Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rock and Ice... Skiing

Brian, Dwight and I headed up the Ram Valley access trail in search of some skiing. We wanted to stay close to town because we had a thing that night, but we also wanted to explore something new that was away from the crowds of Turnagain. We took a chance and lost in the snow area, but made up for that in scenery. 

Niko has learned how to take short naps along the way when he suspects we will be out all day... dogs are so good at conserving energy. This nap was around 15 seconds.

Heading up to Falling Water Valley. Brian has been up here three times since we first discovered it on our way out to Ram Valley last June. Once to hike it, once to bike it, and now to ski.

There was this flat light over the entire Eagle River Valley, but it made for this beautiful eerie gray and white setting.

We decided to follow a skin track up to the ridge. It was already looking a little thin and we suspected we'd have a nice hike with a not-so-nice survival ski back down.
We took our skins off at the top of some point 4600 something or other and started the quick but slightly terrifying descent. Brian took off and said, "Follow me! I'll warn you of any rocks as they come." He turned down the slope, took two turns and immediately skied over a band of rocks a crashed. Dwight avoided the rocks and gracefully swished all the way down the mountain. After Brian collected himself he too had no problem. I however was very cautious for fear of hitting rocks and ruining my new skis. It was a two turn at a time kind of thing that made my progress down very slow.

The bottom was a bit of a ski-whack back through the trees, so we put our skins back on and slowly made our way down. It was a challenging but satisfying day out! This area will be fun to ski once more powder falls. A lot more powder. We got back to the road five or six hours later, tired and happy.

Niko disliked the descent

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day Ride

After three days of ice storms, rain, and general melting of everything that is fun about winter we finally woke up to more snow on Thanksgiving Day. It came down all day covering the icy slushy trails with a blanket of white creamy goodness. We decided it was time to ride for a preemptive burn off  of some of those Turkey Day calories. Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Back on the Ice in Nabesna!

Friday morning Brian and I headed out to Nabesna for the weekend to ice climb. It's very rare that I get him to agree to ice climbing. While he loves exploring mountains he dislikes all of the gear setup and standing around that ice climbing involves.

But he agreed because I told him about this climb called the Corridor where we could free solo a bunch of ice steps while making our way up a narrow canyon only roping up on the longer pitches. The ice is moderate and I thought it would be a perfect lead for me since I haven't led ice in over a year.

We arrived Friday evening to the sun already set at 5pm. We stayed in a cozy cabin at the Sportmens Paradise Lodge, drank wine, ate macaroni and cheese and sorted our gear for the climb in the morning.

We headed out around 10 am. We are not into the alpine start, although we recognize that we might accomplish much more if we could wake up early. We parked at the Jack Creek pullout and headed over the tundra up towards the gully.

It was unseasonably warm, especially for Nabesna. At this time of year I expected it to be between 0 and 10 degrees. And after reading that earlier in the week it got down to 40 below with the windchill I was a bit nervous. But Brian's thermometer read 24 degrees. Perfect ice climbing temperature.

Eventually we were in the gully proper and started to free climb a few small steps.

We passed Wing and a Prayer, a grade V climb which Jayme, Carlene and I attempted and failed to climb a few years ago. It was March and the snow was deep. It had taken us three hours to just get to the gully after breaking trail with our snowshoes. We climbed the two smaller steps below the main pillar. I had no intention of leading it, but Jayme was game to try. She started up, got about a quarter of the way, and said nope. We had already been out five hours and it was getting dark so we retreated.

Wing and a Prayer

But I noted the alternate route "The Corridor", which Jayme said was more moderate, and knew I would be back to climb it.

Finally two years later I was back to climb it. I have to admit I was nervous to lead, considering I hadn't even swung an ice tool yet this season and only climbed three times last year. I pictured my first swing bouncing wildly and that I wouldn't have the strength in the my forearms to hold on, almost like the feeling you have the first time you swing a tool with your left hand.

The view back down the canyon

Roping up for the Corridor

But it turns out it's just like riding a bike. While I did feel a little out of shape, I felt like I got back into the groove of placing screws and building anchors pretty quickly. This climb is similar to Kid's Corner in Caribou Creek, where you keep discovering another fun pitch just around the corner.

I even had someone ask why we were going all the way to Nabesna to climb something similar to what we could climb closer to town, and I thought well if you have to ask that question then you don't really understand why people ice climb. I'm not out there to get laps in on really hard climbs. While it's nice to climb really difficult routes sometimes to see how far you can take it, for the most part I love to climb because I want to explore new areas that I'd never be able to get to without crampons and ice tools. And getting far away from town is not a bad thing.

The fact that I got to do this all with Brian made it that much more fun. I was worried about him having a good time. I'd like him to go with me on future trips, so it was important that everything went well. We have such different levels of comfort in the mountains. He is completely comfortable scrambling unroped on exposed ridges, but admitted that he is not as comfortable on a rope. I've been known to cry unroped while clinging on a moderately exposed slope and have even had a panic attack or two. On the rope I feel much more comfortable.

We picked a turn around time of 3 pm and it came up so quickly that we didn't get to go all the way to the to. But we put in a good solid day out. By the time we got our act together with all the rappelling it was dark and we only had one headlamp. We ended up hiking out in the dark.

 Brian won an entire turkey dinner at work, so we brought it up to the cabin and cooked up a big feast that night.
Back at the cabin, tired and happy.

Monday, November 15, 2010


It's amazing what a difference three days can make. Thursday we were swimming in fresh soft powder and Sunday we were breaking through crust and falling on our faces. Okay maybe just I was falling on my face.

A group of us headed down to Turnagain Pass again Sunday. We bypassed Tin Can and Sunburst and decided to head up Corn Biscuit to find some untracked snow. The conditions were variable and so was my skiing.

I was still having a great time, but mostly because I was laughing at myself falling on every other turn. I would make a few beautiful turns in soft powder only to hit a hard crust and launch myself face first down the mountain. I got my ski caught under an alder and did a face plant into crusty icy snow, then took 15 minutes to figure out how to get up while laughing hysterically. These are only few scenes in the comedy of errors that was my day yesterday.

Last night our friend Ken asked, "Do you have to be a good skier to ski in the back country?" And the answer to that is no. It's probably a lot less work if you are though.

Even though I sucked pretty bad today, how could I have a bad time with a view like this.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Afternoon Ride

It seems that everyone is headed down to Turnagain Pass this weekend, after hearing about all of the snow they have been getting. Since I have plans to ski Sunday, and had some things to get done around town today, I decided to stay in town.

I wanted to get out for a little though, so I met up with Tim at noon for a Fatbike Ride. We rode all the good winter singletrack - Moose Ridge, Salmon Run, Blue Dot, Birch Meadow, Black Forest, Baseball Boogie, Speedway (or Area 51), to Moose Meadow, up Rover's and back to the car.

We rode for three hours and on the ride home I thought about how a three hour ride has become a short afternoon out for me. I felt like I could ride for so many more hours. Having endurance is a good feeling. I remember back to a time when an hour long workout kicked my ass.

It makes me wonder, if I take the time and put in the energy, what else can I do? I guess that's how people get hooked on endurance racing

I guess this month begins my White Mountain training. I'm also throwing around the idea of doing the Susitna 100. Training right now consists of only a few days a week of riding with lots of climbing and skiing in between.

Last year I got burnt out on winter biking by the end of February. This year I'm taking a more leisurely approach to training by doing a lot of cross training, and hopefully I can avoid the burnout that comes with riding too much. I think I will enjoy my winter much more this way!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November Powder

The office I've been consulting at was closed for veteran's day today, so instead of sitting around on my ass all day, I decided to take advantage of all of the powder I have been hearing about in Turnagain Pass.

We headed down to Tin Can with a group of seven and were a little discouraged by the rain we drove through in the Portage area. It was a mix of rain and slush at the trailhead but we knew that meant fresh powder up higher....

And now to just get up higher...

Yep it was dumping...

Visibility was pretty bad at the top, so we stopped short of the summit and did a long run down through the trees. The snow was deep, up to our knees in places and light and fluffy at the top.

Down below the snow got heavy and it was hard to turn, so we had to just point it and go and keep up our speed or we would get buried in snow with cement like consistency.

After another run, we were exhausted from thrashing through all the deep snow, and ended the day with beers and burgers at the Brown Bear. I had a really fun day out and considering it was the first ski of the season, I feel like I did really well. My new skis and skins make such a big difference.

More storms on the way, more powder to be skied this weekend!