2017-09 Chamonix Vacation

Carly early on the Arete des Cosmiques. Compared to the spring when I did it there was very little snow in the beginning.
Carly early on the Arete des Cosmiques. Compared to the spring when I did it there was very little snow in the beginning.

September 5-20, 2017

After the great work trip to Chamonix I had in May I started thinking about going back and having more time for climbing and seeing the valley.  After some asking around it sounded like September was a good month to go as the weather was still mild and the summer tourists had gone.  So Carly and I planned a trip for September.

The trip caught the tail end of a Labor Day visit to New England for Carly and I to see family.  That trip was pretty good seeing her family and mine, as well as the new addition of my nephew.  Seeing New England again reminded me that it was a nice place to live and quite scenic, but not grand like the West typically is.  While we did get to climb at Cathedral Ledge one day, which is one of my favorite crags, the landscape is just not all that exciting.  I was reminded at Cathedral that North East grades are stiff!  A scenic flight around the Rangeley area reveals a lot of hills, lakes, and perhaps something you could pass off as a mountain, but not really.  I’ve now taken off in an airplane from land, snow, and water.  Still on the list is dirt/sand, and perhaps a real stretch would be boat.

Leaving from Boston in a seafood and lobster coma, I headed straight to Chamonix.  Carly would head back to SLC for a few days before coming out to France.  I went from the Geneva airport to some work related activities in Chamonix.  Being at the mothership was good to catch up with people there, but I was really looking forward to getting into the Air BnB we’d rented in downtown Chamonix.  

The day Carly arrived it was pouring.  Thankfully I’d secured the use of the company vehicle, a Renault Kangoo.  The van is a tiny cargo van not a passenger car.  As such it comes with ammenities such as:  four wheels, brakes, seats, steering wheel, all the accoutrements.  Things I found out that it does not come with, good tires, nor anti-lock brakes.  The numerous roundabouts in driving rain in Chamonix were where I found these exciting omissions from the Kangoo’s feature list.

The Kangoo in the parking garage. I'm glad the van wasn't any bigger.
The Kangoo in the parking garage. I’m glad the van wasn’t any bigger.

With us unpacked in our 5th story studio flat and the Kangoo parked in an underground parking structure so low that I instinctively ducked when I walked under the support beams, we were ready to explore the town.  From our vantage point we had a great view down valley and could see the sun set against the mountains.  Luckily Chamonix downtown is small and can be walked in 10 minutes or so.  We were lucky in that we had a number of great food options just a block from our flat.

One of the many dramatic sunsets we saw.
One of the many dramatic sunsets we saw.

The day after Carly’s arrival we slept in and headed to a crag a few villages up valley from Chamonix.  The crag was nothing super special, but it got us out for a hike and we were able to do a 5 pitch route of well bolted slab climbing.  The views were good, even though there was a mid elevation cloud layer that obscured the high mountains.  We were treated to a very close encounter with a chamois, a mountain goat native to the area.  He walked very close to us with little concern for our presence, to the point it was uneasy.  We moved off the climbers/animal path and he walked on by and posed for a few photos.

The following day the weather looked good so we headed up the Aiguille du Midi téléphérique.  Our objective was the super classic Arete des Cosmiques.  Though I had done this in May the route is so classic it is an obvious choice to do again, particularly to warm up for other things.  The day started off splitter and we casually made our way to the base of the route.  A pair of Brits also started up about the same time.  The route was more rock than last time and we leap-frogged with the Brits along the beginning section.  As we got closer to the crux a team of Russians passed us.  This wasn’t all that bad, except the leader thought that Carly and I were good terrain features to use as part of a running belay.  I had to fix this, though not without a rebuke in broken English from the leader.  I indicated that we weren’t part of his terrain belay, the rock was.

Since we were making good time we took a short break to let the Russians pass and have a bite to eat.  We also let the original Brit party we’d been leapfrogging past us as well.  As we finished up we could see there was a clog forming at the crux pitch.  A party we hadn’t seen was waiting behind the Russians and the Brits in behind the new party.  Our splitter day at this point started to fall apart.  Some clouds started coming in and along with it a bit of wind from the Chamonix side.  Waiting just a bit away from the actual queue we were blocked by some rock formations and could watch in relative comfort and disbelief at the mess unfolding.

The beginnings of the turn in weather and in fluidity of the climbing. The Russian team of three is about to create a traffic jam. Note that there's still a fair amount of climbing before getting to the platform.
The beginnings of the turn in weather and in fluidity of the climbing. The Russian team of three is about to create a traffic jam. Note that there’s still a fair amount of climbing before getting to the platform.

The Russian leader went to the top of the of the crux pitch–approximately 50 ft up.  There is an anchor about 20 ft up on a small ledge which is often used with clients since it allows the leader to be just feet away from the client if they have difficulty on the moves.  The crux being a right slanting finger crack with bomber footholds which are perfect for crampon points since the rock has “worn” into crampon point shaped divots.  However this leader went past that before setting the belay.  This complicated the problem that the client had no ability to get through the two moves of crux on his own.  Further complicating it, the client had removed his crampons for some reason despite having them on when they passed us originally.  The client’s soft boots gave him no edging ability on what natural feet are there.  For 20 minutes the client tried to fumble his way through.  To help the leader lowered a rope with knots every 16 inches so the client could haul himself though.  This also was in vain.  Coming on the 30-40 minute mark and now with five parties behind them and coming on 3:40 in the afternoon we queued into position since we didn’t want to have another party skip in front of us.  One party went past everyone on a variant to the right of the crux, a tight hands crack about 20 ft long–something to remember in the future.  The Brits helped teach the client how to put prussiks on the rope and jug up.  Even with a competent user this is a slow process.  The clog lasted about an hour, perhaps a bit more.  It was worrisome since the last cable car down to town is at 5:30 and we still had approximately 1/4 of the route to go.  After the Russians got through the two parties in front of us moved at a reasonable pace.  I did forego the mid anchor on the pitch and go straight through since I was confident Carly would climb the crux without much trouble.  The remaining parties all made it in time for the second to last car.  The deterioration of the weather, the clog at the crux, and the timeline of the cable car all made for a bit more stress than the initial part of the day in the warm sun going at a casual pace.

Dramatic lighting and mountain ranges on the Italian side.

Evenings were spent going out to dinner at the multitude of choices.  We tended to stick with local fare, which is heavy with meat, cheese, and potatoes.  Wine was also plentiful and reasonably priced.  I would say in general, while Chamonix isn’t a bargain, it is not horribly priced.  A nice meal can be had for a little less than 20€ +/- 5€.  When alcohol, apps, and desserts are factored in about it was about an 80€ bill for us.  Breakfasts in France tend to be heavy on the carbs: baguette, butter, and cheese. We were able to find some places with some protein too.

After the Cosmiques we had a day of cragging in town, walking distance from our flat.  This area was basically a city part with a few grid bolted crags.  It was quite pleasant.  The following day we attempted to get some climbing in at the Planpraz cable car station located across the valley from the Aiguille du Midi.  This attempt was fairly doomed from the start based on the weather, but we gave it a try anyway.  After one pitch it started to rain and with some snow still on the ground from the previous day’s precip we decided to just hike up to the Brevent station in the rain.  It has been a while since I hiked in the rain/clouds and it was kind of nice.

This day was a total washout. It poured buckets all day so we spent most of the time hopping shop to shop.
This day was a total washout. It poured buckets all day so we spent most of the time hopping shop to shop.

The following day, the 14th, was a total and expected washout.  Rain in buckets came all day with cloudbase being less than 2000m.  We did touristy stuff all day, browsing the shops, seeing the alpine museum, etc.  For lunch we tried raclette, which is a massive chunk of cheese that is melted at the table and accompanied by potatoes and cured meat.

Friday the 15th the weather was supposed to clear enough to get out and do something up high.  Maxime was able to join us and we went to the Italian side of the range.  To get there there are three options, 1) take the Aiguille du Midi car up and walk across the Vallee Blanc (many hours); 2) drive around the mountains for hours; 3) take the 11.6km tunnel under the mountains (about 30 minutes depending on traffic).  The tunnel was our choice obviously.  The Italian side of Mont Blanc is a much different environment.  While similar in altitude at the base, the plants are very different as the Italian side is drier.  The relief is actually even more abrupt since the valley is less broken on its way up to the summit of Mont Blanc.  This is all viewed in comfort from the cable car which spins 360 as it goes up.

Our modest objective was the Aiguille d’Entrèves traverse.  This climb is a similar ridgeline climb as the Cosmiques.  We roped up for our 60+ minute approach to the ridgeline.  The previous day had deposited 30cm or more of snow in the mountains.  Both Carly and I were happy to have Maxime out in front leading the way across the glaciers.  The lean winter, end of summer, and fresh snowfall made from some nearly invisible crevasses.  Maxime punched a leg through a couple times, but not badly.  Our approach to the climb turned out to be longer than expected and despite the sun rather cold due to the wind.  The upside was clear conditions to view the amazing terrain.  We had a great view of Mont Blanc and some of the satellite peaks.  The terrain for alpine climbing is endless.

Winding our way through the obvious crevasses. I think the two points on the right formation are the Petite Capucin and Gran Capucin.
Winding our way through the obvious crevasses. I think the two points on the right formation are the Petite Capucin and Gran Capucin.

After a fairly easy bergschrund we gained the ridge at its low point and racked up.  Since Maxime had done the route a few times, he let me leade all the pitches.  Carly had the lucky chance to have not one guide, but two–often having a belay from both sides, which is helpful on a knife edge ridge traverse.  The terrain was mixed, mostly rock, but with some snowy bits.  At no point was a piolet required on the ridge.  There isn’t much gear, but in the spots you want it there is some.  The only exception to this is a variation which goes up a large stack of flakes.  The only moves I saw were 10 feet or so of laybacks with no gear.  I gave it a couple up close looks, but decided to bypass around the right.  We finished up the climb mostly on our own, there was one party of a guide and two Swedes that we leapfrogged a few times.  The climbing was quite enjoyable, but still exciting because of the exposure on either side.  View of course were top notch.

Me leading the way along the Aiguille d'Entreves ridge.
Me leading the way along the Aiguille d’Entreves ridge.

We slogged back to the cable car station, but with a quick trip to the Torino “hut” since we had time before the last car.  The Torino hut is essentially a hotel on the mountain.  We walked into the bar area ordered a beer and slice of pie.  Visiting the hut also cut out about ~50m of elevation back to the cable car station as well.  When the new cable car was constructed a few years ago they stabilized the supports for the station by drilling a massive hole into the mountain.  This hole now contains an elevator which goes down to the level of the hut.  As said by Maxime, “The ‘approach’ to the hut can be done in flip flops” as it only requires walking outside for about 50 ft on flat ground.  

Our brief weather window closed after this outing on the Aiguille d’Entrèves.  The weekend and beginning of the week looked much of the same questionable weather:  wind, precip, too cold at mid-elevations.  So with the prospect of not much climbing, even at the crags in town, we decided to take advantage of having a car and go a little abroad for the weekend.  Actually this decision was a laboriously slow one.  With no definitive plans Saturday morning, despite two invites from coworkers, we procrastinated until lunch and then decided to go to Valle dell’Orco.  The idea had come from Maxime and Zoe the night before.  They’d given us a few guidebooks to consider.  Finale seemed like a primo spot to escape the weather, but it was 5-6 hours away and the guidebook was in French.  We opted for the closer and in English location, plus it was plugging gear.

We fueled up the Kangoo and headed toward the Mont Blanc tunnel again.  This time around we hit some heavy truck traffic and took nearly 20 minutes just to get into the tunnel.  Once on the Italian side you travel through what felt like miles of additional tunnels bypassing the quaint towns in the Aosta valley.  Eventually turning off the highway we started making our way to dell’Orco.

As most people know August is a popular month for taking vacation in Europe, it would seem that September in some areas is the down season or at least getting ready for it.  We rolled into the Valle dell’Orco on a tiny road through the most old, quaint, picturesque, and nearly shuttered villages you can imagine.  In Ceresole, the main village near the Sergeant formation, we could only find two open hotels out of the dozen that are on the map.  Even the tourist office was closed.  We decided to splurge and stay at the Grand Hotel in Ceresole, though the current name is much less grand.

The quaint village of Ceresole. The Gran Hotel to the left is where we stayed. The National Park is towards the high mountains.
The quaint village of Ceresole. The Gran Hotel to the left is where we stayed. The National Park is towards the high mountains.

Being outside of relatively cosmopolitan and anglicised Chamonix, our chances of finding good native English speakers was lower.  Our first attempts at asking about if there were rooms available and how much they cost was rough.  Luckily the hotel worker spoke a little more French than English.  Carly and I were able to cobble together some basic inquiries and get some info back that there was plenty of rooms.  We opted to get breakfast and dinner included in the price since there weren’t many other options for food anyway.  We weren’t completely sure of the price, but we figured our options were limited anyway.

The hotel was quite nice and freshly renovated on the inside, but much of the exposed structure like ceilings and windows were restored and maintained its original look so as not to look modern.  Dinner came and with a little help from one of the two hotel managers who spoke more English than the first desk worker, we had an amazing 3 course dinner, complete with a liter of wine.  Hey, we weren’t driving anywhere so why not?

Sunday’s weather revealed a bit of snow up in the high mountains ringing the valley.  Our objective though was just a minute or two drive down the road, though the approach from the parking area was steep.  The crags of Valle dell’Orco are a kind of granite and the primary style as in most granite areas is traditional routes via cracks and bolted slabs.  dell’Orco boasts quite a lot of climbing and the largest feature is the Sergeant, named in reference to its superior, El Capitan in Yosemite.  The climbs range from single pitch to many high quality multipitch lines.  Though it was the off-season for the town, there were still what seemed like a normal amount of weekend traffic.  We weren’t able to get on a few lines that we wanted to, but still got some good climbing in.  Grades felt a little stiff, but not quite as bad as North Conway or Little Cottonwood.

We wandered back to the hotel after getting some pitches in and cleaned up.  Dinner didn’t start until 7:30 so we thought we might get a beer in the lobby bar.  While waiting for one of the staff to arrive we started browsing through some of the books available in the reading area.  One of the other hotel managers, Barbara, struck up a conversation with us, though again we went from her limited French to ours and back with heavy English and Italian thrown around in vague attempts it would be understood.  We found out Barbara was an avid climber.  She started pulling guidebooks out of the bookshelf and telling us about her favorite climbs.  She happened to have the same guidebook we did, but in Italian.  She leafed through the pages pointing out classics she recommended and pantomiming the size of the crack with the jamming motion required as well as the difficulty with a eye roll and a “phew!” expression.  It was quite entertaining since climbing is a language all its own and the physical movement can be expressed across language barriers.  Barbara also pulled a book out about ice climbing in the Aosta Valley.  It looked like there is a wealth of good ice in the area.  Something I’ll have to remember if I’m around in Jan-Feb.

Since the weather didn't look good we headed south for better conditions. Here we take a view up at Sergeant in the dell'Orco Valley.
Since the weather didn’t look good we headed south for better conditions. Here we take a view up at Sergeant in the dell’Orco Valley.

The next day, Monday, had quite a bit less people at the crag, though still a few cars.  We were able to jump on Incastromania (6a [5.10]).  This single pitch line starts up a small pillar against the main wall.  Wider hands and hands gets you to the top of the pillar fairly easily.  From there you get right into it with a 12-15 ft section of #1’s.  In this spot the crack is laser splitter, straight, and parallel.  An ancient rigid stemmed Friend collects cobwebs deep inside the crack.  The crack then cuts right, knobbier and a bit wider, solid #2’s.  After traversing about 15 ft the crack then starts angling back up and then left.  It gets more varied in size but is not less than #.5 or #.75.  Some smearing on faces features keeps the climbing right on the grade.  The last bit again traverses right but on #.5 finger locks.  There’s a Thank God flake jug to gun for at the chains.  An all time route anywhere.

The other route we go onto was a classic multipitch called Nautilus (5c [5.9]).  The first two pitches were as far as we got before it started to drizzle so we rapped off.  The climbing to that point was great varied terrain.  All naturally protected and of differing sizes.  At the third pitch we checked out the two options for proceeding.  The normal route goes right across an unprotected slab and into chimney which you shimmy deep inside the wall.  After working your way up, presumably with small gear inside the chimney,  you pop out over a chockstone and continue up to a belay.  We looked at the chimney on the way down and it looked interesting to try.  The alternative was a beautiful arching finger crack in a corner than arched into a roof.  This way upped the grade slightly but also looked fabulous.  We’ll have to save either for another time I guess.  One point I’ll ding the Italians on is their choice of anchors.  Two bomber bolts connected with a piece of 5.5mm cord–weak sauce.

Manky anchor style that passes for the norm at this crag.
Manky anchor style that passes for the norm at this crag.

With the weather getting questionable for being on the rock, we decided to take a drive up the valley and take a look at the Gran Paradiso National Park.  The is essentially the whole valley’s north side, with the road approximately running easy and west.  One point which I was curious were the huge power lines that ran up and down the valley.  I assumed these were to bring electricity to the villages farther up valley and to some of the hotel/refuges near the road.  This however was the opposite reason for them.

As we drove up valley we were treated to stunning vista after vista of the high mountains with the first snows.  The sun was lower in the sky and was periodically masked by the quickly moving thin clouds moving in and around the valley.  Combined with the quaint refuges and homes along the way it is some of the most amazing scenery I have had the opportunity to see.  The timing was absolutely perfect for our drive.  The tiny winding road was fun to drive with the Kangoo.  Switchbacks in the road were so tight that I was in first gear and of course, no guardrails.  Working our way up the valley only got better and better.  Near the top of the valley before it turns northward there is a large dam.  The first semblance of the park was established in 1856 by the then soon to be king of Italy.  He protected the area because the ibex, a mountain goat with massive horns, lived in the area and were being hunted to extinction.  The preserve dedicated the area for hunting only by the royals.  This protected area brought the first trails and mule tracks into the area.  In 1922 the land was turned into Italy’s first National Park and protects some 4,000 ibex now.  Unfortunately weren’t afforded a view of these animals, they must have been in a different area of the park in this transition season.

A great view of the awesome road, mountains, and lakes.
A great view of the awesome road, mountains, and lakes.

Despite being immediately adjacent to a National Park a large dam was built in 1951 along with a hydroelectric plant.  The dam is very tastefully built and the major blemish it creates are the large power lines bringing electricity down valley to the lowlands.  If you Google Gran Paradiso dam you may have seen some of the mountain goats walking across its steep surface.  

At this point near the dam we spotted some sheep on steep rocky outcrop broken up by some grassy areas.  As we followed the road around this outcrop the source of the sheep became clear.  A shepherd was letting his flock out.  I wish I had the courage to ask for a photo.  He fit the picturesque stereotype of a crusty old shepherd.  His three Border Collies were taking care of keeping the sheep moving.  It was a nice scene.

Another mile or so up the road, but perhaps 10 switchbacks we got to the height of the pass.  Here there was another refuge, perhaps closed that you could walk a short way into.  The pass gave a wonderful view down into the valley.  The low sun highlighted the wispy clouds moving up the valley below us.  Sheep streamed in single file around back towards what I presume was the shepherd’s house.  The amazingly windy road slithered down the valley, over a smaller dam and out of sight.  This drive was one of the highlights of the trip.

2017-09-18_33509

At the top of the pass we looked into the other side of the valley as few flakes flew through the air.  I decided that the Kangoo’s lack of ABS and shitty tires meant we should get to lower elevations where snow wouldn’t be falling, plus we’d reached the high point of the valley and it seemed logical to head back.  We headed back down valley with the intent to sleep lower down in the valley and perhaps climb at another crag.  This plan however didn’t come to pass.  Each of the small villages lower down than Ceresole were nearly boarded up.  As our plan turned from place to stay to just place to eat, we did stop at one area with what looked to be an open restaurant.  At closer inspection we saw a bunch of employees or at least local residents chatting around an otherwise closed up restaurant.  We contemplated our potential dinner of Probars as we got back in the car.  Luckily the way back brought us through Ivrea, which is a city.  Here we were able to find a pizza restaurant and get some pretty darn good pizza.  We arrived back in Chamonix around 11pm or so I think. 

Tuesday the 19th, we visited the office as I had a few last minute things to attend to as well as drop off the van.  We were also able to coordinate dinner plans with Robert for that evening.  Since our first choice of restaurant was randomly closed (hooray French culture!) we went to the same place we went on our first night.  It was a fitting end to a great trip.  I’m already thinking of next time.

Chamonix in May

Panoramic from the bridge at the Midi station.
Panoramic from the bridge at the Midi station.

May 6-25, 2017

What a trip is all I have to say to start.  

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.

Looking up the cable for the telepherique.
Looking up the cable for the telepherique.

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.

Travel

Skiing the Grand Envers variation of the Vallee Blanche

Ablon Sport Climbing

Cosmique Arete

Do More with Less Tour in British Columbia

Splendid views from Revelstoke resort.
Splendid views from Revelstoke resort.

January 21-28, 2016

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.

From the sub-peak of Mt. Mackenzie looking into the North Bowl. These lines were super steep and we opted for runs off the front side.
From the sub-peak of Mt. Mackenzie looking into the North Bowl. These lines were super steep and we opted for runs off the front side.

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.

Despite being only a km from the highway this place felt wild.
Despite being only a km from the highway this place felt wild.

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.

Christina making tracks in the fresh stuff.
Christina making tracks in the fresh stuff.

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.

The Gehringer Brothers Winery in Oliver. The woman who gave us our tasting (at 10am on a Wednesday) was really nice and gave us all lot of info (and wine) about the area.
The Gehringer Brothers Winery in Oliver. The woman who gave us our tasting (at 10am on a Wednesday) was really nice and gave us all lot of info (and wine) about the area.

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.

For a more moving impression of the trip see the video below by Drew.

 

2015 October New England Trip

October 2-11, 2015

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.

2014 February New England Visit

Chris following up Dracula (WI4+) a long time item on my ice climbing ticklist.

February 1-9, 2014

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.

After some delay with baggage I headed up to Mt. Washington to climb some big fat New Hampshire ice.  Little did I know at the time that it would be the last ice I touch for the season.
After some delay with baggage I headed up to Mt. Washington to climb some big fat New Hampshire ice. Little did I know at the time that it would be the last ice I touch for the season.

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.

Wednesday up at Harvard cabin we got a great storm, of 10" of 5% density snow with little wind.  Unfortunately I only had time to ski the Sherburn.
Wednesday up at Harvard cabin we got a great storm, of 10″ of 5% density snow with little wind. Unfortunately I only had time to ski the Sherburn.

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.