29 April 2009

Berthoud Pass Backcountry... kinda

It's too easy to be the backcountry, too populated and too accessible. When you have snowboarders building ramps for hucking while a boombox (yes, a real live boombox) plays Sir Mix-a-lot, can it really be considered backcountry?

Backcountry, sidecountry, in between-country, who cares? It was still a lot of fun. And for a change I didn't mind just strapping the skins on, walking across the highway and skinning up the mountainside.

Snow was wet corn below treeline. Above treeline it was wind-scourged hard. I was there for some fun turns, not some ignominious summit. So when I reached a weather antenna with a rocky area crowned with a cairn. I stopped, switched over and shot down.

Views from the wx antenna

Nice cornice

I contemplated climbing up the peak. It was maybe 15 more minutes. But I didn't have the confidence or insanity to drop down and ski that face.

The Shuksans are hungry for more. Look at those greedy, hungry visages!

Last run of the day the snow was getting gloppy. I had put in well over 3,000 feet of climbing in and the quads were getting a little tired.

23 April 2009

Bringing Skis to Moab

It's past midnight. I've already struck out on several previous campgrounds -- "No Vacancy" would flash the neon blinkity sign if it were a motel. Slowly I grind down the gravel road silently apologizing to each tent I pass for my late-night intrusion.

I empathize with the campers since I've been on their end; awakened from sleep by a straggler disturbing the nocturnal solitude with V6 pistons in a low hum. When I reach the end and discover that I have met a dead end, I turn around and repeat my mental mantra "Sorry, sorry, sorry".

It's high season in Moab. Everybody who has ridden a mountain bike, thought about riding a mountain bike or knows somebody who has ever thought about riding a mountain bike is in town. As I drive through town I note more of those blinkity "No Vacancy" signs lit than not.

I drive south of town, which borders expand ever further southward to my dismay, and hook on to the La Sal Loop Road. After several miles nothing is looking promising. Getting slightly frustrated, I turn the trusty Tacoma around head back north through town and head to my backup camp spot.

A dirt road shooting off the highway that dead ends at Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, I bypass the group campsite and soon see silhouetted against the starry sky two bulks showing RVs have laid claim to my backup spot.

Further into the waste I drive until many miles later I spy a smaller dirt track branching off to the right. I turn and follow and then take a left branch, and another branch that I'm pretty sure is made for ATVs, not my trusty 4WD companion.

I see a lone tree and a tall black mound in front of me. I pull off and park. Works for me. I can scan slickrock slabs that then rise vertical beyond the span of my headlights.

I set the tent up. It's past 2 am. I scan the stillness -- utter stillness that I can hear my ears ringing from the lack of stimuli -- to see if green irises are lightly illuminated. I read that the pupils of mountain lions refract green, and this outcrop in a land smooth for miles like a sanded table top would seem like a good perch. Satisfied that I would not wake up becoming Meow Mix, I crash.

I'm stirring by 8:30 am to escape the radiation that is slowly cooking me in the tent. There is no sleeping in with the desert sun. I finally take a look at my campsite and proud that I can even pick pretty ones in the dark.

Who needs coffee to help circulate the blood and arouse the mind when you have sandstone beckoning you in a murmur, "Climb me". Who am I to deny?

Looking down from the summit

Plenty of nooks and crannies and general desert beauty

And some desert ugliness

Into town for some breakfast. My original hopes of an early start are thwarted by my very tardy arrival. The impetus of this journey was to ski/climb up Mount Tukuhnikivatz, second highest peak in the La Sal Mountains and ski down. Truthfully I just wanted to stand on the top of a mountain and gaze out and down 8,000 feet onto canyon country; look at prehistoric slickrock fins, buttresses, arches, windows, mesas and buttes stretch out to eternity until buffeted by the Henry Mountains over 80 miles to the southwest.

I decide to scout out the road to my trailhead anyways, being curious as to how far/close I would be. Well, it's not close, but it doesn't seem impossibly far. Spurned on by the thought, "I might never have the chance again", I unpack the K2 Shuksans... and off I went.

Mount Tuk on the left. The right pyramid is actually part of its NW ridge.

Slow and steady I skin up and around, never stopping for more than a half minute to wipe of the sweat that is cascading down me or to catch my breath. I realize if I stop, I might not discover the drive to continue the plodding climb. And I might get lost in the views west which are beginning to arise in view.

The pictures do none of the vistas justice. Trust me.

As I discover getting to Mount Tuk won't be easy, let alone the ascent of it. I'm a drainage removed from its flanks. And the thought of dropping down the preciously won vertical feet to only reclaim them on the other side disparages me.

I decide to keep going to whatever ends this mount will lead me. I just want to rise above treeline and look out unobstructed.

After a calf-burning stretch up a steep ridge, I break through the trees. I spot a telemark skier ahead of me with skis lashed to his pack slowly plodding up through the alpine which is speckled partly with exposed talus.

I ski on with entire carpets of snow collapsing underneath me onto the talus, as if I am the action to cause the reaction of all air pockets trapped underneath to be exhaled.

I stash the skis and clumsily make my way in the ski boots up on talus and snow. I reel in my companion despite his headstart and we reach the summit at the same time. There is a weather station and we discover our "Summit" is really a knob on a ridge to a neighboring peak. We're both content with our high point and plop down.

Dana is a helicopter pilot in Florida who comes out west a bit in the summer to fight forest fires. We exchange notes of our trip and he looks at me surprised when I inform him it took me two hours to get to our location. Slow and steady and now long stops is the key to success in the alpine.

We make our way down, not skiing together but within proximity of each other. It's a refreshing change to actually be skiing in the backcountry with somebody else around; I'm able to unreign the skis and point them more aggressive downhill.

The skiing is terrible. The week before, I would later learn that night talking with locals at the Moab Brewery, a dust storm blocked out the sun and coated the area, it then rained, essentially raining mud.

That mud layer coated the snow so unless it was pure vertical, it felt more like standing glissading than actual skiing. I lurched down the mountain, with one ski getting slowed down by the crud, or the other, or both. I eventually unclip the heels on my randonee skis and started telemark turning or skating to keep the momentum up. I did one faceplant and chuckled.

The night at camp was dominated by a fire made with collected aspen branches littering the forest floor in the La Sals, Tecate beer and getting lost in the stars which stretch from horizon to the end of the Earth.

After a good night sleep, I'm up early due to some uncourteous neighbors. I hear the ground vibrate with thuds under my ear. I rise and yell out at my intruders. The bovines scamper off quickly, not expecting an oddly-green contraption to be yelling at them.

The day is spent soaking my feet and writing on the shore of the Colorado River.

A couple of hours of bouldering at Big Bend Boulders.

And scampering in and over a slot canyon in Castle Valley near Castle Tower

15 April 2009

Steamboat and taxes

A comedy of errors, or could it be a healthy dose of hubris?

Maybe a warning never to think life is going well; it will give you an atomic wedgie when you've got your back turned.

For all rights and purposes, 2009 has been a good year so far. I'm happy, enjoying life, feeling content with things.

Then I did my taxes...

Now I knew I was going to owe money, I just didn't think how much I owed would be what I owed. Yes I procrastinated because I knew I owe. It's sophomoric thinking, but I want the government to wait as long as possible for my money if I owe.

So I see some masochistic bouldering in the plans for this afternoon to get out this aggression.

However looking back to happier times, went up to Steamboat Springs over the weekend. I've wanted to go for several years now but for some reason or another, I never made the trek.

The snow was not inspiring when we began skiing on Saturday.

Jess doing a backwards roll to get out of Fakey

Early afternoon brought a gift though. We saw the clouds sitting low, black and ominously to the west. Soon the upper part of the mountain was covered in fog. Soon flakes began spitting out. Then it began hailing Styrofoam. Then it was a full-on white out

Looking from a mid-mountain hut. There is a chairlift not more than 30 feet away.

It was the last weekend the mountain was open, so the food selection was very sparse.

Mmmm, Doritos for lunch, washed down with a full-bodied Bud Light.

After 20 minutes of warming up, we hit the mountain again. Hardly anybody was out during the snow squall. But in that hour's time about 2 inches of satin fell. It was glorious skiing.

We skied the full day - barely making the final chair out of the untamed backside of Morningside Peak and then piecing together which runs and chairs we needed for the long -- over 4,000 feet vert -- to get back to the base.

The night was spent going to an expensive steakhouse where Jess felt conned out of her money; she bought dinner. Now the steaks were delicious - however they made you cook it yourself. You were given your pick of meat, as if you were selecting at a butcher shop, and then sent to a grill with cooking instructions.

If you are a DIY type person, then you'll love the 8th Street Steakhouse.

A quick nap, a failed aborted attempt to find the Hot Springs without directions and soon we were downtown Steamboat at a bar hosting an 80s party. Shots were taken - I'm still not sure how I was able to get out of bed the next day.

Sunday was slow going. My legs were jelly and neither of us were enthused on getting in only half a day of skiing since the last chair went out at 2:30 p.m.

Instead we went to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. I highly recommend the drive. It is about 12 miles north of town by a dirt road (I suggest good tires or 4WD). It is clean, quaint and extremely relaxing.