Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Portland to Copenhagen

I flew PDX-SEA-KEF-CPH on my way to a semester abroad in Denmark at DTU. Rather than writing a lot about the trip, and because everything for creating these posts is in Danish, I will let the photos tell the story.
Mt. Baker from seat 18A on an Iceland Air flight.
 A ski resort in Canada, either Silverstar or Big White with Williams Lake near the top of the photo.
A large peak somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. It is likely Assiniboine or Robson.
In flight pillow.
A sample of the Icelantic language.
Sunset just before passing over Fort McMurry.
Northern lights out the window at 2-3AM over Baffin Island and Greenland.
A cold, snowy and dark Keflavik International.
We ended up waiting almost an hour for the plane to be deiced because the precipitation was hard enough to require two passes with the deicer in many cases. The flight departed at 8AM and it was still pitch black. Sunrise didn't come until an hour later in flight, and further east.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mount Greylock, The Thunderbolt Ski Run

There is barely any snow on the ground as we leave New York and enter Massachusetts.  We can just go for a hike if the snow situation doesn't work out, Kyle and I agree.  Leaving the snowshoes in the car, we set off on foot from the parking area off of Gould Road at 8:35.  The goal of the day is to hike up to the summit of Mt. Greylock and ski/ride down The Thunderbolt Trail, which was cut in 1934 by the 107th Company of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Leaving the car and starting off on foot.
Getting hot, ditching layers.
Hiking up past The Steps we encounter two hikers with a dog and engage in conversation.  The guy tells us that he is sorry for the bad news, but we'll probably have to end up hiking down most of the trail due to the snow conditions.  We'll see about that.  Two skiers passed us just as we began hiking and said the snow at the bottom was the best on the entire run, and even that was marginal.

Looking down "The Steps".
A dozen wind turbines in the distance.
After two hours of consistent upwards movement we make it to the summit, home of The Thunderbolt Ski Shelter and The Veterans War Memorial Tower.  Stopping in the shelter, a surprisingly nice cabin with plenty of benches and four wood stoves, we are greeted by four other hikers and their dogs.  Drink coffee, eat turkey chili, off we go.  It started snowing and the wind picked up just as we entered the shelter.  Looks like the conditions are getting better.

Kyle dropping in The Big Bend.
More steep and rocky terrain on The Big Bend.
Instead of following The Thunderbolt the entire way down and dealing with some uphill sections that would not be pleasant on a snowboard or unwaxed skis, we use some beta given from the hikers on the way up and take a right at the "four corners" onto a trail marked for mountain bikes.  This is supposed to run parallel to The Thunderbolt while avoiding any need to go uphill.

Heading down, the trail narrows.

We take a break to explore the old lift towers from the failed attempt to establish a ski resort in the 1970s.  Signs point us in the direction towards Gould Road and I only need to unstrap my snowboard a couple times on long flat sections traversing back left across the mountain.

Checking out the lifts and stretching out our legs.
Part snow, part grass, part mud.

A little wet and muddy.
Following snowmobile tracks back to the road outlet.
Looking back up at the summit.
The conditions weren't ideal by any means, but we got a taste of The Thunderbolt and will definitely be back for more when there is enough snow to cover all the logs, rocks, and stumps.

Back at the car, packing up.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mt. Hood North Face Right Gully Attempt

The NF right gully goes up the gully in the center of the face. Cooper Spur is the broad snow slope to the left and Sunshine is on the right hand edge of the photo.

It's crunch time for me now. Between all the other commitments I have had over this month and a half long break, climbing has been hard to fit in. I met with Anastasia this weekend to try the Right Gully on the North Face (actually NE Face) of Mt. Hood. We met at Timberline Lodge, an old WPA building at treeline on the south side of Mt. Hood so that we could leave the car there and do a summit carryover. A carryover is highly recommended for the route because the two other realistic descent options, Cooper Spur and Sunshine are suboptimal for sure. Cooper Spur regularly kills people with its steep, sometimes slushy snow and a fall line over cliffs, 2000 feet below. Sunshine is long and requires negotiating a large bergschrund and several other snow moats. We arrived at the trailhead soon thereafter and set out up the Tilly Jane trail towards the cabin.

The car in the parking lot right before we left.

The sun set quickly and the temperature dropped quickly. A crescent moon rose above the mountain and there was no wind, a good sign for tomorrow.

Crescent moon over Mt. Hood. Tilly Jane Trail.

We reached the cabin after two hour's walk, averaging about 1000 feet per hour. A moderate, easy pace. The cabin was, surprisingly, open, so we stopped for food and water there where we could sit easily.

Tilly Jane A-Frame

Leaving the cabin we walked up along the steep drainage to the open snow slopes above timberline. In places the snow had blown off to solid sun crust. Anastasia used snowshoes the whole way while I opted to walk without crampons or snowshoes.

The entrance to the CS Shelter and the tent of the people who came looking for us the next day.
Inside the shelter, preparing dinner and sorting gear.

Arriving at the Cooper Spur Shelter, we promptly entered and cooked dinner. Freeze dried food, tea, and cliff bars. The shelter was nicely shoveled out and plenty roomy for two people. Melting enough water took nearly two hours.

Warm and comfortable for the night.

We set the alarm for 2AM and I went to sleep. I was glad I brought the 0 down bag because it was very warm and comfortable. Anastasia, sleeping in only clothes was cold much of the night. We woke at 1:45AM, made breakfast, and headed out by 2:45. 

Progress up the glacier was methodical and slow, more a function of the pace than out of necessity. We needed crampons getting off the moraine onto the glacier, but once there we decided to use snow shoes. This was certainly a good decision. some of the walk was hard and slippery, some powder, but most of it was a breakable crust. The wind began to blow at around 7500' and steadily increased. By 8500' it was considerable (20-25 mph). We hunkered down in some holes dug with a snowshoe to wait for the sunrise, and shivered in the dark. I tried to light the stove, but with the wind and a cold lighter, I could not. In doing so, a lot of spindrift entered my gloves. There was not much room for error in this weather.

Spin drift in the flash just before sunrise. The dim rock to the upper left of Anastasia is right of the base of the route.
Plumes of snow off Cooper Spur as morning arrives.

Packing up, I encouraged Anastasia to at least look at the bergshrund because I thought the wind behind the cleaver might be less. We arrived there and changed into crampons, geared up, and roped up. Here I discovered she did not have goggles with her, but we thought it might be a possibility to climb it if the wind decreased. All the while above us, huge sprays of spin drift were bouncing off the gully walls.

The bergschrund and the base of the route. Notice to spin drift above.
Below the 'schrund.

Anastasia led out first, up to the bergshrund and immediately found a snow bridge. She disappeared around the corner with a muffled comment on how "it looks pretty sketchy...". A minute later she reappeared on the top of the 'schrund and soon the rope came tight. If this was how it would go, things were looking good.

Anastasia leading out through the bergschrund. Notice a cloud cap has started to form.
150' above the 'schrund. The first ice choke is visible above. We stopped at the hook shaped rock up right of Anastasia.

She kicked up a hundred feet or so further, but the wind was just as strong. Forty mile per hour gusts knocked us around. With a pack I weight 205-210 pounds and I was nearly being lifted off my feet at times. It must have been worse for her. She stopped and waited for me to come up, to decide what to do. We opted to go for the rock to the upper right of Anastasia in the photo above and discuss. I led and soon found myself at the rock. Showers of spin drift hammered down from above, sometimes three or four inches thick. Looking up I could see it pour off the ice chute above, plunge to the moderate slope below, and fan out, rushing down the fan.

Me below, loving the weather.

After briefly waiting to see if the winds would calm, we headed down. Since Anastasia only had glasses, every ten steps she had to clear them. Soon down on the glacier propper we walked slowly through the deep, loose snow. She spied some water ice over on the cliffs by the Cooper Spur route, so we left to investigate. If we couldn't get some real climbing on the NF, why not do some where we could. I led what was intended to be the first pitch, but even here the wind was nearly knocking me off my tools. It made WI2+ much more interesting. I finished out the half pitch and belayed Anastasia up. Thirty feet over my head I could hear and see the wind screaming through the gap. Our original plan had been to traverse over Cooper Spur to the lee side and then come down that way, but I was worried that Anastasia wouldn't be able to walk in the wind. Once she arrived, we opted to go down.

Leading the short ice climb in the wind.
Anastasia rappelling the route after reaching the belay. The wind through the notch above was very strong (55-60mph).

Trudging back through the snow, we made it down to the final crevassed area. I was surprised to see two people quickly approaching from below. I met them and discovered that they had seen us waiting around up above for the conditions to improve, but then lost us again where the could not see us. Not wanting someone hurt while they were on the mountain, they had come to make sure we were alright. We walked back to the shelter together, everyone except me wearing crampons. Not wanting to slow people down, I declined to put crampons on for the final climb back to the top of the moraine. Bad idea. Midway through the traverse the snow hardened into ice. Standing on my toes, a half inch or less of my boots in the snow, I gingerly reached for and axe, still clipped to my harness. As I unclipped it, a 10cm screw fell off and went to the bottom of the slope. It was not worth retrieving. With some help, I made it back to the flatter ground. Next time put on crampons.

We were unsuccessful because of the wind, and could not have climbed the ice pitches that day. However, there were several lessons. On winter trips, especially NF climbs make sure you bring enough clothes. I was comfortable most of the time, but had not reserve had conditions gotten worse. Anastasia should have remembered goggles and made the assumption that weather would be bad enough to require them. Finally, I should have put on crampons. No matter how much of a hurry you are in, the right equipment makes the overall climb faster.

Conditions were excellent except for the approach on the glacier. The route was well consolidated and the ice steps apparently in good condition. If only not for that wind.

The equipment I took (including gear from Anastasia) is as follows.

  1. Snowshoes
  2. 2 Tools (vipers) and spinner leash
  3. 4 16cm screws
  4. 1 13cm screw
  5. 1 10cm screw
  6. 3 assorted nuts (unecessary)
  7. harness
  8. 2 yates pickets
  9. assorted slings and alpine draws
  10. 60m 8.9mm rope
  11. v-thread hooker
  12. ski poles
  13. cyborg crampons
  14. 55L pack (wish it was smaller)
  15. 0 degree down bag
  16. thermals
  17. fleece
  18. down vest
  19. down sweater with hood
  20. synthetic insulated pants
  21. hard shell pants
  22. hard shell top
  23. face mask
  24. helmet and headlamp
  25. heavy gloves
  26. la sportiva nepal evo boots
  27. goggles
  28. stove and food
  29. 1L water
  30. socks etc.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Whistler Select

The family took a quick four day ski trip, only two days of which were actually spent skiing. The rest of the time we were chasing storms and trying to avoid the Northwest's infamous rain. The first day was spent at White Pass. Despite its reputation as a small, easy mountain, we didn't find it to be the case. Yes, the runs are generally flat and wide open, but anyone who tells you it's not an expert mountain is either lying or they cannot ski trees and cliffs. to either side of the main lift are steep, densely treed areas which we found to be chock full of unskied powder. Midway through this section is a 15'-30' high cliff band, with few notches. A little creativity was needed to get through the band (hitting the cliffs is particularly risky due to the densely treed landings), but there are occasional chutes that can be down-climbed (or straight-lined if you're particularly brave). No useable pictures were taken this day.
The next two days were spent driving and resting in Whistler Village, an opportunity I have never previously been fortunate enough to have. We got up at 4:00 to be near the front of the line for Fresh Tracks tickets. Arriving at the Whistler Gondola at 5:10 A.M., we were 6th, 7th, and 8th in line.
Next a two and a half our wait.

The enormous line at 7:00 A.M.

Soon we were at the lodge up high on the mountain, shovelling in food as fast as possible. Fifteen minutes before the lines were set to drop we were standing outside, skis on and ready to go. When they released us, my brother skated ahead of everyone, getting first tracks at Whistler on a day with 50cm new snow. Not bad...until we skied the snow. It was deep, very deep, but also very heavy. We did laps on the flatter lift until Harmony Chair was opened.

The father skiing below the cliff band on near Harmony Chair.

Eyeing a narrow (5' wide) chute in the cliff band between Low Roll and Kaleidoscope from Harmony, we went to check it out. Finding the entrance from above, when it's hard to tell if you are standing on a cornice, a cliff, or just a really steep roll, is difficult, but after a little guesswork, we found the top. It had been bombed as was pretty hard, but skiable. It'd have to be a straightline to the wide bowl beneath.

Turning above the rock band while contemplating the large drop to the bowl below.

This run was pushing my abilities, I'll admit, but I had a plan. Turn down until on top of the rock band, jump off the 4' drop, make it down the chute and then carve a nice slash in the broad powder slope below. Making it to the top of the rock band was easy enough, and I knew that once I dropped in it would all happen quickly.

Dropping into the chute

The drop went well and I was on my feet. Having raced for quite some time, I have a good feel for speed. Thirty and forty mph passed before I setup for the turn. 

Dropping in for the turn at 45 mph.

That smooth powder slope turned out to be wind blow crust and at 45mph I was not breaking through. Anticipating soft snow I was in the back seat. Half a second later I was falling.

Mid fall and traveling fast.

I washed out completely, snow filling my jacket and my arms flailing. Right in front of the lift. I was fortunate enough that the fall ended without a yard sale and as my speed decreased, I rolled over to my feet, snow sifting out of my goggles and helmet. If you're not falling, you're not trying hard enough.
We skied Harmony until it was skied out and then moved to Symphony. The snow was still thick. At the end of the day, we headed up to the peak. One of my favorite runs on Whistler is The Couloir because of its challenging entry and easy, but great skiing, due to the fact that many people can't handle the entrance.

Signs at the beginning of the run. A little hyperbolic, perhaps.
The view from the top. Can you spot the two skiers?
The cornice drop for the very brave from the entrance. To the right is a very large cliff.
Standing at the entrance, a hidden ramp extends skier's left. The size of the cornice/cliff is more evident in this photo.
Midway down the chute in fresh powder.

Once through the entrance I spotted one other track. Either the snow had drifted in many tracks, or I was the second person to ski it that busy day. The powder was nearly untouched save for the avalanche line coming from the blasting location. A great end to the trip.