Today Carly and a couple of her friends from her MBA program escaped the heat of the valley–currently sitting at approximately 93°F here in SLC–for a morning of spring skiing in the Uintas. I haven’t done much spring skiing so Carly and I were potentially under prepared without crampons or a piolet. However the snow was forgiving enough that it didn’t become a problem. We skinned and booted up Bald Mountain in the Uintas. As we neared the top the snow was getting less supportable so we switched over a few hundred vertical feet from the summit unfortunately and skied down. The turns were better than expected though and perhaps we should have gone to the top.
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.
This weekend we got a quick hitting dual cold front. The second of which dropped 12-18″ of right-side up blower powder. Hope you got out there this morning because the sun came out this afternoon and it’s gone now.
Just a quick post to share some images from a recent ski/climbing trip to the desert. Yup, the desert for climbing and skiing. Outside Moab, UT are the La Sal Mountains, with many peaks topping 12,000′ they are even higher than the Wasatch outside our front door. We gambled on the weather and got some fresh snow in the La Sals and enjoyed ourselves exploring a new area. That day after skiing we camped in Moab and enjoyed a desert sunset. Awesome place this UT.
For almost two weeks in mid-February I was a bit worried that our stellar skiing winter had come to an end. Luckily the warm weather seeing temperatures up to the high 50’s and 60’s in the valley, and rain up to 9,000′ came to an end last Tuesday/Wednesday. Winter returned and returned with a vengeance. A storm dropped between 3-4′ of blower powder Wednesday thru Friday. I was able to get out Thursday and ski the deepest powder I’d ever experienced. Because of the amount of light snow it was tough at times to keep the tips up and it was an exhausting day, but it was so good we did a triple lap at Short Swing. I wished I had something wider than 105mm skis. We were in the white room much of the day with the blower pow. :-)
While Carly and I headed out yesterday, Saturday, and the conditions were quite good, both of us were feeling off and on top of that it was cold so we only did a single lap at USA Bowl. Today the weather broke and the sun came out making for a stellar bluebird day for some powder skiing. We headed to Silver Fork, a zone we haven’t been to before. The views were gorgeous and the snow was great. The amount and lightness of the snow from late in the week has settled quite a bit and the powder was much more bouncy.
Well what a goddamn mess is all I have to say. The canyons were screwed, no police screening cars getting up canyon and no snow removal. These added up to a mess trying to get up into Little Cottonwood. We scrapped our original plan and decided to head toward Millcreek and ski there with Kelly. We ended up doing a bunch of skinning and very little skiing. The surprise storm, predicted to be 4-5″ overnight turned into 8-10″ at the house with high precipitation rates, was even more in the canyons. It was all very light, which was good, but very sensitive. We ended up at the end of Main Porter Fork and just switched over and skied out because of the sensitive snow. Still a fun day out and the toboggan run out was fun.
The next day we skied Promise Land with Brett, a friend out from CT, but now who lives in Colorado. Conditions weren’t quite as pleasant. In between storms the skies cleared a little, but the window shut quickly. Winds picked up and temps were cold. We switched over before the summit of 10,420′. The run down was pretty darn good.
Got a chance to get out skiing over the weekend with some pretty awesome conditions. It stormed Wednesday-Friday and there wasn’t much wind for Saturday and Sunday. This lead to the great conditions we found in the backcountry over the weekend. Almost no wind at 10,000′, plenty of sun and fresh powder to be found. Saturday just Carly and I got out in Grizzly Gulch and East Bowl. Sunday we went out with Della and Kevin and had a pretty long day. We scoped out Wolverine Cirque but passed on it for the bowl off the top of Mt. Wolverine. Perhaps one day I’ll feel good about dropping into a steep chute in Wolverine Cirque.
In other news I’ve got two new cameras, to some degree anyway. I’m planning to get rid of my SLR and my high-end compact in favor of a more all around solution. The SLR (Canon 50D) takes great photos and I’ve got a great line-up of lenses for it. However it is too big and bulky to bring around most of the time on skiing or climbing trips. It is also over 8 years old so the focusing and low light performance can’t measure up even close to newer stuff. My compact (Canon G12) is 6 years old and has a really small sensor. While small, light, and taking some great photos of mine over the years, it doesn’t have the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. It can’t match up to the newer cameras out there either in focusing, frames per second or responsiveness. All that said I’ve been very happy with both of these cameras. They have been on countless trips and taken some amazing shots I will remember for many, many years.
Technology moves along and today there are a lot of options out there for taking pictures. My iPhone 7 takes some amazingly good shots now that the OS allows RAW image storage. Obviously these are on a tiny sensor, fixed lens, and limited control over the settings. Nevertheless my phone takes some really nice shots and the bonus is I rarely do not have it on my person. SLR, compact and the hybrid of them, mirrorless 4/3s take some amazingly high quality photos. I’m pointing my attention to mirrorless cameras because they offer a bit of both worlds, interchangeable lenses but still small size.
The two contenders I’ve got at my disposal right now are a Fuji X-T1 on loan from Ben with an 18-55mm f/2.8 lens. The other is a Sony a6000 with the kit lenses, 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 and 55-210mm f/4.5/6.3, which I found for a good price on KSL. My intent is to give these two cameras some field time to see how they work for my needs. My first field days with these cameras are below. I took one each on the two skiing days. I won’t spoil which is which. Try and guess without looking at the EXIF data.
2016 was an interesting year. I started freelancing, took some trips to British Columbia, Alaska, Zion, the Wind River Range, and many others. I think I got some good photos from those trips and more importantly great experiences with friends. I’ve compiled some of my favorites below as well as my #2016bestnine on Instagram.
Carly and I have been out skiing basically every weekend the last few weeks of December and the first couple of January. The snow in the Wasatch has been fabulous this year. While not every storm has been cold smoke, many of them have and they have been coming through between 5-7 days between each. This has kept the snow awesome in the backcountry with constant refreshes of even the most popular areas. We also had one ski day in Red Mountain Pass Colorado on our New Year’s trip to Ouray. While the snow sucked at the top of Mt. McMillan the views were good and the wind blown hard snow of CO made us appreciate the Wasatch a little more.
A couple years ago Aaron and I had a hairbrained idea that we’d do some aid climbing Zion. The problem was neither of us knew how to aid climb much so that trip was a bit of a bust. I’ve still wanted to do some aid climbing on a big-wall down there but hadn’t had anyone who knew the game to go along with. A couple weeks back I went with Matt Berry to do Desert Shield (5.11a C3). He’s been ticking off the classics down there slowly and upping the aid difficulty and this would be his first C3.
The route begins with some mandatory free climbing for three pitches that bring you to a possible bivy ledge. The ledge has a small grill installed into the rock with an ice screw. It isn’t often that you get to sleep on a ledge and grill steaks so we opted to go heavy and do that. The alternative would be to fix ropes the first day, stay in town, then come back the next day to finish it off.
I did the first three pitches, poorly. P1 is moderate and didn’t have much difficulty, just a bit of wandering climbing. The second pitch is the 5.11a one. It is a great 170 ft pitch of climbing with face, slab, and crack. My head wasn’t screwed on properly and I ended up making it a marathon of a hangdog. Pulling, tensioning in, french freeing, basically all sorts of shenanigans to just get up it. This was unfortunate because it was a great bit of climbing that I can do, I just wasn’t able to at the time.
Being the leader I hauled and belayed Matt up. We dropped our stuff off at the bivy ledge and then Matt go to the aid climbing for P4. While not necessary to do for this pitch, he wanted to get into the groove and prepare for the harder pitches. He missed the anchor for P4 and went to P5, with heinous rope drag of course. So bad that he had to rap down the rope he fixed just to clean the gear.
With the work done for the day we settled into our bivy to drink beers and sip whiskey. The ledge is large enough for two plus, and is protected from the outside by the pinnacle of rock that forms the ledge. This allows going unroped to be a safe option since you’d have to fall up a three foot barrier in order to fall off the ledge. Nevertheless we opted to rope in for sleeping as there was some slopiness to the ground towards squeeze chimneys on either side. The night was pleasant without any wind or precip.
The next day we jugged up the fixed ropes to get to the real aid climbing. P6 starts off to the left of the massive slightly overhanging shield of rock. This pitch is a bolt ladder going from easier ground out onto the overhanging rock and in full exposure to the rest Zion. Matt lead the pitch quickly and even made a couple hook moves as necessary to reach the bolts. For me following this pitch was a little heady since you’re going from a nice ledge into hanging terrain and traversing slightly right to boot.
Once getting out onto the main face the full value of exposure is obvious. We were 180′ or so above our bivy ledge which was 350′ or 400′ off the valley floor–with nothing but air between my legs it was exhilarating.
Matt chugged on the next pitch which was one of the C3 pitches consisting of small brass offsets for progression and protection. This route hasn’t been freed as far as I know and I don’t see how it ever could be. There’s no features to the face and the crack is only a couple quarters wide in many areas. Matt had no noticeable difficulties to me on the pitch. He wasn’t fast, but methodical and tested every piece before moving to it.
The eighth pitch is much like the first but a little less consistent in the crack. By this time in the day we had some other climbers sharing my hanging belay and the clouds started getting dark. We could feel some rain and the other party decided to bail given the rain and the additional wait it would take to get to the top with us in front of them for the last pitch. Part way up P8 Matt noticed it was raining a little and we decided it would be prudent to bail. He was at a bolt (a shitty one), and we were running a little late on time anyway. He fixed a couple extra small pieces and lowered back to the belay where we started to rap down to our bivy to collect the rest of our stuff. The raps down to the bivy were two double rope raps and because the wall was slightly overhanging created about +20′ of space between you and the rock as you went down, exciting!
We packed up and were bummed that we didn’t finish the route entirely, but I think it was the right call to bail. Matt was at a good spot to do it and wet sandstone is fragile and is dangerous to climb on. Perhaps I’ll go back to finish it but at least I’d like to go back to do the second pitch clean.