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Double-Time on Cook

May 10th, 2013

For a while now, Owls couloir has been the objective but Mt.Cook has been blocking it. I’ve been wanting to ski this line since I did the Wedge to Currie traverse from parking lot to Pemberton in under 22 hours with my brother and a couple of elite mountain bike racers back in the 90s.

It’s close, but far as day trips go. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Wedge area from the introduction to mountaineer days. Neck belays, grovelling on the south side of Wedge up the boulder fields and cornice drops on the NE arete.

So it seems interesting to come back years later to feed my couloir addiction. Surprisingly you can have some cool adventure skiing so close to Vancouver. And there’s a good bet you won’t run into many people on these couloirs.

Thanks to the weather blocking the access in the morning and afternoons, we were able to ski some fun lines on the over looked peak of Mt. Cook on the north and south side on two seperate day trips.

If you’re interested, go for it; just be prepared to do the 5,000-foot stair master approach with a pair of two-by-fours on your back.

Photographers: Alex Gibbs, Cameron Coatta, Mathew Koziell, Sam Yeaman.

Story: Andy Traslin

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Riding the Couch

May 9th, 2013

If you look closely you can see the screw and bone plug/cap holding down my new hamstring graft ACL.

That is what I am doing most of the time these days, riding the couch, so to speak. With a slowly mending new ACL (which is apparently one of the longest recoveries!) I have become really good at sitting on the couch. Slowly but surely though, my former life is trying to usurp me from this comfy throne. Every day a little more strength is gained and with it, a little more confidence to sneak back out into the wide open world and grasp at my favorite things in life.

Having an injury like this is like slamming on the brakes in your life, especially when your livelihood (mountain guide) and all of your recreation depend upon working limbs. Adding to that is the fact that my entire social structure is centered around going outside to play. Skiing, climbing and mountain biking are my passions, and changing to a sedentary life has been akin to a heroin addict stopping cold turkey. No more endorphins flowing through my veins from natural highs of endless cold smoke in the hills or sending a splitter crack. Nope, now it is time to watch everyone else do it on Facebook.

As I have said before, I don’t think there is a silver lining in this injury, but my one major observation is that there is beauty in hitting the reset button HARD. A month ago I couldn’t really walk too well. It took me 40 minutes to take my first stroll outside in the rainforest for 1km walk around a lake. And I was basically in tears. Not from pain, but from joy, the pure elation of realizing that I would someday get my life back.

And the beauty of everything lately is that it seems like every day is another medium to large size victory. So many of my daily ‘mundane’ activities are now seen through the eyes of a beginner. On one of my first bike rides up the highway from Squamish toward Whistler, I noticed a car slam on the brakes in the other direction and then do a big about face and track me down. It was a buddy of mine, and he was going toward town when he saw this big lanky guy with the grandest smile he had ever seen on a road biker. Quickly he realized that it was me and he was so psyched to see me out there back at it again.

However great the hikes and road rides are, climbing has been gnawing at my consciousness. If you are a climber you might understand. I can’t quite quantify it, but for me climbing is as close to meditating as it gets. The focus and determination it requires just can’t be matched by my other pursuits, and consequently the rush of climbing cannot be replaced. The other day I had dinner with some of my best friends and main climbing partners. As chance would have it, all three of us are on the climbing disabled list. Between pregnancy and an injury, the three of us have been finding some other things to focus on life. But, as my pregnant friend Mandoline put it the other day, ‘I’m sick of talking about babies and kid stuff, I want to go climbing and shoot the shit about routes and places to climb already!’ I couldn’t agree more, and finally, whether it was poor judgement or not, I gave in.

No one has really given me a real NO about going climbing at this point in my recovery. I know the facts, that my new ACL graft isn’t fully reconstituted yet, and my leg is weak. But again and again I ask my self, if I am doing easy uphill hikes, how different is going climbing? I try to convince and fool myself again and again that it will be safe to go climbing. My physical therapist, a climber herself, was hinting that a really controlled return was imminent. I know I would not be going for it on the sharp end and taking falls for a while, but to be back out on the rock all day, and hanging with my friends again is what I am really missing. Besides, the only people I knew who had blown ACLs (both new and old) climbing did so bouldering when they fell off and landed. It’s easy to scratch bouldering off the list; as a big dude, people love to boulder with me because I am an all-star spotter, but when the big guy falls, everyone runs! No need to take part in an activity where every time you fall you hit the ground!

So where did my logical reasoning then take me for my first day back on the rock? To some super easy single pitch climbs of course… but without a rope. Now I am sure this won’t make sense to many of you, but in some weird and twisted way it was the perfect way to get back at it in my mind. If I am soloing I won’t try things too hard and I won’t fall. One of the things about my recovery has been that I have been by myself for so much of it. Most of my walks, bike rides and training sessions are in my own solo world, so to me, this was a continuation of my own journey to rehabilitation.

Just like the first hikes and bike rides, I had found a way to bring total joy into routes I had climbed, guided and soloed hundreds of times. The purity, focus and total body awareness were things I hadn’t had in my life in months. I ran into friends who were out climbing. The dogs got to run around the cliffs for a bit. I played in the sun and felt the hard rock crushing my toes in my shoes again. And 6 pitches of 5.6-5.7s have never been so much fun for me in so long. At this point in the journey it is as much about rehabbing the mind and soul as it as about healing the body. I just really hope that I can keep this fresh and renewing perspective on my passions for as long as possible, because if I can do that, then I will have really found the silver lining in this injury, the ability to find pure joy and a fresh bliss in things I have done so many times.

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Birkenstock Couloir

April 10th, 2013

I attempted this line a couple of weeks ago from the snowmobile-accessible side of the peak with my friend Naomi. Unfortunately, new snow and warming temps aren’t a great mix, so our day was doomed from the get-go. Heavy snow was sticking to our skins like you wouldn’t believe. Wax didn’t help, and after dragging those leg weights through avi debris, high winds and fading light, I was forced to pull the plug and try again another day.

The next time we approached from the Blackwater Creek road for a more direct line, with a fast and fit team that was on the same page. Liam and Adrian were as keen as I was to ski this line. With good weather and stability lined up, we just needed an alpine start to seal the deal so we camped at the road and woke up plenty early. Bringing the true style and ethics of ski mountaineering — climbing right from ground zero — we were ready to climb what we wanted to ski.

The pace was fast right from the get go, and I settled into a rythm I knew I could hold all day.

When we gained a view of the wicked couloir, we knew there were good times ahead. Step kicking was solid, until we hit a hanging snow field. Overhanging snow climbing led into a narrow section.

There was one more crux that involved climbing through the cornice with an extra axe for four points of weight-bearing contact. With one last step we had a warm welcome into the sun and were ready to ski.

We excavated the cornice to fit skis. Liam dropped in first, or rather ‘aired in’, as falls were not an option. Adrian was next, then I carved the lip of the cornice a little more for my entrance. I shuffled down, controlling my fear into the no fall zone, and once in the zone it was all good… we were through the first crux and into a classic steep coastal couloir.

Definitely a top ten ski line!

Photos: Andy Traslin, Adrian Armstrong

Story: Andy Traslin

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Two For Two on Guide’s Day Off

April 5th, 2013

I’ve had two personal ski days this winter. With no snow in the early season, I ice climbed and taught avalanche classes. In the midwinter, I taught back to back avalanche courses and guided skiing. A lot of fun days on skis, but all of them on the clock. When skiing off the clock, I can kick back, let my friends make the difficult decisions and ski steeper, higher consequence terrain.

On my two personal days this winter, I skied the pointiest peak in the Hatcher Pass area and the pointiest peak near Turnagain Pass. Both near Anchorage, Alaska.

Dana Drummond booting 50-degree powder near the summit of The Pinnacle at Hatcher Pass.

Dana on the summit of The Pinnacle after leading the exposed summit pitch.

Dana on the summit of the Pinnacle. The Western Chugach are in the far distance.

Dana skiing the approach gully to The Pinnacle. See more photos of The Pinnacle here.

Dana breaking trail below seracs on Carpathian Peak in the Kenai Mountains.

Andy Newton and Tobey Carman heading to a break in the sunshine below our ski route on Carpathian.

Dana lining up to jump ten feet across the bergschrund to the Spencer Glacier below. See more photos of Carpathian Peak here.


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75 Months of Turns All Year

December 17th, 2012

I’m not sure how the turns-all-year habit started, but I’m clearly hooked. 75 months (6 years) and counting. Summer or winter, the thrill of the chase is always there. Just like chasing pow in the winter, or nailing your dream line in safe avy conditions, finding the perfect corn cycle can be just as elusive.

Let’s just say this month we didn’t nail the corn cycle, but the adventure was worth it. Skiing 45 to 55 degree blue ice in the Washington Cascades is just one example.

Volcanos… now that is fun! Well, if you’re trying to qualify as a mountain goat. And then there was the massive frozen suncups – one foot high by one foot deep. Each turn was so bone-jarring, I thought my knees were going to explode, or at least it felt like they would. To top it off, the rest of my 1,500-foot run (Yah, I kept going) consisted of carving a few turns, then hockey stopping into 20 foot side slip segments. All that has to be good practice for something right? Like, say, the next time?

On the hike out, I put my ski crampons to good use, and was inspired when I found a good breathing sequence and rhythm. Moving on, the fresh air and beauty of my surrounding left me with more energy and dreaming of my next trip. After all, the perfect way to get geared up and kill the pre-season nerves is to just go skiing. Every month, Every Year.

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Finding The Perfect Moment in Pig Poop and Powder

November 19th, 2012

Putting straw atop her compost pile on the farm. Photo courtesy The Denver Post

Alison Gannett is a World Champion Extreme Freeskier, founder of The Save Our Snow Foundation and an award-winning global cooling consultant who has spent her life dedicated to solutions for climate change.

A reporter asked me yesterday how I find time to shovel pig poop and run a farm with my busy schedule. In general, I avoid this job at all costs, but for some weird reason, I bonded with it this week and decided that it is extremely similar to skiing powder.

Read more…

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Sean Busby’s Peak Diaries: The Travel Queen Trailer

October 18th, 2012

Sometimes you just need to take a road trip… Snowboarder Sean Busby and his friends converted and gutted a 1977 Dodge Travel Queen motor home into a fully functional alternatively-fueled vehicle that utilizes vegetable fuel and solar power and hit the road. Driving 6,000+ miles from Utah to Alaska, the crew explored new territory—backcountry skiing, snowboarding, climbing and documenting the entire journey. The following trailer is a grip of the stories from their trip. Enjoy!

Peak Diaries: The Travel Queen (trailer) from PowderLines.Com on Vimeo.

Sean Busby is a professional snowboarder, living with type 1 diabetes. Learn more about Sean and his work educating kids about diabetes and winter sports on his website.

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Taking It To Another Level: Skiing The Himalaya to Trail Running in the Rockies

August 14th, 2012

These tracks are the first ever skied on Nepal's 21,607' Chulu West, a route that has 5.4 alpine climbing to reach this broad basin that is the lower portion of a 3,000-foot ski descent in one of the best and most visible basins in all of Nepal.

In May somewhere along the Annapurna Circuit’s long, winding, dusty road, I began to believe that after a safe and successful slaying of snow on two peaks that I had finally achieved my goals as a Himalayan mountaineer. This shouldn’t be that shocking since I have spent ten years pioneering first ascents and descents in the world’s highest range with narrow-minded focus and more than a handful of narrowly missed catastrophes blending the good times with the bad and no regrets for how we did it. This insight was forced upon me in January, when my friend Jack died in my climbing partner Jon’s arms and then I decided to take a day off from filming heli-skiing in Haines, Alaska and my friend Rob died on a routine run guiding clients. The number of passionate people I have seen meet their demise in the mountains now takes up two handfuls of digits and that is likely too close for comfort, and forces me to ponder my own fate.

Read more…

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Summer Skiing: Tetons to the Tordrillos

July 6th, 2012

SKIING GRAND TETON

On Saturday, June 16, three of our Backcountry.com team members—Andrew McLean, Chris Davenport, and myself—climbed up the Stettner/Chevy/Ford route of the Grand Teton and skied the East face for a film project with Brainfarm Cinema and The One Eyed Bird.

We each had skied the Grand before, so for this particular adventure the route was familiar ground and we could focus on the film project objectives. The weather was perfect and the conditions were excellent. With a helicopter circling above, we headed up the ice-filled couloir link-up with camera equipment and ropes dangling around us. With the additions of Camp4Collective film pros, Renan Ozturk and Jimmy Chin, and JHMG support from Brian Warren and Chris Figenshau, our team of seven moved up the climb smoothly and carefully.

Reaching the summit before midday, our crew had some time to enjoy the spectacular views and relax in the comradery that comes with sharing time in the mountains. Then, one by one, Andrew, Chris and I each dropped in from the summit block for some June corn snow down the steep, convex ramp of the 13,776ft peak. That afternoon, with the entire team safely down in the Lupine Meadows parking lot, we toasted Coronas, radiating content from a good day in the Tetons. Read more…

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Great Deeds… Great Risk? Knowing When To Turn Around in the Mountains

May 22nd, 2012

Great deeds are usually wrought at great risk. — Herodutus

This has been a tough season and the losses are overwhelming. Because so many friends died in the backcountry this year, it is in the spirit of discussion and education that I thought I would share more about some latest adventures.

There have been many moments of confusion and sadness. It has been a difficult process of personal internal recovery to get back out there.. but, the mountains are what move me.

In 2007, I skied the Grand Teton in WY. It was a long and exciting day, but fairly easy going. Everything fell into place and the mountain welcomed us at each pause. My ski partner Karen and I had planned the trip and took a long weekend off from work. We drove 10 hours from Telluride, arrived at 8pm, and our team left for the park at 12am. We climbed 7,000 ft, covering some miles with heavy packs. Conditions were great for climbing and for skiing so we pulled it off. It was my first time skiing in the Grand Teton National Park, and 16 hours after we started we were back in the parking lot, elated with the accomplishment of a great ski descent.

Skiing the Grand Teton along with climbing Lobuche and Ama Dablam in Nepal in 2005, were notable turning points for me because both endeavors went so smoothly. With these two successful experiences I was deeply enchanted with the big mountains and with bigger possibilities in ski mountaineering.

Read more…

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