Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ski Modification: Twin-Tip Tail Removal

There are a number of projects that I've been working on recently, one of which is turning my pair of "in-bounds" skis into some backcountry powder hounds. I bought a pair of used touring bindings and mounted them on my white Fischer Kehuas. Telemark bindings now come with a free-pivot mode for skinning uphill. For those of you still thinking that telemarking = touring, which I still think is very true, there is better technology out there these days. Anyway, after the bindings were mounted I wanted to cut off the twin-tip tail (actually an old Doug Coombs trick) to better enable me to stick them into the snow while transitioning between skiing and skinning or building quick belay anchors in a more technical skiing environment. Not to mention I'm saving weight by shortening the skis...

I cut six centimeters off the tail and ground a notch to help keep my skins in place while climbing. It's been suggested that I seal the now-naked ends with an epoxy or JB Weld and after the first coat and a day of skiing the protection is chipping a little. I don't really see any problems delaminating but I still don't want water in the cores. It will most likely just be a continued maintenance issue unless putting some heavier-duty JB Weld and grinding it off smooth would be better.

Ski Modification: Twin-Tip Tail Removal from Colter Lane on Vimeo.

This is my first video in a long time, but I want to get back into making them. It will be just one more avenue for creation to add to the quiver along with still-photography and writing. The video may be a little slow and boring so feel free to fast-forward through it. Any suggestions on editing in the future will be much appreciated.

Creating and Then Letting Go

A question that I've been asking people recently is "What would you have to do in your life to make it seem worthwhile?" As is the nature of such questions, I have had to be prepared to answer it myself. It's a tough question to say the least. Through writing and working on some projects in our shop lately I have been noticing humanity's affinity for creation. We gain a satisfaction through building things or creating art. In my opinion this is an attempt to imitate the the one who created us; when we are making something it brings us closer to God in a sense.

I do a lot of reading, writing, and building. In addition, I love to climb peaks or rock climbing routes. There is a satisfaction to gain through working hard for a goal and then accomplishing it. However, what will this gain me or anyone else around me when I'm gone? Very little, to be blunt. I read a post by Don Miller this morning talking about being afraid of death because of what we are leaving behind. I was struck by the fact that all material things are going to be left behind when we die. It's not like I didn't realize this before, but it's an important reminder nonetheless.

So to answer the first question, "What do I have to do to feel like my life is worthwhile?" I feel like the only way to do this is to make a difference in the lives of other people. There's a famous wandering, vagabond with the initials JC who modeled this pretty well: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, speaking with those whom no one else would hang around. He set the standard pretty high. I'm just hoping that those around me will feel loved and not hated, uplifted and not broken down, like I was their friend not just a face in the crowd. This is a very general answer, but then again, it's still a tough question.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts on 1 Peter 1:6

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  1 Peter 1:6

I volunteered to teach the High School and Middle School age class at church on Wednesday nights, as I mentioned in a previous post about teaching. We are studying 1 Peter and using materials published by the eBible Study website run by Oklahoma Christian University's College of Biblical Studies. The study guides and worksheets have been useful and taken a lot of pressure and time commitment off me in preparation every week. But I don't like the emphasis the preparer of the material, Dr. Curt Niccum, puts on the "benefits" of Christian suffering. I agree that the purpose of the author of 1 Peter (most likely the apostle Peter) is to encourage christians scattered to new areas in Asia, reminding them of the joy of their salvation, call them to live holy lives, and urge them not to lose their faith in the face of persecution. There doesn't seem to be an emphasis on rejoicing in suffering.

Take the above verse for example (1:6). The rejoice in this verse doesn't point to "rejoicing in your suffering" as is the stance Dr. Niccum takes and is the traditional interpretation, or at least the interpretation the at I've grown up hearing. Peter is telling the christians to rejoice in the salvation they have in Jesus Christ, reminding them of the hope and inheritance they have as gifts from God. In this phrase, Peter is saying to have joy in the blessings they have through Jesus, even in the midst of their trials, not because of those trials themselves.

The problem I see is christians in the present taking this passage as an excuse to act in a way that makes non-christians edgy, turning them off in a sense. This is justified because any negative reaction is "persecution" and our faith is just being "refined by fire, like gold." We run the risk of alienating people because of our self-righteousness: we are better than everyone else because we are christians. I don't feel like we are under the same persecution/trials that the early church was and to try and include ourselves in the same suffering, because we feel uncomfortable praying by ourselves at work or sharing our beliefs with a classmate or coworker who doesn't necessarily believe the same way we do, is ignorant. 

Again, the emphasis, both for followers of Christ in Peter's time and now, is to rejoice in the love, joy, peace, hope, and salvation we gain through a relationship with God. We should seek to share that joy with others, not turn them off to make us feel more assured about our place in heaven.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

100th Post

I almost feel like this is cheating: writing about getting your 100th post in order to publish your 100th post. But if you look at it another way, this is a celebration of the past year of writing, personal growth, and belief development. I started this blog on March 7th, 2010, a little over a year ago. There have been huge periods when I didn't have to time to write anything, and others where I could throw up several posts in the same morning. I've grown a lot over the course of this year, becoming better able to communicate my ideas and work through my own jumble of thoughts. My hope and desire is to continue writing and sharing my life with whomever stumbles across this blog.
Here's to the 200th post!

Rock and Trail

Now I have another venue for which to write and this is your invitation to check it out! A couple of friends of mine and I have recently launched a website called Rock and Trail. The three of us wanted to start a site to chronicle our adventures, helping others learn from our mistakes and our successes, and potentially starting a community of bikers and climbers. This project incorporates our combined desires to be in the outdoors, and pulls on the blogging strength of Eric (Abilene Climbers) and I and the web development of Asa.

Whether you are a mountain biker, backpacker, hiker, scrambler, vertical rock climber, gear junkie, or something in between, this is the site for you!

Substituting Funny Story

So I'm overseeing a group of IB Biology students on Wednesday. They are working on their projects and it's a pretty low-key day: responsible students so I don't have to get on their case too much. Then out of nowhere, one kid comes up and asks to use a scalpel. Probably a normal request in a Biology lab, but still one that causes hesitation. I respond by suggesting the use of scissors, which turned out to be totally appropriate since they were merely cutting braided nylon rope. A few minutes later, the same student with the same sheepishly apprehensive grin comes up and asks for some matches to light a Bunsen burner. I allowed myself to be talked into letting them use it, with the caveat that they would wear all the necessary protective equipment. A couple minutes later, you guessed it, the same student comes up asking if I know where the switch for the exhaust fan is. I don't have any clue. Starting to smell the smoke myself, I put the kibosh on the whole operation fearing that our classroom would trigger the fire alarm. Thankfully there was only 2 minutes left in the period. Whew!

Weekend Review

Last weekend I got to ski in the backcountry with my dad and a couple of friends and then head down to Missoula for a visit with a high school climbing buddy and my lovely sister. For time's sake I'll just throw up some pictures in the post and narrate from there.
Looking upward to Nyack Mountain. Notice the huge cornice off the summit ridge. It's got to be about 60-80 feet out from the rock. I would like to see some of those fall this spring, albeit from a very safe location.

Eric stoked to get some fresh turns. The mountains behind him are in the southern portion of Glacier National Park. As you can see, we really lucked out on weather: it was clear, warm, and sunny. Unfortunately we forgot any sunscreen during this transitional period from winter to spring skiing. Thankfully I didn't get fried like I thought I was going to.

El Jefe himself, dreaming of big turns in the mountains this spring. Eric, Dad, and I were grinning from ear to ear by the end of the 7000 foot, perfect snow day realizing that the three of us will get to do this 5 days in a row in a couple of weeks at the Fairy Meadows hut in British Colombia.

Dad carving some great tele-turns.

Climbing in Lost Horse Canyon with my friend Ryan (green shirt on the left), his girlfriend Brittany (on the boulder), and a psyched group of climbers connected to the UM. We climbed all day on some really aesthetic boulders strewn among the snow and mud of approaching Spring. For my first climb outside for the year, my hands fared pretty well.

My sister and I. Background is the city of Missoula. We were on a hike on the Reynold's Ridge (?) starting from the Orange Street trailhead overlooking the the city to the south and the Rattlesnake and Clark Fork canons to the east.

Fun photo! Practicing my skills with a self-timer and small tripod. One of my favorite landscapes/natural settings is brown-grassy foothills leading up to blue mountains covered with snow. I wasn't disappointed in the least.

Larkin is pointing to her new house in this photo, just south of the UM campus. We spent some time up on this higher ridge with her pointing out some landmarks and streets of Missoula.

We met Monday morning in a cool coffee and tea shop called Butterfly Herbs where I had a fantastic latte and bagel with cream cheese for breakfast. For lunch after our hike (I for one can say that I was particularly ready for some food), we stopped in at Biga Pizza. Larkin is modeling the delicious Flathead Cherry pizza we ordered: smoked gouda cheese, homemade sausage, and real Flathead cherries all on a superb crust. It makes me want to go home and make some pizza! Top it all off with a great, low-key atmosphere perfect for conversation, and you get one heck of a good place to eat lunch.

Subbing Update

I’ve been inside all week. I’m getting restless and I‘m ready to get out and enjoy the snow this weekend. But I can’t complain about being employed and gaining an income. It’s going to be very difficult to settle back into a full-time job for the Forest Service again this summer and then graduate school in the Fall.

This week, I wore the hat of English teacher on Monday and am now playing the role of Chemistry teacher for four days in a row. The teacher I’m subbing for is a good friend of mine as well as a chem teacher when I was in High School. Evidently he trusts me quite a bit because he has given me a pretty loose reign with regard to sub plans. The AP kids in first period have had a rough week of it, taking practice tests the past three days. Tomorrow however, I’m teaching an introductory lesson on organic compound nomenclature. That’s right. I am finally teaching something rather than handing out a worksheet or popping in a video. As for general chemistry, the teacher left some videos that he made about the states of matter and inter/intramolecular attraction. I’ve had the students watch the videos for fear that I would leave something important out, all the while adding in examples and making sure everything makes sense to the students. This afternoon I plan on getting “out” of the videos a little bit and trying to lecture a little since the videos were putting the students to sleep…

Between substitute teaching and teaching a class at church on 1 Peter, I’ve been getting a solid dose of what it feels like to be in the position of knowledge and influence. There is a lot of pressure when you stand up in front of people and claim to have a firm enough grasp on information to be able to impart some of that knowledge on to them. I feel like most of what we do mirrors characteristics of God, our creator. At this point in my life I can relate to the image of Jesus as a teacher. The responsibility is intense but the reward is big.

Saturday Telemark Race

Whitefish Mountain Resort played host to a US Telemark Ski Association sanctioned race on February 26th and opened it up to racers of all levels by including Citizen and Novice categories. It was going to be a Sprint Classic race which entailed giant slalom turns through gates down through Ptarmigan Bowl on Big Mountain as well as a jump (more of a bump on the run, kind of disappointing) and a skate finish. You were docked points if you didn’t have a perfect tele-turn through each gate, if you didn’t go 30 feet on the jump, or if you didn’t land in a telemark stance when landing the jump. Sound exciting? We thought so. Psyched from our fun on Thursday nights, Dad and I decided to participate.
Dad poling for all he's worth to the finish line.

Two cold, tired, and hungry racers. Why did I get lucky number 13?
Depending on how you look at it, that particular Saturday wasn’t a very good day for a ski race. It was freezing, the wind was blowing, and visibility was very poor. On the other hand, the snow conditions were good (read not icy) albeit slow because of the low temperatures. And nobody came out and did the race: if I remember correctly there were only 16 total participants, male and female, elite racers and novices alike. This itself worked in our favor. I finished first in the Citizen class and Dad finished third! Plus there was plenty of door prizes and schwag to go around. Needless to say, we made out like bandits…

I’ve probably said this before, but I love the atmosphere of a race. Regardless of how you expect to finish compared to everyone else it’s a blast. All you can do is go out there and give’er your all, sell out, and see where you end up. Rubbing elbows with pros at any level is super cool and everyone is always so encouraging. I love the feeling of wrapping up a race and wanting more, stoked about training hard or practicing your skills to become better at your sport.

Ski Week in Review

Last week was pretty remarkable: three days of slackcountry and powder schralping at Big Mountain and a weekend warrior dash in the backcountry of the Middle Fork corridor.
Two stoked friends and one happy dog on top of a third lap of perfect snow.

With new snow all week long, skiing at the resort was fantastic. Monday saw several new inches of fresh, creamy snow. The visibility was not very good and skiing the upper mountain was often like skiing in a ping pong ball. But no one was up there and the you could find places to absolutely charge in between the layers of fog. I spent some time in the beacon park as well, rooting around in the snow trying to find buried transceivers. There is so much snow on top of them that I was unable to find the boxes with my probe pole, just get as close as possible with my locator beacon. It makes me that much more aware of the danger of avalanches and the difficulty of finding someone who is buried.

Thursday dawned clear and sunny, and the mountain was spectacular. I got to the mountain and ripped off a couple of technical laps riding the chair. My first line was down East Rim and I nailed my favorite line, airing a small drop, and linked the apron below into the trees. The biggest thing that I’m working on recently is skiing technical lines from top to bottom with pausing or hesitating. Needless to say, my fists were pumping the sky when I hit Momentum at the bottom.

A couple more loops in bounds and I started ducking the rope. First on the agenda was the rapidly warming (due to sun exposure) face of Hellroaring Peak. I hustled up the boot-pack trail up to the summit and skied down into steeper terrain. I then dug a pit, which was a ton of work due to all the wind blasted/compacted layers. Strength tests were fairly good, but I still stuck close to the trees as I worked my way down the ridge. Great snow, and almost spring-like conditions near the bottom. Eating lunch on the lift was inevitable on such a gorgeous day and I found myself at top of the resort again with hunger satiated and thirst quenched.

So I dove into the Canyon, a region descriptively named due to in part to the corridor that is drops into and also because the drainage funnels into Canyon Creek. At the bottom there is a Forest Service road that is groomed for snowmobiles in the winter. This makes for an easy hike back to the resort’s lift service and can even mean a tow out of the Canyon with either a rope or your poles on the back of a sled (snowmobile). The snow was incredible! So much so that I had to jump in again; unfortunately I forgot my snorkel both times… To finish the day I rode the chair until closing time, running through the terrain park several times since I was in the area, and then waited for the rest of my team for the race league that evening.

Drop that knee! Amazing snow!
While running around the “slack country” of Big Mountain, alone and among my scheming thoughts, I began to surmise a challenge for myself. Very often on Sunday afternoons, Dad and I get out of church and head up to the Mountain. The last several times we have done this we’ve taken two laps in the Canyon and then went home. According to my calculations, one could conceivably do 3 laps in the Canyon and then a climb and ski of Hellroaring Peak before all the lifts were closed. It would be pushing it, with no room for chit-chat or dawdling, but totally doable. I’m dubbing it the Sunday Slackcountry Scramble, and I’d like to do it before the end of the season.

At the end of the week, my buddy Caleb and I toured into the backcountry of the Middle Fork of the Flathead. Leaving town fairly early we arrived to see the parking lot full of vehicles and jammed with people. This is slightly an exaggeration, but 6 other skiers were all gunning to find freshies in the same area that day. Fortunately for us they headed in the opposite direction we did and we never saw them until we came back to our rig. Think about that: six other skiers and we never saw sign of other people nor heard voices the whole day. Amazing! I love getting into the backcountry! We gained the ridge without too much trouble, skied down the slope a ways, and dug a snow pit. Finding the conditions super stable and with ski penetration into “Four Finger” (a measure of resistance to penetration) all the way to 40-50 cm down we went nuts.
Self-portrait trying out my new tripod on the top a high point on the ridge we hung out on all day. The sun had just come out making the views incredible and my altimeter just topped out at 7000 feet.
According to our calculations we skied up and down about 7000 feet that day over the course of three climbs. My legs were tired but definitely in very good shape; I felt strong and was able to ski hard. At the top of the second climb, Caleb expressed doubts that he could do another one, both with time and energy concerned. What did I do? I pulled out my Bag-O-Commitment and shared some fig newtons. Among quotations of a beloved comedian, we decided to push for another 2000 feet or so of skiing on the next lap. Needless to say, the level of stoke was high due to great snow, good visibility, and good companionship. Thanks for the awesome day Caleb!

Final Telemark Race League Night

Team Poutine and X-tra Gravy wrapped up our Thursday Night Telemark Race season last Thursday in fine fashion. The league was a lot of fun and it was something I looked forward to every week for the past month and a half. We had a great group of people to hang out with, make knee-bending turns beside, and laugh at the same sarcastic jokes. It was probably a good thing that we were all there to have a great time and not too focused about breaking any speed records. Don’t get me wrong: we have some very fast people on our teams. However, the race leagues are notoriously a “circus,” not getting the correct times, confusing people, and not starting/ending on time and this year was no exception.
Members of Team Poutine and X-tra Gravy basking in the glow of cajun cheese curds and sausage gravy topping fries in all their golden glory.
The final race is a solo event (not head-to-head) and is similar to the Sprint Classic event held last Saturday. But in honor of the last race, everyone comes decked-out in costume, attempting to win the team contest. So we raced last week with people in tuxes, Trekkies, aliens, and of course Kokopouteles! That’s right: our two teams were Kokopelli-Poutine-Telemarkers. Remember that poutine is fries covered in gravy and cheese curds (Yum!). We didn’t get on the podium of the costume contest but should have won the Most Obnoxious award. Several of us had whistles, others had vuvuselas from the soccer Sorld Cup in South Africa, and one guy even brought a make-shift digeridoo. And we used them all in excess. Dodging gates went well and the after-party was a lot of fun: hanging out, eating poutine, and winning race schwag. 
More team members sporting costumes and enjoying the fellowship inducing Poutine.
All in all a great experience for me. I feel like I’ve become a better telemark skier from running icy, rutted out courses through colored gates. I had a great time hanging out with my Dad and his social circle on Thursday nights, making cool connections and building fun relationships. And what’s becoming apparent to me is that’s what life is all about.
Me, obviously enjoying myself. Notice the detail and artistic work of my costume: the dashing kokopelli telemarker, fries on the helmet, whistle around the neck, and flute hanging from my chin strap.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Denali Update: Base Camp Taxi and Sock System

View of Denali with Base Camp in foreground.
Image courtesy of TAT. 
Up to this point I would have said that Dad and I were 90% positive that we were going to Alaska to attempt Denali this June. Now we're about 95%. We filed for our permits through the Park service and reserved our flight into Base Camp through Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT). The final committing step will be buying our plane tickets to Anchorage. We're waiting to hear whether are permit application was accepted or not, so during that time we'll be shopping air fare.

 The sock system we plan to use on Denali will consist of a liner sock, a vapor barrier liner sock (VBL), and then a thicker wool hiking sock. The idea behind the system is that the water proof VBL will cause your foot to saturate the air around it with moisture and therefore no longer be able to sweat, decreasing the heat loss out of the feet. It will also keep the outer sock and boot liner cleaner and dryer. I tried out the system while skiing at Big Mountain a couple of weeks ago.

I put it to the test while running around the slackcountry that morning. I don't really have a good grasp of how it did, since I opted to pull them off at lunch and go to a one-sock "system" for the rest of the day. The three layers felt kind of weird while skiing, but didn't hinder performance at all. What we will need to do to improve the set-up will be longer/higher liner socks. The tab to cinch down the VBL rubbed the bare skin of my leg uncomfortably since my liners didn't quite reach over the top of them. I just bought a new liner yesterday so I'll give the system another try while ski touring this coming weekend.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bag of Commitment

I’ve started carrying a personal “Bag-O-Commitment” when I go out backcountry skiing. I got the idea from Greg Hill, a professional skier in Canada. He set a goal to climb and ski 2 million vertical feet over the course of one year and succeeded just last December. He had to average about 5500 feet of elevation everyday, which meant that he was doing over 10,000 feet some days since he couldn’t ski every single day. To put that in perspective, the highest peak in Glacier National Park is just over 10 thousand. Big Mountain is just about 2400 feet from the parking lot to the summit. You can do the math yourself but I’m thinking that 4 Big Mountains equals 1 average day for Greg.

As might happen when you do something crazy like this, it’s hard to find partners to ski with you. So he came up with a plan: whenever he went out he had a bag full of snacks that he would share with his ski partners. He gladly shared the food but it was given on a condition: they would have to commit to a huge day of hiking and skiing. The deeper they dug into that bag, the more vertical they would have to climb that day. But the cool thing is that everyone was excited about it! Greg was stoked to hand it out to get partners to ski big days and they were pumped to get the goodies since they were going big, skiing hard, and getting really good snow.

I think a lot of people look at having a relationship with Jesus as following this list of rules and regulations, like stepping into a box that traps us and takes all the fun out of life. For me, following Jesus is more like reaching into a Bag of Commitment. He’s not this figure that’s out there in space somewhere commanding us to do things, demanding that we go to church or read the bible or help old ladies across the street. Christianity is a journey that he invites us on and goes with us. Jesus keeps on knocking on my door, asking me to reach into his Bag. What I get out of the Bag is love and joy and peace. But the cool thing is I’m never expected to give anything back. I’m just invited to follow Jesus…but I am stoked to continue on this journey.

Peter is a good example from the Bible of someone struggling to accept Jesus’ Bag of Commitment. He was a pretty fiery follower and he put his foot in mouth a lot. One of his most shining moments really wasn’t: he tries to step out of a boat and walk over to Jesus who has been sauntering around the middle of the lake. But Peter just barely sticks his finger tips into the Bag and tried to pull something out. It just doesn’t work that way and he almost sank. Then when Jesus was killed by a mob later, Peter disowned him three times, claiming that he didn’t know him. But then something clicked about a month and a halk later and he went “shoulder deep” into the Bag. He spoke to thousands of people in Jerusalem about how they had killed Jesus and they needed to change their lives in order to ask for forgiveness.

Jesus is always here, holding out his Bag of Commitment, inviting us all to join him on a his journey, asking us to “Go for it!” Like climbing 10 thousand feet in a day, it’s not always going to be easy, but it can always be exciting.