Friday, April 4, 2014

La Sal Traverse - Video

Here's a short video of our day in the La Sals.  Rumor has it that Lorne Glick of Mt. St. Elias fame traversed the La Sals on skis years back.  Props to him.  I'm sure we did it on gear that was at least twice as light and it was still hard!

La Sal Traverse from Jason Dorais on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Memorial Couloirs #5 and #6

With my one day off from work I had hoped for quantity but today Lars and I settled for quality.  Instead of more efficient skinning we decided to wallow up Memorial Couloir #5 to preserve the  1'+ of powder.  It worked.  A few shots from the day...
Memorial #5, Photo by Lars
The SLC Viking
Lars, happy to have Memorial #5 full of unskinned powder

Memorial #6
Gully hell

Monday, March 31, 2014

The La Sal Traverse

We've been talking about traversing the La Sal mountain range for the past few years.  Last spring Andy, Tom, and Teague even attempted but came up a few peaks short due to bad weather and work obligations.  This year we've been keeping an eye on snow hoping that our limited time off would align with favorable conditions.  This Friday the Moab avy report said, "The La Sals picked up 4" of medium density snow on Wednesday night. It fell with virtually no wind, and it is truly amazing what a few inches can do to freshen up things."  We were psyched!  

Only problem was that Andy and I had committed to race for Outdoor Research in the Gore Tex/Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. We had been planning on racing and since the Grand Traverse is such an inspiring course (Crested Butte to Aspen) we were happy to forego favorable conditions to head to CB and give it a go.  We drove down with Tom Goth (last year's Grand Traverse winner) and Lars Kjerengtroen (NCAA track and field All American) who were favorites for the win and also looking forward to racing over to Aspen.  After a night in Grand Junction and 7 hours in the car strategizing with two of the fastest guys in the country we were ready.  We still joked about making our own Grand Traverse in the La Sals but our focus had shifted to the race.  

And then they announced we would not be going to Aspen.  Instead we'd be touring around in low angle trees right outside of Crested Butte.  Still a long, epic race but certainly not as inspiring as the original course.  Immediately Lars and Tom said we should go to the La Sals.  Andy and I both agreed but still felt a commitment to race.  The Outdoor Research motto is "Designed By Adventure" and with this in mind we spoke with Christian Folk (Athlete Manager for OR).  We felt foolish talking about backing out of racing but wanted to hear what his thoughts were now that the course had changed.  Without hesitation he basically told us we should do what inspires us and that we should go.  He also said he was from sea level, hadn't been training, and was sure the race would be a sufferfest but would race in our spot.  On the OR website they state, "Our tribe is devoted to exploring our outdoor passions and challenging ourselves in the mountains."  Christian was up for a challenge and was psyched for us to leave the OR sponsored Grand Traverse to go challenge ourselves with something we were passionate about.  Pretty cool. 

Once Teague Holmes and Brad LaRochelle heard about the change in the race plans they were also keen to give the La Sals a go.  With the focus for the weekend returned to the La Sals we all left Crested Butte and headed to Moab.  Along the way we called Scott Simmons told him our plans and asked what we was doing over the weekend.  His response was, "I guess I'm going to the La Sals." Now we were a group of seven.  A few hours after arriving in Moab we were all crammed in a little truck heading up a bumpy road to the base of South Mountain
At the trailhead

The La Sals run north to south and are divided up into three groups, the North, the Middle, and the South groups.  We figured the best skiing would be on the north faces so we decided to start at the south end and head north to Castle Valley.  

The South Group
The only significant peak in the South group is South Mountain (11,817).  At 4 AM we took off from the trailhead at a pretty quick pace and headed toward South Mountain in the dark.  We walked for maybe a mile and then found firm fast skinning - a perfect start to the day.  With the fast conditions we were able to summit pretty quickly and skied off to the east and then north towards Mt. Peale.  The avy report was correct.  4" was truly amazing.

Andy, Lars, and Scott happy to be in the La Sals!  Heading towards the middle group with South Mountain in the background.
The Middle Group
After a great descent spirits were high heading up Peale.  We stayed on firm snow the majority of the way which made for easy travel but once we hit the summit ridge we were just blasted with wind.  Everyone bundled up and still froze skiing the west ridge on the way over to Tuk.  
Scott Simmons heading up Peale.  Tukuhnikivatz (Tuk) in the background
Summit of Peale
Traversing to Tuk
Peale in the background, traversing to Tuk
Summit of Tuk
From the summit of Tuk we reversed our up track until Teague promised good skiing off to the north.  We reluctantly followed but found some of the best snow of the day.  I'm pretty sure Teague was just guessing but it worked well.   Laurel and Mellenthin went smoothly and before we knew it the South and Middle groups were done.
Tom Skiing north off the flanks of Tuk
Heading back up the ridge
Some bump before Laurel
Still windy heading to Laurel
Andy on Mt Laurel, Mellenthin in the background
Skiing off Mellenthin
Andy skiing the best snow of the day on Mt. Mellenthin
The crew traversing over to Tomasaki
The Northern Group
After Mellenthin the only major climb left was Mt. Tomasaki.  We skinned/booted/fumbled through scree to the summit where we all were feeling the day's effort. Luckily the remainder of the peaks have relatively small prominence above the ridge and we were hopeful they would pass quickly.  

Getting tired on Tomasaki
Boney skiing off Tomasaki. Manns Peak, Pilot Mt., Green Mt.,  Dry Peak,  Mt. Waas, Castle and La Sal Peaks to go.
Freeride Scott low on Tomasaki
After Tomasaki we were forced to walk portions of the southern aspects as we headed to Castle Valley.  It seemed improbable but every descent held enough snow to allow for continuous skiing.  We kept swapping leads and, although each climb became progressively less comfortable, they were pretty short and we were all able to keep moving together.
Heading to Manns Peak, Middle group in the background
Heading up Manns Peak

Transitioning on Dry Peak
Skiing towards Waas
Ski Trab ad on Mt. Waas, the bulk of the La Sals in the background
La Sal Traverse 2014
Castle and La Sal Peaks
Andy off Castle Peak, Castle Valley below
Bare south face of La Sal Peak
Teague skiing to the north off of La Sal Peak
Once we skied off the north end of La Sal Peak we found ourselves in gully hell.  Isothermic snow and down tree made travel painfully slow.  From the last summit we had seen the road where Tom's girlfriend Dom was waiting to pick us up.  We knew the general direction of where we needed to go so we just kept picking our way through the mess.   We were thrilled when we finally saw a house and an adjacent dirt road that would lead us to freedom and dinner.

The end of the skiing
Andy, me, Tom, Teague, Scott, Lars, Brad, photo by Dom Maack
We couldn't have asked for better conditions.  The skiing was actually quite good even though there was limited snow.  Although it was warm the winds kept southern aspect cool and wet slide danger at bay.  It's seems improbable that in a group of seven people everyone would be feeling good enough all day to not hold the others up.  Somehow it happened.  

Christian finished the Grand Traverse in respectable time and via text said, "... a burnt face, limping due to muscle fatigue, blisters - probably going to be a few days before I do anything!" I feel the same and love it!

Vertical: roughly 19,000
Miles: ? - everyone's watches died
Time: 14:30
12,000' summits: 11

Boots: Scarpa Alien 1.0
Skis: Ski Trab World Cup Race
Bindings: Ski Trab TR Race
Skins: Pomoca race
Pole: Ski Trab Veritical race
CAMP XC600 Pack
Outdoor Research Halogen Hoody, Radiant Hybrid Hoody, Luminary Gloves, Lodestar Gloves.
Julbo Dust Glasses
A rough hand drawn route

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Timp Trifecta

There are a lot of reasons to randonee (skimo) race.  Coming from an athletics background I certainly enjoy the competition aspect of the sport.  There's something satisfying about going as hard as you can and either finishing ahead of someone or getting beat and knowing there was nothing else you could have done.  The camaraderie aspect of the sport is also quite enjoyable.  Our little Citizen's Series here in the Wasatch is a good example of that.  It's pretty cool to get 100 like minded people together on a random Tuesday and all cheer each other on as we run around in the dark.  There's also the whole skill and technique aspect of the sport and I think everyone would agree that there's something gratifying about seeing progress.  The sport on it's own would be enough to get me excited but there's more.  For me, the main reason to race is the opportunity it provides to learn how to move more efficiently in the mountains.   Using race gear alone opens up the limit of what is possible in a given amount of time. Add on a little skinning/kick turn technique and some fitness and it seems that the potential is limitless.  

Yesterday Tom and I both had time so we decided to head down to Timpanogos and see how much we could get done.  We debated what to ski but decided we'd park at my parents house in Pleasant Grove and head up the Cresent (Front Porch) couloir and then over to Cold Fusion.  From there the plan was to head north until we ran out of steam.  We started a little later than we should have and once we were on the N summit it was pushing 8AM.  We looked north and all we saw was dirt and roads.  We also noticed there was no cornice guarding the Grunge.  Seeing the Grunge in the morning light and not wanting to walk on road for the next forever we decided to move to plan B - ski from the North, South and Main summits of Timp.  We figured we could ski the Grunge down to Woolly Hole, climb to Pika Cirque, traverse over to Emerald Lake and up to the South Summit, ski the East ridge, walk back to Aspen Grove, head up Primrose Cirque to the Main Summit and then ski the West face back to the car.  
Tom Goth midway up the West Face
Tom on the North Summit
Once we traversed to the top of the Grunge we almost bailed on plan B before it started.  From the anchor it was clear there was no cornice just off to the left.  Even knowing this it was a little unnerving walking to the edge since I couldn't see the slope below until I was basically on it.   We talked about skiing it, decided that it looked soft and that we'd give it a go.  I got my skis on first so figured I go test it out.  I sat on the edge and lowered myself down and very quickly talked myself out of it.  The snow that we thought was soft was actually quite firm and our little race skis are so skinny that the steepness of the slope would hit my boot edge (which sticks out over the edge of the ski) before it would engage the ski edge.  Once I bailed on the idea Tom decided to try.  Same result.  Although it is skiable we decided to down boot the top 20 feet.  Shameful I know, but once we were done down booting, it was clear we made the right call.  Teague would have skied it.  After we got through the crazy steep part we put skis on and had an enjoyable soft descent.
The Upper Grunge
Mid Grunge
Lower Grunge
After we exited the Grunge we skied over to the south end of Woolly Hole and headed up one of the mellow chutes to Pika Cirque.  From there we headed for the low point on the south rim of Pika Cirque and traversed through Timpanogos Basin to Emerald Lake. The skinning was relatively fast and luckily we were able to keep skis on for the majority of the way.
Many kick turns exiting Woolly Hole was much more efficient than booting
Exiting Pika Cirque, the North Summit in the background
Timpanogos Basin

Timp Basin

The skinning stayed firm as we headed up the snowfield and before we knew it we were 10,000 feet into the day and feeling pretty good.  The west faces were a little bony but there was enough snow that we could leave skis on to the South Summit.  From there it's a quick traverse to the East Ridge.  It was now around 11 and conditions was almost perfect, maybe a touch soft but the whole E. Ridge skied fantastically. 
Approaching the South Summit
The South Summit,  the start of the E Ridge (SE summit) in the background
The first turns down the E. Ridge
Lower on the E. Ridge, Big Provo Cirque in the background
Stewart Falls
Luckily there was old wet debris to the north of Stewart Falls which provided a nice slushy path all the way to Sundance.  Once we were there we figured all we needed to do was head up to Aspen Grove and then we'd be able to climb up and over and exit right back to the car.  Only problem was that Aspen Grove was 3 miles away.  We thought about hitching a ride but figured we'd keep it pure and just walk.  45 mins later we were back on skis happy to not have cheated.  Primrose skinned pretty well and although we were feeling a little blown we just kept the pace steady.
Nearing Emerald Lake
Once we hit the saddle we donned ski crampons and worked our way to the Main Summit.  A quick photo and were we off expecting to find perfect corn.  At first we were a little disappointed with the punchy ice but after 500' we found what we were looking for.  We skied corn all the way to the meadows and then skinned up and over to Grove Creek so we could exit down to my parents and get some much needed food/drink.
Unnecessary scrambling on the summit ridge
Tom skinning
Psyched to be on the third summit of the day
The West Face
Heading to Grove Creek
Trail work
Happy/tired face

I think my obsession for Timpanogos started back in the early 90's when my dad dragged me up there. I had a bumping headache and I'm sure it took forever but we reached the summit and I was psyched.  I'm not sure this beats that first day but this tour certainly ranks up there as one of my favorite days on Timp. Being able to see the majority of the mountain, not having to car shuttle/bum a ride, and starting/ending in my parents' driveway made it extra memorable.  As far as our gear choice goes I think race gear was the way to go.  It climbed well and the down was still excellent.  Sure, we didn't ski the upper grunge (not sure I would have felt comfortable on heavy stuff).  I know stronger folks could replicate this tour faster and on heavier gear, I'm just not one of them.  In spring conditions like we had it seems that one can get away with some pretty light skis/boots...

Elevation gain: 15,000'
Time: 13:15
Miles: 28

4 gels
2 Reese's Fastbreaks bars
2 packs powerbar chews
1 pack honey stinger chews
64 oz Gatorade

SCARPA Alien 1.0
Ski Trab Gara Aero skis
Outdoor Research:
     Cirque pants
     Radiant Hybrid Hoody
     Transcendent Hoody
     Luminary Gloves
     Lodestar Gloves
Julbo Ultra Glasses
Double Whippets