Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cheating Death: An Avy Report from Coalpit

It was a fantastic day, until we almost died

It might sound cliche or overdramatic, but I really feel like I could have died today. Considering the circumstances, I think my odds of survival were low. Like really low.

Jake and I headed out from white pine at 7:30 sans everyone else due to tardiness(steve,nick) and sleep deprivation(court) and I think we just forgot to invite Pete. Regardless, we skied up to the summit of the Obelisk where we found gale force winds and hard snow. Luckily the turns got way better down in Hogum 200 and we skied to the base of the Hypodermic Needle apron.

We both felt a little lazy but we both wanted to ski Coalpit Headwall pretty bad. We thought it should be pretty good from the previous storm and not sun affected. We skinned up the apron and hit the ridge around 11:30. We booted up to our entry point which was just below the summit on the east part of the headwall.
Really windy on the coalpit headwall ridge

Cool cornice

I dropped in first and did 2 fat ski cuts across the face, jumping pretty hard on the slope to test it out. We had skied the Hogum 200 just an hour earlier and it had looked quite similar to this line in nature, wind blown snow. Feeling OK about it, I skied down the line a few more turns and tried to get out of the way so Jake could come down.

Coalpit Headwall via the interweb. our line was far left

Jake ski cut the exact same line as me, and WHUMP! the whole thing slid. I yelled AVY! and pointed my skis downhill(why I'm not sure) and was immediately caught in the slide. I proceeded to get carried all the way down the headwall onto the apron below, getting tumbled around but mostly staying "afloat". There was one really scary part(the whole thing was scary) where I got turned upside down and couldn't breath for what felt like 10 minutes(likely 3 seconds) but then I reemerged on top as I violently tried to swim.

The avy came to a halt and I found myself on top unscathed, minus lacking my skis and poles. I immediately yelled up to Jake(way up there) that I was OK. He saw me and proceeded to ski down. He had gotten caught as well, but luckily had been able to self arrest on whippets and not get carried too far. We both were extremely happy at first to be alive, then as reality set in that we weren't dead I think we both became very angry. Angry at ourselves, the mountains, the snow, the whole situation.

After the fact. I slid from way up there at the top till where I am taking this photo

So scary

I found one pole, but my skis were gone. Jake skied down next to me as I booted my way down Coalpit. We navigated the small downclimb and made it back to the car happy to be alive. Jake said the F word quite  a bit. I'm not a fan of swearing, but I too used some language I'm not proud of. This ends my skiing season, one because I almost died, and two my skis are buried who knows where.

The next question is, "do you give it up?" Does a near death experience like this make you quit?

Backcountry skiing has become a ridiculously fun activity for me this year. I had dabbled in it before, but this year has by far been my biggest ski year yet. With two base jumping deaths in the last week, I had already been reflecting on the risks of the sports we pursue. I felt quite sad and angry at Sean Leary for doing such a stupid sport like Base Jumping and leaving behind a wife and unborn child. Now it seems like I am the stupid one, participating in a sport where the objective hazards can be high and I have a wife and unborn child.

 I refuse to be the guy who leaves behind his family because he insists on skiing.

I refuse to die young.

I refuse to make the news as another avalanche death and give the non-skiers another reason to criticize us "adrenaline junkies".

I think the mantra, "he died doing what he loved" is garbage. If we think life isn't worth living without backcountry skiing, base jumping, paragliding, etc. then I think our priorities are mixed up. It is imperative that if we decide to participate in these dangerous sports, that we don't give ourselves 1:100 odds of dying. Those aren't good odds for people who ski 100 days a year/two years/three years. I need 1:1,000,000 odds.

 I don't want to give up skiing. But I certainly had a wakeup call today.

My life would still be fantastic without skiing should I give it up. I have running, climbing, biking, and of course family. Maybe I'll consign myself to skiing Beartrap Fork trees forever, but somehow I don't think that's gonna happen. I certainly won't ski the resorts, that's for sure. Some might say I am overreacting, that avalanches happen all the time, but until you have felt that petrified feeling of being trapped under cement hard snow and you feel like you are going to die, don't talk to me about overreacting.

If you head up Coalpit before me in the summer and find my Dynafit Manaslu skis, I'd love to have them returned. Maybe I'll use them again. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Big East

Great view of Dromedary and Sunrise from East Twin. 

The Big East conference had a decent representation this year in the NCAA tournament. I picked #2 seed Villanova to win the tournament, which was obviously a stupid choice since they lost last night in the round of 32. What a garbage fire my bracket has become.

Regardless, Court, Nick, Jake and I set out to ski a few lines in Broads Fork on Saturday, the big one being the East Face of Twin Peaks. We started up Tanners at 7 am in a blizzard, which quickly dissipated 15 minutes later, and 3 of us topped out around 9 at the Drom/Sunrise saddle to bright sunshine looking down in to BCC. I had attempted to get a head start from the car since I never seem to handle the technical skinning very fast but still managed to get passed by Court halfway up.
Looking down Tanners. All the west facing stuff had huge avy debris. 

Looking up to the top of Tanners 

Court enjoying his 3rd outing of the week

Nick wasn't feeling super hot and was an hour behind us, so we unanimously decided to ditch him(he understands) and skied down the North couloir of  Dromedary opposite Tanners down into Broads. We then decided to boot straight up the East Face rather than take the southeast ridge since it seemed more efficient.

Jake enjoying some soft snow off Drom

Jake with the Big East behind

95% of the time when someone is out front breaking trail, its Court. 0% of the time, its Jake

Great skinning conditions and shadows

Court setting the booter up East Twin

We topped out on East Twin around 1030, and enjoyed another winter summit. The East Face skied really well, and the aprons were outstanding.

Court on upper East Face
Lower East Face fun
Court practices his Karate to get him through the tight stuff
Yee Ha! Thats what Steve would have yelled if he was here. We did it for him

Jake bailed down Broads to get back to the wife and Court and I booted and skied the North couloir of Sunrise making for another 3 line day. Its becoming a trend in my outdoor excursions to do triples. No longer is one couloir, tower, or peak enough.
N. Couloir of Sunrise. Another gooder
Lots of squiggles from us and others throughout the week. Our two couloirs are center
Nick went up and over to ski Tanners since he really wanted to tick that one off(I did not envy his ski conditions we found on the way up) and Court and I skied out Broads. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be though I did tomahawk over a log in the thick woods trying to avoid the death pizza pie skintrack. Skiing dirt and ice led to hiking out and hoping not to garage sale on the ice. We hitchhiked down and grabbed some hot dogs at 7-11 whereupon Court was chastised for wearing his ski boots inside by what appeared to be a 16 year old 4'11" girl with the title "shift manager" on her name tag. Guess we didn't read the "obvious sign" on the front door.

Annie and I hiked Mt. Wire that afternoon, creating a 8k' day. I was very happy with that. Then I read Sherpita did 15k on Timp and I just got depressed.

Congrats to Stevo for finishing his 3rd Buffalo 50 in a PR 8 hours, and Pete for finishing his first 50 miler in whatever time he did it in.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Otto's Long Dong and Medicine Man

Independence Monument, the jewel of the park 

Desert towers become somewhat of an addiction after having summited a few. Just ask Steve "Crusher" Bartlett who compiled a book full of them ironically entitled, "Desert Towers", and who has topped out on well over 100+. They range from classic crack routes like Fine Jade(loved that one) to obscure aid nightmares like Death of American Democracy(have not nor ever will do this one). Most of the time towers require a unique blend of skills you may not have developed at your neighborhood gym. Squeeze chimneys, sandy rock, poor anchors, runout face climbing, offwidth, complex routefinding, and a large quantity of cams and adventure usually accompany such climbing. After months without a desert tower summit, depression starts to set in despite what cool ski lines have been tagged during the winter months.

Annie and I, joined by Court, Pete, and the Lindsays, set out to explore Colorado National Monument, a more off the radar tower destination with nearby Moab being the epicenter. Court and I set out to climb 3 towers in one day, which would be a new record for us mortals. The towers and routes in order were:

1. Medicine Man on the Sentinel, 4 pitches, 12b
2. Long Dong Wall on Kissing Couple, 5 pitches, 11a
3. Ottos route on Independence Monument, 4 pitches, 5.8

Tower 1. Sentinel Spire. Medicine Man goes straight up the face

We rapped in off a tree near the Book Cliffs Viewpoint and hiked down to the base of tower 1.

The big daddy was Medicine Man, with two 5.10 pitches, one 11+ pitch, and one 5.12 pitch. I led the first fun 5.10 pitch which was funky juggy face climbing to a nice handcrack. Court took the 11+ 2nd pitch which involved hard .75 liebacking to a flared chimney thing, to a finger bulge. He almost sent but slipped out near the top. I took the 12b thin hands pitch which sucked up 6 reds, 1 yellow, and 1 blue cam. It was sustained and strenuous, but overall a 5 star pitch. Unfortunately I could not enjoy my onsight afterward since my mental strength is that of a tortured war prisoner and I proceeded to have a hyperventilation meltdown. It was kind of scary, but after a few minutes I was able to relax. Court followed clean and sent the next pitch in good style despite another tricky roof traverse with fingers above.

Pitch 1, fun hand crack

Pitch 2, hard .75 liebacking to chimney flare thing

The "best thin hands splitter in the desert". Excuse Station and Pente got nothin on this pitch
Fun 4th pitch. Funky fingers and hands

We met Pete and Steve on top who had climbed the 5.10 Fast Draw on the North Face. We rapped and headed over to Kissing Couple while Pete and Steve jugged out to retrieve Steve's family.
The boys on the summit!

Steve and Pete on Fast Draw

Tower 2. Kissing Couple

Annie met up with us for Long Dong Wall on Kissing Couple. Court sent the sustained pitch 1 with fingers to hands to a hard face traverse we all aided through. I took pitch 2, a fun easy chimney. Pitch 3 was a chossy 4th class pitch. Court did pitch 4, supposably "the best 5.8 pitch in the desert". I contend the first pitch of North Chimney on Castleton is far better, but it was pretty wild chimneying up between the gash in the towers. The final pitch was one of the weirder ones I've ever led. Hard 5.10 slopey face climbing with tons of bird crap everywhere proceeded stemming up between the two towers to a final mantle through a hole to the top. It was one of the more memorable pitches I've done in the desert.

Court following Pitch 2 
fun chimney on pitch 2

Court leading Pitch 4, heading up between the towers

See all that white stuff? Thats bird crap. Annie traversing across the fat ledge covered in it. 
Squeezing up through the hole onto the top
Me congratulating  my 6 month pregnant wife on summitting another tower

We rapped and raced over to Independence Monument to do what is likely the most popular desert tower route in the country, Castleton included. This thing has got to get climbed 500+ times a year, with likely 20+ ascents on July 4th alone. The history behind the route is interesting as the FA predates(1911) any kind of ethical issues associated with modern climbing like cutting holds, hammering in pitons, and full on rebar Half Dome style to ascend the rock. Good Ol' Otto was ahead of his time back in the day, but would now be shunned violently if he employed those methods today.

Basically we followed a pretty easy and manufactured route to the summit, with a short OW section and the final drilled pocket topout being the highlights. We rapped just as the sun was setting and enjoyed a long hike back out to the car in the dark.
Pete enjoying the OW section of Otto's

Annie on top of Independence as the sun sets
Everyone summited at least one tower with most summiting two!
Anna: only 3 years old, not quite ready for towers yet
Izzy: Ottos route
Pete/Steve: Sentinel/Otto's
Annie: Kissing Couple/Otto's
Spence/Court: Sentinel/Kissing Couple/Ottos

Saturday half of us ran a nice 13 mile run from the VC up along the Black Hills trail and then continued onto the Liberty Cap trail, which was fun but not very scenic until the final switchbacks down from Liberty Cap to the Wildwood TH. A much better run would be in the canyon proper but we had seen most of that the day before. It was really cold and windy, so we decided to head home early. Another fun weekend courtesy of the NPS.

Court enjoying some nice trail 

Izzy has become a regular crusher runner 

The best section of the Liberty Cap trail

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Skiing the Bird(not the one you think)

Great sky from the top of Maybird

"The Bird" is the abbreviation most skiers from around SLC use to describe Snowbird(as in, lets go shred the Bird!), the world class resort located up LCC. We skied "the Bird" yesterday, but one of a different character. Rather than high speed quads, thousands of skiers, groomers, and overpriced restaurants, this "bird" contained a beach of uncovered rocks, chest high graupel, a whole lot of exertion, and some of the best couloir skiing we've had all year.

In a canyon full of 5 star couloirs, Maybird is just that, another 5 star couloir. In my opinion, the "Big 5" of south facing couloirs in LCC are, top to bottom,
1. Little Pine
2. White Pine
3. Tanners
4. Maybird
5. Lisa Falls

This would be our 3rd of the 5 this year.

 Jake, Court and I started up the boney and somewhat technical skinning entrance due to low coverage. The snow had the consistency of sugar, with every flavor of "dippin dots" imaginable as we like to refer to the graupel. It was fairly miserable to skin in as it was totally unsupportable. Booting was no better. Somehow the 7" of newly fallen snow had turned into 3 feet of loose confetti.

Skinning through rocks into the rocky maw ahead

Finally some decent coverage

It was hard to keep your head down when this was behind you

We pressed onward, but were making poor time. Jake called it quits about 7 pm, 3/4 of the way up, due to ensuing darkness and a crappy headlamp, but Court and I punched it to the ridge, arriving at 7:35. The lighting was fantastic but we didn't take too much time to stop and enjoy it as we were stoked to ride the great snow below us before the sun completely disappeared. And it was good. Really good. We cranked out as many powder turns as we could handle before quad failure ensued. I managed to ski out all the way to the car, which boosted both my pride and my ptex needs.
Jake calling it a day as the light gets thinner

Getting ready for the goods

Pretty stinkin good

Blurry, but its just another skiing photo

Another great after work adventure!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Le Tour de Couloir

The massive East Face of Lone Peak. Yes, we skied it. 

By far the best week of skiing I've ever had. After tagging the 2 lines on Kessler Wednesday(previous post), I decided to see if I could tick off another line on my hit list Friday after work before our big day Saturday. With no partners materializing, I decided to go ski Scotties Bowl, not a major line but one I hadn't done. But upon arriving at White Pine and seeing 40 tracks down it, and the 4 star Little Pine beckoning across the street, it didn't take much to convince myself I should go tick that one solo.

I walked across the street and found Court's skin track from last week(he promptly ditched me despite my pleading not to) heading up and left toward the colouir. Old avy debris and soft sugar were the norm down low, and visibility gradually diminished to 100 yards. I had planned on about 2 hours of hiking before turning around due to darkness, and with the 6 o'clock hour fast approaching and not being able to see the top, I booted onwards knowing I had to reach the top or it wouldn't count. Luckily 5 minutes before 6pm I found myself with nowhere else to go except down into Lake Blanche. Sweet.

Lower Little Pine. Yes, it is good. 

Upper Little Pine with clouds rolling in and some old avi debris
Ridge photo proving I made it to the top
Enjoyed quality 6" of "dust on crust" turns at the top, and some mixed bag conditions down low. 2:20 ctc. So stoked to have ticked this one off finally. If there were a foot of pow in this thing I'm not sure I would ever leave.

The top choke. I'll give you one guess what I did here, and it didn't involve turning

I almost felt gyped since there wasn't any bushwacking on this adventure, but luckily the bushes at the road came through

If you can't find this line, you don't deserve to be skiing it

Saturday Court and I had big plans. Our motto was, "if you're going to ski up Bells Canyon, you'd better make it worth it." Aka, make yourself really tired by skiing a bunch since its kinda a slog.

Our agenda for the day was:
1. The Notch
2. NE couloir of Lone Peak
3. North couloir of Bells Cleaver

We started hiking up from the Granite TH at 7:15 with skis on our backs. The Bells trail was about as icy as the Sochi Boblsed course. We stashed our shoes across from Middle Bell and began skinning the slog up into Upper Bells. To be honest I think we had psyched ourselves out too much on how painful it would be, so the hike up to the actual lines wasn't bad. We stayed high right and managed just fine.

We kept saying, "its like magic", and it was. Bluebird, soft snow, and solitude

We spotted the obvious line known simply as "the Notch", which is the low point of the lone peak ridgeline that separates Bells from Big Willow. Steve and I used it on our failed 3 peak linkup last summer. I took my turn by skinning/booting the line up the Notch. It was fantastic skiing and we were hooting the whole way down.
The Notch with our ski tracks

I got first turns on this one, and here is Court loving 2nd tracks

Next up was the NE couloir. This one is just upcanyon from the Notch and is a very intimidating line. We found the bottom, and Court took his turn booting this one. We topped out just below the South Summit of Lone in about an hour and were pretty nervous to ski it as the line is dang steep. Nevertheless it was the highlight of my ski life. The position, quality of turns, steepness, and scenery made this a 10 star route in my book.

Our tracks out the bottom of the NE couloir

The line
Court following the booter

Wild Terrain on the East Face
First turns off the south summit
Look at Bighorn! Cool clouds/spindrift
Hop turn, hop turn, don't tumble. 
Short low coverage rocky section at the bottom

Soft apron 

We whooped and yelled our way down the soft apron to the bottom where we took a lunch break and admired our tracks on the amazing line.

We were getting tired by this point, but Court pushed us up the Bells Cleaver after I had a short meltdown when my skis kept popping off as I slid down the slushy west facing sidehills we were skinning up. Katy Perry calmed me down. We more or less summited the peak and looked down into our last couloir of the day. It looked as good as any of the other two. Court went first and we skied still more soft powder turns out onto the apron, convinced we were in heaven despite dehydration headaches, fatigue, and massive sunburns.

Bells Cleaver on the approach. Our line is the snowfield on the far left of the peak
Ridiculously cool couloir
Court can't believe he isn't dreaming
Our 3rd apron skiing of the day
Bout as good as it gets my friends

The ski out Bells was filled with soft pillows, great powder tree turns, and finally some crusty "save yourself" terrain back to our shoes. We slid down the bobsled with Court eating it quite hard once. We received many a confused blank stare hiking down Bells with our skis on, but only Court and I knew what miracles we had witnessed higher. 10 hours and 8k' of skiing done, we arrived back at LCC. Its no Hulk Hogum, but its good enough for us.

Court made the painstaking 2 minute drive back to his house and Panda express and some NCAA basketball rounded out the night for me. Failed to remember daylights savings time and made it to church an hour late looking like burnt fried chicken.

 Hope everyone who was busy running(Steve) or exploring crappy rock climbing areas(Jake) or taking some test to help children(Pete) or skiing a lame resort(Nick) or living in California(Nate) or anyone else I know felt good about not coming along cause you missed out!