Tuesday, November 29, 2016

White Rim Time Trial: 5:59

Looking down some of the Shafer switchbacks

Since I hung up the skis in April (earliest ever) I have been dutifully training on the bike for a smattering of races, both road and mountain.  The season was mixed with some good results, some dnf's, and a couple unfortunate flats.  My best results seemed to come against people who didn't know they were racing i.e. Strava! 

One goal for the year was to return to the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park and try to set the FKT for the loop.  I rode it last year with Tom, Jason, and Jason and felt like I could go a bit faster.  When trying to break a "record", it's good to know what that time actually is.  The internet could only tell me that Jeremy Nobis was suspected of having the record with a time of 6:10-20ish. 

In early November, I got an invite from the Simmons boys and Paul Hamilton to try and ride to loop fast as a group.  We started at the top of the Shafer climb and rode counter clockwise, trading pulls until eventually I found myself off the front gunning for Nobis' time.  Bonking hard, I completed the loop at the top of the Shafer climb in 6:09.  I felt a little sheepish about calling that the "record" so I decided I'd have to go back and ride it solo. 

A couple weeks later, a work window opened up and I made to solo drive down to Green River for a night at the Comfort Inn.  All too early, the alarm pierced through my ear plugs.  Packing up, I was anxious to get started. 

This time, I parked at the visitor's center and rode down the Shafer switchbacks to start my loop at the bottom, climbing back up, and continuing counter clockwise.  I reasoned that it would be good to tackle the climb while fresh and then finish on the mostly "false flat downhill" towards the base of the climb. 

It was a cool autumn morning in the desert and I was feeling fairly fresh in spite of the Grandeur laps that I'd been doing in preparation for ski season.  At the junction with the Potash Rd, I stashed a long sleeve jersey, started my watch, and set in for a long day.  It felt good to start climbing and even though I didn't have a power meter, I sensed I had good legs. 

Hitting the pavement in 27 minutes, I was ahead of schedule and told myself to not push too hard so early.  I tried to stay steady until the Mineral Bottom Rd and then use the down hill treading section to maintain a high pace and get in some calories.  At the river, I found the road to be dry and even a little sandy which was not a good indicator of the conditions ahead. 

At one point, I dropped a gel flask, thought about leaving it, but flipped a U to go back and grab it.  I figured the 30 seconds lost to do so would pay dividends later.  I was also glad to not litter.  I was not however, glad about the increasingly sandy road ahead.  The last trip with the Simmons boys held very little sand and was overly wet.  This day was the opposite. 

Spinning out and wasting watts, I was a little bummed to be working so hard to be going so slow. My optimistic goal was under 5:45 but I was still going to be happy with sub 6 hours.  I could feel it slipping away in the sand. 

Fortunately, I still had good power on all the short punchy climbs and didn't experience even the slightest cramping.  Maybe I'm getting better at metering these long efforts, or maybe it's the flask of pickle juice that I started nursing around the 3 hour mark? 

Doing the math, I could tell that the last hour was going to be tough.  I needed to average around 17 mph to slip in under 6 hours.  I kept telling myself that I was supposed to feel crappy by this point compared to the last effort as I already had done the big climb.  The finish line was the outhouse by the Potash Road. 

On the final rise, I laid down all my remaining watts, which by this point weren't that many. With a short and fast downhill to my finish line, I still had a couple minutes to spare.  I coasted with glee, glad to be done with the torture and stopped my watch at 5:59:30.  To my knowledge, that's the fastest complete White Rim, but as always there are a ton of people that could or maybe have gone faster.  It's a big claim, but I'm a big claimer so I'll take it for now. 

Near where I started and finished.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I picked up my long sleeve jersey where I left it and started to cruise easy back up the climb to my car.  Within five minutes of soft pedaling, I was going cross eyed and bonking hard.  I got off the bike and laid in the dirt for a few minutes.  Somehow, in my excitement earlier, I forgot to stash any food or water for after the TT. 

I alternated walking and laying in the dirt for the next hour and a half and finally, 1:54 after finishing my TT, crested the Shafer climb for the second time.  This "cool down" took significantly longer than the 27 minutes earlier that morning.  It also was much much more difficult and a fitting end to a painfully beautiful day in the desert. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mount Owen: April 18, 2016

My last ski day of the 2015/16 season was spectacular, albeit humbling.  Jason and I had plans to climb and ski Mount Owen via the Koven Couloir.  The day started somber for no reason in particular but both of us had a sense of foreboding that wouldn't lift until we eventually made the decision to go home.  

Preoccupied with morbid thoughts, objective hazards grew in our minds and it felt kind of like I was walking through a nightmare even though this is a place I have dreamed of fondly numerous times.  With blistered feet, we made our way into the Koven and eventually onto the the upper snowfields.  

The day was actually incredibly beautiful with swirling clouds flowing around the cathedral group but we were just now noticing it, having been stuck in our own heads thus far.  Normally, when one of us is out of sorts, the other will buoy the mood and all is good.  This day, at least until this point nearing the technical climbing, we were reflecting each other's moodiness.  

The Koven chimneys are incredibly easy on dry rock but we suspected the summit would prove more challenging in winter conditions.  Fortunately, as we climbed, we both found ourselves enjoying the motion and setting enough that some legitimate psych started to creep in.  Jason took the first lead up a snow covered rock slab, scraping around and dispatching it without difficulty.  Higher and on the west side of the summit block now, I took the lead and began to feel quite lucky to be scrambling around in such an amazing position.  I heaved myself up the chimneys and onto the summit before laughing at Jason as he followed.  

We high-fived on the summit and then got about the business of rapping down to our skis.  Immediately the buoyancy felt while climbing dissipated and I was once again consumed with thoughts of tragedy.  I pictured Jason falling to his death a thousand times.  Gravity was strong.  

It's amazing how one's mood can affect their skiing.  Full of irrational fear, I skied poorly down the snowfields towards the Koven.  I tried to overcome this by forcing myself to ski the steep upper pitches but only succeeding in pulling out a small wind pocket that broke out at my feet.  

I'd had enough.  I was going to down climb the upper somewhat wind loaded section until I felt better about the stability.  I then dropped a ski and watched in horror as it launched down the Koven.  Gravity was strong and I would now be down climbing 5000 feet to the car.  

As if someone was just messing with me, Jason skied down and yelled up that my ski had stuck into a small snowbank on the side of the chute some 200 feet below.  Feeling redeemed, I gathered my equipment, and skied straight to the car.  

As if someone was still messing with me, I discovered far too late that a small crash near Delta Lake must have claimed my iPhone from an open pocket.  It was a small price to pay for safe passage on my final ski day of the season.  

JD skinning the upper snowfields of Mount Owen with Teewinot in the background. 

Jason only looks dejected here but by this point we were quite happy

Glad we didn't insist on bringing skis to the summit

Coming off rappel with the North Face of the Grand looming in the clouds

JD with East Prong and the lower Koven above his head. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last Spring in the Sierra

After the incredible day on Temple Crag, we knew we weren't going to top that with the two days remaining on the trip.  Zoomed in photos of the majority of our objectives revealed that the snowpack was just too beleaguered to be productive in the southern part of the range.  Hoping for some local's beta, we remembered that Dale Apgar was still in Bishop and he immediately dropped his plans for the day and took us on a tour up University Peak.  

As always, the company was as good as the views.  

Nearing the summit of University Peak (photo by JD)

Finding a little sneak chute (photo by JD)

The next day, we made the long slog over Lamarck Col to check out the Mendal Couloir on its namesake peak.  We were foolishly hopeful that it would be in condition (apparently this occurs a few times a decade) but wisely had planned other options in the area.  

From the col, I could zoom in with my camera and it was obvious the Mendal was in better climbing condition than skiing.  Mounts Darwin and Lamarck made for fine alternatives.  

The Mendal Couloir in slim condition. 

Nearing the summit of Mount Darwin

I took the sporty route

TG dropping in

There is a lifetime of amazing skiing potential in just this one basin!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Temple Crag North Couloir

Just one week after skiing in the Palisades, we packed up again and made the drive across Nevada to the ski mountaineering mecca of the Sierra.  On our previous trip, we had spied this stunning line on the north side of Temple Crag, a peak that is much better known for its climbing potential than skiing.  We could only find obscure references to the North Couloir as an alpine climb with a reported pitch or two of WI 4/5 and steep snow.  The photo below was enough to jump it to number one on our hit list. 

Temple Crag and its North Couloir

We got a pseudo alpine start, avoided getting lost, and soon found ourselves booting up the apron and into this tight recess with soaring granite all around us.  The snow was boot top powder and the position was better than we could have imagined.  We were excited yet apprehensive because of the unknown climbing ahead of us.  

Our rack was small and while we haven't climbed much lately, I was feeling unusually sendy.  I claimed the lead and with Jason belaying, made slow but steady progress to a natural stance on the right side of the steep wall that separates the lower and upper chute.  There, out of gear and feeling proud, I tapped out and set up a belay to bring the boys up.   Jason would have to finish the job after he seconded with two pairs of skis on his pack!

Booting up the lower couloir (photo by Jason Dorais)

Leading up the first pitch (photo by Tom Goth)
Jason and I each took turns doing the dirty work of climbing with two sets of skis in tight quarters

The second pitch was shorter but probably represented the technical crux with some steep face moves that were marginally protected.  Jason had some doubts, but ultimately sent it with aplomb.  Once reconvened above the cliff band, we were completely blown away by the setting, snow, lighting, and overall position.  I think we all could sense how lucky we were to be there and we hadn't even started skiing yet.  

Above the cliff band, there is a Y in the chute, with the left fork taking a more direct shot to the summit.  Since summits matter, we intended to follow it to the top but after a few hundred vertical, it became clear that we would not be skiing from anywhere near the summit.  The summit block was nothing but rock so we clicked in and skied back to the confluence below to investigate the more aesthetic right or direct branch.  

Skiing back to the confluence (photo by Jason Dorais)

Photo by Jason Dorais

Jason skiing the left fork with the non skiable summit block above




This direct branch, continued upward for hundreds more vertical feet and passed over two or three lesser rock bands, which in a bigger snow year would be completely covered.  Although, mostly in the shade, the air was calm and the work of breaking trail in now knee deep powder kept us warm.  

Jason, looking down the main chute from the confluence

About 3/4 of the way up (photo by Jason Dorais)

Photo by Jason Dorais

Topping out the chute, we basked in the Sierra sun for a while and enjoyed our position.  We were about to ski one of the most striking features any of us had ever seen.

JD topping out

TG, letting gravity finally take over

JD from the top

It was tight but the snow was perfect. (Photo by Jason Dorais)
JD skiing through a Sierra hallway

About half way down the angle eased off for a bit (photo by Jason Dorais)

Then it steepened again just before the cliff/rappels (photo by Jason Dorais)

The turns below the rap may have been the coolest of the trip.  (photo by Jason Dorais)
TG below the rap 

Free to finally open it up below the cliff.  (photo by Jason Dorais)

This may have been my most enjoyable day in the mountains...ever.  Good partners, good snow, good weather, and a pretty damn good line make for really good ski mountaineering. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Palisades

It seems the weather has been plotting against us lately by dumping snow during our time off when we want to be skiing bigger lines.  Conversely, during our work weeks when we’d appreciate frequent refreshers, it always seems to be high and dry.  On my iPhone, I keep tabs on the weather in various mountain communities throughout the west.  I have icons for Leadville, Bishop, Lee Vining, Golden, Jackson, Moab, Aspen, and Anchorage.  Fortunately, we have friends in some of these towns that can tell us what the conditions are like on the ground but sometimes we have to rely on what the computers tell us.  Last week, with mostly unsettled weather throughout the west, there was one area of strong sun, mellow winds, and amazing mountains - the Sierra Nevada.  

By the time we tidied up our work responsibilities and got the OK from our lady friends, our adventure window had shrunk to a mere 36 hours.  Being foolish and possessing innate truck driving abilities, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the Sierra to see how much we could ski and see in one day.  We left Salt Lake at 3:30 in the afternoon and while I drove, Tom and Jason hit the internet hard to try and find a suitable objective.  I peppered them with requests to find out which roads were open into the range, to check the current snowpack percentages, and to do research on certain lines we wanted to ski.  In the end, we decided to either head into Whitney Portal or go explore the Palisades.  We’d sleep on it and decide in the morning.  

Speaking of sleep, our options were a roach motel, sleeping out at the yet-to-be-determined trailhead, or phone a friend.  We chose the latter.  Graham Kolb is a former climbing partner who now resides in Bishop with his long suffering gal, Anne.  He still crushes the juice from granite crimpers, and while I haven’t climbed with him in years, I called and left a message saying we were rolling through town.  He called back and also left a message saying that he didn’t recognize my voice but that since I knew his name and that he lives in Bishop, we were welcome to crash at his house.  What a guy!

With their deluxe pad to launch, we hastily packed and set the alarms for four hours later.  

In the dark, at about 7400 feet, we started hiking on dirt in our ski boots.  That was the first of many mistakes that would come back to bite us later, Tom most of all.  We tried to follow the South Fork of Big Pine Creek but were quickly entangled in the densest, thorniest, brush imaginable.  Jason lost his Julbos, and having experienced snow blindness once before, halted to find them.  Eventually, we broke through the briars and started linking up small patches of snow before switching to skins after an hour of hiking.  We had gained maybe 500 feet by this point.  

We kick turned our way up a headwall, excited to get a glimpse of our main objective for the day.  We had hoped to climb and ski the NE face of the Middle Palisade but our hopes were dashed when at first glance.  

Our desired line definitely wasn't "in". 
Fortunately, the Palisade region is dense in worthy ski mountaineering objectives and part of our goal for the day was to familiarize ourselves with the terrain anyway.

At this point, we took a relaxed approach to the remained of the still young day and decided to just hike around and ski whatever appealed to us in the moment.  Heading north toward the Palisade Crest and up the Norman Clyde Glacier, we saw a nice looking chute that drew us in for a look.
There were dozens of sweet consolation prizes like the North Couloir on Norman Clyde Peak.

JD nearing the top of the Norman Clyde Chute
Photo by JD

Photo by JD

TG dropping in and delighting in the surprising Sierra powder.
Photo by JD
Little JD
We were completely surprised by the cold soft powder and pretty psyched that we weren't sweating and getting sunburned as we thought would be the case.

Once out of the cold north chute, the good feelings didn't last long.  Stripped to T-shirts and with sweat stinging our eyes, we made a navigational error and cliffed out while trying to traverse over to Mount Sill.

We sat down and actually ate lunch.

Eventually, we became motivated to continue exploring so we backtracked and skied sloppy corn before traversing over toward Mount Sill.  With the day getting on and a long drive ahead of us, we made hast of the climb and got a look down onto the Palisade Glacier and its surrounding peaks.   High on the North Face of Sill, we found a rocky sneak into the North Couloir.  The skiing was mediocre but the setting sublime.  

Booting up Sill.  Photo by JD

Photo by JD

Photo by JD

Photo by JD 
We debated for a few minutes trying to blast up the V Notch but it was already 4:30 Mountain time and I had a hard deadline of being home by 5 AM.  It was already going to be close so we decided to save the Notches for another trip.

On the way out we added about a dozen other lines to the list.  We also found out that I'm the only one with balls in the group as the others walked around the clearly frozen albeit slightly slushy lake.
Photo by JD

This one would lure us back...
Since we were making a loop, we didn't know the North Fork exit which led to a few wrong turns before finding the trail.  We also didn't have shoes for the three or four miles of dirt.  It wasn't that big of a deal, except Tom's carbon boots were apt to break and being a size too small, were crushing his feet.  
Tom is starting to hate life by this point. 

On the approach in the dark, we somehow managed to get lost in the only patch of trees up this wide open basin. 

Ultimately, we made it home at 3:15 AM with plenty of time to spare!  

Total time was just under 36 hours door to door and it was completely worth it.  The Sierra just might be the best range in the lower 48 for ski mountaineering.