A transition from spring to summer and something very different.
Participation and updates on the website have been few and far between. I apologize for not being better at keeping things up to date and will do more as the summer heats up. This is a bit late but I am keeping it in sequence.
I have had some excellent training and even a little racing. This season, I wanted to do things a bit differently on my racing calendar. The past couple seasons I have raced the XTERRA Pro Points Series and while the series is fantastic, it involves mostly early season races and a lot of travel. Everyone knows I really enjoy the ski season. With three of the four XTERRA point’s series races taking place in April, May and June it requires a significant triathlon focus throughout much of the ski season. I also kind of wanted to something different; don’t get me wrong, I love XTERRA and I think it is a fantastic event, but I wanted to push myself in new ways.
At 35 years old and in pretty good shape, I wanted to get back to my roots in the mountains. This meant some races but also just a few adventures that get me outside doing cool stuff. When the opportunity in May to join the “Live to Ski” camp with Exum came up, I couldn’t pass it up. This was a four day teaching camp had the objective to ski some big lines in Grand Teton National Park. The camp was in memory of avid ski mountaineer and Jackson resident, Steve Romeo. You can still check out his website www.tetonat.com which documents many classic ski mountaineering lines in the Tetons and Wind River Range.
The group was comprised of some amazing mountaineers from Colorado, Wyoming and Utah; I was there representing the 208! We would also be with the boys from Exum and together we would have a strong crew. Ski magazine was doing an article for a November publication and I was a bit nervous about how my abilities would match with the group. I have a lifetime’s experience in the mountains, but this was a strong group of folks who ski 100 plus days a year and while I had a good number of ski days under my belt this season, we have had a low snow year and bike season really kicked off about mid March. I was pretty sure I’d be fit enough to at least not hold the group back and I was hoping that would be good enough.
The weather forecast the week before the trip didn’t look too promising; there was a chance for storms, clouds and variable temps that might not produce a strong melt/freeze cycle. In order to have good spring, corn skiing conditions, it is important to have a good melt/freeze cycle. This is usually occurs in the spring when there is a nice high pressure system producing colder, clear nights with sunny, warmer days.
Much to our luck, Boise’s own channel 7 meteorologist Larry Gebert must have been subbing in for the National Weather Service that week doing forecasts because they couldn’t have been more wrong. We had spectacular weather with a perfect melt/freeze cycle and this would setup for some excellent spring climbing and skiing conditions.
Day one would bring a 5 am start with the goal of heading up Garnet Canyon to check out some lines to ski. I have skied, hiked and climbed in this area many times and for folks who have never been there, it provides a 360 degree view of many of the high peaks in the range and with relatively direct access to the Lower Saddle, it is the traditional route when approaching the Grand Teton. Towering over the meadow is the Middle Teton and it is well worth the hike if you have never been there.
There are a lifetime of high peak skiing opportunities from the meadows in Garnet Canyon and after moving quickly up the lower parts of the canyon we were looking to ski the 12,000foot NE Face of Spalding Peak. Located along the ridge of Cloudveil Dome and The Ice Cream Cone, Spalding involves a straightforward climb with an axe and crampons, but no need for a rope. It would offer up long NE face with a tricky 60 degree section near the summit directly above a small set of cliff bands.
The camp’s goal was to practice and develop a variety of ski mountaineering techniques. We would be working on setting up ski belays, anchor systems, and other ways to add an additional layer of safety while skiing/climbing in steep exposed terrain. From the top of Spalding Peak, it was decided that we would belay a short pitch before skiing down from the summit. I believe everyone in the group was completely capable of free skiing the line but this would be excellent practice and with an extremely 60 degree section with a small band of rocks below, being on the rope would give everyone a prudent back up. The group skied great and after the belay section was complete, we enjoyed a few thousand feet of quad-burning corn skiing back to the meadows. Car to car, the entire mission was 8 hours and I felt like I had done a race. It was back to have dinner with my father and grandma at the house and then we would rinse and repeat the next day.
The second day offered up a slightly later start at 7am starting at the Death Canyon trailhead. The goal was to climb and ski the NE couloir on Albright Peak. After a long mission the day before, it would be interesting to see how things were moving in the morning. Surprisingly I felt great and with running shoes on the feet and skis on the back we began hiking and bushwacking up the lower slopes of Whimpy’s. Once we hit consistent snow, skis and boots were on and we skinned quickly to the summit. Looking down the NE face of Albright, we could see that the nearest couloir would provide a challenging but exciting line. I have skied Albright maybe half a dozen times, but always via the traditional East face. This line was a little heavier and you get a great look at this couloir from the top of Whimpy’s. With a large cornice, a steep 60 plus degree entry and secondary exposure cliff band below, this would require a rappel with skis on, two ski belays and a healthy amount of focus.
After some assessment of the snow conditions and the best way to drop into this line, we built a “bollard anchor” in the snow and proceeded to rappel over the cornice from just off the summit. A couple of Exums’ best and general badass mountain men Nat Patridge and Zahan Billimoria “Z” took the lead by dropping in first. I was third and the plan was to finish the rappel, set an anchor and set up a belay rotation to ski the rest of the line. With guidance from Z, I belayed Nat as he skied and we leap- frogged in this fashion until around the exposed terrain. After a quick skin back to the saddle between Whimpy’s and Albright, we skied good spring snow all the way down the East face. Simply put, it was an incredible day and I was impressed with how well the group worked together.
The final two days of the trip would involve an objective to ski the 11,938 foot Buck Mountain. If you are familiar with the Teton Range, Buck is the tallest peak in the Southern portion of the range and it is distinctly noticeable from the valley. The mountain was also the first of the high peaks in the range to be skied in 1961 by Barry Corbet and it provides one of the classic ski mountaineering descents in the range. I had once attempted to ski the mountain a few years ago, but was turned back because of less than ideal conditions. It appeared we would have perfect conditions and we made our way from the Death Canyon trail head up Static Draw and ultimately to our campsite for the night at Timberline lake at just about 10,000 feet.
The traditional route to climb and ski Buck is up the East face which provides a relatively straightforward route to the summit. I had done this route just this past fall with Kellie, my sister and buddies Koby and Frank. In order to get a more technical mountaineering experience, it was decided that we would climb the much more technical East Ridge of the mountain. On a short rope system, Trey Sharp, myself and Aaron Dahill made our way quickly up the ridge. From the photos you can see that there were several very exposed sections with an 800 foot cliff band leading into the East face of the Mountain and a thousand foot drop off the North aspect into Avalanche Canyon. Aaron Dahill took the lead and made the technical sections look effortless. Our crew of three moved very quickly and made it to the summit in good time.
After taking some time on the summit to eat, we were ready for a few thousand feet of pay. With a 6am start from camp, we had nailed the timing and we had perfect corn conditions which added to an already amazing day. The East face provides a nice 45 degree pitch with a rollover section that certainly gets your attention given it is underlined by an 800 foot cliff band at the convex below us. We were not dealing with the level of secondary exposure that we had faced in the couloir off Albright but it has been documented that several skiers have fallen and gone for a significant ride down this face, but, luckily, nobody to my knowledge has been swept over the cliffs. We certainly didn’t want to be the first so taking turns, we free skied with caution down the face and made our way back to camp.
It was really refreshing to get out and test myself in this way. I feel like our training and racing is sometimes solely ego driven and the result of each race or workout is largely focus on an individual’s performance. This trip was completely different as it was a team all working together to accomplish a goal; there was also something invigorating about using my fitness for something other than racing. I am not sure the exact hours we were in the mountains or the amount of total vertical but it was a healthy dose over the 4 days. Most of it involved carrying a fairly heavy pack including climbing gear at altitude and the pace was never slow. While I have done plenty of ski mountaineering, it was never to this level and daily consistency. I am not saying that we should scrap our race seasons, but I do think it is important to get out and test yourself in different ways away from the race course or local training group. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and I guarantee it will help you both mentally and physically. I try to do this several times a year and I think it makes a big difference. It was an unbelievable trip and I got to be up in the mountains with some incredible athletes and I am proud to have been a part of it. My hat goes off to the guys at Exum; such a pro group and an incredible way to expand valuable mountain skills.
“Live to Ski!”