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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Snowbowl Thursday Night Race Series

I'm excited to help spread the word that the Snowbowl Randonee Radness is back for another year!  Again on Thursday nights for 4 weeks starting this week (19th).  Details and registration on the site here -

Hope to see you up there!  Participants of all abilities welcome along with spectators and/or hecklers!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gash to Sky Pilot

Brian and I were able to join forces on a day of good weather with a loose goal to ski the N face of sky pilot and another run above bear lake if conditions seemed reasonable.  A cold and dark departure from town had us skinning from the car (at the end of the plowing) just before first light.  A beautiful sunrise ensued as we past the lower TH and continued up to gash point proper.  
sky pilot on a gorgeous morning
Once on top with hardly a cloud in the sky, we took in the nice view before skiing and traversing down to bear lake.  We decided to check out sky pilot first and after a few hasty and one thorough pit assessment mid-way up (details here,) we continued up to the summit.  By this point, the bluebird conditions had given way to overcast skies but the views of the endless expanse of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness were still as rewarding as always.  The N face did not ski well thanks to recent wind hammering but the position made up for it. 
leaving bear lake 
top of sky pilot
below the N face of sky pilot
From a bench just above the lake, we decided to next check out one of the tree-lined S facing runs above the lake, a new run for both of us.  Brian had surprised me by bringing race boots and light skis and thus earned himself trail breaking duty for most of the day.  I faded a bit near the top of this climb but the resulting view of the sweathouse spires from close proximity and a Baby Ruth revived me for the two thousand foot run of powder and wind-board down to the lake.
S facing terrain above bear lake, we skied one of the tree-lined runs lookers R of the rock-lined runs
sweathouse spires
a foreshortened view of our third run
A leisurely transition ensued as we geared up for the big climb back to gash point proper.  Brian again dropped me near the top of the climb but I arrived a few minutes later and we ripped skins, ready to ski 4000 feet down to the car.  The snow on the ensuing run was largely untouched by the wind and thus held great powder skiing, which was a nice contrast to the wind-hammered conditions on our other runs.  I was pleasantly surprised by the coverage and resulting easy egress all the way to the lower TH.  A short remaining flat ski out the road brought us to the car, a few minutes before darkness fell. 
attractive splitter near the top of gash point
Despite the low snow quality on most of our runs, it was great to get out for a full day in the mountains.   

Stats: about 20mi/10,800 vert in 10 hours car-car

Rose: 4000ft of powder on our last run
Thorn: feeling low energy on the second-to-last climb above bear lake
Bud: overall stability and mid-elevation snowpack were both better than I was expecting and bode well for future outings

Monday, December 26, 2016

NW Passage Skimo Race

Winter!  After a slow start for most of November, winter has arrived in full force the past few weeks.  After wrapping up the fall semester, I was fortunate to make it over to McCall Idaho for the inaugural Northwest Passage Skimo Race.  I opted out of the Friday afternoon vertical race, not wanting to compete soon after sitting in the car for ~6 hours. 
race start (photo: bria)
Fast forward to the next morning, and myself and 50+ other racers were gathered in the starting corral (large and deep field due to the race being a qualifier for the US national skimo team).  Due to the cold temps (-16F at the start), the race organizers modified the start to be just out the door from the lodge.  In order to get to the base of the course’s first climb, the modified start included a ~50 yard dash with skis in hand, followed by a slightly downhill ski/skate to reach the skins-on transition point.  This was a unique but in retrospect fun way to start.  The ensuing climb was STRAIGHT UP a freshly groomed blue square that was particularly brutal.  There were a few minutes where I thought I was going to have to pause to throw up my breakfast.  Fortunately those feelings subsidized near the top as the angle eased up and we skied a short powdery run down the resort’s backside (lakeview bowl). 
sunrise from the base area (photo: bria)
The ensuing climb was short, and featured dual skin tracks at a nice reasonable grade (this would hold true for the remainder of the course).  The sunrise and resulting views near the top of this climb were outstanding.  The second run was again short and deep powder before making the climb to Sargent’s mountain.  The third and fourth descents of the course were the same thousand vertical off the summit of Sargents.  Due largely to bitterly cold fingers, I managed to drop a pole on BOTH of these descents and have to stop, sidestep/wallow uphill in deep powder to retrieve it.
second climb (photo: eric hoff)
At the bottom of the fourth run, I was mis-informed as to where to transition for the final climb and I already had a ski off before being told, no, I should in fact proceed slightly further if I had already done two Sargent laps.  Irritated, I clicked back into my ski and continued down to the correct transition point before throwing skins on for the last time (hoping the glue on my 2nd pair of skins would hold up).  Fortunately they held and I soon found myself below the course’s sole bootpack section, which proved to be steep, deep and fairly brutal.  Once on top, a short remaining skin brought me to the final transition point, where I made a point of catching the guy slightly in front of me.  The top portion of the final descent was steep and technical but once I was through the business, I hammered down to catch the guy in front of me, skating past him on the final cat-track slightly before the finish.  I ended up 17th of 52 racers on the elite course which is respectable considering the number of fast folks vying for the national team but also a bit short of what I think I am capable of.
stoked at the finish! (photo: bria)
mens results
A big thanks to Brundage Mountain, the USSMA and all the race organizers and volunteers for all their hard work in putting together this great course and event.         

Rose: great snow and a beautiful course predominately outside the resort boundary
Thorn: damaging one of my new race skis in their first ever race
Bud:  looking forward to some backcountry adventures til my next race (bridger at end of january)

Thoughts:  I opted to race without my HR monitor and in retrospect, I think I was a little light on the throttle on some of the climbs, due in part to the amount of attention I had to pay to try to keep some resemblance of warmth in my fingers

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rattlesnake - McLeod to Stuart

The past month or so has been busy for me.  Due to a combination of school, weather, more structured training for skimo season, and life in general, I haven’t gotten in any real full day outings.
view of the rattlesnake range from atop mcleod
However back in early October, Jeffrey and I were able to get out together for a McLeod to Stuart peak traverse in the Rattlesnake.  Bria was able and willing to drop us at the Finley TH (thanks!) and shortly after she drove away, it dawned on us that we were now committed to making it to our vehicle at the main rattlesnake TH. 
lower finley lake
We ran up the trail in intermittent rain and past where the drainage splits and I was planning on leaving the trail to the north.   Immersed in conversation, I didn’t realize my mistake til we arrived at lower Finley lake.  Rather than backtrack, we decided just to gain the ridge NE above the lake.  Once up high, the terrain was loose, scrappy class 3 to the north but soon eased and we continued up and down a few bumps in the ridge before stumbling across a faint trail up the broad S ridge of McLeod.  This was Jeffrey’s first time on McLeod and my first time without skis so we hung out for a few minutes, taking in the views. 
mcleod is the broad "hill" in the distance - not a very striking peak
nearing the end of the scrappy terrain
After bombing down the S ridge’s talus (reminiscent of the Rut’s technical terrain on lone peak), we decided to forgo the scrappy section of ridgeline from earlier and just bowl bounce our way south to sanders peak instead.  Once we were down in the basin, we climbed a would-be aesthetic ski run before dropping S into the next basin.  We then cut SW to a small lake for a water refill before re-gaining the ridge near Sander’s peak and scrambling up the fun 3rd & 4th class NW ridge to the summit.
up this N-facing run where the conversation naturally turned to skiing
scrambling up the NW ridge of sanders peak
(these difficulties can easily be bypassed on climber's R for those inclined)
From there the route was familiar to us both from prior iterations of the rattlesnake traverse as we trended S to Mosquito.  On the summit we bumped into two gals on a bike/run outing and chatted for a few minutes before continuing S to Stuart.   On top of Stuart we divided the last of our water before heading down.  The last few miles felt a little long but soon enough we were down at the car, remarking at how lucky we are to have this wilderness area in our backyard. 
our route from the start, to mcleod, to mosquito
About 24mi/7500 vert in 8:20 TH-to-TH

Approx. splits: 3:10 mcleod, 5:20 sanders, 6:50 stuart, 8:20 TH

Thoughts: this route was mainly easy ridge cruising with very little bushwhacking considering we crossed multiple trail-less basins.  The roughest sections of ridge line are near pt 8291 and the short NW ridge of sanders.  A logical extension for next time is to start at snowbowl, up to point six, N to murphy, descend to finley lakes, then out to mcleod before looping to sanders, mosquito, stuart and down.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fall in the Bitterroot – lantern ridge, cowboy ridge & fred burr to mill

Despite some busy six day school weeks in September, I was able to get out for a few great outings and enjoy the changing foliage.  First was a lolo peak loop, up lantern ridge and down mill creek.  With the Rut less than a week away, I took it easy, summitting in 2:44 and back to the car in 4:44.  About 18mi and 6000 vert.  Awesome loop, can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to it.
looking down on lantern ridge from atop N lolo peak
carlton lake.  looking forward to the typical early season skiing up here in the very near future
On a Sunday in mid-Sept, I tried to sneak in a morning on trapper’s cowboy ridge before a storm was forecasted to arrive.  Bria was unfortunately battling a cold so opted to only join til the saddle above gem lake.  From there I dropped into and crossed the trapper creek basin to the base of N trapper’s SE couloir.  Years ago I climbed N trapper for my first time in late June and with axe/crampons, was able to climb snow all the way up the couloir (including over the chockstone).  This time around I took the slabby out-and-back traverse on the S face to bypass the chockstone before continuing up the fun 3rd and 4th class scrambling to the summit. 

changing colors at middle lake 
from the saddle dropping N into the trapper basin (photo: bria)
base of N trapper's SE couloir
trapper peak from atop N trapper
It was cool to read through the various summit entries before departing on the traverse to trapper.  Armed with approach shoes, I did my best to stay true to the exposed ridge (lots of fun 4th class up to 5.4), but had to vacate it twice (which entailed some route-finding blunders) before reaching the big flat saddle. 
approximate beta of my route at the first prominent point you must vacate the ridgecrest
when traveling S from N trapper (may not be the easiest or preferred route)
a look back at N trapper from trapper's summit
By this point, the forecasted storm had arrived, in the form of howling winds and some snow flurries.  I continued making my way S towards trapper, well below the ridge on the W side.  I mistakenly went too far since by the time I decided to cut up to the ridge proper, I was forced to deal with steep, loose dirt and a lot of slab.  Once on the ridge, I continued up some fun 3rd and 4th class terrain to trapper’s summit.  After a quick snack, I began the descent down the main trail before cutting skier’s L at approx. 9000ft to find the baker ridge trail which I took down to baker lake and the car.

There is definitely room for improvement on my route-finding and time on this decent (but far cry from the tetons) scrambling loop.  About 9mi/4200 vert/up to 5.4 but could probably be kept to low 5th class with diligent route-finding   

A week later, with stormy weather precluding ridgeline scrambling, I set out for a fred burr to mill creek loop, another outing that has been on my to-do list for a long time.  After stashing a bike at the mill TH, I drove to fred burr TH and set off, excited for a day of exploration into a new corner of the bitterroot.  I passed a couple on horseback before the reservoir and didn’t know it at the time but I wouldn’t see another person the rest of the day. 
largest of several buttresses in the first few miles of fred burr canyon
an empty fred burr reservoir
green, yellow, orange and red as the first of several storm cells approaches
Other than a few wet creek crossings beyond the reservoir, the trail was in great shape and made for easy running.  This all came to a screeching halt about a mile before the switchbacks up to fred burr lake.  A microburst wind effect has created a sizeable stretch of horrendous downfall, with countless trees stacked up across one another, forcing me to climb, crawl and shimmy through the mess.  Forward progress was ridiculously slow but eventually the downfall ended just as abruptly as it started and I hiked the switchbacks up to fred burr lake (3:38).  The stretch of trail from here S to lockwood and heinrich lakes was outstanding and by far the highlight of the day. 
the start of the blow down
fred burr lake
looking S to the fred burr/mill divide
looking N to the upper end of fred burr canyon
lockwood lake
Once at the junction with the mill creek trail, I was well behind schedule and had to opt out of the short out-and-back to mill lake and begin the gradual 12mi descent to the mill TH (trail was well-cleared and in overall great shape).  The hour bike ride at the end of the day was a bit rough but couldn’t put a damper on my excitement for a great day out.  It felt extra rewarding to have had such a fun time in spite of the dreary weather - a sporadic mix of sun, rain, hail, and multiple sustained downpours that made for an annoyingly large number of jacket transitions throughout the day.

About 27mi/3600 vert in 7:10 TH-to-TH

Thoughts – I’m a little confused how it took me so long, despite running 90% of the mileage and no long breaks.  Other than the stretch of blow down (a big caveat), the trail was in great shape and definitely recommended for those looking for a beautiful marathon of running deep in the bitterroot wilderness