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Summer in B.C. Means Winter in Chile, Time to Ski

August 28th, 2013

It was supposed to be an epic tour, but it turned into more of a epic base camp tour, just like the Tour de France that was happening at the same time. Our goal was to ski as many kilometers and climb as many vertical feet as we could in three weeks. The vertical was a little more difficult as our home was around 8,000 feet and the mountains go up to 17,000 in the High Andes, requiring a lot more distance to gain any altitude.

We were given an amazing opportunity to ski in Chile. The original plan was to bus to Argentina, but sometimes is just ain’t meant to be. Our flight was late and we missed our bus-taxi connection. So with little knowledge of the language or currency, we got trapped into taking a taxi to nowhere, and had to return to a hostel in Santiago with nothing gained.

Luckily we had a local contact at Valle Nevado/El Colorado/La Parva and made good use of it, staying in a little snowy undisclosed hideaway for the remainder of our trip. It might have been a rough few weeks for the locals staying at the hut, because touring a minimum of four hours for 20 straight days wasn’t exactly good for foot odor!

Jumping back to the first day on the hill, we scored a classic side country lap of Santa Teresa. It was great to connect with the G3 engineers and be shown some local stashes, namely a 45-minute tour for a 2,000′ run. Then we could hitchhike back for another lap or ski tour back to the hut, over and over. Hitching back up to Valle Nevado was a safe bet, but be warned, you don’t how fast the driver will go! Hold on.

Unlike at the strict resorts in North America, we were pleasantly surprised that we could tour on the rope line up to the tops of the lifts in La Parva, El Colorado and Valle Nevado and not get hassled. Just stay out of the way.

The skiers we met were classic, but dare I forget my favorite tours with the local wild dogs. Pedro followed us up Tres Peuntes and summitted a 12,000′ peak, even breaking trail for us in the new snow. Zudnik toured with us from Valle Nevado to La Parva and scared every single skier along the way.

Once we got in the groove and acclimatized, we were able to step up and ski some of the higher peaks, Cerro Parva and Pintor. They yielded endless ski lines on all aspects, including some mandatory ice sheet ski lines for good measure. That, and with the low snow levels and spring like weather, rock sharks were lurking all over the place, and they bite. Helmets highly recommended.

The highlight of the trip was a much-needed dump of light, dry snow that we milked for five days with bluebird sunny skies.

Stats
250 km of ski travel
55,000 feet ascended on skis
80,000 feet descended on skis

I would like to thank some sponsors and people who made the trip possible: G3 Genune Guide Gear, Eddie Bauer/First Ascent, Osprey packs, Ryder’s Eyewear, Intuition liners, Innate bottles, Suunto watches and Dissent Lab compression socks. Another big thanks to the G3 crew, Ben Dill, Martine, and the drivers in Chile for the rides up to Valle Nevado.

Story by Andy Traslin

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Dust Buster

May 22nd, 2013

Wind. Without it we wouldn’t have storms and without storms we wouldn’t have snow. I get it, but in recent years the wind has brought little to the San Juan Mountains each spring but dust. I’m not talking about a few rogue particulates that have blown in from the desert. I’m talking about dust storms that make me think Apocalypse.

I’ve been skiing in the San Juan’s for the better part of two decades, but the dust storm phenomenon has only been plaguing our spring snowpack for the last five years. Local backcountry skiers now know the dust is coming each spring, it is just a matter of when it will come. To add insult to injury, the dust storms of the last two springs have coated an extremely thin snowpack. Scientist are saying that the dust is contributing to about 45 fewer days of snow cover in the San Juan’s each season than a decade ago. The dust storms flare up when we get a stiff and steady wind from the southern side of the compass. This year the first major event hit April 7th the following week. By late April the snowpack looked to be a color best described as somewhere between an off-brown and adobe. Regardless of where the dust comes from, it’s here, so I can either hang up the skis or suck it up and get out while there is still snow to ski.

In late April we get a minor reprieve with half a foot of snow. The dust lurks beneath the surface but for a day I have a small window to get some turns in snow that is relatively free of visible dirt. The objective is a tight couloir off the eastern side of South Lookout Peak near Ophir Pass in southwest Colorado. I have been looking at this line for more than a decade, trying to find a time when coverage is sufficient and the couloir and run out are free of debris. From highway 550 I look at the line through my binoculars and it looks good to go. I drive a few miles up the Ophir Pass road find a small pull-out and put things in motion.

South Lookout Peak (El. 13,370) and the couloir from Ophir Pass Road.

The last storm cleared out less than 24 hours earlier, but as I start to skin, I notice shades of brown starting to poke through the brighter snow. As I gain elevation, the depth of the new snow increases and the visible dust dissipates. I traverse a large alpine basin and climb until the pitch exceeds the grip of my skins. I toss the skis on my pack, latch on the crampons and continue to head higher. The couloir narrows and the pitch steepens. I glance down at my bootpack and notice two distinct dust layers within the cross section of snow exposed with each footprint. The dust layers are separated from each other by an inch of snow and from the top by less than three inches. With today’s brilliant blue sky, I know that by tomorrow this white snow I climb will look like a chute of soot.

The pitch intensifies and gets my attention. It is steep enough now that my helmet grazes the surface with each step. This is the only time I ever feel truly exposed when skiing dicey terrain. The fear of sliding backwards, chest down, on a cliff-lined 45-degree pitch keeps me focused, which is probably good given the consequences of a fall.

After the crux, the climb mellows to a more comfortable 45 degrees.

After a period of sphincter-tightening steps, the couloir widens and mellows enough to allow me to take more relaxed steps to the top. The top of the couloir is a narrow notch in the rocks that provides exceptional views of the Wilson range to the west. From my perch I can see that the Wilsons took the brunt of the last dust storm. Being the first major mountains east of the desert has made the Wilsons a geological catcher’s mitt for massive amounts of dust. In terms of coverage, the snowpack looks like it should in early June, but the tone of the surface is sickening.

View west toward the Wilson Range from the top of South Lookout Peak showing dust on the snowpack.

Lunch is consumed, gear is stowed and it is time to drop in. Skiing couloirs is a methodical but detailed process where each turn needs to be executed with precision to avoid putting a disastrous chain of events in motion. I get my game face on and feel the pull of gravity as I aim downward. The goal to skiing couloirs efficiently is to work with gravity, not fight it.

Letting gravity do the work in the couloir.

Rhythm is the key, and within a couple of turns, I have found mine. I stay focused a couple turns ahead and try to keep my speed up fast enough to not let my sluff catch me. I approach the narrow section and swivel a couple turns to dump speed as the slot is too narrow to allow my skis to turn perpendicular to the slope. After I pass the choke I cut right, make a wide turn, and let the sluff pass on my left side. The crux is over and now this is simple high-angle fun. The couloir widens and I gain speed quickly. The last of the cliff walls disappear and I find myself on huge well-sloped apron, where I dump a hundred vertical feet with each arcing turn. The entire run has taken a couple minutes but is well worth the multi-hour effort.

I soak up the San Juan sunshine while waiting for the rest of the crew to join me in the basin. Once we are all back together we start laying out a plan for our next ascent and select some possible lines. The north-facing slope above us still looks to hold some powder from the last storm. The last few turns we made have left white marks on the brown snow.

Art and snow. Interesting but reason for concern as this isn’t what snow should look like in late April.

While it looks interesting, it is another sign that our spring snowpack will likely be gone earlier than ever. Not knowing how much longer our San Juan snowpack will last this spring, we decide that there is no better time than the present to get after it. Skins come out, water goes down and more sunscreen goes on. This is the cycle of my life, and life is good.

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Canadian Mountain Ski Guide Full Exam

May 6th, 2013

Exams are tough. Whether they’re your first driver’s test, an important midterm or a job-dependent physical exam, they all force you to lay it on the line. There is no hiding behind feigned indifference, or deferral to a more knowledgeable friend. It is you, the challenge laid out, and the raw truth of what knowledge or physical prowess you have amassed up to then.

To be a student and attempt an exam is normal; the risk of failure is part of the learning process, and is a generally accepted part of educational progression. But the Canadian Mountain Ski Guide (run through Thompson Rivers University for the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) exam process has a distinct difference. Candidates go into their exam identifying as ski guides already. The risk of failure is compounded by that negative result outing you as an unworthy guide, which is as crushing an assertion as anything to people who have worked so hard to get where they are already, and by all accounts are very capable of safely guiding clients through the mountains. This “what if” outcome is always close by, reminding us, the candidates, to train harder and prepare more thoroughly for the upcoming exam. Maps are pored over, techniques refined and ski miles are pounded in. We visit the exam area, scouting potential routes daily, hypothesizing over different examiner approaches to a particular situation. The evenings are spent discussing more potential exam options, every candidate with their own opinion of how things will unfold. Everyone is fueled along by their own “what if” scenario, adding to the general group stress and anxiety. The weeks before the exam generally unfold like this: The focus is singular, creating a mad sort of efficiency, all of the candidates striving towards one goal, the successful completion of the exam.

In many ways we are no different from law students preparing for the bar, or firefighters with their physical tests. All of this preparation has come down to one week in the mountains with my fellow candidates and examiners. We are now up to the challenge, skills honed from weeks of training and years in the mountains. The pressure lies in putting together seamless days back to back. One great lead is not enough. The next day we need to put together another great lead, and the following day, and the day after that. The singular focus remains from training and all other worldly worries melt away. All that matters is the day in front of us. The stress of all our prior assumptions disappears as well, as now this exam is a reality, and we are actually out there, skiing in some wild places. The proper reasons for embarking on this crazy process come flooding back, as I top out on another Rocky Mountain peak, a vast expanse of mountainous terrain expanding before me. “What exam?” I think, as we lay turns between massive rock walls, sinuous pathways of powder cascading far down below into the valley.

The longest week of my life somehow quickly comes to a close. We are now left to reflect on the week, wondering what we would have done differently, if anything at all. Feeling thankful for a pretty much perfect week of weather and conditions with a great group of candidates, I now allow my body to start recovering from an intense winter season of guiding and training and begin a new stressful period: waiting for the official results of the exam to be mailed out in a couple of weeks.

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Inspiration to Ride

March 28th, 2013

“I still remeber the simple pleasure of riding my bike to little league baseball in my uniform.” Andy Traslin graduated to carrying his skis.

Osprey Athletes the Traslin Brothers (Mike & Andy) have been skiing their entire lives. Growing up in the mountains, their snow endeavors were only natural. As such, this photo by Mike Traslin of Andy riding with skis on his back is exemplary of their lives. We hope it inspires you to get out and go!

Thanks to Mike Traslin for sharing this shot with us on Facebook!

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Looking Back is Moving Forward

March 21st, 2013

Ben Clark on 24,688' Annapurna IV's North Ridge. Clark and Josh Butson were the first to lay ski tracks on this notoriously unstable route. Photo credit: Josh Butson

Carving one last wet, heavy mid afternoon turn into camp last May, I stopped, clicked out of my ski bindings and took a step back from 10 years of working alpine routes in the Himalayas. I began this 10-year career with an Everest summit on my second expedition and then attempted 13 more peaks in the Himalayas. My partners and I would dispatch routes in a bold style that, depending on whether you read the NY Times or the Adventure Journal, either brought us closer to death or closer to life in this humbling and crushing mountain range. I have a biased assessment on the position of life or death. I made it through physically unscathed and can reflect on experiences “in the field” with great partners, good memories and only “some” bad luck. But a lot of my friends, and some of my mentors did not fare as well: some died, some quit, others didn’t know when to stop. It is with that disclosure that I begin to wax sublime on some of my more memorable moments and a couple of caveats to explore if you think this is an interesting topic:

1. All I wanted to do was see the world.  From the age of 20 until 32 that manifested into mountaineering and channeling all my efforts, extra money and time into the Himalayas.

2. This was not a hobby for me. It was an obsession that drove almost every decision I made during that time. It had to or I would not have survived what I was doing. No mountain was worth giving up the chance to explore another one for, so I had rules that I followed and when I committed to climbing a peak, made it happen despite a real job.

3. I love this sport whole-heartedly and it makes me hurt deep down in the pit of my stomach when I think about never doing it again. But not as bad as the thought of making a fatal mistake and hurting the people I love.

So here you go, a snapshot of what I have to contribute on life, death, risk… and why I personally chose to take time this year to consider what I was doing.

It was a chilly October and my right butt cheek was smeared against a frigid corner of bare granite, knee grinding into the opposing wall over a single toothy crampon point that held my weight while a heel sloped downward and my achilles fought for reprieve. In this precarious position 90′ above Josh, my partner on the wall and belayer, I had a left leg flagged out into space pressing away from the corner. It was desperate, my quivering right arm clutched an ice tool hooking an 1/8″ nub of bare rock while my left arm extended into a steel pick scratching a surface of thin decomposing snow and ice. In the still air at 17,000′ I yelled down to Josh to untie from the rope between us, “Josh, take me off!” He responded: “What???” I repeated what I knew he had to do: “Take me off, I will kill us both if I fall.” At that moment, severely exposed and wildly wrong about adequate protection (I had placed none) in the vertical corner I was inching upward in, “26 year old me” knew if I made one error I would die from a fatal 1200′ fall and violently rip Josh off as well, the two of us tumbling to death six days from a road that led to a town where people spoke only Mandarin, in a Chinese valley where no one knew we were. This was difficult terrain to be soloing but I knew I could execute the moves to safety because I never allowed my emotions free reign to seize and paralyze me in the moments where my life, death and the future was suspended in balance like this. I had nothing to lose, which helped. After all, I would leave nothing behind but about $700 in my bank account, no debt and an e-mail to my parents from a smoky bar in Rilong — a forgotten relic of a town in the far Eastern Himalaya that crumbled in an earthquake in 2008.

But I didn’t fall that day in 2006. And we still had an epic time getting off that mountain in the dark, in a major storm with two ropes and barely any protection for adequate anchors in the featureless compact granite. We took risk and we executed, death was an option, just never acceptable for us. But I want to phrase that carefully; I did not see this as cheating death, I was cheating odds, which is a different game and mindset. Even though I love nature and alpine environments, luck was the most prevalent explanation for living and also the most seductive element of adventure granting clouds and snow, sun and summits and fate or failure. When we got home to Telluride, Co. from that trip, all I wanted to do was have a conversation with my local mentors Charlie Fowler and Chris Boskoff about how awesome the trip had been, how confident I now felt putting up a new route in the Himalayas. They too were in China on an expedition, but they never came home, an avalanche swept over them a few weeks after the storm we had survived. They died doing what they loved.

Jon Miller belays Josh Butson as the team reached the site of a 5 night stay at 21,600' in a fierce Himalayan maelstrom on Baruntse. Photo credit: Ben Clark

In 2009, with three more aggressive years to hone my experience and an appetite for dangerous runouts, I was in the lead on a new route on the NE face of 23,390′ Baruntse in the Nepali Himalayas. Josh, Jon and I had committed to what we thought was a six-day alpine style push with the bare amount of equipment to climb the mountain by a new route, summit and then ski down the other side. This was my dream climb and the route I would say had the most influence on me than any other route I ever touched. I wanted to traverse it more than any ground on earth. But on that day as I led, ice climbing on a shiny spine of ice cleaving a wide open face capped by dangerous icefall on either side, I peered across valley to the 8000′ south face of 27,940′ Lhotse to watch the jet stream explode against it in a 3000′ tall mushroom cloud framed by an eerie alpenglow. I scarily uttered through chattering lips with 2000′ of air nipping at my heels: “Living people do not see things like this.” That night, on a ledge we chopped out and sat on for five days, I hunched over with my frost nipped feet warming on Jon’s stomach holding his hands so he could lean forward and puke into a Ziploc bag. Josh melted water in a stove almost hanging in space on the edge of the tent. We settled into an uneasy realization of what we all knew may be true — this could be it if the storm built steam and blew our tent to pieces. We had reached a point of too far, not yet no return, and would have nothing but time to worry about our fate as Jon’s stomach ailment deteriorated into a serious condition.

21,600' camp on the NE face of Baruntse, aka "the good times clubhouse." Josh Butson, Jon Miller and Ben Clark spent five nights here in a storm that everyone down below thought killed them.

But the storm built only so much steam and we lived. After 10 days on the mountain we rappelled the route rescuing Jon and in three months I was in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Outdoor Retailer show talking to an athlete manager of a company that supported me as an athlete. Recounting this tale and then discussing the fate of a new friend I had made that year who had reached out to me for advice before my trip — Micah Dash, we remembered Micah’s adventurous spark, which was extinguished with two others by an avalanche in Sichuan while we were on our climb. The last e-mail I got on day six of our approach to Baruntse was about Mt Edgar; “Did I know anything about it?” The news of why he hadn’t responded to my last e-mail hit me just one week after returning home from Baruntse and somehow the stock sentiment made me pale this time. He died doing what he loved.

In May 2012, with my wife at home pregnant with our son, I broke trail in 3′ of snow up a large valley on 21,506′ Chulu West with Jon, Chris and Gavin. We climbed three awkward pitches of rock the day before to get into position to be the first people to ever ski this valley and were hit by a major electrical storm that delayed our start and lay fresh snow over some dangerous terrain up high. At just after noon that day we stood looking at the last steep pitch leading to the summit ridge, the sun was intense, heat was picking up and large chunks of cornices had crashed into the slope and triggered a couple of sizeable avalanches. At that moment, my mind drifted to where it always had, where I knew that there was a good chance that if we set foot on the slope it would avalanche, but I wanted to go anyway because I have tempted fate many more times than just what is above and it has worked out. That is what it takes to make it to the top.

But this time it didn’t work out, we did not “succeed” and tag the summit. We talked about it. We talked ourselves out of it. Why? Because I don’t want to die a suffocating oppressive death after being ripped to pieces and then buried beneath a ton of snow. We would not settle for eight more ski turns and a stale eulogy. I did not want to be someone who “died doing what they loved” because if that were the case, then I would die hanging out with my family, sleeping, eating ice cream, pizza, editing a film, listening to a great song — just sayin’. Luckily, by committee, everyone elected that we should “just ski”… novel right?  We didn’t actually have to increase our risk of death to pull that off and have fun. My God, why did it take me so long to learn that?  Just skiing there was “extreme” enough and I was so engrossed, so used to laying it out there that I could not even see that was an accomplishment. It had become routine to pioneer, dangerously so.

With occasional views like this, why wouldn't you at least be curious to explore the Himalayan high Country? I snapped this photo right before skiing off the summit of 20,201' Thorung peak.

In 15 peak attempts in the Himalayas from Dhaulagiri in Western Nepal, the summit of Everest in Tibet and the far reaching slopes of The Savage Sister in eastern Sichuan, I had come close or had completely risked it all every time, every time except this one. I have broken an ankle, rescued a friend, run out of oxygen on summit day, been in an avalanche scenario and watched friends fall in crevasses, lose feeling on the right side of their body and cry, cry in the anguish of physical and emotional defeat. I have given up myself in the dark hours of a stormy night and understood the process that leads one to freezing to death alone and undisturbed by that choice. This time everything went right, including my attitude toward it all… so I quit, the moment I finally got “a head.”

Situations and tolerances vary for everyone and across latitudes and longitudes. Education is the best backup to support your judgment when taking risk. There will still be moments after you have gained that medical and snow science knowledge when you are in the mountains and your tolerance will negate what you have learned or the situation will fall outside what you were taught. If you proceed at that time you must knowingly commit and pursue your present goal with little more than faith that the consequences you are anticipating are truly manageable within the system of variables you are engaging with. That is adventure; it is in that space I loved so dearly, where I learned to be present on the line between here and now and tomorrow or never. Don’t forget though, that the system you are engaging is greater than the slopes around you and you may have to speak to someone’s mother, father, wife or brother about the mistake you don’t think you are about to make, even though most of the time you won’t. But if you do, if something goes wrong, if you nearly cost someone his or her life or are there when something out of your control goes completely wrong, I can only tell you that in my experience, it is a far lower low than any altitude high you may ever reach.

Every now and then, it makes sense to press pause. On our iPod, during a movie, in a heated debate… sometimes we just need a break to process all the excitement and the stimulation. There is little room for pause in real life or the types of scenarios above. There is no skill that will comfortably guarantee survival either, for that there is only luck. I think that is why they call it risk and nothing else. I think that is why I always encourage others to go if that curiosity drives you. Considering what I have survived, I would go forward in some instances where others may have stayed home because I felt it was necessary to explore boundaries. I don’t regret that I did, but I’m not continuing onward today. I have already gone and I have come back.  And on this side of things, I am enjoying a state of pause, reflection and peace with my decisions.

"Of course it is worth it"- Ben Clark skiing powder on the North Slopes of 20,201' Thorung peak with 21,506' Chulu West behind him. Photo credit: Hari Mix

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Heartstrings

March 18th, 2013

Looking for great views and an aesthetic ski tour? Then Heartstrings is for you.

Like most skiers and climbers, I had skied various routes on Mt. Joffre, Matier, Slalok. I had heard of the Heartstrings in many conversations over the years… but only in regards to exiting the bigger objectives.

I had personally always just skied by the Heartstrings, for one reason or another. It always just seemed like…. “Oh look, there’s Heartstrings.” After years of passing by, the big rockwalls lured me in and I finally skied it. The snow was variable, but the views were perfect. Fun Ski! It would be great to hit that zone in powder. Next time.

For more information on the area, pick up “Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis” by John Baldwin and head to page 125. Good luck.

Words: Mike Traslin

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Rippin Chix Steeps Camp at Crystal Mountain

February 20th, 2013

Crystal Mountain, Washington is one of those iconic ski areas that many skiers would wish to call home. Its got it all – steeps, trees, airs, accessibility to a big city (Seattle), and best of all for us last weekend – POWDER!

25 KEEN Rippin Chix students and five coaches, including free skiing champions such as Kasha Rigby, Karen Reader, Susan Medville and Molly Baker all converged to Crystal February 9th and 10th for a steeps camp run by founder and Osprey Ambassador Alison Gannett.

Gals attended from all over and ranged in age from 14 to 59. Goals varied from overcoming past tumbles, to building confidence and skills, to learning Alison’s five fun ways to catch air. Four ability groups formed, with the “lower” group working introduction skills for steeps and the upper group charging out the gate demanding to “jump off more stuff.”

The hardest part about running Rippin Chix is always my worry that gals will push it too far and too fast. I have always believed that the best way to jump off a cliff is to learn how to jump a snowball on the groomer. Once the skills are solid, then the terrain can be pushed, and always on stuff with lots of runout room should things not go as planned. Crystal Mtn is perfect for this, with lots of fun north-facing powder bowls and zillions of chutes that fan out into big aprons. Luckily I had nothing to worry about, as these gals were fast learners and keen students.

Big smiles abounded on Sunday as we organized a group introduction and shared what everyone’s favorite skill was from Saturday. While I have adored my PSIA and race coaching training, I’ve never connected with terms like “functional tension,” and instead teach gals things like “squeeze the thong,” get rid of your velcro butt or tyrannosaurus arms and instead focus on “pouring the wine” and smushing the grapes.

Sad to say, we had quite a few flurries and clouds that prevented much video for this particular camp, so I’m going to attach the video from this year’s KEEN Rippin Chix Steeps Camp at Silverton Mtn, Colorado:

Powder Video of KEEN Rippin Chix Steep Camp at Silverton Mtn 2013

Next up on the powder seeking agenda? The Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Festival located in the heart of the legendary Selkirk Mountains at Whitewater resort near Nelson British Columbia, Canada. See you there?!

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Sneaky Summit Season

November 23rd, 2012

The dry view of autumns last days on Mendota Peak's summit

I once traded 144 clif bars for 5 beers. At that time, I don’t think I could have ever eaten another one (and haven’t in the nearly 3 years since), but this was a bit of a dilemma considering we had a monstrous 5 day hike left to get out of the location where I squared off that deal — promising they had chocolate in them. No longer being able to accept fuel when the tank is empty is a real issue, but those 5 beers split among friends gave us the mental lift at 16,400′ that 144 clif bars couldn’t possibly have done, especially since we couldn’t stand the flavor of any of them any longer. We were fine walking on without them, we had completed a 50+ day Clif cleanse, if you will.

My life is filled with oddball choices like this. And counterintuitive as it may seem, I believe that sometimes it is better to feel happy when wishing to tough something out than it is to have a full belly. It’s funny now how I can look back and use my own vault of experience to A. subject myself to bigger and crazier things because of choices like this and B. reflect that there was a process that got me there… and could get me back. Hence, where I’m at today, in front of a monitor after a fast and completely unlikely day of going extremely light in the mountains. One of the best I can remember and shared with a great friend.

With a hard goal that sat on my bucket list for three years before coming to fruition on my 33rd birthday (running 8 peaks from Ophir to Telluride), the summer and my passion for the mountains sparked a flame from the embers of aging goals that I have already met in the high peaks. After 16 years of devotion to moving uphill and then back down in every trendy way possible, I finally realized the merit of all that time wasn’t skill so much — it was old man strength!!!! It’s true, knowledge of terrain, high mileage approaches to high peaks and doses of speed at altitude eventually netted me the ability to make quicker work of smaller peaks. Instead of looking for every line I could ski or juggy holds I could pull on this year, I looked at the mountains again with an eye similar to 10 years ago after my first trip to Nepal, as if the Rockies were all a scaled down canvas. Connecting many summits, valleys and ridges is possible, rather than focusing on singular massifs holding individual features I want to string along in a technical way. It is refreshing to see them this way again, much more endlessly challenging, and liberating to explore a new personal paradigm.

So with the last days of Indian Summer coming to a close, on November 4th I really thought I had to obligatorily bid adieu to summer’s sweet access to the San Juan mountains near Telluride, Co. On that day, I ran and power hiked from 8,750′ and enjoyed nearly 12 miles with 4 summits over 13,000′ and about 6,800′ of vertical while ridge-running and capped the day meeting friends in a basin and hiking to the top of one last mountain of the year, 13,275′ Mendota Peak. The air was crisp, the ground was dry and the mountains seemed to be setting the stage for winter to wisk in, ice formations to begin dripping down, turning on the ski lift and the sky to start dumping. Or not… as a mountaineer, I was not content to accept that this time had come yet. I knew there would be a chance that on the razor’s edge between fall and winter, I might have one more shot at a big day with running shoes on my feet.

Mountaineers are silly beasts in that we plot with this optimism and this neediness for terrain, at the edge of the season, of disappointment and often hope lost by weather moving faster than we. Somehow we got labeled so many things for this attitude: crazy, nuts and insane, but “Alpinist” stuck to those in the core, and then we collectively played a ton of games to fire off any objective with varying degrees of extreme and extreme skill. Carrying skis, ice tools, adding altitude, pushing every threshold in remote places is cool; why wouldn’t you want to do that, right?  I know, it’s complicated. Although it has been truly fulfilling participating in high mountain exploration on every level from high to low, few of those games since some of the massive enchainments like “the Jedi traverse” I did in 2004 (Mt. Wilson, Wilson peak, Gladstone, El Diente and Lizard head) had truly opened my eyes to what was possible to get away with — a dual sense of accomplishment and freedom to move like a mountain goat by throwing conventional wisdom out the door and making a run for it. This is very much unlike the staid trials and truths of the High Himalayas where being pounded by elements in between the frozen flutes of alpine features we hoped to climb and ski equals adventure at its finest! Both are fun, but for now I want to climb more mountains faster and get more vertical in — with less technicality, more freedom. The partner I had on the Jedi has since retired, but the mountains, they are still here.

13,213' Campbell Peak and TO. Our route bushwhacked in from the left and climbed the steep spine left of the lower hump on the left.

Having that feeling of freshness and the legs to beat it out of me at the start of winter is not the best timing. Having that ability is, well, something I’m glad to have right now nonetheless, as the snow dried up this summer and I put my skis, ropes and rack away to pursue just that. And so I took the leap once more and following our last storm cycle 5 days prior, this weekend was probably my last legitimate day for a little while of seeing a lot of landscape without a lot of hassle or kit. I ran over 21 miles, gained 6,400′ and summited two peaks that had been on my to-do list for a while, 13,213′ Campbell Peak and its higher, mysteriously-named peak to the right: TO. It’s funny though, the mix of speed and mountains, as 14.4 of the miles run from the town of Telluride took only a couple of hours — the other 6.8 miles, oh man! Let’s just say that me and my buddy Nick LeClaire hit “the” worst scree slope I have ever seen and had a full value day of winter up high above it. But we expected that and I carried one light jacket, 1,100 calories, a neck gaitor, gloves and 50 oz. of water, the style implied only one simple plan: keep moving to stay warm.

Climbing this scree slope with handfuls of wet mud, groveling through chicken-headed ankle biters and sliding back a step or more each time, I was running through scenarios in my mind of the last time I was on something less than 40 degrees steep and absolutely groveling on all fours like this. Was it Sichuan in 2007? Maybe Aconcagua’s kitty litter hill in 2002 and 2005? The moraine in front of Makalu in 2009? Nonetheless, this slope took the complete and total cake at nearly an hour of groveling to make it just 600′ and me telling myself over and over that I am in the best shape of my entire life. After that it was a mix of post holing, running and power hiking in full alpine splendor: snow, cold and wind to just above 13,800 + feet (TO has no marking on the map). Touching down all fours was mandatory several times, as was bona fide scrambling and snow tunneling through an exposed feature revealing to me the simple answer to the question of why I had not done these peaks before: there is no trail and everyone I asked suggested a different way, none of them very detailed, none of them leading here. This was our way, and right or wrong, it worked.

Nick LeClaire groveling on all fours through rare crumbling red rock to the summit of TO. Campbell is the peak behind and left of him, our route hit the ridge right of the lower hump on the right.

This still leaves the question you may be asking yourself: Why the hell would you add 14 more miles to something like this or bother to do it this time of year, it sounds awful. Well, I don’t know, I don’t… curiosity, training? But then again, I don’t think it is awful, it is the next thing, it is an old thing, it is an ongoing relationship I have with the mountains and that is enough for me. To be drawn to them and to draw on them. On the slim margin of ridiculously awesome days I’ve had overcoming the unexpected and having every resource in the book to throw at it, on this one I just had to keep moving or give up and this day was the type of day where I realized that we can all do amazing things that may only amaze us, we can all dream, just by moving forward — that’s really it. Because even though we still need a pack to do some of those things, we have one thing that can’t fit in a pack: our mind. If we have the will and a window opens, no matter what our goals are, we can try to accomplish them… and might! Don’t be afraid to chuck your Clif Bars, take a new look at the mountains and go to them in whatever way you wish; they will never stop delivering creative ways to see more of them.

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Travel Tuesday: Skiing down the 14th Highest Peak in the World

June 5th, 2012

In the fall just over two years ago, a team of four traveled to Tibet with the goal of making a first ski descent off of the 14th highest peak in the world, the 26,289-foot (8,013-meter) Mount Shishapangma.

The video of this experience (above) is beautiful in and of itself. The scenery — from the streets of Kathmandu to the slopes of Shishapangma — is striking, unique and utterly unlike the hustle and bustle of any city in the U.S. What can’t be seen in the film are the other sensory experiences of the adventure, from sounds to smells to tastes and touch.

Read more…

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Lane Love: La Thuile, Italy

August 15th, 2011

Ok, so it’s not a lane, but we couldn’t help but love this gorgeous section of ride from La Thuile, Italy.
Thanks to Fickr user Carl and Sian for posting this great shot to the Osprey Packs group!

Have a lane that you love? Send us a photo! You can post it to our Facebook page, shoot us an email at blog[at]ospreypacks[dot]com or upload to our Flickr group and we might just feature it here on our weekly photo feature, Lane Love.

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