Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Type I Fun in December 2014

This is the Chronicle of my type I fun in December.  For those not familiar with the 3-tiered fun scale, see this post by Kelly Cordes.

Dribbles of drool all over Champagne Sherbet in Montana

The week of extremely cold weather we got at the beginning of November was just enough to wet my appetite.  My dreams turned from trails and rock to powder snow and plastic one-swing-stick ice.  I waxed my skis.  I sharpened my tools.  I was hungry for WINTER!

Then things got warm.  In the space of a few days we went from record cold temperatures to record hot temperatures.


Local ice that was supposedly in and fun to climb on Tuesday was melted out and completely gone by Saturday.  Talk of a pre-Thanksgiving start to the season at Bogus Basin quieted, and it took several more weeks for the lifts to start spinning.

There was some scrappy back country skiing to be had at higher elevations, but it came at the cost of much heinous bushwhacking.

On the bright side, there are worse things than rock climbing in a T-shirt in late November!

Comfortable belay spot on a sunny day in late November.  
By the end of November, I was fiending for some icy cold adventures.  The first weekend in December I had been planning to run a 50 mile race outside of San Francisco, but Achilles trouble forced a stop to my training in early November.  The bright side of this was that it meant that I suddenly had a weekend free.  As someone who is a chronic weekend booker, this was a rare thing!

I called up my buddy Rich, and threw out the iciest idea I could think of . . . ice climbing in Hyalite!  Rich seems to live for frozen waterfall climbing and beer, so it wasn't hard to convince him!  Before I knew it December arrived, and so did Rich to the Boise airport.  I picked him up at the airport after work on Friday, and we headed straight for Bozeman!

Our December 2013 trip got canceled after I blew up my thumb, so the last time we had been to Hyalite was December of 2012.  On that trip we had a bit of an mini-epic on a multipitch WI4 climb called the Dribbles.  Exhausted from all the climbing we'd done that weekend we weren't at our best, and that was my first attempt leading a WI4.  To make a long story short, Rich ccommitted the cardinal sin while ice climbing . . . he took a leader fall on the first pitch!  It wasn't a long fall, and I caught him before he hit the ledge below.  The screw held, and other than to our pride, no damage was done.  We got lucky.  That, plus our late start and slow climbing, led to us deciding to bail about a pitch before the top.

2 years and many pitches of ice later, we both felt that we were better climbers, and needless to say we both felt that we had something to prove.  So the very first thing we did on Saturday morning was hike right back to the base of the Dribbles.

Unfortunately it seemed that we weren't the only ones with this idea.  We were the third party in line.  Rich took the lead on the first pitch, and I noticed that he looked much more solid than he had two years prior.  Due to some crowding with the other climbers above, Rich set up a sheltered belay 2/3 the way to the base of the steep stuff.  We waited for the climbers above to finish so that we wouldn't get pelted with ice, and then Rich led over some thin ice with running water beneath to the base of the money pitch.

Rich at a belay on the Dribbles
Now it was my turn to taste the sharp end.  The ice was the plastic, one-swing-stick stuff that dreams are made of.  Other than about 3 feet of 60 degree ice, the first 50 or 60 feet were dead vertical.  I was thrilled at how calm and in control I felt.  At one point I stopped climbing to shake some warm blood back into my fingers, but other than that I felt no hint of a pump.  Just a few years ago I remember climbing this pitch as fast as possible, forcing myself to stop and place screws despite my race against the pump clock.  That was reckless for sure.  But now I could stop to think, place gear where I needed it, and not worry about falling while climbing since I could take the time to make sure all my sticks were solid.  And yet, I felt like I climbed pretty efficiently!  I wasn't in any better climbing shape, heck, probably worse.  But I suppose that I had another 80 or so pitches of ice under my belt, and I guess practice really does make perfect (or at least better)!

After the wonderful experience of leading the steep (for me) ice, I set up a belay just below the final short icefall.  Rich came up and then led us to the top.

Psyched after a fun climb up the Dribbles!  (WI4, 4 or 5 pitches)
On the rappel down we made friends with a couple of the climbers that were in front of us.  We met up with them later that night for beers and dinner.  After much fun banter about every form of climbing, from ice, to Vedauwoo offwidths, to Indian Creek splitters, we got to bed a bit later than we wanted to . . .

No matter!  We were excited enough about the fat ice conditions to ignore our throbbing heads and heeded the call of the early alarm.

For Sunday we were headed to the Champagne Sherbet area.  According to the guidebook Winter Dance, "Champagne Sherbet is the classic grade 4 of Hyalite.  Brilliant, green ice pouring over a buttress then warping almost 90 degrees over a steep corner into an engaging approach gully makes it a very aesthetic one-pitch climb."  On top of that, it was supposed to have a relatively short, 45 minute approach.  With a description like that, how could we go anywhere else???

We (thought we) followed the guidebook's directions to the correct parking lot. The road was unplowed and we were glad to make it without getting stuck.  Our gladness, however, was premature, as we got my Subaru stuck in the road just before we could pull it to the side to park.  No cars had been this way yet today, but there was no way to guarantee that they wouldn't soon.  This climb sounded like it should be popular!  We spent quite a bit of time digging out, but eventually got the car safely parked off the snow-covered road.

The directions in the book told us to cross the river from the parking lot, and then follow the unplowed dirt road on the other side.  A short distance of knee-deep postholing brought us to the river, which we carefully picked our way across.  The crossing was tricky.  On the other side we found trees and bushes, but no evidence of a road . . . Gee, I would have thought that the "classic grade 4 of Hyalite" would have a more defined approach . . . but no matter, we would not be deterred!

We headed off in the direction of the nearest obvious drainage in search of our climb.  After probably 20 or 30 minutes of postholing, and not more than 6 inches of elevation gained, we began to question our route-finding.  Before setting out we had looked at the map at the parking area.  It seemed to make sense.  But now, we were looking at the map in the guidebook and getting a different story.  After much discussion, and a fair bit of cursing, we came to realize that we must have driven past the correct parking area and parked at the wrong spot.

We managed to bushwhack our way back out to the road that we had driven in on, and then hiked down the road back toward town until we reached the correct trailhead.  Doh!

We found an easy river crossing, well beaten in with tracks.  We followed a packed trail up an obvious snowed over road.  At one point a set of tracks veered off the main trail down and to the left.  We wondered if there might be a hidden climb over there . . . but it was getting late, so we kept our eyes on the prize and stayed on the main trail.  The trail started to climb up . . . and up, and up.  Eventually we had been hiking from the correct trailhead for the 45 minute timemark and were nowhere near anything that looked climbable.  Once again we found ourselves questioning our route finding  . . .  We pulled out the guidebook, reread the approach description, and sure enough there was a sentence telling us to watch for a turn to the left and down.  Dang it!  The hidden ice climb we had wondered about earlier at the other set of tracks was our climb!

Rich, somewhere in the middle of our 5 hour approach to the easily accessible Champagne Sherbet

Back down we went, caught the correct turn, hiked down to the bottom of the drainage, then up the other side for about 15 minutes.  Finally, after turning a 45 minute approach into a nearly 5 hour ordeal we saw it . . .  and all was right with the world!

Champagne Sherbet in all its glory

After all the hiking, I have to admit, I was pretty intimidated!  It looked steep in parts, and sustained overall.  More than that, it looked like something from a magazine cover, and who was I to be climbing something that belonged on a magazine cover?  The thing that worried me most was that, just before the steepest section, at a ledge where I knew I would want to stop and place a screw, the small trickle of the waterfall that was still flowing was landing.  I was wearing a soft shell, not a hard shell.  I was  going to get soaked.  Could I still climb and place protection with frozen fingers? I was nervous to find out.  However, it was I who had really insisted on hiking to this, and after all the effort to get here, I had to lead it.

The initial gully was easy ice, and I just soloed up it.  Towards the top I entered the stream of flowing water from above.  Just before getting to it I was nervous, but once I committed to it a strange sense of calm came over me.  Once I realized that I could get wet and still climb, I calmly focused on the task at hand.  Arriving at the ledge before the business, I did not waste time, but despite the flow of icy water over me, I did not rush.  I calmly found the most solid ice around, sank my longest screw, placed an alpine draw, extended it, and clipped in the rope.  I then proceeded with the upward traverse out of the water.  Simultaneously climbing briskly, but making sure that all of my tool and crampon placements were solid.  

Once out of the water and onto the steep ice I smiled.   From here I knew what I had to do.  One more screw.  Sight the lower angle ice 20 feet up.  That's where I'm going.  Now stop thinking about 20 feet from now and focus on the next swing.  Get a good stick.  Straight arm.  Kick one foot, then the other.  Stand up.  Hips in.  Swing the next tool.  Get a good stick.  Straight arm.  Kick one foot, then the other.  Stand up.  Hips in.  Repeat.

When I got to the lower angled ice I found myself wishing that the steep stuff would keep going . . .

I kicked out a small step to rest my calf and placed a screw.  From below it looked like it would be all lower angled ice from here up.  After a bit of climbing, however, I came to an engaging vertical bulge.  Another screw.  More climbing.  

Then I found myself at the base of an 8 foot tall ice pillar.  I placed a screw just below its base and sat down in the very small alcove behind the pillar.  I could escape to the right up what looked like 4th class mossy covered rock . . .  but I looked at the pillar.  I can pull that!  The lower angled WI3 ice below would mean broken ankles if I fell, but I looked at it and had no doubt.  I can pull that!

Picturing myself looking something like Alex Lowe from the Winter Dance guidebook (Ha!  I wish!), I hooked my right tool behind the pillar and leaned out.  I carefully felt with my left tool until I got just the spot, and then . . .  THUNK.  I carefully swung it and got just enough of a placement in the pillar to help me balance as I worked my feet out.  I found a good hook with the right tool, and carefully walked both my feet up the pillar.  I stood up and THWACK!  My left tool sunk satisfyingly into the thick ice over the bulge above the pillar.  I walked my feet further up the pillar and sank my right tool.  After climbing completely over the top I let out a loud "WOOT!"  

Some thin ice and frozen moss climbing brought me to the top and a grove of stout trees to belay from.  

When Rich finished following the pitch we both agreed, best pitch of water ice ever! Did we just spend all day hiking to climb one pitch of ice?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  Hell yes!!!

Rich, about to exit the ice into the frozen moss at the top of Champagne Sherbet

The next Day it was Rich's turn to point out a dream climb in the guidebook.  He chose Mummy Cooler II.  We had talked about this climb every time we'd been in Hyalite, but never gotten around to doing it.  

We got an early start, since we needed to drive back to Boise after the climb.  The approach was longer than we imagined it should have been, but at least we managed to stay our route.  Eventually we rounded a corner and were confronted with the fattest imaginable icefall.  

Rich did a beautiful job leading a beautiful climb.  It felt stout for WI3, definitely near the upper end of the grade.  We couldn't have picked a better climb to finish on.

Rich leading Mummy Cooler II
After the climb we hopped in the car and commenced the 8 hour drive back to Boise.  We took a bit of scenic route so that we could enjoy views of the Tetons on the way back.

Sunset on the drive home from another great trip to Montana

Skiing Copper Mountain

The weekend after Hyalite, I convinced my friends Sarah and Reggie that we should go ski Copper Mountain.

Copper Mountain is the norther-most named Peak in the Sawtooth Range.  In the most talked about range in a state full of well renowned peaks for backcountry skiing, Copper is probably the most discussed.  It is visible from Highway 21, and the access is very straightforward.  That said, the drive from Boise takes 2.5 hours, and you have to pass many other fun snow covered peaks.  For this reason, I had never actually made it all the way out to the much talked about Copper Mountain.

After all the discussion, I had a vision built up in my head of some extreme badass peak, with steep you-fall-you-die aspects on all sides.  My vision could not have been further from the truth.

From the parking area near Banner Summit on highway 21, a short skin along the highway shoulder led us to the drainage for Norman Creek on the right.  Being a popular ski peak, there was already a skin track from earlier in the morning.  We followed the skin track directly up Copper's west ridge.

Reggie and Sarah skin up Norman Creek
A delightful skin up through the trees was interrupted when Reggie cruelly tagged me 3 times in a row in the "mine" game. To spare you, the reader, I will not describe the rules here, as one of the rules states that once you know the rules, you may not opt out of the game.  Suffice it to say that each time you are tagged you owe 10 pushups. Not one to be a poor sport, I complied.

Penalty pushups while clipped into my ski bindings
We enjoyed beautiful blue skies sprinkled with wispy clouds as we made the final ascent to the top.  This was Sarah's first time in the backcountry, and she was loving it!

Reggie skins up Copper Mountain

Sarah was all smiles all day!
Summit party!  L to R: Reggie, Sara, Micah the dog (aka Gary), and Cory
On the summit we stopped to enjoy the sunshine and have a picnick.  I shared some hot cocoa, while Reggie and Sarah shared some "Irish" coffee!

View from the summit
As we started the descent down the southwest face of Copper, we were unpleasantly surprised to find a shallow, windblown snowpack only a few inches deep covering sharp rocks.  After sustaining a bit of damage to our ski bases over the course of 100 yards or so, the snowpack improved.  The slopes on Copper weren't nearly as steep as I'd imagined.  If it were a rock climb I'd rate it 5.fun!  The entire rest of the descent was super fun, boot-deep powder.  There were only a couple tracks, so it was pretty easy to ski the good untracked stuff.  I don't know if there is anything more fun than untracked powder on a sunny day!

Reggie skiing below the summit of Copper Mountain
Cory and Gary charging some fun low-angled powder
Sarah, still smiling on the way down!
Gary finding the true meaning of the "face shots"

XC Skiing with Mrs. Pretty and Mr. Max

In addition to several other back country and lift served ski days, we managed to start getting some family crosscountry ski days as well.  I picked up a Kindershuttle Ski-Pulk and got Thy a set of cross country skis for Christmas.  So far we've explored some of the trails at the Bogus Basin Nordic Center, as well as some of the Gold Fork trails near Idaho City.  It's a great way to combine skiing and family time, and also a great workout!  The nice thing about the Gold Fork trails is that they are also dog friendly, so the pups can join the fun too!

Mr. Max about to tell Dad to mush!
Fun XC Skiing on the Gold Fork trails

Birthday Powder!

The 30th was my birthday, and although I did have a few things I needed to get done in the office, I decided to start the day of early with some more back country skiing.  Several inches of snow fell overnight, which when added to the snow that fell the several preceding days made for some great bakccountry powder!

I woke at 4am, scarfed some leftover pizza for breakfast, filled my thermos with coffee and cocoa powder, and headed up the hill.  I was out before the snowplows, which made the drive up Bogus Basin Road interesting, but I eventually made it.  My friend Cody had sent me a gpx file showing where to park and how to access the goods.  I clipped into my ski bindings, flipped on the headlamp, and started skinning.

Hot mocha break in the dark.  I ski in style!
After a mostly pleasant skin (with a wee bit of bushwhacking in the dark) I made it to the top of Little Deer Point.  Dropping down the east face I found shin-deep powder with no tracks . . . tasters!  Unlike a bumpy ski resort run, skiing trackless powder in the dark is actually pretty easy since it is so predictable!  I skied down to the Ridge Road below me, then off the ridge road and down the drainage below for a couple hundred more feet until I eventually ran into a dead end filled with bushes.

My tracks down the east face of  Little Deer Point

Back on went the skins.  I climbed back up to the Ridge Road.  The ski was just starting to get light, so I turned off my headlamp . . . and then I saw it:  A beautiful snowy ridge that looked like it dropped from Deer Point all the way to the center of the earth.  other than the tips of a couple bushes, it looked wide open, and just begged to be skied!

Backcountry beauty right outside of Bogus Basin
I had originally planned to skin up to Deer Point and drop into the resort to get a few lift assisted laps before heading back to the car, but now I couldn't resist the beautiful ridge.

I skinned up the road to a point at the top of the ridge, which ran nearly due south.  Off came the skins and on went my big grin.  The ridge was perfect.  Boot deep fresh powder over several feet of slightly denser powder, and no sign of anyone else's tracks.  It was steep enough to be fun, but not steep enough to worry me, even though I was skiing alone.

I skied the whole line from top to bottom without stopping, dropping about 1000 feet until I ran into the all too familiar Bogus bushes.  The turns felt effortless.  I enjoyed some hot mocha at the bottom and then skinned right back up the ridge with a giant grin on my face.

On the ski back down the Ridge Road I was treated to a fantastic view of the ridge with my tracks running right down it!

My tracks running down the beautiful ridge. I took this photo on the ski back to my car

While I skinned up I was treated to a spectacular sunrise.

Sunrise in the Boise Mountains
I got a few more turns as I skied back down the north side of Little Deer Point to my car.  I headed down to road towards a hot shower and then the office, all the while sporting a shit-eatin grin.  Life is good!

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