Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Line on Timp (for me): Name?

Recognizing that this year's window for big lines the Wasatch is going to close quickly, a few of us have been energized to get some new projects done.  A late night phone call and some last minute plans resulted in again setting my alarm for the middle of the night so I could get in some skiing before work.  The line of choice was a new one (for us) on the northern end of Mount Timpanogos, just looker's left of the "Front Porch" couloir that we skied last year.  This one is a little less obvious but every bit as good and highly visible from I-15 from the Point-of-the-mountain to Pleasant Grove.  

Any one know the actual name?  For now I'm calling it the Easter Couloir given the time of year.

As seen from the Great Western Trail/Road (all photos by Adam Fabrikant and Billy Haas)
Young gun skiers, Adam Fabrikant and Billy Haas were kind enough to join me for a long walk on the dirt to get to our desired objective.  These guys are newish to Utah and are trying to ski any and every line possible.  They remind me of me, except they are better skiers.  Anyway, I promised them a cool new line that doesn't get skied very much and that's all they needed to hear.  

We hiked up Grove Creek Canyon under a near full moon, moving steadily until we reached the Great Western Trail that runs along the high bench.  We took the road north until almost directly under the North Summit.  Here, we finally transitioned to skis and began the long skin up the apron to the mouth of the couloir.  The snow was baked into a frozen smoothness that allowed relatively fast travel.  We pushed the skinning up the lower reaches of the couloir before transitioning to boot packing up nearly perfect conditions...for booting that is.  The snow here, allowed only partial penetration and made setting the track very easy.    

I kept stopping to look back at the other guys, cast as shadows under the full moon.  As we passed through alternating pockets of warm then cool air, we were energized by the light of the moon, which was amplified through its reflection off Utah Lake.  A few zig zags to avoid wind slabs brought us to a steep frozen roll over that we estimated at 50 degrees (the majority of the chute is upper 30s to low 40s).

Soft morning light just before sunrise
Here, Adam took the lead as the sky softened into shades of pink, blue, and gray.  5 minutes later, I let out a cry as I crested the summit to find the sun cresting the horizon, setting fire to my friend's faces with the deepest red.  We shot a few pictures, ripped skins, and then I declared it time to go since I had a schedule to maintain.  Adam descended the North Summit (actually false N. Summit) first and was quickly heading toward the Front Porch.  Billy and I screamed against the grating sound of metal on textured hard pack and eventually got Adam's attention.  We both pointed skier's right and reminded the overzealous lad that the plan was to descend our ascent route.

Topping out the couloir at 7:00 am

Stunning morning light casting a large shadow over Utah Valley


Once established in the 'Back Door' proper, we took turns skiing from island to island and shooting pictures of each other.  Billy displayed his racing roots as he rolled from edge to edge with speed and finesse.  Adam made strong confident turns and looked for every part a bona fide ski mountaineer.  At 31 years old, I was the old man of the group and linked deliberate slow turns down the steep upper sections.  Once we deemed the objective hazard behind us, we gang skied until the boys had to make a decision as to whether or not to go back up for a run down the adjacent 'Front Porch'.  Sadly, my decision was already made and it involved running down a few miles of dirt to make it to work on time.  
Billy dropping in

Skiing firm snow along the upper ramp

Billy entering the meat of the couloir
As I slid up to my stashed running shoes, I noticed that my camera with those priceless pictures was missing (not my awesome new S100, but an old beater Cannon).  That makes the third camera sacrificed to the mountains.  One is somewhere on Box Elder, another fell off the NE Buttress of Angel's Landing, and now this one.  I have no intention of ever littering and regularly pick up trash/bottles to improve the wilderness.  Perhaps my accidental offerings are the price for safe passage?  

With my lightweight skis and boots on my back (Dynafit Nanga Parbats and TLTs), I jogged down the trail to the car, arriving 5 hours after starting.  40 euphoric minutes later and I was showered and destroying a massive omelet and pancakes before strolling casually into work. Remember what I said last time?  It's always worth it.  These are the days!

Mount Timpanogos: East Ridge

Yesterday was one of those rare days this year when safe travel conditions lined up with a brief weather window and a short amount of time off work.  Jason and I both worked until well after midnight but we still wanted to get out and enjoy some corn.  We are from Indiana after all.  

Skinning towards Emerald Lake, above Primrose Cirque
We awoke after way too little sleep, picked up a candidate for "most consistently happy man alive", Jon Swain, and drove down to Utah County.  En route, we settled on heading up Timp from Aspen Grove with a few different options in mind.  Knowing we were getting a late start (7:45 departure from the car), I thought that descents off the west side might be corning up by the time we got to one of Timp's many summits.  As we skinned up Primrose Cirque, it became apparent that the high clouds and wind would keep the shallow, settled snow pack locked up.  

As we arrived at the saddle at the head of the permanent snow field, we looked down into the Provo/Orem area and got blasted by a warm but biting wind.  If anything, we were too early.  On the drive, I had written off the East Ridge, thinking it would be too sloppy to dance around and through the many cliff bands.  Realizing that nothing was warming up, I suggested the East Ridge to Jason and Jon, both of whom readily agreed.  I had skied it some years ago; when I probably had no business being there.  Today, I assumed it would feel casual.  

Southern Wasatch above the Provo/Orem area with Utah Lake in background (photo by JD)
In the above photo, I'm dressed entirely in Outdoor Research spring/summer climbing gear.  I feel that particularly in Utah, where the weather is largely dry, "off label" use of seasonal clothing makes sense.  Jared has written about backcountry clothing systems, and I agree that lightweight, breathable materials make the most sense for this predominately aerobic activity.  Check out the Ferrosi hoody and pants by OR, both of which are affordable and make great spring skiing sense. 
Jon and Andy booting firm snow to the South Summit of Timp (photo by JD)

Standing on the South Summit felt cathartic.  Winter is over by calender date and by what mother nature gave us this year.  But, spring is here and that brings its own set of emotions and expectations.  After a winter of dinking around in low angle trees and racing to stay fit, we were finally going to ski something, "important".  

JD on the South Summit.  Note the white tights!
We traversed on skis along the west side of the ridge, faces stinging from the wind.  Using gravity, we reached the corner where the broad East Ridge could be seen.  We then booted up a hundred vertical feet or so, just so we could ski it from the top.  The East Ridge is really more of a triangular face that is punctuated by multiple large cliff bands running the entire width.  Each sneak passage is along the skier's left side and forces one to more or less ski the left hand ridge.  This ends up being extremely aesthetic when seen from Sundance as it looks like the descent is along the edge of the world.  

My first time down this line, I was following the Inouye brothers, Jared and Sam.  While totally blown and tired after a restless bivy at the trailhead and an alpine head start (Sam and Jared arrived a couple hours after us and caught up en route), I felt safe because of soft corn and their combined experience.  Yesterday, I was acutely aware of the consequence of a bad fall.  The snow was rock hard and this time, I was familiar with the magnitude of the terrain below.  A fall would result in death or worse.  Also feeling some sort of responsibility for Jason and Jon, both of whom are very capable skiers, I voiced my anxiety and counseled caution.  Perhaps my heightened sense of consequence is secondary to a lack of steep skiing this year.  Jason suggested it could be due to the addition a young son, strengthening the need to come home safely.  Regardless, we made cautious, controlled turns down the moderately steep face until we had made it through the biggest of the cliff bands. 

Jon Swain, skiing steep firm snow down the upper East Ridge of Timp (photo by JD)

Jon Swain navigating a large cliff band on the East Ridge

Jason Dorais looking for a break in the cliffs

This was the best we could find at one point

Andy finding the secret passage
From my first experience, I knew there was one final set of cliffs that didn't have an obvious passage way.  This was discovered at the time when Sam, skiing on big tele skis, came maching into our stance above the cliffs, oblivious to the danger below.  As we screamed for him to stop, he looked confused and then scared as he lost control and tried to grab at any shrub he could before launching off the cliffs.  Stunned, we were all silent until we heard a faint, "I'm OK" from below.  That day, the snow was soft and Sam was lucky to escape without injury.  Yesterday, we chose to skirt the cliff band by heading hard skier's right before cutting back beneath it.  Then, it was a series of low angle chutes, chokes, and fun terrain features until we neared Stewart Falls.  Again, from prior experience, I knew to avoid the skier's left side of the falls and we found a reasonable exit through steep pines along the skier's right side. 

The cliff band in the center of the photo is the one Sam fell over a few years ago.  

Jon finding another sneaky exit couloir

Andy finding one more

Spring time!  East Ridge visible in the background
Now fully relaxed, we were in spring skiing mode - short sleeves and big smiles from a mega classic Wasatch descent.  Spring is here so for those that have given up on the year, reinvest yourselves.  As a new friend says, "These are the days!"  They are fleeting, particularly given the low snowpack, but incredibly rewarding because of the magnitude of the objectives.   So, for me, I know the next morning that my alarm goes off and I find myself wondering if it's worth it, I'll know.  It's always worth it.  Sleep is for the the old.

East Ridge, Mount Timpanogos

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cascade Mountain

The other day, Sam and I decided to go for a little stroll up Rock Canyon.  Getting off to a late start (8:00 am), we started off up Rock Canyon not sure what we were going to ski.   Passing the upper campgrounds and crossing the Squaw Peak Trail road, we headed up the south west facing ravine and ascended that till the ridge.  The approach was about 1.5 hrs to the base of the ravine.  The past week summer spell had pretty much caused the whole mountain to wet slide, so the avalanche danger was minimal.  Even though the conditions lately have been about 60 degress F in the valley, a storm was currently coming in causing the snow to become icy.  This made the skinning quite nice. 

Both of us had never been on the summit of Cascade and it looked like a good day to do it.   After about 4 hrs with about 5,000 ft vertical, we reached the ridge and began the traverse to Cascade Peak (~10,800 ft).

Cascade Ridge

Sam on the traverse (Utah Lake in the background)

Cascade Mountain is a one of the prominent peaks located in the Provo Valley. It can be seen from Provo lingering above Squaw Peak. Located on the south west face, lies a chute that always catches our eyes and will definitely be explored in the future. Seen from Cascade, you also get a view point of all the potential that lies behind Provo Peak (e.g., "the Provo Ribbon" as declared by Sam). Upon summiting, we decided to drop down Cascade Bowl. It was nice, steep, and icy. 

Sam dropping into Cascade Bowl

Overall, it was about 6 hrs with about 6700 ft. vert of good recon for a future Provo-Cascade peak training-tour.  Anyone interested?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

South Lone and Bighorn...Again

This winter has sucked.  I haven't cared to look at the numbers but the snowpack has been shallow and dangerous.  Too many people have been hurt or worse.  I'm still feeling upset and disheartened that one of my skiing inspirations, Steve Romeo, was killed last week in a large avalanche in the Tetons.  I hope his friends and family are finding solace in the knowledge that Steve was an inspiration to the entire community as has been evidenced by the outpouring of emotion and kind words in virtually every backcountry internet outlet.  

That said, like Steve, I find myself "living to ski" amongst a couple other pursuits.  So today, I donned my TetonAT visor, picked up the ever sanguine Jon Swain, and went looking for snow.  We wanted to stand on a summit and ski something "big".  Mr. Swain had never been up Lone Peak so the car found it's way to Alpine after an alpine start, leaving my warm bed at 5:15 AM.  

We hiked up the dirt road by headlamp until the clouds were splashed pink above Box Elder Peak.  Finding snow after an hour of hiking, we moved steadily and efficiently in skis over the firm textured surface.  Jon stopped once to choke down a hard Powerbar, but pretty quickly we found ourselves chilled to the bone by 50 mph winds as we stood on the ridge looking into Bell's Canyon.  We sought shelter on the leeward side and debated our next move.

Jon skinning along a firm side hill, high above Utah Valley
Bighorn in the immediate background, Timp beyond
It was readily apparent that with the high clouds and nuking winds, we wouldn't be enjoying any corn any time soon.  Too bad.  But, we both agreed that boilerplate is better than breakable and we still had a summit to stand on.  Reluctantly leaving our hiding spot, we descended with skins until we could circumnavigate a bump on the ridge line and gain the South Summit of Lone Peak.  We snapped a few photos and chewed some food with frozen jaws before descending our ascent path down the popular "Heaven's Halfpipe".  
Nearing the ridge between Alpine and Bell's Canyon
Jon Swain stylin' while escaping the wind.  Note the goggles, snorkel, and headlamp.
Lone Peak Cirque from the South Summit
JS on the South Summit
JS, Question Mark Wall, Utah Valley, and the Oquirrhs

Near the bottom, Jon decided to rally for one more summit and we turned it around and headed up Bighorn's South Ridge.  Again, the wind limited our summit stay and after some more bone jarring boilerplate skiing, we found ourselves trying to avoid scrub oak as the snow turned isothermic below the Second Hammongog.  A few minutes later and we were back at our shoes sharing a Snickers bar while Jon was commenting on how great it is to ski something new (this was a repeat day for me but traded out the other guys for Swain).  A few more minutes of hiking brought us to the only car at the trailhead.  And, since it was lunch time, we then made a stop at Fong's Chinese Restaurant in American Fork.  It's housed in an old American style diner but the food was top notch American style Chinese!  You can never go wrong with rice.  Check it out!
From the summit of Bighorn Peak

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wasatch PowderKeg Recap

Saturday was the 10th annual PowderKeg and I think it's the finest race in the country.  The race started with a sprint across the parking lot to a transition zone where we put on our skis for the first climb up to Clayton Peak.  Jason and Jared had recon'ed the course the day before and were right on when they recommended full coverage skins.  The first climb ascended a mogul field that was locked up from the recent melt/freeze.  The stupid climb was an accident as Chad got the idea to route the PKeg up that slope when we went off course and ascended it during one of the Citizen races.  Anyway, my Pomoca skins were inadequate for the steep ice and I quickly was dropped.  A couple others in the lead pack also had similar issues and fell back.  Jared however, donned ski crampons and blew through the field passing everyone but Jason.  Sneaky guy.  

The first descent held the worst snow of the day but there were no major mishaps.  In the transition with Jon Brown and Tom Diegle, I could see the leaders moving out of sight.  It was to remain that way all morning with the gaps growing slightly at every checkpoint.  At times I felt like people were coming back to me and at others I contemplated switching into the rec race so I could be done sooner.  With 6 climbs and around 6500 vertical gained, the course was challenging, beautiful, and interesting as it meandered through the Brighton side country.  

Near the end of the race, I tried to open it up as I could see 4th-7th right in front, but had nothing.  The power was lacking.  Once when asked about how they are able to free climb El Capitan in Yosemite, the Huber brothers said, "we have power to spare."  I could have used some Saturday.  Ultimately, I finished 8th, which was disappointing but a testament to how this race is becoming more and more competitive.  I have gotten faster each year and keep slipping in the standings. 
Jason, Luke Nelson, and Brian Wickenhauser on top of the Men's Race Division Podium
Team Wasatch Skimo

Jason on the other hand has shed weight off his feet, become a better skier, and trained more diligently this year.  The result?  A dominant performance which saw him take the lead from start to finish.  Many others from the Wasatch (adopted member Luke Nelson was 2nd!) also had strong days including Tom Goth and Tom Diegle.  Tom Goth is a relative new comer who finished a very strong 5th.  Tom Diegle is immortal, finished 7th, and continues to shame men half his age.   Teague Holmes and Jared Inouye finished in 9th and 10th respectively.  Teague was also close enough to never let me relax, and Jared was battling up ahead in the race to determine 4th, 5th, and 6th before he broke his boot and had to make a moderately challenging descent in full walk mode.  I know he was disappointed with the result but we all know how it would have turned out.  Many others experienced their own victories or moral defeats but not being able to see the drama, I'll let them tell their own tales.  

The Sprint Race

This year there was also an encore race that was held right at the base of the resort.  The format was a team sprint relay, with 6 people to a team all having to complete one short climb/descent.  It was spectator friendly with family and friends finally able to see what goes on.  The mood was lighthearted as the teams were all randomly assigned and at least half the competitors had already downed burgers and their beverage of choice.  My team wasn't the fastest but we also didn't lose as I was able to pass Aaron Inouye in the transition to sneak ahead.  That felt good beating an Inouye even if it wasn't their ring leader, Jared. 

Final Thoughts

Again, I think this race is the finest in the country. And by finest, I mean the most fun.  With 162 racers this year it is likely the biggest as well.  One unique aspect is the insane amount of local support.  Local companies donated prizes and local ski celebrities were involved by racing, emceeing, or volunteering.  But mainly, it's the people of all abilities and backgrounds that come out with enthusiasm and make the race special.  I saw truly fruity spandex suits, skirts, costumes, and a horribly awkward tandem tele set up. This year was also remarkable for the increasing number of high end racers that showed up, with Luke Nelson returning and a strong contingent from Colorado making the drive (Wick, JB, and Gaston).  Brighton deserves special mention as they play host to the event and really stepped up this year by allowing us to grow the sport through our Thursday night series.  An award was given to the three people that have competed in all 10 PowderKegs thus far.  I've now done three and hope to make it another 30.  So huge thanks to Andrew, Collen and Co for starting up the race 10 years ago.  And lastly, I can't forget about Chad and Emily who deserve a big hug, slap on the butt, and a high five for the immense amount of work they put into this great annual Wasatch tradition.  

Women's Rec Podium

Men's Heavy Metal Podium

Women's Race Podium

Monday, March 5, 2012

Skimo Tips

Don't forget to sign up for the 10th Wasatch Powder Keg.

To speed up, here are a few things I will try to remember:

1. Alter your cadence.  Move your feet fast when it is flatter.  On the steep part, sometimes it helps to alternate big steps and faster steps.

2. If you move your hands faster, your feet and cadence will move/be faster.

3. Push through with your poles.  Keep forward momentum.

4. Don't step on your own skins -- snow will contaminate and cause eventual failure.  Get a clean rip.  Failed skins are to skimo what  flat tires are to bike racing.

5. Don't clomp.  Slide your feet, don't lift them.

6. Step SLOWLY into bindings, and get a clean grab the first time round.

7. Use alternate poling when the snow gets soft, manky, breakable.

8. On the descents, don't turn (ok, scratch that).

9. Go all out, but don't blow up.

10. If things start to suck and you start to hate racing, wipe the spit off your face, open your eyes and look around.  It's a beautiful day.

Mount Nebo 50K

Last Saturday Sam and I went out for a long walk as a training session for the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. With the danger level still hovering in the red, we tried to come up with something in the 30 mile range that wouldn't ever leave the green zone.  Keep the slope angles low enough and not only are the physics of an avalanche impossible, but it's also impossible to make a turn.
So Sam suggested the Mount Nebo loop road which is around 38 miles and connects Payson and Nephi.  In the winter, the initial few miles are plowed on both ends shortening the total distance to an estimated 31 miles or 50 kilometers.  We thought we would use the day as a training session and to spark our imaginations while gazing at some of the more impressive lines in the area.  The hope was to skin at a moderate pace to the top of the loop, play around, and then ski down the road cutting the switchbacks to make some fun turns.  The reality was the skin to the summit went as planned but the descent was too low angle to ski and required skating/poling through manky snowmobile tracks.  Who cares though?  It was a fun mellow tour with a jolly partner through beautiful country side. 

Around 30 minutes into the day Sam developed a hot spot

Leaving Juab County

Hello Utah County

Nebo refused to show us her big beautiful bowls...better saved for another day anyway

Summit of the Nebo Scenic Loop

Utah County 

We didn't encounter any red necks until over the top and heading down to Payson.  Note the rolled sled. 

Old habits die hard