29 April 2008

Yeah, it's a hut. Like what Yoda lived in

Biologists and anthropologists agree - well sometimes they do - that the one trait that allowed early hominids to evolve was our early ancestors' abilities to adapt to their environs.

While I may not be able to climb a tree to escape a lion nor know how to fashion a stone out of chipping it to create an axe, nor how to ideally withdraw marrow from a bone, I have learned to adapt. The first adaptation through experience is when the forecast looks like crap, change your plans.

Instead of heading down to Elevenmile Canyon with Ian for climbing and camping this weekend, we postponed the trip for a couple of weeks. Not wanting to spend my days off in my place, I looked for alternatives. A ski hut trip sounded nice and with a good forecast in place for Sunday, I found quite a selection of vacancies for Sunday night at my pick of huts.

I spent Friday, after making my reservations for Walter's Cabin, explaining to coworkers, yes it is a hut - you know, what Yoda lived in on Dagobah. But really it is a nice cabin. There is a sauna a short walk away, a kitchen, heat, running hot water. In short, it will be what I would consider luxurious.

I arrived at Vail Pass around mid-day and set about changing into ski gear. Ski touring with an overnight pack sometimes can be arduous. However with the spring snowpack locked in by prevailing bitter winds coming from the west, I knew that I wouldn't be slogging in deep slush.

The 3-mile uphill ski in was uneventful. I started developing a couple of hot spots but nothing like the horrific blisters I sometimes develop.

The views in

The cabin contains two floors. The upper tier was rented out to a family with three noisy kids. The bottom could hold six occupants, yet I was lucky in having the entire space to myself, which suited my misanthropic fashion. My feet were not happy by the time I arrived. Peeling off the ski socks, I noticed my feet were saturated and actually prunish. I decided to take it easy for that day; read the book I brought, enjoy the scenery, allow my feet to heal so I could get some turns on nearby Shrine Mountain the next day.

However after successfully blocking out the sounds of running and screaming kids for two hours, my defenses faltered and soon that was all I could hear. I guess when you travel away from roads by your own locomotion, you expect a serene and idyllic setting. The kids were just being children, so I really couldn't complain.

At 7 pm I decided I'd rather face blisters and podiatric agony instead of listening to children any longer. Retaping my feet, I slipped on a pair of liner socks and less heavy socks before donning the ski boots. Not being encumbered by the awkwardness of my overnight pack, skiing was much, much easier and I made near the summit of Shrine in less than 40 minutes. It was minutes before sunset when I arrived and the views were sublime.

I debated staying around for sunset and skiing back by headlamp if need be. That thought soon evaporated and was carried east by the bitter wind gusts. It was cold up there and I brought only enough layers to stay warm while in motion.

Tearing the skins off my skis I plotted my descent. The spring-time turnover of the snowpack took a hiatus for several days. So soft corn snow was frozen solid. What little new snow the area received on Friday and Saturday was minimal and blown into small pockets.

On my ascent I had to boot up several hundred feet because of the 60-degree angle of the slope - and while I discovered the conditions perfect for climbing, the skiing was going to require care. Now I'm not implying that I have become a better skier, just more experienced, because I came down the steep slope with no issues and only stopped once right when the angle steepened to survey my line.

I'm glad I took my evening tour because the next morning, the ground was rock hard and the snowpack wouldn't be softening up in time for me to get some turns in and make it to work in time.

I actually have to say the ski down back to my truck was more work than the ski up. The snow was frozen and skiing back was a terrible noise of skis scratching on the surface. I almost bit it once when a frozen dollop of snow seent my right ski off track.

I did get clotheslined by a tree as I passed to close and did not squat down enough. The sturdy limb caught the handle of my avalanche shovel and sent my flying onto my back with skis flying akimbo.

Other than those two incidents, I covered the 3 miles back to my truck in 20 minutes. And I was happy to discover the secrets to my long-suffering issues with blisters and my ski boots - wear less thick socks so my feet don't overheat.

11 April 2008

Powder shots

Unbelievable. In my head, I'm still skiing. Loveland Ski Area received 14 inches of new powpow on Thursday into Friday. It was incredible skiing. It was probably my fifth real good powder day of the season and Friday was by far the best of them all.

Unfortunately I left my camera at home. These are courtesy of Kathryn @ Loveland

Hope to get at least one more in-bounds day (Loveland and A-Basin will remain open after everybody else closes this weekend) and should get some backcountry all the way into June. I just need to start figuring out the days I'll get them in.

ARTIST OF POST - Foo Fighters. Everlong: That's what the 4 hours of skiing before work felt like.

08 April 2008

Return of the Native

We are merely reactions, responses to our environments. Certain smells can create an ennui of euphoria, some sights stir a sense of melancholy. This lesson was driven home, deep into the marrow, this past weekend for me.

I came to many conclusions about great many things. For one, the saddest words for my eyes to scan are:


Friday had me at work early in hopes of leaving mid-afternoon. By duty and my own stubborn work ethic, I didn't leave the station until 4 pm, just in time to be deposited into rush-hour traffic. A trip to the gas station, two cappuchinos and over 400 miles later, I pitched my tent in the desert night, under the silent cacophony of hundreds of constellations encroaching upon one another.

The inaudible din was intoxicating and alluring, drawing me into the void until I realized three things; 1. I am much too mortal to comprehend such magnificent things, 2. My nose was numb from the prevailing night breeze, and 3. My neck was starting to hurt.

A dream about getting a backcountry permit actually woke me up the next morning, in time to pack and go, well, get a backcountry permit. The two alien men in my dream yelling at me while preparing a cowboy breakfast were great guides as I secure the final backcountry spot in the Needles District. Not only in the district, exactly where I wanted to go: Chesler Park.

A short drive to Elephant Hill and I was on the trail before 10 am. A short way in I stopped to water the flora. As I returned to the trail, I saw a ranger approaching where I left my trekking poles. "Great," I thought, "I'm gonna get a lecture about leaving the trail and the frailty of the cryptobiotic soil - a black crust that is the symbiotic partnership of algae and mold that acts as the building block for plant life to grow in the desert.

Instead we wound up hiking and talking for about three months. She is on a 3-month internship before she starts her doctorate at USC. It was a good way to make the miles pass.

Before I knew it I was at my campsite.

Nestled between mature juniper trees, backed up against sandstone spires, the site provided a perfect setting for needle watching.

A nice squeeze near my tent

The view from the top out on both sides

After a brief lunch, it was on to play. I did a 6-mile loop up and over and through a section called The Joint - a quarter-mile constriction through a slot.

A view to another slot branching off. If I was the diminutive Chinese acrobat from Ocean's Eleven, i might have fit inside

The slot just kept going and going...

Before you arrive in a giant cavern, littered with hundreds of cairns. The Hall of Cairns was like stumbling onto an unearthly ritualistic site, left hidden for eons.

Normally I resist such urges, but I felt compelled and even obligated to leave my own statuette. Selecting varying colored stones, I constructed my own obelisk.

A wild slot canyon off to the side of the Hall of Cairns. Downclimbing on the dilapidating sandstone proved to be stimulating. The bottom was rather choked with sandstone debris and vegetation. Progress was slow but it was worth it.

The next few hours were spent exploring. I'm not one to stay on trails. I traveled up some cliffs, climbed some formations, poked around some washes and slot canyons, bouldered (yes I brought my climbing shoes with me) up some fist cracks and just plainly, was being me.

I returned finally to camp in the early evening. Tired, I brewed up some coffee and read for an hour. A scoop up on a formation proved to be a luxurious Lazy-Boy.

Recharged, I did it all again. Finished a couple of bouldering traverses around my camp site, checked out a crack climb, smearing up 30 feet to the base; the climb will probably go at 5.11 (an off-width/squeeze, leading to an overhanging block would be spicy). Hiked out and checked out a pass between formations, clambered down the other side. Climbed up a couple more formations, well, you get the picture.

02 April 2008

I'm going home

Weirdest thing. I think I got sick without truly getting sick. Just have been off the past couple of days and still don't quite feel normal.

Maybe it was exhaustion. Spent the weekend skiing at Keystone and Copper Mountain with very little sleep before each day. Maybe it was something I ate - the only suspect thing is a breakfast burrito devoured at Copper Mtn. Maybe the salmonella in Alamosa's drinking water has become an airborne agent and traveled north to Denver and infected me.

Nevertheless, my weekend plans are set, and it includes going to the places I can most closely call home: Canyonlands. Working dayside Friday and leaving in the afternoon. Will camp at my normal spot just outside the entrance to the Needles District and, hopefully, I will secure a backpacking permit for the weekend.

I'm hoping to start at Elephant Hill and camp in Chestler Park

I never made it back to Canyonlands last year for, well, personal reasons. Now I'm ready to return.

From a trip a year ago near The Needles

ARTIST OF POST - Supertramp. You never see what you want to see. Forever playing to the gallery. Take the long way home.