california has had some fine skiing so far…
april - 2018
lone pine, ca
in the spring of 2017 i had climbed the classic mountaineer’s route with my dad. we had a great day in the mountains, summiting in beautiful weather, but our goal of skiing the line was stymied a by not-yet-consolidated snowpack in couloir. with this task left incomplete, my motivation to return was high. after a week of high pressure and freeze/thaw in feburary 2018, it seemed like green light to return to the route.
with a light pack and the first third of the route passable in trail runners, the climbing went quickly. i found myself on the summit seven hours after leaving the car. after downclimbing five hundred feet of snow and rock, i clicked in for a super exciting ski run. my timing wasn’t perfect, with some sticky slush to manage at the top of the line. once out of the top section tho, i enjoyed ideal corn all the way down from 13k’ to 9k’. it would turn out to be one of my only ski mountaineering days of the 2018 season due to an onslaught of work, but it sure was a fantastic day.
october - 2017
grand canyon national park
may - 2017
little lakes valley, ca
the little lakes valley hangs high in the east side of the sierra, between the towns of bishop and mammoth. home to a spectacular collection of mountains and alpine lakes, with easy access via a 9,000’ trailhead, it was the destination for a spring excursion in the spectacular season of 2017. with a historic winter’s snowpack, we set out for 3 days of snow camping, mountaineering, and skiing culminating in an ascent and ski of 13600’ mt. dade via the hourglass couloir.
june - 2016
mt hood, oregon
- route: the southside route (via the pearly gates)
- difficulty: moderate snow, 8.5 miles, 5370 ft vertical gain
- date: 4.5.2016
- time on route: 4 hours 32 minutes
Once we reached the summit I was overjoyed, ate a Snickers bar and took in the view. I could tell I was very fatigued and a bit dehydrated. This had been a 7,000 foot ascent over 6 miles and we started at 4am. It was a very big day, only made a little harder by the the intensity of the sun. Also I had never done a day on skis over 4,000 feet. But all the hard work was done and our reward was a 7,000 foot descent on skis!Read More
“click”, “click”, “click-hissssss”. the buzz of the stove firing up was a welcome promise of coffee in the cold, dewy predawn. we were bundled in down jackets and sleeping bags sitting in camp chairs in a long line of shivering climbers, hikers, and campers. we had roused from our stealth bivy outside the park at four in the morning to drive into Yosemite National Park. once there, we had begun a vigil of waiting in line for the Camp 4 walk in campground. every morning, may thru november, a line of scrappy looking travelers forms outside of the ranger kiosk to queue up for the handful of available campsites for the day. eighth in line on a monday morning, we were confident in our chances of scoring a site for the week. a handful of hours of waiting, paperwork filing, and hauling, we were established in our home for the week. together with a randomly selected ragtag international crew of climbers from all over the world, we would all settle into a beautiful routine of waking early, climbing hard all day, and returning in the evening to drink beers and recap the climbing action of the day.
I’m looking up at this roof thinking how on earth can this climb be rated 5.6. The climb is called Munginella and is a classic moderate multi pitch in Yosemite Valley. People from all over the world climb this route everyday. Therefore I chose this route to lead Bran up the entire thing - no following on top rope but leading every pitch. Yet, here I sit frozen under a roof on the second pitch. Luckily there was a sturdy fixed piton right below the roof so if I fell I would have an awful pendulum swing into the rock but at least I wouldn’t hit the ledge below. I managed to find one tiny foothold on the face that allowed me to look at the roof a little closer. I started to place a piece in the roof but my leg started to shake violently from nerves. I managed to get the purple piece in the rock but had very little confidence in it as I couldn’t stop shaking. I kept eyeing Bran down below at the belay thinking, “You luckily bastard you get to be on top rope for this.” So with not alot of options left I took a deep breath and reached around the roof standing on this one tiny foot hold with a bad piece of protection at my waist. Thankfully I managed to find an excellent hand hold just in time for my feet to slip under me. I quickly managed to run my feet up the wall and stand proudly on top of the roof, while shakily placing gear on the ledge to bring Bran up for the third and final pitch. Once Bran made it to the ledge he gave me a very deserved high five and a “good job” kiss on the cheek.
“I don’t see any bolts up here, so I’m just going to keep going!” bnna shouted down from what she was expecting to be the first pitch belay on the 5 pitch classic 5.9 trad climb Super Slide. the topo (map of a climb) showed two bolts on the ledge 100 feet up where bnna was expecting to belay me up to join her, before continuing a few more hundred feet up the cliff to the top of the climb. not seeing the bolts (which turned out to have been removed), bnna figured she would head up to the next ledge to see if the bolts where there.
after succeeding two days ago in her first ever trad (placing your own protection as you move upward, rather than relying on fixed protection installed permanently in the rock) climbing lead, she succeeded leading a classic 5.6 called After Six the day previous. this pitch on Super Slide, also rated 5.6 wasn’t supposed to push her limits too hard.
I waited on the ground, paying out rope slowly. bnna continued steadily upwards. the pile of rope at my feet dwindled down to just a few feet. I called up to bnna, informing her of her rope situation. “Off belay!!” she shouted down a few minutes later, letting me know that she had anchored herself into the rock, and that it was now my turn to climb. I breathed easy, assuming that she had found the bolts at the end of the first pitch after all.
pulling on my rock shoes and cinching up the knot tying me into the climbing rope, I started up the moderate pitch, with bnna belaying me from her perch up above, hidden beyond the ledges i would climb over. I passed by the ledge where the bolts should have been, and saw what bnna had encountered. she had climbed up into the start of the next pitch, a substantially more difficult and technical 5.8 pitch. not only was the grade harder, with more strenuous climbing, but the crack narrowed down to a fingertip seam, which made placing protection much more difficult. up above I could see bnna, hanging in her harness halfway up the crack.
with no more rope to climb higher, she had placed a few pieces of protection in the crack halfway up the pitch, and belayed me up from there. after doing the technical 5.8 moves up the thin crack, I climbed up to where bnna was hanging. a little shakey, but smiling, bnna happily handed over rack of climbing gear to continue the climb.
We were about to enter pitch 9 of 15 pitches. I had just led a scary but exciting 5’6 off width pitch. It was Brans turn. However instead of powering up another pitch - we had to wait on a ledge because there was a party in front of us. While this climb is understandably a classic adventurous long trad climbing route - this was my favorite part. How often does one get to stand about 1200 feet off the ground and look out into the vast Yosemite Valley. It was perfect. You could see the winding roads and the loud green dragon giving numerous tourists long bus tours through the valley. You could see Glacier Point across the valley stand tall with plenty of tiny ant size climbing parties making their way up the formation. You could see the awe inspiring, powerful, colossal Yosemite falls to the right. I think too often as a climber you get so focused on climbing a particular route that you forget to turn around and take in the views. While most could have found it annoying that another party was slowing us down, Bran and I found this moment marvelous.
“its only 5.8”. I said to myself. “you’ve never fallen on 5.8”. we were standing on a small ledge halfway up a 1000 foot corner on higher cathedral rock. above, a wide crack arched into a curved roof. It looked hard. the climb had already taxed us with a few hundred feet of steep but manageable climbing. the steep nature of the pitches previous were overcome by splaying feet out left and right, stemming and bridging in the corner. this had the effect of making the wall feel less steep, at the consequence of feeling more tenuous and insecure smearing feet against the granite.
this pitch however, seemed to not provide that opportunity. the wall was more glassy and polished and the walls seemed to offer less features to provide a foothold. “you’re on belay”, bnna said, double checking the anchor and her belay. It was time to climb.
heading up, wedging the left side of my body into the crack, my first mission was to find a place for my largest cam, a single bd03. the crack was far too wide for this cam at first, but finally I reached a point where the crack narrowed enough to accept this protection. I clipped the rope to the piece and breathed a sigh of relief. now I felt safe enough to consider the next sequence: jamming and stemming the crack before moving out onto the glassy face to some fixed pitons. I jammed and heaved my body up the crack, clipped the first of the two pins, and contemplated the face. the rock was so smooth. I found a place for my foot and contemplated the next move. there was no way my foot was going to hold. as soon as the doubt entered my mind, I was off. hanging at the end of the rope. “so much for never falling on 5.8”. I tried again. Again my foot popped. “fuck!”, I shouted. “breathe!”, bnna shouted back up.
the third try went better. two pitches more, and we were on top. worked. frazzled. we took in the view of the valley spread out before us and started hiking down....
Here I sat again, gasping for air in the middle of white water attempting unsuccessfully to dive under each wave pounding the surface. While I haven't been a surfer for long, I am going through the process of learning how to surf on a short board (instead of a nice long, luxurious, forgiving longboard). B and I ventured down to south Baja for 11 days in hopes that this would be a great way to get a lot of miles on my new 6'4 shortboard. But as stated above - diving under these waves seemed to be the first obstacle in getting out back to start surfing. After what seems like a half hour, I finally manage to find a window of flat water to join b (who made it out effortlessly).
Once out the back, I sat on my board and watched many waves pass under me as I tried to follow the patterns. After sitting for a bit, mainly catching my breath, b called me into my first wave. "Paddle! Paddle! PADDLE!" he shouted. Looking behind me at what seems like a massive wave (actuality maybe 4 ft tall) I start paddling. I feel the wave pick my board up, I begin to pop up,wobble a little bit, then fall off. This is how the first four days go. Paddle, pop up, wobble, fall. Paddle, pop, wobble, fall. Frustration was definitely a common feeling. But I knew if I kept trying I'd be able to stand and ride a wave. So here I sat again, now well into a week of surfing, trying to duck dive all this white water. I was frustrated. Most activities I can pick up pretty quickly or at least see some progress but I was still stuck in white water because my last wave I paddled, popped, wobbled and fell.
Then once I made it out back, visibly upset, b called me into another wave. I paddled, felt the wave catch my board, I then popped up and instead of wobbling - I was standing AND riding the wave! It was glorious. I couldn't believe it! I was so stoked! I paddled back out to the lineup and could not stop smiling. I ended up riding 5 more waves one after another without falling. Something clicked. B went back to the beach to try and capture some of my waves on camera. Unfortunately I got a little camera shy and couldn't quite catch the waves like I had before. But regardless something clicked that day and I was able to stand and ride a wave properly. While I still have a lot more to learn I certainly made some progress in Baja.
Surfing is hard, really hard. But at the end of the day I love the energy surfing breathes into my life. So while sometimes the ocean is relentless and refuses to let me get one single wave there is always that one moment of pure bliss where i catch the energy of that one wave. I let go and allow the water to carry me those few feet down the beach on my short board. It is totally worth the frustration, tired arms and at times even tears.
I'll keep you posted on my continued progress on my new short board. Next surfing stop will be in Bali :-)
Arriving to Moab for the first time, my eyes were pinned to the windows, watching the red sandtone walls passing by, just mesmerizing. But then again there's something about the deserts of the Colorado Plateau, with its winding canyons, soft red rock and sky-scraping pinnacles - it's special, unusual. While we wandered around for a couple of weeks climbing and hiking Bran and I were running out of time in Utah and needed a grand finale to this leg of our trip. Tower climbing had always been an item on our list. It's challenging both mentally and physically. It requires every ounce of your energy and demands the utmost respect for the tower and the climbers who summitted before you. Therefore, what better way to end our time in the desert but by climbing a classic tower. Castleton Tower is considered one of the most famous desert towers in the world. That fact alone can be alluring to someone who has not summited a tower and hasn't even seen any desert towers. So after hours of deliberation and some persuading, the North Chimney of Castleton Tower was the route we were going to attempt - 4 pitches of moderate climbing that ended with a spectacular view from the top.
So there I was, 7 am on a brisk morning charging up a steep trail with a full pack. Unlike most early mornings with Bran that involve steep trails and heavy packs, this one was a little different. The entire time up this trail the Castleton Tower is watching you. This tower stands about 1000 feet tall over the valley floor with nothing else around. It sits at the top of a mountain and intimidates the hell out of all the hikers, climbers and passersby. This. Is. Terrifying. The usual thoughts enter the mind: What am I doing here, I can't climb towers, This is ridiculous. But then I look up again at this alarming, giant rock and it's as if I can't stop getting closer. The curiosity won't allow me to just turn around in defeat. I just have to keep going.
After some scrambling on loose gravel and bouldering up to the start of the climb, the nerves calmed down a bit. When we arrived we were behind a couple of parties but we were in no hurry so decided to wait it out - the sun was shining and the views weren't half bad either. As we sat and waited our turn to begin the climb I couldn't help but think about the people who first found this tower and then climbed to the top. They had gear that was much heavier, shoes that weren't nearly as sticky and no idea if this tower would be their last. It's humbling, inspiring really. But after about an hour of sitting and relaxing it was our turn to attempt the beginning of the climb.
With a nervous excitement Bran took off. He climbed the first pitch with ease and would shout down occasionally "This is AMAZING!" and "WOW - SO GOOD!". Needless to say I was getting stoked. Before long, Bran was at the anchors and it was my turn to get up the first pitch. To say I got up with ease would be a bold and blatant lie. This was challenging. The cracks were too large for my hands, too large for my fists, and there were not a lot of options outside of the cracks. My climb was anything but graceful. But somehow, some might say miraculously, I made it to the first anchor. I was exhausted, tired, and hungry but the tower demanded more of me - we were not turning around.
The second pitch starts with an offwidth crack (too wide to jam any body part in to hold yourself to the wall but too small to squeeze your body in to climb like a chimney). I knew it would be work when Bran struggled and heaved and yelled and scraped his way through the first 4 feet of the climb. Yikes! He managed to get his way up and through the crux section arriving to the second anchors with once again ease and control. It was yet again my turn to attempt to get closer to the summit. If I thought the first pitch was hard, it made this offwidth section seem like a walk in the park. I did EVERYTHING to get out of this offwidth, including pulling on gear, groping every inch and crevice of the rock and, of course, grunting and yelling. Eventually with some encouragement from the party below and from Bran at the top, I managed to find myself out of the crux section. I was gassed. I ended up a couple of times pulling on some fixed gear along the way left by years of parties struggling their way up this climb but, miraculously, again I found myself side by side with Bran at the second set of anchors. We only had two more pitches to the top! Once again exhaustion was not going to be the reason of defeat so off Bran went for the third pitch.
He flew up the third pitch in no time and I was off climbing once again. Luckily this pitch seemed to be easier with blockier terrain and some great hand jams along the way. However as I got closer and closer to the third anchor a large, giant boulder was marked with a white x (this indicates other climbers thought this loose rock is going to fall and do not pull on it) Once again, the tower demands the utmost concentration and control. I had to reassure myself over and over again to keep going, cautiously. "DON'T TOUCH THE ROCK WITH THE WHITE X!" shouts Bran. "Gee THANKS!" I thought sarcastically as if that advice is going to help me get around the GIANT boulder teetering on the edge of definitely falling on my head. But, once again, somehow I was at the third anchor. There was only one small pitch left to go to the summit. Bran completed the fourth pitch quickly and I followed - there were no large cracks, offwidths or loose boulders but simply smooth, fun, climbing.
So there we were. On top. Wind. Sand. More wind. Some people. All of us just sitting on the top of this tower, mostly in silence. It was truly magical. It seemed like people should not be up here, but there we were. On top. Wind. Sand. More wind. Some people. All of us. Bran and I sat for a minute or two with smiles on our faces, ropes tangled in our hands and adrenaline running through our veins. We did it. We climbed the tower. As we stood at the top soaking in the feelings of accomplishment we were also getting blown over by the wind. A storm was rolling in and we had to get off. We made three rappels down the route and at the bottom collected our packs to begin to head down.
This was by far the hardest climb I have done to date. I was exhausted both physically, mentally and emotionally. By the time we began to hike out it was 6pm. With some water and a Cliff bar, Bran and I slowly, gleefully made our way to the car. As we descended, the tower still stared with a watchful eye but this time as I looked up I said "Thank you." I think sometimes you have to just sit back and thank the things that make you try harder, think faster, bleed and hurt and yell because at the end of the day it makes you happy. The tower made me a better human and it certainly, maybe stupidly, will not be my last tower. Until next time...
march - 2016
elk mountains, colorado
- route: the grand traverse (reverse route)
- difficulty: 35 miles, 6500 ft vertical gain
- date: 3.26.2016
- time on route: 10 hours 52 minutes
- place: 74th team overall
the elk mountains grand traverse is the oldest and perhaps most famous ski mountaineering race in north america. the race is based on the historical route used to deliver mail between the then mining towns (now ski resorts) of crested butte and aspen. in the winter, travel between these towns requires almost two hundred miles of driving. as the crow flies and as the skier skis the distance is only 40 miles. the route travels over the heart of the elk mountains via some truly amazing alpine terrain, demanding many difficult climbs and descents.
the race requires a two person team, and is rather strict about the team aspect of the race. because equipment failure, injury, and navigation issues are par for the course on such a long, technical, and night-bound race, the rules stipulate that you remain together with your partner at all times. this rule is enforced at a half dozen or so bonfire-side checkpoints along the route. for this race, I would have the perfect partner in my dad, Guy. his love of ultramarathon running and long distance cycling, my love of mountaineering and backcountry travel, and our shared love of skiing meant the race's physical requirements would fall somewhere between our separate interests and skill levels.
with the registration complete and the team decided, my dad and I began training in earnest when I arrived in colorado in early january. we hammered out uphill laps at our local ski area, arapahoe basin. we slogged out long days touring at backyard backcountry stomping grounds, vail pass and mayflower gulch. we competed in small ski mountaineering races at the local resorts, breckenridge and a-basin. we nerded out endlessly about every nuance of the race's technical aspects: gear, navigation, and transitions.
the day before the race, bnna and I drove to the starting location, crested butte, where we would meet up with my mom and dad. the atmosphere in the town was festive and buzzing with nervous energy. racers from points near and far filled every cafe and restaurant, and were conspicuous on the streets with their obligatory lightweight running shoes and bright technical jackets. the pre-race gear checks, safety meetings, meals, and nervous failed attempts at napping went by in a blur.
at 11:50pm hundreds of racers stood under an inflatable arch at the base of crested butte mountain resort. a guy in a bishop costume recited a traditional amusing prayer about the race. a countdown began. midnight struck. fireworks rocketed into the air. the race was on.
the first mile of the race was absolute chaos with hundreds of headlamps surging up the groomer at the center of the resort. this would be the only groomed terrain for the next 35 miles. in the chaos of racers jockeying for position in the first transition my dad and I lost sight of each other in the dark. fortunately we had a plan prepared for this occurrence. we knew the first downhill ended at a creek crossing, so we planned to wait for each other on the left side of the trail at this junction. after some difficult skating on rolling terrain, I savored the last of the groomed trail, carving giant slalom turns down the steep track to the meet-up point. up the drainage a half mile or so, I could see the front-runners sprinting uphill, their headlamps bobbing up and down.
about 30 people were at the creek crossing, navigating a tricky roll. I aimed left. "Guy!" I hollered at the bunch of headlamps. no reply. I shouted again. nothing. for the first five minutes of waiting, I assumed he had maybe tripped up during the skating section, or perhaps he crossed his tips on the first descent. after 10 minutes, I figured something else must have gone on. there was a transition point a quarter of a mile up, a cluster of headlamps where people were putting on their climbing skins to head up the drainage. perhaps he was waiting there instead of at the creek? at a full sprint I headed up to the transition point, shouting "Guy!" at the top of my lungs ever minute or so to see if any of the headlamps would turn my way.
nothing. no one was waiting at the transition, each team there was merely slapping the glue side of their climbing skins on the bases of their skis and heading off up the trail in a hurry. I skated back to the creek crossing starting to feel desperate. dark thoughts began in earnest. I was going to get disqualified from the race within the first hour. my dad was in a twisted pile of skis somewhere on the first descent. maybe he had experienced a massive equipment malfunction a mile back during the skating section. this was bad, very bad. the sense of dread of disqualification or worse was mounting. all the training, all the money spent on gear, all the sacrifices made by bnna and my mom to enable us to pursue this silly goal, everything was starting a spiral descent down the toilet.
I saw the very last pair of headlamps finishing the first downhill ski and heading for the creek. as a last ditch effort, I headed in a sprint for the first checkpoint, maybe my dad was accidentally waiting there? I knew there was no chance of him being allowed to pass thru the checkpoint without a partner, so finding him here seemed like truly the last chance to find him and continue the race. the last 20 teams or so were passing thru the checkpoint. they would shout their team number to the marshals to confirm they were together. "124!", "23!", "19!", they shouted in unison, before getting permission to continue. I found the first marshal.
"has '63' passed thru this way?" I asked desperately. he checked his list. "oh yeah, we figured his partner accidentally passed thru without being seen". "FUCK!". how was this possible? my dad somehow had passed the creek crossing, the first transition, and the first checkpoint without regrouping! I was frantic and furious. he was somewhere ahead of me, 30 minutes ahead. hundreds of racers had passed me. I broke into a full spring, skiing as fast as I could uphill towards the endless stream of headlamps snaking up the drainage for miles. I passed team after team. redlining and on the edge of control. 45 minutes passed. a bonfire appeared, the second checkpoint! I came within shouting distance.
"Brian!". the shout came from a headlamp by the bonfire. we were back in business!
I couldn't stay mad at my dad for more than a minute or two, I was so flooded with relief that we wouldn't be disqualified, and we had work to do. I was relieved to hear that despite spending twenty minutes or more frantically searching at the first creek crossing, we were sill on a good pace. we put our heads down and passed team after team. winding thru the forest, gaining elevation, heading for the star basin.
because of extreme weather in the forecast and potential avalanche danger, the race would turn around at the star basin (rather than continuing as it traditionally does to finish in aspen). after the turnaround, we would head back down the drainage we had climbed, before breaking off to tour up and down the mountains north of crested butte. then would would do a traverse of the south side of mt. crested butte, before rejoining the resort to ski down to the finish.
we made great time up to the star basin, where we would pass a checkpoint at the friends hut, continue up above treeline, reach our high point, rip off our climbing skins, and begin the long ski down in the direction of the resort. our spirits were soaring as we passed teams above the friends hut. we had been out for five hours, it was still completely dark out, with a faint full moon partially obscured by the clouds of the building storm. we started down from the highpoint, skiing really fun fresh powder illuminated by the cones of our headlamps. we dropped below treeline, slaloming between trees at speed. the field was spread out now, so we navigated down the drainage on our own, enjoying the comparative comfort of downhill travel. as we descended, daylight arrived.
we began climbing again, heading up strand hill north of crested butte. we were twenty-ish miles in and feeling great. after passing a team, we found ourselves in a huge gap with no one behind or in front of us. with no team to pace with, we set our pace as fast as we could muster, and charged uphill. nearing the top of the hill, we had closed the gap and started passing again. we cruised up the forested skin track, with huge snowflakes laying down a beautiful new coat on the trees. it felt like we were flying! yet another transition and we were zigzagging down a snow-covered jeep trail. all the way down to a creek crossing and the last checkpoint.
"5 more miles to go!" said a friendly volunteer at the checkpoint. it was around 8 in the morning. we were 30 miles into the race. we could see mt crested butte. this was happening. if we kept our shit together for two more hours we would finish, and in a respectable time!
the traverse of the south side of mt crested butte started innocuously enough, but as the last handful of miles ticked by the real struggling began. until this point the climbing had felt great, without any need to stop for a break. now, the last steep climbs were battles. the difficult uphills were compounded by low-tide conditions that necessitated dealing with exposed rocks, tree stumps, and roots. to add to the challenge the climbs were punctuated by short but relatively steep descents. the descents were short enough to not warrant transitioning, which meant skiing tight trees with skins on skis and unlocked boots. descending in this manner is extremely fatiguing, so unlike the earlier long sustained descents, these offered no rest. the south flank of mt crested butte crawled by at a snails pace. I silently begged for each steep technical climb to be the last. I finished the last of my slushy water. the race continued.
finally, at the top of the most difficult section yet, the course yielded. we heard the sound of a ski lift. we were back to the resort! we joyfully ripped our skins at the top of the ski lift, and, with extremely wobbly legs carved down to the base area. the finish line came into view. bnna and my mom were there at the finish line cheering along with the rest of the crowd. my dad and I matched our pace, joined our hands, and raised them together as we crossed the line.
the intense relief, joy, fatigue, and gratitude for the moment was completely overwhelming. my eyes were brimming with tears as we received hugs and kisses from our amazing support team. months of training, planning, and preparing had come together to make an incredible moment. an incredible experience.
For the last several days Bran and I have been in the backcountry on a ski touring trip in the Uintas in Utah. We had been anticipating this trip for some time because of the reputation of great snow and peaceful remoteness. It did not disappoint. Bran and I had 4 days and 3 nights of some of the best powder I have had this year on any back country ski tour or hut trip. Bran made a great video below:
For those who are interested in going to the Boundary Creek Yurt I highly recommend it. The hike in is casual with about 1300 feet elevation gain over about 6.5 miles. We had blue skies the entire approach so it was very easy to follow the road and blue diamonds once the un-groomed trail ended. However I would have the GPS coordinates and a good map as there were sections where I could see people getting turned around/lost. We skied the peak directly behind the yurt (roughly 1500 feet elevation gain) the entire time. Luckily, the first night we arrived we woke up to about 6 inches of powder and it allowed us to explore the area behind the yurt with excellent snow for 3 whole days. There is several areas of safe terrain and some steep gullies/trees if you wanted to be more adventurous .
The yurt is equipped with all your daily needs (pots, pans, wood stove, firewood, propane burners, silverware, lamps, and kettle). Things I would definitely bring more of are paper towels, toilet paper, pillows, sleeping pads, games, and hand sanitizer.
Overall the trip was pretty ideal and I would recommend it for anyone who is looking for some adventure off the beaten track.
Today, Feb 21st, I finally made it to the top of a 14er (a mountain that is over 14,000 feet). Bran and I headed out early this morning to tag Quandary Peak and then ski back to the car. Below, Bran made a very cool video to document the day. Check it out!
starting from camp hale, near minturn CO, bnna and I ski-toured up five or so miles to the fowler hillard hut, a backcountry hut part of the tenth mountain division hut system. this system is a network of huts scattered high in the colorado rockies that are accessible by trail in the summer and ski tracks in the winter. loaded down with two and a half day's food, clothes, and sleeping gear we made slow but steady time up the drainage, reaching treeline after three hours of toiling. from treeline we aimed for the rounded peak of resolution mountain and continued up. from the summit, we could see down to the northeast saddle of the mountain, where the hut stood proudly. we pulled the climbing skins from our skis and made shaky turns (tired legs and heavy packs) down to the hut's front porch.
dropping packs in the entry way we explored the beautiful building. built in 2010 and outfitted with solar power, wood furnace heat, and giant picture windows facing the south, the fowler-hillard hut is an incredible building. since we started early and moved at a good pace, we were first to arrive for the day. we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon of lounging around the empty cabin.
I headed out for some more skiing while bnna napped. the north glades behind the house were skiing bottomless with no tracks anywhere to be seen, and the southwest bowl of resolution mountain in front of the house was also yielding great turns. as I skinned back up from my second lap down the bowl, the rest of the hut's occupants began arriving. some cool snowshoers from montana, and some friendly skiers from the northeast arrived and began preparing food, breaking out drinks, and generally making the scene. bnna and I joined in and ate a great dinner before passing out at the ripe time of 8pm.
the next day bnna and I headed out for a linkup. starting from the hut, we headed again up to the summit of resolution mountain. from the summit, we dropped into the east face, slashing turns in the beautiful windblown pow. the first two thirds of the run were incredible, but the beautiful pow turned to heinous breakable crust in the last 500 feet. we kickturned and groveled thru the grossness to the valley bottom. from there, we began working our way east 3 miles up a drainage to ptarmigan pass. as we climbed again above treeline the winds started howling, heralding the coming storm. pushing against the wind, we got to the second peak of the day, ptarmigan hill, where a primitive hut gave us a great shelter to pull our skins and prep for the ski back to the hut.
after lunch at the hut, we headed out again to ski the super-fun north glades with one of the cool northeasterners. with the day waining, we retired to the hut to watch the storm roll in. it was incredible. the wind gusts were something like i have never seen before.
the next morning we woke to six new inches of powder. bnna and I lapped the resolution bowl till our legs got heavy, before packing up and hitting the trail. what had been a challenging day of toiling up hill with heavy packs became a couple exciting hours on the way down. the excitement was enhanced by me tomahawking on breakable crust with a full pack, and getting inexplicably separated from bnna while within sight of the car.
january - 2016
white river national forest map
- route: the commando run
- difficulty: 14.7 miles, 3775 ft vertical gain
- date: 1.8.2016
- time on route: 7 hours
the commando run is a classic ski tour that connects vail pass and vail. the route climbs from vail pass to a nearly continuous ridge line on the southwest side of i-70. the ridge shoots north for 10-ish miles climbing up above treeline several times. the 10th mountain division soldiers in ww2 era used the route to train to fight in the alps. this day, my dad and I were using the route to train to race in the elk mountain grand traverse, a 40 mile ski mountaineering race taking place later in the winter.
since i wrote this my dad and I went back and did the entire route out-and-back in a push. good times....
we started our morning at 7 am from vail pass, heading west on the beautiful groomed shrine pass road we made quick time to the pass. we ripped skins and carved down the groomed road, savoring the ease of travel. the trail soon split off north from the road, and the climb up to treeline began. gaining the ridge, we were rewarded with beautiful views of the gore range to the southeast, and the sawatch range to the northwest. with incredible weather and a nice skintrack set thru the deep powder, we were hooting with delight at the setup. arriving at a highpoint we knew would be a crucial point to turn north, we managed to descend into the wrong drainage. skinning back up to what we thought was the ridge designating our route, we were a bit startled to skin directly up to a ski lift in the blue sky basin of the vail resort. realizing our mistake, we investigated descending back north east to see if we could regain the correct ridge. this descent was 1000` of perfect pow, zig-zagging thru tree and wind lips. at the end of the descent, we found ourselves cliffed out with no options to descend into the correct drainage. with resignation, we put our skins back on and climbed back the descent we had just skied. we arrived back at where we had made a wrong turn and hour and a half later. a little tired, but still psyched on the amazing conditions we were enjoying, we made the correct descent thru more pow and trees to two elk pass. from there we climbed the south ridge of siberia peak, where we pulled skins for the last time and descended to into the resort. moving from the total solitude of the route, to the hustle and bustle of vail was a bit jarring, but we were totally stoked to find bnna (who was skiing at the resort all day) at two elk lodge right at the arranged meeting time. what a great route!
It was the perfect storm - multiple days off work, new ski gear and a sizable snow storm headed straight for the sierras. Needless to say it didn't take much consideration to decide where Bran and I would be spending the Thanksgiving holiday : Tahoe. We decided since I am not that experienced on skis that we would spend the first two days resort skiing and then find a mellow back country ski area for the following two days. With the plans set, we packed up Dad Car 1 and hit the road after work on Tuesday.
We drove as far as we could and car camped right outside of Bishop. We woke early the next morning and continued our way up the 395 to Tahoe. The storm was set to start Wed. morning so we wanted to get there as early as possible to avoid the inclement weather. Kirkwood was our first destination and the lifts were to open at 9. To say Bran and I were excited would be an understatement. The farther we drove the more and more snow that was falling. The anticipation of the extended weekend was building and we could not wait to have our new skis under our feet.
Before we knew it we were on the lift and headed up the mountain. The first run of the day was a little eventful. I had never skied on my skis and was not use to the lightness and/or width of the ski. Within 20 feet of heading down the mountain, I had already face planted. By the time we made it down to the base, I was a little skeptical. But once we moved over to some easier terrain and Bran gave some helpful tips I was skiing down the mountain in no time. Throughout the day we both got better and more comfortable. Around 4 o'clock we called it a day and headed into town to find some warm, satisfying food. We stumbled upon Verde Mexican Rotisserie. They had one of the best vegan burritos Bran or I have ever had. It was so delicious that we went there again that weekend. They obviously have non-vegan food that also looked delicious but regardless if you are in South Lake Tahoe, this is a stop well worth making. As a side note: try their home-made chimichurri, you won't regret it.
It was time to find a place to sleep. We had decided to try out car camping to see if our set-up will work for colder weather next year. We found a sno-park that allowed parking called Carson Pass. We piled up all our sleeping bags and tucked ourselves in at the respectable hour of 8 PM. To our surprise we were able to stay nice and warm - even though everything else in the car froze. We high-fived and hopped on the road to the next ski resort, Heavenly. To our surprise, it was still snowing! As we got closer and closer to Heavenly we could see that the resort was still socked in. We were just as stoked as the day before. As the day went on we got to go down some excellent runs, however our feet were frozen. The temperature and visibility that day were not ideal, in fact we ended up going in to warm up several times that day. As a result we called it a day around 2pm. Even though it was not as fun as anticipated we were glad to be able to have another day skiing.
Coincidently a group of our friends from LA were renting a cabin in Tahoe this weekend too. They invited us into their home for Thanksgiving and to stay with them for the duration of the weekend. As cheesy as it sounds, Bran and I were tremendously thankful for the invite. We thought it was so kind for them to include us in their holiday celebration. We are still grateful for their generosity. Therefore after our ski day in Heavenly, we headed straight to their cabin. They had just began to prepare the Thanksgiving feast. We arrived with some excellent beer and a helping hand. That night was filled with stories, laughs, games, conversations, amazing food and great company. Bran and I went to bed with full bellies and smiles on our faces - ready to go back-country skiing for the first time ever the next day!
We decided on Carson Pass. There was multiple types of terrain to choose from and was suggested as a place with good moderate terrain. We arrived and set off on the trail at around 9 am. It was a winter wonderland. Words can not describe just how beautiful the mountains can be in a snowstorm, not to mention we had it all to ourselves. After exploring through all the trees we found a fun line down a slope and through some trees. It was spectacular. While I still have some learning to do about how to ski powder, it was amazing to create your own line and weave between trees in this snowy wonderland. At the bottom of the slope, Bran and I decided to head to the car. We had just had the perfect first day in the back-country, minus my transitions (I have some "opportunity" there) . Once we got back to the car around noon we went into town. We got some groceries for the house so we could prepare them a great soup for lunch/dinner. After another night filled with great people we went to bed again with full bellies and smiles on our faces.
The next day we got up even earlier than the day before. We were ready to go a little longer and farther into the back-country. It was a blue bird day and the mountains were calling. We arrived at Carson Pass at around 8am, we thru on our skis and followed a skin track through the trees and up to Elephants Back. Bran got this cool line down the Elephants Back.
We then decided to continue our way down the mountain around where we skied the day before. Once we got to the bottom, we skinned back up for another lap. We, yet again, got another amazing line all the way down the mountain. Even though we saw several people that day we still felt the mountain was ours. We were skiing by ourselves and with no crowds. After a second lap, I was feeling pretty fatigued. It was the fourth day in a row we had been skiing and I was hungry (shocking). We headed back to the trail head and back to the cabin.
The next morning we packed up the car and decided to hit up Heavens one more time. There was plenty of powder and we managed to get in almost a dozen runs before noon. Unfortunately we had to call it a day and begin the journey back down to reality. We had a spectacular trip in the sierras. The vacation allowed us to get a glimpse of what next year's la gran aventura holds. Overall, Tahoe has some great mountains and I highly recommend either resort skiing or back country skiing.
“we have to get out of the city”
it was agreed immediately. the last weekend had been a real struggle. between the pain in bnna’s knee from the previous week’s surgery, and the claustrophobic heat in the apartment that had been the status quo for so many weeks that summer, it was time to move.
with the oppressive heat bearing down on all of southern california, the clear choice was to go north and up. pre-dawn the next morning we were off up the familiar roads of hwy 395. the iconic route that sweeps north and south along the eastern flank of the sierra nevada.
after stopping at a favorite haunt in lone pine, ca, the alabama hills cafe we continued north thru bishop to mammoth lakes ca. at around 8000 ft. elevation, mammoth lakes offers cool mountain air even in the heat of the california summer. turns out, mammoth is a great place for a mountain adventure even for the marginally ambulatory. here’s some fun things we found to do:
- renting a canoe and paddling all over lake mary
- hitting up the mammoth brewing company for some microbrew tasting (marginal) and lunch (pretty solid)
- driving up the minaret road past the ski resort to scope out the views of the minarets
- exploring a maze of 4x4 roads southeast of mammoth mountain. this proved to be a great place to camp for free en route to yosemite a few weeks later.
- splurging for a room at the sierra nevada resort and spa (turns out hot tubs feel great on a recovering knee)
It hurt. Not going to lie. My knee hurts. Unfortunately it is not broken from some epic trip but by my choosing. I went under the knife - i finally took the plunge to get my knee fixed. the surgery went well but my adventurous spirit is not doing well. I spent an entire 4 days sitting on a couch, on pain killers, watching netflix, unmotivated to have any conversation and flat out depressed. Bran has been an amazing care giver. I can't complain. But at the end of the day, I am just down in the dumps. However I am attempting to get excited about life again. Therefore I am creating a list of all things amazing that I am looking forward to next year on our la gran aventura (in no particular order):
1. getting to the summit of mt. rainer and skiing the entire way down
2. yurt trips. period. hut trips. period.
3. ski touring at dawn and then riding the lifts allllll dayyyy
4. sleeping in dc1 with the excitment of the next days adventure
5. bran by my side - always
6. finally getting barrelled at kuta beach
7. learning spanish
8. swapping leads in yos
9. diving into the sea of cortez for the first time
10. being the only back country skiers around the whitney portal
11. road tripping across the country trying to catch the next swell or the best pow
12. escaping to the desert when we are cold
14. adventuring through south east asia
15. living in a van in nz
16. getting totally deep pow in the wasatch
17. having home be the road or mountains or hut or car or tent or sleeping bag
18. boat trips
19. different perspectives
20. skiing.surfing.climbing.hiking. snorkeling.running.eating.sleeping.yoga.camping.backpacking. every day all day
june - 2015
john muir wilderness
- route: the swiss arete (sit start), mt sill
- difficulty: 8 pitches, 800', Grade II, 5.7
- elevation: 14,154' (4,314 m)
- date: 5.27.15-5.28.15
- time on route: 3.5 hours
the pre-dawn air was punctuated by a huge crack, followed by a low rumble. crin and I were sitting in a talus cave at 13,000 ft listening to violent rockfall and icefall on the palisade glacier. it was 3:45am, and we had just hiked a few miles from our camp at sam mack meadow to the start of the technical difficulties of our day of climbing, a mild-angled snow traverse to a notch in the cliffband. this cliff, which borders the glacier to the southeast would provide access to our objective: the swiss arete on mount sill. we had decided to wait for first light to continue on our approach, since scrambling further across the glacier moraine into steeper terrain seemed unwise to do blind.
at first light, the glacier notch came into view. we slogged up the soft 45 degree snow and attacked the cliff band, scrambling up a few hundred feet of choosy ledges to a high hanging snowfield. we worked up the soft snowfield, which steepened into the north couloir of mt sill. exiting the colour to the east, we scrambled up more moderate rock to a large ledge beneath the beautiful rib of the swiss arete, which sweeps north down 1000 ft. from the summit of the mountain to our position.
we stowed our ice axes, traded gore tex tennis shoes for rock climbing shoes, and flaked out or 60 meter by 8 millimeter climbing rope. it was 7 in the morning, and ominous looking clouds were rolling over the summit ridge high above us. we were anxious to get moving. we knew the forecast was calling for storms in the afternoon and the last thing we wanted was to be on a massive granite face in an electrical storm.
the climbing started out with four super fun crack pitches up the arete. the rock was clean and solid, protection was readily available, and the climbing went quickly. we felt reasonably confident in the route finding along the ridge, and the weather was holding solid with intermittent sun and clouds. there wasn't a single other person in the palisades that day, and we were loving life climbing high on the ridge.
the crux pitches of the route involve an exposed traverse followed by a steep crack up a beautiful right-facing dihedral. the traverse was quite manageable and fun, and the handcrack was absolutely amazing. we joked about how mellow and classic the crack pitch would be on our local granite crag thaquitz. at 14,000 feet however, loaded down with warm layers, food, water, ice axes, crampons, and shoes, the fairly moderate pitch was shockingly strenuous. we were psyched to be done with the technical difficulties of the ascent. after this, a few hundred feet of simulclimbing (climbing together with the rope and a few pieces of protection to safeguard from a fall) yielded the summit. we topped out mt sill at 10:45 am.
we were tired and sore for our day of hiking and climbing, but we still had a major task ahead of us. we needed to decend the north face of mt. sill, traverse the snowfield to the glacier notch, hike out across the glacier and glacial moraine, hike to our camp at 12000 feet, and then descend the final 3000 feet back to the car.
the usual decent off mt. sill is a 4th class (nontechnical) downclimb from the summit down the north east ridge to the relative safety of the snow in the north couloir. unfortunately, snow and ice conditions led to a collective decision to rappel the face rather than do an icey downclimb while tired loaded down with our climbing gear. this decision made, we put some cord around a b.f.r, clipped our climbing rope to the cord, and tossed ropes off the summit ridge of mt. sill. 1 hour and 5 rappels later, rattled from the task of finding anchors and re-enforcing them when necessary, we arrived at the snow line of the north couloir. breathing a sigh of releif from finishing the stressful task of rapping the face, we glissaded down 1000 vertical feet of sun-softened snow back to the glacier notch.
the hike out across the glacier and glacial moraine dragged on into the afternoon. worn out from talus hopping and potholing in the soft slush of the glacier, we arrived at the ridge looking down at the valley where we had camped the night before. "i think i'm having an out-of-body experience", crin monotoned. "you're doing great, lets keep going", I cajoled, trying to keep the psyche alive while handing her some dried apricots. she rallied as we descended.
we arrived at our 12000 ft. camp at 5pm and tore down our hammocks. the 10 mile hike out to the car was going to be a slog. we plugged podcasts into earbuds, and headed down. arriving at the car at 8pm, we were psyched on a huge successful day.
surviving the drive back to l.a., ready for work the next day, was the true crux tho.
Spoiler alert: Still have not reached a 14'er however this was by far the highest elevation I have gotten.
Last weekend Bran, myself and our friends Addy and Corinne went on a backpacking trip to the Palisades with the end goal of climbing Mt Sill. The week leading up to our trip was filled with anticipation, gear discussions, snack recommendations, and of course STOKE. We had never been in this part of the Sierras and were excited to be able to see what this part of California had to offer. We are all lovers of the mountains so it was surprising that none of us had ventured that way before. While we were super psyched for the weekend we were also a little concerned about the weather. For those who do not know, this past May (2015) has been the wettest month to date in the Sierras therefore there was a lot of snow accumulation. Personally, I had never used an ice axe or crampons so the idea of having to climb with some extra gear was a bit intimidating. Regardless, we watched the weather closely and we happened to choose a weekend with a good weather window.
Therefore Bran and I began packing for our epic weekend. Unfortunately by the time we were done our packs were pretty large (note: we also believe in light and fast journeys or we're totally car camping).
Luckily the hike to Mt Sill is only 10 miles - in which part of it we would be carrying just the necesisties to be able to climb Mt Sill, leaving our camping gear at a lower elevation.
Bright and early Saturday morning we left L.A. and pulled into Lone Pine to retreive permits at about 8:30am. Next we made the mandatory stop at Alabama Hills Cafe. (side note: their breakfast sandwhichs are out of this world). After a leisurely breakfast we picked up a topo map and headed toward Big Pine Creek North Fork trailhead.
We arrived to the trailhead around 11 am and began our hike up at 11:30am. The frist mile and a half has some steep switch backs and is still at a pretty low elevation - so it can get hot. We passed a long train of horses and mules and jokingly asked if we could borrow a pack mule for the remainder of our trip.
However, once we reached the ranger station/magnificant log cabin I want to live in - it began to be much more mellow switch backs and not as hot. We continued along the trail and made it to the black lakes and lakes 1-7 intersection by 3pm (only about a mile away from lakes 1, 2 and 3). Even with our heavy packs on we still made pretty good time. For those that are concerned, I found the trail very manageable with a pack on due to the slight incline with few steeper switch backs for the duration of the hike to the lakes. Regardless of the mellow hike, the most spectacular part is the first view of Temple craig
There are no words to describe this soaring peak. It is one of many remarkable vista's but definitely the most memorable.
Once we arrived at the lakes we decided to go ahead and camp for the night. With a combination of weather, fatigue and altitude we thought trying to make it to Sam Mack Meadows (original camping location) would be heinous and ultimately not worth it. The Meadows are only 1.5 miles away and would have been much easier to tackle with light packs early the next morning.
Needless to say, once we set up camp, we were ready for dinner. What I am about to say is no exaggeration but Addy cooked one of the best meals I have ever had. He came with spices, cheeses, tomatoes, oils and some good old tlc. My mouth still waters when I think of that meal. Just know the picture below does not come close to doing it justice. I call the meal Addy Masala.
Once we inhaled the meal we played some cards and headed to bed. Because we camped at a lower elevation we needed to have an alpine start to get to the base of the climb at a reasonable hour. The next morning came quick but with it came the most beautiful sunrise. Once again the mountains have totally left me in awe.
The journey to the galcier countinued as follows:
The hike to the glacier took us a little longer than expected. We left camp at 3:30 am and made good time to Sam Meadows. We were there at about 4:30am. However as we began to climb higher in elevation, personally I began to get pretty winded, tired and headachey. My pace slowed significantly. While we were fortunate to have good snow to walk on (not as much talus or postholing), I still had a hard time keeping my pace at a fast enough rate. After some steep sections of snow travel we arrived to the glacier at 8:30am. As a side note, the trail, even with snow covering it, was easy to follow with plenty of well marked cairns.
Next after a little break and some cliff bars, we decided to go ahead and put the helmets on and rope up. We started to head across the glacier in hopes to travel fast enough to get to the base of the climb by noon (our turnaround time).
We arrived at the glaciear notch around 10am. Unfortunately, at this point we made the decision to not continue going. I was feeling alot of altitude and my pace was much to slow for us to make it to mt sill at a reasonable hour. Also, soon after we made the decision to not continure there was quite a bit of clouds that rolled in, whiting out the mountain peaks. Ultimately we made the right decisoin to not continue going. While it was disappointing, there were still some great highlights. I was blown away by the palisades. It trully is a special place. The glacier and peaks make for a very dramatic setting - humbling even. Also we got to glisade!!!
After playing on the glacier for about 2 hours we decided to head down to camp and make some ramen and head out. Before we left though we had to grab some photos of the glacier.
We left the glacier at about noon and made it back to camp in about 2 hours. We ate some delicious ramen and packed up to head home. The remainder of the trail only took about 2.5 hours and we were back at the cars around 4:30 pm. All in all it was an amazing trip. I was psyched to get above 13k feet for the first time plus see this part of the sierras. It is definitely worth the time and effort to see this hidden mountain range. If I were to do this trip again and attempt mt sill I would try really hard to do it car to car in one day. I think carrying heavy packs and spending alot of time at higher altitude can be demanding on the body. Either way it was another great trip in the mountains and I can not wait to be back up here next season. Hopefully with some ski's :-)