In November 2016 I headed to Chamonix, France to feel out a seemingly unbelievable opportunity. That trip was my first to Chamonix and I didn’t get a peek at the riches that the area has for mountain scenery and fun. The clouds hung low for the duration of that trip and snow fell frequently. Since that date things have accelerated significantly and at the beginning of May it was time to return for a longer and more productive trip to solidify the gel that has started setting. In short the opportunity was to work with Blue Ice, a small Chamonix based climbing company. I would go along with Bill Belcourt to discuss opening an additional office in Salt Lake City. We would head the hardgoods design effort here in SLC and softgoods would continue out of Chamonix. Six months after the project kicked off we are six strong in Salt Lake and augmenting the team of 13 in Chamonix. Stay tuned to see what we’re working on…
As for the trip. Adam and I headed out at the beginning of May just as one of the team from France was leaving a visit to the US. The itinerary was to visit a number of suppliers, climb, ski, and live in France for the bulk of May. Check, check, check, and check.
In Nov. ’16 I didn’t get to witness the scale since the place was socked in and we didn’t get out for any climbing. This time however, our ride in from Geneva left us with a clear view of the magnitude of topography that is Chamonix. The elevation at the cable car, téléphérique as it’s called, in town is 3,379′ (1030 m). The top of the Aiguille du Midi which the téléphérique brings you to is 12,604′ (3,842 m). Mont Blanc, the highest point in Europe, is 15,774′ (4,808 m) and only 3.4 mi (5.4km) away. I thought that Salt Lake City had some of the best relief in the world and it is only half of that of Chamonix. The scale is mind blowing. Looking up at the peaks from the center of town almost hurts your neck in how high you have to look.
While there was quite a bit of working on the trip we were able to get out and do some fun in the hills and mountains.
In mid-January I was asked by a couple CT friends to join in on a short notice trip to British Columbia for some skiing, hot-tubbing, and general good times. It seemed a bit short notice and I sort of had other stuff planned, but a few days later my schedule opened up and I decided to go in on the fun.
Thursday the 21st I flew up to Calgary where Christina arrived only an hour before I did. We met up, caught up and headed outside to be picked up by Drew. His Forester pulled up horns blaring and music thumping. I’m pretty sure the security crew thought they had a live one on their hands, but once seeing Drew they realized it was just an American over-stoker. Cramming all our stuff into the car and roof box we headed off on an awesome impromptu adventure across British Columbia.
That afternoon we headed west through Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise to stay in Golden, BC, home of Kicking Horse resort. Snow the previous night and that night gave us great conditions the next day. While we never caught a rope drop we did have plenty of soft turns in whiteout conditions all day. That evening we decided to check out the hot tub and indoor pool at the Holiday Inn Express we were staying at. It was surprisingly good and included a short water slide going into the pool!
The next day we hit Revelstoke resort. Revelstoke’s claim to fame is the largest vertical relief in North America, 5620′. It is a former heli and cat skiing area that only turned into a resort in 2007. There are only three lifts serving a majority of the terrain. We stuck to the upper portions of the mountain as the temperatures at the base were very warm and it was drizzling at times down there. Conditions on the upper half of the mountain were good though. We didn’t get any fresh turns, but there was stuff soft stuff in the innumerable glades and on the sides of the established trails. If you like glades they have an entire half of the mountain more or less dedicated to it.
The highlight of Revelstoke was booting up to the top of a sub-peak (7677′) of Mt. Mackenzie (8058′). From here we skiied well skier’s left along the resort boundary and got an amazingly long shot of wind buffed creamy goodness. From here we went through the boundary into the sidecountry and got some more fresh turns in the trees. On our second lap through this area we put the skins on and had another great section of buffed turns before making the epicly long trek down the mountain to finish up the day. In all we stayed on our feet for the entire day of skiing. Our last run went from powder at the top in the sidecountry to hard packed, east coast style snow in the middle, to smooth corn at the bottom.
In Revelstoke we hit the aquatic center in town. This complex is a massive indoor water center with a large pool with lanes, diving board, short climbing soloing wall, lazy river floating, hot tub, sauna, steam room, AND a massive fully enclosed waterslide that goes outside the building before dropping you back into the landing zone next to the pool.
Our third day brought us back into Roger’s Pass, which separates Revelstoke and Golden. This area is a wilderness area comprised largely of Canada’s Glacier Provincial Park. The backcountry skiing, ski-mountaineering, and hut hopping are known far and wide. We picked up the beta via a great guidebook and map. Given it was a Sunday we were able to get a reservation in a hut not far from the road to base our Monday ski tour from. I’ve been in a couple huts before and this one is by far the nicest I’ve been in. It sleeps about 24 and is only a casual 30 minute skin in from the road along a railroad bed. The cabin itself has a massive kitchen fully furnished with utensils, plates, bowls, mugs, fully draining sinks, and two stoves. All you have to bring is your food and sleeping bag. The only other cabin goers Sunday night were a group of snowboarders from Hood River, OR. We had a blast shooting the breeze and sipping whiskey (thanks guys!) for the evening.
Our tour Monday unfortunately had to be cut slightly short because we needed to be in Nelson, BC later that night so we could make the next leg of our journey. Nevertheless we headed out to a popular and mellow Perly’s Rock. The views along the way were beautiful and much different that the Wasatch touring I’m used to. Here in in the Wasatch you more or less can pick your elevation, terrain, aspect, and just go towards it. In Roger’s pass the terrain is typically steeper, more complex (many slope angles on the same aspect), and the trees are brutally tight in most places. There are also glaciers to consider as well. Our skin up towards Perly’s had some great views and Christina and Drew ate up every minute of it. I’m a little spoiled coming from SLC since I get to ski snow like that before work–even so it ranked up high on my list of all-time tours.
Our ski out was pretty great, particularly the first leg of it. The lower sections got super pillowy and the terrain a little more complex as we had cliffbands to negotiate. We made it down just fine and were envious of the French-canadian girls who passed us on the skin track and made it all the way to Perly’s Rock. From there they had an epically long, wide open untracked run down a glacier.
Back at the car we hustled towards Nelson. Along the way we planned to hit a hot spring, but we really didn’t know which one, or where. Luckily there is a hot-spring tour and they have their own signs along the road. We followed one sign up a narrow winding road for what seemed like ages and into nowhere. Eventually we got to the end of the road and saw a large mostly round building with steam rising into the night. We paid our $6 and got to soak outside with dim lights, the stars overhead, and Enya on the sound system. It was a pretty awesome soak near the end of a great few days of skiing. Proceeding on we hit Nelson and enjoyed a night on the town and some good food at a sports bar.
Tuesday was half of our big drive day. Once you pass west through Revelstoke and beyond, you end up in the Okanagan Valley which is part of the desert of eastern Washington. Osoyoos, was our eventual stop. First though, we hit a well recommended hot-spring in Ainsworth. This spring was also developed like the one in Nakusp, but it had a tunnel. The hot tub lead into the mountain in waist deep water. The natural calcified rocks formed the ceiling and hot water dripped or rushed from the ceiling. Since it was a confined area it also was super steaming making for a natural sauna. Adjacent to the hot tub (~40C) was the 3C glacially fed pool. We played around with jumping from the hot water into the cold and stayed as long as we could, usually only 10-15 seconds, before jumping back into the hot. This actually was quite refreshing and felt therapeutic.
Moving on we eventually got to Osoyoos which is almost in Washington State. The area is the warmest in Canada and attracts snowbirds (the old people, not actual birds) from all over Canada who winter there. The area is also known for their winemaking. Usually any “winemaking” area that you haven’t heard of typically has crap fruit wines and things. This is a legitimate winemaking area with varieties you’ve heard of. We sampled all 20 wines at one place and were very entertained with the friendly woman who served us. Of course three Americans showing up at 10am on a Wednesday in late January isn’t the norm, but we benefited from it by tasting all the wines “on the house”. We reciprocated the favor and got a few bottles for ourselves.
As the day wound on and the miles rolled underneath us, we dropped in altitude and the rain came. By the time we reached Vancouver it was raining steadily. Drew, who’s been in Vancouver for many months off and on, gave us the full tour. After the tour we headed to a great restaurant in a warehouse and ate tapas and discussed life changes well into the evening. It was a great finish to an unexpected journey with two good friends.
Just after I got back from Anaheim, and I mean 12 hours later I was at the airport again, I headed out to New England with Carly to visit friends, family and attend a wedding of a longtime friend. It was a great trip. Our climbing plans at the Gunks were almost washed out due to a hurricane, but luckily it stayed out to sea and didn’t rain at all during our climbing time. I love New England for sure. Lots of great friends and awesome climbing. I’m looking forward to going back soon.
I took a trip back to the East Coast at the beginning of February. The trip planned to equally split family, climbing, and Connecticut friends. A great mix being able to see and do all the things I wanted. However it started with a hiccup.
Leaving SLC the plane has some landing gear issues and we circle the Salt Lake trying to fix the problem. The pilots say the gear isn’t fully retracting. I’m not sure what “fix the problem” actually entails from the cockpit. I’m guessing hitting the button a few more times to see if it does anything. Basically the same thing you’d do if your garage door wasn’t going all the way up. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t produce the desired effect and we head back to land. Shortly after getting off the plane I realize that my layover time wouldn’t be sufficient to make my connecting flight so I book another flight via NYC and BOS. While doing this an announcement says that another plane had been procured and that the luggage is being transferred to the new plane. This scenario means there is basically zero chance that my luggage will show up with me. I confirm with the attendant at the new gate of my new flight and she assures me that the handlers will be notified–sure they will.
Needless to say after I got to BOS there is no luggage. I should have saved myself the 45 minutes of waiting for it and just started driving to Manchester. Next time I guess. Luckily my schedule for this trip allows at least 2 days of buffer until I need my gear, which is what it took Delta and their sub-contracted service to get me my bags. Thankfully I had packed all my non-technical clothes in my carry-on.
Tuesday morning Chris Wisel and I head northwards to the Whites for some climbing and skiing. We get to Pinkham Notch and I hit Rich the Harvard Cabin caretaker up on the radio, the Cranmore repeater. He’s pretty stoked to hear me. The last couple times I’ve been up to the cabin Rich pushed for me to get my HAM radio license. Last year I finally did it and I have to say it is cool little thing to have. We chat up a little and he gives me the beta on the frequencies to use around the mountain. Definitely cool to be able to work logistics with your buds in remote areas with no cell service.
Chris and I ski up to the cabin and drop our heavy stuff and proceed up to Huntington and give O’Dells a try. We don’t have tons of time so I figure this is a good short objective. We climb the left variation on some fun varied ice and get back to our skis as it is starting to get dark. We’re able to make some ok turns down into the bushes. Unfortunately the awesome snow and winter that the Northeast has had was still in its infancy in early Feb.
Wednesday we few plans for climbing as it is forecasted to snow. After a leisurely breakfast Rich, Marcia, Chris, the Hermit Lake caretaker, and myself all head over to ski Raymond’s Path. At this point there’s about 4-5 inches of fresh light powder under windless conditions. The Ray-Ray as Rich calls it is a tight little hiking trail through the boreal forest. We have a blast, slightly puckered, zipping down the trail. No need to really turn since it is kind of like a rollercoaster.
Chris I and I head back up to Hermit Lake and make some awesome turns, slightly less awesome because of the heavy packs down to Pinkham. While on the way down we’re some of the only tracks on the Sherburn, total sweetness. Marcia let’s me know that the snow is averaging only 5%, Utah champagne in the Whites. Conditions and time mandate that I head back up to Hermit Lake for another run. Had time allowed I could have made what likely would have been some of the most amazing turns of my life in Tucks with Rich. At that point there was about 10 inches and still windless. Unfortunately, with Chris waiting down in the visitor center and night coming on, I just make it down the Sherburn again. Still largely untracked and for sure super soft, I still was having an awesome time despite not shredding Tucks.
After getting to Pinkham again we head into North Conway to recharge the batteries on Flatbread’s great pizza and some full strength beers. There’s something about going to old favorites when you live far away that make them taste that much better, and this trip had more than a few of those.
Thursday we headed to Frankenstein. Hobbit Couloir (WI4+) was in anemic conditions with the lower section of the pillar broken off. We did Pegasus Rock Finish (WI3+ M3) which is an awesome little route. The rock finish is some great drytooling protected by pitons. I have had Dracula (WI4+) on my list for a long time. It is one of the classic New Hampshire ice climbs. I never quite felt strong enough while I lived in the area to lead it. In fact I actually avoided it so that I could on-sight it. Admittedly on-sighting in ice climbing is odd since the climb changes from day to day and season to season so you’re always on-sighting in a way. Nevertheless we were the first on the route that day. I opted for the left variation in the alcove. The route went very well, no strenuous sections and there were plenty of rest stemming stances. I used less gear than I expected but more gear than I needed–a nice feeling. Chris made a valiant effort but popped off just below the top.
The day finished up with Rich meeting up with us and he and I climbing Standard Route (WI3+) in the dark. Ice climbing by headlamp is always interesting. The ice has so much more depth and layering to it when illuminated that way. After finishing up I said goodbye to Rich and to some great Northeast ice and headed to Connecticut.
Friday I got to see Auntie Gail and Uncle Keith. They drove up from Long Island to take me out to lunch. Of course my first New Haven meal would be Mamouns. There is a distinct lack of good and cheap falafel places in SLC. As I was planning my trip I mentioned to Dave when I’d be back in CT. He was able to swing some time off work and come out to visit for the weekend. With the addition of Dave we had almost the whole band back together. Friday night we had a bunch of folks from Sikorsky come over to 139 W Park for good old time. Even closed down Delaney’s. It was great seeing everyone, who I’d missed since moving out to Utah.
Saturday and Sunday were pretty lazy days, involving more catching up and some Mia’s dinner. The trip went off great. It was really nice to get to see my family, CT friends and still get some time to climb & ski. Definitely a great trip and I’m already looking forward to next year.