Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting deep at VMT

It might sound like a joke, but lately the snow has been coming in by the foot, not by inches. The storm hose is pointed right on British Columbia, and the cold smoke just keeps piling up at Valhalla Mountain Touring. We are in full swing here, with the 3rd straight week of operations, and this week has a bunch of friends from UT and CO up here to ski the pow. But instead of ranting and raving, and storytelling, I will let the pictures from the last 2 days do the talking.

Get up here! We still have some spaces for this winter!

All photos by backcountry.com's Tommy Chandler.

Me checking out the snow as the season starts, keeping it safe

Jasmin testing out the snow on yet another storm day.

Lindsay Yaw asks for the snorkel.

Me trying to get above the snow, but that is hard to do right now!

Jonn Webb taste testing the snow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cold, cold smoke

The arctic air mass has taken over British Columbia. I know what you're thinking. It's Canada, you all live in igloos and it is cold all the time. But alas, no, SW BC is actually quite mild in the winter, and that is what makes skiing here so great-it's not frigidly cold! Right now it is so, so, so bitterly cold here that we can't even really ski on shady slopes. The snow is so cold that your wax just doesn't work.

It has made for some interesting plan changes for me this week. Originally I was supposed to be skiing in Roger's Pass. We did two days there, and it was literally some of the coldest outdoor recreation I have ever taken part in. We skinned up to treeline one day, only to met by 25km/hr winds at -24 degrees Celsius. For you math majors out there, that equals a -40 degree celsius wind chill (and -40 is where farenheit and celsius are the same!). This artic front also brought with it heinously strong winds, jacking all the snow at treeline and in the alpine.

We decided to pull the plug and head a bit south to the family's lodge in the Valhallas. A bit of protection from the wind and slightly warmer temps tempted us and Valhalla Mountain Touring has delivered yet again. We have just spent the last 2 days tracking out the cold powder, first a bit in the trees, and then today in the blazing sun. I gotta tell ya, it might be freezing cold out, but that is the bet time ever to ski the pow in full sun, the snow just stays as cold smoke all day long!

So, a video here to keep you psyched, and some photos from today as well...

Benny and Jas racing for the freshies!

Richard heading towards sunny powder on Rugged Peak

My Karhu Storm's getting psyched for 2 grand of cold smoke.

Richard steals some of Benny's powder

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finally, WINTER!!!

Living on the coast of British Columbia has its pluses and its minuses. The rainy fall, when the snow line hasn't lowered down, can be quite tough. I have spent the last two weeks desperately trying to find some winter outdoor recreation: 3 skiing attempts, and 1 ice climbing attempt. Actually, the 2 days of clear and dry weather were some of the best days of bouldering I have had in Squamish!

But quietly in the interior of British Columbia, winter has started, and about a meter to a meter and a half (3 to 5 feet for the yanks) has slowly started to pile up, and just this last storm cycle a good half a meter has just been added. I did all that I could in the face of more rainy weather on the coast and packed up my truck to drive to the interior.

As my friend pointed out today, I luckily married into a backcountry ski lodge in this zone, and guide their full time in the winter. So I took advantage of that with my wife, father-in-law and dog to go test out the ski legs in our own private backcountry ski paradise at Valhalla Mountain Touring. I shot some video of the day, so I will let that speak for itself. Winter is in full swing here, and the powder is dry and fluffy. Besides we have to start training our new puppy for his winter of ski touring - as you can hear from his yelping in the video, he was having fun.

Come join the fun! We still have a few spaces left on trips this winter...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Road Trip Continued

Okay, so Yosemite served up a HUGE portion of Humble Pie, much like it always does. Free climbing El Cap is HARD work, and I don't know if I was fully prepared for it. But in the end, getting sick to the point of vomiting and temperatures in the 30s prevented us from doing any free climbing, and forced a hasty retreat from 22 pitches up the wall. Oh well, the big stone isn't going anywhere, so I can come back again next year!

It was then off to Smith Rocks for the American Mountain Guides Association Annual Meeting. I managed to squeak in a few days of climbing before and during some meetings and trainings, and even got to tick some classic Smith Rock's routes, including Toxic and Chain Reaction.
Smith Rocks at Sunset

The Classic 11b Toxic

Classic Smith Views on the warmup

Trying to figure out the beta on The Quickening 12c/d

All in all, it was an amazing event to support the non-profit AMGA, in furthering their cause on training and certifying guides in the US...you should read more about the AMGA, and if you do hire a guide always try and hire one that is certified and/or trained by the AMGA.

At the last minute the keynote speaker bailed (it was supposed to be Jack Tackle) and yours truly had to step in and give a presentation on climbing in Squamish and my alpine trip to the Adamants this past summer (which I blogged abit about here). Free flowing beer aided my cause, and my 2 hours of prep time proved to be more than enough to really get together a pretty good show, or so I thought. Lots of videos, great pics (from friends who know how to use a camera) and some hopefully funny self depricating stories all added up to a good time. The same night also had a silent auction and raffle raising thousands of dollars for the AMGA. There were also 2 days of clinics on all sorts of great topics. Next year the event will be in Moab, UT so make yourself available to check out this fun event.

After the meeting was done I left Smith to pick up my wife in Yosemite. We jumped right back in the car and clipped some bolts and soaked in some hot springs in Bishop for a few days. Feeling the need for more crack climbing, we have now relocated for a 2 weeks in Indian Creek. I will keep you posted on the good times had down here in the red desert!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fall Road Tripping - Part 1 El Cap

Okay, so I have been a slacker with blogging. September came and I actually had to work a bunch. Well if you call teaching a bunch of keen 20 year olds how to climb in Squamish and the Coast Mountains Work, then so be it. But it was all in the name of 3 months of no work and all play before the winter snows have me pounding out the vertical on the skis.

Part 1 of my journey has taken Jasmin, my wife, and I down to Yosemite, where we are just super psyched to climb as much as possible. After a few days of cragging, we decided that what we really want to do is get up on El Cap again, but this time with no aiders, trying our best to free climb it via the route 'Freerider'.

Freerider is no walk in the park, and it checks in at around 30 pitches, with most being hard 5.10 to hard 5.12. Neither of us are expecting to send it on this trip, but we both want to check it out to see if it is possible to ever do the unimaginable: free climb the most iconic big wall in the world. It has always been a dream of mine, and will likely be a multi trip endeavor but who cares! It will be a lot of fun trying!

But free climbing big walls is HARD work. Day one we climbed the first 10 pitches, and rapped back down to the valley floor via some fixed lines. Yesterday we packed up our haulbags and got prepped to be on the wall for 4 days. Today we jugged back up and hauled our 100+ lbs bags up about 1200' - a third of the way. Tomorrow we get down to business and drag our butts up El Cap trying to free climb as much as possible. Stay tuned...I will keep you posted on how it goes, as well as the rest of the road trip, which will include Smith Rocks, Indian Creek and Spain (I guess that is a flying trip not a road trip!)
The first 100', only 3,300' more to go!

Jasmin soaks up some intense CA rays 1000' feet above El Cap Meadow

Jas heads out on pitch 11 of Freerider

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Climbing in the Rain

Summer seems to have ended way too early here in coastal British Columbia. Normally August is a month filled with sun, warm weather and endless high pressure, allowing trip after trip into the mountains. Instead, every few days has brought a storm with an inch or two of rain, followed by days of unsettled showers. As a result my mountain trips have canceled and I have been heading to the steep sport climbs to stay in shape and try new link ups and extensions.

However, there is a diamond in the rough, so to speak, here in British Columiba. When times get desperate and it is raining like this there is a some salvation to be had in the form of a world class limestone cave hidden in the hills of Vancouver Island. When I say world class, I mean it- this place is loaded with tufas, stalactites, pockets, flowstone and edges, as good as any where in the world. A little information can be found here and there about it, so I will leave the details a little more vague for you google detectives out there to research the mecca known as Horne Lake.

Senja Palonen works Subdivisions 12c/d. Photo by Rich Wheater

Now granted this place won't ever become too popular for a number of reasons. First there are only about 30 to 50 routes there...not huge. Second is the grades. The main attraction is this massive amphitheater about 100 feet high and 2-300 feet wide. The easiest route in this cave is the cliffs' 'warm up' which is a really steep 11a. After that there is pretty much 1 route at every grade from 12a to 14b. You have to bring your A-game to have a good time here, and be fit for full on 30m enduro-thugfests. That being said these routes are world class, knee bar, heel hooking, tufa wrangling gems, requiring 3-D full body climbing tactics.

Me (Evan Stevens) working knee bars on Save the Pushers, 13a

The last reason keeping people away? It is slightly epic and expensive to get there...let me just recap our latest journey.

Yesterday was one of these desperate rainy summer days in Squamish, so we rallied 6 people to meet up for the journey to Horne. The trip starts by getting to the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay, about 45 minutes from Squamish - remember this place is on an island. So forever a climbing dirtbag, we try and save costs however we can, and one method is by 'smuggling' each other onto the ferry. It costs $50 each way just to bring your vehicle over to the island, and then $14 each way per passenger. So we did what any cheap climber would do - hide 5 people under your gear in the back of the truck - voila $64 dollars for the ferry ride split by 6 instead of $134 for each ride. Yes, I know, it is stealing and I am a bad man, but what is a desperate climber to do when it is raining?!!??! So inevitably we got busted, and forced to pay the full price, oh well, it was worth a shot, at least they didn't arrest us!

Will Stanhope works a rest on Save the Pushers. Photo by Rich Wheater

Or so we thought. When we got to the island and drove off the boat, it seems that they had called the cops, telling them we were driving around with people in the back of the truck. Yes, I know again, bad idea, no seat belts and dangerous for the 2 people (and my dog) in the back, but it was a short drive to the cliff, and we were carpooling to save funds and the earth! Luckily for us, the nicest cop in the world, I swear the nicest cop ever, pulled us over. He told me I couldn't keep driving with people in the back, that 2 folks had to get out. He turned his cheek when they started hitch hiking, and let me go with a warning instead of a $750 ticket.

So with only about a 15 minute delay we were at the crags ready to climb. While packing our bags up at the truck, I basically inhaled a yellow jacket and was stung in the mouth. WHAT IS GOING ON???? Seemed that the stars were alligning against me, trying to keep me from climbing at Horne Lake. Luckily I am not allergic, and we got to the cliff.

Luckily for me I persevered. I got back on my project, the classic of the cliff, a massive, 14 bolt 35 meter long 13a called 'Save the Pushers' and sent, so for me all the epic struggles were worth it. This thing is so crazy steep, you lower off 60 feet away from where you started into some amazing Arbutus trees, and crawl your way back to the ledge. Everyone else had a blast and we stayed dry and got pumped while the rain fell out in the trees instead of on our heads, protected by the massive cave.

Will Stanhope shows you how steep it is here-but the clip loaded sideways so turn your head...video from Mike Doyle

Enjoy these teaser photos and video clip, get strong, blow some money and find Horne Lake.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Adamants Part 3

Last time I left you (scroll down) I had just been HAMMERED by weather trying to free climb the Blackfriar. We spent the next day drying out and licking our wounds, ready to pounce the next day for another free attempt of this 2,000 foot wall.

Staring down Blackfriar from camp

The day dawned clear and cold and we headed over to try our luck again. Freezing cold temps met us as we climbed in the shade for 6 pitches back up to our previous high point in no time flat. We were feeling like we could do this, all free in a day, which would be a first for any of the big walls around here. The next pitch proved to be a bit alpine. Going light, all I had was a pair of running shoes to keep feet warm at belays. I quickly put them on for the next pitch, 5.9 ice/rock jamming between a snow patch and the wall. Gear doesn't work too well in this scenario, so I ran it out for a good 50 feet to a nice ledge where the snow was gone and I could put my rock shoes on. The pitch then started to ramp up a bit - steep and with a small crack, which I had to dig out protection with a nut tool on lead, only to reveal RP placements for pro. No time to stop and think of how scary it was, so I just kept on firing to the next ledge.

Following Craig's proud 5.11+ onsight gardening fest

Craig stepped up for his next lead which was more of the same, 5.11 free climbing with small gear while gardening out the crack. We began to watch the time add up, as cleaning and freeing your pitches on lead takes a LONG time; almost 1.5 hours per pitch. At this rate there was no way we were going to make it. In fact I slowed us down big time on the start of the next pitch, trying for a long time to make my self fit into a tight squeeze chimney right off the belay. At 6' 2" and a 180 lbs, size was not on my side, I just couldn't get my hips into the thing. So I handed over the lead and Craig wriggled his smaller frame into the crack and fired off another 50m of gardening after that.

2 hours later and 8pm in the evening we decided to make the obvious call. Gardening and doing this route in a day were not going to happen. We had broken the sacred alpine free climbing rule of British Columbia - stay on south facing rock! South facing alpine rock in BC gets dried off in the sun, and doesn't allow as much moisture and vegetation to thrive, keeping the rock clean. We were trying to climb a north facing route and it just wasn't working. Oh well, lesson learned. Back to camp with our tails tucked between our legs.

The next day we decided to test our theory and headed for a new variation start to the classic Gibson-Rohn route on Ironman. Looking at the line it was obvious that we had a few pitches of slammed shut corners that were still climbable, so we took the power drill in tow to place a few bolts for pro if need be. Craig led the first pitch and fired off a nice 55m 5.11c putting in 6 bolts on lead AND still managing to free the pitch while dragging up the drill. Impressive.

Me (Evan) drilling on lead, p.2

Pretty soon after starting it was obvious that my pitch was going to be hard with out much gear. I placed 3 bolts right early on while aiding the feature, and then was able to work over toward a super thin crack and place a few pins, and finally get some regular gear in. Craig followed the pitch clean at 5.12- with some wild full body bridging, so we knew our new route would go free. 2 more pitches of splitter clean cracks lead us into the regular route on Ironman, where we than rappelled our route so we could re-lead that 2nd pitch and free it. We called our new variation 'Man of Steel' being that we bolted a new line on Ironman, it is always fun to have a play on words.

Craig following the last pitch of Man of Steel

We awoke the next day to a vicious thunderstorm early in the morning, so pancakes and extra coffee seemed in order. By noon the weather was good and radio reports had the weather being horrible for the next 3 days after this. So we bucked up and left camp at the early alpine start time of 1pm to climb the standard route on Ironman, 10 pitches V 5.10+. As we started it was obvious that the weather was going to deteriorate, so not wanting to get caught in a storm we simulclimbed almost the entire route, getting back to the base 3.5 hours after we started. Minutes later the skies opened up and we fled back to camp.

10cm of snow the next day left us festering in the tent, watching movies on the Ipod waiting for the helicopter to take us out.

Now all I have to do is stop climbing every day in Squamish so I can get around to edit my hours of video to post up here!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Adamants - Part 2

Well, I gave you all the quick intro just 2 weeks ago, and now I am back.

But I am so loaded with killer photos and great stories that I will break this up into a few posts.

We landed at the head of the Austerity Glacier in the heart of the Adamant Spires, a remote group of peaks about 100 miles north of Rogers Pass, British Columbia. My trusty partner Craig McGee guides in the winter for Canadian Mountain Holidays in this area so he was chock full of lines for us to try. We built our snow camp, racked up and tried to sleep, giddy as two kids on christmas (in my case Hannukah) morning, ready to try the 2,000' formation known as the Turret.

Digging camp at the base of the Turret

Racking up in the AM

The formation had never been climbed in a day or free climbed so of course that was our goal. We walked 5 minutes to the base and picked what looked like the best line. Info on the route was virtually non-existent and the two pictures of where the route went had 2 different lines drawn in! A few hours later and about 1,000 feet of climbing brought us to the base of the headwall. We had battled a bit of loose rock and tricky route finding to this point, and now the vertical headwall took on the character of an onion skin. Peeling, hollow giant flakes were the name of the game, as we cautiously tread up another pitch or two.
Craig tackles the headwall of the Turret with Mt. Sir Sanford in the background.

About 400 feet from the top, the scary climbing got the better of us. I came up to a 7 piece anchor that Craig had made, and he still didn't feel good about it. The next pitch was a 100 foot traverse across perched blocks that was looking to weigh in at 5.11 r/x. We had enough and bailed.

We then turned our sights to trying the first one day and free ascent of the Blackfriar, another 2,000 foot wall close to camp. We did about 6 pitches of amazing Black Canyon of the Gunnison style free climbing until the skies opened up on us. I was on an intricate and run out 5.10 pitch when waterfalls starting pouring down the route. Not having a solid piece of gear in to bail on I kept climbing in the rain until I could make the anchor. Of course the anchor was guarded by 10 feet of ice climbing- this is the mountains after all! A minor epic saw us off the cliff soaked to the bone and hustling back to camp for dry clothes and warm tea.
Me bailing off the Blackfriar in a storm.

Back in camp we were feeling the mountain beat down. Adamants 2, Craig and Evan 0. But I have been in the mountains enough to know that humility and failure are a big part of the game and that is what keeps you coming back to try again. So we dried our gear out for a day, and rested up camp, to get ready to try the Blackfriar again...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Tantalus Range

Summer finally kicked in for us in the Pacific North-wet last week, and my timing couldn't have been better for a 5 day trip to teach some folks about alpine climbing. Working for Canada West Mountain School, I met with my two climbers Mike and Lou at a coffee shop in town at 7 am. A little caffeine, some pouring over maps, and a ten minute drive took us to the Squamish Airport. The heli pilot gave us a quick briefing and we loaded the bird for the hop up to the Jim Haberl Hut in the Tantalus Range of coastal British Columbia.

Black Tusk Helicopters setting some climbers up with Alpha in the background.

The Tantalus Range is an amazing string of peaks that rise out of the ocean just west of the highway between Squamish and Whistler. If you have ever driven to Whistler on a clear day and looked west off the highway, you are smacked in the face with 6 - 7 thousand vertical feet of steep, rocky peaks with tumbling glaciers pouring off their ridgelines. The problem with climbing in the Tantalus range has always been access. Steep forested hill sides guarded by major, fast moving rivers prevent easy access, and that is where the heli comes into play. For a few hundred dollars per person Black Tusk Helicopters will drop you off and pick you up at the Jim Haberl Hut, right in the middle of the range. We chose this option, and after the 6 minute flight straight up, we were practicing crevasse rescue on a glacier by 8:15 am. Unbelievable!

The Jim Haberl Hut with Dione in the background

The hut fully styles you out, completed in 2006, with its bunk beds with mattresses, hardwood flooring and walling, propane grill, outhouse, etc...it is full on alpine bivy luxury. You can walk out your door to technical alpine terrain. What could be better 15 minutes from my house in Squamish.

So with 5 days of sunshine and warm weather forecast, we set to making plans for some of the classic climbs in the range and a bit of instruction as well. First off we climbed Serratus, which is literally a 15 minute walk from the hut. Steep snow slopes led to some easy rock scrambling and the summit at 8:30am.

Summiting Serratus with Dione in the background.

Warm weather meant alpine starts: 3am wake up calls and walking by 4am so we could get the best snow conditions before the heat of the day. It also meant sunrises on the summits.

We did some skills and then ramped up for an ascent of Dione, one of the more prominent peaks in the range. This one required a few hours of glacier travel on the approach, front pointing up a steep couloir, and then 3 pitches of 5th class rock. By all means, a well rounded alpine ascent, requiring a wide skill set.
The SE face of Dione with the Rumbling Glacier in the background

Approaching the summit of Dione

The shadow of Dione from the summit

We climbed a few more small objectives the next day and then headed back down to the heat of the valley. Overall a great trip in an amazing spot just a short heli ride away from Squamish. Get up to the Tantalus if you have a chance!

Climbing above the Lake Lovely Water area.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Zombie Roof

So obviously I am fully into rock climbing season now and ski season is over for me after over a 100 days on the snow. What can I say, I love both sports just as much! But if you get bored of my rock posts, you can always scroll back to some skiing ones and relive the powder dreams at evanstevens.blogspot.com.

For now, I guess I am on a bit of a roof crack binge. The last few days a bunch of us have decided to tackle Zombie Roof, an ultra classic 5.12d roof crack that is right next too some of the most classic 5.8-5.10 routes in Squamish. I have walked by this climb for 10 years now, and only tried it for the first time yesterday. After sending 'My Little Pony' the other day (see one of the older posts), I was feeling inspired to try this thing.

It is on you from the word go. It's about half as big as My Little Pony, but there is no real sections of cruising, just technical tight hands, finger locks,laybacks, ringlocks, heel-toe camming, and whatever body english trickery you can come up with. All of my other (smaller) friends are getting some good hand jams in at the lip, but my meaty paws are making me work a bit harder. Oh well, I haven't sent yet, but it will probably check in at a bit higher grade for me, more like 5.13a.

Good fun all around, check out my next attempt at making videos here...let me know if you are into the climbing vids, and I will keep 'em coming. All the climbing footage I ever see these days is always bouldering, deep water soloing or sport climbing, so I am trying my hardest to get some shots of hard trad climbing out there!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Little Pony

A bizarre title for a post for this blog...but let me explain.

You see, My Little Pony is the twisted name that my good friend, and bad ass mountain guide Craig McGee gave his new 30ft, 5.12+ hand and fist roof crack that he free climbed last fall here in Squamish, B.C. Go figure...

Recently, a friend and I went to check this thing out, and try and do the second ascent. It is a perfect route for us to tackle right now, because 'June-uary' is in full effect in the Pacific North-Wet; the rains will not stop! Luckily there are a few secret caves that stay dry in the rain, so climbers like me can get their fixes!

Here's a video of the route and our day...I did end up sending it with the gear in place, so I have to go back and do it placing my own gear - and hopefully get someone to shoot some cool footage of 'the battle'.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Climbing Again - The Ace-Drizzle Memorial Route

The skis are back in the closet again; at least until I am in the North Cascades next week skiing volcanoes! So that means it's climbing season. Time to get back into shape and climb the rocks. Being that my wife and I are moving back to Squamish, British Columbia next week, we decided to cruise the home front here in Salt Lake City. Feeling the need to climb some granite cracks, we decided to test our mettle on a newer gear route called the Ace - Drizzle Memorial Route, 4 pitches, 5.12c. (As it is a newer route you can read about it on www.mountainproject.com, which is an incredible on-line free user created guidebook to everywhere!) You might find the name interesting, and it is worth noting...It is named (and I quote the First Ascensionist Chris Thomas here):

In honor of our good friends Brian Postlethwait and Andre Callari, who were killed while climbing in the Ruth Gorge of Alaska in May, 2007. Brian and Andre were two of the most badass climbers, skiers/snowboarders, pilots, adventurers, husbands, brothers, sons and friends that ever lived, and this is part of our tribute to the amazing people that they were.

I had met these guys briefly before they died, and am great friends with some of their best friends, and everyone only attests to what stand up guys they were. What a great way to preserve their memories in the communities they were a part of!

Chris Thomas on the Ace DrizzleChris Thomas sending the crux 12c pitch. Photo by Andrew Burr

On Saturday, Jasmin and I went up to check this route out. It is rare that either of us can fire off a 12c trad pitch first go, so we knew we would have to put a little bit of time into sending it, so we got up there and worked the moves and the finicky gear out. I must say that one of the things that really helped on this pitch was the Black Diamond C3 Camalots. BD's newer micro cams are pretty awesome for tricky small protection placements. I have aliens and tcu's on my rack and now C3's, and I find with hard trad climbing that you really need a mixture of devices as different cracks take different brands of gear. However, more and more I seem to be going to these units. The narrow heads, and slightly stiffer cables mean I can stuff them safely into small and tricky spots. For multiple placements on this route, all I could put into the crack were C3s! They are also built to last. Aliens and Ultralight TCU's have some durability issues, and I seem to wear them out with my abusive use patterns. The first piece we placed on this pitch was a sideways green C3 and it was getting worked by my repeated 15 foot falls at the crux. At the end of the day, it held its original shape and function - a testament to its durability.

Getting the feel for the C3's in some good granite.

To keep going on some gear reviews here, I must say that my new shoes were pretty sweet as well. I am sporting some Evolv Pontas shoes, and their no stretch-synthetic material and sticky rubber are treating me right. The Ace-Drizzle is an overhanging tips crack, and you really need to paste your feet on some micro holds to climb this thing, and these shoes provided.

Today we went back up for round 2. With temps in the 90's in SLC, we waited for some shade and headed up the canyon. On my second try today I was able to fire the pitch, having the gear placements and technical beta dialed in. Jasmin didn't send, but she was pretty close, so we are going to cross our fingers and hope it doesn't rain tomorrow, so we can go back up and she can try again! I was psyched to fire off a hard trad pitch this early in the season; I can't wait to step it up some more in Squamish, B.C. this summer!

Friday, May 9, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part 4

Today was the last day of the course/exam, and things are all wrapped up. I made a flight back to Anchorage, and have a few hours to kill before my 1am red eye back to the lower 48, allowing me to decompress and chill out for the first time in 10 days. Can you feel the weight lifting off of my shoulders?

This is not an easy process - either for the aspiring guide or the instructor/examiner. The long days, lack of sleep and continuing challenges of touring and guiding day after day had taken their toll on everyone with a touch of fatigue setting in...but that can tell you a lot about a guide, as they process these issues, and still manage to guide and have some energy in the reserves for the anticipation of whatever issues may come out of the blue. Granted these courses tend to push people a little hard at times, as the candidates aren't used to juggling so many things day after day, but anything can happen in the mountains, and we need to know that these candidates can handle and manage all of these things before we can allow them to pass the examination component of this course. As a result, a 50% failure rate in guide programs throughout the world is not uncommon. Most aspiring guides usually fail at least one exam in their path to full certification as a rock, ski and alpine guide. This is for sure one of the toughest parts of the examining job, as you have 'journeyed' with these candidates through the last 10 days, helping them to achieve their goals, and they don't always make it. But so it goes...if everyone passed just for signing and showing up, then being a certified guide wouldn't mean a thing.

At least for the last 3 days we got to hammer out a few more quality ski lines, possibly some of my last few turns of the season, as I will be diving head first into climbing season this week. In fact my last few turns were on one of my favorite runs on the planet, the Cherry Couloir on Python Peak. This dog leg chute drops right off the small summit down about 1,500' vertical, lined by cliffs holding an angle in the mid 40's. After that, another 3 grand of cruiser turns take you back to the car - you gotta love the big vertical of Alaska!

I already have a potential trip guiding in Valdez for next April, and I can't wait to come back! This place continues to blow my mind, and my last turns (possibly?!!?) of the season will carry me through to next fall...

Marc leads Julia up the Python for some practice guiding

Rapping down into the top of the Cherry Couloir right off of Python's Summit

Julia Niles rips down the guts of the Cherry

Joey Vallone showing us how its down on the lower part of the Cherry

Yours Truly getting in some amazing final turns of the season

Monday, May 5, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part 3

Well, we are down to the final stretch, only 3 more days left of the ski guide course. For the last 3 days we were on a point to point traverse, that started off quite spectacularly with a heli-drop. Our friends at Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides lined us up with a drop on top of the 7,000' foot peak known as 'Ice Palace'. This run was only guided once this season, and has some pretty interesting positions to say the least. Crevasses and ice falls border almost every turn on the top of the run, and everyone's adrenaline was high, when we were left by the bird perched on top of the line with packs full of 3 days worth of gear. Joey and I led the group down to demo some guiding techniques, and 3,200' later we were all stoked with the unbelievable amount of boot top powder we just skied in the first week of May.

Ice Palace

So we then traveled up and over a glaciated col, skied down another huge shot to the massive Tonsina glacier. We skied about 8km up that glacier to go over another col, and dropped down to the Tsina glacier and camped amidst the never ending peaks and glaciers.

Small skiers head down to the massive Tonsina Glacier
This was a big day, and we have been driving the candidates pretty hard. 12 hours out on the snow has been pretty standard, and none of us have averaged more than 5 hours sleep for the last week. Every certified guide I know has been put through the wringer, and it is important to know that your guide can keep going no matter what. Call it a rite of passage, or what ever you like, it is a hard process and you have to be able to keep up for days on end.

So of course we kept going the next day. We woke up at our beautiful camp, and trekked up another 2500' feet to another col that led us to the Hoodoo glacier, winding our way through more ice falls and crevasses.

Mark finds a path up to the Hoodoo Col

As instructors, we were almost hoping for some bad weather, so we could see how the candidates navigate up the big white glaciers in fog and whiteout conditions, we got a little bit of fowl weather, but it cleared out in time for our descent onto the Hoodoo.

Whiteout clears for us at the col.

We dropped onto the Hoodoo, made camp and busted up Girls Mountain for a sweet 3,000' of later afternoon skiing.

The Hoodoo Glacier and Girls Mountain

Time to camp again, and we actually got 6 hours of sleep, and took it easy on the candidates the next day, with only one short 3,000' climb and ski out the backside of Girls Mountain down to the Worthington Glacier and the cars.

Backcountry.com Athlete Julia Niles takes us down 4,200' feet to the cars

Sound like a lot? Well it has been, and like I said, we still have 3 more days of skiing left!

On another note, it is always interesting to see what gear all of the guides are hammering on...especially when there are a few items that are in almost every single guides pack. First of course are Dynafit bindings. Light and bomber, there is no other choice for ski guides. The other items would be for camping. Jetboil stoves are universal as well; light, small and super efficient. The Black Diamond Firstlight (and other BD hyperlight tents) are the ONLY tents I see people with for winter camping - not amazing in the rain, but perfect in the cold and snow. Finally would be a plug for a new piece of gear I am using, the Outdoor Research Exped sleeping mats. I can't believe how well I slept on the Downmat 7 DLX, best night of sleep in the backcountry ever for me. Period.

Okay, enough of a post for now...hope this inspires you to check out some new places, and if you hire a guide, to consider hiring an AMGA certified guide. We still have a few more days left, so check back to see what else we come up with for these aspiring certified guides!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part 2

Day 2 and 3 of the AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guides Course just wrapped up. We spent day 2 finishing off our technical skills, by teaching the candidates glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques on the Worthington Glacier right off of Thompson Pass. You have to love this place...20 minutes of skinning from the car and we are on a glacier, skiing towards a crevasse to huck ourselves into and get dragged out of.

Candidates hanging out in the crevasse.

As you can imagine, it is essential to know how to be able to haul someone who falls into a slot out of it. It isn't exactly a walk in the park, as you have to arrest the person's fall into the slot, then build a ski anchor as you hold the person's weight on the rope so that you can escape their weight and build a hauling set up to get mechanical advantage so you can pull the person out of the slot.

Ben fighting the pull of gravity as he arrests a crevasse fall.

The plan for Day 3 didn't include any more rescue and technical skills assessment and practice, so obviously it means that it included some ski touring. We were all excited to get out and cover some ground and ski some of the big terrain that the Chugach are famous for. The weather here has been a bit less than ideal. Joey Vallone, one of the instructors I am working with, keeps running into tons of skiing rock stars he used to ski with, who are here to film. However, they have been sitting on their butts for weeks, as clouds and unsettled weather have kept the helis grounded. Lucky for us, we are traveling under our own power and can get around in the mountains as we please, and capitalize on the small windows of good weather.

Working our way up a run called RFS (Really F-ing Steep!)

Luck for us, this actually meant some good views and visibility in the afternoon, and the added bonus treat of 10-15cm of fresh pow - not bad for May 1st!

Instructor Howie Schwartz helps candidate Mark Hanselman pick and choose his way down the glacier.

We got some good runs in, and got to look around and drool in anticipation of the next week of refining guiding skills. Julia Niles works with Howie on figuring out where we will go for the next 3 days.

Finally we sat down with some maps to plan a 3 day ski traverse off of Thompson Pass. If the weather agrees we might get dropped off further away from the road by a heli, and ski back to the cars - if not, good old lungs and legs will get us far far away! I'll let you know how it goes in 3 days!

Joey Vallone getting ready for some AK Heli Time!