Friday, December 11, 2009

Trekking in Ladakh - New NMS trip!

Olivia and I are please to announce a new Northwest Mountain School's trekking program, Trekking in Ladakh - The Nubra Valley, which will run from August 1-21, 2010. Together Olivia and I have worked on eight successful expeditions Mt. Everest, Shishapangma, and Cho Oyu, the world's 1st, 6th, and 14th highest mountains. It has always been a dream for us to explore some of the more exotic corners of the mountains of Asia, and in the summer of 2010 we are proud to be leading a group of trekkers to visit Ladakh, situated in Northern India

This builds on a trek John led to Sikkim, another previously independent Himalyan Kingdom located in Northern India. Ladakh is reached by flying to Delhi, India and then another flight to Leh, capiotal of Ladakh. John and Olivia have hired a local trekking agent to help with logistics required to make the trip run smoothly. The combination of a solid local crew and John and Olivia's extensive experience leading high-altitude expeditions will make this a professional and enjoyable experience.

The trip currently has 8 participants and we have room for a few more people looking to stretch their legs while trekking in Northern India. A trip to Ladakh provides a glimpse into a culture very similar to that which existed in Tibet just a few decades ago. The trek itself lasts 10 days and 9 nights and climbs to elevations up to 6000 meters (19,685'). We will attempt Dawa Peak, a moderate trekking peak requiring no previous mountaineering experience, and cross over Lasermola Pass (5400m/17,715') during the trek. Prior to the trek we will visit a variety of monasteries in the region surrounding Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The trip culminates with an opportunity for participants to accompany John and Olivia on a visit to the Taj Majal in Agra, India. The entire trip lasts 21 days.

Full details can be found at: Ladakh Trekking Trip from August 1-21, 2010, or by calling the Northwest Mountain School at 509-548-5823.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lessons of History

The study of history seems to become less and less popular in the U.S. Perhaps this reflects the country’s entrepreneurial, look forward attitude. In the U.K., where I come from, people remain fond of history. Perhaps we look back to distract ourselves from the ignominies of the present – we used to have an empire too.

A long time ago, I got a Masters in history. But so much time in the U.S. has affected me, and history is something I now remember only a few days each year, usually in early December.

The Cascades’ ski season begins in late November or early December. For the last several years, I’ve spent the first day of the season with John and Olivia up at Stevens Pass. Olivia used to patrol up there, so is very familiar with the terrain. John seems equally familiar with the terrain, which I attribute to his spending a lot of time up there while Olivia worked. As far as I’ve been able to gather, their goal is to ski all of the available terrain that day – opinions on what’s available vary. Each of them tells me that, having spent the prior 6 weeks road-tripping and climbing their way through the Southwest, they are in terrible shape. Their idea of terrible shape is my idea of great shape, and at that time of year I truly am in terrible shape. But we are united in our goal that we need training to get ourselves in better shape. My mistake has been in following John and Olivia while they do this. We ride every lift, and ski every ‘available’ run. They race each other to the bottom of each lift. With the low snow cover, the un-groomed runs are hugely bumpy. My legs are shot by 10:00am. John and Olivia keep going. We shared a ride, so I try to keep pace, until my increasingly desperate performance shames them into heading for the parking lot. When I get home my wife looks pitifully at me, takes my ski poles and puts them in the bathroom. She is a generous soul, but there are some things a man needs to be able to do alone, even with an overdose of lactic acid in his thighs.

This year, the snows came early, and Stevens opened while John and Olivia were soaking up the sun and dirt in Moab. I skied opening day with two other friends, and the next day with my wife. I ate lunch at home each day, left my poles in the ski room, and walked up and down stairs unassisted. I felt a general sense of relief and wellbeing. I told my wife I was relieved not to have started the season with John and Olivia.

Memory is fickle. On the Saturday following Thanksgiving, just as we were heading out of the house for turkey and alcohol, John called to ask if I’d go touring that Sunday. He mentioned that since it would be the first tour of the season, we would have a late start, and do something mellow, probably Big Jim Mountain. I put my drinking plans on hold, obtained a day release from my wife, and woke up trying to remember where I’d put my touring gear. I checked the forecast – rain over Stevens Pass, sun over Big Jim Mountain.

John, Olivia, Brian Behle and I met at the DOT parking lot at 8.45am. None of us had ski boxes on our cars, so after the usual efficient travel logistics discussion that characterizes these occasions, we drove back to my house to pick up a ski box. All went smoothly, until my wife prevailed on us to help load two of her goats into the back of the truck, so she could drive to Waterville to get them bred. Brian stepped up, Olivia held our 16 month old daughter, and John pointed out from a safe distance that the goats seemed quite enthusiastic about getting into the truck. I couldn’t remember if he knew that we had tried breeding them 3 weeks before so, as is often the case, was unsure if he was (a) being perceptive, (b) making a joke with sexual overtones, or (c) stating the obvious in a deliberate attempt to confuse me.

Once in the car, John told me to head for Lichtenberg. Near Stevens. Where rain was forecast. After a pleasant, if damp, ski down and skin up an access road that now functioned as a snowmobile trail, we entered the woods. Some people are able to ski downhill through trees in crusty snow without their heels locked down. I need to train further for this activity. We followed and crossed a creek, came out of the trees and the skies began to clear. We could see the summit of Lichtenberg, and it didn’t look impossibly far off. For the next hour or so I managed not only to keep up with John, Olivia and Brian, but even occasionally to make conversation. As we worked our way higher, we moved into the cloud, the visibility faded, and the weather worsened. Soon we were at the summit. I couldn’t see it was the summit, but assumed, correctly, that nothing was going to stop my companions except No Further To Go.

After a relatively efficient transition, we skied over the summit ridge to access a “secret gully” that John wanted to show Olivia. The gully looked like a great line, if that kind of thing appeals to you. It was steep, constricted in the middle like an hourglass, and full of avalanche debris on the right side and throughout the constriction. The snow was deep, heavy, and wet – a little softer than classic Cascades’ concrete, but only because it contained more water than usual. The light was flat, and our goggles and glasses were misted up. It was skiing by braille.

My wife asked me what the gully was like to ski. ‘Olivia fell,’ I replied. ‘OMG’ said my wife. To be fair to Olivia a hidden block of avalanche debris took her ski off. I have never seen her fall before. Fortunately the chances of sliding anywhere in that glop were zero. I took the opportunity to practice my forward rolls, and blamed the concealed avalanche debris.

When I finally joined the others, they were consulting a map. ‘I think we just have to go [something] … avoid [something] … [something],’ I heard John say. They finished their transitions and cookies, took slugs of water and headed off. I was relatively close behind them. I soon realized that I was suffering from a condition that the English call ‘knackered.’ A knacker is the man who removes dead horses – the expression implies that the protagonist is ready for the knacker’s yard. I have experienced this condition before with John and Olivia, and I was pretty sure the assessment was accurate.

Even the effort of breaking trail was not enough to slow my companions down, and I eventually found myself following the skin track without being able to see them. Although the visibility was still fairly low, I realized that we weren’t turning or contouring to find a descent. We were going up. Until there was No Further To Go. The third [something] was evidently [the next peak over]. When I finally reached the summit of the next peak over, I apologized for holding everyone up. They could not have been nicer. John told Brian the story of how, just before we started the Haute Route Ski Tour last spring, they’d invited me to explore a new half-day tour above Chamonix with them and two other guides. The tour involved booting up a 1,000 foot couloir at more elevation than I was then accustomed to, and crossing what we subsequently learned was called the ‘Glacier de Mort’ (trans. ‘Glacier of Death’). ‘This will be great conditioning for the Col du Chardonnet,’ they’d told me. I’d felt knackered then, too, but at least the sun had been shining. And, we were in France.

We pulled off our skins, wrung out our gloves, and headed for a broad, shallow gully. John ski cut the top, and six inches of glop slid off the surface to pile up in the trees below. Ho hum. We made our way down, some more elegantly than others. For the next 20 minutes or so we skied trees and glades. This was the first time I’d been able to link more than three turns. As long as you sat well, well back, the snow was almost skiable. My thighs burned.

We stopped at Lake Valhalla which was ostensibly frozen over. Mindful of the scene from The Omen, we skirted the lake along its right shore, encountering only a few puddles along the way. From the end of the lake, we had some nice low-angled skiing back to the woods. Our goal in the woods, it appeared, was not to finish in the back yard of the homeowner at the end of the road, so we contoured our way through them. I pulled myself up, down and along using trees. I felt a little like Tarzan. Tarzan would have been a lot less accomplished if he’d had to wear skis.

Olivia waited for me while I finished my water and dragged myself through the final trees. We gained the snow covered road, and skied down until the road crossed Nason Creek. Skins back on, we made the climb back to U.S. 2, dodging snowmobiles on the way. It was growing dark. ‘How did our half day tour turn into a full day tour?’ John asked. I treated this as rhetorical.

I got home to find my wife and daughter were still off breeding goats. The Waterville goat’s handlers were in church, and they’d had to drive to Twisp. A good buck is hard to find. I was surprised to find that I could use my legs the next day. I think that’s because they hurt all night.

I’ve pinned a copy of this to the ski room door. I may remember to read it next November.