Linebacking with Dave and Dave

With a few more projects to finish before the lifts open, it’s been a busy few weeks of interior painting. Stepping out into this chilly high pressure system for a break means grabbing my jacket. Such sunshine demands exploration, and Friday saw a flurry of texts and messages bouncing around amongst the touring crew.

Dave Boye and I left town around 7:30am. The night before, Dave left work early to check out conditions in the Whitefish Range, and our plan was to ski Diamond Peak—if we could get there. The road leading out of Olney for most of the winter is buried deep enough that only snowmobiles can travel. With the snow pack so low in the valley bottom, we’d be able to drive a fair piece in. That ended up as a tree across the road just before the ten mile mark.

Dave does the hokey pokey, turning the truck around.

Clearing trees–a good way to start the touring day.

Our plan had been to get further—a bit closer to the base of Diamond. The tree, though, meant only snowmobiles were going past, which meant the snow wasn’t packed enough for Dave’s tires. And that we were skinning from there.

Bailing from our original plan, we headed up the clearcut to gain the ridge and take stock of what we’d be able to make happen. The snowpack went from lightly crusted to heavy crust to “oh, yeah, that’s nice” as we approached the alpine. During a snack break, a by standing tree committed “unsportsmanlike conduct” by unloading a bit of snow right next to me—after we’d been there for several minutes.

Every year, the future seems to get lighter and faster. Which is cool, and it’s neat to see folks knocking down speed records and moving more minimally in the mountains. However, the inevitable benefit of this direction goes towards people who are, by their body chemistry, habits,  and nature, light and fast. These are the narrow footed folks graced by perpetual metabolism and an impressive lack of sweat glands, if they have them at all. It’d certainly be nice to be one of them, but I’m endowed with a decidedly American physique. That sweats. That gets hot. That doesn’t fit well into anything skinny. That has legs that can ski moguls, and make dynos, and lift heavy objects and stuff. That can take a beating. Really, mine is a body for things like linebacking. So when I chase my scrawny, sweat-less friends up mountains and skin tracks, it’s easy to see why  Dave picked up the nickname “The Diesel Engine.” We take a bit to warm up, hit lower gears on the hills, run efficiently as long as we don’t stop too much, and can go all day at our unspritely pace. We won’t ever be light, and if it’s fast, it’s sweaty. We won’t be breaking speed records, but I hope our efforts don’t become shed in the search for fewer grams, because we have just as much fun—and fun doesn’t weigh anything.

Dave pointing to Diamond Peak, our original goal.

The ridge up took some navigating around cornice and drifts, but what a place to be. Glacier Park and Canada stretched out along the eastern horizon, with worthy ski goals filling each valley and face near at hand. Such weather doesn’t grace us often during the winter. Usually, it’s  the rime and fog that make the famous snow ghosts (ice and snow encrusted pines that dot the treeline) holding court in the marketing brochures. Instead, we had visibility, sun, and shaded pow to ski.


Choosing a line in the cupped drainage to the north of the summit, we dropped in for about 2K of dense pow. Massive settlement cones and cracking evidenced change, and we moved into the open a bit more as our confidence in the snowpack increased.

And this man sells mortgages.

Our line led to the bottom of a slide path, with a protected ridge as the route back up. Dave and I took turns breaking in the track, cutting through wind buff and buttery snow.

Arriving on the summit, we had another chance to soak up the splendor.

Glacier Park dominates the background.

Looking south towards Werner Peak and Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Things were starting to warm up, so we picked a fully northern aspect rolling off a wide spine into the top of the path.

Our first line was in the upper left, coming down the left path. Second line was in the right path, entering from the treed spine.

Heading out took us into a ravine, and then onto the Hanes Pass trail. Hopping (and in one case limboing) downed logs and refrozen crust, that lead down to the access road. A couple miles and one skated hill later, the truck appeared around a bend.

Alder time.

As I mentioned before, we wouldn’t have been able to get here if the road wasn’t plowed for logging operations. Snowmobiles passed us, heading the other way as we drove back to Olney. The tree wasn’t an issue for skiers, but I’m sure we made life easier for sledders this winter. Diverse uses, all managing to coexist and function together. Everyone finding what they need in the mountains–loud, light, or heavy.

Many thanks to Dave Boye for scouting, driving, and being a badass. Check out his blog.

Open for business on Great Northern

First of all, thanks for stopping by. It’s been about a year since I started this blog, with no real ideas about what I wanted it to be other than a place to put things that didn’t fit elsewhere. Since then, it’s become another creative outlet. A way to share stories. A way to link people all over the world to the time I get to spend outdoors.

If I had one wish for this little piece of internet, it would be that these words and photos make their readers interested in closing their computer, turning off the phone, and disappearing into the veil of nature. That what I’m doing serves to inspire. There are as many callings as people under the sun; mine seems to be to chase the dream. Thanks for tuning in.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

At the top of the page, it says “The adventure blog”. People have suggested that I add other aspects of my life, but there’s a purity of purpose here that I cherish. However much I’d like to rant about politics or grammar or whatever, this is a place dedicated solely to adventure. This is a question of spirit, of style. Mountains and wilderness are places free from the immediate influence of entities too far away or different in character to know them properly. It’s good to know there’s nobody looking over your shoulder. So in writing about that feeling, the content should reflect that singular sense of freedom from noise.

I bring this up because the shuttered US government is now affecting where we get to play. While the unpleasant side effects of the shutdown are multifarious and hardly knowable in full, one seemingly small aspect of closed government are the closed gates and makeshift barricades now blocking the entrances to our national parks. My usual destinations of interest are located inside a place that technically belongs to me, as a citizen, but is currently sealed off because of brinksmanship and inability to compromise. Which means that for a weekend climb like the one I planned last weekend, Glacier was off limits.

Photographer and all around gentleman Myke Hermsmeyer had been kicking around a weekend climb during the work week. We headed out of Kalispell pretty early on Saturday morning. The night before had been a scramble to find some extra gear, and I hadn’t been able to come up with a pair of spikes for him. With new snow in the alpine, it meant that we had to keep it mellow, and if it was too hard and scoured, we’d be turning around. A few wrong turns and a bit of dirt road later, and the peak was glowing in the dawn.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Great Northern by name, it’s a pretty popular summer destination for fit day hikers. When not drifted under the snow we found, there’s a goat trail that runs all the way to the summit. Located in the northern Great Bear Wilderness, which abuts the southern boundary of Glacier, it is separated by only an imaginary line drawn along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The trail isn’t official or maintained—and hence goes practically straight up for the first mile.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

After a bit of sweating in the forest, we popped out into the alpine, the wind, and better views.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Somewhere in there, we hit snow. Though up and down for a bit, we hit the summit ridge after some easy walking.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

In the distance, all the peaks in view are part of Glacier. It’s strange to think that such majesty can be considered “closed.” That a place that is specifically purposed for exploration and wonder could be walled off to prevent those very activities. That the people who caused this may have never seen the places they are closing. That any government or human entity pretends to exercise judgment or control over these places. Staring across the valley, such assertions seemed utterly laughable in contrast to the stately snowcaps adorning each peak.  Which made me smile.

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Once on the summit ridge, the wind did not let up. We made steady progress for quite a while over the various bumps and drifts. As often happens, the snow got deeper as we ascended. Footing was good until a route finding error saw me on a narrowing, slippery ledge. Scoured and refrozen ice made my explorations crampon worthy, and with Myke behind me with none of his own, we went back to try another option on the direct spine.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Something like an hour was wasted in all this. However, we did find a neat window of rock in the top of the ridge as the first fruit of our labors.

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

And after that and a quick posthole up some drifted snow, we were again on our way. Long gone was the trail. My left leg was punching through wind buff up to my thigh. Navigating slopes that now held enough snow to create slide potential but kept Myke’s footing secure, a couple false summits came and went.

Not remembering how many high points there were, I suggested that Myke go ahead to shoot back down the ridge at me.

It turned out that the mountain didn’t go any higher, and it’s safe to say that we were both stoked.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

I put out the usual squeals of excitement, while Myke didn’t have to say anything—he’d climbed in a pair of Carhartt work pants, no spikes, and gaitors that my dad could have pulled from an ‘80s gear drawer. Quite badass.

For my part, I was decked out in Mountain Equipment softshell goodness (Centurion Jacket, Mountain Stretch glove, Epic Touring pant, Mountain Stretch gaitor), and I’ve got to say that it was nothing short of cozy. Long gone are the days of sweat soaked hardshells and imaginary breathability. These fabrics and constructions allow a supremely sweaty climber (namely, me) to move hard and still stay totally content under my layers. Totally astonished by how well the Centurion worked; I can’t wait to ski tour in it this winter. Yay Neoshell.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Wind pushed us off the summit, and it was really nice to be headed down in the sun. To my left, Hungry Horse Reservoir glittered. To the right, the “closed” peaks mutely stated that they didn’t care one way or another what the silly humans have to say.
To me, the need for wilderness is primal—to have places that are unregulatable, wild, far beyond the control of people. Summits and vales and vast woods that dwarf us puny humans and keep us humble, remind us how small we really are. For me, I need their shadow, looming. And as we delayered after heading into the trees, the views slipping away, it seemed reasonable to say thanks, once again, for all the mountains give us.

Great Northern, like many things around here, takes its name from the railway that comes through Whitefish. There happens to be bar and brewery that share the name with the mountain, so once back in town, we set out to the other “summits” of Great Northern. I’ll let the next three photos tell the story.


Huge thanks to Myke for being a sorcerer with his camera and a stand up climbing buddy. No thanks to the jerks that caused the shutdown. May packrats make nests in the kitchens of their summerhomes.

Labor days: one big picnic

Though there seems to be some debate about who exactly started the idea of Labor Day, it goes without saying that the founder never envisioned his creation as an opportunity for herds of sunscreened folks to pile into cars and flock to the national parks. As early as 1882,  “the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic” (Ibid). So that’s what it would be. I went on strike (or the painting workweek ended) Thursday night, the Monday holiday creating four days of potential awesome. That night, I headed over to St. Mary.

Friday.

After sleeping in, I finally got out the door and headed back up to Logan Pass. On the trail by two pm. Headed up the Siyeh Pass trail for a bit, then cut up to the saddle between Going To The Sun Mtn. and Mataphi Peak, my destination.

Logan Pass area:

All through the drive and hike up, the wind positively howled. Clouds ripped past overhead in that way that seemed like a time lapse but at real life sort of speed. Leaves all over the park are turning those fall-like colors; they seem to be imparting a bit of the nip into the wind as well.

For me, that meant worrying about the grey and dark clouds that moved at hyper speed. Instead, it just blew all the wildfire smog out onto the plains and kept things nice and cool. Relaxing near the summit:

The Sexton glacier, Baring Creek, and St. Mary’s Lake.

Climbing these peaks alone certainly decreases the number of options in a bad situation. However, I relish the clarity that comes with hours of nothing but nature sounds. The chance to move at my own speed. Being able to stop wherever or keep going until I get there. But most importantly, it means that you don’t have to share the ripe huckleberries you find with anyone else. First part of the picnic:

Saturday.

Rose and I got up at 4:45am the next morning. DJ, Nick, and Ken all met us in the dark cafe parking lot and the whole lot of us fairly flew up and over Logan Pass. Our objective for the day was Heavens Peak, a climb notorious for horrid bushwhacking, coming out in the dark, and other unpicnic-like annoyances. Indeed, our route up was Nick’s lucky discovery after some eight hours of brush swimming on a previous trip. My last experience with the mountain involved three days, a massive rockslide, and eighteen hours in the shrubberries with my mother and her friends.

So this time, we really wanted to make things easier on ourselves. Cold water at 7am does not fit that description, but here’s DJ crossing McDonald Creek anyway.

Then we spent about ten minutes going up the wrong creekbed.

But after that, Nick disappeared and found what we should have gone further south for in the first place: the Secret Stair (said in a Gollum voice, please).

Just after exiting the jungle, the summit gave us a tease.

Easy VB for about 2400ft up the wall with not a single nasty bit of flora. In a word, fun. DJ, Nick, and Ken pretending they have rock shoes on.

And this guy would be able to crawl right up anything without rock shoes. Luckily, he didn’t become a participant in the picnicing.

Once out of the dry gully, it becomes a straightforward walk along the top of what’s called the Glacier Wall. As you can see behind Nick, it curves all the way up like a giant loading ramp to drop you off at the summit. The camera lens got all ethereal.

The route I just mentioned is known as the Slab Approach. In the late season, when the massive blocks of snow that could climax avalanche have left, it becomes an awesome option. However, we didn’t know that for certain. The same snow nearby can make the smooth rock wet, creating a high angle bowling alley for rocks and human bodies. Given that I knew we’d be able to make it up via the north summit ridge, dropping off the wall seemed prudent. One nasty moraine crossing (that saw me with my axe out) later, and we were walking across the bottom of an old glacier.

Skirting the north side of it, we headed upslope. My last time up here, we camped at these small lakes. To give you a sense of the connectedness in the park, Mt. Merritt is the high peak on the right.

DJ and Rose playing pika in the boulderfields before the summit ridge.

And after a bit more scrambling, it was time to glory walk to the summit. Snow to our left, the Camas drainage to the right.

Success.

DJ in full technical picnicing gear.

Looking south and east from the top.

On our way up the boulderfields, we spotted another group that had continued up the ridge to the slabs. They arrived at the summit a few minutes after us, and after their description, we decided to head down that way to keep things interesting. Just at the top of it:

Rose on the descent.

And of course, once we got to the most sensible piece of snow, I certainly wasn’t going to walk down the rock.

On our way up, the ridge we now descended had blocked this view of Avalanche Lake, Sperry Glacier, and Mt. Jackson. So it was neat to see it from atop the thing that was blocking before.

Somewhere around this point, it occurred to us that, barring any mistakes on the downclimb, we’d nailed the route finding.

Once back to the car, Nick informed me that it was nearly 6000ft of elevation and just over nine miles of walking. Considering that it only took us thirteen hours with no major bushes or headlamps, it was an epic success. I can honestly say that most of my drive back over the pass was spent contemplating the massive Heavens Peak burger that I’d picnic upon once back at the cafe. Four burgers for five hungry climbers.

Sunday.

The long day before deserved a lie-in, meaning I hit the trail about noon over in Two Medicine. Located in the southeast corner of the park, it has miles of spectacular ridge walking between summits. I planned to take advantage and string together Painted Teepee, Cheif Lodgepole, and Grizzly mountains.

Sinopah on the walk in.

Glacier is full of amazing pockets. Take this whole valley, for instance. Then add a perfect stream bathtub.

Thinking that I’d find an easier route up, I went all the way to Cobalt Lake. This scree chute went great.

Hugging the right margin just against the cliffs, I popped out above pretty quickly. Some walking along the ridge, and the summit pillars came up.

It’s sometimes hard to know exactly which one is the highest point. Sometimes, morons place and leave cairns on points that aren’t actually the highest point. Still further, people such as myself see them, and thinking it’s the high point, scramble up. Only to be confronted with this:

“Yep. That’s the actual one.”

So I went over there and daintily picniced on peanut butter and honey sandwiches. They just might be the pinnacle of western cuisine. Possibly. Here’s the lower summit with Cheif Lodgepole Mtn and Two Medicine Pass behind.

Two Medicine Lake.

I timed out the next couple of hours, and figured I could make it up Grizzly and back out by dark.

Somewhere between the summit and place where the scree chute met the saddle, I thought about my plan. Given the number of trips and climbs that I’ve been on lately, it can be difficult to make each summit feel special and worthwhile by themselves. The term  “peak bagging” leaves a foul taste in my mouth, as it can become a gateway drug to the sorts of jerkish machismo that thinks only of the number of peaks climbed–not the experiences, or the route aesthetics, or the beauty that soaks every single inch of this place. So I call it off on Grizzly. Ran, giggling, down the scree. Furry forest animals of every stripe went running for cover as I stripped down and jumped in the lake.

Pine-scented “drying rack” at the “beach.”

On the way out, a nice, older lady asked where I’d been. When I pointed it out, she shook my hand. Thought it was cool. When she stopped to play on the swinging footbridge for a while, I got another reminder that there are some things entirely right with the world. Perhaps Labor days doesn’t fit at all the sleeping in I managed over the weekend. Arriving back at the cafe, I hung out for a while and headed to bed after arranging to hike with Kelsey, Kimber, Liz, and Amber the next day.

Monday.

Kelsey banged on the door at 9am, and I think we hit the Iceberg Lake trail at around noon. Again. Our overall plan was to climb to Iceberg Notch, then run the goat trail along the backside of the Pinnacle Wall to Ptarmigan Tunnel.

For the fourth day in a row, I was surprised at how well my legs were holding up. We chugged up to Iceberg, leaving the trail early and going around a lower lake that had been snow-covered the last time I was there.

Bighorn sheep butts:

The crew. The lake.

From the lake, it looks sheer. From directly below, the route isn’t too intimidating. Once on it, the climbing is quite fun.

Looking down at the lake from the top of the Notch. Next spring, I plan to ski down.

Ski down this guy. Very excited.

The crew with incoming weather behind them. Ahern Pass below.

Ipasha and Merritt.

Given the impending rain and the late hour (3pm), we decided to bail to Granite Park Chalet. Huge, purple piles of bear poo covered the trail on the way there. Once arrived, we dropped down to the Loop and some other folks from the cafe dropped off a car that we drove back. Riding back with my pack on my lap, five people in a five person sedan, it smelled of sweat. Smelled of good times. Smelled like the picnic was over and it was time for a nap.

Thanks to everyone who made food, climbed hard, and slept in. Long live the Park Cafe and the first rate folks who make it tick.

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.

Government sponsored sledding and red flying carpets

Directly after Clay got back from Gunsight, he had to go into work. Being that it was MLK day, and a federal holiday, the Forest Service folks that do our local avie advisory through Flathead Avalanche were off, and since he’d volunteered to go out that day as a second person, it passed to me.

I met Tony Willits across the road from Olney. After confirming that I probably wouldn’t hit a tree with the sled on the first turn of the groomed sled track(thought second might be problematic), he let me strap my Jefferys onto the second sled. Though we’d originally planned to head to Whitefish Mountain (not the resort) to do observations, he’d rolled in a bit late after struggling with some garage doors. By his account, they sounded possessed. Or something. So after some discussion, we headed up to Stryker Ridge and the GNPG terrain to find a north aspect and (maybe) some surface hoar.

The sleds parked in some rare sunshine.

We sledded up a bit into the GNPG permit area, then threw our skins on. Tony heading up.

The pit site was on a north aspect in a fairly treed section of Stryker ridge. Not perfect, and definitely subject to some treebomb activity, but it did well. I asked if scenics were a deciding factor in picking where to dig, and he mentioned that it’s also important to find someplace where you can roll snow pit chunks downhill and have a small bowling session.

Tony checking out the surface snow for possible strikes or spares.

After putting in his ruler, he pulled out a fat stack of cards–old Visas, gym memberships, gift certificates, the like. It threw me for a second, but then he started putting them in at each layer to make easy indicators. Nifty pit magic. Which is probably pretty usual for somebody who’s been doing snow science for the last thirteen years, but I thought it was cool.

There’s no such thing as an avalanche expert. Nobody who has done it for a long time without a close call somewhere in that history. But the folks that have dedicated their careers and livelyhoods to analyzing grain metamorphosis and SWE are great fountains of knowledge, especially for those with less experience (like me). So it was fun to watch him quickly assess things like grain type or layer resistance, qualities that would have take me much longer to identify. He observed, I wrote. On the left, temps by depth are recorded. In the middle, layers are coded by depth, grain type, size, and resistance level.

If this is a bunch of snow nerd jargon, don’t be alarmed–it’s just functional science at work.

Tony then did a shovel shear to identify layers, a CT, and an ECT. Here he is wailing on some pretty solid snow.

The hoarfrost that we’d been looking for was certainly there on shaded aspects. Getting some camera shots of that.

And then a few slithery, soft, fun turns back to the sleds.

The advisory that Tony produced can be found here. Considering that Flathead Avalanche is my local first line for identifying avalanche danger as a guide and as a recreator, it was fun to be a part of producing that community based information. Tony and the rest of the folks do a huge part in advising the local backcountryers, and they deserve big praise for their work.

Two days later, I headed out with the guides to help out/have a fun day skiing. Showed up early.

We’ve got two staff photogs at GNPG. I tried taking a few pictures in the cabin cat on our trip up, and neither of them worked out well. So the professionals don’t look very good in these, but I find them funny.

Jonathan and Clay:

Abby  with pear:

And then she offered to take my picture. I figured that she’d come up with something crazy and original, but as far as I can tell, it’s just the usual stoke that comes with going catskiing.

The winch cat chasing us up:

Higher up, Clay and I moved over to the winch cat with Jay to head up to the bus lookout.   With only one seat up front, one of us had to ride in back on the cat deck and find purchase by grabbing onto the winch body.

And this is why we do this.

Some terrain across the way. This area is called Buffalo Jump, and you might recognize it from Toy Soldier Production‘s Set Your Sights.

Clay drops in.

Then drops in on some lunch while waiting for a pickup.

“Go stand over there and look majestic”

Apart from my duties as a guide, I’ve been able to help out (or passably do something that’s usually helpful) in the shop. Getting to see everything that has to happen to maintain, customize, and power a fleet of four (yes, four) snowcats and the people that make this operation tick gives a much more realistic picture of the difficulty involved. Snowcats are built as light as possible to minimize fuel costs and improve access and float.  Relative to their size as heavy machinery, they barely warrant the term. So they break a lot. The parts can be hard to get, as they’re mostly metric sizes. Atop all that, most cats are designed for grooming, not people hauling, and Great Northern has built two of their own cabins from scratch. When you sit in the back and watch the subalpine firs whipping past, it’s hard to know that that smooth ride and stereo equipped cabin are the product of so much work. The ease created belies the rigor involved, and it’s an honor to get to work with such tireless and passionate folks.

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.

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.