Saturday, September 23, 2017

Alaska Basin Eclipse Weekend

It’s been a month now since the eclipse but those few precious minutes of totality are forever cemented in my mind as one of the coolest phenomenons I’ve ever seen.  Bria and I spend the long weekend up in the alaska basin and had a great couple of days.  The hike in Friday evening after work went smoothly and we set up camp just before dark. 
entering the basin with buck glowing in the evening light
We spend the next day taking a leisurely hike up to hurricane pass, to take in one of the best views in the range.  Sunday was spent scrambling the east ridge of buck, with a long, slow descent linking together ledge systems down the east couloir from the notch below the south ridge.  But we persevered, bootied an old rap station along the way and eventually made it back to the buck-static saddle and onwards to camp. 
top notch wildflowers (bria photo)
remnants of a marmot, melting out from his cold grave
atop hurricane pass
approaching the east ridge of buck 
jammin' up buck (bria photo)
buck summit
weaving our way down 
had to get creative to get around the bergschrund (bria photo) 
imbibing on the bergschrund runoff
Monday morning we broke camp and moments after hitting the trail, were pleasantly surprised to bump into jeffrey, out for a pre-eclipse run.  We continued up the sheep steps to the devil’s shelf and started trending west towards the devil’s stairs til it was time to post up for the eclipse.  We were both taken back by the big temperature drop as we slowly added layers til we were both bundled in puffys and hats.  I’ll never forget how incredible totality was, with the orange sunset-esque glow to the west, the twinkling planets and the surreal feeling of being in a sci-fi film with a black orb blocking out the sun. 
not a bad spot to lounge and stare at the sun (bria photo)
sunset-esque glow to the west (bria photo)
moments later (bria photo)
hiking out through waist deep wildflowers 
Soon after totality passed we hit the trail, largely in part to warm up.  We would periodically stop to glance at the progress of the remaining partial eclipse but quickly agreed that partials are nothing exciting once you’ve experienced a total.  The main teton canyon trail and the park lot were a crowded mess (cars were parked along the road for nearly a full mile before the trailhead).  We made it home in a half hour (instead of the customary 20-25min), discussing how far we would have traveled (like most people) to see totality.  The answer was far, since it was truly such an amazing, unforgettable event. 

Rose: must I say it again…totality was spectacular
Thorn: over an hour of “will it go or are we cliffed out?” on our buck descent
Bud: maine or vermont in april 2024??

Friday, September 8, 2017

Kit Lake

I spent the anniversary of Kit’s death alone in the mountains, traveling to kit lake, the 2nd highest lake in the tetons.  The weather felt in tune with my emotions – a mix of dark threatening clouds, rain, hail and sunshine.  I made a loop of it, starting with table mountain, to hurricane pass, to kit lake, to sunset lake, to alaska basin, to devils shelf, down to the trailhead.  I spent awhile at the shore of kit lake til rain prompted me to get moving again, thinking about my life since his passing, but I won’t even try to put those thoughts and emotions into words here.

Suffice to say I hope I am leading a life today that he would be proud of.
kit lake, snowdrift lake and mt wister

Sunday, August 27, 2017

HURL 53miler race report

With great excitement and some nervousness for my first 50miler, I found myself running in the chilly morning air by headlamp out of the Willard Creek trailhead in the Elkhorn Mountains outside of Helena.  Having never ran further than ~34miles, my race plan for the day was a conservative start for the initial 30miles and 8000vert to the town of Elkhorn.  For these 6 and a half hours, I was feeling great, enjoying the surprisingly cool overcast conditions as the miles clicked by at an easy pace, hiking most of the climbs and slowly moving up through the field from approximately 13th to 8th place. 

I switched to fresh shoes/socks and stuffed my face at the Elkhorn aid station, excited for the big 3000ft climb ahead.  After a few minutes of hiking, there was a mile or so stretch of flat road running that took me by surprise, and having just eaten a ton of food, my stomach took a nasty turn from totally fine to super upset in a matter of minutes.  What would ensue was nearly 3 hours of GI issues and some nausea that slowed me way down, forcing me to lay down on the side of the trail several times, able to eat little to no calories.  I was feeling a little better by the aid station at mile 36 and was able to stomach some salty foods. 

By aid at mile 42 my stomach was mostly settled and back to normal so I was able to mentally switch gears from simply “keep moving” to actually pushing hard/racing.  In doing so I was able to catch and pass a few racers that had overtaken me when I was hurting and moving slow.  I reached the aid station at mile 46 feeling the best I had in several hours and pushed hard on the remaining ~7 miles (mostly downhill) to the finish.  I was behind schedule with what I had told my mom for anticipated finishing time so it was a great surprise to see her cheering about a mile before the finish.  I ended up 8th overall in 13:08, well behind my race goals of sub 12 hours and top 5 male.  Oh well.  I was excited to have finished so strong, rather than limping (figuratively) across the line.
start/finish area - great low-key race environment
low quality picture before they took the banner down
strawberry lookout the next day
My mom and I had a great evening cheering on other finishers and camping that night.  Hot sunny conditions ensued on Sunday but we got in a nice bike ride together to Strawberry Lookout before parting ways and heading home.

Stats: about 53miles and 13,500 vert in 13:08

Rose: closing strong on my first 50miler
Thorn: my ~3 hours of GI problems and ensuing snail’s pace
Bud:  this was a big boost in confidence for me to tackle longer outings in the future (teton crest trail in a day, gannett peak in a day, etc) 

Chouinard Ridge - middle teton

A week after climbing full exum, I found myself back in garnet canyon, headed solo up the south fork to the south side of the middle teton.  
standard middle teton view from the garnet trail
As I hiked past several people and small groups also headed for the middle, I hoped no one would blindly follow me, assuming I was headed for the standard SW couloir route.  Instead I deviated to the bottom of continuous snow below the ellingwood couloir, where I put on microspikes and slowly kicked switchbacks up the semi-steep snow to reach the base of the chouinard ridge.  
from L to S - chouinard ridge, chouinard couloir, SE buttress, ellingwood couloir
I spent a solid 15 minutes on a large ledge below the route to dry out shoes/socks and refuel.  Above me lay over 1500 vertical feet of scrambling, reportedly up to 5.4 in difficulty.  I was stoked.  I slowly worked my way up the broad ridge, enjoying the solid rock and choose-your-own-adventure wide array of route options/difficulty.  
bottom of chouinard ridge
the SE buttress (III 5.7) looks worthy of a return trip
midway up the route
Route finding was fairly straight forward but there were a few steep sections where I had to downclimb and look around to find a more reasonable route.  I was surprised to find myself feeling a little relieved as the difficulty eased off and the route more-or-less deposited me in the upper SW couloir about a hundred feet below the summit.  I arrived on the summit about 5 hours into the day and enjoyed another long break of food, views and the company of those that had come up the SW couloir. 
upper portion of route
the crux of the way i went
the GFT
iceflow lake to the west 
I then descended the SW couloir and rock hopped and boot skied the snow patches of the south fork down to the meadows.   Despite hiking the entirely of the egress to the trailhead, I still had to pass and dodge countless hikers along the way.  A stark contrast to the solitude of the chouinard ridge but a small price to pay for playing in such an incredible mountain range.

Stats: roughly 13mi/6k vert/scrambling up to 5.4 in a leisurely 8.5 hours roundtrip

Rose: routefinding on the fly on very good rock
Thorn: crowds on the lower trail on the way down
Bud: the adjacent SE buttress with a partner and a rope

Thoughts: while I would definitely recommend this route to others, its worth noting that there is mandatory exposed 5.4/5 climbing (particularly on upper half) and is more routefinding intensive and committing than the CMC route on moran.  Also – descending the south fork of garnet is MUCH nicer the more snow there is

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Exum Ridge

With Bria out of town and no local climbing partners yet, I responded to a partner posting on MP of someone looking for an exum ridge partner.  I met Nico for dinner in Jackson the night before our climb.  He was from Germany, in the midst of a month long US climbing trip and had never been to the tetons before.  The following day we had a blast climbing the full exum ridge together in perfect weather – a spectacular introduction to the tetons for Nico! 
classic view from the lower saddle
nico following the black face pitch
golden stair 
friction pitch
looking down the V pitch
We swung leads on the lower exum (III 5.7) with me lucking out and getting to lead the stellar black face pitch.  We simuled and soloed the bulk of the upper exum (II 5.5) but pitched out the friction pitch.  Although I had climbed the upper exum previously, I had apparently bypassed the friction and V-pitches since both were new to me this time around – go figure.  There was a line at both rappels but we eventually made it down to the upper saddle and continued down to the car, arriving a bit before dark.  A long but outstanding day.
teton shadows above bradley lake on the hike down
Rose: the exposed jug-hauling on the black face pitch
Thorn: crowds – at the base of the route and the rappels
Bud: this was my third time up the grand by a different route but there are still several more I’m looking forward to climbing

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Buck E ridge loop

On a day with a marginal weather forecast and no climbing partner, I set out to climb the somewhat classic east ridge of buck, one of the last major teton summits I hadn’t yet climbed.  The climber’s trail up stewart draw was well established and easy to follow. 
early glimpse of buck on the approach
I reached the still frozen timberline lake in 2 hours before starting up the approach couloir to gain the east ridge.  Having carried microspikes, I put them to good use climbing snow all the way to the ridge, rather than exiting L onto rock mid-way up.  The scrambling on the ridge was awesome.  Solid rock, nice exposure, and a fun mix of 3rd-4th class with optional low 5th sections as well. 
approach couloir 
E ridge scrambling
Rather than do the customary out-and-back, I opted to make it a loop by descending the SE ridge and coming down the death canyon switchbacks.  Downclimbing the SE ridge was straightforward 3rd-4th class to gain the prominent notch north of the tower.  From here, couloirs drop E (towards timberline lake) and W (towards the no wood basin).  I descended the W couloir til it cliffed out towards the bottom.  I traversed skier’s R, linking together a series of exposed and often loose, low 5th class ledges and steps til I reached the talus slopes below.  
the SW side of buck from the trail
I then trended S to gain the trail and made the short climb and descent to static divide.  Through here I encountered a number of backpackers and day hikers that oftentimes had no clue how to properly hold or use their ice axe while traversing the remaining and often exposed patches of snow.  This was a little comical at times but also frightening.  From the divide I ran down the enjoyable switchbacks to the cabin and then out to the trailhead (with a quick detour to jump in phelps lake to keep the heat at bay).  All in all a great little half-day outing with a good mix of hiking, scrambling and running. 
looking north from the summit
Stats: about 13mi/6k vert in 6 hrs 

Rose: exposed 4th and low 5th scrambling on the ridge
Thorn: getting cliffed out on the couloir descent and the resulting downclimbing
Bud: the skiing down the N couloirs looks awesome

Thoughts: while I would recommend this loop to others, I think descending the E couloir from the notch in the SE ridge to bypass the tower on the E side and then climbing up to the buck-static saddle and descending to the trail would be a much better route

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Welcome to the Tetons

Bria and I have been having a blast (both together and separately) exploring the running & biking trails around town and up at targhee.  Two noteworthy outings include table mountain and a climb of symmetry spire.
excited about our new backyard
We took the steep face trail up table and spent nearly an hour on the summit, drying out shoes and socks and taking in the awesome views.  We had been planning on descending the huckleberry trail but could see from the summit that the initial N-facing switchbacks were still completely buried in snow so we opted for the face trail instead.  I’m excited for some training on this steep, technical trail – over 4 thousand vert in 4 miles and up to 11,000ft and only 25 minutes from home!
this sign was an attractant, not a deterrent to me
up on the ridge, looking E towards the "table" and the tetons behind
We spent the weekend after the 4th over on the E side of the tetons, excited for a redemption climb of symmetry spire’s SW ridge, after bailing on it last summer.  The climbing was good, the rock surprisingly solid for how chossy the ridge looks from below and the views outstanding.  We took our time and had a blast.  Looking forward to many more moderate routes in the park this summer.
approach above jenny lake
symmetry's SW ridge - it climbs better than it looks 
bria approaching the top of pitch 1
top section of pitch 3 
funny faces with the cathedral group behind (photo: bria)
a family of mountain goats on the way down
we love the tetons (photo: bria)
Rose: redemption on symmetry and the awesome view of the cathedral group at each belay
Thorn: low food, water and stoke levels on the symmetry walkoff back to our stash at the base of the route
Bud: knowing that playing in the tetons is now a weekly occurrence