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Aiguille du Peigne

September 24th, 2014

Osprey Packs Athlete Joe Stock is an internationally certified IFMGA mountain guide based in Anchorage, Alaska. He has been climbing and skiing around the world for 25 years with extensive time in the mountains of Alaska, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the North Cascades of Washington and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Since 1995, Joe has been freelance writing for magazines starting with a feature article in Rock & Ice on climbing the Balfour Face on Mount Tasman in New Zealand. Since then, he’s published numerous articles on adventures and mountain technique in rags such as Climbing, Backcountry, Alaska, Climbing, Trail Runner, Men’s Health and Off Piste.

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Half of the reason for coming to Chamonix is to climb with other guides. I’ve spent the last two weeks climbing with Andrew Wexler, an IFMGA guide from Canmore, Alberta. We’ve been buddies for 15 years and been on our greatest adventures together: the Ptarmigan Traverse in a day, the Eklutna Traverse in a day, full-length ski traverses of the Neacola and Tordrillo Mountains and a ski traverse from Anchorage to Valdez. These will probably remain the apex of our athletic careers. Since then we’ve become more work-focused, but that feels right.

Now Andrew and I get to guide and play together in Chamonix. This is one of our free days. We chose the Aiguille du Peigne in the Aiguilles du Chamonix. This is a moderate alpine rock route that starts with the classic Papillion Arete.

The lower altitude of Aiguille du Peigne seemed right for a forecast calling for afternoon thunder showers. Most of the route is easy fifth class like this.

 

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Some places the rock kicked up to 5.8, with lots of exposure.

 

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This is the crux pitch, a delicate traverse to a chimney with perfect finger and hand cracks in the back. The pitch was streaming with water, but the finger locks and hand jams were so solid it didn’t matter. Behind is the north face of the Aiguille du Midi.

 

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Andrew’s beautiful photo of me leading moderate rock on the summit ridge. The new Osprey Mutant 38 worked perfect. Thanks Osprey! Chubby bolts made for four easy rappels, then we lost the rap route in the fog. We ended up slinging horns for rap anchors to get back to the normal descent route.  Thanks for a great day Andrew! See more of Andrew’s photos on his site globalalpine.com.

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Hakuba Sanzan

September 15th, 2014

 

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Unless you’ve been living under a very big rock, you’ve heard the tales of Japan’s surreal terrain, neck deep powder on tap — day or night. The hype was buzzing extra strong this season and we were itching to go get a taste of it one way or another. When the plans finally took shape, it was May! Not exactly the prime month for free refills of pow, but if we didn’t pounce on the trip this year, it might have never happened, right? So we went with the flow and booked a ticket.

Touchdown Narita airport where the culture shock began. In a bustling world far from home, we circled through security not once but twice, but it worked out for the better. Our extra lap bumped us right into a Japanese snowboarder wearing a Canada toque, fresh off a winter in Canmore. Turns out our new friend Yuske (last name), local snowboard legend, also rode a G3 split and represented the Caravan crew we were trying to meet. Off to a good start. Yuske led us and our bulky bags through the maze of Tokyo train systems to a meet up with the Caravan crew, G3′s Japan distributors. After food, drinks, and a classic night in a ‘capsule’, we were eager to escape the bustling city for the mountains. Our bus to Hakuba pushed us upstream through nonstop currents of cities and people in constant motion before dropping us at the source…the mountains.

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A world apart, we found mountains quite reminiscent of our Coast Mountains back at home, with multi-peak linkups just waiting to be skied. After a week of fun, we were ready for the bigger days. Fortunately our pension owner in Gakuei-kan was an instructor, guide and pro back in his day, with a wealth of Japanese ski touring history to share with us, shaping ideas for where to head next. The plan hatched for the Hakuba Sanzan, linking the 3 highest peaks in Hakuba in a day.

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Meeting at precisely 6:00am on his orders, we hopped in the van and headed up with a vengeance. With only a brief pause before the off-road section, he pinned it and we held on for the ride. This wasn’t his first rodeo. Even the river wouldn’t have stopped him but we insisted on saving his car (and us for that matter), so we jumped out and let our feet do the rest. Most people enjoy the luxury of a 2 day trip with a mountain lodge overnight stay, but with our fine thread budget it wasn’t an option. So we slogged in the spring heat and enjoyed it for all it was worth, transition after transition – hike, skin, ski, repeat.
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But even we were hardly roughing it. With a cafe 500 ft from the last summit, we couldn’t say no to a soup and coffee before bagging the last peak. Solid weather, fun skiing, and our unstoppable shuttle driver all made for a great trifecta of the three high peaks of Hakuba.
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With one amazing Japan ski trip in the bag, we’re already plotting a mid-winter return for the legendary winter conditions. With any luck we’ll once again land in the hands of friendly,  seasoned locals, and the powder refills will flow as constantly as the sake from our first night in Tokyo.
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Story: Andy Traslin
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Where is Tenerife?

May 27th, 2014

Osprey Athlete Joe Schwartz is a resident of British Columbia, Canada. He has been a professional mountain bike rider for over a decade, and was a featured rider in the New World Disorder series of bike movies, as well as other movie productions and TV shows (Ride Guide, Drop-In). Through his work with film companies he has been fortunate enough to travel all over the globe, riding in some very exotic locales. Joe is an ACMG certified backcountry ski guide, and has worked for numerous catski, heliski, and ski touring lodges all over BC. While mountain biking is his main love, Joe uses his skis as an escape mechanism. His past adventures include completing multi-day ski traverses throughout BC and achieving a number of committing descents in the BC Coast Range, the Canadian Rockies, and in the French Alps.

 

This is a question­­ normally asked in the initial research part of planning a trip somewhere exotic, before you’ve made any decisions, but I had already committed to this destination and legitimately had no idea where the island was. The reasons for this were a long winter of ski guiding, my Ireland-med school-attending girlfriend, our months apart from each other, and that Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco, was the furthest south she could get a direct plane ticket to after a rainy winter in her new home of Cork. The plan was already in action, and I would have been happy to meet her on an oil rig in the middle of the Atlantic, so tickets to this Spanish island were booked, and then I started looking in to exactly where I was headed to.

Happy to be leaving winter behind at the Calgary airport

Happy to be leaving winter behind at the Calgary airport

Nice views of the ocean.

Nice views of the ocean.

Read more…

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Long Start to the Journey: Help Osprey Ambassador Chris Gallaway share his Appalachian Trail story

January 24th, 2014
Chris Gallaway- before and after shots.

Chris Gallaway- Before the AT and after the AT.

 

Osprey Ambassador Chris Gallaway is seeking support through Kickstarter to make his a film, “The Long Start to the Journey” a reality. January 31st is the campaign deadline to support this compelling documentary about the Appalachian Trail and if the campaign does not meet its goal no funding will be collected and given to the movie.

In support of Chris’s Kickstarter campaign, we’re giving away an Exos 48 Superlight Backpack to the next donor to pledge $220. The Exos 48, our newest ultra-light technical backpack, is a masterful combination of ounce-shaving, durable materials and a feather-weight internal frame to keep you fast and comfortable on your next journey. Your pack will have a “The Long Start to the Journey” patch sewn on to commemorate your part in making this film possible. Note: We’ll need to get your unique sizing before fulfilling this reward and you must be a resident of the US to be eligible.

To support The Long Start to the Journey and learn more about the campaign, visit www.maketheATmovie.com.

To follow Chris’s journey on the trail last year, visit www.theATmovie.com.

 

Long Start To The Journey

 

A question I have often heard since completing my 7-month thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail is how the experience changed me. That’s a difficult one for me to answer, and it’s probably better addressed by people who know me well and have observed me from the outside. The images above were taken at the beginning and end of my hike (the third, cold morning in February on Blood Mountain Georgia and the last day in September as I walked down from Katahdin). While I know that these two self-portraits encompass a host of experiences and some of the most significant changes of my life, it’s difficult for me to articulate what’s different between them. Read more…

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Mountain Biking Multiple Meccas in America

December 5th, 2013
On the road again...

On the road again…

Americans get behind things. I mean, when there is something Americans believe in, they wholeheartedly invest their time and energy into making it a reality. Us laid-back Canadians might poo-poo this idea, but in many ways it is true. How do you think the good ol’ US of A grew into a superpower in the span of a few short centuries? Or, look at the near-rabid following of the Tea Party, or hardcore evangelism. When people wanna believe, they stick to their guns (forgive the pun).

It’s no different with mountain biking, and the way mountain towns have latched onto the sport as a way of bringing tourist dollars into their communities. This fall I traveled to America with some friends from Vancouver, on a road trip to some of the new, and old, mountain bike meccas of the Lower 49.

In the span of ten action-packed days we drove to and rode in Sun Valley, Moab, Fruita and Park City. All mountain bike hotspots in their own right, and deserving of a “mecca” status for different reasons.

Sun Valley, our first stop after leaving Vancouver, was a spot I had visited years ago on a Bike Magazine assignment, driving through the American MidWest in Honda Elements and riding the most obscure spots we could find. Sun Valley is far from unknown, especially in the ski circles, and the riding surrounding Ketchum and Hailey, the two towns that make up Sun Valley, is world class.

Our host this time was Greg Randolph, the director of public relations and social media for the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance. Greg has a rich background in cycling, and straight up loves where he lives, which shows in all of his marketing efforts and events hosted. Lucky for us mountain bikers, he does play favourites, organizing an annual mountain bike festival, developing a detailed trail map and generally stoking out the mountain bike community whenever possible.

Chasing the last rays of sun in Sun Valley

Chasing the last rays of sun in Sun Valley

We rode two days of perfect singletrack, from sinuous desert rips to flowing loops in the forest. We hit the road after riding the Prairie/Miner Loop, a mini-epic that took us up into the fresh snowline of the alpine, and where Greg had to get in a dip in one of the close-to-freezing-over lakes. “I never miss a swim up here!” he exclaimed, surveying all the new snow in the high country. With ambassadors like this, Sun Valley is going to continue to attract keen riders for years to come.

A late night drive, along with a stop at a suspect Taco Bell in Salt Lake City, took us to Moab, our southernmost destination and a spot I had never ridden. Yes, I had never ridden. That’s blasphemy according to many riders who consider Moab the true Mecca, and make pilgrimages whenever possible. I thought I had to check it out for myself.

Ripping down Porcupine Rim, Moab.

Ripping down Porcupine Rim, Moab.

Moab is a place that seemingly needs to do no work to attract mountain bike tourism. Gracing covers of magazines worldwide, the surreal landscape of the Utah slickrock has implanted itself in mountain biker psyche as the place to go, as the ultimate mountain bike experience. This is evident in the number of bike shops, guiding outfits and shuttle services that dot the town. While the Slickrock trail has sustained this mountain bike boom for years, Moab is not one to rest on its laurels. The Whole Enchilada, a 42 km, 7,000-foot downhill epic draws thousands of riders each year, as does Captain Ahab, a newly-handbuilt maze carved out of the unforgiving sandstone that offers perfect flow its entire length. The mountain bike community in Moab has seen the sport evolve, and has evolved the trail offerings to match.

It's not a Moab visit without a Slickrock Trail loop!

It’s not a Moab visit without a Slickrock Trail loop!

Connecting the blue dots in Moab.

Connecting the blue dots in Moab.

We were welcomed to Fruita by a three-story banner of a mountain biker in action plastered to the side of a grain elevator towering over the small town. A sure sign that the community is on board! As we only had the day to check out the riding, we tried to maximize our efficiency and headed to the 18 Road trail system. We were not alone here, and for a mid-week day the parking lot was surprisingly busy. The trails were flowy and fun, and we looped back and forth underneath the Bookcliffs, sampling as much singletrack as we could possibly muster. We ended the day with amazing pizza at the Hot Tomato Café in town, a business born of the mountain bike boom, owned by mountain bikers, and a rad spot that definitely catered to the two-wheeled brethren.

Sampling the sweet singletrack of Fruita.

Sampling the sweet singletrack of Fruita.

Another late night drive (and more shady Taco Bell) took us to Park City, our last stop on this roadtrip. We had planned this stop based on some rumours, and a friend who promised great singletrack. I had not ever heard of the riding here, but was willing to give it a try. When we arrived it was obvious that Park City is ready to show the world what they have to offer. With over 400 miles (yes, 400) of trails, three lift-served bike parks (and some free public bus shuttle zones) this place is a mecca in the making. IMBA apparently knows how good it is here, and this year gave Park City the first (and so far, only) Gold Level Ride Center designation.

IMBA gold-level singletrack high above Park City

IMBA gold-level singletrack high above Park City

It was certainly golden in Park City, with vibrant fall colours from the aspens lining the long singletrack climbs and epic descents. We rode trails straight out of our condo, and did shuttles to 10,000 feet. The mix of trail styles was amazing. The main street indicated the level of commitment Park City had to mountain biking as well. Every lamp post was adorned in bike-focused slogans; “IMBA Gold Level,” “Epic Singletrack” and more. Money abounds in this wealthy area, but smart minds prevail also, and are not letting the mountain bike tourism opportunity pass them by.

Fall colours in Park City

Fall colours in Park City.

Real life was calling the desk jockeys on our road trip, and we sadly pulled up stakes and made the painfully long drive back to Canada. During the drive we had plenty of time to reflect on the impact that mountain biking is making in these small communities, and marveled at how Americans really do get behind whatever they believe is a good thing. Lucky for us, in these cases, it’s singletrack.

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What a Difference a Year Makes

November 18th, 2013

The Dolfin arch of Rodellar, Spain. I tried a route right on arch. Beautiful hiking all over the place as well.

What a difference a year makes. Last November Jasmin and I were on a ‘working’ vacation. Now don’t get me wrong, free climbing El Cap was a dream come true for us, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was the hardest thing I have ever done in terms of athletic endeavors. I have done big days in the mountains on skis, rock and ice, but the sheer labor involved in free climbing a big wall for five days with diminishing sleep and a taxed body is a huge mental and physical struggle. I think combining that trip after a summer of desperately rebuilding the family business after storm damage, followed by an ankle joint infection requiring surgery, and then six weeks later destroying my knee led to one of the hardest years of my life. I had great friends and family through it all, and money was never a stress so there is a lot to be thankful for because at the end of it all was the muy tranquilo Spanish climbing vacation that Jasmin and I so desperately needed.

After a spring and summer of rehab, which is every bit mental as it is physical, I feel like I am finally firing on all climbing cylinders again. September saw me get oh-so-tantalizingly close to my sport climbing five-year project. Even though I didn’t send it, I did better than I ever had before, on my hardest route ever, which to me means that I was back from injury better than ever. The new and improved Evan, I hope!

Yours truly having fun while following the outrageous steeps.

Yours truly having fun while following the outrageous steeps.

So with that mentality Jas and I left for seven weeks of clipping bolts in Spain, specifically Rodellar and Terradets, two well-known destinations in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Tons of tufas drip and dangle from the overhanging walls, teasing us desperately toward the top of 30-40m endurance climbs. If steep, fun sport climbing, with five star hikes on your days not climbing is your thing, then it’s time to head to Spain.

Chris and Heather following us up the famous Riglos climb "Fiesta de los Biceps"

Chris and Heather following us up the famous Riglos climb “Fiesta de los Biceps.”

Overall, the quiet Spanish towns are friendly and chill, which was a huge contrast to spending two days in Barcelona. I know we are not city people, but the homelessness and unemployment of Spain didn’t hit until we got to the city. 25 percent unemployment is high, and crazy enough is the fact that youth unemployment is 50 percent! A quick trip to the city made me thankful for all we have; jobs, homes, friends, family and health. At home I feel as though there is so much opportunity and support for me to pursue my passions.

Riglos, Spain. Home of the wildest sport multipitch climbs any where I know of. Long approach too ;)

Riglos, Spain. Home of the wildest sport multipitch climbs any where I know of. Long approach too ;)

So we continue to climb until we can’t hold on any more on some of the best rock we have ever touched. Staring off and wandering through the beautiful country side, enjoying local artisan breads, cheeses and produce. The simple life of eating, sleeping and climbing is being extra appreciated right now with the final countdown of just a few weeks to 17 hour work days and bottomless powder. Now and in the busy winter to come I will surely be loving exactly where I am and what I am doing and who I am doing it with! Except of course for the four days that I have to sit in a classroom to re-certify my first aid!

 

Just another ancient Spanish town on a cliff above some amazing canyons.  Alquezar, Spain

Just another ancient Spanish town on a cliff above some amazing canyons. Alquezar, Spain

 

 

 

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Free to Roam

November 15th, 2013
Ben Clark running the last steps to the summit of 13,432' Oscar mountain outside Ophir, Co.

Ben Clark running the last steps to the summit of 13,432′ Oscar mountain outside Ophir, Co.

I don’t think I could be a mountaineer without traveling the world, and vice versa. For me the freedom to roam in the mountains in any way I want feels natural, like a “given.” I don’t mean to say that I can do anything I want physically, I’m referring to the opportunity to explore anywhere within reason or without one at all! I am grateful to be an American and to have the privilege of that freedom. If there is a mountain somewhere I want to climb — I can probably at least try it — almost anywhere in the world. So I travel.

One of the lessons I learned traveling was that in other countries, the U.S. stands out, and not just because of our extensive national park system. There were people out there who were so psyched on the U.S. that they would volunteer to die for it — no questions asked. I will always recognize that in our homeland, one of my best friends is one of those people and we grew up near Ft. Campbell, Ky.

My friend Don is a steady badass, and has been since we were 13. He is a helicopter pilot in the Army National Guard and an engineer in Atlanta, Ga. He’s a classic alpinist basing out of the hinterlands of mountain hope in the South and clawing up ice climbs in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia during the winter. After growing up together in Tennessee, Don and I were “all in” on the mountains for a few solid years and notched many adventures in our 20s in Colorado and one sleepless Mexican volcano trip. Two college dropouts — from architecture school and aeronautical engineering — we marched steady toward our dreams.

Don (left) and me on top of 14,005' Huron Peak in 2002. We are celebrating our Tennessee heritage in "special hats" before cutting loose and charging down the mountain.

Don (left) and me on top of 14,005′ Huron Peak in 2002. We are celebrating our Tennessee heritage in “special hats” before cutting loose and charging down the mountain.

Climbing peaks sometimes requires a soldier-like mentality; those who cope with fear are generally successful as long as they have tactical skills and luck. Many times when we were younger we talked about the balance between death and “getting the most out of life.” Six months after becoming a Dad, I sent Don an article contemplating some legitimate concerns regarding risks and the types of environments I was negotiating in 2012, Don got it and deadpanned:

“I will always love mountains, even in light of their ability to strike down the sturdiest of souls. I enjoy exercising my body in an environment that is set to the scale of my mind. Living and climbing in Colorado during my early 20s fueled my ability to pursue academic and professional accomplishments that I once thought were unattainable.

Four years ago I took an oath which affirmed that I would put myself in harm’s way for the greater good of our Nation. I would not have been able to take that oath had I not previously put myself in harm’s way for my own self-validation and pure enjoyment. In my own mind, from now on it might as well mean something.”

Don would go to war and die so we could visit the mountains if he had to. I’m not sure how I feel about war or death, but I know how Don feels about our country and I appreciate him even more because of it.

We are here today enjoying what we do because of sacrifices others have made. Ultimately it is up to us all to move ourselves forward remembering that sometimes others gave their lives and that we are the product of the freedom they are protecting. I did the edit on the video below and hope that you will take a moment to learn about Wear Blue: Run to Remember for those who serve our country and protect freedoms as innocent as being able to go outside. Remember those who protect our freedom, they are risking something for us that we should forever be grateful for.

 

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Mountain Biking the Tour de Mont Blanc

October 23rd, 2013

 

The start (and end) of the Tour de Mont Blanc: Chamonix.

The start (and end) of the Tour de Mont Blanc: Chamonix.

I don’t like to admit to hastily-made plans or half-baked ideas, but this attempt of the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) was verging on that. I had done some previous research into the route, even including some first-hand accounts from friends who had done the trip before. It had been a jam-packed summer, and with a single day of rest between departing on the TMB and 18 days straight of bike guiding for Big Mountain Bike Adventures in the Swiss Alps, I hadn’t afforded myself much time to prepare mentally or physically for the task ahead. All I had was the commitment from a friend, Trevor Mitzel, to join me for the adventure, and a couple maps, which I hadn’t actually opened and looked at yet. I was winging it a bit, I know, but I was confident in our abilities to make it up as we went.

We arrived into Chamonix in the evening, the clouds boiling around Mont Blanc high above town. It was dismal looking weather, but a forecast promised nothing but blue skies and warm temperatures for the following week. Getting our gear and bikes dialed, we decided on our route, and even reserved a couple places to stay along the way. Things were starting to come together. All that was left was to saddle up and head out on the 160km loop that promised over 8000m of ascent along the way.

Day 1 – Chamonix to Les Chapieux

The weather man was right, and the morning sun highlights the upper reaches of Mont Blanc as we pack our bags and scurry around the village picking up essential trail food items (sausages, cheese, chocolate and bread). Spirits are high as we connect to gravel paths that take us down the valley, and towards Les Houches. Our lack of planning is made apparent when we arrive at the bottom of the lift station to find the lift running and open for bikes. We gladly use this bump up to ridgetop, happy with our unexpected elevation assist. Our smugness is quickly and efficiently wiped away for the rest of the day though, starting with a crucial juncture missed, sending us deep into the valley and resulting in an extra hour’s climb back up the road. Once the proper route is established we get a few kilometres respite before beginning a 1600 metre climb up the Col de Bonhomme, the ascent mostly consisting of steep dirt road or rocky hike-a-bike.

It's not all riding!

It’s not all riding!

The sun does little to warm us on the Col, and we are presented with another soul-crushing surprise, more climbing to the Col de Croix de Bonhomme, which is a seemingly endless series of ridges away. Finally achieving this last col, and feeling the effects of a large day on the bikes, we wobble our way down the descent to the Auberge de la Nova, a secluded refuge tucked in a remote valley far below. Dinner is hearty and delicious, and we retire early, slightly wary of the next day, and a little unsure of what we have gotten ourselves into.

Day 2 – Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

It’s amazing what a night’s rest will do. We awake stoked to tackle the day ahead, albeit stiff and sore. The climb up to the Col des Seigne (2,516m) is an arduous one, but mostly all climbable on the bike, which makes it enjoyable, in a masochistic kind of way. The views help too, with the sun rising on the broad valley where we had spent the night, and the Mt Blanc massif coming into sight as we crest the col. We had begun a tally to weigh the pros and cons of attempting this route on a bike, and where the hikers probably had won on Day 1, we were definitely winning today. The col marks the border between France and Italy, and the descent into Italy is welcomed. Italians seem to take less pride in their waterbar construction (years of riding in the Alps has made me a de-facto waterbar expert) and we have to negotiate numerous logs placed in awkward positions on the trail. Not enough to ruin the experience, but the flow of the trail is altered slightly. Descending into the valley is spectacular though, with big alpine walls on both sides, and glaciers yawning up above. As quickly as the TMB gives though, it takes away, and we steel ourselves for another climb, this one extending a mere 400m above the main valley. It is a deceiving 400m, as our legs feel like it is at least double. The reward is there though, with a ripping fast trail that descends to the top of the Courmayeur ski resort, and finally into the picturesque town below the ski runs.

Beauty views along the trail.

Beauty views along the trail.

My Kona Process and Osprey Manta 36 on the France/Italy border.

My Kona Process and Osprey Manta 36 on the Col de Seigne, the France/Italy border.

Day 3 – Courmayeur to La Fouly

The bikers definitely lose to the hikers on the climb out of Courmayeur. It is a rocky, steep affair all the way to the Rifugio Bertone, pushing/carrying our bikes the whole way. Once at the Refugio, a split in the trail requires a decision. One, a beautiful looking traverse around the corner, and on the map it looks like a fine, lower level option. The other route continues with the hike-a-bike, but promises some ridge-top singletrack and a peak to climb with the bikes. Being gluttons for punishment, we forgo the smooth-looking traverse and shoulder the bikes for more climbing. The climb pays off with unbelievable views and great trail once we get higher, but the ratio of riding to hiking is skewed the wrong way, and we regret our decision. We make our way off the ridge eventually and downclimb to the Col Sapin, and from there ride a fun trail that takes us back to the main route, the smooth, buffed trail we stupidly avoided. Oh well, next time. We soldier on up the stunningly beautiful and easily accessed (judging by the number of cars out for a Sunday drive) Val Ferret. Another giant climb is hiked up (we are really losing to the hikers today) and we look down into Switzerland from the Grand Col du Ferret (2537m). This is when we start winning again, with a sinuous descent that drops over 1000m down to the sleepy town of La Fouly. We check into a somewhat questionable auberge, but are treated to an amazing steak dinner, washed down with beer and wine.

Climbing high above Courmayeur with Mt Blanc in the background.

Climbing high above Courmayeur with Mt Blanc in the background.

Day 4 – La Fouly to Trient

With the skies still a perfect azure blue, the morning is a relaxing mix of singletrack and exploratory roads through quiet Swiss villages. We really start to feel like we’re on a bit of a bike holiday, rather than a sufferfest. The inevitable climbing begins eventually though, and we work our way out of the valley towards Champex Lac. Lunch is spent at a café by the lake, and we easily turn it into a two-hour stop, enjoying ourselves and soaking up the perfect September weather. The food sits a little heavy an hour later though, as we approach the base of the Bovine, a 700m wall of a climb. Appropriately named too, as all the cows had just been escorted out of the alpine for the winter, and the trail was left ravaged by cow shit and swarms of flies. We escape the Swiss agricultural tour eventually, and rip a long fast descent all the way into Trient.

Epic descent into La Fouly.

Epic descent into La Fouly.

Day 5 – Trient to Chamonix

While we probably could have squeezed more riding into Day 4 and pushed on to Chamonix, we did not feel the need to, given the amazing weather. Where else would we rather be? Day 5 is a bonus, and we mean to treat it as such, maybe go do a little exploring. With that in mind we stray from the normal TMB route, and even from the recommended variation route, and head out on a little ride. The little ride ends up turning into a gnarly hike-a-bike complete with bolted chains for safety, getting completely lost in the woods, and eventually finding some very rarely traveled-on singletrack. Despite our momentary lapse in route-finding, we have a great morning of riding, connecting long-forgotten trail that eventually takes us down to le Buet, at the north end of the Chamonix Valley. We now embark on the only planned part of our TMB adventure, a booze cruise hitting key pubs all the way into the town of Chamonix, where we continue to celebrate an amazing mountain bike trip.

A leisurely lunch in Champex Lac.

A leisurely lunch in Champex Lac.

The final climb to Chamonix, and our booze cruise.

The final climb to Chamonix, and our booze cruise.

 Story and photos by Osprey Athlete Joe Schwartz

 

 

 

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Nolan’s 14

August 15th, 2013

The southern end of Nolan's 14 from the summit of Mt Yale. The line goes over the first four summits and mountains left to right.

Six hours into our “run,” Rhonda Claridge and I arrived on pace to the summit of Colorado’s 14,425′ Mt Harvard. Climbing to the fourth 14,000′+ summit of the day, we had played our hand in a limited window of time — it has been a tricky wet summer and multiple dry summits were a rare treat. But soon, while crouched in the nook of two frozen boulders harboring snow from the previous day and checking my GPS track, waves of frozen and mixed rain would plummet from the sky and to the southwest a hulking cloud front would devour the mountain a thousand feet at a time and rapidly envelope our position. I could tell you exactly where we were but nothing of where we were to go as we traversed shortsighted through complicated terrain led by the occasional stack of rocks 80′ in front of us. Fear and weather advanced upon us and here on Harvard’s airy summit ridge in an August winter storm, the certainty that we were high and wild sunk in. “I am not this type of adrenaline junkie,” I thought. These days I am looking for challenges and not all-out battles… but stopping to question philosophy gets you nowhere when it’s time to navigate a mountain, so I returned to primal instincts, we groped our way down and resumed course toward the target of this training day — the last day in my schedule for such an epic.

We had gone fast and carried light equipment to cover this ground in the heart of Colorado’s Sawatch mountain range. Rhonda and I were searching for the most direct way to climb these five “14′ers” — the affectionate term for 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado of which there are 54 official 14′er summits. As Walden-esque as traipsing through meadows and rugged forests may sound, we were now lost in an alpine world with no visibility and frozen hands, being suckered into the lore of an obscure challenge longer on ambition even than our present day’s objective. The challenge is Nolan’s 14, an unofficial race course born out of a conversation between two Hardrock runners, Matt Mahoney and Fred Vance, who ran together during the late stages of a 100-mile mountain run in Southwest Colorado in the late 90s, and their acquaintance, Jim Nolan, who coined the line of 14 14′ers in one stretch “Nolan’s 14.”  Since 1999, only seven finishers have found that Nolan’s 14 is a mountain path that can be reasonably traveled on foot in a time of slightly less than 60 hours.  If you’re one of them, then Matt Mahoney will put your name on a website. To understand how on earth anyone could possibly see a point to this, I have traveled 104 miles, 50,863′ of vertical gain and 52,251 in loss in these mountains in seven weeks, searching for the most efficient path between 14′ers Mt. Massive and Mt. Shavano — the beginning and end of this mountain oddity/odyssey.

I spent a dedicated year running in the mountains and enlisted Nolan’s 14 finisher and coach Matt Hart to fine tune my body in the hopes that I could be a finisher. I slowly ran five Ultra Marathons in nine months, followed by a busy summer collecting 32 summits in less than 50 days. There were weeks totaling 90+ miles and 30,000′+ of vertical in training where ambition became tempered by respect for the mountains and the balance of being a dad, husband and business owner.  I showed up to the mountains as a working minimalist, carrying everything I need for precisely the moments we encountered but with the expectation that at all times I can and must continue moving.

Things can slow to a grinding halt while you’re lost in a boulder field, acrobatically navigating move after move between teetering rocks and precipices. Usually, though, you’re still moving forward, like when I got us lost descending off the summit of Harvard. The same will to succeed heading in a lost direction we negotiated that day would come in handy during the attempt. Carefully and cautiously, four hours and 46 minutes from the summit of Harvard, we managed to emerge out of the mountains in the bed of a black truck that let us hitch a ride into the valley after coming in four hours after our expected exit. We had descended cold and damp from two more summits — a 13,506′ peak and our final objective — 14,073′ Mt Columbia totaling 11,600′ of vertical gain for the day and soaked by a second storm on Columbia that reduced us to walking with great hesitation through muck and mire, sharpened stone and roots before running 3.7 miles out to a trailhead. This was August 8th, my last long training day on Nolan’s 14. I’m happy we stayed committed to grabbing the final summit, we’ll have to do the whole thing over again in the dark in a few weeks!

A photo from the best training day of the summer: Mt Sneffels from Telluride via Virginius pass-22.5 miles, 10,600' of vertical.

Since June 25th, I have explored the informal race course of Nolan’s 14 first hand, peice by peice in 5 “20 mile”sections and several smaller ones.  Following pre-established routes set when up to 15 people at at time attempted this path from 1999-2001 in an unofficial race, I discovered a roughly 86 mile route with 44,000 vertical gain and some room for the unavoidable errors that will occur to finish in under the 60 hour cutoff time. All in, my “moving time only” projections are that it can be done in 41 hours, but not by this guy. I have put in eight days this year, five with over 6:30 hours of run time, and 29 more since 1999 when I discovered my first 14′ers in this range — starting with the formidable Mt. Princeton and wandering onto the 13′ers before attempting this. In 37 days on and around these peaks, I hope that with a few more, I can tell you that this line is possible to do safely in an amount of time closer to 60 hours.

I want to complete the course and observe the rules of the former race concept even though it is a daunting logistical support effort for one person running, hiking and climbing a continuous line up and down 14,000′ mountains that spans a highway that starts in Leadville, Co. and takes vehicles an hour and half to drive to Poncha Springs. I want to do it because far from that highway and far from any elevation profiles or historical stipulations, Nolan’s 14 is a journey that explores the heart of Colorado’s fourteeners and pushes an individual backed by a support team to meet the odds. Unlike the unofficial runs from 1999-2001, while the remoteness and fatigue set in, the runner must also be directing a moveable expedition. It is here that a group of friends will meet me in valleys and high summits and help me along the way as I wind my way North to South on a journey unlike any I’ve taken.

On August 25th, 2013 I plan to begin running from Leadville, Co. and to head south on foot only for two and half days with rest if the weather is good. If there is bad weather, I’ll adjust expectations accordingly. I’m not doing it to prove anything, raise money for charity or set the world on fire with an amazing time under 60 hours (who knows if I’ll even come close). I’m doing it because I’m curious If I can, if luck will be my side. I did the training and I learned that if I found time to visit so many places in the high mountains I otherwise would never have gone, then I’d be a fool not to take a look and at least see what I might learn from the last step. I’m 34 years old today and it has been a privilege, I may not have a chance like this again. I look forward to the attempt because I have truly enjoyed seeing what is out there and believe it is possible, and that the guys who finish might be nuts, a claim I may not be able to back if I haven’t been there myself! Either way, a whole group of us will be getting outside and enjoying Colorado’s 14′ers for a few days!

The first day of exploration on Nolan's 14 in 2013. A photo of wildfire smoke South of Twin Lakes reservoir from the summit of Colorado's highest point-14,433' Mt Elbert.

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Winter Call (Summer Ski Apology)

December 12th, 2012

Majka Burhardt and her father outside of El Bolson, Argentina.

Winter Call (Summer Ski Apology) was originally posted on Majka’s Blog.

I am not a hoarder. Or at least not of material things. But I might have to confess to being a recent hoarder of snow. And for that, I’m sorry.

Today, December 11th, 2012, I took a hike in the White Mountains and watched yesterday’s thin layer of white turn to clear liquid in the span of an hour. My skis—touring, downhill, classic and skate—are lined up in my garage ready to go. Like most of the northern hemisphere I am ready to ski. But I might be the reason why so few of us are actually getting to shred the gnar.

Here is my confession. I went south to ski and now the north is paying.

More on Majka’s Blog

Majka Burhardt is a writer, climber and AMGA-Certified Rock Guide who lives in New Hampshire… learn more at majkaburhardt.com.

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