ran around Sugarhouse Park with Jason and Keith.  Felt surprisingly fresh.

Thursday PM: 51 min, 500', 6.5 miles
Went up Dry Ck after work with Jason and poked around some game trails before just sticking on the Shoreline.

Rest Day

Saturday AM: 3:45, 5000', 16.5 miles(ish) ~Grandeur Peak and part of Mount Wire
Started with Jason and Jared (back from injury!) from the park-n-ride on Wasatch and then ran up Millcreek to Rattlesnake/Pipeline/Church Fork to Grandeur Summit.  Saw tons of folks out getting after it.  Descended the west side then ran mostly roads to the zoo.  Went maybe 2/3rds of the way up Mount Wire before deciding to descend back to the zoo to make our 10:30 deadline (getting picked up by wife for child duty so she could get her run in).

Hours: 16:00
Vert: 21,000 (including ski ascents)
Mileage:  60ish + two ski days

Overall, thanks to a light work schedule,  I was able to put in a good block of volume (for me) last week but hope to be able to keep building over the next couple months.  For those interested, our informal Sugarhouse Track Club (more mountain running but track inspired) will be picking back up sporadically over the summer.  Let me know if you'd like to receive the typically last minute text invitations.

On a side note, Jason and I are lucky enough to now be part of the Dynafit Summer Team!  For those of you who didn't know that Dynafit has entered the mountain running scene, check out their new line here.  We are psyched and so far I feel the products are thoughtfully designed, high performing, and very functional.   Perhaps they may end up setting the standard as does their more familiar winter line.  Check back for reviews in the near future...

But for now, some pictures...

Nearing the Grandeur summit (photo by Josh Anderson)

I always run this fast all the way up Grandeur... (photo by Josh Anderson)

Running the lower flanks of Grandeur (photo by Josh Anderson)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Twin Peaks: NW Couloir From Deaf Smith

Last week, a quartet of my buddies skied the West Bowl of the Salt Lake Twins while I sat at home suffering from a case of food poisoning.  To make matters worse, they started from just off Wasatch Blvd and ascended Deaf Smith Canyon to the rising snow line.  For some, I'm sure that sounds idiotic, but I like the idea for the sport of it and had had recent conversations with both Chad and Jared about doing just that.

Choosing to make an attempt at the NW Couloir instead of the lamer, tamer West Bowl, I recruited the mirthful Josh Anderson, who happens to live 3 blocks from the Deaf Smith TH (note: I'm sure the West Bowl is awesome and perhaps the NW Couloir is the lamer, tamer line?).  Anyway, both lines are highly visible from the Salt Lake Valley and have been on my tick list for some time.

Arriving at Josh's house on Escalade Drive just after 5AM, I hastily packed my gear and we were off walking up the asphalt.  Soon, we were moving under a canopy of foliage that rendered the near full moon rather useless.  The trail was well maintained for the first mile or so but then abruptly ended in the stream.  Peering through the branches, rock walls were turning gray in the predawn light and it was obvious we were in some sort of box canyon.   Having recon'ed the route, Josh knew to always follow the stream, scrambling over rocky outcrops as needed to pick up the trail on the other side.  This game continued for well over an hour before we finally caught sight of Twins.  They were teasing in the distance looking far more rocky than snowy.  Contemplating the rationale of our approach, I became resigned to our fate.  This was going to simply end as a nice hike in the woods.

One of many stream crossings. This one came equipped with this deluxe bridge.
As it happened, we managed to "on site" the upper section of trail and eventually, the patches of snow became sufficiently confluent to consider skis but the frozen conditions allowed fast travel in the running shoes.  Sitting down for a Twix, we could see the NW Couloir emptying into the vast cirque at the head of Deaf Smith Canyon.  It looked like it might go.  After our near two hour approach, we were now committed to the adventure and pushed onward after changing to boots and crampons (TLTs and CAMP XLC 390s).
Josh crampons up hard snow towards the NW Couloir
What from below had appeared to be a rocky choke was easily bypassed to the climber's left along a sneaky subchute.  From there, we followed the couloir proper until it became somewhat ill defined, bordered on the left by a rock wall and on the right by a wind lip and beyond that, the expansive NW Face.  We punched it to the summit ridge and finally could enjoy the warm spring sun.

Josh taking the last few steps to the higher East Summit
Sitting on the windless summit, I was psyched to ski a new line and began to transition when suddenly a solo mountaineer appeared.  I was confused and asked him where his skis were.  He was a good sport and proved really curious about the surrounding mountains and drainages, seeking an alternative descent to, "see something new".  Inside I cringed as he inquired about descending Deaf Smith, but told him to follow the stream and he'd be alright.  In the end, I think he chose to exit via Broad's Fork and made it out OK.

Our descent on the other hand was certain.  We were going to ski the NW Couloir and then embrace the adventurous hike out.  The only hesitation was the firm conditions that given enough time, would find that magic corn hour.  For once, having the time but overcome by hunger and day dreams of the restaurant, Thai Basil, it was time to go.

Just off the East Summit
Descending the upper face (photo by Josh Anderson)
Josh entering the lower chute
Entering the lower couloir (photo by Josh Anderson)

More Josh

Josh finds undercooked corn on the south facing aspects of the bowl.  The lower portion of the NW Couloir is visible in the backgound
The descent was pure fun and reminded me that it's always "worth it", whatever that may mean.  We milked the low snowpack through boulder fields and into the woods until the very last patch of skiable snow had passed under our boards.  I then traded Dynafits for Dynafits and we shouldered our light spring packs as we started our hike, intent on Thai food.
Transitioning from my Dynafits to my Dynafits? 

All part of the allure

More allure

The well maintained trail

Josh tries to keep his feet dry...
The pictures make it look like the tail is either all rock scrambling or walking in the river but the trail is in reality well maintained but intermittently overgrown.  Plus, after our trip to hell and back on Lone Peak a few weeks ago, no amount of transient bushwhacking can vex us.
6000 feet later, we are startling women and children as we walk through a nice neighborhood with whippets and skis.

Another day and another check mark!  I really love sitting in the valley looking at the mountains while remembering blissful days like these.  My wife doesn't love it when I'm drifting out of my lane while peering at these magnetic lines from the highway but the appeal is irresistible.  The public nature of such lines gives the feeling of stealing such adventures from over a million pairs of eyes.  They see but they don't know...

Dynafit Nanga Parbat Skis
Dynafit Low Tech Bindings
CAMP XLC 390 crampons
BD Whippet x2
CAMP backpack
CAMP Speed Helment
OR Ferrosi Hoody and Pants
Dynafit MS Feline Superlight Trail Shoes

Monday, May 7, 2012

Avalanches, Recovery, and Catharsis

A few weeks ago, I avoided becoming a potential avalanche victim because I worked the overnight shift and was just out to "taste" the powder before going to bed.  My partners that day, Jason and Jared, pushed onward and eventually realized the snow was becoming unstable and decided to head home.  Throughout their tour, they found amazing powder on all aspects and knew from the ascent that the new snow on the south faces felt well bonded.  Deciding to ski the South Face of Superior for their exit, they used the usual bag of tricks to evaluate the stability.  A ski cut of the upper face failed to predict even a hint of lurking danger so Jared entered the chute on the skier's left, just below the upper snowfield.  

Both Jason and Jared documented that day and gave their perspectives rather candidly.  When I awoke early after noon, I saw that I had missed a call from Jared and wondered if they were just trying to push my buttons by relating tales of bottomless powder.  That feeling lasted only a moment before I felt an odd concern that something bad had happened.  A quick call to Jason confirmed that premonition and I was off to the hospital to offer support and bring clothes (knowing from past personal and work experience that when one is activated as a trauma, all their clothes are cut off in an effort to evaluate the extent of injuries).  I threw in a t-shirt, scrubs, underwear, shoes, and a set of daisy duke jean shorts just in case Jared was in a joking mood.  

Arriving at the hospital, the mood was somber but the guys were finding healing by replaying the events and taking away valuable lessons. 

Fast forward a couple weeks...

Jason and I are skiing in the Tetons with some ambitious goals ahead.  There is up to a foot of new snow that in places is drifted deeper but seems quite stable by all signs.  Jason is hesitant and at one point remarks, "All I can picture is Jared tomahawking down Superior..."   The lesson seems to have stuck for the moment.  We made the conservative call to descend our ascent route and still had a fantastic day.  Discussing that decision afterwards, Jason and I both feel that the degree of acceptable risk should probably be dialed back from our previously oft repeated, "I guess it feels OK... yeah, we'll be fine."  The trick is doing so without becoming paralyzed in the mountains.  That balance is something I'll be working on over the years.  

So how's Jared recovering?  His doctor told him that he would probably need 3 months of recovery before he'd be back to form.  But what does that mean?  For a guy with his credentials, full form is at a pretty high level.  As it turns out, after 3 weeks, he's back on skis and had a great day with Jason, Chad, and Scott on the SL Twins.  Then yesterday, he called, inquiring about a recovery mission to retrieve a lost La Sportiva Hi5 ski, pole, and googles.  I think the day was to have a second mission and that was to find closure after realizing his mortality.  

Game on.  Let's find Jared's junk show.  At 7:30 this morning, we started up a frozen Superior apron and skinned until the snow ran out.  A hundred feet or so on scree brought us to the middle apron and the start of a debris pile.  Stopping to scan for his gear every so often, Jared suddenly exclaimed, "My Asian fit googles!"  And there they were, sitting on the surface at the mouth of the lower chute.  Next up was his mangled pole whose strap had been ripped off during the violence.  Still missing though was the grand prize of the ski and binding.  Skeptical as I approached the upper chute, I thought we'd have to come back once the debris melted.  Then, to my right I spotted a little green hand, seemingly waving at me from the snow.  And it hit me.  The Hi5!  Going 3/3 on the recovery mission, now it was time to tag the summit and then ski the South Face one last time this year (and surprisingly, my first time this year).  

Choosing a line that seemed to offer more continuous snow with better skiing, we descended the South Ridge for a couple hundred feet and then found corn and butter down the majority of the face.  Taking off skis to down climb through three separate sections, it was still one of the more fun trips down this Wasatch classic.  
Jared was still able to ski 3000 feet of corn mixed with debris with a big Hi5 on his back, a gimp hip, and busted ribs.
(Annoyingly, I forgot my camera but I took this shot on Jared's.  I then stole it from his blog after he added the nice heaven like mist to the corners.  It's ok though because this shot wouldn't have ever been taken if I hadn't insisted that we get his camera out of his bag to shoot it.)

Jared has already put a few pictures and thoughts down and I hope he continues to heal and has found some closure on top of the mess of gear.  As for me, I hope that even though I was only peripherally involved that day, I can assume the lessons they learned and travel more safely and wisely.  It was a tough year and we're almost through it but while standing on the summit of Superior, the mountains continue to inspire and the snow just lingers on...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teewinot East Face

Dawn breaking as we backtrack to get back on route
 On April 30th, we left the Taggert TH on bikes eager to go explore the heart of the Tetons, which to me is Glacier Gulch.  Figuring that going over Teewinot is as good a way as any, the plan was to climb the East Face and then ski out the SW Couloir into GG where we could spend the day playing around. 

We started on dirt but soon enough were skinning over firm snow as we more or less ascended along the standard hiking route.  We followed a set of boot tracks and thought they must have belonged to a couple eager mountaineers.  In the dark, we followed these tracks until it became apparent that we had crossed the East Face and were ascending a small ridge to the climber's right.  Clinging to a good thing, we stayed in the booter until it was too late.  The tracks abruptly ended at the base of a large rocky headwall.  This made the second time in 6 days that we've gotten lost on Teewinot (and I've climbed the East Face twice).  Frustrated, I pushed higher through a steep icy choke.  Stemming and making use of the whippets, I came to what initially appeared to be an easy low angle chimney.  On closer inspection, it was guarded by an overhanging boulder move that seemed just to rad to pull at 5 in the morning.  We did have a small rack and ropes and debated potentially wasting more time.  In the end, we reversed our tracks and got back on route.  

Dead end for us

As we climbed, we noticed more new snow than expected and concern was voiced over the depth of many drifts.  Some quick hand pits were reassuring and there were no overt signs of instability.  Still, the terrain felt consequential and given Jason's recent involvement in a friend's rescue, some extra prudence seemed reasonable.  

Through the narrows, the snow was firm as the new fluff had been transported elsewhere by the wind. Jason and I took turns putting in the booter and  soon, we again found ourselves scrambling to the top of Teewinot's crazy summit, Adam's first in the Tetons.  We snapped the obligatory photos, down climbed the ridge back to our skis, and then debated our next move.  Deciding that the safest option was to ski what we had climbed, we ripped skins and began this classic Teton descent.  

Looking back to the East Face where we should have gone in the first place

Back on track and through the Narrows

Adam nears the summit ridge

Looking at some spectacular ski potential to the north

The HM looking wild

Adam Fabrikant, psyched to tag his first Teton Summit

The upper East Face from just off the summit ridge was a mix of textured hard pack and breakable but the position was fantastic.  Adam set off first and eased his way through the upper choke.  Jason and I followed and were all able to keep skis on (167 in length). We skied one by one through patches of decent powder but could never get comfortable because hard runnels, frozen debris, and variable snow were lurking with any given turn.  However, once below the Idol and the Worshiper, the snow surface became more smooth and we enjoyed fine late April powder.  This transitioned eventually to supportable hard pack before transitioning to dirt where we found our shoes waiting.  

Skiing high on Teewinot's East Face (photo by Jason Dorais)

Adam on the expansive East Face.  Idol and Worshiper visible.

Jason making the best of the variable conditions

Adam finally finding some spring powder

East Face of Teewinot with the summit in the clouds as we got back to the bikes
In the end, it was another fine Teton adventure and a new ski decent for all of us.  Looking around while driving out of the park, there's a life time of skiing up there but so few days to fit it all in.  Now that the road is open, the logistics are much easier so maybe I'll have to make another trip next week to see if I can get lost on Teewinot for a third time.  Anyone interested?