Photopile

Every once in a while, the ridiculousness of self promotion sneaks up and jumps on me. In my last post, I strove to disappear from the photos and function more as a storyteller.

So some contrast. Here’s some fine work by Jonathan Finch, Abby Stanford, and Kat Gebauer. Shots taken during guiding, out at play, and the last railjam at Big Mtn.

Freedom

“From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

Two hard kicks and the crampons sticking into ice. Three turns of windbuff in a pocket. Locking into the rail over cheesegraters. Driving. Driving more. Twenty feet behind the snowplow when you see the dual orange lights flashing above, guiding you on, thirty five miles per hour in the veil of pow. Double lifts. Fries at the summit house. Beer in the shower. Putting on wet gear. Skins drying on the curtain rod. Duct tape on ski poles.
Moguls. Backscratchers. Yelling. Polish donuts. Tree taps. Face shots. Face shots. Shot
skis. Getting the shot. Digging pits. Wishing in June. Diving in in December.

“I came to the conclusion that man’s search for freedom is embedded in our genes. That’s what everybody wants.”

Walking on sunshine: survival skiing on Gunsight Mountain

I picked up the phone. “You working tomorrow?”
“Nope. What we doing?”
“Something big. Get there early, be out all day. Get up high.”
“Sounds great. We’ll talk later.”

And we did. After considering the Cascadilla/Rescue traverse, Clay and I decided to head up to Glacier and try for Gunsight Mountain and some real alpine. Sandwiches were made,  I went to the store for clif bars and camera batteries (which I managed to forget, hence the  fisheye bubblyness that are the gopro shots), we went bowling, got a few hours of sleep, and left the house at 4:30am.

Readying at the trailhead.

After working and visiting Sperry for years, the slopes and viewpoints along the trail have become familiar. Moving steadily uphill in the predawn night, we made good time up the packed down trail. Dawn popped just as we were making it into the area just below the chalet.

Once we made the cirque above the upper bridge, we thought about and rejected several routes through the cliffs before settling on a fan and waterfall on the SE side. Switchbacking up the left side of a large debris/talus fan, we angled for the left side of Feather Woman falls, the creek the goes under the first bridge in summer. It got steep. And  icy. We switched to crampons and axes, then climbed through chest high faceted sugar, ice crusts, wind buff, and full on ice to make it up above the cliff bands usually traversed on the trail.

Boreal belay in the crux.

Topped out and back in my skis.

After some more routefinding and skinning over windcrusts, we made it to the stairs at Comeau Pass. Clay went through first.

Sandwiches and puffy coats later, we headed up the right flank of the mountain towards the summit.

Summit ridge.

Clay summit ridging.

Up top, the snow was a mix of hard windcrust, rime, pow pockets covered in rime, and rimecrusted wind crust with drifted surface hoar. There was no guarantee that the footing would function the same way the last step did, which made it interesting. Topping out required going over a cornice in the making and into howling winds on the other side.

Did I mention how awesome the sunshine was? This pile of high pressure has traded greybird storm pow for epic groomer cruising and functional backcountry stability. We saw an old crown high on Mt. Edwards, and while skiing down, a point release propagated a bit into an R1D1 that stopped pretty quickly. Otherwise, it was bomber and beautiful.

Looking down towards Lake McDonald and the chalet.

The excitement that I get atop mountains after a long skin and bootpack doesn’t square with how I feel looking at the pictures afterward. Which makes sense. But it also doesn’t help my summit photos look any less ridiculous. So I’m rolling with it.

Once we’d sufficiently windburned ourselves, it was time to drop. Clay got a couple great shots from up above on the ridge.

The snow went from rime crust to wind buff bordered by sastrugi. The turns were somewhat soft, but I followed the edge of the drift down into the flats making little noises of excitement that my gopro picked up. Unfortunately, it was at the wrong angle, and so there’s lots of footage of my skis sliding over snow but no visual of where I was headed. Chalk that up to climbing helmets.

Once down, we dropped over the edge, skied drifted pow becoming mashed potatoes, I missed a shot with Clay’s camera by forgetting the lens cap, we crossed the new wet slides that had come through on the lower trail, and hauled down the skin track towards the car.

Trying to slow down by the skin track.

Eight hours up, two hours down and two tired dudes eating deformed sandwiches on the car ride back after another perfect day in Glacier.

Huge thanks to Clay for the photos.

Pb&j and pillows

Made in an early morning rush as light is just starting to hit the clouds. Fixings grabbed from the trunk of my car; no room in the fridge. Thrown in the bag next to avie gear and extra layers.

Smooshed a little more with each transition. Gloves out. Skins in. Skins out. Smoosh.

Water bottle pulled out. The sandwich flows into the vacancy, I drink, then push the bottle back in. Smoosh.

Skins off. Radio chatter. Waiting for cameras. Waiting for light. Johan’s going first. Going to be a bit. Pull out the mangled thing that I made this morning. Jelly on liner gloves. Peanut butter on my face.

Cameras ready. There’s the sun. Goggles on.

Dropping.

The dream is not a moment

As I’m sitting down to write this, the sitting is happening in a warm, expansive house in Nelson, BC. The lights are on. We ate well for dinner. Bobby’s handing me half a Cold Smoke, and I’m trying to catch up on where I’ve been lately.

Canyon Creek. With a snowpack that you could hold in your arms, in its entirety, the stability was all time. For a few days after Christmas and going into the New Year, some friends and I got to pillage the Seven Sisters chute complex. 2008 still lingers in my memory, that day in January when Anthony Kollman got killed in the first Sister. So each line through felt like a cheat, some sort of miracle passage of luck. But we kept checking, and kept pushing, and nothing seemed to budge. So we skied.

And when the high pressure broke down, I took a quick trip to Lost Trail. Drove to Missoula, stayed on Jordan’s couch, woke at 5am, picked up Dillon and Jake and Wiley, drove south in the snow. Rolled in to find eight inches in the parking lot, and found it all over my face for the rest of the day.

Now I’m here in Nelson. Having never skied Whitewater, I rolled up at the invitation of a friend to come shoot with the Sweetgrass crew here in the heart of western Pow Canuckistan. Backcountry access from the lifts is cake, and today we skied out in the dark after mining the last glimmers of daylight.

Yesterday:

Today:

It occurs to me that I once thought about the hoopla of the adventurous life as a goal. As something that, much like the mountains upon which it is played out, has a climb, summit, and descent. A high point at which I might know that I’d achieved something measurable. If it were music, it would be one note, held long and in perfect pitch, the fruit of twenty minutes’ preamble.

But this dream is not a moment. The dream is not one instant of recognition and then a decline. To follow the musical analogy, it’s a sustain. A humble tone held long, low, powerful. Pitch that stays constant in its vibrance, clear in its focus. The dream of skiing these places, of getting video/photos that inspire and tell the stories; this is not a series of quests to push the bar higher. Rather, I see it as fulfilling a quiet motive to live. A decision made of years and wishes that become possible once it is decided that they are.

I’m so thankful to get to do this.

Thanks to Clay, Dillon, and Bobby for the shots.