Zion

Zion  National Park was a bit of a black hole in my research before we left.  I hadn’t researched any hikes or specific things I wanted to do there.  Suz had researched a bike trip west of Zion and I had seen a few pictures but they hadn’t left much of an impression on me.  We camped at the campground in the middle of the town of Springdale which serves the park in the same way as Banff townsite.  We found the similarities very interesting as Bow Valley locals now turned tourists.  It gave us some insight into why Banff townsite is so popular and what Banff does right.  Anyway, the campground was dreadful by my standards.  Very few campgrounds are to my liking having been spoiled by a lifetime of isolated, backcountry camping.  So it’s a good thing Zion is so beautiful that even camping cheek by jowl didn’t put a damper on things!

The hike we did was up to Angel’s Landing.  It’s the popular must do, like seeing the Eiffel Tower.  Probably not the best thing to do in Paris but you’d feel weird if you didn’t see it. Angel’s Landing is an oddity.  It’s basically a beautiful and easy path made to take people with no experience or skills into a place they have no business being.

Below:  The amazing engineering of the Angel’s Landing path built in the 1920s.  One of the few paths I thought was picture worthy unto itself!

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Above:  The first lookout atop Angel’s Landing.  The most amazing feature of Zion is the scale. Many of the other places in Utah allow you to climb in and around and really get to know the land.  Zion is about human-dwarfing scale that makes you insignificant.  Above the lookout in this picture is a fin that angles up very steeply with thousands of feet dropping down just a few feet on each side of you.  A fixed cable prevents people from falling to their death though a half dozen have died here in the last few years.  If I was presented with an arete like this back home, we would climb one at a time with experienced partners.  But here, people who looked more at home in a mall were all climbing bumper to bumper up this precipice in one giant accident waiting to happen.  Suz was too curious and ventured up a bit but I wanted nothing to do with it, too worried some inexperienced person was going to slip and take me out with them.DSCN8809

Above: Suz has enough and comes back down.  In the end, we were grateful for the path as the lookout really was spectacular.  A similar problem exists here at home.  Around the same time we were in Angel’s Landing, several tourists were snowshoeing at Lake Louise and found an easy path up into an avalanche path and were killed when they triggered the slope.  The wisdom of making it easy for people with no skills to get into dangerous places seems questionable to me.  As Alan Kane says, “if you don’t know what your mountain skills are, maybe you don’t have any.”  I  insist that people must be respnsible for their actions, but I also feel that people with knowledge have a responsibility to do their best to educate the ignorant of  dangers.  It seems like the current Parks information delivery assumes a knowledge level that is too high.  Anyway, enough park policy!

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Above:  As always, scale is hard to judge here but you’re looking at 3000 feet of vertical from top to bottom.  Dramatic is the theme of Zion.DSCN8851

Above:  Back down in the main canyon, we wandered up the Virgin River as it slices through the soft sandstone.  Again, it seems odd to have running water around after spending so much time in waterless canyons, gulches and deserts.DSCN8855

Above:  Setting sun casts some big shadows across a big landscape.  We saw plenty of photographers hauling big cameras and cumbersome tripods around here and for good reason.  We saw some photos in a gallery in nearby Springdale that were simply mind-blowing.

Zion is amazing but the easy access and many tourists had us craving to experience it in solitude.  Hiking guidebook gurus and Canmore elusives, the Copelands, profoundly opined that “Mountains speak.  Canyons listen.”  That certainly seems true to me now.  Suz hit upon the thought of hiring a guide and learning canyoneering.  After our day in the main Zion canyon, we were primed to seek out the hidden realms of Zion.

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Utah part4 Bryce

We set the tent up at Calf Creek, a lovely canyon outside Bryce National Park.  Bryce is quite a bit higher in elevation and much colder too.  We woke up with ice on our sleeping bags and frost on our toques. The thermometer read minus eight.

Not much I can say about Bryce.  The place really doesn’t make any sense.  Nothing could be that pink, white and tangerine coloured.  And yet, there it is.  Impossible shapes and colours that had us hiking around saying “wow” in an exasperated way.  DSCN8690

Above:  View from just below the rim of the canyon at the Sunset Point trailhead.  This section is called, “Silent City.”  We hiked the Queen’s Garden/Navaho/Peekabo trail system that descends into the canyon and winds through the lion’s share of the canyon.DSCN8707

Above:  Descending into the spires.  The place doesn’t seem like it should have such lovely pine trees everywhere but this is due to its high elevation and increased moisture.DSCN8732

Above: The white layers create an illuminating effect in the bordering layers of rock.

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Above:  Bryce has a distinctly architectural quality to it.  Everything looks like a castle or a tower or a wall.  The Paiute Indians who lived near here had a legend that the people who used to live here displeased coyote and were turned to stone.  To my eye it seemed like a city built upon the ruins of another city built upon another city.  

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Above:  “Queen’s Garden”DSCN8754

 

Above:  The “Wall of Windows”   The pinks and whites made this massive fortification look carved out of soap.  The eroded talus slopes make smooth fades of colour and form in contrast to the sharp castellated towers.  This fortress has it all; double drawbridges, windows, parapets, turrets, buttresses, crenelations and barbicans.  I don’t think the National Parks Service will let me fix the place up though.  (See castle terms here.)

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Above:  Sun starting to dip down and cast interesting shadows.  I pulled these 8 pictures pretty much at random from the hundreds I took that day.  Everywhere you wander is amazing and different.  The hike wasn’t physically challenging but we were exhausted after a day of this place.  More of an exhaustion of awe and wonder.  Suz joked about getting to California and sitting on the beach with a blindfold  to give our eyes a rest!

I’ll probably post a few dozen more pictures in an online album but at the moment I find it hard to whittle the selection down to something manageable.

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Utah part3 Westward

Our next bike adventure was up the infamous “Amasaback,” A steep and narrow grind up a few thousand feet of vertical starting from the Colorado River and finishing atop a huge mesa overlooking Canyonlands National Park.Screen shot 2014-04-21 at 11.25.03 PM

Above: Another sign designed to scare you off.  The trail winds up over Suz’s head if you can believe it.IMG_1675

Above:  Suz, at the top of some hard won elevation, enjoys the view a couple thousand feet down.  Scale up here is pretty mind numbing as you are looking 20km to the other side of the canyon!  Needless to say, the ride down was pretty exciting and a bit white knuckley.  Didn’t get any downhill shots and was wishing I had a bike-mounted camera.

Next up was a hike in to Corona Arch, a few kms up from the Colorado River.  Below, Suz climbs up a short, bolted cable section that protects you up a series of cliffs. DSCN8368

 

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Above:  Suz in yellow gives a sense of scale to the alien landscape.  This arch is really massive and in a beautiful setting.  The next day we did some quick hikes in Canyonland National Park just west of Moab.  Click the picture below for a better look. The spot in the photo below is at Islands in the Sky, Utah.  My vote for most evocatively named area ever.

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You can stare at it for an hour and it still doesn’t make sense.  For the curious, there is 8800 vertical feet from the top of the mountain to the Colorado River deep in the canyon!  To satisfy my geological curiosity, we hiked into upheaval dome, a geological mystery.  An odd place with a strange beauty.

One of the places we had researched and wanted to explore was Goblin Valley in the San Raphael mountains on the way to Capital Reef National Park.  It didn’t disappoint and being off the beaten path, we had the place to ourselves.DSCN8471

 

Above:  The rocks in Goblin Valley look as though a fortress and defending army have been turned to stone, then melted, then blasted by centuries of desert sand.  IMG_1702

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Above:  Wandering through the maze of rock blobs.  Click on pics for expanded views.  I mentioned before how Utah’s landscapes appear to have been made by giants.  This place seemed like it was built by giants and destroyed by dragon fire.  It’s also possible that if you wander through here long enough, you will find a bus-sized blob that looks exactly like your own nose.  We spent the afternoon but couldn’t find ours so I can’t verify that.

We continued on our way west into Capital Reef National Park, setting up our tent in Fruita, Utah, population a dozen plus 3 horses.  I’ve had the tent set up in some nice places, but this was ridiculous.  Our camp was in an orchard with white apples blossoms in contrast to the pink, orange and red cliffs, with Fruita’s three horses grazing in the corral next door.DSCN8490

Above:  The view from our tent vestibule!  Fruita is an old Mormon colony now a historical site.  What’s better than camping in a grassy orchard? The farmhouse just out of frame sold us some homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast in the morning!  I think I could live in our 6×4 tent on that spot for a few decades!DSCN8527

Above:  Cottonwood trees stealing water from Fruita’s creek just down from our tent.  The spring buds gave a hoar-frosted look to them.  Amazing contrast with the late sun striking the rocks.  No colour adjustment was done to this picture.  The fact that the creek has running water in it makes this valley unique in southern Utah where most creeks are dry until rain events.  The backroads don’t even build bridges, they merely pave the road right through the creekbeds making them impassable when it rains.  It does prevent them from having the flash floods destroy them a few times a year.

In Capital Reef, our objective was to climb Navaho Knob, a 3000 foot vertical climb to gain a view of the “Waterpocket Fold” and the surrounding area.

DSCN8542Above:  After some steady climbing, the route traces the edge of this cliff for almost a kilometer before the final climb on a Navaho Sandstone tower.  From the top we could clearly see Mt Peale near Moab, a distance of over 180kms!  I keep a strange database at home of what you can see from where in the Rockies.  This one took the cake.

Another excursion we made was into Grand Wash canyon.  We were just exploring and in the canyon there was a sign for “The Tanks.”  It seemed as good a thing as anything and the timing was about right.  Not knowing what the tanks was supposed to be, I had it in my head that it was a big rock feature.  After climbing up a side canyon following some rock cairns, the tanks turned out to be water tanks.  Deeply carved out pools that would hold water from the storms.  I learned later that once upon a time, donkey trains would come up here for water.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also hid out in these canyons and apparently came here for water.  Certainly, if you had never been here before, you would never stumble upon it by chance given the convoluted terrain.DSCN8510

 

Capital Reef also gave us a great light show.  We climbed up to the aptly named Sunset Point to take in the show.DSCN8614

Above: Perfect light on Navaho Knob, the previous day’s climb.

At this point, our senses were getting overdosed and we would be going to Bryce and Zion in the coming days.  Thanks to Fruita Valley for raising the bar on perfect tent spots and giving me two great sleeps in the bargin!

 

 

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Utah part2

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We woke up from our desert campsite ready to tackle the legendary slickrock trail.  The trail started just a few meters from the tent so we slowly unthawed ourselves and made some coffee and porridge on the camp stove.  The trailhead has pretty imposing signage just in case you still had any confidence left after thinking about this trail for the last month!

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Above:  You can see the “bread-crumb” paint trail showing the way back to the road.  You also get a good look at the undulating slickrock.

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Above:  Suz bails on a climb and pushes the final wall.  Going down steep grades like this tests the skills as there are many bumps, trenches and dips to trip you up.IMG_1642

Above:  A good look at the slickrock as I cautiously approach the rim of a massive canyon.  Below:  The trail in places got a little too close to the lip this canyon for my taste.  Gorgeous to look at while standing still but not to be flying headlong at on a bike.

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This trail’s worldwide reputation seems well-earned. It seems all like something out of a dream.  After scaring ourselves sufficiently, we spent the late afternoon hiking in “Devil’s Garden” on the north end of Arches National Park.

The Devil’s Garden is a place where the sandstone layers have been tilted vertical allowing thin weak layers to erode forming massive fins across the landscape.  Mixed in are towers and blobs of rock all painted a wild orange.  What makes it even more incredible is the junipers, pinyons and cacti scattered about as though placed by a master gardener.  Every square inch your eye falls on is absolutely amazing.  I took several hundred pictures while hiking in and around the fantastic rock forms.  Every turn is a surprise.  The other thing I liked about it was the scale was very human.  Often around here you can find yourself looking at massive walls of uncomprehendable size, or gargantuan volumes of space.  In the Devil’s Garden, you can climb up around and over things and really get to know the land a bit.

Below: Fighting a strong desert wind, Suz and I cross a fin on our way to finding a dozen or so famous landforms. From someone who traverses unknown terrain by map for a living and for recreation, I can tell you that getting lost here is easier than saying “Wow!”

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Above:  “Double Arch” hidden in a landscape imagined by Jules Verne.  DSCN8265

Above: An exploratory scramble.  Suz wanted to have lunch under one of these but for some reason, I found it hard to linger under these massive stone doorways.  I took some ribbing for this but later found out that one of these massive arches collapsed just a few years ago in the night.  My report did little to keep her from poking fun at my spidey-sense.DSCN8184

Above:  “Pine Tree Arch” seems ready to exfoliate a few thousand tons of rock but Suz posed for a picture anyway.DSCN8240

Above: “Navaho Arch”  I loved this spot which was like the ruin of an ancient cathedral whose roof had partially collapsed.  The eroding sandstone leaves a floor of perfect beach sand raked smooth by the wind.DSCN8300

Above: “Private Arch” on our way back through the maze of fins and slots.DSCN8320

Above: climbing over some fins on our way back to the road…Below: There are so many distinct places that seem completely separate and isolated from everything else.  Like walking through an IKEA store with its showrooms of living rooms and bedrooms.  This spot below was its own unique place complete with its own little garden, lighting, loft, patio and yard.  Yet walk 50 yards and it is all hidden, replaced by some other totally different sights and forms.  Click on the pictures for a better view.IMG_1654

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Above:  Hope the car is through here!  Another incredible day!  DSCN8199Above:  We watched the sun set on “Landscape Arch”  the longest arch span at 300 feet and impossibly slender.  After two long days of hiking and biking, we opted to check into a motel for a much-needed shower.  We had been through a bit of a sandstorm in the afternoon that the motel merchants must have colluded in delivering.  So we ate a late supper and retired to the town of Moab.

 

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Utah part1

We just returned from the Colorado Plateau area of southern Utah.  Having been very fortunate to see many natural wonders on this earth, it’s no idle remark to call this place one of the most incredible I have ever seen.  We live in a beautiful place that people come from all over the earth to visit, yet Utah blew my mind. We ended up driving down  and taking our high performance mountain bikes with us.  The Moab region is the center of the universe for mountain biking.  The “Slickrock Trail” is the apex of what can be truly called epic mountain biking.  Driving also allowed us to bring all our camping gear so we could camp out to cut costs.DSCN7990Above: After 18 hours of driving and setting up a tent in the dark, we awoke to this vista.  Sunrise and sunset bring out the reds in the rock to a point that the world no longer seems real. We decided to start with an easier biking trail to get our legs under us.  We drove north to a place called Klondike Bluffs where we could get some easier slickrock experience.  Slickrock is a sandstone rock that forms a smooth but undulating pavement as though a storm at sea were suddenly frozen.  It is very “sticky” under your tires unlike dirt which loses traction on steep hills.  The sticky rock allows you to climb crazy steep pitches at all kinds of angles that make your brain hurt when your eyes tell you it should be impossible.  Your limitation is no longer friction but your own strength.IMG_1627 Above: Suz and I start up the trail.  Trails out on these vast rock plateaus are marked with paint applied right to the rock.  The open rock allows you to pick your line in any whimsical way that suits your ability and mood.  The usual confines of a single track mountain bike trail down a mountain were suddenly lifted allowing total freedom, limited only by your ability and risk tolerance.

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Above: Not a great pic of Suz but you can see the slickrock with its undulating waves, water-worn trenches, and sculpted surface.  The shrubs are all growing in carved out bowls in the rock.  This rock  formed from massive sand dunes along the once gigantic inland sea that stretched across N America.  The other big difference riding here is that if you fall, you are falling on rock.  There’s a pretty steady stream of broken collar bones, wrists, and legs coming out of this place.  DSCN8010

Above: After a lengthy climb, we reached the end of the trail where we left our bikes and scrambled up the rocky bluffs to a lookout.  The rock formations look merely imagined they are so foreign.  I was in awe with the opportunities to explore the millions of pillars, towers, canyons, slots, cliffs, canyons, ridges, spines and hidden corners and secret places.  We scrambled back to our bikes after getting our fill of surreal views and enjoyed a fast ride downhill back on the slickrock.

Utah is a place to carefully plan your sunrise and sunsets as the light is so fantastic.  For the evening light we went to Arches National Park and did a few quick hikes.

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Above: “Park Avenue” in Arches, Utah.  See close up below.DSCN8026

Above: For scale, those rock shards are 500 feet tall and impossibly thin.  Keen eyes will recognize this spot as the opening shot of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.vlcsnap-15519904

Keeping with the Indy theme, we also saw “Double Arch” which is also in the opening scene. IndianaJonesLastCrusade Though unlike the movie, I discovered there is in fact no cave to be found there. Below is a more distant view (see people for scale!) Strangely, no one was running down the rocks recreating the opening scene for their own amusement.

 

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Above: Centre of panorama is a feature known as “The Three Gossips.”  These are a few hundred feet tall and certainly well named.

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Above:  “Balanced Rock”  This 120 foot high rock seems like it has been poorly glued to its foundation by a child giant.  Unlike most of nature, the entire Utah landscape  has a distinctly anthropomorphic quality to it.  Every wall looks like its been sculpted, every odd formation bears the hallmark of intention.  The dry and clean desert air gives a clarity to everything.

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Above: Suz tries to take in “Turret Arch” one of over 2,000 arches throughout this area.

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Above:  One of the thousands of narrow canyons.  The eroding sandstone makes a wonderful beach floor to many canyons.  The colour of the rock is so warm and inviting that I found it not confining or claustrophobic considering how narrow they get.  At the end of this canyon was “Sand Arch” (below) and as the light got low on the horizon, it positively glowed.DSCN8098

 

To end the day, we hiked up Cash Creek to gain a reverse view of the iconic “Delicate Arch.”  This arch is the unofficial symbol of Utah as it adorns their license plates and everything else you can imagine. DSCN8120 For scale there are some people in the top right corner.  In my never ending picture taking, I often was telling Suz to get in the photo for scale.  She was starting to feel a bit like a ruler till she realized the being my “ruler” had some good literal possibilities as well.DSCN8137

Above:  Driving back to our tent up on the Sandflat area above Moab.  A long day nearly exhausting our senses.  Sleeping in the tent gave us a keen appreciation of just how cold it gets in the desert.  We were in our winter parkas before our flashlights got turned on!

 

 

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Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight…

Just returned exhausted from a climbing trip on the Wapta Icefields.  We gave ourselves three days up there to hopefully get some good weather and get some summits.  Mt Olive, Mt Nick, Mt Gordon and Mt Rhondda would be our ideal list if the weather was good.  Joining me was my usual trip partner Randy and an old friend of his Toby, an experienced  mountaineer from the UK.

The weather did not look promising but I was excited enough as I left bright and early at 6am.  We chatted in the car a bit on the way.  Toby is in the RAF and on leave, so he has a certain military bearing about him and on first impression possessed a quiet, calm English manner.  I  wanted to get on the same page for any possible emergency response so we discussed crevasses rescue techniques.

We pulled the car off the Icefields Parkway and got suited up.  The winds usually funnel off the icefields here presenting you with an icy wall for a greeting.  But for the first time it wasn’t bitterly cold which I took as a good omen.  Day one’s objective was to haul our supplies up to the hut on the glacier then try for a quick climb up either Olive or Nick.

Heavy snow had been falling lately and there was no trail leading up to the hut as there often is.  Breaking trail always sucks energy out of you.  Apart from the extra physical energy it takes to climb through calf deep snow uphill all day with a big pack, there is a mental fatigue as well.  Following a trail allows your mind to drift a bit.  Figuring out where to go is not the hardest task in easy terrain but it draws energy from you continuously.  We shared the task of leading through the snow.  The person leading would go until they were exhausted then fall in behind for the next person to lead.  Hopefully you would be somewhat recovered by the time it was turn to lead again.  The big challenge was the final headwall before the hut.  I was secretly thinking how hard it would be and how much I wanted to break trail over it to see how my cycling training was paying off.

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Above:  I started a turn just before the headwall and managed to climb the whole steep pitch through knee-deep snow.  I thanked my spin classes and gasped for air at 8000 feet. Here Toby (yellow pants) and Randy make their way up following my trail in the deep snow.

Many people report that the hut at the foot of the Bow Glacier has some energy sucking force in it.  Both Randy and I were familiar with this and intended to try not to spend any time in the hut.  It’s not supernatural or anything it’s just that there is usually a blizzard out and the hut is out of the wind and calm and once inside, it becomes difficult to face the environment again.  We therefore rushed to ditch sleeping bags, food, extra clothes and such in the hut and get out glacier and climbing gear.  After 5 minutes we were in our climbing harnesses and out the door with weather getting worse.

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Above L/R: Toby and Randy on our way up the glacier to make an attempt on Mt St Nick in the background.

As we climbed up the glacier, the snow depth increased and with the combined altitude, slope steepness and wind, our pace dropped down.  I found myself counting my steps and noticed that Randy was giving up lead after exactly 80 steps down from 100 and then from there down to 50.  He must have been counting as well.  I was by now fighting to lead for 40 steps before keeling over and letting the next in line bash up the snow for as long as they could.  Continuous probing of the snow depth was telling us it was time to put rope on as we were leaving a deposition zone where the crevasses were well bridged.

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Above:  With weather getting worse, the latest probe tells us to get out the rope and tie in.  You can see the collapsible 3m graduated probe in right of picture we use for measuring snow depth on the glacier.  Below:  Toby ties in and gets his equipment organized.Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 6.48.32 PM

The rope complicates our trailbreaking system.  It becomes impossible for the middle person to take their turn leading without everyone getting off rope and tieing in at a different position.  The rope makes quick turns at lead difficult.  Rope travel is slow to begin with since you must always keep the correct tension on the rope.  If you fell through the snow into a crevasse, the more slack between you will increase your fall force.

As the weather got worse for climbing, we could at least be happy knowing we would be enjoying an amazing ski through perfect powder on the way down to the hut.  Below:  I’m a bit disappointed in the weather.  Between my climbing harness, pack and avi beacon, I seemed to be quite tied up!Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 10.00.28 PM

Randy and I like to make a habit of thinking out loud in the backcountry.  We find that by always saying what you’re thinking, you can hopefully avoid missing some sign.  We pretty much have an ongoing conference mentioning every observation and clearing any decision made while leading.  We were now at the point where whiteout conditions seemed to be with us for a while.  Toby was up for making an attempt even in the whiteout or calling it quits.  I suggested that while summiting in a whiteout was theoretically possible, we may as well do blindfolded jumping jacks at the hut for 4 hours then stick our heads into the snow for a similar but safer experience!  We discussed whether it was safe for one person to ski down and for two to continue but we ended up not needing to decide that as everyone thought it was a bad idea to try to summit.  We coiled up the rope and skied 1200 vertical feet back down to the hut.

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Above: Randy enjoying some “magazine cover” skiing back down the mountain.  People pay thousands of dollars to go heli-skiing with guides for this kind of experience.  We ski it for free the hard way.Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 9.17.09 PM

Above:  I’ve mostly forgot my disappointment as I blast through perfect, untracked snow on a mountain all to ourselves. (Toby’s photo)

Back at the hut we cooked supper and each ate like two people.  We shared the hut with two seasoned vets from Kimberly, BC who were trying to get to Mt Balfour but had been storm stayed for two days.  We talked for a few hours telling mountain stories.  Toby spent two months in Antarctica working on a British science mission and had many amazing tales from his experience.  Our new friend Alan from Kimberly told a great story of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and Randy recounted a climbing trip in Borneo.  The two vets from BC asked if we wanted to share trailbreaking the next day by working together.  We liked them already so it was easy to say yes.

Like the night before, I felt as though I got no sleep.  The wind blew in gusts that were loud enough to startle me even with earplugs.  The hut is bolted to the rock with metal cables but it rocked from the storm winds all night.

We woke to a continued blizzard but we thought we would make an attempt anyway.  We could navigate by compass bearing in the whiteout untill the technical part of the climb.  Then if it let up, we would be well positioned.  We geared up and began the long, tough climb.Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 9.41.26 PM  Above:  Toby grabs a picture of Randy breaking trail and me close behind as we climb up the glacier towards the Olive/Nick Col.  Unfortunately, the other rope team of Alan and Rob couldn’t keep up to us even following our trail so we ended up breaking trail ourselves.  The blizzard would let up and return in waves getting my hopes up and then dashing them.  

After ascending the glacier we were suddenly stopped short by a crevasse that appeared right in front of us.  The blowing snow waned and we could see it blocked our path for several hundred meters.  We changed formation on the rope and tried to bypass it when we were confronted by another system of crevasses.   We seemed to be hemmed in.  After much discussion, Alan and Rob finally caught up to us and had a look for themselves.  They quickly decided to retreat and thanked us for the trail anyway.  Below:  Rob and Alan pulling the pin.Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 9.53.08 PM

 

We tried to find a way around the crevasse system.  The best way seemed to be heading straight into the blizzard to outflank it, but this meant getting more disoriented on the vast blank whiteness of the icefield.  The better visibility way was to try and squeeze between the crevasses and the rock face.  I felt this way was inherently dangerous as the glacier was under stress as it curved around the rocky outcrop.  The safer way would be to try and outflank it.  But wandering in the whiteout trying to pick our way seemed unsavoury.  Under blue skies we could easily pick our way through it I’m sure.  After a half hour of dipping our feet in each pool we decided to admit defeat and head down.  I found it difficult to make that call with each of us yelling our opinions and suggestions across the howling blizzard.  We had to be roped and spaced due to the crevasses danger so it was exhausting yelling to the other end of the rope through the storm.  The conditions that forced our defeat were also giving us amazingly fun skiing on the way down.  Below:  Toby enjoys some knee-deep powder skiing back to the hut.Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 10.09.05 PM  With near zero visibility, you really couldn’t tell if you were moving or not.  Luckily I’ve had plenty of experience skiing like this so you just trust yourself.  Though when you get to the bottom, you almost always fall over because you realize too late that you’ve stopped and then you just topple over!

Another night in the hut awaited us.  Alan and Rob melted some snow for water for us and did our dishes in exchange for our trail breaking that day.  It was very nice to show their gratitude.  Everyone was in their sleeping bags early ready for another attempt the next day.  Randy and I ended up talking late in to the night.  The barometer was rising and the weather was supposed to be improving so I was excited to perhaps get one of our intended 4 summits!

We awoke the next day to the same wind and snow!  We decided we would make an early dash up and if the weather cleared we would try and summit St Nick race down, pack up the hut and make the trek down.  Needless to say we had the same battle up the glacier in a whiteout before giving up.Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 10.24.43 PM

Above:  Randy and Toby leaving the hut on the last day.  Conditions don’t seem so good!

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Above:  Packed up and heading off the glacier and back down to the highway.  Our thoughts turned to getting down safely and chocolate milk at the gas station.  Toby on the left wears a high definition camera on his helmet.  I’m looking forward to getting some of his video

As always, I’m so grateful for such great partners who are both trustworthy and fun.  And for the wonderful people I meet in these places.  These hidden jewels of the earth are not free to seek.  They are seen only in trade for hard work and much learning, all which I owe to others.

Below:  Starting the 2 hour ski down to the highway.

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Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight…

So says the picture that Suz hung in our bathroom.  A very appropriate description of my relationship with Mt St Nicholas.  A brief pictorial summary of the attempts over the last 3 years:

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Above: 1st attempt with Peggy, Randy, Hugo, Emil.  A blizzard forced us down within 100m of summit.  May/12

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Above: 2nd attempt with Randy, difficulties negotiating ice on the glacier caused us to miss our window of opportunity. Jan/14

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Above: 3rd attempt with Randy and Toby.  After gaining over 1000 vertical meters, a  blizzard forces us down. March 5/14

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Above: 4th attempt with Randy and Toby.  Unexpectedly hemmed in by crevasses.  Bad weather makes it difficult to safely find a route through them. March 6/14

 

 

 

 

 

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Gearing Up

For our sins, Suz entered us in the 2014 SaltyDog Enduro mountain bike race in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.  The way this race works is rather than a set distance, the race  takes place on an 11km mountain bike course and you must cycle as many laps as you can in 6 hours.  We’re entered in the team category so when Suz crosses the finish line, she tags me and we alternate.  Checkpoints along the way record the final distance.Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 9.59.46 PM

Above:  From the 2013 Enduro.  (Not my picture)

Since the race is May 11, which is still skiing season here, we have to do some dry land training to get ready.  And well, we just have to train in any case!  So Suz hit upon the happy thought of hiring a trainer to get us ready.  Suz selected her spin instructor Betsy, who is also an accomplished biathlon athlete and coach.  She sat us down at the gym and did an assessment and then built an individualized, daily training schedule for each of us.

So far, training has been a good experience.  Last Saturday night Suz and I were getting our cardio credits by going cross-country skiing up at the Nordic Centre.  It was a full on blizzard with driving winds but we were committed to fulfilling our training obligations.  We met the wall of wind and snow and as we were putting our skis on, two girls approached ready to hit the trails.  One laughed and asked us about the weather.  I thought it was typical of this town that we weren’t the only ones out for a ski in the blizzard but Suz noticed it was Liza Pye who I’ve run into in the mountains before (see post here) before doing insane feats of endurance.

To get my biking legs seasoned, I went to my first “spin class.”  Suz is a veteran of this torture but for me it was all new.  The class consists of being on a stationary bike and you must maintain a specific rpm and gearing.  Betsy then commands you to increase the gears  and up the rpms on her cues.  There are no rest breaks other than a half minute cycling at low gearing between the ramp ups.  Interestingly, four people out of the ten in the class are training for this same race.  It’s incredibly grueling.

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Above:  This is our instructor competing at a biathlon race.  I found this image hard to get out of my mind when she was yelling to “Add another gear!! Increase rpm by 10!! One more minute!” when I was rubber legging an hour into the class.  It’s hard to ignore a girl who can shoot your eyesballs out from a hundred yards.

I’m finding it an interesting challenge.  Out in the world, I can look at a headwall or some other obvious obstacle and tell myself to push hard and get up it.  My efforts are a function of my environment and are very tangible.  In the spin class, it just gets harder with no visual clues or spatial reward.  I found it much harder to dig down and find that extra energy without any obvious purpose for summoning it other than to complete the ambiguous task of obeying the instructions of a firearms expert!

The experience is a win-win as it’s hopefully paying dividends in all my mountain activities.  I’m off next week on a multi-day, mountain climbing expedition on the icefields so I’m hoping to notice some early benefits. It’s also given me even more respect for Suzanne who is soundly beating me in several training exercises!

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