Winter camping shake-down

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Our weak link at this point, in regards to our March adventure, is our snow camping skills. We're limited in this department, and while there are a lot of carry-overs from our summer skills, there are a lot of differences too.

We decided to do a shake-down trip a few days ago to see where we were and what we needed to learn. As the upcoming trip involves covering some ground, weight is key. An immediate lesson was that skiing with a 30 pound pack is a lot different than skiing with a 10 pound pack. We'll need to work on that, and you can bet the morning sessions are going to be done with a sizeable pack from here on out.

We're definitely good at going light, but carrying things makes you question EVERYTHING. Two pairs of long john bottoms? Maybe not. Where can we build redundancy, what can we do without? Honestly, I hate to much stuff. It clutters systems, and I have found I can do with way less than common thought processes would dictate.

One area we are in serious debate with is our shelter. We have a wonderful Hilleberg Nallo, a 2-person winter tent from Sweden. Problem is, it weighs in at a shade under five pounds – not heavy, but this trip requires light weight. It's a little cramped too. We're debating going with a Mega Mid. Lighter, roomier, but if the shit hits the fan, less protection. It's a March trip, but things can still go wrong in March. Do you prepare for 90% of the time and improvise if things go bad, or feel secure in the 10% of this bad time and carry a little extra weight. Tough decisions.

We need to sample the situation. Condensation was a big problem on the shake down. We need to find a solution or our down sleeping bags will be useless after a couple nights. I've been told we need to sleep colder. Sounds unpleasant, but it might work. Everything needs to be evaluated with a critical eye. Our stove was a joke, and not practical for this trip. That's already been corrected. Learning day-by-day.

The mountains are beautiful at night. More beautiful actually. Coyotes ripping howls across the valley. We went on a sunset ski to warm up before bed that felt more like Alaska than Moffat. I think I've found my favorite local ski. Full on radness. Orion raging overhead. Snow white, full moon lit land above it all. Perfection.

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Winter camping, I suspect, will add a whole new level of adventure to our backcountry skiing experience. Simply put, once we learn the skills, we'll be able to go places nobody else does. And the winter mountains are simply divine. And at night – well, they are better than in the day.

Good, learning trip. SIA time sampling next year's gear, and then back at it to give us a shot in hell at pulling this off.

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Jackson Hole: Part 1, U.S. Nationals

Epic
Well, life has once again become hectic – it has a nasty habit of doing that, doesn’t it? Part of the chaos come from the place where Dan and I work being sold, but I’ve had more than enough of work as of late, so maybe that will be touched upon later. A big part of our busy was, quite simply, fun.

As at work we have the awesome ability to take 6 days off in a row, we decided to head up to Jackson Hole. The last time I skied outside of Colorado, I was 15.

The ride was appropriately long and drawn out, as Dan and I really don’t excel at sitting in the car for long periods of time, but we finally pulled into jackson Hole around 7, and promptly were assaulted by the cold air. Colorado doesn’t tend to get too cold, just mildly so, which caused my body to freak when I stepped out of the car to find the air temperature a frigid -12. The Motel 6 we were staying at recommended an Italian restaurant that was just across the street, and we drove over to Teton Mountaineering, where we were supposed to register for the race we had signed up for the next day. I wasn’t sure how to approach this one – it was the U.S. Ski Mountaineering National Championships, but we figured that we would just go our pace, and get it finished. It would be good training for our March trip, right?

In Teton Mountaineering, I quickly noticed that the other women there were giving me the serious evil eye. It was definitely a little off-putting, and we got out of there fast and headed over for some pasta at the Italian restaurant recommended to us. Clearly this restaurant does not understand the ski bum lifestyle, so we ended up ordering the cheapest thing off the menu. Jeff, if you ever come across this – you still make the best marinara sauce I’ve ever had! (And p.s. All of Nederland wants you to open up Neo’s again.)

The next morning dawned incredibly chilly. The temps hovered around -20, and it was early…I wanted to crawl back into bed where it was warm and go back to bed. Somehow my brain overcame my body and we ended up at check-in, where we huddled against each other. Somebody reassured me there was an inversion going on and it would be much warmer at the top. My toes refused to believe him. I watched from beneath my hood as bunches of sponsored athletes mill about, listening openly as a woman on Team Crested Butte discussed how she was bringing three pairs of skins because Sari Anderson had gone through two pairs last year, and it surely wasn’t going to be the weight of an extra skin that slowed her down.

I was clearly out of my league.

The start time was nearing, so Dan and I headed out of the semi-heated tent into the freezing air. I held my hand over my nose, as it instantly felt like an icicle. My early morning fumble-fingers were having trouble extracting my skis from the rack where everybody’s skis were piled up, and hence was alone when I turned to find a dark-haired girl standing in front of me. She tilted her head to the side and half smirked at me.

“Aw, look at those fast boots!” And before my foggy brain figured out what was going on, her hand darted out and snatched my skis out of my hands. “And such heavy skis,” she proclaimed, lifting them up and down as though to portray their obvious heft.

Now, I can wake up in the morning and go for a run, or a bike ride, or a ski. But don’t ask me to talk. My brain could not comprehend why she was acting like that, so I let out an awkward laugh, took my skis out of her hand, and walked away from her towards Dan.

‘What’s up?” He asked me, “What took so long?”

“Just really odd,” I said, shaking my head and clipping into my skis. We did a quick little warm up, which proved that indeed that air was incredibly cold, as Dan’s entire nose turned chalk white. He borrowed a bandana from a race official, and all of a sudden it was time to start. Race starts always make me feel like I’m going to puke, and this one proved no different.

Start
The starting lineup

All of a sudden we were off. It was quickly pretty steep, but I found myself surprised and very pleased by the fact that I was in general keeping up, and even passing some people.

This changed when we were about half way up an odd mogul field. I was finding it harder and harder to get my skins to stick, until at one point, looking down, I realized that I had had a complete skin failure. My glue was no longer sticky. People were gaining on me, passing me as i stamped and struggled with my skis. The skins were held on to the ski by the tip and tail attachment, and every time I took a step, my ski would slid about four inches in the snow until some of the skin grabbed. I was pissed. I had had my first good race start, and I could see it all crumbling.

Fortunately, we always carry a couple of Voile straps on us – life savers in the case of a skin failure. Strapping one on each ski, they effectively held my skin in place, but completely removed any glide. I was essentially on two oddly long and narrow snowshoes. Fuming, I continued the skin up, sincerely glad that Dan was racing with me. The moral support was much appreciated at that moment.

We reached the top of the first skin, I removed both of the straps, my skins, and soon we were off down a crazy mogul field on our little skis. It was an exhilarating run, super soft boots and tiny skis ricocheting around the icy moguls. We reached the bottom and put our skins back on, me the straps back on. Now I knew that I was really going to be slow – there was no saving the skins.

We may not be fast, but we definitely are the most classy looking people out there, as we always race in our Dale of Norway sweaters, which we received a lot of compliments on as we skinned up. The top of the second skin, and we were down an extremely fun little chute – steep, narrow, exciting. I was stoked. This was the first race I’d entered that actually had us skiing fun terrain, not just some silly groomer. My uphill skills being limited, but my downhill background being pretty good, we actually passed a couple of other racers on the way down – soon to be passed again by them as we began the third climb of the day, to our first, and only time cut off.

We beat the time cut off with a good amount of time to spare, and began the boot pack up. The boot pack was clearly set by giants, each step an uphill lunge for me, rather than a simple kick step. NOLS would not approve! The top of the boot pack came, and we did a short skin until we reached another fun little chute to ski down – at this point, I was pretty happy. Maybe my skins weren’t working, but at least there were fun descents! This one proved to be just as fun, but altogether too short, for soon our skins were back on, and we were heading for the part I dreaded: a boot pack up, and then a ladder climb out of Corbet’s Couloir. I didn’t really want to see how well my boots did on a ladder. But, inevitable, we reached the boot pack, and I went into autopilot. One boot in front of another, up, up, up, don’t look down. Whoops! Looked down. The world reeled and dipped until I focused on the deep shadows in the snow in front of me, avoiding another look down at all costs. And now we were at the base of the ladder. I let go of my poles so that they dangled off of my wrists, and began up, my entire body a buzzing bundle of live wires. I realized halfway up that it was two two ladders, held together by the very same Voile straps that had been holding my skins to my skis the whole time. I gulped, and focused on the blue sky above me. I was nearing the top. Finally, there. I stumped onto the solid snow, my knees shaking, Dan soon following.

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Not either of us, but that's the boot up Corbet's.


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The ladder up Corbet's

It was indeed much warmer up at the top, but I could
feel the temperature plummeting as we skied down, down, down 4,000 feet. The
bottom was an interesting myriad of snow with willows poking through, which
made for interesting skiing, and none of this descent was nearly as much fun as
the others.

At the bottom we had just one more skin left, my hands
were numb with cold, my nose was surely a block of ice on my face, but let’s
just skin, get to the top, and ski down. I warmed back up going up. It felt
like up and up and up. We’d heard this last skin was a doozy – it seems like
the people who set these courses like to put that last skin in just to really,
truly finish you off. But finally, finally, we reach the top of the fifth and
last skin, ripped skins yet again, and rocketed down the groomer that was the
course, my hand plastered in front of my face the entire time, trying to
prevent my nose from freezing off.

Sliding to a stop in the finish line, Dan and I gave
each other a hug – this may have been U.S. Nationals, but it was still the
easiest race I’ve done, coming in at 8,600 feet of vertical climbing. We
stumbled into the semi-warmed tent to change, and to devour several slices of
pizza.

I came in last – out of six girls total – and Dan, who
could have done much better, stuck with me through the entire thing. In Europe,
the skimo races are team races. It seems silly that here we are required to
carry beacon, shovel, probe, but no partner is necessary. It’s obviously still a
very young sport here, and is going through some serious growing pains, but the
passion and the thrill is there!

All photos courtesy Mark Gocke photography and Jackson Hole Randonee.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year all. Well, our snowy December has pretty much continued on right until the end of 2012. They are saying a drier pattern is moving in for the next 10 days or so, but we can't really complain too much. Dry stretches are part of winter too, and it looks like it'll shift back to snowy in early to mid-January. I've said it before but I still believe this is going to be a great winter. I know folks in Summit County are lamenting the lack of snow, but here in Nederland it's actually quite good. I've sort of put my rock skis away and haven't paid for it yet.

We had a good Christmas with a little resort skiing. Santa was good to us, and Elaine got some very fashionable ski gear, including a pair of Cree Indian ski mitts that look very cool. Her favorite animal is an eagle, so the eagle eating the fish on these things is very appropriate.

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Spent the evening having dinner with Elaine's family which was great, although I must say I miss my side of the family a lot. One problem with working retail is you don't get holidays off, but I'm hoping to fix that soon. Oh, my sister gave me perhaps the best gift of all – a custom made calendar of Elaine and my summer adventure on the Colorado Trail. It means a ton that she put that together for us.

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Days at work have been ridiculously busy, so we've been making it a point to get up early and ski to maintain sanity. There have been lots of skins in the pitch black where we get to the top of our training hill right as the sun rises. It's been cold too – in the single digits – so it feels very "Call of the Wild" out there. Lots of tracks of animals, and just the two of us heading through the sparkling snow, hoods up, in our own little cocoons. It's nice and peaceful, and a necessity during this stressful time. My headlamps has a red colored beam, which I like because it keeps your night vision fresh.

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We've been taking our fast-and-light gear out a lot. It's amazing how much time this stuff chops off. A loop that usually takes an hour-twenty on big gear can be done sub-hour. I cracked the hour mark for the first time about a week ago, and then a few days later, with Elaine leading the entire time, she did the same. I figure it's like Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile mark…once that happened once, the mental barrier was gone and lots of folks did it. I know for me the hour thing had been elusive for a few years. The photo above is of Elaine after the effort. The girl is getting awfully fit, and I'm a very lucky guy to have such a great ski partner as my wife. One thing about marriage and relationships – if your interests are too seperate, I feel like you are missing out on a huge part of the deal. I like it the way we do it…skiing with my wife and best friend pretty much every day. When it's time to have kids down the road were going to keep having fun, but with a bigger posse!

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We were a bit lazy on this first day of 2013, and had planned to go for a ski up to Heart Lake, but when we got there I realized I'd left my skins at home. Oh well, adapt. We headed home, got the skins, and did a little session at the local stash. It was heinous up there – super cold and very windy. We ended up off the normal path and had to boot up some exceptionally hard snow. I love this photo from this evening, as it speaks volumes about what skiing here is like. This place makes you tough for sure.

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Otherwise, we've been planning for a little trip up to Jackson Hole. The US Ski Mountaineering Championships are up there on Saturday, and we signed up. We're likely going to get crushed by a very elite field, but it should be fun just the same. Even more fun will be skiing Teton Pass for two days after. I have not been up to Jackson for skiing since I was in middle school, so I'm beyond stoked. Plus, the Tetons are the mountain range on my wife's wedding ring, so it seems like an appropriate place to take a nice little post-Christmas rush vacation. Wish us luck, and have an awesome ski day wherever you may be!

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