Springtime is the season for long walks with your skis. The snowpack is generally more stable and you can hit big alpine lines. A couple weeks ago, I went on two long walks with skis.
I first tried to get to Flattop Gully with my old roommate, forgetting how far back Flattop goes. We didn’t quite make it all the way to the gully but skied a fun north slope I’d assume doesn’t get skied very often because of how long the walk is. The exit is one of my least favorite I’ve done, second probably to Silver Couloir on Buffalo Peak.
Bindu Pomeroy, of Vail, and I had been trying to get out since we met at Outdoor Retailer. Three days before the Loveland Pass area received somewhere around 20 inches of new snow, and he thought Citadel Peak would still be good. I haven’t skied too much in that area, so was open to skiing something new.
I left my house at 2:30am to be at the trailhead at 4am. Bindu and his fellow split-boarder, Jon Adgate, show up a few minutes after me. We shuttle a car to the Herman Gulch Trailhead, where we’ll finish, and drive to the gate at Dry Gulch.
The moon, while not full, was bright enough that we didn’t need headlamps for the start of our skin. You follow a low angle road for about a mile before turning uphill, pulling up your heal risers, and walking up the steep creek – hearing the water running under the thin snow cover. We had to traverse under a face that I would not want to be under in unstable snow conditions, then go straight up to the saddle between Hagar and a few false summits from Bethel.
I figured out with my Fritschi Ttecton binding, if I partially took it out of walk-mode the brakes would drop, which allowed me to walk almost straight up the hard-frozen steep face. I also found that this technique stops working when the sun warms up the snow, you just slide back down, the brakes sliding through like butter.
Bindu puts on his crampons for the final push, to the top of the rocky peak behind him
We walk the ridge and skirt to the northwest of the Citadel to find someone had oh-so-kindly already put in a boot pack up the steep snow slog. As we gained the summit ridge, we were finding the snow was softening up very quickly.
Looking to the northeast to Pettingell Peak
By the time we are set to go, a few wet slides and pilling are going off on east facing slopes. Bindu and Jon (carving in the photo above) choose the left route down the couloir (which looks far less steep at super-wide angle in the photo than it is in reality). After both of them are out of slide danger, I pick the shoulder on the right. It took me maybe 10 minutes to finish shooting and get set to ski and in that time the snow had warmed up considerably. I made a couple jump turns and set off a wet slide that pulled the top layer off the rest of couloir. I wait for it to settle before straightlinging out to the major slope. The east facing snow was some of the strangest I’ve ever skied in, both soft and crunchy, grabby and super fast. My skis sunk to ankle deep or so and the snow grabbed my tails, making it almost impossible to turn. I could make large sweeping turns which were not sufficient to control my speed. I’m not sure if I didn’t fully clip into my binding, but about halfway down the slope my right ski took off on its own. It took me too long to retreive it, wallowing in the wet snow in avalanche danger area. Getting my ski back on, I made it over to Bindu’s position, “Damn, it feels like I’ve never skied before!”. I hate that feeling. The snowboarders didn’t seem to have the same problem, claiming the snow was great for carving. I’m going to attribute it to their greater surface area and not sinking into the grabby mess (and not my lack of abilities…).
The ski out is 4 miles of generally downhill but very low angle skiing that goes by pretty quickly, except for the dirt patches you have to gingerly walk across. The last quarter mile or so we had to put the skis on the packs and awkwardly walk with ski boots (I guess the snowboarders less awkwardly walked in their more comfortable boots). High alpine adventures are fun, but I think I’m about ready to hang up my skis for the summer. It’s rock climbing and mountain biking season!
Lately, I’ve not been taking advantage of the playground in my backyard enough, Rocky Mountain National Park. When Tyler Kempney asked if I wanted to climb Mixed Emotions, M5- WI4 (or Mixed Feelings – the name seems to be a bit interchangeable) I said yes. Although I prefer sticking my tools in ice, I haven’t mixed climb in a while.
After an hour and a half detour (we took the wrong trail), we made it to the Loch Vale cragging area. There was a guided group on Mixed Feelings, so we each got a lap on Crystal Meth, a dirty looking WI4. The guided group didn’t do the mixed line, so the hanging dagger looked untouched.
Tyler led through the dry traverse, climbing on the rock with his gloved hands and placing cams in the horizontal crack. There’s a fixed pin with an old sling right below the curtain that he tried to back up with a marginal #1 cam. The ice didn’t inspire confidence, looking quite dry and in need of refreshing, and Tyler tested a couple of different entry points.
Once established on the ice above the dagger we all relaxed a bit. I was unsure of whether the dagger would hold. I kept telling myself, “If the dagger breaks, keep shooting!”
It’s a fun classic. Great job Alex Lowe!
I need to get out on some more adventures. Hit me up with ideas!
Last month I took a job rigging ropes for a video shoot in Yosemite. I took the job knowing nothing about the details of the shoot, other than I would be rigging for another video guy (unnamed at the time, ending up being Andrew Peterson). The video we were shooting for followed a Danish TV investigative reporter, Morten Spiegelhauer, along a year long journey into rock climbing, seeing how dealing with fear on the rock changed his decision making process in everyday life. Morten had come to Yosemite a year ago to start the journey with Hans Florine, who holds the speed record for climbing the Nose of El Capitan (31 pitches in 2 hours and 23 minutes). Through mental and physical training, Morten culminated the experience by leading several trad pitches on El Capitan. It was awesome seeing his cool headed approach to leading, with only 4 trad leads under his belt previously.
I flew into Salt Lake City at 1am, arriving late because a woman with a carry-on dog refused to make her dog sit under the seat in front of her. After taxiing to the runway, we had to return to the gate so she could be escorted off the plane, screaming profanities, and the other passengers clapped once she was gone.
Andrew met me outside the airport with his Diesel Jeep Liberty, having slept for 3 hours in preparation for our 12 hour all night haul to The Valley. We made it somewhere into Nevada, but even with switching off driving we had to stop and sleep. Google was telling me we’d arrive 3 hours before we had to be there, so I reasoned we could sleep for two hours. We pulled off onto some gravel country road and made a quick bivvy.
After a mandatory In-n-Out stop outside of Sacramento, we started the drive back east towards Yosemite. We knew we were in a hurry (unnecessarily so, we beat the rest of the crew), but we stopped to take photos.
This being both of our first times in Yosemite, driving in was pretty magical. There are 3,000 foot cliffs towering over you with waterfalls dumping huge amounts of water on every side. The sun filters through the thick trees as slowly drive the one way road. Around every corner you catch sight of the sites you’ve heard of before: Horestail Falls, Bridalveil falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.
El Capitan towering over Southside Drive
Yosemite Falls, taken through the sunroof
We met up with Hans Florine and the Danish crew in the meadow below El Capitan, discussing our plans for the shoot. Morten, the subject of the video, wanted a warmup climb to get used to the rock, so Hans took us to climb Pine Line (thin 5.7) and the first pitch of Salathe (5.10c, dual crack fingers!!). We had limited time, so I top roped Salathe, with Hans telling me I only had 8 minutes to climb the 120′ route. It was a fun exercise in speed crack climbing, with Hans yelling, “30 seconds!”, “10, 9, 8…”
We reconvened with the rest of the crew, who were scouting locations and doing timelapses, and jet off to Hans’s Basecamp. We ate well for the week, having grilled steaks and pork pretty much every night (except on the wall).
The last light bouncing off of El Capitan
Dusk scene from Tunnel View
The next morning we do another warmup climb, with the full crew out taking video. I take Andrew up some variation of After Six so he can shoot down on Morten and Hans.
At the top of Manure Pile Buttress, waiting for Morten to finish the climb
Hans Florine in his natural environment
After we got down, Andrew and I went into full tourist mode. We drove around the loop, 1 mile, taking us an hour and half (mostly because of construction). We stopped at Yosemite Falls to get a closer look. There’s really not a great viewpoint of the falls that doesn’t include being sprayed with ice cold water and high winds, so we left the path and found some cool boulders.
These rocks are constantly wet with the spray from Yosemite Falls. It amazes me that it doesn’t look even more rainforesty
This couple has the right idea
We then drive the 45 minutes up to Glacier Point, overlooking Half Dome. It’s pretty incredible. Click on the image to see bigger
Andrew wanted to get a timelapse of the last light on El Capitan and climbers’ headlamps from Tunnel View. I wandered off, following random trails on the side of the mountain over the Tunnel chasing the sun.
I never got to the point where I could see around the other side of the mountain, but looking back, I found these amazing wild flowers with the entire Yosemite Valley behind them. To get this photo, I was precariously perched on loose soil, holding onto a tree above a couple hundred foot cliff. I wished I had had my climbing equipment.
I made my way back to Tunnel View, where Andrew was still working on his timelapses. These guys were too cute not to get a photo of.
Looking up at the El Capitan headwall from pitch 4 anchors
This was my first time in Yosemite. This was my first time on a big wall. The most pitches I’ve done in one push is eleven, I think. I’ve never ascended (climbed a rope fixed to anchors rather than climbing the rock) more than one pitch (100-ish feet) at a time. I typically do not have problems with heights or fear while climbing.
This time I was legitimately terrified, more so than I can remember in recent history. Climbing someone else’s old climbing rope they retired and donated as a fixed rope that has been hanging for an unknown amount of time in unknown weather conditions and is in an unknown state of health, attached to unknown anchors did not inspire confidence in me. I was attached with two Petzl ascenders that lock in one direction, which allows me to move up but will not slide down the rope unless I remove them from the rope. Both ends of the ropes were attached to anchors, but if for some reason the rope above me snapped, my ascenders would fly off the loose end instead of allowing me to stay attached to the anchor below. All of this is pretty irrational fear as these ropes are used quite often by climbers descending from Freeblast or by Jimmy Chin and other filmmakers to get to different vantage points.
Also, adding to my fear was the 50lb haul bag riding below my feet. Every step that I took into my stirrup attached to my ascender pulling on the frayed rope, I was adding 50 more pounds. I think if it had just been my weight, the fear would have been a lot less.
Every time I attached myself to an anchor, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Every time I had pulled out all the stretch in the old dynamic ropes and I had to transfer all of my hopes and dreams onto that rope, I had to overpower my fear…”F*$& F*$& F*$& F*$&”…”Guh, just go, the only way out of this is up!”. Six pitches up, I reach the Heart Ledge, and I finally am able to breathe normal again. There was a fixed line on the 5.10 up to the Mammoth Terraces, which I was happy I wouldn’t have to lead on the one static line we brought up.
Andrew jugging up the fixed line to the Pitch 4 Anchors
Andrew topping out pitch 5
After a final struggle to get my haul bag unstuck in the corner roof of the 5.10 I made it to the Mammoth Terraces and traverse the wide ledge to the anchors above Pitch 10 of Freeblast. Hans, Eric (Han’s employee), and Morten are just starting into pitch 6. I quickly rigged our static line to the anchor so Andrew could rappel down and shoot them on the exposed face before they were hidden by the Ear of Pitch 8 (or Half-Dollar). Andrew rappelled down to pitch 9, to shoot Hans coming over the edge of the “Half Dollar”.
Eric Griffith leading pitch 9, Hans Florine belaying, and Andrew Peterson jugging the static line
While Andrew was shooting them below where I could have a decent shot from the top, I took the opportunity to change. But I couldn’t resist getting naked and taking photos from ~ halfway up El Capitan.
Morten led the final pitch, and I captured video of him topping out. Andrew and I continued shooting video with the little remaining light before setting up our bivvies on the ledges. I took some opportunity to take photos in the fading light.
The weather on the ledges was perfect, good temps and very little wind. The stars came out in full force. I balanced my camera on the ledge to get this long exposure.
My sleeping quarters for the night
While on the ledges, we tried to stay connected to the rope via ferrata setup by Hans from the bolts on Mammoth Terraces. While sleeping, I remained attached to the via ferrata and clipped my sleeping bag to the fixed line to Heart Ledge, since it was conveniently located. I did not consider that someone might be climbing up from Heart Ledge early in the morning. I woke up to my sleeping bag getting tugged towards the ledge and a very sweaty Jimmy Chin, National Geographic photographer and film maker, popped up onto the ledge. “Oh, hey Jimmy,” I said super casually. “Go back to sleep! Go back to sleep,” he said as he stepped over me. It was like a weird Santa Claus moment.
We saw Alex Honnold climbing up pitch 6 on Freeblast (Freerider), and figured Jimmy was filming him on some unknown project. Little did we know that Alex was training for his now famous free solo a week and half later.
On the ground again, looking back up at where we spent the night
The majesty of El Capitan. Alex Honnold and crew are the little specs in the shaded area
Andrew really wanted to get his timelapse from Tunnel view and was electing to stay up all night working on it. I went with him, getting a few shots I really wanted.
El Cap and Half Dome from the other side of the Tunnel
Moving the tripod, happy little accidents
Sunrise over the Dome
Andrew getting one last shot before we left Yosemite
Yosemite was amazing! I definitely want to go back and climb more, though I haven’t made up my mind whether I want to do big walls or not. There is tons of climbing away from the crowds to be done. We had bluebird weather all week, which is amazing for climbing, but not ideal for photography. I wished that we’d had a bit of inclimate weather to give the valley a bit more drama.
After a great week exploring Yosemite, I stopped in Reno for a few days to spend time with my sister. I had been wanting to shoot a new truck in an off-road scenario for a while, and my sister’s friend, Chris, had a 2016 GMC Canyon that was perfect. We went to the Washoe Boulders above Carson City just before sunset and got exactly what I was looking for.
I was set on leaving Bend Monday night for Washington, but some friends convinced me to stay and go explore Smith Rock with them Tuesday morning. We hiked to the top and Sylvan and Michelle got to work setting up the slackline on established bolts.
Sylvan set up the line on the far side and trollied back to our side, taping the main line and the backup together every few feet. He then took his first steps out into space.
Slacklining 3 feet off of the ground is hard enough. Throw in the mindf$%k of walking on a one-inch piece of webbing 400 feet above the ground, and inconsistencies like wind causing the line act in unpredictable ways, and I don’t know how they do it. It takes an incredible amount of skill, concentration, and core strength. I’ve had several opportunities to get out on highlines, but I’ve always politely declined the invitations. When Sylvan and Michelle said I couldn’t leave till I got out on the line, I finally gave in. I felt surprisingly comfortable just sitting on the line, but when I got set to stand up, I couldn’t make my body do it. One barrier at a time, I guess.
This was my first time to Smith Rock, and I was leaving disappointed that I hadn’t gotten to climb any routes because of weather and timing. But right as I was about to leave to start my 7 hour drive to Everett, WA, two other highliners top out from climbing the Red Wall and said they’d give me a catch on this fun looking 5.11d on Easy’s Playhouse. I knew it was going to be hard because 40 foot 11d’s are usually harder than a lot of 5.12a’s. I was not wrong; stout but very fun overhanging climbing. I’d love to get back to Smith and get some solid climbing in.
I went to Reno for my birthday to see my sister and my mom, and mostly to ski! I got connected with a few great athletes, Kenzie Morris, Riley Bathurst, Brandon Craddock, and Kelsey Hyche, who showed me around. I spent Sunday skiing with my sister and nephew at the locals’ (and the Japanese tourists’) resort, Mt Rose – impressively fun and steep terrain!
I met up with Kenzie, Riley and Brandon at the Mt Rose Pass parking lot, and we went for a quick afternoon tour. It had been warm, it was definitely spring skiing conditions.
Kinzie smiling despite her new boots killing her.
Brandon taking the first crack at the cornice
Kinzie carving down a short spine
Brandon hiking the ridge line for the ‘enth time.
The backcountry was warm, the snow thick, and we got out a little too late in the day, but it was still fun. It was nice skinning at 9,000 ft feeling super fit (I’m used to skinning at 11,000 ft and dragging.) The ski out on the west side, towards lake Tahoe was just the right mixture of soft and flowy to be fun spring skiing. I hitch hiked back to Reno
I hitch hiked back to Reno, and got picked up by a couple of Bolivian Catholic missionaries. It was Easter, and it provided for some…interesting…conversation. I was glad when they pulled into the Starbucks parking lot, just after the man started talking about a prophet that he follows that’s predicting the end times is happening now.
That night it snowed over a foot in Reno. My sister drove me up to Sqauw Valley to meet up with Brandon Craddock and Kelsey Hyche. Squaw got somewhere between 4-6 inches, and made for some great turns, just enough to smooth over the sun crust of the past few days.
Brandon enjoying the white room
Brandon gave me the gift of my very own white room!
Brandon climbs some sketchy snow to get the shot.
Definitely worth the effort
At times, the snow was super heavy and made autofocus next to impossible.
Brandon stood at the top of the rockslide, contemplating. “You really don’t have to do this!” I yelled up to him. “I’m doing it!” came the reply.
“I hope you got that. I’m not doing it again.”
I spent my birthday hanging out with some awesome people and playing cards against humanity. If I have to be away from my friends for my birthday, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.
For day two, Kelsey wanted to show me around Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley’s sister resort.
Brandon getting sendy early.
Brandon had to go to work, so Kelsey took me on a hike to ski an area called Cartoonland. Pretty accurate name, if you think of a cartoon version of perfect mountains.
The sidecountry off of Alpine was some of my favorite, so many awesome zones. It kicks you out into a residential area where we had to carefully make our way back to the road, where a resort shuttle picked us up.
Squaw and Alpine quickly became two of my favorite resorts in the country. I’m definitely excited to go back next year! It was great working with Kelsey and Brandon inbounds, and getting shown all their secret stashes. I think I improved my skiing just by the necessity of keeping up with these two.
Last week I met Beth Kolakowski in the Mount Sanitas parking area before dawn, and she took me to her favorite trailrunning spot, on a hill that overlooks north Boulder. It was the perfect spot to shoot some running in beautiful morning light.
This buck was really intent on watching Beth run. “What is she running from?”
Tuesday I got out with Elizabeth Sasseman, unsuccessfully trying to avoid the wind, to do a shoot for her portfolio. Despite the wind we did get some great stuff. I just wanted to share one of those photos.
On another note, I bought two new domains today with the release of nearly 700 new domains including .dance, .winners, .cool, or .party. Go find the one that’s right for you. Or…try to buy up domains like nbc.news or google.search.
The last couple of months have been great for my adventure needs; I’ve gotten out and done something adventurous every weekend since the end of October! This summer I had been feeling, well, adventureless. I know, I went to Peru and had an epic, but besides that I don’t feel like I did anything really awesome. I got out and climbed around Colorado, and I did get to raft the South Platte river which lightened my spirit quite a bit, but all of that wasn’t enough. Spending two consecutive weekends on Long’s Peak was a great start to what I hope will continue to be an adventurous year.
Last weekend I got out for my dose of adventure, but both jaunts into the wild were less than ideal – I’d even say disappointing.
Besides climbing Dreamweaver at the beginning of November, with zero ice on the route, I haven’t gotten out to ice climb yet this year. Disappointing. Friday I finally got out with Matt Lloyd, excited to get into some good water ice in Vail, but we decided to go to Officer’s Gulch instead, mostly because it’s slightly closer. You can see the Shroud from I-70 and it usually looks quite fat. The approach is a ten minute walk on a flat bike path, about as easy as it gets in Colorado without rapping into the Ouray Ice Park.
The Shroud was not looking particularly fat as we approached. What is usually one very solid slab of blue water ice was nearly two separate pillars of dripping chandelier ice. Dripping. The temperature is flirting with 0ºF and the ice is dripping! Not a little but showering you as you climb, making it almost impossible to look up, soaking your climbing gloves making your fingers unusable, and finally freezing to every part of your outer shell making you an icy coat of armor. You start an ice screw into the chandelier ice and feel it sink hollowly in with little resistance, not inspiring confidence in it’s ability to catch you if you fall. Hanging off your tools with hands that are beyond numb, forearms unbelievably pumped, and feet slipping off the featureless ice you will yourself to continue. It’s easier to go up.
On top of the first vertical section snow gathers on the low angle shelf, your ice tools tear through a layer of unconsolidated ice that starts to avalanche on top of you. You push that aside and get a solid foot, relaxing a bit as you make your way to the second tier of vertical ice. This time, as you swing your ax into the ice it shatters all around, breaking off and exposing the granite beneath. You lightly pick at the ice to create a hole strong enough to hold you but not too deep, but your tool is dull from dry tooling, refusing to sink into the hole. You inch higher, kicking your crampons into columns of ice you could reach both hands around. Your last ice screw is full of ice and won’t start. It’s useless. You have to just push through to the anchors. As you lower back down what you just ascended you think to yourself, “man, I love ice climbing!”
Suffice to say, the conditions of the ice on the Shroud were less than optimal. Matt and I did a couple of laps each, I ran up a mixed route to practice dry tooling, and we headed home. Not a lot of climbing for the hour and half drive.
Lee pulls off the skins from his splitboard, preparing to ride down what looked like great snow
Sunday I head out with my buddy, Lee France, to check out Hoosier Pass for some backcountry skiing. We picked it because we could get there without getting on I-70, which is always choked with traffic on the weekend. Hoosier Pass is just south of Breckenridge on highway 9, and surrounded by 14ers, Lincoln and Quandary. It’s been snowing a decent amount this early season so we thought that in the least it would be skiable. We skin up the trail for two hours debating where to ski. Do we drop over the north side into the bowl or stay below the treeline and ski down to the reservoir on the south side? Lee is a cartographer for National Geographic, and he created a map showing the angles of the faces that would be susceptible to avalanches. The danger above the treeline was considerable so we elected to ski down to the reservoir in the trees. We take two turns in moderately good powder (woo…) and the mountain says, “That’s all you get!” We’re stopped. The snow on low angle will barely slide under my skis. We wallow over to the a steeper gully and every turn is greeted by the equivalent of nails raking down a chalk board: rocks. There’s little more than a couple of inches over some of them. At one point I just am sliding down a granite slab with less than an inch of snow under me. We’ve been beaten. Reluctantly I take my skis off. I believed longer than Lee, he was already stumbling down the mountain, falling in the scree, with his snowboard in his hands. The snow hides the inconsistencies of the route you choose, one step you’re on a rock, your knee against your chest, the next you sink to your waist and fall over. Every step comes with a curse under your breath. This. is. awful.
We put our skins on at the bottom and ready ourselves for another two hour trip back up the mountain to where we started. We’re on residential roads, passing empty, expensive summer cabins. A couple cars pass us. I wanted to stick my thumb out, but I didn’t. This is why we get our right? For the exercise? I think about how heavy my skis and boots are and how badly I want a much lighter Dynafit set up. Every step I take, with each foot I’m dragging an extra 12.5 pounds. I think about how many steps I’ve taken. How much does that mean I’ve lifted today? I don’t want to be – I want to be a machine – but I’m a baby when it comes to carrying weight uphill. I’ll blame it on the 26 years of living at the grand elevation of 900ft or less. I just keep repeating to myself, “this is training. I’m getting fit. This is training. How the hell am I supposed to keep up with the athletes I’m shooting?”
Not every adventure is grand, and not every one is a success. This day was definitely not a success. But on to the next! Also, pray for snow! Do the snow dance. Do something. I want amazeball snow. Maybe I shouldn’t expect that in Colorado.
I originally got the Scarpa Crux Approach Shoe for a lifestyle photoshoot with JJ Yosh in Eldorado State Park last spring, but they’ve turned into my go-to approach shoes.
The Crux is incredibly comfortable and quite hardy. I really got my first chance to put them to the test in Peru this summer. I climbed the almost 20,000 foot peak, Alpamayo, in July. The approach from the trailhead is nearly 20 miles including 9,000ft of elevation gain. The great majority of steps were taken in these shoes, and I hardly noticed them (hardly a bad thing) until I put on my 6000m mountaineering boots. Then, I just wanted to have the Crux’s back on my feet.
The footbed is comfortable the toe box is wide enough that my feet don’t feel squished at all (a problem I have with a lot of approach shoes). The laces, especially at the front of the shoe, allow a lot of control over the fit because of Kevlar reinforced webbing. The rubber is sticky and I feel secure on most rocks I smear up on the approach. Climbing 5.8 slab in them is slightly unnerving, but I didn’t slip once.
Coming off of Alpamayo I couldn’t wait to put on the Crux’s and for the hurried hike out, covering the 20 miles from the glacier camp back to the trail head in half a day, my feet only hurt because of my mountain boots. Even after all of that wear these are still the approach shoe I grab when heading out the door, and after eight months of heavy use they are still holding together (in comparison to a lot of approach shoes I see that really fall apart).
Check out some more of the shots from the lifestyle shoot with JJ.
The first pair of skis I ever bought myself were a pair of twin tipped fatty pow skis from Bluehouse. They were amazing; I’d never experienced a ski like it. That’s not saying a lot. Since I was three I grew up skiing on whatever hand-me-down came my way. I ripped on 195cm skinny skis from when I was tall enough to reach their tips. But, truly, these Bluehouse Maestro’s were FUN!! They were playful and responsive. They were great to jump on, fun to carve on groomers, and amazing in deep powder. I didn’t know it could get any better!
I did recognize one their weaknesses, but I had no idea of the extent: Crud. I got bounced around like a rag doll, precisely because of why I enjoyed them. They were too playful and couldn’t power through rough, choppy, end-of-the-day-on-a-Colorado-powder-day crud. Before last season I got a job selling skis at Boulder Ski Deals. Needless to say, I learned a LOT about skis I never knew before. I had never realized how soft my Maestro’s were until I compared to a lot of skis on the wall.
Hiking Alberta Peak at Wolf Creek Ski Area in Southern Colorado with my Cham 97’s on my back
Dynastar’s Cham 97’s are completely different. They’re incredibly stiff skis, especially compared to my Maestro’s. These are crud blasters that won’t get bounced around by any amount of the rough stuff. They have a unique shape, with a large sidecut, fat tip with lots of rocker, and a flat pin-tail…tail. At 97mm in the waist, 133mm/113mm in the tip/tail and 16m turn radius, these things rip. (Sorry for all the tech talk)
With the 97mm waist and 16mm turn radius, the Cham’s are easy to rollover on groomers. I cannot overstate this, they LOVE to turn! You can make the turn anything you want, from long GS turns to quick slaloms. You’ll feel stable putting it up on edge. The rockered tip gives you easy turn initiation and grips along the full ski. Though, be warned. This is not a beginner’s ski.
Where I’ve really found the Cham 97’s shine is in powder. I’ve never felt a ski handle like this in the deep stuff. If you were out with me when I discovered this you would have heard a lot of “THIS IS AMAZING!” and “WOO HOO!”‘s. The narrower pin-tail stays low in the snow, making it super easy to keep your tips pointed up in the powder, even with your weight more forward. The wide, rockered tips float effortlessly. Making turns in this position is incredibly easy; I felt like I was barely pushing the tails to make grand turns. Skiing the powder was…bouncy. It felt so light and easy to maneuver. In contrast, I always feel like I’m dragging my tails in my Maestro’s.
So, in other words, I love these skis; they are fantastic. But that does come with a caveat or two. Jumping can be uncomfortable. No, scratch that. Landing can be uncomfortable, especially on hardpack. Where the Maestro excels in being springy and playful, the Cham’s are stiff and unforgiving. The extent to which this matters depends on your skiing style and preference. Secondly, the Cham’s are heavy. Weighing in at over 10lbs for both skis, you will think twice about making these part of your backcountry set up. They do come in a High Mountain version that reduces the weight by 25% but sacrifices some of the inbounds performance (this only really matters if you plan on skiing them inbounds).
Not surprisingly, the Dynastar Cham 97 won Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year award in 2013. If you like to charge, ski the entire mountain, and want a ski that can do it all, I highly recommend this one.
“Want to go do some mixed climbing in the Park (RMNP) Saturday?”
“For sure! When do we leave?” I say.
I have a Halloween party at my house Friday night…I can make it work.
“Yeah! I can do that.”
When Tristan Hobson hit me up for an adventure I was psyched to get out with him. He had pretty grand plans for climbing Alexander’s Chimney, up through the Notch, and summiting Longs Peak. I was just down for an adventure.
I sleep for roughly an hour and half after the party before meeting up with Tristan at 3am in the dark parking lot. I groggily grab my bag and jump in his Toyota truck. The road to Longs from Lyons was still closed from the floods so we had to take the Peak to Peak Highway through Nederland. Just as we got on the Peak to Peak I remembered I’d forgotten something crucial.
“You’re going to hate me…I forgot my harness in my car.”
We sat for a little bit contemplating what to do, then drove the 30 minutes back to my car.
“It’s almost 4am. Do you still want to go out?”
“I’m up, I’m psyched to do something.”
Tristan didn’t think we had enough time to accomplish his original objective, so we decided to climb the Dreamweaver couloir on Mt Meeker, next to the Flying Buttress.
Almost an hour later than we had planned we pull in to a full parking lot, as if it were still summer instead of a cold October morning.
The five mile approach takes you from roughly 9,000 feet above sea level to 12,000 feet above sea level. We start in the dark with only the light of our headlamps leading us through the woods, but before long the sky starts to brighten with the first signs of the sun. The sunrise comes up over the city of Lyons, beyond a few peaks to the east, and filters through the trees just below tree line. The trees get much shorter and scragglier as we keep trudging up hill.
Finally the Diamond comes into view, soaking in the alpenglow.
From the Chasm Junction, Dreamweaver looks to be in quite nicely. Ahead of us, the Smear of Fear is in pretty fat, but our original objective, the Notch, looks pretty thin.
I’m glad we picked to go up on Meeker, since you don’t have to do the traverse across a not-quite-frozen Chasm lake.
We finally reach the base of the Dreamweaver Couloir. The snow up to it was a little soft, but still firm enough to walk comfortably. But as we get higher into the couloir the snow gets softer and softer.
I start crossing into a small snow field below the first crux of the route and the snow seems a bit unstable, so we make an anchor and I tie in, just in case. The crux itself looks pretty easy, so I don’t plan on doing it as a lead, but as a free solo. I keep the rope on me so I can belay Tristan across the snowfield after I’m above the crux.
“Do you want some cams and nuts?” Tristan asks before I take off. “Sure, I’ll use them to make an anchor at the top, just in case.”
In the constriction the snow just collapses beneath me, dropping me below my ice tools that are stuck in the rock. I manage to climb back up to my tools, just wallowing in the snow. I can’t count on any support for my feet from the snow at all. I pull myself up to my tools and press my crampons into nonexistent holds.
‹side note› One of the things I love about ice climbing is when you sink your tools you know without a shadow of a doubt, because of the combination of sight, sound, and feel, that they are going to stick and be able to support your weight. Dry tooling (using your ice tools on dry rock), on the other hand, is incredibly unstable. Never does a placement feel 100% secure; anything could pop at any moment. You pull up praying that each tool holds long enough for you to place the next one. Your crampon-ed feet scrape their way up the rock face, alway potentially slipping. You would give anything to be using the sticky rubber of rock climbing shoes that will stick on the smallest pebble. ‹/side note›
With my feet pressuring off opposite sides of the constriction and my tools finding whatever small crack to pull on I inch my way up, miraculously finding a frozen fixed sling left by someone else for protection. I quickly clip in, incredibly thankful to have some form of protection on this unexpectedly hard climb. Though, I was only using one 7.8mm rope that are meant to be used in pairs. The route had looked easy so because snow filled up the constriction, but now the snow offered absolutely no assistance in my climb and was more of an enemy of forward movement. With every move I had to use one tool to clear off the foot of powder that hid the rock below. Each time I reached above another rock I tried desperately to stick my tool blindly into what lay beneath the snow, mostly to no avail. I would either hit featureless slab and my tool would just scrape down or small loose rocks. The only firm holds I had were generally on my left in a small crack system. And my feet felt as if they were dangling helplessly below me.
As I cleared off more of the powder I uncover two more slings spaced out every ten feet or so, each time temporarily boosting my confidence. I ran out the pitch a ways before coming to the last bit of the crux section. I find a small crack that I’m able to fit a nut into and clip in. I pull on it, and it feels to be quite secure. Two moves later I bump the stem of the nut with my knee and the draw + nut go zipping down the rope. But I can see the relief! Only one more hard move till the constriction opens up and I can stand up on slightly lower angle snow. Instead of wasting more time trying to find another placement I pull over the last bulge and make an anchor. I had unintentionally lead my first “mixed” pitch, and it was scary as hell.
Tristan blindly searches through the snow for a purchase on the last bulge of the first crux.
Wallowing in waist deep powder the ice tools do little more than put useless holes in the snow.
Climbing on lower angle, more featured rock is way easier than wallowing in snow and/or climbing vertical rock with no feet.
The last crux section had much better feet and tool placement options.
We free soloed the rest of the route, trying to avoid wallowing in the powder as much as possible. Thankfully there was lower angle rock with lots of features on the right side of the couloir. The last crux of the lower have of Dreamweaver went much more smoothly than the first. I was able to use the constriction more like a chimney and pressure both feet off of the opposing walls and there were many more solid tool placements for both hands.
We reached the top of the buttress, the end of the first half of Dreamweaver. The second half that takes you close to the summit of Meeker looked to be more of the same powdered mess that we just had come up, and it was getting late in the day so we decided to cut the climb short. We ate some food then down climbed to the Dark Star couloir which provided us an easier way down.
When we reached the basin floor my body decides it was time to shut down. It doesn’t care that I have a five mile hike ahead of me. Maybe for epics on Longs I should get more than an hour and half of sleep. I’ll keep that in mind for next time. Besides terrible climbing conditions, it was an incredible day adventuring. You always forget the pain and remember the awesome.
At the beginning of this year I had a ton of Southwest Airlines Frequent Flyer Miles from my Southwest Airlines credit card. I found that I could take trips to Salt Lake City for almost nothing so I started planning to go back and shoot some skiing. After a failed attempt to set up photo shoots in Utah in February, I rescheduled my trip for mid-March with much better success.
I have to give props to Southwest Airlines here. I cancelled my flight in February less than 24 hours before departure and my phone conversation went like this:
Me: “I need to cancel my flight to Salt Lake City for tomorrow.”
Customer Service: “Ok, I will add your points back to your account. Have a great day.”
Easiest interaction with customer service ever. Try doing that with United….
I met up with my buddy, Nick Rothenbush, at Snowbird and went out exploring for the day. The snow conditions were not great, but we founds some nice cliff lines. Pretty much in general the snow was not great. The week before the Wasatch had been hit with a pretty good storm, but the week I decided to come out the highs were in the 60’s everyday. So instead of getting killer pow shots I concentrated on getting some big airs.
Brighton connected me with Treyson Allen, a snowboarder based in SLC. He immediately takes me on a hike to a bowl below Pioneer Ridge, which has endless possibilities on a powder day. But we found some really esthetic lines.
Treyson Allen dropping in.
The beautiful view from Preston Peak
Trying to get a good slash.
Two high school shredders, Walter Shearon & PJ Baymiller, meet me after they get out of school early. They take me all over the mountains, trying to find any hidden stashes. It’s amazing how much young guys can bounce on terrible snow. It makes me feel old that my knees can’t take it anymore. They would get some big air and land on the cruddiest crud like it was 2 feet of pow.
There were a few stashes of fresh
Kyle Sul is a freeskier and ski base jumper. He spends his summers base jumping in Norway. He agreed to come out and see what we could get at Snowbird. Despite a subpar morning, the afternoon thaw made the snow soft enough for some great shots.
We meet up with Chris Crane and Niels Omana, friends of Treyson Allen. They are psyched to get some big air.
Chris Crane getting it clean
Niels Omana getting the grab
Kyle Sul taking off
I had a great week in Salt Lake City, but it makes me wish that Snowbird and Brighton were in my back yard. I’m loving living in Boulder, but…the access to skiing is not the greatest and the skiing is not the best. I found out first hand recently that the snowpack in the Colorado backcountry is unstable.
It was great working with all the athletes. They really put it on the line for me. I’m psyched to shoot a lot more skiing and snowboarding next season. ANNDD hopefully we have a much better snow year next season.
Last week it finally snowed in the Front Range. We’ve been looking at bare mountains for most of the winter, sourly remembering last year’s terrible snow cover. We keep doing the snow dance and praying to the snow gods, but mostly to know avail. We hear about Utah, Washington, and even Southern Colorado getting pounded by beautifully large storms, but nothing seems to come our way. But Wednesday and Thursday brought a decent amount of snow.
My buddy Leigh is out visiting to snowboard, so thursday I decided to snowboard with him and Thomas Moore. I usually ski, and I didn’t really pay attention to the snow report, so I was very unprepared for the amount of powder at Keystone. I actually hadn’t been on a snowboard in over 5 years, but it came back quite easily, though I had never been in powder before. Leigh, Tom and I stuck mainly to the woods, trying to make the most of the fresh.
I really want to do more skiing and snowboarding photography, but I always dread bringing my full camera set up with me, mostly because of the weight. I shot all of these with my point and shoot, Canon Powershot G10. I really want to find a nice mirrorless camera to fill in the gap, something that is super light weight and can easily sit inside my jacket, but has high enough quality that people want to buy the photos. AND usability. The G10 shoots painfully slow. On burst mode it takes 1 photo every 1.5 seconds. The new Sony Alpha NEX-7 I’m looking at shoots 10 frames per second and has a shutter lag of only .02 seconds (not even mentioning the list of other great features it has). Sorry, I got distracted.
Late in the day the weather toyed with being Bluebird, but it continued to snow all morning long. Over the previous 24 hours there was maybe 8″ of fresh snow which was awesome in the trees. Tom and I decide to hike over to the South Bowl, where apparently a ton of snow from elsewhere on the mountain was getting blown. I got stuck.
Tom sitting waist deep in fresh powder.
I got really stuck. So stuck on my snowboard that I could not move without removing the snowboard and crawling inch by inch through the powder till I got to a slope that was steep enough that gravity could overcome the resistance of the snow. I was kicking myself for not bringing my skis. Maneuvering into place to get a shot was more difficult. Enjoying the abundance of snow was more difficult. I was exhausted at the end of the day.
Wearing glasses has always made wearing ski goggles uncomfortable for me. I have lots of problems with fogging and my face hurts from having the my glasses squeezed against my temples all day. When I was looking for goggles this year I looked at several different OTG (Over The Glasses) models, but most of them look like they haven’t been updated since the late 1970’s. When I found out that the Oakley Canopy, while extremely stylish, also were made to be OTG I was psyched. I wouldn’t have to look like a grandpa this year. The Canopy is a new addition to Oakley’s line of great goggles this year.
I do have to say that I never really imagined myself wearing Oakleys; I’ve always associated the brand with a certain type of person, one that I would like to think I am not. But maybe that applies more to the sunglasses than ski goggles. I still can’t really imagine spending $160 on a pair of sunglasses that I would lose or sit on.
But these goggles are by far the most comfortable goggles I’ve ever worn, but perhaps that’s not saying a whole lot. I’ve never really invested good money in goggles, usually going for the cheapest I could find. For years I wore a kids goggle I found for $15 at a ski resort. I have no clue how I got my glasses in side them. And I thought fogging was just something you had to live with. Funny how technology solves a multitude of problems.
The Oakley Canopy goggle is full of great technologies designed to enhance the user’s experience. The oversized goggle’s frame is light, comfortable, and low profile maximizing the space for the lens. It fits great around the nose, and the triple layer foam and fleece lining that keep contact with the face is comfortable all day long. Hidden spaces in the plastic of lens allow your prescription glasses to fit in the goggle without putting pressure on your temples. I’m loving being comfortable in them. The shape of the goggle and the articulating outriggers fit easily with most helmets as well (Oakley says their ventilation works better with Smith brand helmets than Smith’s own goggles).
The real technologies are in the lens. The dual lens keeps the cold air on the outside and the warm air on the inside which reduces the chance for condensation and fog. In the chance that there is fogging, the “F3 Anti-Fog” coating absorbs the moisture on the lens. Really the only problems I had with fogging were on my own glasses and as soon as I got moving the goggles brought in enough cool air to eliminate it. I should figure out a fix to my glasses fogging…
Oakley’s HD Optics keep the picture extra sharp and keeping the thickest point of the lens in the center eliminates any distortions you’d normally get with a lens this big. Oh yeah…this lens is BIG. You won’t miss any tree or mogul unless you are blinking.
I’m psyched to be wearing these Oakleys this year.
I know I am quite a bit late in posting this, but better late than never, right?
The last weekend in May I went to the Teva Mountain Games in Vail. The town of Vail transforms into a sports mecca with events held all over the streets (and rivers); stupidly fit (or beautifully fit) people are everywhere. Athletes from all over the country come to compete in strenuous competitions for little more than recognition and well, competition.
It takes me a bit to get situated, the layout of the games is pretty spread out. To get from the climbing to the Kayaking areas is quite a hike.
The cross country mountain bike races take off and I wonder up the mountain to find a great vantage to shoot. The riders do a few laps around the course gaining and losing thousands of feet of vertical.
One of the difficult things about the Mountain games is that multiple events are going at the same time. It is impossible to be at all of them. I leave the cross country mountain bike race and wonder through town to find these bikers practicing for their race through the streets. Moments after this shot the sky let loose, drowning out many of the events for a couple of hours.
The climbing area is under a protected stage and so the semi-finals continue. Here, Alex Puccio sends her problem that gets her to the finals.
The 10k trail run at 9,000ft somehow went an extra mile. Runners were exhausted and understandably so. I was exhausted from hiking up the mountain to stand in one place for an hour photographing the crazy people as they ran past me. Doing anything at elevation is harder, and it was impressive seeing so many people push themselves to their limits. But the course was harder than many expected.
This year the water was so low in the creek that they had to “create” rapids and try to control the flow of the creek. But people still had fun. In this sport called Kayak Cross, which is a kayak race mixed with American Gladiators, competitors race each other down the river and battle with “8 Ball” kayakers ro reach the finish. Even without quality rapids, this is a lot of fun to watch. I’d imagine it would be a lot of fun to participate in until you get a bow of a kayak in your teeth.
This guy showed the crowd the proper way to float down a river if you ever left your boat.
The two-man rafts had to race both the clock and another team, going around obstacles to reach the end.
One of the many highlights of the Teva Mountain Games was the Gibbon Games, a slackline trick competition. Competitors bounced, flipped, stalled and twisted their way to pleasing the judges and the cheering crowd. It’s quite impressive to see people do flips on a two inch slackline that us normal ones can’t do on solid ground. One of the best tricksters in the world is 14 yr old Alex Mason from California. He might be a little small for his age, but knows how to command a crowd. And a slackline.
You might recognize this bunch of curly hair, especially if you imagine the dude in a Toga. This is Andy Lewis, aka Sketchy Andy, who performed alongside Madonna in the Superbowl.
Mike Payton, from Colorado, is ranked #4 in the world and has won several world championships.
FiveTen is a huge supporter of the sport and makes shoes specifically for it.
The Games were a blast. Plenty of parties, plenty of music and entertainment, and plenty of shwag. And I got to see a lot of my friends compete and can’t wait to go back to the Winter Games in February.
I’m trying to catch up on posts…I am WAAAYY behind. I have a lot of content to share. Till then.