Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WURL On Skis: Can it be done?

In the Wasatch, there is a traverse called the WURL. It stands for "Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup." So far as I can tell, the route was pioneered, and possibly originated, by Jared Campbell. And so far as I can tell, only two people have completed it in summer conditions -- Jared Campbell and Nik Berry (don't know if that's his real name). Their accounts are here (Jared) and here (Nik).  They are worth reading.

The route, as penned in by Jared Campbell, is depicted below.

It starts at Ferguson Canyon, ascends to the Twin Peaks, follows the ridgeline towards Superior, tagging O' Sullivan, Drom, and Monte Cristo along the way.  Then it swirls around the Grizzly/Alta perimeter, over Wolverine, Tuscarora, Devils Castle, Sugarloaf, Baldy, and Hidden.  And from there it tags several other 11'ers --- White Baldy, Red Baldy, Red Stack, Pfeif, South Thunder, Chipman, Bighorn, and Lone.  It exits Bells Canyon.  It is about 25 miles and ascends about 20,000 vertical feet.

Last year, Noah and I did what we called the Stuper Tour -- actually, I called it that; he called it the Stupor Tour.  It more or less followed the south rim of the WURL, starting with Baldy and ending at Lone.  It omitted South Thunder Mountain, but included Chipman.  I can't tell for sure whether the  WURL includes Chipman.  The Stupor Tour took us over 16 hrs, but it was done in what I consider pretty tough conditions -- lots of post-holing and bouldering.  I'm thinking that in better conditions, it could be done faster.

While we were on the Stupor Tour we joked about doing what we called the "Toilet Bowl," a route that is more or less like the WURL.  At the time, it sounded a bit out of reach.  After 15 hrs, while stumbling over roots and boulders in Bells Canyon, as a joke, it made us feel better -- at least we're not going THAT far.  But since then, that joke has lingered in my head.  Last Thursday, I was in Broads and with Twin, O'Sullivan and Drom looming above, I couldn't help but think of the Toilet Bowl again.  Jokingly, I mentioned that we should just ski out to Superior or do the Toilet Bowl.  It's a joke only after you have a few thousand vertical in your legs, because, like I said, it seems so out of reach. But as I exited Broads, I looked back and saw O'Sullivan and Drom smiling at me!  Maybe it was a sign?

Over the weekend on our little traverse (below), the subject of the Toilet Bowl came up again.  Then, I found out about Jared and Nik's completion of the WURL.  And I found about Mark Twight's attempted ski traverse of the WURL.  Bart tells me that he's now obsessed with the Toilet Bowl traverse.  And so, I find myself wondering: is a WURL on skis  -- WURLOS -- possible?  I think it is.

To do it on skis and in winter conditions, however, would require some modifications.  I'm hoping that these modifications will not eviscerate the WURL -- the Wasatch Ultimate RIDGE Linkup.  Perhaps I'll just have to call our route the "Toilet Bowl Traverse" after all.  The modifications that I'm thinking are necessary are as follows:

1. Start at Broads rather than Ferguson.  Going up Ferguson would be relatively tough and exposed with skis.
2. Rather than follow the ridgeline from Drom to Monte Cristo, drop down into Mill B and go around Sundial, back up Mill B to North Superior.
3. Do I really have to ski the rim from Superior to Dav to Black Bess to Patsey Marley to Wolverine to Tuscarora to Devils Castle?  Those peaks aren't really over 11k.  It might be on-the-fly-decision.  If we're running out of time or low on energy, perhaps we ski South Superior, cross over to Alta, and start the South rim at Baldy.
4. Chipman or South Thunder or both?
5. I am considering an exit out Dry Creek to Alpine because Bells Canyon is a rough exit.  Although the East Face of Lone Peak would be a nice final descent.

Comments?  Would these mods constitute cheating on the WURL?  My thinking is that the WURLOS/Toilet Bowl will be legitimate so long as we tag the major peaks.  Yes?  No?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's a TRAVERSE!! White Pine to Wasatch Blvd.

From March 27, 2010

Yesterday, Sam, Bart, Andy, and I got out for a version of the Super Tour. We got a late start in order to accommodate my morning soccer game schedule. I think it worked out for everyone: Andy has been skiing like there is no tomorrow and probably needed the rest; Sam had just flown in from Okinawa on Friday; and Bart has been spending lots of energy remodeling his house. The nice thing about spring touring is that it doesn't get dark until 8:30 or so. Plus, racing the sun can be fun.

Our plan was to start at White Pine, go up Red Pine, ascend the Pfeif, descend the south side of the Pfeif, traverse to the head of Hogum, drop in, climb up to Lightning Ridge, traverse Lightning Ridge to South Thunder Mountain, drop into Thunder Bowl, exit Bells Canyon, and stumble out on Wasatch Blvd. And I am proud to say that we stuck to the plan despite much complaining. I got some flak from certain members of our group about a 6 hr tour with only 6 turns, but as I kept reminding them, we were doing a TRAVERSE!!!

The traverse took about 6.5 hrs and afforded a great view of a lesser-traveled section of the Wasatch. I think if I had to choose, I would say that the 2 highlights of the traverse were (a) ascending out of Hogum to gain Lightning Ridge, and (b) descending Thunder Bowl. Thunder Bowl is visible from the valley, and it beckons all the time. Total ascent was around 5k and total descent was around 8k.

Here are a few pics:

Andy and Jim Knight ascending the Pfeif east ridge. Jim bailed us out by driving my car from the White Pine parking lot to the Bells trailhead. Thanks!

From March 27, 2010

After descending the south face of the Pfeif, we traversed the south rim of Hogum.

From March 27, 2010

We dropped into Hogum and then climbed to Lightning Ridge.

From March 27, 2010

Bart on the traverse under the Hogum rim.

From March 27, 2010

The booter up the Lightning Ridge.

From March 27, 2010

My favorite move of the day.

From March 27, 2010

Andy topping out with the Pfeif as a backdrop.

From March 27, 2010

Traversing Lightning Ridge.

From March 27, 2010

That's Lone in the background.

From March 27, 2010

Another shot of Lone.

From March 27, 2010

Eventually, we summited South Thunder Mountain, traversed to Thunder Bowl, and dropped in. Sam skiing Thunder Bowl.

From March 27, 2010

The shadows were long.

From March 27, 2010

Out we go.

From March 27, 2010

Moon on the horizon.

From March 27, 2010

The valley below.

From March 27, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

2010 US Skimo Championships: Jackson WY

The 10th annual US Ski Mountaineering Championships at Jackson, WY went down yesterday. It was attended by a good crew from the Wasatch -- the 2 Dorais bros, Casey, Lars, Joey, Bart, and me -- and about 75 others from various places. If the mark of a national championship course is rough and tough, the Jackson course more than fit the bill. At the end of the day, my altimeter said I had gained 7900 vertical feet and I'm still traumatized to the point that talking about the ski descents requires kleenex. Suffice it to say they were steep, icy, and for the most part in large, tall bump fields. At a couple points in the race, I had to side step up a large bump so that I could get my bearings and collect myself. :) And now that I think about it, some of the climbs were pretty heinous too -- steep, icy, and bumpy. All of this made for a challenging and "fun" course. Kudos to the race organizers for pulling together a great race in tough conditions.

The race was won in the Women's division by Mona Merrill followed by Amy Fulwyler. I think Mona clocked in at about 3 hrs and 13 minutes.

In the Men's division, Pete Swenson showed everyone who was boss and finished in under 2:30! I think the Men's results went something like this:

1. Pete Swenson
2. Brandon French
3. Cary Smith
4. Jared Inouye
5. Jason McGowin
6. Zahan Billamoria
7. Jan from Slovakia
8. Chris Kroger
9. Bart Gillespie
10. Andy Dorais

These are unofficial results and are somewhat off the top of my head. I'll update when they post the results, and hopefully with some pictures.

I was happy with the way my race went. I think I finished at about 2:48. Brandon and Cary were always just ahead and provided a good carrot effect. Too bad I wasn't able to actually eat the carrot though . . . And the Wasatch was well represented with 3 in the top ten.

Oh yeah, and perhaps the biggest coup of the day came when Bart won the grand prize in the post-race raffle: a pair of Hagan Carbon skis.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wasatch Powderkeg 2010

The 2010 Wasatch Powderkeg was held on Saturday. I've had a love affair with the Powderkeg since it started in 2003. When the race was announced in 2003, I thought it was the coolest thing ever -- a race, on backcountry skis, covering 5k vert over classic Wasatch terrain. I was intimidated by the race, but my friend Joey convinced me to do it. I showed up at the 2003 race on Tuas, Hammerheads, and Scarpa T1s. I entered the Rec division. I raced up Grizzly Gulch with Bruce Tremper, and since it was a low visibility day, went off course, got lost, and got DQ'd from the race. It was fun though, and I was hooked.

I missed the 2004 and 2005 editions while I was working in Las Vegas. But I was back for the 2006 edition. I raced the rec division again and got edged out at the finish line by a guy from Logan. In 2007, I entered the race division and finished 11th or so. And in 2008, I finished 5th. I skipped the PKeg in 2009 since I was racing in Europe, and in 2010, well, I was able to win.

Of course, winning makes me happy, but I think I was much happier about the fact that the Powderkeg was still in existence, and that it remains alive and well. After the 2008 edition, the the Powderkeg had taken its toll on its promoters and organizers -- putting on a race like that is hard! -- but a group of Park City Powderkeg lovers led by Chad Brackelsberg stepped in and saw to it that this Wasatch tradition continues. I certainly thank them for that. They rounded up some great sponsors -- Bluehouse, Voile, Brighton, Patagonia, Backcountry Magazine to name a few. Brighton ski resort was the host and the venue was perfect. This year, there were close to 140 participants, many of whom came from out of state. It was a great turnout -- one that Chad and Co. should be proud of. Long live the Powderkeg.

Once of the cool things about the Powderkeg is that it brings the backcountry community together. It's fun racing and hanging out with people who share your passions. Yes, if you feel like you're the only one in the world who likes to traipse around the Wasatch on skinny skis and get lots of vert, you can find others that belong to your tribe at the Powderkeg. I've made several good friends at the Powderkeg.

It was especially fun to see several friends succeed at the Powderkeg as well. Bart, in his second ever rando race, finished on the podium. That's why he is Apollo Creed (not to be confused with Apollo Ohno). Tom Diegel finished second. The Dorais brothers went fourth and fifth. And yes, they are part Asian, Korean to be precise. And no, I am not related to them. Joey was 8th. No, I'm not related to him either, thanks for asking. Tim White and Mike Hales were in the mix as well. I tour with all of these guys and I'm glad they came out to race. Full results are posted here.

Joey (part of him), Me, Jason, and Andy (Photo by Mark Lengel aka Trabman)

From Drop Box

Friday, March 12, 2010

Skimo World Champs: The Gear Report

One of the blessings and curses of skimo racing is the gear.  Skimo gear has evolved in leaps and bounds in the last 5 years.  Racing setups are getting spooky light, which is good for the uphill, and they are also getting stronger and more rigid, which is good for the DH.  There is also a much larger selection in gear.  Along with skimo-specific companies, mainstream ski companies are joining the fray.  I saw race skis from Elan, Dynastar, Fischer, and Movement, to name a few.  Here is what the hotel lobby looked like at any given moment:

From Andorra Day 2

There are some Trabs with Haero bindings, a full Dynafit setup, Movments with ATK bindings, Goodes with Dynafits.

Here is a close up of Trab's own proprietary race binding:

From Andorra 3

From Andorra 3

Of course, the design of all race bindings stems from Dynafit's genius design.

As a point of reference, gear-wise, the men on Team America were on the following setups:

Pete: Dynafit DNA skis, Dynafit low tech bindings, and Dynafit DNA boots
Cary: Hagan Race X-Lite skis, Dynafit low tech bindings, and Dynafit DNA boots
Max: Ski Trab World Cup Race, low techs, Scarpa F1 Race
Travis: Dynafit DNA skis, low techs, Dynafit DNA boots
Ben: Hagan Race X-Lite skis, low techs, Scarpa F1 Race
Brandon: Dynafit DNA skis, low techs, Dynafit DNA boots
Wick: Goode Rando Race skis, low techs, Scarpa F1 Carbon boots
Me: Ski Trab World Cup Race, low techs, and Pierre Gignoux XP 444 boots

In the US, we don't have as large of a selection of race gear, but I think (hopefully) it will trickle in.

For boots, we saw lots of different models. The majority of racers were in Scarpa, Dynafit, or Pierre Gignoux. I saw a few La Sportiva Stratos models. Some of the elite had some new Scarpa prototype Alien boots:

From Andorra 3

These are Florent Troillet's boots, one of the top racers in the world right now. He won the individual race in these boots. He and Killian Jornet were mano y mano duking it out over the whole course, passing and getting passed back. Killian passed Florent on the last ascent up the boot pack, but Florent passed him back on the final descent, in these boots. Note that Scarpa has done away with the bellows. Note: This picture was taken with Florent's consent and was not some paparazzi job.

From Andorra 3

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Skimo World Champs: Teams Race

I'm on a layover at JFK and thought I'd provide a late update on the Teams Race that happened two days ago on Friday.  Bryan Wickenhauser and I teamed up for a serving of about 7800 vertical amongst the world's best skimo racers.  The course was a dream course.  It had everything.  Big mountain relief.  Big alpine bowls.  Big vertical.  Tough descents over ice, powder, rock, corn.  A booter.  A ridge walk.  A hand line descent.  And a home run down a hero run to the finish.  There was a long kick and glide flat section and three major climbs.  The second was the largest and the one that seemed to never end.  I think it was like 3300 vertical or so.  

The day started with lots of wind and we were worried that we wouldn't be able to do the full course.  The start was really really windy and really really cold, but luckily, after the first hour the weather changed for the better.  It turned out to be a beautiful day.

Here are some nice photos that I found on  All of are the final climb and descent.  Here is the ridge walk at the top of the third climb:

From Andorra 3

Pictured below is one of the top Italian teams hot on the heals of one of the top French teams. Can you imagine running a rando race along the ridge of Mt. Timpanogos? That's what it reminded me of.

From Andorra 3

One of the classiest, fastest, and most consistent rando racers in the world is Manfred Reichegger. It was cool to see him in action. I might add, that I am convinced he is Alex Grant's long lost cousin. Here he is (Manfred, not Alex) topping out:

From Andorra 3

The booter. Keep those feet moving!

From Andorra 3

And here is a great shot of our own Team America's Max Taam rallying the top of the final descent.

From Andorra 3

And here is what he and all of the racers had to look forward to. A nice descent to the resort below.

From Andorra 3

Team America's strategy was to send Pete and Cary off the front on an all out attack to string out the French, Italian, and Swiss teams.  Then Max and Scheef, Ben and Brandon, and Wick and I would pass the gassed euros and go for the win.  Kidding!  Really, our strategy was simple: stay together, work together, go fast, and have fun.

For the most part it worked out, except for one little incident that nearly ended Wick's and my race.  At the top of the first descent, about five turns in, my boot broke.  The snow was a bit manky and we were skiing hard.  I powered through some crud and the cord that held my whole upper cuff together snapped in four places.  Not one or two or three, but four!  All at the same time.  After I stumbled down the first descent to where Wick was waiting, I thought my race was done.  However, we managed to borrow a strap from a team from the UK, and I was able to make my boot somewhat functional.  That little mishap cost us major time.  And it made already tough skiing a bit tougher.

Wick has a lot of racing experience and he was patient and cool-headed throughout the whole ordeal.  Me on the other hand?  Not so much.  This was Worlds.  We were racing well.  Fitness-wise, I was feeling great.  And I wasn't very happy about my equipment failure.  I have to thank Wick for teaching me a good lesson, for being patient, and such a great understanding partner.  Here he is checking out the last descent on a course preview the previous day:

From Andorra 3

In the end, even though I was bummed about the boot mishap (and the other boot mishap -- my other boot had issues too), it turned out to be a fulfilling day. We finished in about 3 hrs, 45 minutes off the winning time posted by a French team. Results here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ski Tour: Andorra to France

One of the tough aspects of a racing trip is that it's hard to get out and do all that you would like.  At our location in Andorra, we are surrounded by mountains on every side.  I'm glad I don't tour here on a regular basis because I would get lost for sure!  The Pyrenees are steep and jagged.  They make for great ski terrain.  They are amazing in an of themselves, but I have to say that the snow quality does not compare to the Wasatch (at least in a normal year).  For example, today we had some weather and about 6 to 8 inches of "snow" fell.  At times, it was a freezing rain.  At other times, it was a dense, wet snow, which made for tough DH conditions.  If it freezes tonight, and it will, tomorrow's conditions will be crust at best, or breakable crust at worst.

Anyway, yesterday, Cary, Wick, and I got out for a tour.  We started out close to our hotel and headed up an unplowed road through the Pyreneean countryside.
From Andorra Day 2

The country architecture is kind of cool.

From Andorra Day 2

We didn't know exactly where we were headed. But we could see some nice ski terrain up higher, and that became our destination. As Derek likes to say: "All good tours start low and end high." Before long, we were on good snow and in more interesting terrain.

From Andorra Day 2

One of the prevailing questions today was, "What would RandoSteve do?" We concluded that had he been present, he would have opted looker's right. We opted left.

From Andorra Day 2

As you can see, the terrain was beautiful. The snow, on the other hand, was shiny. Not soft.

From Andorra Day 2

We toured through open bowls.

From Andorra Day 2

Here is Wick looking off a cliff and at some steeper lines and into France.

From Andorra Day 2

And descending into France. We had lunch at a lake. And then skied out.

From Andorra Day 2

A booter up.

From Andorra Day 2

Wick at the top.

From Andorra Day 2

Cary skiing out.

From Andorra Day 2

Here is the valley we toured up and exited. We are staying below the ski runs looker's left.

From Andorra Day 2

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Skimo World Champs: Opening Ceremonies and Vertical Race

I'm in Soldeu, Andorra now.  Last night opened with a parade, a show and some fireworks.  There are are 23 nations participating in the Ski Mountaineering World Championships.  Team America consists of Pete Swenson, Cary Smith, Bryan Wickenhauser, Brandon French, Travis Scheefer, Max Taam, Ben Parsons, me, Monique Merrill, Jari Kirkland, Nina Silitch, Amy Fulwyler, and Molly Zurn.  Here we are (photo taken from Nina's blog):

Before that, the Vertical Race was held.  Throughout the week, there will be four competitions: 1) Vertical Race, 2) Individual Race, 3) Teams Race, and 4) Relay.  The course (pictured below) was pretty straightforward and not very technical -- 2900 vertical feet. Representing Team America for the Vertical Race were Bryan, Cary, Ben, me, Mona, Jari, Nina, and Molly.  Basically, it went like this: sprint till you felt you were going to blow up, sprint some more, then put the pedal down and go, go, go for about an hour.  More than anything, it was a test of speed.

From Andorra Day 2

In the women's race, out of 36 competitors, Roberta Pedrazini from Italy won with a time of 48:25.  Mona put in a super performance and finished 9th at 52:53.   Other Team USA women finished close behind as follows:

Jari, 23rd, 1:1:11
Nina, 27th, 1:3:43
Molly, 32nd, 1:8:46

In the men's race, out of 83 competitors, Killian Jornet from Spain streaked up the mountain to finish in 39:51.  American men finished as follows:

Cary, 52nd, 48:56
Me, 56th, 49:35
Wick, 61st, 50:45
Ben, 54th, 52:23

It hurt! (Killian Jornet)

From Andorra Day 2

A lot!

From Andorra Day 2

Even so, I was happy with the way my race went.  And pain aside, I felt great.  It was certainly the first time I sustained an avg heartrate of 181 bpm for 50 minutes!  As I was racing my way up the course, the thought that kept going through my mind was: "c'mon, this is the World Championships!  Only 1 hr.  You may never have this chance again."  56th place and 9:45 off the winning pace may not sound like much, but it was all I can do, and I'm glad to have lined up with the world's best.

Today, we toured to France.  More tomorrow.