Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mount Hood - South Side - 01.22.11

5200'+ elevation gain
7 miles RT
Left car: 5:00 am
Summit: 1:00 pm
Back at car: 4:00 pm
11 hours car to car

With babies on the way Josh and I were trying to plan one last mountain attempt before we are relegated to in town duties. We were hoping for an overnight, but weather and conditions did not cooperate for that type of adventure. The weather looked better further south, so we opted for a climb of Mount Hood, with an overnight in the parking lot. With not much recent mountain activity more committing routes were nixed and we were just going up the standard south side route. (Also due to the fact that the snow wouldn't be too good for skiing and at least we would get ~2000' of groomed skiing in to mitigate the poor snow.

The ride down to Hood always takes longer than expected. This time we didn't encounter too much traffic, but we arrived in the Timberline parking lot around 11:30pm. It was windy and I was not encouraged. But a full moon and a view of the mountain was an encouraging sign. After a visit to lodge and signing in we went back to the car to consider sleeping arrangements. I balked first and opted to sleep in my bivy sack outside, while Josh and Matt slept in the front seats of the car. While I was fairly warm, the wind buffeted my bivy sack and made falling to sleep difficult. A few times during the night people made noise or trucks drove by that woke me up. Next thing I know Josh was waking me up at our 4am wake up time.

We ducked into the alcove at the day lodge to gear up away from the wind. This is when I realized I had made a few packing errors. I didn't bring the ideal ski socks, but I wasn't too concerned about that. But I was mildly concerned about not bringing a hard shell. When we were finally underway, I opted to skin in my puffy jacket for lack of a better wind blocking layer. The wind had not abated since going to sleep. It may have been even more intense as we started up. The snow was frozen solid, but the skinning went well aside from a few slips.

When we got to the Silcox Hut there were a few parties turning back. They were getting turned around by the wind. We took a pause in the lee of the hut to discuss our options. The snow was way too hard for us to ski back to the car at this point. At a minimum we could head up to 8500' and ski once the sun came out. I made the prediction that the wind was from the high pressure coming in and that it should mellow out later in the day, but who could be sure? We kept going uphill.

Above the hut the wind was worse. One bout carried plenty of ice pellets that felt like getting shot repeatedly by paint balls at close range. I told the guys if that event repeated twice more I was turning around. It didn't, but many strong gusts stopped us in our tracks. As the sun rose and we got higher, we adjusted to the wind more and the wind even started to wane. We took a brief stop at the top of the Palmer Chair before continuing.

Above the ski area the terrain was all rime. Without ski crampons the skinning was proving difficult. We shot for a ice out cropping that others were at so that we could stash our skis. We took another break there leaving our skis behind. We put our crampons on and started to boot up. This is where I realized that ski boots are not ideal for French crampon technique. There is just no ankle flex. Matt had it worst as he was in resort boots, due to his lack of owning AT boots. We made slower progress over the delicate and not so delicate rime petals. Due to our inability to easily walk with the ski boots on, we took indirect lines and made many switchbacks to reduce the angle and ease our ascent.

We arrived at the Hogsback a bit tired and I for one was not particularly motivated. We discussed the route with others there who were not going for the summit because they felt it unsafe. We talked with a group coming down from the summit. After a lunch break we opted to leave our packs at the Hogsback and head up with some essentials. We put on harnesses and carried the rope, just in case we needed it and we were on our way. Josh was motivated and jumped out ahead of Matt and I who were just plodding along. We took the old chute variation as most of the beta we got sounded like the Pearly Gates might be a little sketchy in the heat of the day. An hour later we stood on the summit. To our surprise, the summit was much less windy than most of the ascent. We stayed briefly to snap a few pictures, and then headed back to our packs.

Coming down the chute turned into a circus. A party who ascended Leuthold's Couloir was down climbing and skiing the chute. Another party of young boys was trying to climb the chute and this made it difficult to stay safe. At one point I noticed that one of the boys had only one crampon on. Despite the antics we made it back to our packs safely. Although I was dragging behind. I think due to food and hydration, but I can never be sure which one. We packed up and headed back to our skis. Heading down was quick and we reached our skis after coming down through all the rime covered slopes which had not softened up. Josh and I were ahead of Matt and we discussed carrying our skis back to the top of the lift, perhaps another 300' of vertical or so. Walking on the terrain was hard enough, skiing couldn't be any better. At least it wouldn't be fun. Matt, in his resort boots decided to ski it because he could not wait any longer to stop walking. It took him about the same amount of time to ski it, but he didn't fall and did a good job.

Once at the lift Josh and I prepped to ski and then the three of us were off. I took my time skiing as I was tired and made a few stops to rest. I took a wrong turn at the Silcox Hut onto the cat track which was difficult skiing. After a hard face plant, I started skiing the icy snow on the side of the cat track and then eventually I found the nicer "groomed" snow to arrive at the lodge later than Josh and Matt.

Overall this was a nice trip. We had a bluebird day (not in the forecast.) Other than the high winds for a good portion of the morning the weather was fine. We were a little tired, but that is the drawback of being a weekend warrior. It surprises me just how many novice climbers we encountered including the three young boys who had rented gear and didn't really appear to know what they were doing. (They carried helmets up to the Hogsback, but left them there to go for the summit.) It was a bummer the skiing wasn't good, but we sort of expected that, which is why the destination was Hood for the groomed slopes.

Every time I see pictures of the Mount Hood in winter I love the rime ice. I think it is truly beautiful. I am glad I finally got to see it first hand and marvel in view. It made it difficult for me to ascend to the summit as I was content at the Hogsback taking in the views of the summit rime. I always like coming to active mountains, and the smell of sulfur dioxide is more subdued in the winter when in the crater of Mount Hood.

My pics are here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heather Ridge Ski - 01.09.11

Dan and I tried to go out earlier in the week, but he realized he was going to return from Colorado too late to be able to head out the next day. We rescheduled for Sunday in the hopes of better snow to ski.

We read the reports and the telemetry and it wasn't too promising. Shallow powder on top of the rain crust was what we were seeing. Dan was skeptical. Stevens Pass ski area reported only two inches of snow on Saturday. But the telemetry was showing at least 6" when we talked, and that was for highway level (4000'.) I told him we should give it a go. So we planned to get to the parking lot at 8am to beat the resort opening at 9am.

It was 24°F and there were plenty of cars in the lot when we arrived, but most were for the resort. We passed a bunch of people putting on skins in the lot as we made our way to the trail. When we got there, there was a faint skin track from one person, and a couple of guys with a loose dog booting up the trail. I made quick time to pass them, and then tried to settle in to a slower pace. Dan told me he he wasn't sure he could keep pace with me, but I seriously tried to keep the pace sane. The going up the road was easy as it was packed down from yesterday's skiers. A few times the guy in front of us took short cuts, and a few times we followed. We caught him just before reaching Skyline Lake where we chatted with a couple who had spent the night up there. It took us 40 minutes to reach the lake. We heard the other skier mention he was headed to the other side of the lake to wake up his friend who spent the night.

Dan and I crossed the lake and headed up the other side. We had a few navigational issues, but finally found ourselves on the saddle looking at chute to descend. The snow had been getting deeper as we got higher and we were now standing in a fair amount of powder on top of the crust from this weeks rain. There were no signs of instability and I let Dan take the first run as I thought there might be a cliff or something in the chute. There wasn't and soon we were navigating our way through the trees to a more level area in the valley. The run started as nice powder, but on stronger turns and lower down the crust was encountered. It would throw you off a bit but nothing significant.

At the top of the run we eyed the open upper slopes of Tye Peak. When we finished our first run we attempted to find a skin track from Saturday that lead over in that direction. We did, and soon we were making our own track up the side of the mountain. Dan took over as we gained the ridge and crossed through a section of hard wind packed snow to our top out point, a patch of trees. This run was great with nice powder for most of the run with a few spots where we hit crust lower down. It was 11:30am, and we decided to have lunch before taking another run down Tye Peak.

Now that we had our track in, the skin up went even quicker. We opted to stop a little lower as we wanted a run further to skier's right and going up to the top of our first run would put us too far left. We transitioned as a lone skier passed us thanking us for the skin track. Then we had another great powder run down to the meadow before transitioning to skinning again.

Unfortunately we couldn't find a good up track and put one in ourselves for a bit. (More of a rising traverse actually.) This didn't go smoothly until we finally got under the boulder field and near our first run tracks. Then we located a skin track and followed it back to the saddle. A skin on run down to the lake and a skin back across the lake brought us to our last transition. We made quick time down the luge run and cut out down the open slopes a bit before returning to the road to speed out. Plenty of moving obstacles coming up and down the trail to avoid. We made it back to the car before 2pm to head back to Seattle.

Dan said this was his best day out this season and was really happy I convinced him to go. The runs were great, and we had first runs off the backside of the ridge, allowing us first turns on Tye Peak as well. By the time we were headed out Heather Ridge was fairly tracked out, with a few good pockets remaining.

My pics are here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

DIY Leashless Umbilicals

I sold off my old ice tools for newer ones. I got Petzl Quarks as I wanted a tool that had leashes but could go leashless and I found I enjoyed the swing better than other tools on the market that fit the bill. I had not climbed leashless, so I wanted to start on them with leashes. That idea didn't last as the first time I went out this season I kept the leashes in my pack. I found climbing without leashes to be such a release. Now ice climbing is more like rock climbing. I can shake out easily and placing screws is just as easy. Even yesterday while climbing it made some mixed type moves much easier to do where I used a branch as a hold on a climb. This is not easily doable with leashes if only for the mental concept of the tool being attached to you person.

So after my first true leashless experience back in November I knew I needed to make umbilicals for my tools in the event I do a multi pitch route with them. I started with the information on AAI's blog to make my own.

Their version calls for a swivel, which I don't feel I need. I am not doing anything fancy like switching and matching at this point to make that a needed part of the umbilical. Removing the swivel keeps weight and price down when making your own too, so that was also a concern of mine. Speaking of which, it was about five dollars for the 1/2" tubular webbing and 1/8" shock cord both in twelve foot lengths. Adding a swivel probably jacks the price up to $10. (Still much cheaper than a $45 one from Black Diamond.) I followed the instructions they had and used bailing wire to snake the shock cord through the webbing which made it easy.

However, the instructions that are provided incorporate the length of the swivel into the system. Upon completing mine I found it too short for the way I wished to use it. So I added a loop of webbing to extend it and hopefully use it to girth hitch to my harness. It turned out to be still a touch short, so I now clip my extension loop onto a biner on my harness. If you are planning on doing this yourself, test often. I think the only sure test before cutting is to try it on with a harness and take some swings. Make sure to take a few to the side as well. If you are tall like me and don't plan on adding the swivel, the full 12' would be a good starting point. Since I have Quarks, I made small loops of 4mm cord to clip climbing carabiners into to loops.

Having climbed on the umbilicals once, I can say most of the time I do not notice they are there. However, there were a few occasions where they hooked on screw heads or icicles. But I'd believe with practice that those events should diminish.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Alpental Falls - 01.04.11

Finally weather, schedule and partners cooperated for ice this season. We had been experiencing high pressure, and the temps did not rise above 20° at Alpental for nearly five days. Surely there had to be ice.

Adam and I had a casual start and arrived in the Alpental parking lot before nine. We donned snowshoes and headed up to the falls. Upon scoping out our options, we once again went to Alpental IV, or the farthest on the left in the clearing. Adam took his snowshoes off for the last bit before we geared up and found himself wallowing. I didn't fare too much better on snowshoes, but mostly because I didn't have a balancing tool out, like a trekking pole. Last winter this lower tier was never climbable. This time I was going to give it a go.

We geared up and I headed off on the lead. I was slow, concerned with the running water behind much of the ice. Surprisingly, the ice took screws well and I even tied off a tree branch at one point. Then I stalled for a while trying to figure out how to proceed. It seems some bit of ice had come off and now there was a window with a thin pane of ice to the running water. I needed to not be brutish around it and contemplated going left of it on a steeper bit, or going around right on lower angle terrain that had plenty of water behind it. After exploring both options, I finally decided on the left steeper bit. The climbing was a bit easier than I expected it to be once I committed to it. Due to the snowy top, I used my left hand to grab a few branches on the way over. Once over this short section the going was fairly easy on lower angle ice with water behind it. Then I got into snow and exited the falls to a tree to belay. I brought Adam up.

We eyed the remaining portion of the climb and decided that it did not look fat enough for us to continue. We scouted around in the woods for something to climb and saw a few items, but I really didn't feel like breaking the rope out again for 25' of ice. So we checked the next gully. That didn't pan out and we started to head back to our packs. On the way we passed the ice we climbed back in November. It was fatter still, and I gave it a go on lead. The climbing was alright, with a bit of a sketchy top out. After I brought Adam up we returned to the packs.

We ate lunch and chatted with another party who were packing up after having climbed Alpental III. They seemed to have a good time and we decided to get on it. The sun came out for a bit and one of the fellows leaving warned of high temps. But his buddy dismissed him saying he was from Alaska. Having checked the telemetry when I got home, the air temp never rose above 28°, but I'm sure it was a bit warmer in the sun. That gave me pause to leading it, but once I got on the lower section, the ice felt more secure than the first route of the day, and I kept going.

After the initial steeper section was a scary unprotectable slab with less than a 2" thick sheet of ice over the rock. I high dagger tip toed up the slab and stopped at a convenient tree to belay Adam up. When he arrived he asked me what I thought about the next section. I told him I'd have to be at the base to get a feel for it. Just because I see running water behind ice doesn't mean I automatically can't trust it. I like to tap and poke it a bit before I make a decision. Adam thought there was an easy bypass on the right of the main fall. He offered to lead up and we would top rope the ice. After going about a body length or more up and not finding any protection, Adam came back to the tree. We swapped leads, and I went to check out the ice.

While there was considerable water running behind the ice, it was thick and fairly solid (for Washington ice.) I poked at it a bit, and scouted a route. I wanted to stay where the ice was thicker, and where there were some ledge type features to ease my lead. I took a few swings and really liked how they stuck. I told Adam I was going for it. I sunk a 19cm screw and was on my way. A bit higher I placed another screw and was even able to get another in a little higher. Then I was struck with a decision. Climbing left of my position meant steeper ice with some good ledges, but more tricky protection. Climbing right meant thinner ice at a lower angle closer to the main flow of water under the ice. Since I seem to prefer less steep to steep, I opted to go right. At the last great stance I contemplated the terrain above me. Adam suggested sinking a screw. I didn't think one would go, but I pulled out a 13cm and sank it. I clipped it and cruised upward.

Adam said I climbed the last bit better than the earlier part. He found it funny as he thought that was the more difficult section. I guess I just focused for that section and felt good about the screw I placed. After Adam reached me he offered to lower me and for me to top rope the section again. He lowered me, and then I took the steeper line to the left which was also enjoyable. I cruised the whole portion a lot quicker and felt good to finally be on top rope.

Adam lowered me to the packs, and set about doing two rappels to get back to the ground. It was around 3:30 and the sun had gone behind the clouds making the air noticeably cooler. At the packs we packed up and took the ten minute hike back to the car.

This was a nice outing to get in before the temps warmed up the rest of the week. Hopefully some ice will remain. Otherwise it will be skiing for the rest of the winter.

My pics are here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Nordic - 12.31.10-01.01.11

We planned on a weekend of track skiing this weekend as Jennifer was told not to do the Polar Bear Plunge by the doctor. A bummer, because it was actually cold out on New Year's Day.

I went out Friday with Sabrina and Anne to help Anne learn to ski. She told me she watched a lot of videos on YouTube and then tried it for the first time last week. Sabrina and I tried to help her by imparting the knowledge we had to give her a better time.

We went out to Cabin Creek. I'm not sure how cold it was there, but it was 20° in Seattle when we left in the morning. I ended up wearing my puffy coat for most of the time out only taking it off for a few of the longer uphills. (And then promptly freezing on the downhills that followed.)

Anne learning to snowplow under beautiful skies

We did the normal full course without the Mount Ozibaldy loop. We got there a little after 9am and appeared to have the place to ourselves. That allowed us to stop frequently and give Anne pointers and instruction at the tops and bottoms of all the hills. Near the end of our loop we started to notice a few people.

Now it was crowded. Sabrina and I talked Anne into another short lap and then we went back to the car. Anne seemed satisfied with the day and Sabrina and I were impressed with her improvement being on skis for only the second time.

Sabrina and Anne coming up a hill

On New Year's Day Amy and Jennifer were joining us and we were heading to the flat Hyak Sno Park. Our day started well enough and Sabrina and I raced ahead trying different techniques to acquire speed. We stopped as I warmed up so I could remove my puffy coat.

While we waited for Amy and Jennifer to catch up we practiced standing (kick?) turns. Shortly after starting up again I almost fell when my ski came off. A woman skating by stated something like "what a freak accident." Everyone caught up to me and asked what was up. I told them my ski came off. But when I went to put it back on I realized the binding was missing a piece. We spent about ten minutes looking for it before Sabrina found it already buried in the snow in the bottom of the track. I attempted to repair the binding, but realized that I couldn't and resolved to walking back to the parking lot. Jennifer and I parted ways with the rest of our party, but not before Sabrina gave me the advice of standing on the ski with the broken binding.

Jennifer and I skied back to the parking lot. At first I just shuffled my feet not wanting to have the ski and my foot separate. Then I started varying my technique between a left foot kick and double pole glide and a shorter stride where kicking with my right foot meant pressing down on the ski to keep my foot in contact with it. At one point I was doing so well I had wished I continued further. But passing was quite difficult as I realized when I got near the parking lot and had to wait for a young boy who kept falling. Trying to pass would have meant stepping out of the lane, picking up my ski and then running past the person in front of me far enough to get back in the track and sort myself out. Hopefully this does not put an end to my Nordic season.

Happy New Year!