Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Follow us on Denali

I don't know if this will work or not. Dad and I are carrying a SPOT Personal Messenger device on our trip to Denali and plan to check-in pretty regularly. The page below should follow those messages as we grind our way up the West Buttress route to the summit, tearing up the spring powder along the way. Thoughts and prayers are much appreciated!

*I've removed the embedded SPOT page, seeing as how we aren't on Denali anymore and SPOT doesn't save our points anyway. I hope to use a SPOT device in future trip escapades.

Plight of the Poutingos

As part of our Denali climb we are trying to raise awareness of the plight of the Poutingo, a rare species of bird that calls the high altitude of the Alaska Range of mountains its home. The name is derived from Poutine, a northern ski community food consisting of cheese curds, fries, and gravy and a close family relative: the flamingo. We found a pair of chicks that were blown in a freak storm all the way from Alaska to the Flathead Valley last fall and Mom raised them into the healthy birds they are now.
Our rather large pile of personal and group gear pre-packing in the den.
We've got to carry all of that up the mountain?!?
Named Curds and Gravy, our mission in going to Denali this summer is to return them to their home on the summit of North America's highest peak and raise awareness to the species' dire situation. They have limited survival skills having developed similar to the halibut with an eye on only one side. Not having the biggest brains in the world they sometimes fall asleep on their bad side up, being vulnerable to predators. To protect themselves they have been driven to the cold and altitude of Denali to escape any predatory threat. Now with the climber traffic on Denali, their habitat is threatened. Please: if you know of anyone attempting to climb Denali, let them know of the Poutingos and to respect this rare bird. Wish us luck as we try to get Curds and Gravy back home.

Me pictured holding the two birds. I have my mask and
goggles on so as to prevent them getting to attached to
human faces.

Doing Field Work

Whew! The last month has been a crazy conglomeration of skiing, training, Denali practice, work, traveling, and weddings. In this post I wanted to highlight the last couple of days of "field work" to prep for Denali.

The pictures are from three different trips: 1) hauling sleds up the local ski resort, Big Mountain, to work on roped travel and our sled haul system. 2) hiking with heavy packs up and down BM to get some vertical and then practicing our crevasse rescue system. 3) backcountry skiing/traversing in the Jewel Basin covering over 10 miles and 4500 feet in a soft snow shred-fest.

The upside-down sled says it all: our sled system initially was not
working and I was ready to cut them loose and send them down the hill
on their own. Good mental practice to tell you the truth. It was windy
and things were not going right. But Dad has an uncanny ability
to stay positive and smile. Thankfully we figured out a better system
and made it back to the truck with no injuries or emotional trauma!
The next day we were setting up our tent and cutting a foam
floor for added insulation. 
Different tent? When we set up the good ol' North Face, we both
looked at the old fabric (I mean, it was my parents wedding present)
and shuddered at the potential of a ripped tent in -20 degree weather.
We promptly ordered a newer tent, which is going to be sweet. Check out
the Hilleburg Allak online if you want some better info on it.
Once again at Big Mountain "hanging out" on a cornice lip
practicing saving someone (Dad's pack in this case) after a crevasse
Dad's turn at a rescue. Our cook tent, a Black Diamond Mega-light,
is in the immediate foreground and the gorgeous Flathead Valley
beyond that.
Standing at the summit of Mt. Aneas in the Jewel Basin, the highest
point of our tour. There is so much snow still in them there hills.
We skied from the summit to the east. See the tracks in the next pic.
Dad pretty pumped up after some flawless skiing.  Summit of
Aneas is behind him. Look directly above Dad and to the right of the
highest point on the ridge to see our tracks. Who said telemarkers
couldn't shred with the best of them?
Dad coming up the ridge to our second high point. Aneas is the prominent peak on left
of the far ridge. Running around on skis in the high country is an absolute blast. 
We feel in great shape for the High One. Shredding snow here in Montana gives us confidence to tackle things in Alaska (as well as gives some confidence to my mom...). Hopefully Denali goes easy on us and we are allowed passage on its flanks. We want our attitudes to be not one of conquerors, but of humble admirers of the mountains, blessed to be among them at all and closer than we've ever been to the Creator of it all.

Snow Cave Camping

It's been about two months now, but Dad and I took an overnight snow-camping expedition into the Middle Fork as a training excursion for Denali. Our goal at first was to do a traverse of of the Great Bear Wilderness, summitting 4 peaks in the process. However, it took us longer to get to the first pass than we thought and the travel of the ridge was excruciatingly slow. So we bailed on the traverse, went and dug a snow cave, made some dinner, and slept soundly. The next morning we had at least 2 inches of new snow on our camp and visibility was very poor. We went up on the side of Mt. Penrose as high as we felt comfortable with the wind slab potential and skied back to camp. Then we stumbled back down the valley, barely able to see in off-white, ping-pong ball conditions. Down lower the fresh snow was super unstable and we fled back to the trees avoiding sliding snow as much as possible.

Trip in review: no traverse, horrible skiing conditions, but a fantastic overnight trip to prepare for our Alaska expedition.

Dad on the gnarly ridge heading toward Nyack Mountain.
The cornices were bad enough that travel was too slow to continue
our intended traverse.

Snuggled up in a puffy waiting hot water for dinner.
Digging the snow cave.
Home away from home for the night. It was a lot warmer and less wet
than I had always pictured snow caves. Just one of those things: you
never know unless you try something.  
Toasting good times, warm clothes, and hot co!
Trying to ski on the inside of ping-pong ball...even the trees were
difficult and after the trees you can see there was nothing to break
up the terrain. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Work, Weddings, and other Wildness

I've been a bad blogger recently, so apologies to any of you who have been eagerly awaiting updates on my life. I looked back at my newest post previous to this one and it's dated May 8th, the day before I started work for the Forest Service. Starting work has been a blessing and a curse in that it's wonderful to start working again and putting away money for school this Fall, but dramatically shrunk my free time. Alas, my career as a ski bum and free-lance writer has come to an end. Creative writing quickly took the back burner to more pressing things like sleep, training, church and friend activities, and Denali preparation.

Work has been great so far. Our crew was in a sort of pre-season mode for much of the first couple of weeks since the snow on the ground prevented us from getting very far off the valley floor on system roads. Once underway though we've made a great deal of progress on all our projects. I'm specifically in a semi-leadership position on a small crew that is surveying old logging roads acquired by the Forest Service in the past year. We are to map the roads on a GPS, record any important features along the way, and judge the soil erosion/water management risk level of the road.

The past month has also been a whirlwind of traveling, as is evidenced by my current location: on a hotel bed in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The first big trip cam Memorial Day weekend with a trip to Dallas for my college roommate and good friend's wedding. Marc and Bonni are finally hitched after what seemed like ages of holding off until both had graduated college, amidst two separate years of being apart. It was a giant reunion for my group of friends from ACU and what an incredible joy it was to see familiar faces. It was the hottest day in Dallas/Ft. Worth yet that year (it hit 104 the afternoon of the outside wedding), but we wetted some eyes in a touching ceremony and then burned the house down in a rockin' dance-party reception dinner.

This weekend I am in Los Alamos for another of my best friend's wedding. Nathan and Sarah are some of the coolest people I know: their love for adventure, each other, and God is infectious. I had never been a Best Man before and with the honor came some responsibilities that induced some stress. The other Groomsman and I creatively delivered the ring to the Groom via a frisbee and tradition had it that I gave a toast during the tea-time reception. However, never have I been to a more fun wedding! Everything about it was a great reflection on the type of people Nathan and Sarah are. It was a huge family/friend reunion all over again and my spirit is soaring in the clouds. Just as a heads up, single ladies and aspiring matchmakers alike, I caught the garter...

Abbey Road anyone? Marc, Nathan, and Ryan heading to the baseball stadium, just one part of a sweet Bachelor party.

The Rangers stadium. An interesting conglomeration of the facades and styles of several other ballparks around the Country.
Me and my escort for the Marc's wedding, my good friend Amanda.

First dance!

The groomsmen at Nathan's wedding. I humbly claim that we were the "life of the party..." 

Both weddings were great excuses for reunions. Amanda, myself, Marc, and Bonni.

The debut performance of "The Pickles and the Groomsmen" during the wedding reception. We sang "All I Want is You" from the movie Juno. 

The happy couple with the BM.

The decorated car. We made it as gaudy as possible and hid the keys. With both of them thoroughly confused, Sarah's dad drove up in a new Mini-Cooper for them to drive to Albuquerque.
Saying goodbye in the hotel. 
Tomorrow begins the journey back home, where I will frantically make last minute packing and gear decisions with my dad before we head out to Alaska on Tuesday. Start your "praying engines," because we're going to need them all.