Sunday, May 16, 2010

Eldorado Peak Climb ~ Denali Prep Course, May 9-14, 2010.

On Sunday, May 9, I met the participants for our Denali Prep Course in Marblemount, WA at the North Cascades National Park Ranger Station. Our goals: safety first, to learn skills and techniques required for climbing Denali, climb Eldorado Peak, have fun, and remain friends throughout.

After securing our permit and some extra blue bags from the helpful NPS Ranger, we quickly cross-checked our gear. First technique: rigging a sled for hauling the copious amount of supplies needed for a Denali expedition. Fortunately, or not, our trip was 6 days and we left the sleds behind.

The trail that parallels Eldorado Creek begins in ernest, gaining 4,000ft in just a few miles. The views of Johannesburg from the first rest break show the recent spring snow blanketing the region.

Our second camp afforded amazing views of the North Cascades and Glacier Peak.

Day three. Sun's Out Guns Out! Our trio made short work of Eldorado. Three hours from high camp to the top and back.

In preparation for our future Denali climbs, we erected snow walls around our camp. It is common to build 5' high walls surrounding tents at 14,000 ft. (and sometimes lower) on Denali's West Buttress.

Day four found us within the throes of a climax heating event which caused many wet slide avalanches at lower elevations. Most of the recent storm cycle snow was sliding on the old bed surface. The Dorado Needle approach shares the same aspect as a sizable slab avalanche we observed from our perch. In light of the avalanche hazard, we opted for some sunny craggin' and fixed line ascension. Also a good skill to have on large Alaskan glaciers like the Kahiltna.

From our Eldorado high camp we were able to see into Boston Basin and the pointy summit of Forbidden Peak. We were left to contemplate why it's named so...

Our trio emerged from the alpine zone triumphantly on the 6th day. We sampled Marblemount's finest dining, the Good Food Drive-in, while basking in the low elevation sun wearing fresh shorts, t-shirts, and flippy floppies.

The course was a huge success! With many of our friends currently in tents at established camps along Denali's West Buttress, I have mixed feelings about not being there to share in the fun. However, the North Cascades look very Alaska-esque with a marine layer mimicking the lower Kahiltna. This is an amazing area to hone our skills and not have to "fly for an hour or walk for a week," as the saying goes in the Alaska Range.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mount Shuksan, Sulfide Glacier ~ Trip Report ~ May 2-4, 2010

On Sunday, May 2, I headed into North Cascades National Park for a guided Mt. Shuksan climb with two climbers from Monroe. Prior to the trip we gave our group the option to move to a climb on the East side in order to sidestep much of the forecasted snow, but these guys wanted a snow camping adventure. The predicted winter storm warning came into affect while we were approaching the first established camp...

Our first camp on the ridge at 5,700ft. We were protected from the wind by a few wind battered pine trees. During the following night and morning it became increasingly apparent that we should descend.

Riders on the Storm. Looking for better visibility to descend.
Our trio braved deep snow as the Northwest Avalanche Center issued warnings about the particularly hazardous conditions developing in the mountains. High wind + lots of snow = wind slab avalanche potential. We were able to use the terrain features to safely navigate down the mountain, however, the snowshoeing was especially arduous in 36" of new snow. We wished we had skis on so we could blow up the snow "like powder gangsters," a dream deferred as the slide alder and sagging hemlock trees snagged on any objects protruding from our packs.

Night 2 found us slowly descending the steeply forested sides of the Shaney Creek basin. We made camp on Forest Service road 1152 amongst the Swamp Lanterns and huge Western Hemlock trees shedding snow with a cascading effect that sounded strikingly similar to an avalanche.

Upon reaching the trailhead the morning of the third day, we found our vehicles buried under three feet of consolidated wet snow. I had been envisioning spending days camped at the trailhead waiting for the snow to melt enough for us to drive out without getting stuck. Fortunately, we both had all-wheel-drive and were able to back-out and push through the sticky snow. A medium garlic chicken and a large Cascade special pizza in Sedro-Wooley were the consolation prizes for our efforts.

Sometimes when we get served what we asked for, and it's not always what we wanted. The trip was a really good learning experience for all of us. We were able to fine tune our cold and wet weather gear as well as put our navigation skills to the test. I learned the benefit of having waterproof maps...


Of other interest, we noted that the Skunk Cabbage is out! An interesting except from Pojar and MacKinnon (our favorite PNW plant book) follows the photo from this trip.

SKUNK CABBAGE Lysichiton americanum "Swamp Lantern"

A robust, hairless perennial 30-150 cm tall, from fleshy, upright, underground stems, with a skunky odour, especially when flowering. Found in swamps, fens, muskeg, wet forest, mucky seepage areas, wet meadows, at low to middle elevations.

‘In the ancient days, they say, there were no salmon. The Indians had nothing to eat save roots and leaves. Principal among these was the skunk-cabbage. Finally the spring salmon came for the first time. As they passed up river, a person stood upon the shore and shouted: “Here come our relatives whose bodies are full of eggs! If it had not been for me all the people would have starved.” “Who speaks to us?” asked the salmon. “Your uncle, Skunk Cabbage,” was the reply. Then the salmon came ashore to see him, and as a reward for having fed the people he was given an elk skin blanket and a war-club, and was set in the rich, soft soil near the river. (Kathlamet story, related in Haskin 1934) Wherever the leaves of this plant were available, they were used as ‘Indian wax paper,’ for lining berry baskets, berry drying-racks and steaming pits. Skunk cabbage was rarely used as food by the northwest coast peoples; it was mostly a famine food in early spring; and it was then eaten only after steaming or roasting.

Pojar, Mackinnon. 2004. PLANTS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST. Lone pine Publishing. Vancouver, BC. Auburn, WA. Edmonton, Alberta.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Haute Route Ski Tour ~ Trip Report ~ March 28-April 4 , 2010

Years ago a guide in La Grave, France was eager to give me a bunch of phone numbers for various hotels, taxis, and such in the town of Arolla, Switzerland, which lies along the Verbier version of the Haute Route. As I had no plans to visit Arolla I asked, "why," and he replied, "anyone who skis the Haute Route more than once eventually spends time in Arolla." Over the years his words proved to be very true as various groups used Arolla to escape various snowstorms, equipment failures, and high winds. This trip report tells the tale of a Haute Route Ski Tour with great skiing and complicated weather.

On March 27 John Race and Brian Warren traveled to Chamonix and met Janey B, Bill C, Roberta S, Paul M, and Curtis V for what would prove to be a "full value" ski tour of the Haute Route.

On March 28 strong winds and low visibility shut down the skiing in the Valle Blanche, so we opted to travel to the Grand Montets ski area for some training and solid powder skiing. The wind was blowing so hard up high that the highest trams at Grand Montets were not running, but we found great skiing down low.

This first day often seems like a bit of a luxury, but it allows us to train together and gives a little flexibility to the schedule, a flexibility we ended up needing.

The weather on March 28 bumped the avalanche forecast to high, so we felt a bit leery of skiing up and over the Col Du Chardonnet, and instead opted to use March 29 to ski the Valle Blanche in perfect conditions. This would have us skipping the first section of the Haute Route and then taking the train around to Verbier on March 30 to pick up where we had left off.

The skiing in the Valle Blanche was ideal and we made a day of it.

Here is bill putting that AT gear to work.

Curtis making it look easy on the lower half of the main ski run in the Valle Blanche.

Janey was on tele gear along with Paul and did a good job of holding up the telemark contingent.

This photo is of the Mont Fort Hut. On the day we moved around to Verbier the same high winds and low visibility persisted. The winds were strong enough that we had the new experience of needing to tour up to the hut from one of the trams above Verbier as all the higher trams were shut down due to the wind. On March 31 we woke to decent weather that would slowly deteriorate making for a chilly summit of the Rosablanche on our way to the Praflueri Hut.

Things were still sunny and nice when we reached the Col de La Chaux enroute to Rosablanche.

The new snow from the day before made for good skiing on the backside of the Col de La Chaux as well as coming off of Rosablanche.

The crew on the summit of Roasblanche.

As we came off Rosablanche we were racing the weather a bit and I was happy to see that everyone was still game to go to the top as a lot of groups were skipping this fantastic summit. We spent the night of March 31 at the Praflueri Hut.

On April 1 we woke to find what proved to be tough conditions enroute to the Dix Hut along the Lac du Dix. Each guided party took turns breaking trail and we eventually made it to the end of the Lac Du Dix despite difficult visibility.

The Lake was so low this year that we had to work our way down slabs of ice from when the lake was higher. We will often run around the end of the lake, but these slopes were just loaded enough that we wanted to limit our exposure.

This is a shot of a group from England that we ran alongside for the duration of the trip.

Tough travel and cold weather had us all more than happy to indulge in some Rosti when we reached the Dix Hut.

Rosti, the dish that has fuels Haute Route skiers. Rosti is a mixture of bacon, potatoes, eggs, and cheese....what more could you want?

April 2 ended up being a perfect day with very little wind, plenty of new snow, lot's of sunshine.

On this day we climbed the Pigne d'Arolla. This shot shows us approaching the crux of the ascent, a spot where we often have to resort to using boot crampons and carrying our skis. Today the skinning was perfect and we were able to get up with just ski crampons.

More shots coming into the steep spot. This is one of the first spots where you get really good views of the Matterhorn.

Looking down the steep (it is really not too terribly steep) spot on the Glacier du Brenay just below the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla.

Curtis enjoying the sunshine.

This is the final stretch leading up tot eh col just below the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla.

Looking back with Mont Blanc de Chellion in the background.

Paul and Roberta on the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla.

Brian and John on the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla. Amazingly this was our 3rd Haute Route trip together.

The entire gang at the top of the incredible ski off the back of the Pigne d'Arolla leading down to the Vignettes Hut.

Roberta enjoying almost a foot of new snow.

Looking out toward the Dent Blanche with a skier coming up from the Vignettes Hut side of the Pigne d'Arolla.

As we dropped lower the skiing just kept getting better and better, which motivated us to take a longer line of the summit and then skinning back up to the hut. This is Bill ripping it up.

Janey on the last turns before we switched into skins to get back up to the hut.

We now skip to the next morning. On April 3 we woke to find decent visibility where we were, but an ominous cloud hanging over the last pass, the Col du Valpelline, which we would need to cross to get to Zermatt.

We successfully made it over the Col de l'Eveque, and the Col du Mont Brule, and then at the Col du Valpelline we found the light too flat to ski the Stockji Glacier down to Zermatt.

This photo is taken at the transition from the ski off the Col du Mont Brule to the climb to the Col du Valpelline. We skied all the way up top the col before deciding to bail back the way we came. It took us 3 hours to reverse our trip back over the Col du Mont Brule and then out to Arolla.

Once in Arolla most of the group took the bus and train onto Zermatt, while I returned to Chamonix to meet our next Haute Route group. Thanks to Janey for pulling together the group and here is to great skiing, which often seem to come with not such great weather!

We are currently registering people for the 2011 Haute Route Ski Traverse. Visit the website, or call 509-548-5823 for more details.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Haute Route Ski Tour ~ Trip Report ~ April 4-10, 2010

This year our second Haute Route Ski Tour got lucky and we had a trip with near perfect weather. NMS guides John Race and Mike Bromberg were joined by Adam P, Marcus C, Russell K, Curtis C, Brandon C, Sloan R and Bill J for a delightful romp through the Alps that had both decent skiing and good stability. At the start of the trip we had a good storm that prevented us from skiing the Valle Blanche, but the snow received during this storm set us up for good skiing during the high pressure that followed.

On April 4, the first day of the trip we went to Grand Montets to make some turns and get used to skiing as a group. This photo of Curtis, Russell, Marcus, and Adam was taken from the observation deck at the top of Grand Montets with the Col du Chardonet in the background.

We took the cable car up to 3295 M / 10,811' at Grand Montets and started with a ski down the upper portion of the Glacier des Rognons. There was almost too much snow for skiing and we quickly encountered really low visibility that eventually pushed us back into the ski area where we worked on downhill technique and eventually resorted to simply charging around as a group. This was our youngest group of the season and by far the most aggressive skiers we worked with in the Alps this year. John led the pack at 41, with the next oldest skier being 30.

On April 5 we returned to Grand Montets with about 18 inches of new snow on the ground and splitter weather that would persist for most of the next 6 days. From left to right we have Sloane, Bill, Russell, Marcus, Adam, Curtis, Brandon, and Mike.

The descent from Grand Montets to the Glacier d' Argentiere via the Glacier des Rognons presented the best conditions we have seen to date and provided a pretty nice start to the Haute Route.

Once down and across the Glacier d'Argentiere we undertook the long climb up the Glacier du Chardonnet to the Col du Chardonett at 3321 M / 10,896'.

Along the way I snapped this photo at one of the breaks where a Chouca, the local Alps crowlike bird, had launched itself from the snow after snacking on whatever the previous skiers had left behind.

Once at the Col du Chardonnet, we lowered and rappelled down to the Glacier de Saleina. This year we had about 80 meters of rope, which was adequate for getting everyone down safely. This is the only place on the Verbier version of the Haute Route that you need this much rope. In perfect conditions it could likely be skied, but the slope gets so hammered from folks rappelling down that it usually makes more sense to rappel or lower.

Once down on the glacier we traversed over to the Fenetre de Saleina (3261 M / 10,699'). Not sure what is going on here...I think Curtis was trying to get his lipbalm out of his pocket and Marcus was helping by shaking him.

This is the start of the climb up to the Fenetre de Saleina with the Tour Noir in the background and the route that is used on the Grand Lui version of the Haute Route.

This is looking up at the Fenetre de Saleina. Of note, the conditions were so good that most were able to skin all the way to the ridge, which is something I have not been able to do for the past 6 Haute Route tours. The deeper snow made for good skinning.

Sloane reaching the top of the Fenetre de Saleina and ready to ski over to the Trient Hut.

We had a great night at the Trient Hut (3170 M/ 10,401') with the usual Haute Route fare of Spaghetti and red wine.

As the sun went down we were optimistic that the skiing down the Val d'Arpette was going to be better than average, and we were not disappointed.

This was taken the next morning and looks over at the Aiguille du Tour (3540 M / 11,615') and the Petite Fourche (3512 M / 11,532'), two routes that we guide in the summer as preparation of climbs of Mont Blanc (4,810 M / 15,782'). The odd U-shaped marks are from a small plane landing and taking off the day before.

On the way down we skied an nice line above the Glacier du Trient and then worked out way over to the Col des Escandies (2793 M / 9,164'). This is Bill, who along with Sloane made up our telemark contingent.

The climb over the Col des Escandies was accomplished without crampons or ice axe, which was also a result of unusually good travel conditions.

Adam enjoying the sun at the top of the Col des Escandies before what turned out to be a stellar ski down the Val d'Arpette.

The ski down the Val d'Arpette was as good as we have ever seen it, so we decided to burn some of our time in Verbier and made a side trip up toward the Aiguilles d'Arpettes to take advantage of some of the North facing powder that was up there.

We climbed a bit over a thousand feet up to the side and found some really nice skiing.

Nice north facing skiing in the Val d'Arpette.

More good snow.

Curtis had been working on a technique that involved use of the outside edge at high speeds. In this series he demonstrates the powder skiing technique that results.

At the apex of the turn the skier plants his downhill shoulder in the surface of the snow in order to more effectively complete the turn.

If all goes well, the skier then ends up completely inverted for a second before rolling out of the "turn" and if pointing downhill, continues to make a similar turn on the other side. It is difficult to get the timing just right.

By early afternoon we were over in Verbier and up at the Mont Fort Hut (2457 M / 8,061'). Once the ski area closed down some of the group performed an interpretive dance telling the tale of the first three days of our seven day trip. When asked, Adam mentioned that his technique was developed through careful study of the guy with the purple cape that was in the video "shoes." Sloane clearly is a Charlie's Angels fan, Markus studies the Beastie Boys, Curtis aspires to be in an Abercrombie and Fitch ad, Russell works out the surf theme, and we are not sure why Marcus is licking a candy bar.

Sunset at the Mont Fort Hut.

More happy days to come.

On day 4 we climbed Rosa Blanche (3363 M / 11,034') before skiing down to the Prafleuri Hut.

On our first lap off of Roasblanche we skied a line I had not been on yet before. This runs off the west side of the summit and allows you to cycle back onto the Grand Desert just below the Col de Cleusor. The skiing started decent, but quickly turned into a stiff slab of sorts.

On our second lap we hit the almost always perfect snow on the extreme skiers right edge of the Glacier de Prafleuri.

By lunchtime we were down at the Praflueri Hut (2624 M / 8,609') where we had the usual lunch of too much Rosti and too much sun.

The same dog has lived there for the past few years and always provides good entertainment with its obsession with catching snowballs.

There is a break in the photos here. On day 5 we skied to the Dix Hut (2928 M / 9,607') and had originally intended to ski La Luette (3548 M / 11,641') in the afternoon, but we ended up enjoying the sunshine and sampling the local lager instead.

The Dix Hut.

On Day 6 we woke to perfect conditions once again, which allowed for a great climb up the Pigne d'Arolla (3790 M / 12,435'). This photo is from early in the climb as you travel up the Glacier de Cheillon under the Pointes de Tsena Refien.

Per usual we had great views of Mont Blanc De Chellion (3870 M / 12,697'), perhaps one of the most desirable peaks under 4000 meters in the Alps.

On the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla.

Just below the col leading to the Vignettes Hut. Note the Matterhorn in the background.

The amazing Vignettees Hut (3160 M / 10,368'). Mont Collon ( 3637 M / 11.933') is in the background. The Patrol de Glaciers ski comes down the high pass on the climbers right side of Mont Collon as it passes the Bertol Hut.

On the last day we were hammering to make it from point A to B, so I did not take too many shots until the end. This day takes us from the Vignettes Hut all the way to Zermatt. Here Marcus is at the Col du Valepelline (3557 M / 11,671') with the Matterhorn ( 4477 M / 14,689') in the background. This is the Haute Route equivalent of a summit shot. We also guide Matterhorn summit climbs in the summer.

The entire group at the Col du Valpelline minus Mike, who was taking the photo.

The skiing down the Stockji Glacier was pretty decent. On our previous Haute Route trip we were not able to ski this as the visibility was near zero and the route is heavily crevassed.

This is the iconic run at the end of the Haute Route as we drop close to 2000 meters into Zermatt via the Stockji and Zmutt Glaciers. The route takes us directly under the North Face of the Matterhorn.

This view never gets old.

We finally made it down to Zermatt where the good times continued. The entire group went out for beer and pizza. We also met Jeremy and Dane here for the drive to the Ortler trip,which started on April 12 in Italy.

We are already taking reservations for next years Haute Route Ski Tour. Thanks to all of you for a great trip this year!