Monday, January 21, 2013

Dawn Patrol, Bountiful Ridge 01-19-2013

Yeah, I know, last post I said I hated Dawn Patrols, but the skin track was in, it was Saturday and nowhere to be . . . why not?

Upper North Canyon.
Yesterdays skin track, mid picture.
Bountiful Peak.
Beautiful day above the mank of SLC.
Yesterdays turns in upper Crescent Bowl.
Topping out on Rectangle Peak.
Coyote tracks? I heard them howling last night.
The ridge heading up rectangle Peak. I need a better camera, or some Photoshop skills.
Turns from yesterday, or were those today? At least I can go home and nap rather than work.
My wife always calls me a DORK! But the laughs on her, I'm not married to a DORK!
(Only a dork would wear such a huge pack!)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dusk Patrol, Bountiful Ridge, 01-18-2013

Easy skinning compared to last week, it was hip-deep a week earlier.

Surface hoar.
40 inches at the flats.
Antelope Island.
Rectangle Peak.
View south from Rectangle Peak.
View west.
Turns in lower Crescent Bowl.
Skinning back up Rectangle Peak.
Skin track at dusk.
Location is everything. Bad air, cheap lens, and I can't stop snapping photos. All the pixels in world can't compensate for bad optics.

Oquirhs, SLC (really) and City Creek Canyon.
SLC is down there somewhere.
Oquirhs at sunset.

Top of second run at sunset.

Going . . .
. . . gone.
The big house. Bountiful LDS Temple through the manky air and dark of night.
Bountiful Ridge Dusk Patrol, Friday 01-18-2013

I love descending a mountain on a cold winter night. I'm not sure why but skiing through a dark, silent forest just after sunset brings peace. It brings tranquility. I love the cold silence and the half-light of the moon and stars casting shadows of aspens on the snow. After dark, the sound of skis running over the surface-hoar is loud and dominate, whereas in the daylight it is hardly noticed. Too many distractions in the daylight. The sound drowns out all others, like the hiss of a far off steam engine, and each turn sends shards of glass cascading in that half-light down the fall-line beneath your skis. And when you stop and listen, all is silent, but as your ears adjust you will catch a rush of subtle, quiet tones that were previously unnoticed. There is plenty to hear if one is willing to still the mind and listen. It is the sound of a forest readying itself for the chill of night. If lucky you might hear the deep, guttural, bass harmonies of an owl calling for a mate or maybe the howling of Coyotes on a distance ridge. We saw their tracks all afternoon, out on the hunt, but never saw them, but now they are heard. Maybe it’s the sound of creaking as a Douglas Fir adjusts under the weight of snow or the deep thud when the snow falls to the ground from its upper branches. If the breeze picks up, maybe you’ll hear the crinkling of diamonds tumbling across the snow as the current carries the hoar crystals in the moonlight, sparkling as they pixy-dance to the next safe haven. I love descending a mountain on a cold winter night.

Today I ditched work at noon to go backcountry skiing. I told Brett to bring a headlamp and plan for a dark descent. Last week I attempted Bountiful Ridge but was stopped by way too much snow. Skinning and hiking in four feet of new, 5% density snow is NOT fun. Skiing down is not much better. It's all work and little play. Face shots and snorkeling is over rated. If all you can do to maintain speed is point them straight, what is the point? Last week we (Clark and five others we met at the trailhead) didn’t make it half way to the Ridge before bailing and going for short runs on the pipeline cut in lower North Canyon. It offered easy access, so we gave up on the Ridge. We skied short, straight-line-shots, but that failure to gain Bountiful Ridge toyed with my ego all week. I had to get back to finish the job.

Skiing on weekdays is better than weekends to avoid the crush of humanity that head to the hills when the week is done. I just feel happiest when I’m alone or with few people around. Society tells us to go along with the crowd, and I tried that when I was younger, whether school, career, religion, even recreation, and the results were mixed at best. So, years ago, I stopped acting, started being myself, and I’ve found better success and more happiness. For me, it works.

Skiing in the afternoons and evenings are better than early mornings. Yes - dare I criticize the vaunted Dawn Patrol - but skiing before work has always been a big let-down. It’s not the alpine starts, or the waking at 3AM, what I hate about a ‘Dawn Patrol’ is its link to a work-day. Do you ever hear anyone talk about a dawn patrol without chiming-in that they made it to work by ten? That is the problem; it is really tough to ski in the wee-hours of the morning before work without constantly watching the time and stressing as the work-bell looms closer and closer. I start worrying about that nine-o’clock meeting. How will I sneak in late unnoticed? Thinking about the job destroys the freedom and fun of skiing. Yes, springtime and warm temperatures dictate an early start, but, in deep winter, late starts and nighttime descents are the best.

I’ve concluded that fans of the Dawn Patrol don’t have real jobs. My reality at 50 is a time-clock existence where I’m expected to be at my desk from eight to five, each and every day. True Dawn-Patrollers get to work at nine or ten, stinking of unwashed, hound-dog-polypro (i.e. human body odor amplified by factor of ten) then brag at the water cooler until lunch about lapping the moguls in Cardiac Bowl. Apparently their bosses don’t care. Unfortunately, mine does.

I’m a professional and I am paid to complete a job. Sadly, capitalism-U.S.A. is all about accountability and we’re all mistrusted by management due to the slackers of the world. You know the type: employees that abuse every last bit of freedom, like milking time off without burning their vacation hours or asking to arrive a few minutes late but then don’t show at all. Don’t get me going on the continual lame excuses to leave early, but I’ve heard it all. My favorites include: semi-annual dog grooming; getting the earlobes waxed, or, God-forbid, waxing some other body part that we mammals should NEVER have waxed, all at company expense. The bottom line, some of us still put in an honest day’s work only to be mistrusted by the boss because of those who abuse the system.

So, I like to take off in the afternoon, make a clean break, legitimately use four hours of P.T.O. with no stupid excuses, no deadlines hanging overhead if the skiing is fantastic.

Brett and I skin up North Canyon gaining the single track in less than 30 minutes. Last week, in the deep snow, it took an hour-and-a-half. We follow a snowshoe track up the main drainage of North Canyon. I recognize the meandering route as that of a neighbor – Dave –recognizable because he walks circles (almost) - backward, forward, sideways – fighting his way through the brush of the lower canyon. The bad route finding is maddening, so we eventually give up and just set our own, direct track. Dave hasn’t figured out there is NO clean line. It’s best to just plow straight ahead. A guy (or girl) on skinny skis had also used the summer trail, but we opted for the much shorter drainage, but it is noted for a possible descent to avoid the hell-brush. Just below Rudy’s Flat, at the junction of the drainage and the summer trail, the skinny ski track and the snowshoe track merge, but both tracks abort at Rudy’s. From that point on we’re breaking trail to the ridge.

We set the track up Rectangle Bowl, the bowl SW of the Rectangle, my favorite run NE above Rudy’s Flat, a favorite because it hold one of the longest, cleanest and most continuous lines of all the descents off lower Bountiful Ridge. Plus, Rectangle Bowl gets a lot of sun and I needed some warmth. It just felt good to be up in the clean air, blue sky and warm sun after living in the mank of the infamous red-air of SLC for the last month.

We work up Rectangle Bowl, the sun tanning my face, to the top of Rectangle Peak and transition to ski. Due to the age of the snow and the probable sun crust on the Rectangle Run (west aspect) we opt to ski the north-facing Crescent Bowl, named for its shape as seen from the valley (like the Rectangle – real imagination went into this), located on the north side of Rectangle Peak/Ridge/Run. It is protected from sun and wind and the angle is convex, starting at 38+ but flattening to 25 degrees. The bowl is broken by intermittent stands of Douglas Fir, but it consistently holds quality snow and offers 800-900 feet of safe (mostly) skiing. Perfect for laps. Several years ago, skiing solo, I skied the upper, steeper half then skinned back up for seconds, where upon my first turn I watched the upper slope slide away below me, taking out my signature turns from my first run. It only ran a couple hundred feet due to the flattening angle, but SCARY!

With the sun setting as we summit Rectangle Peak for a second run, we climb northeast up the main ridge a short distance for a slightly longer line. We ski a hundred exquisite turns in old, creamy powder. At the transition, the sun fully set, a cold breeze is funneling down the bowl and that familiar chill is back with us. We’re silent as we transition back to skins for one short climb before gliding down the canyon and home, and in that silence I hear a Great Horned Owl, it is calling for companionship on that cold winter night. I imagine him perched in a big fir, feathers plumed and warm, he’s at home where I am shivering, and I feel peace with that thought, and I’m glad to be headed for home instead of work.

We skin over the divide and glide down the summer trail to avoid the death scrub of the main drainage at night. The skinny ski track making it easy rather than work. Periodically we stop to gaze at the moon casting shadows through the trees on the surprisingly bright snow and Brett points out constellations while I strain to that Owl. I don’t hear it again, but feel blessed to have caught his call higher on the mountain. I imagine him back up on the mountain, feathers puffed and warm, calling deep bass harmonies to his mate, as we ski the nighttime shadows of the canyon for home.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bountiful Ridge Attempt, Extreme Skinning 01-12-2013

Pace-line breaking trail, mostly thigh-deep, sometimes chest deep.  

Hidden oak brush and deep snow.

Nate and Clark, all grins, their turn at front over for now.

Angle steepening.

John near the top of the Pipeline run.

(l-r) Shara, Nate, Drew, Tara, Clark, near the top of the Pipeline.

Nate ready to ride. Clouds parting after three days of snow.

Drew, Tara and Clark before run #1, overlooking Bountiful from the Pipeline.

Bountiful Ridge, our intended destination but attempt was aborted due to tough skinning.

Upper Pipeline, too low-angle to ski when its thigh deep and non-supportable.

(l-r) Nate, Clark, Drew and John, de-skinning for run #2 on the Pipeline.

Skin track across the way; north side (south aspect) of North Canyon. Looks like they're headed over to ski Cave Peak (aka Pyramid Peak) or the Pipeline right-of-way into Mueller Park.
The Pipeline, tracked out. John and Shara the last to go.

01-12-2013: BC Ski Attempt on Bountiful Ridge

Extreme skinning, deep Snow, skiing the Kern River Pipeline.


When I was in Kindergarten my Mom returned from Parent-Teacher conference and reported that Mrs. Rasmussen, my kindergarten teacher, told her that I did not participate well with others. In fact, I did participate with others, period. Other than superficial contact, I seemed to avoid human contact. In first grade Mrs. Swapp said the same thing. In second grade, like a broken record, Miss. Tuttle said, “Owen is a loner, what do we need to do to fix that?” At that early age I hated that analysis of me. In my mind I was happy and well-adjusted, so I dismissed it as widespread collusion against me. I recognized, even then, there is always someone in authority that wants more out of you. My Mom told me to be bold and get some friends, but all the while she and my Dad taught by example that solitude can be a great thing. They loved vast empty spaces with no one else around.


My Dad was from West Corinne, Utah, and grew up on a sugar beet farm. If he wasn’t thinning beats he was in the mountains on horseback or, in winter, ice skating for miles and miles on the frozen marshes of the Great Salt Lake. My Mom is Australian, emigrating to the U.S. in her mid-twenties, and while not as afflicted with the solitude bug to the extent of my Dad, she still liked her alone time. In fact, I’m convinced there is a family secret harboring Aboriginal genetics, for there is a family history of uncles and grandfathers prone to long walk-abouts in the bush. Unannounced they would disappear for long periods, only to return happy and content, at least until the next call from some primordial urging. This walk-about thing continues with my brothers, and, to a lesser degree, to me. “Do your own thing and you only have yourself to answer to”, seemed to be the family mantra. It would prove to be the answer to the ills of life.


By third grade I had made improvements, I had two or three best friends, Kyle, DeOrr, Mike, but made no real effort to be around large groups of people. I just didn’t feel the need. Basically, all through my schooling, including college, I heard the same thing: “Owen, you need to be more of a team player”.


Early in my career my first boss told me that as the youngest, least-senior member of the company I should camp out in his office, asking questions and learning the system, yet he was perplexed that I was never there. He complained that some days he never even saw me unless we accidentally passed at the urinal. In fact, he continued, the most senior member of the company, a women, basically lived under his desk (his words), said with a huge grin. I asked him if I was fulfilling the responsibilities of the job? He answered yes. Was I accurate and timely? He again answered yes. I went on to explain that I if I was in fact doing my job and was not missing the mark, there was no need to crawl under his desk, sexual or not, let alone enter his cubicle or even go to lunch. His grin disappeared and he told me to leave. I started timing my pee breaks to further avoid him. What can I say? I’ve never been a company guy, and sadly, my paycheck proves that.


Within a few minutes of meeting a person I can tell if we will get along naturally or if the relationship will be forced and superficial. Most of the time I am correct in that assessment. Once in a long while I am wrong. Some of my best friends totally failed that first judgment, but over a period of time I have changed my assessment after getting to know them, after learning their souls were much deeper than what I deemed at our first meeting, but that is a rare occurrence. One might dismiss me as a terribly harsh judge of people, but I disagree, I consider myself more than willing to accept anyone as a friend, but one can rarely change chemistry. The bottom line is we all do it; we all have an inner voice that tells us what works and what does not. My inner voice is rarely wrong when it comes to my “hit-it-off” meter.


Saturday Clark and I attempted to ski Bountiful Ridge. The hills above Bountiful had just receive three feet of new snow after a prolonged dry spell so it was time to go ski some powder. At the trail head we met Drew, Nate and Tara, just starting to skin up the trail. We spoke briefly and immediately I felt that I knew them. They loved to ski and they went as often as life allowed. That fact alone meant they were real souls, at least in my mind. They all wore big friendly grins and their positive vibe was infectious. After the brief greeting they head up the trail, through deep, unbroken snow, while Clark and I raced to gear up.


Did I mention the snow was deep? Starting up their skin track, about 5 minutes after their start, I was shocked by how deep the track was: knee deep minimum, but mid-thigh on average. I told Clark we’d catch them quickly; unless they were super-human, no one can break trail in deep snow quickly. Surprisingly, it took some doing to catch them. They were fast in deep snow. We caught them about a quarter mile from the trailhead and from there we worked a pace-line, swapping the lead every few hundred yards to preserve strength. That said, Nate and Drew were still very impressive. Young, fit, big-red-beards and dread-locks, very good skiers and very seasoned on the skin track. The real deal. During my pulls my lungs and heart were pounding within seconds, whereas they could carryon on a conversation while heaving their skis through the bottomless snow. 


The skinning was the toughest I can remember in over three decades of b.c. skiing: thigh deep and totally unsupportable. I couldn’t decide what was easier; pushing skis through the snow at depth, or lifting skis to the surface to attempt a planeing action somewhere near the surface? The snow was so light-density that planeing was a fantasy. Even my fat BD Justice’s stood no chance and would sink when weighted. I’d fight it to the surface only to wathc it dive when weighted, which resulted in a blast of spindrift to face, leaving me coughing after inhaling the geysering snow crystals from the air displacement of the sinking ski. I’m guessing the snow was single digit density. I could whip my pole tip through without much effort. I finally decided it was easier to just push the ski through the bottomless snow, that, at least, preserved the hip and quads from the continual lifting of pounds and pounds of snow. 


I can usually cover the first 1.3 miles, to the start of the switchbacks, in less than 30 minutes, and that is breaking trail by myself. Today, with four others helping, it took nearly 1.5 hours to cover that distance. And that was on the easy, ‘flat’ section of the approach. Upon reaching the steeper, brushier section we realized the pace was going to slow to an absolute crawl. We pushed on, mainly Nate pushed on while we followed, and the steepening angles and hidden gamble oak proved hellish. His ski would often go under a hidden branch, leaving him wrestling to free himself. We coved about an eighth of a mile in half an hour and this was just the beginning of the serious climbing. Based on averages, we’d already spent two hours to cover less than 1.5 miles; we figured it’d take another four hours – minimum - to gain the peak where the best skiing is found. Alone, and breaking trail solo, a laborious effort, I can normally top that peak in 1.5-2 hours. Even with the aid of four, much stronger skiers than I, we weren’t even close to my average pace. Time to reconsider the day.  


We pulled the plug and decided to head back down to ski short laps on the Kern River gas pipeline right-of-way. The good skiable part measures about 500 vertical feet of an open cut thought the Canyon Maple and Gamble Oak, about 36 degrees at the steepest, and it sits just a quarter mile from the trailhead. Upon arrival at the Pipeline we see a snowboarder snow-shoeing straight up the right hand edge of the open cut. Due to the steepness of his track we opted to set a switch-backing skin track up the left hand side rather than follow the snowshoer, his track way too steep if we wanted multiple laps. It’s a Wasatch-nasty-habit to set the track way too steep, one-time-use really, because anything more and it’s too packed and slippery to make for efficient hiking.


Almost to the top we watch the snowboarder attempt to ride the Pipeline, but the snow is just too deep and soft and all he can do is straight-line it, else he is stopped by the soft snow. He gains some speed and he attempts a turn but is quickly swallowed, and ultimately falls over, his forward progress stopped by the deep snow. When I reach him he is still trying to free himself from the strangle of the snow, and when he looks my way I’m startled when he calls me by name, “Owen?” Turns out it is my nephew Jacob. It’s only one short day in the snow, but he proves he’s also doomed with the same genetic inclination to go on walk-about.


Clark, Nate, Drew, Tara, and two more friends we meet, John and Shara, ski the short hill for three or four runs. The skiing got better the more tracks we make as the tracks allowed for some speed and actual turning without halting forward motion. The best way to describe the skiing, it was like riding a big curling wave, one that swallows a surfer completely for seconds at a time, only to spit them out still standing and riding strong. Sinking to our waists, the snow would fly over our heads, completely hiding us until momentum would explode us back into view, only to be swallowed again by the cloud of snow hovering about us and following us down the hill.


I might be a loner at heart and I might shun social interaction if at all possible, but sometimes I feel friendship is the strangest places. For whatever reason, some of my best friends are those I’ve met while backcountry skiing, climbing or hiking in the desert. I felt it Saturday. It was good to be with friends.