Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Roberts Horn -- Alpine Style

Photo from
A couple days ago, Jason and I climbed the east face of Roberts Horn with skis on our back, and then hiked/skied off south face and out Primrose Cirque.  Roberts Horn is located in the Southern Wasatch and accessed via Provo Canyon and Aspen Grove. This year's thin snow conditions have resulted in fairly decent ice conditions.  We pitched out the waterfall staircase.  After that, route finding on limestone slab and thin snow and ice tested our level of commitment.  It took us 1.5 hrs to approach, 7.5 hrs to climb the face, and another 2.5 hrs to descend on skis.  (Apologies to Brothers Sam and Aaron who put us on to this, but because they are responsible citizens, couldn't go.)

Jason Dorais approaching the base of the climb.  That's about 4 pitches of fairly challenging (for us) ice climbing.
Old snow left from last year at the base of the climb.  As winter progresses, the ice fall will mostly fill in.  In fact, Ben Ditto and Matt Turley have skied the East Face of Roberts Horn in fat snow conditions.
Jason leading Pitch 1.
Me leading Pitch 2.  The ice was super cold and hard, making screw placements really really frustrating.  At the top of the bulge above, the ice gets thin.  I pulled over the top scratching madly on bare rock.  (Photo: Jason Dorais)
Jason on Pitch 3.  This was a short but fun pitch.  There isn't a picture of Pitch 4.  I started leading it, but tapped out and handed the rack to Jason who sent it.  After that, we had some debate about whether it is bad style to clip and hang on your tool to set a screw.  I say, who cares? 
Thin snow conditions were a concern.  We were wary of triggering a hard slab.  Or falling of rock slab.  That wouldn't have been fun.  After the fourth pitch, we simul-climbed, putting in half a screw where we could, and occasionally a pin.  For the most part, the placements were anti-textbook, but we figured they would be better than nothing.  And they gave us some level of comfort.
This is a picture of Jason topping out, finally.  We didn't take the most direct route up the face, always looking for the path of least resistance.  But that also created uncertainty as to whether we would eventually get dead ended.  It wasn't until we topped out that we were sure that we would see the top.  And when we did, it was 5:00 p.m. and getting dark fast.
Adding to the fun-ness of the day was our ski descent in the dark.  We called Brother Sam twice for directions on how to get down. On top of that was the fact that my water froze solid around 9:00 a.m. and I went pretty much until 7:30 pm without taking a sip.  If one criteria of alpine climbing is that at some point you wish you weren't there, then I can check that box off.  But that is also the very reason alpine climbing is fun.  Without the discomfort and challenge, that sense of accomplishment and the pleasure derived from climbing a mountain wouldn't be there.  And that would be worse than not drinking anything all day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mt. Olympus West Slabs -- Alpine Style

My infatuation with Mt. Olympus continues. It's such a unique mountain. It's basically right out my door. It is multi-faceted: West Slab, Memorial Couloirs, Apollo, Zeus, Great Chimney, the hiking trail, and more.  There is lots of fun and experience to be had on that mountain.  Monday, I ran up the southern side of it on a trail. Today, Sam and I scratched up the north face aka the "West Slabs" -- alpine style. As I think about it, this year I've traveled the slabs in at least three modes: sticky rubber, skis, and spikes.

Mt. Olympus North Face aka West Slabs
Sam ascending alpine style, November 2011
Me and Tom Diegel simul-soloing in weird clothes, June 2011
Sam skiing the West Slabs, March 2011
I have to say that although alpine style took the longest, it was well worth it.  Jason Dorais and I made an alpine style attempt a few weeks ago, but the ice was thin and we were short on time.  Today, as we approached, it looked like it would be more of the same.  But once we got on the face, we found large ice smears.  Some were fat, some were ok, others were pretty thin.  But, linking up these smears, and delicately making our way up bare slab, we made our way to the top.  I think we climbed 5 pitches on belay, and then simul-climbed the rest.  8 hrs round trip.  Great outing.

This part was fun!  Some real ice.

The valley below.  This ice isn't visible from there.  Today was a classic case of "don't know until you go."
Sam, climbing some slab and ice in spikes.
Sam topping out in the clouds.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Backcountry Ski Clothing Systems -- What works, and what doesn't?

Me and the Dorais Bros after linking up lots of lines in Hogum -- the Hulk Hogum.  I'm wearing a Patagonia Traverse
 on top of a thin Smartwool top, Dynafit tights, and a harness.
From 2011-03-20
Over the years, I've put a fair amount of thought, effort, and $ into figuring out an optimal clothing system.  It's a work in progress, but here are some thoughts on what works and what doesn't work, along with my favorite "pieces."

I ski mostly in the Wasatch range, which is not known for particularly harsh weather.  We get a fair amount of snow, but we also have our fair share of nice clear days.  Mid-winter, when it snows, the snow is relatively dry although on both ends of the season, it can be a bit soggy.  Morning temperatures (when I do most of my stuff) range from 0 to 30 mid-winter, and in the transition season can range from 20 to 45.

What Works?

Since 90 percent of time spent in the backcountry is spent on the uptrack, it makes sense to dress for the uptrack -- to dress in a way that your body can breathe and not sweat too much.  My objective in dressing is to put barely enough clothes on so that I don't freeze, but never so much that I overheat and sweat.  I always layer, but the question is what should I use for each layer?

Baselayer:  Typically, I will wear a thin base layer on the top.  I want something skin tight, that will wick sweat away, and that will not bind on upper layers.  My favorite thin base layers are made by Patagonia (Capilene) and Smartwool (women's models that popped up on Steep and Cheap).  Depending on what I expect, I'll vary the piece.  If it's not going to be too cold or windy, sometimes I will go short sleeve.  But most of the time I'll go thin long sleeve.  Occasionally, I'll go short sleeve and long sleeve.  Sometimes, if I think I might have reason to take my mid layer off or if it's really cold, I will go heavier duty long sleeve (Capilene midweight zip top).  I prefer zip-tops because they give me an additional ventilation option.

I choose my baselayer, thinking that I don't want it so warm that I have to remove my mid-layer.  Occasionally, I'll remove my midlayer, but I prefer not to for a couple reasons: 1) it takes time, and 2) I don't like my avalanche beacon exposed.

On the bottom, my baselayer is always thin.  Sometimes short, sometimes long, depending on whether I expect cold and wind.

Wearing a Smartwool baselayer, forced to remove my mid-layer (Marmot Driclime) in the sun.
A few hours later, I was wearing the Driclime, a Thermawrap, and a Nano Puff

Top Mid-Layer:   I choose my mid-layer, thinking that this will often be my outer layer on the uptrack.  And, as I mentioned, I choose it, hoping that I won't have to take it off on the uptrack.  The most ideal characteristics for this layer are: (a) breathable, (b) light, (c) somewhat wind resistant.  This layer cannot be too insulating, otherwise, I will sweat too much on the uptrack.

I have two favorite "mid-layer" pieces.  The first is a Patagonia Traverse Pullover, made of a light stretch woven material.  It is light, breathable, and wind resistant.  It has a deep zipper that I can open for ventilation, if needed.  I recently misplaced it in Andy's Black Hole (his Subaru) and went OCD until he guaranteed me that he had it in his possession.  This piece keeps me relatively dry on top, but shuts out wind.  This is important because, in the mountains, it is rarely dead calm.  Any slight breeze has a tendency to chill your body if it is coated with a layer of perspiration.

My second favorite piece is a Marmot Driclime wind shirt.  This piece is nylon on the outside and has a Driclime liner underneath.  This liner provides some insulation and is a notch warmer than my Patagonia Traverse shirt.  Still, it breathes well, and shuts the breezes out.

In addition to these pieces, I might add a very very thin nylon shell.  My favorites are Patagonia's Houdini and Montbell's Tachyon jacket.

Montbell Tachyon and Dynafit Tights
From Uintas

If it's going to be cold, I'll take both layers because they are very light and hardly carry any sort of weight or space penalty.  On a particularly cold day on Roger's Pass, I skinned 10k wearing some combination of these shirts/jackets.

Pants:  Yes, here it comes . . . . I love to skin and ski in tights.  I was a closet tight-wearer prior to 2009.  But in 2009, I went to Europe and observed hundreds if not thousands of skiers rocking tights.  Fat skiers, skinny skiers, rando racers, and non-rando racers -- many wore tights.  These tights, weren't just any sort of tights, but they were tights designed specifically for skiing.  Dynafit, Montura, and Crazy Idea make ski tights. Unfortunately, it's tough to find their offerings in North America.  Tragedy.  Travesty.  Shame.  America, embrace the tights!

The ski tights that I like are generally made of a thin stretch woven or lycra, and have sturdy material built in to the cuffs to protect against ski edges, boots and the like.  A number of manufacturers make decent substitutes.  Although these do not rise to the level of the tights (in sheer coolness and functionality), they suffice, and I often wear them.  To name a few:  Patagonia Simple Guide or Alpine Guide Pants, Marmot Scree or Cortina Pants, Stoic ('s brand) Microlith Pant.  All of these are light stretch woven material, but aren't cut as tight as tights.

Outerlayers: Outerlayers come into play if the mid-layer isn't enough against the wind, cold, snow, ice, spit, whatever.  Mostly, they come into play when you top out, and ski down.  The first thing my partners and I do when we top out is drop our packs and pull out an outer layer.  For me, usually this is an insulating layer with a wind/water resistant shell.  My go-to outer piece is my Montbell Thermawrap jacket.  It packs small, is very light, and for it's weight, is very warm.  On top of that, because it is synthetic, it insulates even when wet.  My Thermawrap has a great hood.  Like my other layers, it fits trimly.  This piece is usually sufficient to protect me on the top, and on the ski down.  In nasty weather, it's wind/water resistant and breathable enough that I'll use it on the uptrack.  One of the best pieces out there in my opinion.

Climbing up in the Thermawrap on a blustery cold day.  Photo by Jason Dorais
Sometimes, a Thermawrap isn't enough.  If it's not enough because it is too cold, then I layer another Thermawarp or a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket over or under.  And if that's enough, I will put yet another of the same over that.

One of my favorite nuking-weather outerlayers for the uptrack is a Patagonia Essenshell.  The material is silicon impregnated nylon.  It is breathable and "hard" enough that it sheds precipitation.  It is probably 10 years old, but I still like it a lot.  My theory is that the more breathable my hardshell is, the more likely it will be that the heat from my body will dry my inner layers.  My theory also is: I don't like skinning in a sauna.

If the above is not enough because it's full-on nuking, then (and only then) will I consider a hard shell (Gore tex, etc), and probably only for the downhill.  Wearing a hard shell on the uptrack is like wearing a garbage bag.  Unfortunately, even the best materials (Goretex Pro Shell for example) cannot let enough perspiration and vapor out on the uptrack, unless, of course, you go slow.  If I'm forced to wear a hard shell, then I'm forced to go slow.

On the bottom, I have some cover pants that are a windproof softshell on the front (like Powershield), and a stretchy thicker lycra on the back.  These are full zip pants that allow me to put them over my tights without removing my boots.  I've found these to be quite useful, but unfortunately, I've not identified any company in the US that makes/distributes these.  When I know I might have to sit or stand around, or when I might be out for the night, I carry Montbell Thermawrap pants.  They pack small and are quite light.  Again, being able to layer even on the bottom is important to properly regulate clothing needs.

I rarely rarely will ever subject myself to skinning in hard shell pants.

What Doesn't Work.

Cotton baselayers, or anything cotton for that matter.  Cotton does not wick well.  It dries slowly, and it is heavy.

- Fleece baselayers or mid layers or outerlayers. For backcountry skiing, I don't like fleece because usually, it's either too warm or not windproof enough.  On top of that, it does not compact well and is relatively heavier, compared to a synthetic insulation or down.  The one exception might be a Patagonia R1, which is a very thin fleece, on a cold day or where I anticipate some slow going, e.g., ice or rock climbing.  I'd use this as a base or mid layer.

- Hard shells.  See above.  Sometimes they are necessary, but I see way too many people rocking the latest and greatest flashiest Goretex in the backcountry.  Not necessary.  Not desirable.

- Most conventional "Softshells."  I have had success with Schoeller and stretch woven materials, but I've found that these aren't as versatile.  I used the original Cloudveil Serendipity jacket for a few years, but ultimately concluded it was a bit too warm and too heavy.  I've never found a good use for Polartec Powershield because it doesn't breath as much as I need.  And it's bulky and heavy in comparison to a thin, tightly-woven, stretch woven or nylon.  I have two Powershield-type jackets that I've won in various races, but the only time I see myself using them is on a spring resort day or a cold climbing day (when breathability isn't as crucial).  My preference is a simple, non-insulated, stretch woven soft shells, like the Patagonia Traverse, but it seems that in order to marketable, softshells need more bells and whistles.  Simpler is better.

So, what works for you?  Any ideas?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Andy's Video: Late October Teton Psych

Andy made a video of our last Teton trip. It's been pretty popular at Teton Outerlocal. Here it is:

Late October Teton Psych from andy dorais on Vimeo.

Friday, October 28, 2011

October in the Tetons: West Hourglass and Middle Teton Glacier

Late Wednesday night, Andy and I blasted up to Jackson for some skiing in the Tetons.  On Thursday we met and skied with our friends Brian Harder ("Brain"), Nate Brown ("Dutchman"), and Kim ("Crusher").  The skiing was surprisingly good.  It took some effort to get to it, but what we found made that effort worth it.We skied the West Hourglass Couloir on Nez Perce and then climbed and skied the Middle Teton Glacier.  The headwall of the glacier was the real treat.  There we found soft consolidated powder stuck to a 50 degree slope.  From the parking lot we had wondered if winter was up there.  As Nate promised, after awhile the "Winter Switch" turned on.

Quick Notes:
- It was cold.  Probably below zero cold.  To stay warm on Nez Perce, I robbed everyone of their packs, sat on one, put the others on top of me, mooched Nate's puffy, and (to no avail) tried to get people to cuddle with me.
- There were 4 Men in Tights, one Woman in Baggie pants
- Kim impressed us all by by logging the same 8k vertical we logged, but on "heavy" gear, Havocs and Divas, thus becoming "Crusher."
- Upper East Hourglass was not skiable, but the lower part definitely was.
- No. of times Andy got pulled over by the law, 2; no. of tickets, 0
- Another great day on 64 mm waisted skis.
- 8k vert, 10 hr tour.  30 hrs door-to-door (SLC to Jackson to SLC).

West Hourglass (angling upper right to lower left).  Photo taken Feb. 2011.

Middle Teton Glacier and the "Notch" (distinct "V") in top third, left edge of right third) in the background.
Photo taken Feb. 2011.

Hiking into Garnet Canyon

View of the Middle Teton and the Chouinard and Ellingwood Couloirs from Nez Perce.
The Middle Teton Glacier tops out at the top of the Ellingwood.

Andy and Nate in the cold cold shadow with El Grande and the Middle in the background. 

Middle Teton Glacier and the shrund.

Andy and Nate about to gain the "Notch."

Soft snow, steep slope, October.

Andy and Nate with the Dike Pinnacle in the background.

Nate skiing the Middle Teton Glacier.

Brain skiing the Middle Teton glacier.

Brian and Kim descending above the shrund.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Day 1

Jason Dorais about to ski the clicketty clack.  
Glad to get that out of the way!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Grand Canyon R2R2R

Sometimes, I go out and have a nearly perfect day.  The weather is good, the body is good, and the head is good.  Nature seems to be good to me.  Things click.  And when I return, I want more.  I want to go replicate it, again.   But sometimes, I go out and have a really crappy day.  I find misery.  I hate that I am in nature.  And I want nothing more than to never go out again.  And when I return, a cloud hangs over me, and I want another chance.  I want to be better.  It's a vicious cycle.

October 3, 2011, 7:04 a.m.

My sleeping bag is crumpled up in the back of my Subaru.  I crawled out of it a few minutes ago.  I'm nibbling on a leftover Subway sandwich from last night.  Jason is soaking a ProBar in peanut butter.  We intended to have bagels, but we don't.  It's 38 degrees.  We strip off our jackets, slam the Subaru's doors closed, and start running off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Jason Dorais descending off the North Rim.
Me off the North Rim.  Photo by J. Dorais
October 3, 2011, 9:35 a.m.

We've covered 13.7 miles and descended over 5,500 feet in about 2.5 hours.  Except for two rolled ankles--one mine and the other Jason's--we're feeling relatively good, not as fresh as we'd hoped, but good.  We're more or less on pace.  We want to run Rim to Rim to Rim, 42ish miles, and 10,800 vertical in under 10 hours.  We're at Phantom Ranch, less than a mile from the Colorado River, and will be heading up the South Kaibab Trail to the South Rim, ascending 5,300 vertical feet 7.2 miles.  If we want to stay on pace, we'll need to be at the top of the South Rim in 1 hr and 50 minutes.

Jason ascending the South Kaibab Trail
Me ascending South Kaibab.  Photo by J. Dorais.
October 3, 2011, 11:25 a.m.

It took us 1 hr and 51 minutes to ascend the South Kaibab trail from Phantom Ranch.  And it wasn't easy.  Perhaps we were driven too much by theory and not reality.  I felt a surge of adrenalin in the last 1/2 mile or so and we ran hard to the top, arriving breathless.  Although water was available at the South Rim, I only splashed it on my head, and didn't put any into my hydration pack.  I thought I had enough to get me to Phantom Ranch.  I didn't want to carry extra weight.  I was mistaken.

Me walking behind the behinds of a mule train.  "Please don't kick me."  Photo by J. Dorais.

October 3, 2011, 12:23 p.m.

We just ran the 27th mile in 9 minutes 30 seconds.  The Colorado River is below us and we'll be crossing it soon.  It's hot.  I'm hot.  I'm out of water.  I haven't eaten much of anything for an hour.  I notice that I have goosebumps.  I'm hot, but I'm chilled.  I'm nauseous and I can't eat.  Uh oh.  Not to worry though, we'll be to Phantom Ranch soon.

October 3, 2011, 12:45 p.m.

I'm lying face first in a tributary of the Colorado River.  My feet are propped up on a flat rock, but everything from my ankles up, head included, is under water.  Water trickles into my ear, but I don't want to lift my head out of the cool water.  I

October 3, 2011, 1:00 p.m.

We're satisfied that we clicked off 29ish miles in under 6 hours.  We've got 13 more to go, mostly uphill.  Phantom Ranch lemonade tastes good.  My goosebumps are gone and I'm not as nauseous, but I feel like, well, I just ran 29 hard miles.  I firmly believe that my condition will turn around from here out.  It's not unlike anything I've experienced before.  I'll pull out of it.  Just need to get on top of my eating and drinking.  My legs will come around.

October 3, 2011, 2:00 p.m.

Self assessment: no power in legs and nauseous.  I need to eat to have power.  But eating makes me want to throw up.  I've tried several times, heaving without much success.  A little bit, but not much. I run a few steps, and then am relegated to walking.  I really ought to eat.  But I can't.  It's as if there is an impermeable barrier between my stomach and my legs.  They aren't working together.  So I settle with walking.  I don't like going this slow.  I look at my watch.  I'm doing a 16 minute pace when I ought to be doing a 11 minute pace.  Jason is probably bored.  We're not going to make our goals, and it will be my fault.  He tries to feed me a gel, but I reject it.  I need to speed up.  But I can't, because I have no power.  Because I can't eat.  Faster.  Eat.  Heave.  I am miserable, trapped in an odd paradox.  This sucks.  I encourage Jason to go on without me.

October 3, 2011, 2:30 p.m.

Jason is running away from me now.  I hope he goes under 10 hrs.  He's looking good.  He will.

October 3, 2011, 3:30 p.m.

There is one hope.  I have a secret weapon: Coca Cola.  I stashed a 20 oz bottle six miles off the North Rim. This should turn my legs around.  Carbonation, sugar, caffeine.  Eagerly, I un-stash my stash, open it, and drink.  Immediately I feel better.  I up the pace.  A few minutes later, I am successful where I have failed so many times on this adventure:  I bend over and vomit.  The color of the spew is alarming.  It's blackish.  But then I let myself taste it a little bit.  And it tastes like Coke.  I'm back to my painfully frustrating and slow 25 minute pace.  My secret weapon failed.  I've got nothing.

October 3, 2011, 4:45 p.m.

I'm resigned now.  That internal fire, the incessant motivation to go fast and conquer, is gone.  I just want to get back to the car and be done.  And I want to throw up.  I look around and am stunned by the view.  There is a mist above the rim; water trickles off the walls above me; thunderheads move with curious speed across the canyon.  I start reciting ancient time periods I learned in 7th grade: precambrian, paleozoic, cenozoic, cambrian, ordovician, silurian, devonian. . . .

October 3, 2011, 5:15 p.m.

As I begin to see where I am, I forget where I want to be.  I start to eat almonds, slowly, one at a time.

October 3, 2011, 5:45 p.m.

My body seems to have accepted the almonds.  Jason, who finished an hour ago, has walked down to join me.  I look at my watch and 10 hrs and 50 minutes have elapsed.  I'm not going to take more than 11 hrs.  The fire is back.  It's late, way too late actually, but it's back.  I start running.  I run into the North Rim parking lot and stop my watch: 10:57:22.

October 3, 2011, 7:00 p.m.

I just threw up a bit, but I'm holding it in my mouth.  I roll down the car window, spit, and it spatters on the car, inside and out.

October 4, 2011, 12:00 a.m.

Me:  I don't feel a need to go back there.  Do you?

Jason:  No.  I'm not going back.

Me:  Me neither.

October 4, 2011, 6:00 p.m.

Me:  I want a rematch.

Jason:  With me?  Or the Grand Canyon?

Me: The Grand Canyon.

It's a vicious cycle.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Storm Mountain and Lone Peak Adventures

The last couple weekends, I've enjoyed getting out with some climbers.  Generally, the steeper you go, the slower you go.  Hoping to avoid long drawn out boring ordeals, i.e. belaying, Sam and I scrambled up the NW face of Storm Mountain carrying a 30 m rope and a few select pieces of gear.  A week later, Jason Dorais power hiked up to Lone Peak Cirque, climbed the Central Thumb, and then ran back down.  Working some aerobic effort into the equation made the belay time worth it.

This pic was taken in May 2011.  In that month, I tried three times, unsuccessfully to get up some unconventional routes.  Sam and I went up one of these unconventional routes without much of a hitch.

Sam about to scramble up some Class A choss. 
Stairs is terrifying in the winter.  And mildly mysterious in the summer.  Cool slabs.

Lower Stairs

Jason Dorais looking up at the first snows of 2011-12.

And pointing at our destination: the Central Thumb
Jason leading up to the crux.

The final pitch involves a slight downclimb and a funky (scary for me) traverse.

After climbing through iffy weather, it cleared up.  Took this on our way down.  From here, we basically ran.  And for future reference, it took us 1/2 hr to descend from the summit to the cirque (scramble and 2 raps); and then from the cirque to the Ghost Falls TH in about 1 hr 30 min.