Heli Free Sawatch

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Sharks Tooth Trip Report
A couple of months ago, I decided to get (back) into rock climbing.  It seems like a good way to get outside when there’s no water, and I like the idea of practicing up on all those skills you need for big mountains. The weeknights at the crag have been going well, and Boomtown, Baxter, and I decided to gte after a more serious climb on Saturday, June 9th.  
 We left Denver at 3:45 and were hiking a bit before 6:00am.  The first difficult part of this expedition was the nearly four hour approach.  It involved lots of talus-scrambling and some snow climbing.  I left the two ice axes I was supposed to bring in my basement, but Boom brought his so we were able to cut steps and make our way up without too much trouble.
Eventually, we reached the base of the monster climb, changed into climbing shoes, hung a pack off a high cam to avoid it getting eaten by marmots, and started climbing.  Our intended route was the NE ridgewhich consists of about five pitches of exposed 5.6. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones with that idea, and there were several other groups in the area including one pair directly ahead of us.  They were climbing pretty slowly, but had gotten a jump on us time-wise.  
Unfortunately, that meant that we had to either climb beneath them or take another route.  We cruised up the first (long) pitch a little to the left of the standard route and had a little State Of to discuss our plans.  
While sitting on a great ledge and enjoying the view, we noticed a little plume of smoke on the horizon and wondered if it might be a fire.  This is setting up to be a rugged year for fires in Colorado so we figured there was a pretty good change that there was some burning out near Loveland.
Our choices were to either climb underneath the jokers ahead of us or go off-route into a kind of gully and hope that we could avoid too much rockfall.  The problem with gullies is that rocks tend to fall down them and the problem with climbing under other climbers is that they often knock down rocks.  We decided to cut left into the gully to avoid the group above us.   The climbing wasn’t supposed to be too difficult (if memory from the guidebook proved correct) and we thought that we might be able to pass these others and get back on-route above them.  
Several hours of fun climbing followed. It wasn’t terribly difficult, but was definitely longer than any of the regular routes.  The mental and physical aspects of this type of climbing are not to be underestimated.  Up around 12,000 ft there is noticeably thinner air, and when you start to have several hundred feet of exposure beneath you, the various protection becomes your best friend.  

That said, we did quite well for ourselves.  Our goals for the day included trying to climb more efficiently, and as a team we were slicker than snot.  Our rope management was huge, and we used a new anchor system that was both speedy and bomber. Boomerang and I both have a bunch of new gear and we were able to sew the whole climb up with cams.  We also had decent rappel anchors made up of old pitons, chockstones, and nuts sunk deep enough that they are never coming out.
Crimp Strength did all the leading so Pamola and I had plenty of time to chill and look at the scenery.  As we went higher, the smoke plume on the horizon also grew. We could see it rise up like a widening column and then blow off to the east.  The plains started to look hazy.  At one point, the bro (pictured in the top photo) looked over to us and said “hey guys, did you see that fire?” At that point the fire was pretty big, and we had been watching it for the last several hours.  I guess tunnel vision in the mountains can be bad.  It seems both counter intuitive and dangerous to be so focused on the rock that you don’t look at anything around you. The scenery is pretty incredible and you need to keep at least one weather eye open.
It was interesting to climb in a new place on different rock.  This climb had lots of moss and lichen, but the holds were solid - none of the polished slopers you run into at North Table Mesa.
The time flew by on this trip, and we didn’t end up making the summit, but we did get to relax for a few minutes on a nice spot up near the top which included some of the hairiest exposure I’ve seen.  Look forward to another TR when we go back and crush all the way to the top.
The rappel out was fun, long, and mostly uneventful.  We then scrambled, glissaded, and hiked our way back to the car, arriving at about 10pm.  As it turns out, there is only one place to get food in Estes Park that late. Baxter predicted that it would be weird, and he wasn’t mistaken.  We were too tired to talk, but it didn’t matter to the Russians bowling or the weirdo in a suit in the VIP or the stoned teenager serving us while cranking dubstep.  Very little mattered to us either and we ate up, drove home, and went directly to sleep.  

Sharks Tooth Trip Report

A couple of months ago, I decided to get (back) into rock climbing.  It seems like a good way to get outside when there’s no water, and I like the idea of practicing up on all those skills you need for big mountains. The weeknights at the crag have been going well, and Boomtown, Baxter, and I decided to gte after a more serious climb on Saturday, June 9th.  

Fearless leader Boomtown We left Denver at 3:45 and were hiking a bit before 6:00am.  The first difficult part of this expedition was the nearly four hour approach.  It involved lots of talus-scrambling and some snow climbing.  I left the two ice axes I was supposed to bring in my basement, but Boom brought his so we were able to cut steps and make our way up without too much trouble.

Eventually, we reached the base of the monster climb, changed into climbing shoes, hung a pack off a high cam to avoid it getting eaten by marmots, and started climbing.  Our intended route was the NE ridgewhich consists of about five pitches of exposed 5.6. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones with that idea, and there were several other groups in the area including one pair directly ahead of us.  They were climbing pretty slowly, but had gotten a jump on us time-wise.  

Pamola playing with ropes.Unfortunately, that meant that we had to either climb beneath them or take another route.  We cruised up the first (long) pitch a little to the left of the standard route and had a little State Of to discuss our plans.  

While sitting on a great ledge and enjoying the view, we noticed a little plume of smoke on the horizon and wondered if it might be a fire.  This is setting up to be a rugged year for fires in Colorado so we figured there was a pretty good change that there was some burning out near Loveland.

Our choices were to either climb underneath the jokers ahead of us or go off-route into a kind of gully and hope that we could avoid too much rockfall.  The problem with gullies is that rocks tend to fall down them and the problem with climbing under other climbers is that they often knock down rocks.  We decided to cut left into the gully to avoid the group above us.   The climbing wasn’t supposed to be too difficult (if memory from the guidebook proved correct) and we thought that we might be able to pass these others and get back on-route above them.  Howdy, boys!

Several hours of fun climbing followed. It wasn’t terribly difficult, but was definitely longer than any of the regular routes.  The mental and physical aspects of this type of climbing are not to be underestimated.  Up around 12,000 ft there is noticeably thinner air, and when you start to have several hundred feet of exposure beneath you, the various protection becomes your best friend.  

Leeper Z chilling hard.

That said, we did quite well for ourselves.  Our goals for the day included trying to climb more efficiently, and as a team we were slicker than snot.  Our rope management was huge, and we used a new anchor system that was both speedy and bomber. Boomerang and I both have a bunch of new gear and we were able to sew the whole climb up with cams.  We also had decent rappel anchors made up of old pitons, chockstones, and nuts sunk deep enough that they are never coming out.

Crimp Strength did all the leading so Pamola and I had plenty of time to chill and look at the scenery.  As we went higher, the smoke plume on the horizon also grew. We could see it rise up like a widening column and then blow off to the east.  The plains started to look hazy.  At one point, the bro (pictured in the top photo) looked over to us and said “hey guys, did you see that fire?” At that point the fire was pretty big, and we had been watching it for the last several hours.  I guess tunnel vision in the mountains can be bad.  It seems both counter intuitive and dangerous to be so focused on the rock that you don’t look at anything around you. The scenery is pretty incredible and you need to keep at least one weather eye open.

It was interesting to climb in a new place on different rock.  This climb had lots of moss and lichen, but the holds were solid - none of the polished slopers you run into at North Table Mesa.

The time flew by on this trip, and we didn’t end up making the summit, but we did get to relax for a few minutes on a nice spot up near the top which included some of the hairiest exposure I’ve seen.  Look forward to another TR when we go back and crush all the way to the top.

The rappel out was fun, long, and mostly uneventful.  We then scrambled, glissaded, and hiked our way back to the car, arriving at about 10pm.  As it turns out, there is only one place to get food in Estes Park that late. Baxter predicted that it would be weird, and he wasn’t mistaken.  We were too tired to talk, but it didn’t matter to the Russians bowling or the weirdo in a suit in the VIP or the stoned teenager serving us while cranking dubstep.  Very little mattered to us either and we ate up, drove home, and went directly to sleep.  Parting shot

Filed under climbing fire

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Are You That Guy Who Always Hikes Ahead of Your Friends?

Andy G. breaking trail on a deep day.  It was not fast.

I literally laughed out loud when I saw the title of this blog post. It brings up some good points, but does the problem only a glancing blow. I aim to do the same.

Personally, I was always a member of the 100-feet-or-more-behind crowd. This trait dates to my first longer forays into mountain biking in the sixth grade. I was (and continue to be) on the small side. My bigger, stronger friends were always faster. They would go ahead for a while, but were inevitably forced to stop to wait for the slow-poke to catch up. As I would come within sight the now-rested leaders would head out at breakneck speed, leaving me to continue along, tired and ever slower.

Fast forward a decade, more or less. I freaking love skiing. I ski a lot, run a lot, and have become decently fast at breaking trail or following a skin track. This means that I have gained the privilege/burden of being that guy. I’m not sure I even noticed the first time it happened, but I have reached a point where I’m strong and fast enough to crush some people I ski with.

The slow-person vs. fast-person group dynamic is not rare. No one seems to have a good way to address or solve the issue, which may be why it continues to be a problem across group-oriented outdoor sports. Mr. Semi-Rad uses a feel-good approach by waiting near the top to hike the last few hundred feet with his partner. While that is a nice thing to do, it doesn’t solve the real problem.

Anyone with experience in outdoor travel knows that a group must only travel as fast as the slowest member. (The slowest member, by the way, is not necessarily the weakest.) This helps with team dynamics by conserving weaker members’ energy and buoying their morale. Slower members can otherwise get frustrated, finding themselves an increasingly long way behind the group leaders. They then get tired, cranky, and stop having fun. It gets dangerous. Remember that we go outside to have fun.

On the other proverbial hand, charging hard and truly pushing yourself is one of the great joys of human-powered recreation. It sucks to constantly wait or to be stuck behind someone really slow when you’re cruising and just want to get there. Waiting is boring and slower folks taking their sweet time can be really frustrating. The last thing you want to do is sit around while they rest once they finally catch up.

The author of that original article refers to waiting to do the last bit of a hike/ride/skin with the slower people and recommends letting the stronger/faster people carry more gear. Those are solid suggestions, but I’m going to throw out my own recommendations as they relate to backcountry skiing. Be forewarned: I don’t know the solution to this problem and my ideas are just ideas. Maybe they’ll grow into something more.

Tina and Taiga traverse some kind of sketchy avy terrain - one at a time.

Ideas:

-Faster skiers should stop regularly, throw on a warm layer, and wait. The waiting should not stop until the whole group has had a chance to catch up and catch their breath. Just deal with it, you man-monsters. Bring a camera and try taking some pictures, dig a pit, peep some sick lines on surrounding peaks, whatever it takes.

-Use these waits efficiently with regard to avalanche safety. On the long, flat, treed sections of the trail you may be able to go in an orderly little line, but once a group is in avalanche terrain, you should start to spread out anyway. That means the fast people can go ahead, but they still need to stop and wait for the others. And for god’s sake, don’t skin above them.

-Depending on your group dynamics, consider spreading weight around. I think this is an at-your-own-risk proposition. If the faster and slower people are mature enough to carry different pack loads then it could work out, but if resentment or shoulder chips set in then try something else. Also, everyone has to carry some stuff (e.g. avy gear) personally.

-Switch it up. If there is already a skin track, or the leader doesn’t have to break trail through two feet of new powder, let the “slow” one go first. A change of perspective is good for everyone.

-Be ready to change plans. There are a plethora of reasons why you might need to change your pace.

-Sometimes you have to tour differently with different groups of people. I’m sure that Uli Steck can hike with mere mortals sometimes, and you can probably tone it down to ski with your friends too, tough guy. Save the rando race training for somebody who’s into it. You can always call me. Seriously, I’m on the front range and need ski partners this winter.

Filed under skiing skin track

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End of an Autumn

I recently dug this post out of the archives (from last week). Expect another TR later this week.

This past weekend was the last weekend in October.  It was also my first chance to get out and play in some of this year’s snow! This first picture was taken on a very mellow Saturday afternoon (the 29th, to be exact).  A few friends and I basically took that day and night off and instead woke up fairly early on Sunday to head to one of our favorite spots, about an hour from town.


We took some dogs with us because dogs like to ride in trucks even when they pretend that they just want to be in the cab.

It was a beautiful day, and we were lucky enough to have pretty decent hiking conditions.  There was enough snow that it felt like winter, but not so much that we were sinking too much or had to work terribly hard.  Some of us were a little bummed that we didn’t have snowshoes, but I was pretty excited about the prospect of skiing down!  This picture shows Hannah and the dogs on the bridge over a stream that is now a trickle.  The last time we were here, it was an almost-kayakable torrent!

When we reached the lake, the rest of the party turned around to head down while I climbed on to get as much more vert as I could reasonably fit in.  The going was slow in the increasingly deep and windblown snow.  Despite taking the directissimo route, I only managed about 750’ in an hour of hiking.  It took me to a steepish NE-facing ribbon of snow and put on my boots and new rock skis to ski down.  

The conditions were… variable. I would describe the snow as a breakable wind crust anywhere from .5 to 6 inches deep and it was underlain primarily by extremely toothy rocks.  Needless to say, I fell quite a few times and managed to get pretty beat up along with my gear.

When I got back down to the lake, I pwent to put my boots in walk mode for the slog/ski out, and noticed that something was missing. As you can see in this terrible picture, the walk mode on my left boot is in pretty bad shape.  The tower and switch have completely sheared off.  The boot is now permanently in walk mode.

The rest of the ski out was a little tough as well.  The snow had warmed and softened, and the rocks were still nipping at my bases.  It was kind of like the springtime skiing where you get some speed up and then your skis slow down on snow with different water content except instead of slowing down, I was stopping because rocks were munching the ptex off my bases.  It was a long and tedious descent, but I guess we have more snow in the forecast and now I have a project for the week: boot and base repair!

Filed under trip report skiing

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Here’s an interesting article that is a decent primer on what’s going on with Roxanne Quimby (of Burt’s Bees fame) and the north Maine woods.  Having grown up in Maine, I have my own strong feelings about this, but they don’t necessarily line up with one side or the other of this highly polarizing issue.

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If you love snow and you live in Colorado, but not under a rock, then you have probably spent lots of time pouring over the great information from meteorologist Joel Gratz at coloradopowderforecast.com.  If you are also the kind of click-addled web surfer who doesn’t finish reading before you check my rad links then you’re looking at a page telling you exactly what this new post will tell you.  Namely, Opensnow.com is up and running!
Opensnow is the next level of CPF.  It has some really cool new features like country-wide snow reporting and forums.  I’m also excited to see a more personalized forecast. Mine currently includes Berthoud Pass, Silverton, and RMNP, but will probably expand to include everything within a daylong drive of Denver.

Congrats Joel!

If you love snow and you live in Colorado, but not under a rock, then you have probably spent lots of time pouring over the great information from meteorologist Joel Gratz at coloradopowderforecast.com.  If you are also the kind of click-addled web surfer who doesn’t finish reading before you check my rad links then you’re looking at a page telling you exactly what this new post will tell you.  Namely, Opensnow.com is up and running!

Opensnow is the next level of CPF.  It has some really cool new features like country-wide snow reporting and forums.  I’m also excited to see a more personalized forecast. Mine currently includes Berthoud Pass, Silverton, and RMNP, but will probably expand to include everything within a daylong drive of Denver.

Congrats Joel!

(Source: )

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Know Boundaries - by TNF

The North Face has a fun set of videos out about avalanche safety.  I think it’s pretty cool stuff.  Avalanche safety education is really important (if not as effective as we would hope), and TNF is doing good work by raising awareness and using the brobrahs to do it.  Most of the time these freeskiing heros are busy slashing huge lines in AK or Chile and the only talk of avalanches is abstract or as a technical challenge that the skier will ski out of.  

A lot of people see these videos and get stoked and then go out and ski the lines that end up getting them in trouble.  Just because Loveland Pass is on the way to or from the mountain doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to go ski it.  I love getting stoked as much as anybody else and I’ll try not to get too preachy, but safety is important and I applaud TNF for getting these skiers and riders together and producing these videos.  

Nice work!

Filed under brobrah avalanche skiing

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Phew! We’re back.  Here’s a trailer from a new telemark ski movie by Josh Madsen, Editor over at Telemark Skier Magazine.  I love tele skiing and all, but I don’t think this movie looks particularly great. The lack of polish and aesthetic style is disheartening, and brings me back to films from high school.

Global Storming Intro from MSP Films on Vimeo.

Maybe these guys feel like Powderwhore Productions got big and started locking their heels, effectively losing their religion.  I won’t really comment (in this post) on the pros and cons of their choices as I dabble in both tele and AT myself.  What I can comment on (disdainfully, even!) is that a bunch of bros dropping knees at the resort isn’t very interesting. 

On the other hand, I may just be past my prime and maybe this movie isn’t aimed at me.  It used to be that telemark was relegated to the backcountry, where it reigned supreme.  Anymore, you’re most likely to see a free-heeler at ski resorts where everybodyfrom groms to grandfolks are looking to up their game with a new challenge.  Meanwhile, the backcountry sees more and more people with dynafits or Dukes or even these.  Maybe the new crop of telemark skiers really like agro music and brobrah crash and burn reels.  After all, many of them missed Global Storming.

At the heart of this ire is the fact that I am bummed to have missed the premiere and really love ski movies. Is winter here yet?

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Summer Skiing and Ski Eyewear Coloring

Sorry it’s been a little while since we’ve had a post.  There’s some pretty exciting stuff in the pipeline, so just stay tuned.

I skipped skiing this September even though it would have made 11 months in a row, I think.  My memories of skiing in August were pretty bad though and I really just wanted to get some more kayaking in.  Unfortunately, I just read this fun blog post and remembered the August trip to St. Mary’s in different (rose-colored) light.
Summer skiing isn’t that great, but it’s not too terrible either. I like to look back at it from the future.

[Photo: Tina]

Summer Skiing and Ski Eyewear Coloring

Sorry it’s been a little while since we’ve had a post.  There’s some pretty exciting stuff in the pipeline, so just stay tuned.

I skipped skiing this September even though it would have made 11 months in a row, I think.  My memories of skiing in August were pretty bad though and I really just wanted to get some more kayaking in.  Unfortunately, I just read this fun blog post and remembered the August trip to St. Mary’s in different (rose-colored) light.

Summer skiing isn’t that great, but it’s not too terrible either. I like to look back at it from the future.

[Photo: Tina]

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Kayaking Gore

For the uninitiated (read: non-kayakers) out there, here’s a primer in the brown claw phenomenon. You can see this paddler display a huge brown claw just after leaving Ginger hole in the Gore rapid on the Colorado river. It looks to me like a contorted grab finding no purchase as the paddler flips at Decision Rock.

The Heli Free Sawatch crew, whitewater contingent, headed up to Gore Canyon on the upper C on September 25, 2011. It was the first time on Gore for us, and probably the gnarliest stuff we’ve paddled thus far. If you’re already a core paddler then you’ll have to wait for winter to see more adrenaline-inducing exploits, but this trip was plenty exciting for us. Gore Canyon is a remote section that sees some dispute about its level of difficulty. Is it class IV? Is it class V? What about IV+, V-, and V+? I don’t intend to answer because I’m terrible at judging these things and don’t particularly care. The main thing is that it was a blast!


Boats waiting at the put in. Courtesy Andy G. We met up with some paddlers who had run Gore a number of times and were gracious enough to show us the way down.  After waiting for everyone to show up and unload and setting shuttle, we set off on the river. The first section is a dead calm paddle through the high rolling Colorado river valley just SW of Kremmling, CO. The trees were decked in their autumnal yellow and it was a pretty stretch, but most of the time was spent trying to avoid getting hung up on the sand bars and rolling to cool off. The midday sun was hot. After about half an hour or so we eddied out with all the other paddlers at the top of the rapids. There was much tightening of velcro and webbing.

The first few rapids are all class III and pretty mellow, but before long we reached Applesauce. As Andy would later point out, “you know it’s a legit river when there are unnamed class IV rapids!” That is indeed the case, and Applesauce was pretty exciting. It was a double drop that seemed like no problem for all of us except the sweep boater who rolled on the first drop and then barely got upright before getting worked on the rocks of the second.

The namesake Gore rapid came next and was long and pushy with a tricky entrance move. Many of us, me included, took the sneak route to avoid the folded flow of the meat line into nasty Ginger Hole. Gore is followed up by Scissors and Pyrite rapids, both of which involved exciting but not too technically difficult moves.*

Scouting Tunnel rapid. Courtesy Andy G. A little farther down, half of our group walked Tunnel Falls rapid because of its scary tendency to send paddlers on long submarine (subriverine?) mystery moves. After everyone terrified us with stories of nasty swims in Toilet Bowl hole, we all pulled the super sneaky left line through there. We proceeded to crush Kirshbaum’s Rapid**, the last of the named rapids on the river. Then things got really exciting.

There is a class III rock garden of a runout from Kirschbaum’s, and the group was starting to spread out for the last few miles to the takeout. While his mind wandered between ice-cold-foamers and the burrito waiting in Silverthorne, Andy went over a little pourover in the middle of the river and promptly found himself pinned with a rock at either end of the boat and the cockpit facing upstream. A few seconds later, the boat shifted and he had to pull his skirt as the water rose to chin level. With a death-grip on his paddle, Andy swam downstream in the cold mountain water over characteristically toothed rocks for about 100 yds before getting out on the side of the river.

The scene evaluation left us with one boat pinned underwater in the middle of the river and Andy a little cold and wet (and missing one booty), but generally fine. Everyone in the group had experience with river rescue techniques and we tried a few different methods of dislodging the boat. However, after an hour or so we came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a satisfactorily safe way to get the boat out and we would have to leave it there. Andy gamely walked the few miles along the river bank and the rest of us paddled back to the take out.

All in all, it was a fantastic day, and we can’t wait to head up there again.  With some luck, we’ll be able to get out there and rescue that hopefully undamaged boat so that we can clean the run.  Anybody want to paddle this weekend?

* There’s a phenomenon in boating where a rapid can be easy, but have nasty consequences.  Therefore, the whole river was easier for us because we had good guides.  Running it blind would have resulted in much more carnage.
** Literally “Cherry Tree” in German.