Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Giant Day in the Great Bear

Spring generally brings better weather in Northwest Montana. High pressure systems come through more often and we actually see the sunshine. There haven't been many blue-bird days this year, with the up-side being clouds have been dumping a bunch of snow! But there is a saying I'm partial to: "Make hay while the sun is shining." In other words: when you have visibility and good weather, you better get after it because you don't know when you might get it again.
We skied the route shown by the dotted red line. It's dubbed the "Z-Couloir" by Brandon and
friends for the shape made by the optional exit off the initial ramp shown by the blue arrow.
Taking this to heart, my vertical-ski shredding buddy Brandon and I made our way into the Middle Fork area we've skied a lot this year on April 13th. New snow was glopping pretty good on my skins on the way in, but I eventually got it fixed and we jumped on a familiar ridge hoping to drop off to the west into a drainage via a gnarly line Brandon had seen from across the valley the week before. We dropped in, tested the snow, felt good about the conditions (more stability-wise, it was kind of crusty for skiing). After entering from the ridge we hooked left under some cliffs and proceeded across a strip of snow in a "no-fall" zone above some cliffs. We made it to the exit and blew down some fairly good snow to the valley floor. This is the most committing line that I have ever skied, and I have to admit I was feeling a little over my head. But skiing something like that definitely boosts one's confidence and I'd be happy to tackle something like it again, with a little better idea of what's expected.
Brando looking for the entrance. Sub-Penrose to the right
of his head and Great Bear the next peak over.
View back up the ramp. It was aesthetic, but not conducive to
good turns.
We then toured up the valley heading for the summit of Great Bear mountain. Gaining the summit, I saw terrain that I had never seen before both to the North and the South. I love Montana: so much untouched and protected land in which to explore and have fun.  We didn't have an exorbitant amount of turns off of Great Bear but the snow was soft and fast. While skinning up the valley, around a sub-peak of Penrose, we had seen a cool trough coming off the shoulder of Mt. Penrose. We headed for this next and skied a phenomenal fall-line run down to the tarn at the head of the drainage and then out to the car, completing a huge 8400' day that included some steep technical skiing, the summit of a named peak, and good powder turns. Mark it down as a Top-3 Ski Day of the season, for sure.

Summit photo on Great Bear.
Brandon shredding the trough with our earlier
ramp-route above him.
We were amazed at how good the last run was: perfect
snow and lots-o-vert. The trough is the highest non-rocky
strip of snow in the light directly above my finger.

Skiing in April

I'm a little behind in blogging...there's a lot to reflect on and share. I'll do my best to make the most of my free time and catch up. It's a funny, fine balance that you have to find between actually getting out and doing things or writing about them. But I've come to love both and realize that balance is important in everything I do.

April has been very good to us skier types, with more and more snow continuing to pile up in one of the biggest snowpacks Montana has had in years. Flooding is being predicted, especially if it decides to suddenly be summer in the next week or so. As it is, we're still skiing powder! In preparation for our upcoming trip to Alaska in June, Dad and I are trying to put in big vertical days. It hasn't been hard to do that "extra" lap when you're skiing knee-deep dry powder on April 23rd.

Mom putting on her skins after a fun out-of-bounds lap in the Canyon. She's a backcountry pro now after our trip to Fairy Meadows! We had just skied down the open meadow just above Mom's head. 
The resort closed in fine fashion. Saturday was a great day with sunshine and clear skies. Costumes abounded in the resort and skiing was fantastic on an out-of-bounds lap first thing in the morning. Then the sun-softened groomers were smokin' fast in the afternoon. Hero-slush! Sunday was a little crummy and icy, but it's the last day of lift-served skiing, so you have to go up and you can't complain about skiing with good friends.

Sunscreen application party!
Fun with a self-timer. We were trying to jump together: Larkin needs to work on her timing; I've just had a lot of practice with my camera. The snow-capped peaks of Glacier beckon in the background.
Larkin came up for her 21st birthday and we got to hang out all day that Tuesday. After good convo over breakfast we went and hiked the mountain for some good skiing. We were blessed with a great day: good snow and sunshine. Later that afternoon we climbed at the gym near our house and celebrated with the folks over an amazing dinner, complete with specialty beer tasting.

Padre shredding some April powder! That man can drop a knee, let me tell you.
Last Saturday (April 23rd mind you) Dad and I got after it in the backcountry of the Middle Fork. We had skinned up and skied at Big Mountain the day before racking up close to 6000 feet, which is the equivalent to our planned summit day on Denali. As I said above, the snow was amazing and we quickly lapped a 1700' run to compile 6300' by 3pm. If someone had told me that I would be getting faceshots the end of April earlier this year, I would have laughed at them. I would like to be up in the alpine shredding couloirs off some peaks in Glacier by now in the year, but the new snow is keeping the avy potential pretty high. Oh well, we'll just keep skiing the trees and shredding until everything stabilizes. Then we'll go "get some!"

The worst thing about this time of year is deciding what to do. Trails are drying up for biking, rock is warm from spring sun, rivers are starting to run fast begging to be paddled, and the snow is still good up high in the mountains. What's a guy to do? I'll have to start doing 2-a-days to pack in multiple sports...

Fun Things about Helicopters: Fairy Meadows, part 1

Unloading the vehicles and getting the gear ready for the flight. Who knew you would need so much stuff for a week of skiing? :)
This year's Spring Break held a lot of skiing, just like the rest of the spring, I suppose. Which begs the question: a break from what?! When you're a ski bum, earning gas money by substitute teaching, then the week called Spring Break is where  you don't feel guilty about making yourself unavailable to teach since the kids aren't in school. My parents, some friends, and I went to Canada to stay in a hut for a week, skiing British Colombia champagne powder.

The approach to the hut was pretty brutal, especially with so much stuff...I'm kidding. One of the perks of the Fairy Meadows/Bill Putnam hut is that you get helicopter'ed in. It was my first time on a helicopter and here's some fun things that I learned:
The helicopter connecting to a load of wood and odds and ends via a cable.

1. No matter how far the blades are over your head, you will still hunch to walk under them.
2. Even when consciously thinking about it the noise and danger associated with a helicopter will give you a sense of urgency that borders on uncomfortable.
3. If you don't normally have an ego, you will. No one wants to look unprofessional in front of the pilot and other guides hanging around the helipad.
4. On the helipad you are supposed to drag your skis around, even when the chopper isn't there, so as to never hit the propellers with them.

5. The AAC/guiding companies will long-line wood into cabins and human waste out.
6. The helicopters we were riding in are passenger models, able to carry 7 people: the pilot and front passenger, 3 people facing forward and 2 facing the rear in the cabin.
7. Since it isn't a cargo helicopter, small bags help to stuff into all the nooks and crannies of open space.
Skis all lined up and ready to go in the box located just behind the legs of the pilot.

8. Goggles are very nice especially if there has been new snow: the chopper whips up quite the snow storm when landing or taking off.
9. Taking off from the ground is an unreal feeling.
10. The views are unforgettable!
Greg enjoying the view and doing his best to capture memories.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In Need of More Silence

A couple of weeks ago, I hauled a sled with camping gear into the Jewel Basin for a little over night ski trip. The weather was supposed to be good, I had a weekend free, the snow was supposed to be great, and I needed to train for Denali. I was by myself because I had difficulty convincing anyone else to go in with me. The snow was great, so it must have been another reason...I swear I shower and use deodorant! I had a great weekend running around and skiing in the mountains by myself. After hauling in the sled 6 1/2 miles up the road to Camp Misery, the parking lot/trailhead of the Jewel, I set up a camp and prepared some delicious tuna-mac for dinner. I was all wrapped up and ready for some shut-eye when I realized the full moon was rising. So I had my own little "Moonlight Dine and Ski." I took a lap up to the ridge above my tent and skied amazing snow, face-shots included, via light from the moon. The next day I toured around the area, skiing cool north-facing shots before breaking camp and wrangling my sled back to my pickup. Here's a little taste of the trip in video form:

Winter Camping in the Jewel Basin from Colter Lane on Vimeo.

I find that I definitely enjoy skiing, climbing, hiking, biking, and any other number of things much more when I'm with other people. You can feed off each other's enjoyment, laugh at each other's mistakes, share in the glory of the scenery and amazing-ness of the the experience, and share in the decision making. Even pictures are better with other people in them. However, I do enjoy getting out by myself. I can go my own pace, do what I want to do, and not have to worry about anyone else. One other nice thing is that it's quiet. At one point on the Saturday I was in the Jewel it was snowing and if I stopped all I could hear, or more appropriately "sense," was the falling snow around me. There are very few times in my life where I feel as though I have been in a quieter place. Absolutely no distractions from other people, technology, machinery, media, etc. It was as if my world was on pause and I was getting to experience a single moment in time repeated indefinitely. The snow was beautiful in its silence; I was enthralled.

Reflecting on that time in the woods, I have to wonder how many occasions do we have to really experience quiet? We have so many media influences bombarding us every day. I've seen people of all ages who seem to be addicted to music, needing to be "plugged-in" to their mp3 players. While substitute teaching recently, the class was watching 180 Degrees South. In it the filmmaker takes off on a journey to reach Patagonia, following in the footsteps of Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. The class was being taught about media influence in their lives; being asked if they could go 6 months without video games or music players. But there were kids in the class that we (me and a co-teacher) couldn't even get to un-plug and watch the movie!

Through all of this we miss out on two things: 1) Interaction with the people around us, and 2) Time for reflection on what's going on in our lives, both of which I feel are extremely important. My challenge for anyone who reads this is to become aware of how much media influences your life, how much you willingly expose yourself to the bombardment of technology and information. I won't encourage you to give it up completely: I think that would be rash and selfish in its own way (if I threw away my cell phone, it limits the ability of others to contact/coordinate with me). Find ways though, to take breaks and seek to engage actual human beings more and give your life some reflection.

Monday, April 4, 2011

First Ski Movie

Here is my first-ever ski movie, made from footage taken two weeks ago in the Flathead Mountain Range while skiing with fellow ski junkie Caleb. I imagine it's a little rough, but I hope you enjoy.

All About the Climb from Colter Lane on Vimeo.

Two things I have noticed about myself through making this flick: 1) I need to smile more. Come on, dude, you're outside skiing! 2) I need to learn to close my mouth when I'm skiing. It's one thing to want to taste the snow, but save it for a snow pit or something. Again, smile more. Enjoy those turns.