Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ski Mountaineering in June

4:30 am, June 12th. The sound of BBC newscasters analyzing the oil disaster in the Gulf comes blaring through my fitful dreams. Barely awake I give my alarm clock a bleary look, my mind going through an extreme case of deja vu. This was too much like yesterday: not enough sleep, waking up before sunrise...but also knowing that I would be rewarded with an awesome day of skiing.

The day before, my dad and I had gotten up at 3:30 and met two other friends at their house at 4 in order to get over to the East Side of Glacier Park as early as possible. Our goal was to tour from Jackson Glacier Overlook up through Siyeh Pass and back down to the Going to the Sun Highway at Sunrift Gorge, a trip of about 10 trail miles, all before a wedding to be held nearby at 5 pm. We left the truck and hit the trail around 7:15, making it to the snow-line (where we were able to quit carrying our skis) within 40 minutes. The conditions were great for a skin up: not too cold and surprisingly dry. Our early morning was rewarded ten-fold when we were greeted at tree line with incredible views of the surrounding peaks. Unfortunately when we reached the pass, we were unable to find a path through the cliffs and around the corner to complete the loop. Nevertheless we had some great turns through spring snow conditions on the way back to the truck.

11:46 am, Comeau Pass
Adam and I had been climbing for the past 5 hours from the pickup, about 3 of which had been on our skis. The weather was working out well for us: not heating up too fast as to cause wet slide avalanches or, even worse, slides off the south facing rocks along our intending route. Now as we booted up the final 15 meters up the headwall to the top of the pass (in the summer there is a staircase blasted out of the rock, but it's chocked full of snow now making a vertical wall that we must surmount) we are greeted with gorgeous views looking eastward into the rest of Glacier Park overlooking snow-capped peaks for miles and the sweeping snow fields leading up to our right ending in the sharp summit of the goal for the day, Gunsight Peak.

When we loaded all of our gear into the truck, the four of us rolled down Going to the Sun road into St. Mary's for some coffee, a change of clothes, and relaxation time before heading to our friend's wedding back in the Park. The wedding itself was fantastic. Overcast all day long, the weather took a turn for the best when the clouds broke and the couple had sunshine and blue sky for their ceremony. Small, informal, and fun adequately describe the event (entertaining too if you count laughing at my friend Dan, the one getting married, totally out of his element and crippled with nervousness...).

2:30, Summit of Gunsight Peak
I would dare anyone to find a better lunch spot than the top of Gunsight Peak that day. The views would rival any of those from the Himalayas, the company couldn't be any better, and I had earned that delicious peanut butter and banana sandwich. The climb from the Pass had been a blast: skinning up the side of a mountain with decent exposure then transitioning to kicking steps through the steeper sections toward the summit itself, looking forward to skiing back down the entire time.

At the top Adam and I had reflected on our feelings of power in such an incredible place. In the mountains it is easy to feel small and insignificant next to the immensity of geological formations and the effects of wind, snow, and ice. The mountain could care less of the two humans scratching their way up its side and in a few days, hours even, any trace of our passing would be unrecognizable. Being Christians, it brought reflection on how we fit into God's plan; I know that I am just a speck in the immense span of things God has in his control. The difference is that God does care about how I take part in his designs.

Soft, spring-corn snow flies from the edges of our skis in our rapid descent from the peak back to the valley floor, our waiting transportation home, and security once again from the dangers of the mountains. It is always a relief to escape from the power of the rock and snow unscathed, but even better knowing that I have been changed by these experiences.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Climbing at the Lost Wall

The Lost Wall in all its hidden glory. Our route climbs the dihedral (book-like formation) on the left.

It's not exactly on the same level as the "Lost World" Jack Black travels to in King Kong, but the "Lost Wall" located in the forests and hills of the Flathead Valley hides is nevertheless a place worth seeking out, especially by those desirous of adventurous rock climbing. Since being home this summer I've made several trips out to this secluded location. Strangely enough the two trips featured two climbing disciplines not often associated with each other: traditional lead climbing and bouldering. Both are specialties that require their own training and technical expertise.

The first trip was with two good friends, Dan and Strider, to climb the 5.9 crack to the left side of the wall. We climbed the 200 footer in two pitches and were able to rap off the chain anchors at the top using two 60 meter ropes.
Me climbing with Dan on belay duty. I'm top-roping the first section that Dan led before running out of gas and lowered.

The second was with a buddy from high school, Ryan, who was in town visiting friends and family and looking for a climbing partner on that Saturday morning. Although the weather had been rather wet over the past week, we decided to go out and explore the potential of climbing in the boulder field at the foot of the Wall itself. We worked a couple of really hard overhanging problem that were relatively dry before the sun came out around noon and started drying things out. We found evidence of other climbers and tried several problems indicated by characteristic chalk marks. The highlight of the day was sending the new route Spayed and Neutered, a razor sharp knife-edge with a hip-shifting top out.

Ryan on Spayed and Neutered on an attempt right before the First Ascent.

My hope is to become familiar enough with the area to be able to take camping trips out there, take laps on the traditional climbing routes, and establish new boulder problems. I've heard rumors of a Montana Bouldering Guidebook that would feature a section on the Lost Wall. It would be great to be a part of something like that.

Pictures to come...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend

Rain is a very funny thing. I get home and the Flathead Valley is experiencing an unusually wet and rainy spring. Naturally I find myself complaining that I am not able to get out and do what I love to do best: climb (and skiing isn't really a very good option either since the weather is bad in the mountains). However I have to pause and realize what a blessing it is to have the moisture. It's making everything green and grow well, giving farmers hope of a good farming season and everyone dream of no fires toward the end of the summer. I have to remind myself surprisingly often that I'm not the center of the universe and not everything revolves around keeping me happy. Imagine that!

Well regardless of the (un)fortunate rainy weather, Memorial Day Weekend had a lot of excitement, especially of a sort that I don't often get to take advantage of since I'm usually on the go. Saturday night, my parents and I threw together a couple of homemade, whole wheat crust pizzas from scratch and ate them while relaxing with the movie Up. Very tasty and entertaining! Then Monday, I had work off for the holiday and was able to whip up an apple pie (again from scratch) to celebrate Dad's belated birthday. We even savored the scrumptious dessert to the tune of decaf coffee and Bananagrams.
Yet another reason to be thankful for the blessings-in-disguise of the rain: forcing us all to slow down and relish the small and often overlooked things in life.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Blogging Struggles

I've been struggling on posting to my blog recently. I am concluding this is due to my fault of being a perfectionist and wanting to write posts/articles that are magazine quality or noteworthy enough to be compiled in a published memoir. But this should be more about sharing my life and thoughts with the world, whatever raw form it comes out to be. I need to be more willing to treat it like a public journal, keeping track of my thoughts on the world around me, reactions to various media stimuli, and chronicle day to day adventures.

Take two...