Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wish List - 2009 Objectives

In late 2007 I already had a small list of climbing accomplishments that I was looking for in 2008. A few of them were not met, but others that I didn't think to put on the list were. This year, I'm hoping to make a list and stick closer to it, but be open to other options.

Some objectives from 2008 that I am interested in keeping on the list for 2009:
West Ridge of Prusik Peak
West Ridge of Thomson
NE Ridge of Triumph

Some familiar objectives for 2009 with a twist:
Ski ascent of Sahale (You and me Sammy!)
Ski approach for the Tooth (Sammy?)
Ski approach for Ingalls
Ski Mt. St. Helens
Ski Mt. Adams
Winter ascent of Mt. Rainier (Julie)

Some new objectives for the year:
NE Buttress of Goode (A mid season addition to last year's list.)
Curious Cube at Static Point
Tatoosh traverse (including Unicorn Peak)
SW Rib of South Early Winter Spire
Concord Tower North Face or Cave (or both)
The Mole North Face
Torment > Forbidden Traverse

Some revisiting:
Outerspace (leading) @ Snow Creek Wall

I don't expect to accomplish all these outings, but I will try to fit them in where I can. One of my objectives for the year is to be more flexible with scheduling. I found that in 2008 I often scheduled a climb and either the weather or time frame was not ideal. This caused some climbs that could have resulted in summits not reach the summit. My hope is to have multiple locations planned and several backups for the conditions the weather throws at me. Hopefully my future work schedule will cooperate.

This list isn't so much a long term list, but a development list. I am anticipating the goals escalating year after year.

At this time I am also going to be looking out for partners for some of these climbs. Let me know if you are interested, and I'll let you know if I have a partner already, and if you want to come along.

Kendall Knob - 12.31.08

Dan and I headed out to the Kendall Knob/clear cut area for some quick backcountry turns this morning. It turns out we didn't stay long.

What I have been learning is you need speed to easily execute turns in deep powder. I managed to do that last week at Hyak. However, trees were added to the equation today, and this made it more difficult to want to go fast. It is all a learning curve. On a positive note, I did not hit any trees. I did crash hard when catching a ski on buried alder.

Dan and I found the snow to be deep. Skinning was tiring. It snowed and the wind blew the whole time we were out. Dan had difficulty extricating himself a few times. I had difficulty with the one crash. A little more snow coverage would have made things somewhat easier.

We dug a snow pit at our high point to investigate the snow pack. Mostly soft snow for the top 30". We did a tap test and were able to have a 4" top slide with wrist taps on a fairly low angle slope. (~25° heavily treed) Often we heard the Alpental ski patrol bombing the slopes. (It was sort of scary.)

We made one run through the trees, and called it quits. By the time we left, I90 Eastbound was closed.

Dan breaking trail through trees

The view before conditions deteriorated.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A night in the Desert - 12.28.08

Jennifer wanted to get out while she was on break from College. She was interested in a snow shoe, but avalanche danger was high in the mountains, and quite frankly, I didn't really feel like going for a snow shoe.

We decided to spend two days in the central Washington desert instead. We were going to see some geological history (Dry Falls) and some Native American history (Lenore Lake Caves.) The goal was to drive out Sunday. We would set up camp at a state park, and then hike. The following day we would take down camp, go for a hike and come home.

Things started out good with a snowy drive up to Snoqualmie Pass. After the pass, the skies cleared, and it was sunny and cold. We found Sun Lakes State Park with no problems and soon became the only people intending to camp there. (And really, the only people using the park.) Sadly, I brought the wrong poles for the tent, and this meant setting the fly up as a tarp, but that did not deter us. We settled on a camp site and decided to set the tarp up later and go for a hike around Umatilla Rock.

Almost immediately our hike became interesting. Near our campsite we witnessed a hawk take one of the quails. We then started down the road to our destination. Snow coverage was about 8-16" depending on drifting etc. The trail is mostly road, and some sections even seem like they were recently plowed. It would have been nice snow for XC skiing. After a bit we arrived at an intersection with a sign and map indication trails. We opted to circle Umatilla Rock counterclockwise, and proceeded to take an off trail course in that direction. We saw and followed many coyote tracks, and even saw a den, but we never did see a coyote. Later, near the far (north) end of Umatilla Rock, we witnessed a good sized rock fall off Umatilla Rock. The scenery was beautiful, and we had the coulee all to ourselves. Once on the west side of Umatilla Rock, we regained the road, and hiked back to camp during sunset.

We set up the fly between two trees before preparing dinner. After dinner and an evening walk, we went to bed. (around 7:30pm) I fell asleep quite easily, but Jennifer could never get warm, and at 11pm woke me up to let me know she was going to sleep in the car. I stuck it out outside, and awoke at 7am to snow falling on my face. I went to wake Jennifer in the car, and we noticed that the Nalgene in the car was icy. Apparently, Jennifer couldn't keep the inside of the car warm enough to keep water from freezing. The NWS had predicted a low of 22°, which didn't seem that cold to me.

After we sorted ourselves out, we headed to Lake Lenore Caves. These are caves left by the Great Missoula Flood, which Native Americans have used for millennia. It was a short hike with some interesting caves. We entered most of them and looked for petroglyphs, but did not see any. Unfortunately, vandals have put graffiti in most of the caves. It snowed the whole time we were out on Monday, and we had a long drive back to I90 on snow covered secondary roads. Fortunately, not all 200 miles of driving was done under snowy conditions.

Dry Falls pics are here.
Cave pics are here.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I'm going to have to change the title of this blog if I keep posting like this. (No trip report, just rambling.)

I realized that I don't love skiing. Not yet at least. I got into skiing as a more efficient (is it?) method of snow travel than snowshoeing. So far most of my ski experience was not about travel, but about learning to ski. Two trips of note that were traveling trips were Camp Muir and Source Lake. (thanks Sammy) My trips so far this winter have been about gaining practice and are still learning experiences for me. Similar to going out to rock climb at a crag. I have only recently started enjoying trips to the crags, even though I still consider them practice for alpine climbs. At this time, trips to Silver Basin and Hyak are snow crags, practice for when I attempt something more difficult or more remote.

It isn't that I don't enjoy skiing. In fact I sometimes really enjoy it. (Like my November trip to Heliotrope Ridge.) Often, I find myself attempting not to get hurt, or trying not to fall down. I guess that is part of the learning curve. However, when I forget about falling and keep my thoughts to skiing, it becomes quite enjoyable. Like my second run at Hyak on Saturday. I still fell, but I was able to enjoy the run more.

I went out for a XC ski yesterday and today around the neighborhood. Initially it was the same. The more I think about falling, the harder the skiing becomes and the less I enjoy it. Once I stop thinking negative, the skiing comes more naturally and I enjoy it more. Although with the conditions in the neighborhood, it is somewhat difficult to enjoy. (Breakable crust, rutted compact snow.)

I guess like climbing, the more you do it, the less you think about the negative aspects, and more you enjoy it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hyak - 12.20.08

What a difference a week makes. Although not in temperatures. (Telemetry shows the temp at Hyak today never exceeded 8°F during the time we were there.)

Julie and I headed to Hyak for a skin/ski trip. Snoqualmie has not yet opened Hyak or Alpental, due to "lack of snow." While it was adequate for skiing, it was probably not suitable for commercial skiing. A few more feet should hide the remaining conifer tops and all the alder. We decided on this location due to the 'short' drive, and moderate to high avalanche danger. Also, there was a "deadly" storm scheduled to hit later in the day, and we wanted to be home before that.

There were quite a few people out with the same idea. But, not as many as I saw last week at the Silver Basin. There was about a dozen or so "backcountry" skiers there. Probably a half dozen Nordic skiers and a few snowshoers. (Or is that slowshoers?)

The idea was to skin under the Keechelus Chair and then figure out what made sense for the descent. Under the chair was somewhat skied out, but it was the obvious line. There was a nice skin track on the way up, and we had no issues arriving at the top. At least that is what I thought. Julie lagged behind a bit, but I believed it to be because this was her first skin since the spring. When she arrived at the top, she explained that her back was bothering her and she was unsure about how the descent would affect it.

After some mulling about, we decided to descend under the chair. (The way we came up.) Julie was interested in attempting some powder as she did not have great success last season with deep powder. I too was interested, as my ski day last Sunday was less than ideal. We took our time on the way down with a couple of stops for Julie to reattach her ski. Near the bottom, we took the cat track as it didn't have as many alder branches sticking through it. (It didn't have any actually.) It was an alright run.

It was now 10:45am. Due to her back, Julie did not feel up to another run. I negotiated with her that I would head up and be back to the car by noon. To my surprise, I was able to skin all the way to the top and have a nice run back down in time to leave the parking lot at 11:55am. The second run was really nice for me. I was able to link turns and build some speed. I crashed once and arrived back at the car with snow pouring out of my clothes. I skied well.

(Photo by Julie Labrecque)
My photos are here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Silver Basin - 12.14.08

With a cold snap in effect, and recent heavy snowfall, Dan, Chris and I headed to Crystal Mountain to access some backcountry snow.

We left Seattle around 6am with a temp around 28°. The web told us that it was currently 1° in the Crystal Mountain parking lot. We hoped the temp would rise. The drive out was long due to snowy roads from Seattle all the way to the ski area. It was still in single digits as we left the parking lot to go ski. Ski patrol told us there were a few sloughs on Saturday, but avy danger was low. They also told us that there was zero chance of precip (which directly conflicted with the 50% change the NWS forecast.) It ended up snowing a bit while we were out, and the temp was still only 8° when we returned to the car.

The skin in is fairly easy and uneventful. We skinned under the Quicksilver chair at the ski area, then you go through the woods and over the lake to the Basin. (Not grandmother's house.) The upper basin looked really steep from below, but after skiing it, I would say it was a mild black diamond run.

We made a decision on our first runs not to skin to the top and ski the main/middle portion of the bowl. We instead traversed out to skier's left and had a run down there. Turning in the deep powder was difficult for me. And I really had to stay pointed downhill if I wanted to keep moving as the snow was slow. My first run was uneventful and made me feel good that I didn't fall, but no so great, as I wasn't having an easy time with the conditions.

Dan and Chris agreed that the first run was a bit short and wanted to reach the top of the ridge for the second run. I agreed, although I knew it would be just more distance I may be struggling to ski down. Skinning up to the top seemed more tiring, even though it was not that much further. Perhaps it was all the time we spent outside in single digit (negative?) temps? On the way to the top, there were 11 people ahead of us. (The Silver Basin probably saw 30+ skiers/boarder on Sunday.) We thought there might be competition for lines and crowding. However, in the last 50' of vertical to the ridge, there were 30mph sustained winds. No longer was the condition light powder, but wind blown and crusty. Dan reached the ridge first and tried to hide in the trees from the wind. I arrived and started my transition. When Chris arrived Dan took off to make room for him. I waited until Chris was mostly transitioned and I headed down. The first few turns on the windblown were predictable and decent. Below that the slope transitioned back into deep powder where I fell a few times. I met up with the guys and we decided that going back to the car was a good idea. (It also appeared that most of the others who came out to the basin felt that way as the crowds disappeared after our second run. We then skied out and back to the car.

Unfortunately for me, this was a reminder of how difficult it is for me to ski backcountry powder. I am definitely getting better at it, but it is not easy for me. I feel that next time I need to be a bit more aggressive and I will ski better.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Year End - Best of 2008 - Recap

OK, so it is not December 31. But the way things have been going lately, I doubt something else cool is going to happen in the mountains for me. So here it is.

Back in October, Ian asked Lori and I what our favorite climb of the year was. Lori and I had the discussion earlier and both felt it was Lost Charms. This is partially due to the independence that we each felt doing the climb as well as my performance on the day and my general attitude about the climb. Ian said if we separated the emotions involved what would we say. I've been thinking about this, and I am not sure it is possible to separate emotions from the climb, at least not for me.

Lost Charms was an interesting choice for me as a leading candidate for best of year, because Julie and I had a somewhat difficult approach and were about to head back to the car to head to Index or Leavenworth. Perhaps that is an element that made it great, overcoming that obstacle. However, I also feel that the climbing was fairly sustained, and it was my first time at Static Point and climbing that grade slab. I climbed flawlessly that day and did not have a concern for the time. Another aspect that may have made a huge mental (and obviously physical) difference was actually having lunch on time. The weather was great, and that always contributes to positive energy as well.

Sure there are other contenders. I would be remiss if I did not mention the 4-star routes of Outer Space, Dreamer, and Givler's Crack. All have various reasons perhaps for not being at the top of the list. Outer Space was mostly following for me, Dreamer we didn't finish, and Givler's was too short. As an additional element for losing the top spot, both Outer Space and Dreamer were a bit rushed feeling. Outer Space due to the late start and waiting behind other parties. Dreamer due to our fouled approach and the grade IV nature of the climb and the shortening October days. With little doubt, the fifth pitch of Outer Space was probably the greatest pitch I climbed all year. In 2009 I plan to revisit both of those routes, and will most likely have a different opinion.

Other "honorable mentions" could go to skiing the Muir Snowfield, Garibaldi Peak, The SW Face of The Tooth. For the Camp Muir ski, it would be considering I had only learned to ski 6 months prior. I felt that to be a major accomplishment. I doubt I will ever travel to Camp Muir on foot again. Garibaldi Peak for really trying something a little difficult in an absolutely beautiful area. Going to Garibaldi Provincial Park was great, and really amazing. I will definitely be heading back. The SW Face of The Tooth was great because it was doing a new route on a familiar peak. The climbing was fun, and the weather was great.

Here's to hoping for an equally tough list to chose from next year.