Between weather, work and planning for our July trip I did not get out much this past spring. The few times I did get out it was for a quick jaunt up something in the Frontrange... more specifically - for yet another quick hike up Flattop, Peak 2, Peak 3, Peak 4 - or all of the above. At least I made an effort to carry my big camera along the way and focus on taking pictures of our backyard. Click through for more photos. ( Read more... )
Scouring the guidebook for routes. Of the 3 straightforward routes, the Gouter route (which is considered the normal route) has you ascend the Grand Couloir; a 1500' wall of choss that shreds rocks and kills people on a regular basis. The Tres Monts route is touted by one guidebook as having the lowest objective danger... But last week 9 people were killed in an avalanche on the route.
That leaves the North Ridge; low objective danger and an elegant ridge to almost 14,000'. The only problem is the approach; 1 hour below the Midi (high risk of rockfall), 20 minutes below seracs and a crevasse field called La Jonction, which is so bad the guidebook actually says "call the hut warden about conditions". ( Read more... )
We spent all of July in France. Three weeks in Chamonix and one week in Saint Gervais with friends. I have hundreds of photos and pages of journal entries to sort through so this is nothing more than a brief roundup of our time spent and climbs done. ( Read more... )
The wind was howling, snow was swirling and visibility had been reduced to about 10 feet. A pure whiteout. The kind where you can't tell up from down and left from right. Stop skiing and look down at your skis and it feels like the ground is moving underneath you. Vertigo takes control and the only way to keep it in check is to turn and look through the thick fog at your partner who appears to be floating on skis in a sea of white.
I was roped up to Mr. 20ish-Grade-VI and I was sidestepping up the glacier, my ski pole probing the ground in front of me out of fear that there was a lip somewhere. Minutes before Brad and I had been skiing around unroped in search of cached gear when he let out a yell and dove backyards away from a gaping drop off. We were both disoriented from the fog so we dismissed the drop off as a combination of vertigo and perhaps a wind lip. We were wrong. Way wrong.
"Go left," Mr. Older-Canadian-Dude yelled, staring at his gps. I was way off to the right and I really didn't want to go left. Better to err on the south/right side of the glacier instead of pushing left. Somewhere to our left was a drop off. We all knew that but we thought it was way left, like 1/4 mile left. But Older-Canadian-Dude insisted once again. "The gps says go left. Go left." Brad, in the lead on rope with Older-Canadian-Dude and Mr. 20ish-Ski-Patrol, consented and changed his course, veering left, up and over the rock band and across the glacier.
"I think we should stay right," I said half- heartedly. But by now I was tired of arguing with the gps guy, so I stood and watched them push left. Brad skied ahead, gliding across the snow and into the fog. One minute he was there, floating in the fog. Then he was gone and 20ish-Ski-Patrol was on his side, skis digging into the glacier, the rope pulled tight and digging into the snow.
I took off running towards where Brad had dropped. A wind lip? Crevasse? No one knew. I approached slowly to where he had disappeared and saw a gaping hole.
Brad had fallen off a cornice and he was down there somewhere, hanging. ( Read more... )
It is the winter that never left. ( Read more... )
I've been up and down Motorcycle Hill about a dozen times so it always hits close to home when I read about accidents in a familiar place. I snapped this photo around midnight in early June 2001. In June the sunlight lingers until midnight on Denali and looking up from 11 camp the headwall of the West Buttress Proper glows deep purple in the alpenglow. It's a peaceful camp and a beautiful sight if you can stay awake long enough to watch the sunset. Rest in Peace Yoshiaki Kato, Masako Suda, Michiko Suzuki, and Tamao Suzuki.
Swimming big water is kind of like falling. If you don't anticipate the moment it's not so bad. One second you're tipping (death grip on the paddle), the next second you're gulping, the third second you remember to cup your mouth to keep the spray out. By the fifth second you’re struggling to figure out which way is upstream and which way is downstream. Then you’re out of the waves, bouncing downriver and you automatically start kicking to shore. ( Read more... )
South for a week of work. And since I'm leaving Alaska I coordinate with friends who live nearby. By chance an old high school friend, Tim Stubbs, happens to live in the same town as my client. So I make the arrangements, board the red eye and fly south reaching Southwest Colorado in mid afternoon. We start driving west right way. It's dark when we get to our campsite but I can see faint outlines of desert towers jutting into the stars. Warm desert rock and dust and stars. I sleep out in the open but it's hard to close the eyes when the stars are so bright.
Morning comes and I awake to the blood red landscape that is Valley of the Gods. Sandstone towers jut three hundred feet into the sky surrounded by sand and rock. Abbey country. We drink coffee and soak in the surreal view. I have never been to this part of the country and my visit is over due. The slickrock and towers permeate the senses similar to the way big mountains do. ( Read more... )
Scott Fennell down KCK.
Yvonne down Goat Head.
It's no secret the snow has been good in the Front Range. While the official NOAA snowtel in midtown is reading 129 inches (just shy of the all time record of 132.8 inches set in the winter of 1954-55) the unofficial ski reports show much much more snow on Hillside and in the Front Range. Gullies are filled in more than usual, the tree skiing is good and normally hard technical couloirs are now doable for the average Joe. Thus when the snow is deep, sky is blue and the backyard calls, there is no need to drive north or south. ( Read more... )
What is a forecast? When the ave center gives you a green light, how does it affect your motives and goals for the day?
That was the discussion of the day as we skinned up valley under crystal blue skies with what appeared to be a stellar snowpack. We had a big line in mind but our group has been skiing long enough to know that ideas don't mean anything. You might have objectives for the day, but our ski group is equally at home backing off slopes and objectives as we are at actually skiing our intended line (actually the truth is we're perhaps more likely to back off the intended line). "We'll just go up there and have a look," seems to be the mantra every time we start out to do something. And so we go up stuff and look down.
Sometimes we dig a pit and sometimes the pit is good and we embrace the run. Sometime the pit reinforces what we already know and we go accepting the risk. Often it's a justification for turning around and going down as fast as fucking possible.
But that's the pit. The snowpack can very different from the forecast. Sometimes it's better than what they say; sometimes you have to read the fine print ("isolated avalanches in extreme terrain"). The question is: how does the forecast affect your decision making for the day?
Ten years ago it seemed the only way people skied big lines in Turnagain was by putting in their time down in the Pass and taking the time to study weather, snowpack and local knowledge before committing to dropping down big lines like the south side of Proper. These days Proper gets skied all the time and good visibility combined with a low to moderate forecast will lead to a dozen plus descents in one day. Would the big lines in Turnagain get skied as often as they do without a forecast? ( Read more... )