Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Sentinel Salute

Inspired and intimidated by the “Sentinel Salute” farewell tours of Justin Yates (17 laps in 24 hours back in 2014) and Mike Wolfe (19 laps! last june), I always told myself I would throw down my own “Sentinel Salute” if/when the time came for me to leave town.  After graduating and accepting a job in Driggs, Idaho, I found myself both excited and scared by the task that lay before me.  Granted it was completely voluntary, (not to mention ridiculous and meaningless to most other people), but it held significant meaning to me.  Over the years I’ve ran Sentinel hundreds of times and I even had a childhood birthday party at the cave.  So it felt fitting to spend one of my last days in Missoula pounding out lap after lap on this iconic mountain.
Given the relatively light running volume I’d yet accumulated this spring (and the fact that I was still on the tail end of a nasty 2 week viral sickness), I opted to “dumb down” the Salute to my level, with a goal of 10 laps in 12 hours.  What unfolded was a memorable goodbye to Missoula, capped with a beautiful sunset on the summit on my last lap with two good friends. 

With a well stocked cooler in the back of my pickup at the trailhead to serve as a self-serve aid station, I started up the ridge trail at 9am with mixed emotions of excitement, trepidation and nostalgia.  After 4 solo laps, it was awesome to enter the parking lot to see Jeff with my tailgate down, campchair and waterjug at the ready.  The conversation with Jeff on the ensuing lap was a nice reprieve from the mounting fatigue in my legs (mostly on the down) and the glaring hot sun (80s and bluebird).  After parting ways with Jeff back at the trailhead, I opted for a quick dip in the river to cool off, which was nothing short of spectacular.  

I bumped into Jeffrey on the way down from lap 6, who demonstrated tremendous support by joining me for the remainder of the day.  By the end of lap 7, it was evident from my splits that I wasn’t going to get in a 10th lap before dark, which has a little disappointing but also somewhat relieving.  Lap 8 came and went, with poles providing a nice boost on the climb and my downhill pace slowing to a mere crawl.  On the final climb (#9), we bumped into John a few minutes up the ridge, which was an awesome surprise, who would join us for the final climb and descent.  On the summit, we relaxed and watched a beautiful sunset, a fitting end to a memorable goodbye to Missoula. 
summit #9 (photo: john)
A big thanks to Jeff, Jeffrey and John for coming out and helping keep me motivated and to all those who couldn’t make it but were there in spirit.

Stats – about 34mi and 18k vertical in 13 hours

Rose: mid-day swim in the river, mid-day gatorade courtesy of Jeffrey and Teresita (thanks!)
Thorn: relentless sun and heat
Bud: although leaving Missoula will be challenging in many regards, I’m really excited for life in Driggs and having the Tetons practically in my backyard     

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Apathy in the Missions

In early May, Jeffrey and I were able to connect during a spell of high pressure for a day in the missions.  With an early departure from town and a nice forecast, we had high hopes for an awesome day.  Our plan was to head up to lucifer and picture lakes and then ski “whatever looked good.”  The dry trail to mission falls went smoothly but we lost the rough climber’s trail once or twice on the way to lucifer lake but eventually found our way, 3.5 hours into the day (slower than planned).  We skated across the lake before making the short climb to picture lake.  
garden wall, from picture lake
With the strong sun quickly warming E and S aspects, we opted to climb and ski the S face of shoemaker before it got too baked.  We managed to skin about halfway before transitioning to spikes and booting to the summit.  The ensuing run was marginal, already being too soft and grabby despite being firm enough minutes prior to warrant crampons.  From the bench below the run, we sought shade to discuss our next move.
climbing shoemaker, with the E side of sonielem ridge behind
nearing the summit of shoemaker, with S glacier peak behind and N glacier in the distance
Despite our gorgeous setting and the nice weather, we were both feeling rather uninterested and unsure of what to ski next.  Lots of recent wet slide debris on and below most runs and the blazing hot sun already having cooked E and S aspects left us with limited options.  We lazily decided to start up the garden wall couloir.  Mid-way up with very firm conditions in the shade, we decided to bail, not wanting to wait for the sun.  We skied down towards picture lake til we found access to running water.  In a huge departure from our usual style, we spent a solid 30+ minutes sitting around BSing and refilling bottles. 
sonielem ridge dominates the view looking west from atop shoemaker
Both in agreement that our stoke and motivation just wasn’t happening today for whatever reason, we decided to bail and make it back to town by dinner time.  Our egress took longer than expected, due in part to our decision to skin around the N side of lucifer lake, due to the amount of open water on the eastern shore that we hadn’t seen in the morning.  Even from the outlet of lucifer it took us nearly 3 hours to get down to the car.  Despite our funky mood and only skiing 1.3 runs, it was a beautiful day out in the rugged mission mountains. 
N and S glacier peaks from lucifer lake
About 6k vertical in 12 hours car-car

Rose: incredible views of the mission range atop mt. shoemaker
Thorn: weird, apathetic mood
Bud: returning for a ESM to lucifer lake traverse

Thoughts: while there is a tremendous amount of good ski terrain around lucifer and picture lakes, the approach is more challenging than the riddell lakes trail, ESM trail or ashley creek in my opinion.  Next time I would do a traverse from ESM to or from lucifer so that you only have to cover that approach/egress once in the day rather than twice. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rattlesnake ski traverse, 2017 edition

Well, life is busy and I’m behind on write-ups.  But let us jump back to a beautiful spring day in mid-April, for one of my best ski days of this season.  
the classic view looking north from stuart peak
I joined John and Justin for a Stuart Peak to Snowbowl traverse, despite having done the same tour with Jeffrey a few weeks prior.  However Jeffrey and I encountered horrible breakable crust conditions on nearly all aspects and all elevations.  It was so bad we cut it short across the grant creek basin from atop mosquito peak, without even skiing a run down to glacier lake.  So I was excited to return for better conditions and excited to share this outstanding tour with John and Justin, who have both spend extensive time running through this terrain but never on skis. 
justin in the eagle chute
We made good time up the ravine trail on foot before hitting snow and transitioning to skis and continuing up to Stuart.  On the summit, John wasn’t feeling well and decided to head back down, but encouraged Justin and I to continue on together.  We reluctantly parted ways before skiing great boot-top powder down the N side of stuart to upper twin lake.  The short climb to eagle point ensued, before skiing again excellent powder down the eagle chute to mckinley lake.  (note- this was my third time in the past 12 months (and second time in the past month) skiing the rattlesnake traverse and boy did it feel good to finally hit it in great condition).
eagle chute
adjacent run just E of the eagle chute.  the cliff band at mid-height
does not appear to fill in even on a big snow year
We botched the route-finding a bit on where we chose to gain the main ridge S of mosquito. However it worked, and we both breathed a big sigh of relief as we got off the steep-ish E facing slope, sluffing warm storm snow under the strong sun.  We continued up to the summit of Mosquito where we discussed our descent options down the N side (at least 5).  I voted for a particular couloir that I had not yet skied and Justin was game, so we skied down the NW ridge to the entrance, followed by nearly a thousand feet of outstanding steep and deep couloir skiing down to glacier lake.  Under the glaring sun, the ensuing climb up the S ridge to sanders peak was a hot, sweaty grind but we were rewarded with another excellent powdery descent of the N couloir to the bench above sanders lake. 
steep powder on the N side of mosquito
apron below the N face of mosquito
We strategically used the shade cast by the NW ridge to climb to the saddle in relative comfort.  From here, we elected to skip murphy peak due to condition of its S couloir on such a warm afternoon so we made a skins-on traverse to the W before dropping into the grant creek basin.  I had promised Justin hours earlier that we would find access to running water down in the basin but alas we did not (granted we didn’t look very hard but in the past I’ve always readily encountered it while crossing the basin).  Therefore the ensuing climb up point six was a hot and thirsty one but we slowly grinded our way to the top.  We opted for the S ridge to snowbowl over a mega-slushy jenny bowl descent and then ripped down a fun, slushy paradise and the standard 5 minute walk to the car.  All in all one of my best ski days of the year, with great weather, great terrain, excellent snow and a fun new partner. 
justin atop sanders with the N face of mosquito behind
sander's N couloir
Stats: about 20mi and 9k vertical in 11 hours car-car

Rose: finally nailing this classic tour in perfect powder conditions
Thorn: hot, sweaty and thirsty climbs the latter part of the day
Bud: a full stuart to mcleod traverse awaits

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lake Louise Skimo

I ended my race season with an outstanding weekend in late March up in lake louise with Bria.  Saturday was a sprint race (which I had never done before) and then a typical individual race on Sunday.
the view across the valley from the ski hill.  mt temple on the left, lake louise itself just right of center (photo: bria)

I had a rough go in the sprint race, throwing down a mediocre time in the seeding due to a poor skin-to-bootpack transition and then somehow clicking into my R heelpiece on the final switchback and having to stop, step out and step back into the toe before continuing.   After the seeding, the format was 4 person heats with the top 2 advancing til down to just 4 people for finals.  In my first heat of 4 racers, I found myself beside Peter Knight, one of Canada’s fastest sprinters so I knew I had to take second to advance. 
sprint race - i'm on the R-hand boot pack (photo: bria)
Fast forward to the top of the climb and I was transitioning with another guy, well behind Peter.  I was confident I could out-transition and out-ski him to advance but for some reason, my R boot would not lock into my heel piece so I dropped in to the gated descent still trying to stomp my heel in (probably a rule violation).  This allowed him to pass me around the first gate before I tried to pass him around the second gate.  Then this happened.
going down in spectacular fashion (photo: bria)
My boot may or may not have been locked into my heel piece as I blew up, losing a ski in the process.  I sat up dazed, wiped the snow from my face and glasses before continuing down around the gates on a single ski.  I had to continue another ~500 vertical feet down the hill to find my ski which had fortunately come to a stop.  I was disqualified for finishing without all the gear I started with but stuck around to watch the remaining heats.  I was disappointed with my showing but not too upset, since I cared far more about the individual race the following day.  After a few hours of riding the lifts and skiing with Bria (a rare treat for me), we swung by the swanky Chateau and Lake Louise proper, before retiring to the awesome and affordable lake louise hostel for the night.
lake louise proper.  picture certainly doesn't do it justice (photo: bria)
I was up early the next morning, for the pre-race meeting and a chilly chairlift ride to the mid-mountain start.  After a quick warm-up, we were off, at a painfully fast pace off the line, til I scaled back on the throttle to a sustainable pace.  I was a little taken back and disheartened to spent the bulk of the first climb in 15th place.  I made a move near the top of the climb and passed 4 guys in quick succession before coming into the transition.  A quick skin rip and some aggressive skiing down the first run allowed me to pass another 2 racers.  I transitioned with a chase group of about 5 people and after two quick switchbacks, I managed to pass two of them in the ensuing skin-to-bootpack transition to move into a more reasonable 7th place.  I followed Kylee and Joel up the long bootpack before skiing a longer second run down into the basin below the resort’s back bowls.  I came into the transition a few seconds behind Joel but managed to out transition him and start up the third climb in pursuit of Kylee (canada’s fastest female racer).  The third climb back up to the ridge went well but I was unable to close the gap to Kylee. 
view from approximately the top of the first climb
The third run was again packed powder down to the basin below the bowls to the transition area.  I transitioned with Kylee and gave her my spare gel when she asked for one, saying she had dropped one earlier.  I past her a few meters out of the transition to move into 5th but well behind the top 4 of Rob, Joel D, Peter and Travis who I could see in a super close battle on the technical switchbacks further up the climb.  I maintained position ahead of Kylee on this climb and from the ridge, ripped skins and began the LONG descent down to Temple Lodge.  At one point after skiing what felt like several minutes, I stopped to wait for Kylee to make sure I was still on the right track.  Fortunately I was and I continued bombing down the wide cat track, feeling a little silly in a full tuck cruising past resort skiers. 
the incredible log cabin-style lodge (photo: bria)
Once at the Temple Lodge transition, it was fun to see Bria cheering as I threw on skins for the final climb and started up a few seconds ahead of Kylee.  This climb ended up being quite a bit longer than I was expecting but I built a small gap on Kylee and eventually crested the top of the climb, and left the transition as she was arriving.  The ensuing final run was predominately bombing down a groomer followed by a LONG and flat skate/tuck to the finish.    I crossed the line in 5th place, several minutes behind four of Canada’s finest, who had had what sounded like an exciting, down-to-the-wire finish.  I was very happy with my result, considering how sluggish I had felt on the initial climb and my poor performance the prior day.  Full sprint and individual results for those who care.  The remainder of the day was spent enjoying the bluebird spring conditions with Bria on the lifts and poutine in the lodge before embarking on the LONG drive home.
at the finish (the 2 guys behind me were amongst several racers who accidentally skipped the fourth climb) (photo: bria)
Rose: a gorgeous day of skiing on day 2, both during the race and afterwards
Thorn: jumping jacks in Arlee at midnight on the drive home to help stay awake
Bud: although it sounds brutal, I’m intrigued about trying to put together solid performances on consecutive race days at future multi-day races (3 days at powder keg next year..)

Thoughts: this was hands down the most BEAUTIFUL venue in which I have ever raced.  This race is an awesome value at $100 canadian for 2 races and 2 days of lift tickets.  If doing this individual course, make sure to wax your skis beforehand for the long/flat 4th and 5th descents

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Castle Crag via Nipple Knob

Back in mid-February between race weekends, Jeffrey and I were able to connect for a full day out in the Bitterroot.  With recent warm temps, we didn’t have a great sense of what conditions might be like but as we like to say – “you don’t know until you go.”  We decided on Castle Crag at the head of Sheafman creek.   
east face of castle crag
We started our day by ascending the broad east face of Nipple Knob, and skiing an inch or two of creamy powder on a supportable crust down the N side to sheafman creek.  We then found the summer trail and cruised up canyon to garrard lake.  Climbing out of the drainage to get on castle crag’s SE ridge can be a little tricky but we carefully forged a route up N facing storm slabs til we could hop over the ridge and easily ascend supportable crust and talus on the S side to the summit. 
the S face of W sheafman point
climbing out of sheafman creek
nearing the summit
We had a look at the N couloir but found the entrance heavily winded loaded and the rock slabs at the choke not quite filled in.  We instead started our way down the long S-facing gully into mill creek.  We enjoyed dust on supportable crust most of the way down til the bottom thousand or so feet gave way to heavy slush conditions.  After finding the mill creek trail, we had a nice lunch break in the sun before beginning the long skins-on egress out.  Given the unsupportable isothermic mush, what should have taken 2 hours became a character building 4 hour affair with endless wallowing and a minor onset of blisters and trench foot.  But we persevered and eventually found ourselves back at the car, feasting on chips and glad to be done.
wind loaded entrance to N couloir
cruising down the S gully
the slightly scrappy bottom ~500ft of the run from near the mill creek trail
Stats: about 19 miles and 6800 vert in 11 hours car-car

Rose: skiing castle crag for my first time
Thorn: the long slog out mill creek
Bud: the N couloir looks like a short but engaging run when in condition

Thoughts: both sheafman and mill creek trails are flat enough that a pair of race or kicker skins would be beneficial

Monday, March 6, 2017

February Skimo - whitefish & nelson

The 2017 iteration of the Whitefish Whiteout was special in many regards.  Between all the race categories, a record 130+ folks took part, to honor Ben Parsons and celebrate his love of uphill skiing in the Flathead community.

Additionally, the Toni Matt uphill route was officially re-named the Benny Up route, again in tribute of Ben.  Lastly, local skimo crusher Mike Foote broke the single ascent time record to the summit, in a speedy 24:52.    

This was my first time racing the whiteout and I had a blast, having a close battle with Brian, Jeffrey and Stano.  Read on for a full recap.
race start.  i'm in blue at far left and not actually in the lead.  (photo: bria)
After a painfully hard start off the line, I eased back a touch on the throttle but kept pushing hard, hoping to remain within sight of the chase pack at the summit.  This didn’t materialize but I transitioned slightly behind Jeffrey in sixth place before starting down the first run.  The skiing was pretty terrible but I made it down in one piece before throwing on skins and staying close behind jeffrey on the skin to the NBC booter.  Brian caught me by the top of the booter and cruised past soon after as I paused in confusion at the top of the skins-on descent towards lodi peak.  Jeffrey, Brian, myself and Stano made the short climb up lodi all close together before getting a little separated on the confusing descent.  I passed jeffrey in the trees but then emerged a little too low on a groomer so had to skate up/over to the transition which would allow him to repass me.  Again Brian, Jeffrey and myself in close succession made the climb to the bighorn bootpack where places 2 (travis) through 6 (jeffrey) were all still on the bootpack as I started up.  Jeffrey and I ripped skins together at the top of the climb before he missed some flagging and made a detour down to the final transition point, arriving a few seconds after I did.  With the finish line at the summit, all that remained was the final low angle cat track climb to go. 

We quickly threw on skins as Stano arrived and the stage was set for an exciting sprint finish!  I was initially a few strides ahead of Jeffrey til Stano dropped the hammer and pulled up along side me, forcing me to dig deep to stay ahead.  We could see Brian not far ahead looking over his shoulder but he was out of our reach with the short distance to go.  As I rounded the final corner, I pushed as hard as I could, hopeful it would be enough to hold off Stano.  Fortunately it was, and I collapsed at the finish, 5 seconds ahead of him, 14 seconds ahead of Jeffrey and 21 behind Brian.  Definitely the most sustained battling and exciting finish I’ve thus far experienced in racing.
i narrowly missed out on this top 5 podium.  (photo taken from foote's instagram)
I finished in 1:41:32 in 6th place.  Worth mentioning that places 2-8 all finished within 3:12 of one another.  Full results here. 

Rose: despite the suffering, the exciting sprint finish with Stano and Jeffrey
Thorn: a few small route-finding hiccups and poor skin choices on most of the climbs
Bud: returning next year for the full course including hellroaring peak that was left out this year due to avy danger

Two weeks later, the allure of Canadian powder and poutine proved strong, prompting bria and I to make the drive up to Nelson for the ROAM race and a weekend of touring.  With the Canadian national team (Nick, Travis, Peter, Stano, etc.) over in Italy for the skimo world championships, Jeffrey and I were able to swoop in and snag the top two spots of the podium on a gorgous morning and a new & improved course.  Read on for a full recap.
whitewater sidecounty and mt. ymir
start of the ROAM race (photo: bria)
A fast start up a cat track put me in the lead til Steve Sellers eased past shortly before the up-track became steep off-piste switchbacks.  The skin track was much too steep, particularly with my skinnier pair of skins so I spent more time than I would have liked slipping and resulting to sidestepping, which allowed Steve to open a gap and Jeffrey to catch up who was also struggling on skinny skins.  Once the course hit the ridge, we were treated to a steep & spicy skins-on descent before making a short climb further up the ridge.  A little confusion as to the transition spot allowed myself and Jeffrey to catch Steve and we all ripped skins together.  
steve, myself and jeffrey on the first climb (photo: phil best photography)
Steve was the first out, but I soon passed and gapped him on the powdery downhill.  Little did I know I would lead the remainder of the race.  Jeffrey arrived at the transition as I was on my second skin (employed wider skins for the remainder of the race) and stayed close behind on the off-piste switchbacks up towards the aesthetic white lightning bootpack.  The upper half of the booter had been filled in by the wind so I broke knee-deep trail to the top, which allowed Jeffrey to close the gap and top out right behind me.  
unknown racers starting up the white lightning boot pack (photo: phil best)
A short undulating skin put us atop the second climb where we traversed into ymir bowl and skied some great powder back down towards the base area.  I took one small cartwheeling fall but fortunately my skis stayed on so I popped back up and kept cruising.  Jeffrey arrived at the transition site as I was starting up the third climb so I kept pushing hard, starting to think I could actually win this thing.  Midway up the climb during some off-piste switchbacks, I noticed Jeffrey not far behind had blown a skin, which told me the race was now mine to loose.  I kept cruising up the ridge to the second long bootpack, followed by a short skin to the final transition spot.  I skied the final downhill a little more conservatively then the prior two, taking care not to crash and get passed.  Fortunately I knew about the weird, out-of-sight U-turn and uphill skate to the finish from last year.  A few minutes later I cheered Jeffrey across the finish and shared stories of our races before cheering on Steve as he arrived in third place.  Full results here.
catching my breath at the finish (photo: ROAM gear shop)
The remainder of the day was spent skiing excellent powder back in 5 mile basin with Bria before indulging in some poutine and standing on the snowdium (snow podium).  Even hours after finishing, I was still in a little awe of having won.  It certainly wouldn’t have happened without a few particular folks racing over in Italy but hey, I’ll take it. 
feeling more excited than I look (photo: bria)

5 mile basin (photo: bria)
On Sunday, Bria and I broke up the drive home by skiing on the south side of Kootenay Pass for a few hours and again enjoying great powder conditions. 
cool skin track shot (photo: bria)
bria enters the white room on kootenay pass
Rose: beautiful weather, great snow, a much improved course and taking the top spot made for a really fun race
Thorn: some serious struggling on the too-steep skintrack on the first climb
Bud: meeting the lake louise skimo race director at the finish and maybe/hopefully making the long drive up there at the end of March for what sounds like an awesome course

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bass Bowl Bounce 2017

Jeffrey and I were able to get out for a full day back in late January for one of our favorite tours in the area – the bass bowl bounce.  After the typical 3 hour approach to bass lake, we continued up north bass peak under unexpectedly beautiful conditions.  The top two hundred or so feet of the E face had been hammered by the wind but we soon hit great boot top powder and continued down to below the bass/kootenai saddle. 
NE face of smoky joe
a beautiful morning at bass lake
From there we climbed north to the saddle and then up the groove tube, to have a look at the striking Spurge couloir.  After skiing the upper hundred or so feet, we didn’t like what we were seeing and feeling (the recent storm snow readily sluffing with some propagation on a more pronounced crust than we had yet seen that day) so climbed back out and continued east on the more moderate terrain of the standard bowl bounce, finding mostly good powder conditions on the next two runs.
spurge couloir from atop N bass peak
stormy joe and big st joe from N bass peak
By the time we crested the last climb atop lappi point, the forecasted storm had arrived with howling winds and low visibility.  We dropped into the lappi west bowl from the top, largely by feel in the flat light conditions.  All was going well on the egress til a snowbridge broke below me over bass creek.  Fortunately I was unscathed but one pole and both of my skis just behind the heel pieces broke in the fall (dynafit denalis, a ski with known breakage issues).  With a branch in one hand and my remaining pole in the other, I was lucky enough to be able to snowplow and ski out the remnants of my skis (with a whole bunch of extra tail rocker) the  ~5miles of remaining trail to the car.
this tour largely consists of thousands of feet of mellow pow skiing
the S face of big st joe holds several quality 3000ft runs
We briefly crossed paths with brian who was egressing from a speedy go at the pinball wizard and was nice enough to wait at the trailhead to make sure I made it out safely on my compromised gear.      

Obviously a bummer to break a pair of skis but flukes like that do happen I suppose.  Thankfully I had put a lot of days on them over the last two and a half seasons so no use being too upset.

Rose: catching this awesome tour in mostly powder conditions for the second year in a row
Thorn: breaking my skis!
Bud: returning for the Spurge

Stats:  about 9500vert in 11.5 hours