Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ski Season Opener!

I do it every year. I think that I'm going crazy, starting around Halloween. Work is slow and any sort of routine and fitness from the summer seems long gone. Everything seems more dramatic and days drag on. And then it snows and we can ski. Life is good again. Skiing is so great, no part of me is capable of remembering how good it feels. Not in my wildest November imaginings can I conceive of how great skiing itself, the skiing lifestyle and the skiing routine. I'll read this again next year, despairing in the 'tweener season and think "it doesn't really matter that much, does it?" It does! But, alas, my feeble mind can't even comprehend how great skiing and the ski season is for me. And it has begun and I am happy.

Not only has it begun, but it's been quite the auspicious start! I skied one day in November, icy, limited runs available at Mammoth. But it was white and slippery. Annie and I had a few days of skiing at Mammoth separately in early December. This past Sunday, the 13th, we skied together at Mammoth in the morning, then launched into the Lakes Basin for our first backcountry tour. Tons of deep new snow slowed us down, both up and down. But it was great. I drove up with Paul on the 15th to ski some in the ski area and some out. Today I skied alone up Bishop Creek, 3000 vertical feet of thinly covered sage and talus. Great views though.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Crazy night of Meteors!

Tony Rowell makes the earth standstill for Nasa! Past proof is here, and here, and here (well kinda). Those linked pictures are each a past NASA "Astronomy Picture of the Day". And Galen Rowell's son is obsessed with photographing the night sky.

Galen Rowell is famous for super pretty pictures from all over the world and climbing most of the mountains he photographed. Galen passed away in 2002, and now Tony helps run the Rowell gallery here in Bishop as well as takes as many pictures of the night sky as he can. Sometime in the 1970's Galen photographed a bristlecone pine, at night. The result (I'd pirate a picture off the web, but since I'm writing about professional photographers, you can see some good modern examples when you google "bristlecone and star trails.") was what Tony calls one of the first "Astrolandscapes"- night sky, plus terrestrial something-or-other. And Tony is taking it to a whole 'nuther level! Technology and techniques, and just the shear number of folks out taking pictures have taken all genres of photography to crazy heights, literally and figuratively.

Tony came into our lives here at the Zoo when he tracked down Paul at the radio-telescope observatory where he works. Paul and his co-workers basically listen for aliens via these satellite dish-looking things. Creepy, huge and technological, artists of all kinds find inspiration at observatories like this. This past summer Tony Rowell acquired a new toy- a machine that actually turns his camera counter to the earth's rotation, effectively freezing the earth (or the sky, depending on your perspective) and eliminating those "star trails" you googled just above. To put it simply, the night sky is dark and capturing anything with a camera requires long exposures. Long exposures let in lots of light, but the sky changes during those long seconds or even minutes. It's just art, so some embrace the changes- again, see the star trails. That's the result of the earth spinning under the stars. The most notable other change that occurs during long exposures of the night sky is meteors. More on that later. Anyway, some engineer/astronomer/photographer set up this machine that cancels out the rotation of the earth. Tony got a machine and added his own twist, pun intended. He purposely frames his pictures with something in the foreground, sets up a long exposure then flashes the foreground briefly- creating his own astrolandscapes. He tracked down Paul in order to secure permission and logistical support for a shoot like this at the observatory here. The goal was to get a picture worthy of NASA APOD. He didn't score the picture of the day that time around, but he did tap into a pool of dirtbags willing to do anything for fame-and-fortune. Or even small-fortune-and-brushes-with-a-famous-family.

Fast forward to mid-December and what Tony calls a super-rare opportunity: The Geminid Meteor shower is forecast to "go big." No moon. Weather forecast calls for clear skies. Fresh snow on mid-elevation Eastern Sierra trees. And Tony's got his own vision to bring it all together. I won't blow his idea just yet, because even though only, like, three people read this blog, this stuff is important to Tony. We'll wait for the pictures to process and maybe even get published. Anyway, it's just hours before the forecast peak, about 8pm on Sunday December 13. Tony's got a heap of lights and cameras and tripods and earth-stopping machines. He's got a plan, but not without some gaps. He needs a strong back and a weak mind to go sit in the mountains in the middle of the night in single digit temps and flash lights and carry stuff through the snow. He calls Paul, asks for help and offers some bucks even. I jump at the offer and he's here at the house in 15 minutes. We load up, bundle up, and drive, on what back roads are plowed, looking for a suitable site. We found what he was looking for and within minutes Tony was taking pictures. I did my portion of the rigging, he did his. While we were driving and setting up, we saw at least one meteor a minute.

Once fully set-up, but in a lull adjusting cameras, we saw the hugest meteor Tony's ever seen. By far the biggest I've ever seen too, but Tony's the expert. (Tony's been watching and photographing every major meteor shower since 1994. Galen actually died on August 11, 2002- the date of the Perseid Meteor Shower. He said last night's show was the most spectacular! But he says a lot of things...) I don't even like talking about it, it was really scary. My back was turned at first, but this thing lit up the area like daytime! Apocalyptic blue light. As I snapped around to look, I saw the flash disappear behind the horizon. Tony saw the whole thing. I didn't know meteors came like that! We later saw another one that lit up the ground, but not quite as much.

Anyway, Tony snapped pictures and I fulfilled my for-now-secret role. The plan was to be out for the peak, forecast for between 10 and 1. It was 3am before we started for home! It was cold, but Tony's constant stream of banter and exclamations kept me on my toes. And Galen Rowell's expedition down parka kept me warm while sitting still. That's right, I spent a night in Galen's big-mountain down jacket. Every single meteor deserved a "wow" if he captured it, and an expletive if we were between shots. And the rate never let up! At least one per minute on average, we probably saw over 300 total! Going into the night, Tony said he'd be happy with just one shot that half-way met his criteria. He ended up getting 8 shots that fully met the criteria, as well as one that surpassed his "wildest dreams." Previewing the best one on his digital camera, he shouted himself hoarse with excitement. Bookmark the NASA page.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Southern Comfort, Part II

So, we're well established back in one version of our Bishop routine. But the most exciting thing going on is still our trip "down south". Here are some random pictures, arranged in random patterns and random order.

We thought this picture was kinda funny- drowning aliens are funny, right?

Ain't nothing funny about this one- some people are sick!

We played lots of games- cards, scrabble. With my parents there, Annie had to be on her best behavior- she didn't hate me when I beat her.

Visited the FlorAbama- The Last Great American Roadhouse!

Being the only one riding a "wedgie" bike (cyclist-speak for your traditional, stand-up bicycle. As opposed to a recumbent bike- one rides a recumbent basically sitting in a lawn chair- very comfy. Wedgie bike, not as comfy.) my rear got sore. So Dad and I would swap positions every once in a while- here's a rare picture of all three of us riding.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Blogging on the road!

Hi Y'all!
Jed and I are in Milton, Florida at a KOA kampground hiding from hurricane Ida in a small
kabin. Our OAC boss Richard used to say that using k's in place of words that should be spelled with c's was a signal to bigots that your business was a bigot friendly place to patronize. KOA's being a great example of that. Anyhow, in case you weren't informed, Jed and I are on a biking road trip with his parents. Our plan was to bike from New Orleans for 9 days getting as close to Jacksonville, Florida as possible. We'll probably make it to about Tallahassee. This storm was like a category, like 14 or something w
hen they first saw it out on the horizon. But now that it is closer they are calling it a Tropical Storm. That sure doesn't stop it from raining though. It started at about 9 this morning and hasn't stopped since. So, we didn't ride today. Instead we went to this giant Navy museum that had about 50 planes all in one building and mostly just drove around while I slept or daydreamed. The bike Jed and I are riding in a tandem recumbent bike. I am on the front of it which is a recumbent and Jed is on the back, so he is the one with the sore butt. Here is a small list of interesting things we've done/seen on the trip. For those of you who will be receiving postcards, sorry this is all the sam
e stuff. We have biked 166 miles so far. We've seen 57 pieces of roadkill including 2 alligators. Otherwise, we haven't seen alligators. Though we did see a black bear, a scary looking black snake, and a black monkey! Along the southern coast there are an embarrassing amount of fancy condos. Just lined up forever and ever. The sand here is really white and very fine and the water is surprisingly warm. We spend a night in New Orleans where we drank hurricanes, and rode bulls, and did a few other things inappropriate for a blog entry. I feel like quite the kid, especially tonight. Jeds folks ride in the front seat of the car and Jed and I are in the back. Tonight at the bar a good ol' boy gave me the stuffed animal he won from the machine and our cabin has a double bed and some bunk beds. Jed and I argued for a while about who got the top bunk. Here's to family!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potentially Boring Update

To our loyal followers! We have not updated too recently- this is mostly because we haven't done anything particularly exciting. But there have been several small things that can perhaps be added up into one somewhat entertaining blog post. Since the Needles, we climbed one day in Tuolumne with our friend Josh. We tried to climb OZ but were rained off and headed to a more craggy area where I took this hilarious (I think) photo of Josh. Then, on the 13th, I ran from North Lake to Pine creek and missed my turnoff adding 3 miles to a 26 mile run (so discouraging!). Then, at Pine Creek, I hopped (ok, stumbled on) on the bike I had stashed there and rode 18 miles back home. I didn't bring a camera, so you've just got to believe me. The 18-20, Jed and I headed to Idyllwild to recertify our Wilderness First Responder certifications. Jed and I have been doing a lot of guiding lately. He did an awesome trip on the Palisade Traverse with a client. He also took another guy up the Third Pillar of Dana and the Dana Couloir in a day. On the 23-24, I guided Whitney, then we both headed to Tahoe to guide the Stanford Business School on a day climbing trip. Then this past Monday I guided Mt. Goode with a very regular client of SMG who has a size 16 shoe! I also just met a guy in town who is teaching Crossfit for free. I am on my way to becoming hard to kill. Oh, speaking of hard to kill, Jed just won the monthly peak baggers challenge for Sage to Summit! Go Jed! Whew- that is about it. Lets cross our fingers for something more entertaining next time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Addicted to Needles.

September 6th marked the one year anniversary of mine and Jeds wedding day. Jed and I were not only ready for some time alone, and not only ready to climb our butts off, but we also are required to celebrate on this special day. Our solution? The Needles, California! The Needles are these towering needle-like spires of granite covered in lime green lichen way in the middle of nowhere on the western side of the Sierra. They are said to be steep, stout, and a little run-out. To make a long story short, this was probably the best climbing trip of my life. Steep? Yes. Stout? Solid. Run-out? No. We spend 4 days in The Needles; two of the days in the popular area doing "hard" climbing and two days taking turns mock guiding on bigger, more adventurous routes. For those who know the area we climbed: Thin Ice, Fancy Free, Spooky, Igors Revenge, White Punks on Dope and Strange Brew. All of them were incredible. On our anniversary we climbed a 14 pitch route (Strange Brew on the Magician) that took us to a fire tower where there was a ranger who was rumored to bake cookies for climbers on Sundays. Well- the rumor is true, and they are not just cookies, they are the best cookies I have ever had. After our climb and cookies we headed out to a creek to rinse off and then had dinner at a little lodge down the road from the climbing area. After our burgers and sodas we drove to Dome Rock, a prominant make out point with a grand view of the Needles. Up there we carefully unwrapped our lovely champagne glasses ettched with our names and wedding date and partook of a sweet bottle of Dom Perignon bought for us by our dear friends Steven and Lauren with the strict instuctions to drink it on our 1 year anniversary. It was a lovely day to celebrate a lovely promise.
What gnat to do:
Now that you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I want to tell you about the bad part of the trip. On the last day we decided to drive to the um...other side of the Needles to try a classic route called "White Punks on Dope." The only thing that got me through the day was the following mantra: it will make a good story. it will make a good story. it will make a good story. First off, you should know that I suffer from a very serious condition called the Alpine Memory. This means that I can expereince the most heinous shit in the mountains and totally forget by the time I get home and may even feel like going to do whatever it was again despite how miserable I was at the time. Such is the case with this climb but I will do my best to remember the horror of it all.

Now, most of you know that I am no stranger to discomfort. I have slapped at mosquitos in the Arctic, I have bushwacked with the best of them in Alaska, and I have scrambled and climbed up countless scree, moraine, and talus slopes. Perhaps it was the fatigue of climbing for three days but there was nothing that could have prepared me for this. Enter the gnats. Enter the heaps of dried leaves and pine needles. Enter the steep slope. Enter the 90 degree heat. Enter the shrubbery. Exit the sanity. There is nothing quite like making your way up a trail-less slippery slope where every step you make you slip back one. There is nothing quite like having about 500 buzzing gnats desperately try to gain access to every hole on your head. The thing about gnats is that they don't seem to have a purpose in life but to annoy you. At least mosquitos take some blood to be able to pass on their genes (AND they are polinators). In my most zen moments I realize that mosquitos probably don't want to annoy you, perhaps they even hate the taste of blood but they just can't go against their biological directions. Who could blame them really? But gnats? They are just evil. Anyway, as you are sliding your way up this slippery slope, and the gnats are trying to get in your face holes, you have to remember that it is also hot out so you are sweating and when you sweat, you get sticky, and when you are sticky all of the dirt, leaves, needles, and dead gnats stick to you. Oh yeah, to keep the gnats from entering your earholes you might wrap your shirt around your head. This makes you hotter of course and then occationally as you are wrestling with a tree of shrub, a branch may decide that it is a funny joke to pull your little capilene turbin off your head so that the gnats can instantly fly and buzz their little anoying laughter at the funny joke in your ears. Deep breath. Internalized scream. Frantic swatting at the air. Repressed anger upon seeing that Jed is not nearly as annoyed by the situation. Why doesn't he go join a monestary somewhere? Deep breath. So by the time we get to the climb, I am over it. Jed mock guides the whole thing. Every wonderful pitch of different sized cracks, and clean face climbing, all the way to the beautiful summit will not do much to make that approach worthwhile unfortunately. On the way down we found an entire rope at the base of the rock. Perhaps someone had a worse time than we did. This makes me feel a little better. Plus a breeze has picked up a little. My advice? Don't approach from the "other" side.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Goode for girls.

Just a quick update. Jed is off guiding the Thunderbolt to Sill portion of the Palisade Traverse. The owners of our company, Howie and Neil have dubbed Jed the Palisades Expert. This is sort of a big deal and means that Jed is every bit the badass that I think he is!
Anyhow, in my quest to expand my climbing partner list from basically just Jed and Vic, I have been climbing with our good friend Beth recently. We started in Tuolumne on bolted run-out face climbs about a month ago. Our next outing was a new 6 pitch 10b route in Pine Creek. We did well on that and the day went really smoothly. So on Monday we set our alarms early and headed up towards Bishop Pass on our way to climb Mt. Goode. Goode has a reputation. It is reputed to be not only big, but loose, and hard. It is usually a climb that diehard sierra climbers sort of save for last, and this was the case to us. I was pretty sure that the whole thing would be made of slick black obsidian and would be the coldest spot on the eastside. Well, it isn't made of obsidian, it is made of beautiful golden Sierra granite (go figure) but it is loose, and it is sort of steep, and it did require our very best alpine skills. I had a great day, and Beth is a lot of fun to climb with in addition to being a totally solid climbing partner. I have never really climbed with a girl before and was stunned at how different the experience was compared to going out with the boys. Overall I can say that to climb with another girl has a similar feeling to have soloed a route. I felt like, damn, we did that all by ourselves. At the top when we got a little confused as to where to go, we figured it out. When clouds started coming in, we decided it was ok. When decisions were made, WE made them. It was a really great feeling overall.
The route however, was not very good. In fact, I can honestly say that it was my least favorite Sierra climb so far.
Also, we forgot the f-ing camera and it was probably the most asthetic day I've had in a while given the two smokin' hot babes climbing a sexy looking piece of granite. Oh well, this photo pulled from Summit Post will have to work.
Over and out.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Matthes Crest

Hi There-
Last Wednesday Jed and I decided to tick off one more High Sierra Classic. Matthes Crest is hidden in the Tuolumne backcountry in Yosemite National Park and you don't even catch a glimpse of it until you are about 6 miles out. A geological oddity, Matthes Crest is a mile long fin of knife edge golden granite and climbing it consists of literally just following the crest and not looking down! The photos pretty much speak for themselves, but I will say a couple of things, it was one of the first climbs we've done helmet-less which was surprisingly liberating (we wear helmets primarily for fear of falling rock but when you are on top of the mountain all day there isn't much to worry about). Jeds helmet is beginning to stink after a summers guiding season and my neck hurt from headbanging the night before so a helmetless traverse suited us. What else, oh yeah, Jed had the camera most of the time and I had the cool glasses so appologies in advance for all the photos of yours truly. Enjoy!

JMT Speed Attempt!

My friend Jeff Kozak is currently trying to do a speed record on the JMT and I spent the weekend helping him out. I ran over Lamarck Col and camped out and then ran with his for 14 miles to meet up with another friend. I wrote a little snippet on the Sage to Summit blog- check it out!
Jeff is running 222 miles in sub four days. I ran 26 yesterday and will spend the whole day recovering!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Dragtooth!!

Jed and I have now been living together in the Sierra for almost 2 years and are pretty psyched to say that we've done a lot of alpine climbing in that time. We've done most of the Supertopo routes and are making a pretty good chunk in Peters book. So occasionally we get a wild hair up our asses and decide to do something different. In this case it was the Dragway route on Dragtooth Peak found in the Sawtooth Mountains outside of Bridgeport, referenced from the Secor book. One of the things that made this route hugely different than any other routes we've done is the fact that we couldn't find anything about it online. Nothing- not on supertopo, summit post, etc. In this day in age, that is just weird if not a bit frightening.

So we went for it! 5.10 OW, 5 pitches, with a topo that was basically on scratched line on a page. And let me tell you- this is one of the very best routes I have done in the Sierra. It is unbeleivable that no one goes up there. The first pitch was a little goofy with pretty cool chimneys and wide cracks seperated by rocky, sandy ledges. The second pitch went up a great 5.7 crack to a flake. The third pitch was where it really started getting good. 5.9 hands to fists with secret holds inside the ever widening crack. Two shitty bolts mark the end of the pitch. Jed led the next pitch which was the 5.10 OW section. This was the tamest 5.10 OW I persoanlly have been on in the mountains and where it wasn't tame is was sexy as hell (except of course for the terrifyingly big and barely attached, perched slab of granite). The final pitch ascended a vertical face with a perfect fingers to hands crack that topped out on the sweet exposed ridge of the famed sawtooth traverse.

About a 1/4 mile of ridgeline brought us to the final 4th class gully which got us the heck out of there. The summit register of the Dragtooth is a cool rusty old can with a couple scraps of papers. I think the names were Norman Clyde, Fred Beckey, and Jason Lakey.

Highly Recommended People!

Annie likes to run.

Last Sunday Karen Schwartz and I ran from South Lake to Big Pine. 14 miles and a trillion amazing views~ read about it on the Sage to Summit Blog. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

V-Notch Couloir, Palisade Glacier

Last weekend (July 25-27) I guided a 3-day trip into the Palisade Glacier area. I've been in there quite a bit lately, and it's starting to feel more and more like home. This trip we climbed the "V-Notch Couloir" and descended Mount Sill's "Northwest Couloir". Like the trip up Sun Ribbon, blogged about below, this trip was a milestone of sorts. (the Sun Ribbon climb was the last significant route on Temple Crag that either Annie or I had left to do). This past weekend's trip marked the completion of another list for me. In just over a month, starting back on June 25, I climbed and/or descended every one of the major Palisade Glacier couloirs. Kind of a niche there, but one that I don't imagine many folks get to complete. Again, makes me feel more and more at home in that section of peaks.

"I Only Wanna be in LA"

In her Office Manager position for Sierra Mountain Guides, among the routine requests for trips and information, Annie occasionally gets some pretty random calls and e-mails. Around July 20, she got an e-mail from a production company in Los Angeles. They were looking for "rugged outdoorsy types" to teach wilderness skills to a group of 5 or 6 kids who would then go out and "survive" for a week or so. All of it filmed and spun into some sort of reality TV drama. Annie thought I fit the bill, having more faith in my photogenaity than I do. They have a tight schedule, we had a day off together, so we raced down there for an interview on friday the 24th. I think it went well, but like my university ballet teacher told me, "some people just aren't cut out for this kind of thing." We don't know for sure yet, but they're filming on the 24th of August. I guess I'll know by then? In any case, it was a break from the norm; a chance to drive around with the AC on, talking on our cell phones, yelling at traffic and drinking iced coffee drinks. We also visited (and crashed with) Annie's childhood friend Rachel.

Climbing Sun Ribbon Arete, July 2009

A couple weeks back, on July 15, Annie and I finally were finally both well-rested and fully available to climb together. We don't get that opportunity very often in the middle of peak guiding season, so when we do we make the most of it. Conditions and motivations aligned for us to tackle the Sun Ribbon Arete on Temple Crag in the Palisade group of our local Sierra Nevada. It's just a 30 minute drive to the trail head where we started hiking. Most folks do this route in 2 or 3 days, but we had limited time and less-limited energy. We started hiking around 4 am and raced in with light backpacks. The climb went very smoothly. Those who know the area and the route will recognize the Tyrolean traverse. A Tyrolean Traverse is basically a rope stunt used very rarely to get across a gap in a rocky ridge-line. This route has a perfect place to rig a tyrolean. Even if it weren't for the Tyrolean, the route would be unique and enjoyable. We finished the route in good time and got back to the car before dark. For each of us, the Sun Ribbon Arete was our final "tick" (of 4) on the list of big, well-known Temple Crag routes.
Back in 2007, together, we did the "Moon Goddess Arete". In June of 2008, again together, we did the "Venusian Blind Arete" in very snowy conditions. I then guided the Venusian twice that summer. In August of '08 I did "Dark Star" with our friend Vic, and Annie did the same route with boss Howie. Back together for Sun Ribbon we've now hit 'em all.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Clyde Couloir, North Palisade, June 2009

Alaska Part 2: Passes and slogging.

We kinda suck at this blogging thing... I started writing the first installment on May 6, and it's now July 5. You probably remember more about our Alaska trip by now than I do. Still, folks will be interested, and many folks helped us out, so I'll motivate to get it together here.
So, picking up where I left off in part 1... It's now day 8, and we've resolved to move no matter what. However, it's really windy. The night between days 7 and 8 was waaay winday. We shored up our snow walls, tied down all our ski gear lingering outside and still had to try and sleep through lunging tent noise. It worked out and we managed to rest. And we had a bit of a reprieve that morning that we used to pack up. Visibility was ok, and we had taken pains to make a good navigation plan the night before in case we encountered poor visibility or even white-out. Now might be a good time to clarify some mountain terminology: A true white out can only happen in foul weather on absolutely featureless snow. It doesn't even need to be snowing that much, but in a true white out flat light and cloud/fog cover with maybe some snow falling make for a white sky while the snow on the ground completes the full globe of white. Just something to update the masses. So anyway, we went for it, moving camp in driving wind. It started out ok, but as we retraced our day 2 route back towards the cache of gear, we became more and more exposed to the SW wind. Our route soon went over a very broad pass. And so did the wind! It came at us relentlessly from our right, stretching the glacier rope out between us in a humming arc. It got gradually worse and worse until I was knocked off my feet and my tears were being ripped from my eyes. Annie strode along like a deranged and focused cowgirl-on-skis, her legs set 4 feet apart to provide stability. We regrouped at one point, tumbling together into a wind scoop in the snow, one big tangle of packs and rope and skis and whippets, shouting at each other. I swear it felt as though our 40 pound backpacks could have blown right out into Central Alaska if we'd let them! We pressed on and abruptly came into the wind shadow of a peak and it was almost bearable. Miles flew by at this point and it was only when we got to our stash of food and fuel that it got crazy windy again. We grabbed the supplies and aimed for what we thought would be a more sheltered campsite. It wasn't really more sheltered, but we made it work. First we set up some snow walls and then dove into the tent. We feasted on our new and exciting food and settled down for bed. But the tent kept flapping in the wind. I was worried we wouldn't sleep at best and at worst the tent might get damaged. I quickly volunteered to head out and dig us a shelter. The night in the shelter was much better than the tent would have been.
Day 9 we woke to much better weather so we packed up and crossed pass number 2. (we crossed pass #1 twice, once on day 2 with the canadians and once on day 8 in the wicked wind described above). Crossing pass #2 was techy and complicated, with some scrambling, lowering packs and then super steep, super firm skiing down to the next glacier. To top it all off, check out the swirling clouds and killer view!

From pass 2 we crossed the Sylvester Glacier, with a camp there, and then easily and quickly crossed our third pass. A quick and cruiser slog partway down the Tarr Glacier brought us to a dry-land, moraine camp underneath our 6th peak. We skied this peak in a side trip one morning. See the picture of Annie scrambling the last little bit to the summit, with pass 3 just beyond her left shoulder.
We started day 11 on that last peak (which, incidentally, held our best skiing of the trip- about 2000 feet of transitional but consistent winter snow). We finished that day in a whole new world! We slogged way down to where the Sylvester and Tarr glaciers meet the huge Nelchina glacier. Much lower in altitude, we now saw signs of rapid melting and watched avalanches sweep the hillsides every 10 minutes or so. We also saw bear tracks! Like I said, a whole different world than back up at barren, cold Turtle Flat.
On day 12 we left the glaciers finally. But it certainly didn't get easier... We had miles of boot-deep "isothermal" (read: slush) snow over basically gravel bar- not fun. After that, we had a few miles of melt-water over frozen beaver bog: more fun, but kind of nerve wracking. We camped that last night on dry gravel, surrounded by open water, squawking geese and even heard the clattering of moose hooves in the morning. The final day started out difficult, with again, open water, barely covered frozen bogs, and more melting ponds. Just as it seemed it couldn't get any worse, with 6-8 inches of water in the open, and gnarly bush-whacking on the "shores", we reached the point where a winter snowmobile trail headed to high ground! Salvation. Well, saved from the risk of our path melting out from under us. Then we just put our heads down and ground on towards the road. it was, of course, farther than we thought it would be, but the last miles moved more quickly as we had cell service and checked in back home a few times along the way.
Once at the highway, the second vehicle along picked us up! Thanks out to the trucker! A trucker, by the way, who had placed second in the Alaska State Truck Driver's competition. Back in civilization, we got back in touch with the world, hitch-hiked a little, rented a car, visited old friends, even baby-sat a cool little new friend. All in all, a grand adventure.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Alaska Part 1: Peaks

The least we can do for all our supportive family and friends is to jot down memories from our sweet Alaska trip. It all started in the midst of our wedding planning. Among other details, it became apparent that people would be looking for some kind of wedding registry. We're not all that "consumptive", preferring to spend our own time and money on travel and adventure more than stuff around the house. The idea of piles of comforters and fancy cookpots just wasn't our cup of tea. We quickly came across the idea of registering with a travel agent- bingo! We quickly tapped into our deep reservoir of "dream trips" and pulled out the foundation of a China ski mountaineering adventure. We immediately lodged it in our wedding registry, using Annie's travel agent/friend Cori to collect "Gifts of Travel" from our loved and loving ones. We got an amazing response and are way thankful. The actual logistics of China travel have proven more time consuming than we first suspected. We have good leads, good info, hopefully good local contacts and more reasonable time line expectations. We're still aiming for China, now in spring of 2010. Along the way, we got ourselves really excited for a ski adventure, and learned that whatever we did in China would involve skiing on big glaciers. We soon decided to sate our ski desires and learn about skiing on glaciers with a trip to Alaska. Our trip delivered everything and more. Here's our story:

We bought plane tickets in mid March, weighed all our stuff in early April, then headed off to Anchorage on April 15. Between Bishop and rural Alaska, Annie's Reno family and Alaska Joe's parents in Anchorage provided vital support. The exciting part started on a slanting, snow-covered swath of real estate along south-central Alaska's Glenn Highway. Earlier in the planning process we had decided to ski in Southcentral Alaska's Chugach Range. The Chugach is known for lots of snow, big glacial wilderness and relatively low altitude peaks. We soon got in contact with Mike Meekin, a rather successful and accomplished bush pilot in that part of the state. He's one of only a few folks landing planes on high-altitude glaciers, a pretty neat guy, and was readily willing to help us distill our various ideas and goals into the trip we ended up doing. He worked with us the day of our flight, considering our goals, travel techniques and most importantly the weather.

We wanted to fly to an area of peaks known as "Turtle Flat" In a minor setback, due to weather, we ended up landing a few miles and a few thousand vertical feet short of where we wanted to go.
That first day we landed on the glacier in the early afternoon and had plenty of daylight left. We skied a few miles out and then back to our tent pitched where we had landed. While settling in for the night, mere hours after landing on the glacier, we both started hearing voices. We eventually narrowed our gaze to this unlikely looking chute and watched quite a scene take shape. Four skiers were descending this gnarly couloir, complete with ropes and sleds and yelling. They camped a ways off that night, but we got to chat with them the following morning. They were from Canada and in the middle of what would end up as 30 some days all they way across the Chugach

We had intended to basecamp right near our first choice landing strip. We couldn't reach there in the plane, so spent our second day moving camp to where we wanted to go. We could leave half our food, as our eventual exit would return past our drop-off point. We crossed a cool pass, actually moving over a divide separating three significant drainages. Throughout that second day we swapped leads with team Canada.

Here's Annie leading the way, following the tracks of those first and only folks we saw. At the risk of glossing over relevant details, let's just say that on day three we skied a peak, day four (my birthday, incidentally) skied two peaks, day five skied a peak, and the same on day six. On the seventh day we rested. Beyond that is the next chapter. None of the days out were especially long or grueling by Sierra standards. What wore us out though was the temperatures. I don't know if you know this or not, but Alaska is colder than California! We dealt, coming up with creative ways to make our Sierra clothes work in Alaska mountains.

Annie Skiing Peak #1. We had generally excellent weather. Cold, with occasional clouds and some wicked winds, but no big snowfall, nothing ever pinned us down for more than a few hours.

Peak #2, lit up in pink. High latitudes and mid spring mean killer light. Killer light at both ends of the day for hours at a time. And just a lot of light. Dawn at 4 am or so, dusk 'til well after 9. Daylight was certainly not a limiting factor in our travel schedule.

Frost coated the inside of the tent each morning. It'd take about half an hour just to deal with.

Jed Skiing Peak 3.

Annie high on Peak 4, with Peak 5 and Prince William Sound in the background.

After skiing Peak #5 in a driving wind storm, we took a day off. We had been going each day, skiing our hearts out, making the most of good weather before the inevitable shut-down. As mentioned above, the weather was never really bad in the early portions of the trip. Our rest day was no exception. We actually sat outside in the sun, down almost to t-shirts, for most of the morning. It gradually clouded up, got windy and we watched the pressure plummet. Now, we had originally intended to spend just 5 days at "Turtle Flat" and had packed accordingly. Everything else was buried in the snow back down the glacier, near where we landed on day 1. So, we were basically counting on traveling to our cache of food and fuel the day after our rest day. Not knowing what the apparent approaching storm would bring, I suggested we quickly pack up and head down during the latter half of our rest day. The weather wasn't all that bad (yet?), we had enough daylight, and we could rest easy no matter the conditions, when we reached our pile of food. However, it would have certainly have broken the comfortable relaxation of a full rest day. We decided to stay, counting on travel the following day "no matter what." What happened? We'll post up soon...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Omigod a friggin' blog.

The truth is, we have a number of friends who have their own blogs and we find them all terribly boring, so we decided to create our own, far superior blog so that we, and the world, will be bored no longer.

This is all for now. In the near future you will find the following:
-A mission statement
-Articles written by Jed and Annie
-Fun photos about our trips
-Updates and our whereabouts and plans for the future
-Puppies...lots of puppies.