Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Early Season Avalanche Victims and Education

Now that there is snow rotting, lingering, melting, and teasing on the high northerly slopes, it's time to start thinking about avalanches again.  Although for those that have taken rides, maybe you never stop thinking about them.  A few people got an early season wake up call in Montana this week and if the long range weather models hold, we might have to do our best to avoid a repeat of last year's debacle at Alta.

For everyone planning on spending time in the backcountry this year, the UAC is putting on a snow workshop on November 3rd that should be both entertaining and highly educational.  Maybe you can use it as an excuse to get out of raking leaves or doing some other lame yard work. The UAC folks work hard every day to give us information that helps keep us alive.  To make a donation, click here.  Otherwise, I hope you can make it to the workshop.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Banana

Growing up with Jason he was always into monkeys.  He always acted like a small monkey and even had a Curious George stuffed animal that he LOVED until I ripped its arms off.  What a cruel older brother eh?  Well, I went skiing with the monkey again on Friday and unable to resist the rumor of deep October powder to the north, we headed up to Snow Basin.  Our goal for the morning was to find some actual snow to ski rather than the snirty rocks that we found a couple days previous at Alta.  A secondary goal was to summit Mount Ogden and ski its namesake chute, which we enjoyed during a June outing a couple years ago.

Heading up a nice skin track that must have been laid down earlier that morning, we avoided breaking trail through 3 feet of unconsolidated powder.  Just under the summit ridge, the trail took a detour to some boring bump so we put in a track to the summit of Allen Peak (elevation 9645), which lies immediately to the north of Mount Ogden.  Here, we realized that we were standing near the entrance of the elusive Banana Couloir.   This is where the monkey showed his true colors and chose the  Banana over the warm sunny powder slopes to the east.  No matter that lurking shark fins and bushes were always a concern.  The boy devoured the Banana before we turned around and skinned our way back to the sun.

Heading up and out of Snow Basin

Nearing the summit of Allen Peak

The monkey looking for his banana

Ahhhhh, the Banana Couloir

More Banana-rama

Heading home

Mount Ogden and the other peaks of Snow Basin
Now that the sun has again reared its ugly face and won't go away for what looks like the foreseeable future, this trip north seems like a distant dream.  Did we just ski deep cold powder in October?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Starting Anew

Well, for some the 2012/13 season is officially underway.  Powder Mountain received over 30 inches of goodness so far during this storm cycle while the Cottonwood Canyons are still suffering with only 3 at most.  Knowing but not believing, we went up to check it out, hoping that Main Baldy was filled in enough to make a hike through the talus worth the while.

It wasn't.

Instead, we tried to make a few turns through some grassy sections or on the cat tracks but the gravel, rocks, grass, and dirt proved too much even for our stubborn selves.  We are learning forced patience.

Left: Powder Mountain 10/24/12 (photo stolen from random guy on Facebook)
Right: Alta 10/24/12 (Tom and Jason)

In the meantime, to remember some of the highlights of a lowlight season, I put together a clip of miscellaneous footage from last year.  Some is new and some recycled.  I had fun re-watching good times in wild places and am overly excited for the coming year.

Miscellaneous Highlights of the 2011/2012 Season from andy dorais on Vimeo.

This season Jason and I are incredibly lucky to be receiving generous support from a few great companies and will be using their clothing and gear during our upcoming training, racing, and adventures.  We chose to work with these companies because their products are the best in the business and make the most sense for the type of "light and fast" style that we preach.  Plus, they are all really good people.  If anyone has any questions about Outdoor Research clothing systems, SCARPA boots, or Trab skis and bindings, we'd be happy to help out and give you our take on what works best and when.

Let it snow!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Brink and an Asian Invasion

Returning home from nearly two weeks in Colorado, I have a renewed amazement for our home at the foot of the Wasatch. I thoroughly enjoyed the new trails and endless peaks of Colorado but many of ours are every bit as good and closer to home and work.  The real bonus is the relief right out of town.  Mount Wire gains 2200 vertical, Grandeur Peak 3300, Olympus 4100, and Lone Peak 5500!

The Brink (a new classic):

While our trails are steep and rocky, as one moves east away from the front, the rocks give way to dirt and the angle lessens, making for more sublime running.  This is embodied by a new instant classic that was shared with me and Jason by the immortal Tom Diegel (what is it with these "old guys" that faster and stronger than most in their so called prime?).  Last Thursday Tom's invitation kept getting passed along and soon we were a pack of five, heading out to the Brink.  

The Brink is really the Big Mountain trail but makes a loop by starting on the Mormon Pioneer trail or at Affleck Park, climbing to the Big Mountain Pass, and continuing onward and passing just under Lookout Peak before descending back to the park.  The distance was around 14 miles with 3100 gain and with monikers like the "Brink" and the "Woods of Despair", it sounds intimidating but with the right weather it's as peaceful as it gets.  It's so good that one of Tom's legendary friends has actually ridden this trail over 700 times and regularly takes naps at many of the sunlit scenic overlooks.

Tom Goth heads home from a day at the Brink

Asian Invasion (on an old classic):

Saturday morning Jason and I joined forces with the Inouye clan of Jared, Sam, Aaron, and their uncle Roman to make a group solo of the West Slabs of Olympus and then scramble to the true summit and run down the standard hiking trail.  This incredible backyard "run" rivals anything in the western United States as it gains 4100 vertical from some lucky bastard's back door, while covering miles of semi-technical terrain.  Taking many pauses for Jason's impromptu photo shoot, we enjoyed the fluid movement over easy rock before tagging the true summit.  Standard sh** talking while lounging around on the summit boulders ended up in a startling scene when we suddenly all took off our shirts for an old fashion juvenile flex off.  Ages 24-50 something, this was true regression from our obviously matures selves.  A couple of poor hikers happened upon this embarrassment and tried to laugh it off.  They are probably still laughing.

Tired of the shenanigans and late to get home, a game of "Chinese fire drill" ensued as we raced each other down the mountain.  On the brink of disaster nearly every moment, we tried to "put the pass on" at every opportunity.  Normally, I hate hard descents but by adding the spice of competition, this was pure fun.  The lead changed multiple times before we all landed in the parking lot, sweaty and laughing at our silly games.

All photos shared reluctantly by Jason Dorais:

Approaching the Slabs

Another beautiful Wasatch morning

More slabiness

We weren't the only ones billy goating around

Once done with the slabs, a lot of slow going ensues

Laughing at my discovery of a nice blue windshirt.  If you can identify it, I'll gladly get it back to you.

Six adults acting like six adolescents (where's Shingo, Brandon, and Xien?)
I hear rumors of up to two feet of snow in the mountains by the end of the week!  Let it snow!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Crested Butte Running and Skiing

The day after returning home from Denver, Jessie and I packed a week’s worth of clothes and baby paraphenelia in the truck and made an exhausting drive through the rain to Crested Butte.  A friend generously offered his parent’s house, who were out of state, and so we had a home base from which to launch run after run and hopefully open the ski season. 

Everyday was a revolving cycle of run, eat, chase Lars, run, eat more, then sleep.  Our week looked a little like this:

AM: We actually drove down valley to Gunnison to run in the W Mountain race which climbs just under 1000 feet over 2.8 miles.  It was put on the the Western State Cross Country teams, who dominated the top 20 slots along with Team Crested Butte and a few others.  Sadly but predictably I took my beating, finishing just under 20 minutes, but had a great time rubbing shoulders with many of Gunnison Valley's finest.  

PM: After returning to Crested Butte to lick my wounds I got out for an afternoon run with Jessie.  We ran up one of the many scenic drainages and found ourselves along the shore of Meridian Lake.  Unfortunately, there were only traces of yellow left on the millions of aspens but the beauty remained undeniable.  

Jessie cruising along a cattle trail above Meridian Lake
What's missing?
AM: I was fortunate to have Team Crested Butte front man and SCARPA/Ski Trab teammate, Bryan Wickenhauser as a tour guide along with the affable Billy Laird.  Our plan was to head up Ruby Peak (12,600ish) and open the ski season after the recent storms had left a thin but adequate coating of white.  Jumping out of the car, I was psyched!  The sun was out, the powder was dry, and after what seemed like a very long 3 and a half months, I was going skiing.  Then I looked at the other guys and noticed their ski boots.  Glancing at my own feet shod in my SCARPA running shoes, I swore violently as I realized that my boots were 40 minutes away where I left them at the house.  The guys kindly offered to drive back down but I took off running so as not to ruin their day.  

About an hour later, we were all standing on Ruby's summit taking in the powerful view of Owen to the north, the massive aspen grove (World's 2nd largest organism?) to the west, and undercast skies punctuated by craggy summits to the south and east.  We laughed that I was in running shoes but I was able to force the regret out of my heart and enjoy a unique day in which I bounded down the slope after Bryan and Billy, who actually made a handful of steep, beautiful turns before the familiar grating sound of rock on metal forced them out of their skis.
Getting a little thin near the summit
Wick and Billy 
Rime on Ruby's summit
One dumb ass (left) and Wick (right)  My footwear wasn't tech binding compatible

Wick dropping in for some October turns

Billy skiing the grass to the lake

Ruby Peak and just barely enough snow
PM: Jessie's dear friend, Heather, and her family were coincidentally in CB for the weekend and offered to hike with Lars, allowing us to go on a rare run together.  At the advice of the good Jon Swain, we ran the 409 trail, which while starting steeply from CB South, turns into a gorgeous switchbacking single track above some unique cave like features in the hillside.

AM: We drove out to Kebler Pass to check out the immense aspen grove I had seen from Ruby.  Fairly well removed from civilization, we pulled Lars out of his torture chamber car seat and put him into another; his running stroller.  We figured the dirt road was smooth enough and we ran along while Lars cooed and hunters drove past with bewildered looks.

10 months and cruising

Kebler Pass 
PM: We drove up the Slate River Valley and went for another mellow run on the newish Lupine Trail. Weaving its way through grazing cattle as the sun settled behind the Ruby Range, it was a nice "western" experience for Jessie.

Another beautiful evening

AM: I got up early and Wick picked me up for another attempt to open my ski season.  This time I was not to be denied even though the high pressure didn't do the infant snow pack any favors.  We summited Baldy just as the the high peaks were beginning to take on various hues of pink and red.  Looking to the north, we were disappointed to find mostly shark fins and wind swept scree.  Sitting on the lee side, enjoying a brilliant sunrise, I changed into boots.  Wick didn't even bother.  Desparate, I skied a small strip of snow for a few hundred vertical until I lost a ski and took a tumble into the talus.  Examining the bindings, they weren't set for my boots correctly making for an inauspicious beginning to the season.

Regardless, it was a beautiful morning with fresh vistas and good company...and I got to make a few turns!  As Wick and I walked down the bone dry SW ridge to the car we agreed that, "It's always worth it."
Wick decides that he does care about his skis after all

Heading home
First turns!
"We brought skis up for this?"  It was definitely worth it though.
PM: I went for a hike with Lars in the pack while Jessie ran ahead on the Lower Loop Trail.  Lars and I  examined rocks, shrubs, and dirt while Jessie got her fix.

"Let me out of here dad!"

Lars had a little trouble with this boulder problem 

AM: We awoke in Durango after making the drive along the Million Dollar Highway the evening before.  Gracious host and tour guide, Dave Hughes, took us up the Perins Trail, which affords a commanding view of the city and the La Plata range farther to the west.  Coming back into form after a nagging injury, Jessie was hard to catch on the down.

On the Perins Trail with the La Plata range in the background

Jessie above Durango
And thus ends our week of vacation and it's back to reality.  It looks like there is some rain and snow in the forecast for later this week so hopefully we can open the ski season right here at home before the end of the month!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Front Range Running

I was in Denver all week for a work conference where the majority of my colleagues spent much of each morning recovering from the night before.  Sporting a slightly different agenda, I awoke before first light each day and drove out to the mountains to meet big Lars, who would serve as my tour guide.  We both had time commitments and so each run was truncated but still thoroughly enjoyable with perfect weather with temperatures from the 30s-50s. 
Trying to break my "good" ankle
Seeped in mountain running history, the Front Range offers a variety of trails and peaks that are easily accessed from Boulder or Golden or Colorado Springs, but staying in Denver made each morning logistically more difficult.  Nevertheless, I wanted to check out the Manitou Incline on Pike's Peak and Green Mountain above the Flatirons.  Lars also recommended Mount Falcon and the Apex Trail near the Red Rock Amphitheater and Golden respectively for quicker outings.  Here's a short synopsis of each trail with some random pictures:
We ran Mount Falcon to the lookout tower and then did a small loop to make the course more like a lollipop run.  The grade is gentle and easily runnable every step of the way.  Total distance was 11ish miles with 2500+ vertical gained.  

We met up with a young fanatical ski mountaineer named Adam Fabrikant for an easy run up Green Mountain.  I know some people have laid down some incredibly fast times up this peak but we took it easy, starting at Chautauqua Park before heading up through Gregory Canyon and the West Ridge Trail. Again, the grade was fairly moderate and as it climbed through fragrant pines to a small craggy  summit.  Lingering snow and ice were a nice reminder of good days ahead. Total distance was around 6 miles with 2500 vertical gained.

Adam and Lars starting up Green Mountain
Summit of Green Mountain

We drove down to Manitou Springs to "run" the Pike's Peak Incline followed by the Barr Trail to the A Frame.   The Incline is a famous segment of trail that was once a steep railroad but is now a vertical gash on the lower flanks of Pike's Peak.  Over one mile, the trail gains 2011 feet with an average grade of 41% and a maximum grade of 68%.  Situated near the Olympic training center, many elite athletes have trained on this slope and there's a deep history of training for speed over this incredibly steep mile.

Unfamiliar with the course (it looks straightforward...just go up), I made a couple mistakes. First, about two-thirds of the way up, there is a false summit and it's disheartening to crest this and see another few hundred meters rising into the sky.  Second, I couldn't see the finish line until almost on top of it, preventing a mad anaerobic dash over the final stretch.  Regardless, I gave it an honest effort and still only managed to go 23:58.  Sitting down to dry heave at the top, I doubt on that day I could have gone much faster.  But by the end of ski season and more specific VO2 and up hill training it will be fun to go back and compare efforts.   

Looking up the Incline from the start

Lars with about 3 steps to go

Once the nausea passed, we moved on to Plan B which was to summit Pike's Peak by the Barr Trail, which is the standard route used during the Pike's Peak Marathon.  Taking our time with flat legs, we moved passed the Barr Camp to to the A Frame (both apparently famous landmarks during the race) and came to a realization that if we were to push on to the summit, Lars would most assuredly not make it back to the office that day.  Already pushing the patience of his boss, we decided to turn around and come back another day. Total distance was around 17 miles with near 6000 feet gained.  

Lars bailing on Pike's summit because he's already late for work

Tired from the day before and even more short on time, we met at dawn again, but this time just outside of Golden to run the Apex Trail.  This is a nice gentle, smooth trail network that loops through a segment of foothills.  For an easy recovery day, we managed 7ish miles with 1500 feet gained. 

Overall, it was a great week of conference by day and mountain running in the morning.  The Front Range is much like the Wasatch except there are more runnable trails and more pine forests in the foothills, both of which add to the variety.  It was great to check out a few of the local classics and now I have a growing tick list for the next time I'm in town.  I'd love to hear any other recommendations from those of you in the know.  

Next up:  Skiing in Crested Butte!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Teton Running Video

Normally I like videos because they provide a different medium to tell a story.  Running videos are difficult because there often isn't a story but rather shaky changes in scenery as we move from point A to B.  Regardless, I find utility in documenting these journeys as I enjoy revisiting them months or years later, simply to refresh my memories.  This video includes footage from our recent run from Death Canyon to Cascade Canyon and shows more gentle side of the Tetons.  The sharp, angular faces meant for climbing and steep skiing take a backseat to rolling hills, yellow trees, gurgling streams, and glacial lakes.  Also featured are Nate Brown and Brian Harder, two of Jackson's finest.  Music is by the Swell Season.

Autumn Running in the Tetons from andy dorais on Vimeo.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Autumn Running in the Tetons

Originally, Brian invited the lot of us to rally up to the Tetons for a group solo of Moran but for some reason we thought the weather was going to turn.  Turned out it was perfect but Brian, Nate, and I had already moved on to plan B.  Our backup endeavor was to go for a mellow run through the park.  The Teton Crest trail and the recently popular Teton Crest Loop were attractive options but I left it to Brian and Nate to come up with our route.

Our path for the day was to run from Death Canyon to Fox Creek Pass, along the Crest Trail, through Alaska Basin, over Hurricane Pass, and out Cascade Canyon to String Lake. Out of the 30 miles, all but 1.7 would be new terrain for me. My goals for the day were to reconnect with friends, log some miles, enjoy the crisp fall air, and gain some familiarity with the approach to some spectacular ski lines.  I enjoyed success on all accounts.

The forecasted high in the valley was 51 degrees and driving past the Elk Preserve, I saw a 19 on the car thermometer.  The long golden rays were pouring over the Gros Ventre range and I was struck by an acute longing for the current moment.  The eloquent Ben Lewis has recently referred to this feeling as a peculiar "nostalgia for the now" or "soon-to-be-past".  I relish this feeling and experience it often during the autumnal months.  Perhaps this phenomenon is generated by a subconscious appreciation for the incremental loss of light and foliage and the sudden realization that the year too is dying.  Whatever the case, we were going running.

While the morning was still young, Nate let us know that his day would be longer and more arduous than for either of us.  Jet lagged and fighting illness, he admirably put his head down and resolved to make it far enough that bailing wasn't an option.  Brian was mildly hampered by altitude and fatigued legs and I was recovering from a bout with a gastrointestinal virus while only sleeping two out of the last four nights.  Collectively, we were a sorry lot, but by keeping the pace mellow and thoroughly enjoying the stunning scenery, the day remained easy and fun.

Phelps Lake

The mouth of Death Canyon

High on "the Shelf"
Odd alpine limestone

Alpine Ultra Bouldering?

Descending into Alaska Basin

Sunset Lake

Grand, Middle, South from Hurricane Pass

Schoolroom Lake and its namesake glacier
The following photos will hopefully serve as beta pics for future ski trips...imagine the possibilities!
A new view of old friends

Poor quality photo of the Grand and the Enclosure from the NW

Poor light, poor air, rich terrain and a wealth of potential

Teewinot/Owen ridge line
The homestretch along Jenny Lake
$14 for happiness
Gear List:

SCARPA Tempo Running Shoes
Outdoor Research High Efficiency Running Shorts
Outdoor Research Duo Echo T-shirt
Outdoor Research Omni Gloves
Outdoor Research Exos Beanie
Ski Trab Vertical Pants