Archive for February, 2009

Last year I missed the Banff Film Festival’s World Tour, but did at least catch the Radical Reels presentation in Golden. So in redemption I attended two consecutive nights of films.

Thursday, February 26th:

The Red Helmet – 6 minutes. I’d seen this sort film before, but possibly online since I was struck by how rich and full the images were on the big screen. Like Ephemere from last year’s Radical Reels tour, The Red Helmet takes a simple story as a wrapper for extreme sports. I’m interested in where film making will go with this concept, to the extent that a simple story line serves as an “excuse” to show adrenaline sports what good is it? More maturity might be found when the story is worth telling in its own right and the sports serve the narrative arch as more than an exciting backdrop.

Silent Snow – 13 minutes. The title homage to Rachel Carson’s book is obvious and the film adopts an accusatory stance against all of us living in below the arctic circle for polluting the environment and killing the natives of Greenland. As a documentary the film does a credible job of showing the day-to-day lives of young girls and their fears for their community’s future. It fails to give us an intellectual base for understanding what is happening, or what actions may help. As such, it mostly felt like being emotionally bludgeoned.

Journey to the Center – 55 minutes. I was quite prepared to be bored to tears by a hour film on BASE jumping, but I spent the entire showing engrossed. For starters, the film struck a true narrative by following three BASE jumpers traveling into China to attempt a dangerous dive into a gigantic vertical cave. Their personal histories showed the role BASE jumping had played in their own development. The jump’s dangers were so well explained that the whole audience was absolutely silent at the image of three tiny humans clinging to a steel cable over a 2,000 foot drop. Their fear was palpable and a steel cable never looked so fragile as the shots of it vibrating as they crawled and slid their way to the center. Adventure filmmakers take note: Journey to the Center was a great film not because of an amazing feat.

The Last Frontier – Papua New Guinea – 18 minutes. Another film I’d seen before, only a slightly different edit at Mountain Film. Whether it was the different edit, or the second viewing, I was more favorably inclined to it this time around. I believe this cut had more about the local cultures the kayakers traveled through, which certainly helped blend the expeditions environmental and adventure goals.

Mountain Town: The Cowboy and the Park Goddess – 13 minutes. Thankfully, another character driven film, this one centered around the character-rich mountain town of Aspen. Ski patrolman Mac Smith’s story of his outdoor life and struggle with opening Highlands Bowl after three fellow patrollers were killed doing avalanche work showed real depth and emotion. Isabelle Fallardeau’s tale of taking charge of Aspen’s terrain park construction was a similar tale of rising by loving what you do and taking on the challenges presented. Hardly her fault if her story had less emotional impact than Mac’s.

If You’re Not Falling – 8 minutes. The evening finished up with yet another film I’d already caught elsewhere. Rock climber Sonnie Trotter throws himself again and again at a difficult rock climbing problem – apparently comfortable with the huge falls he has to take for every failure. The final success looks truly appreciated.

Friday, February 27th:

Crux – 12 minutes. Highly entertaining bike stunts in mostly urban settings. No characters, no plot, just fun. Amazing what these guys can do with their bikes.

The Cable Car – 7 minutes. Humorous animated film of an old man alone in a cable car that’s falling apart around him. He struggles against the car’s demise with a roll of tape.

Red Gold – 54 minutes. Tonight’s feature length film was even better than “Journey to the Center” and possibly one of the best films I’ve ever seen at the last 5 or so years of the Banff. The subject is the controversial Pebble Mine project in Alaska, but it’s really about a people’s love of a place they call home. The people are all interesting and the photography lives up to the larger than life Alaskan landscape.

Dosage Volume V: Meltdown – 12 minutes. Technically well done segment showing Beth Rodden’s return to form by climbing increasingly difficult routes leading up to over 40 attempts to climb the route Meltdown. Otherwise, it was pretty standard “climbing porn”.

Shikashika – 10 minutes. Largely un-narrated visual story of a Peruvian family’s weekly trips to a nearby glacier to harvest blocks of ice to sell at the town’s weekly market in the form of flavored shaved ice drinks. Interesting look a tiny aspect of local culture most travelers wouldn’t ever see.

The Fine Line – 25 minutes. Viscerally powerful film about the dangers of avalanches. Real life footage including one accident where the skier filming is caught and you get caught up in the helplessness of her situation while feeling the power of the slide. Several victims relate their I-should-be-dead stories and ponder if the risk taking was worth it. I found it hard to enjoy watching the big lines get skied, even accident free, with all the reminders of the consequences.

Read Full Post »

White Ranch Park

I decided to visit a very close by park after work for a short (just shy of 7 miles) hike. White Ranch Park is part of the Jefferson County Open Space program and lies just north of Golden. I probably hadn’t visited it because no real mountains lie within its boundaries.

I set off south on the Belcher Hill Trail, then followed the Mustang Trail until it hit Belcher Hill again. Following that northeast I next branched off on the Maverick, Longhorn, Rawhide and Wrangler’s Run trails. Finally, I reconnected with the Rawhide trail back to the parking lot. I didn’t see any other people out on the trails, just the group of 3 deer in the photo above.

There are quite a few more miles of trails at White Ranch, so maybe I’ll be back when I just require a quick stroll through the woods.

Read Full Post »

Mount Woodson

Before my flight back to Colorado Heidrun and I got out for one more hike. This time she took me to one of her local spots for a quick walk up the fire trail on Mount Woodson.

Mount Woodson is known as a popular bouldering area, but today we only saw other hikers and a fire crew.

It was a warm and somewhat humid morning, especially after yesterday’s snowshoe on San Jacinto Peak.

Just below the summit on the opposite side of the peak, Heidrun pointed out the flat overhanging rock that I just had walk out on.

Read Full Post »

We woke early and quickly broke camp in Joshua Tree by 6:30 am. We had an hour plus drive to just outside of Palm Springs were we hoped to pick up the first tram up San Jacinto Peak. On the way we noticed a huge lenticular cloud hanging over the peak and I hoped the weather would hold for our hike.

We reached the tramway station with a little time to spare and found us on a car with only 4 others including the operator and one employee. Didn’t look like many people would be heading up to the summit today.

We watched the views spin by and the other car pass at the half way point.

Once at the 8,516 foot “Mountain Station” we left the tram car and headed outdoors. After finding the Adventure Center we rented two pairs of snowshoes and poles then headed to the ranger station to fill out a permit.

As we headed up towards Round Valley we began passing large groups of Boy Scouts who had camped out the prior night. They confirmed that some people had gone to the summit the day before and there should be a track the whole way. They also passed on the discouraging news that it had been raining at Round Valley.

After an hour of hiking we’d reached the Round Valley junction and spring. At 9,100 feet this was the highest Heidrun had reached on a hike yet.

We followed tracks toward the Wellman Divide then made a sharp right and traversed across Jean Peak’s slopes. We then found some divergent tracks and I decided to follow the ones that ran straight up the slope.

This was a little steeper than I should have taken a novice snowshoer on, but the snow was solid and other than a little balling on the underside, pretty grippy.

Once high on the ridge we had an excellent view of San Jacinto waiting for us along the crest.

We left the vicinity of Joan Peak and intersected the route coming from Tamarack Valley. The weather had really been tolerant with us so far and we’d only had a few sprinkles lower down. Now it began to snow and the wind picked up.

Right at noon I announced that we didn’t have any more up to climb and Heidrun looked a little shocked that we’d actually made it (she’d been turned back from some other big peaks recently).

Maybe the summit’s prayer flags had helped out, but we didn’t spend very long on top. The snowshoes were due back by 3:30p.

From the summit we zipped down Tamarack Valley and ran into a backcountry skier – the only other person we saw above the campgrounds. Our speedy descent was finished by 1:45pm, but not before running into a park ranger who wanted to see our permit and interrogate us on our route and if we’d stayed to the trail (covered with multiple feet of snow)! We even managed to cram into the 2pm car heading back down the mountain. Later that evening we had an excellent dinner at Stone Brewing Co which was also packed full with at least two teams from the Tour of California bike race celebrating the end of nine days of racing.

Complete Photo Gallery

Read Full Post »

On the way into Joshua Tree National Park to our camp at Hidden Valley we passed the road-side crag called Trashcan Rock in the Quail Springs picnic area. Since it didn’t look like anyone was there on this Friday and they had some easy and moderate rated top rope climbs available we headed back after setting up camp for Heidrun’s first rock climbing experience.

On the west side of the formation were a couple climbs that we could access from one top rope anchor, Karpkwitz (5.6) and B-3 (5.3). We scrambled up the north end of the formation where I built a solid 3-point anchor of cams and then dropped the rope down the face.

I explained a few basics of climbing to Heidrun and then belayed her as she tackled B-3. After lowering off I taught her the basics of belaying and had an idle climber standing around back her up as I repeated the route. Testing her, I took a few intentional falls so she’d know how to catch me.

After climbing we each climbed Karpkwitz on top rope we practiced rappelling from the top of the formation.

Speeding right along on her first day climbing, I next climbed B-3 again, but this time placing protection in the crack as if I was leading. Once at the top of the climb, I pulled in the slack and had Heidrun climb up and clean the gear off the climb – important practice if we’d do any longer routes we couldn’t top rope or any multi-pitch climbs.

While at the top, I moved the anchor further south to line up above B-2 (a 5.3 rated climb).

After we both rappelled down I pulled the rope after us. This time I’d really lead the climb and belay Heidrun up afterward while she again cleaned the pitch.

Heidrun then rappelled down, this time using an autoblock backup since I wouldn’t be below her to provide a fireman’s belay.

Once she was safely down I sent down the rope, and then dismantled the anchor and walked off the north end again. We hung around for another 30 minutes packing away gear, chatting with other climbers and watching a few ascend routes we’d just done. Then it was back to camp for black bean quesadillas, craft beers and a warm camp fire.

Friday was pretty cold so we stayed in until the sun was up before a breakfast of coffee and pancakes.

Since it was no officially the weekend and the camp ground was full, we figured the easy access places like Quail Springs might be plenty busy. Instead we hiked around the formation we camped right next to (The Blob) and took the most circuitous route to the climb known as The Bong (5.5). I was just about to start climbing when another party showed up to wait in line. The Bong is a pretty popular route and we passed by the start several times later that day to always see a line formed at the base. We were lucky to get on the route first.

The route is pretty sure, but is was a fairly consistent climb up a crack with the crux passed by a few layback moves in some parallel formations. I thought the route was a lot of fun, but knew it would challenge Heidrun since it required more pure crack climbing techniques (hand and foot jams) than anything we practiced the day prior.

Once Heidrun reached the top we enjoyed the view, spotting climbers on nearly every other rock formation within sight. To get down I belayed her walk down a slab to a ample ledge. Here I joined her and built another quick anchor to belay her down some class 4 terrain were we eventually passed the base of The Bong again to watch other climbers tackle it.

After lunch we returned to The Blob’s western side for a final “easy” climb. A party was just finishing up on the 5.2 route called “Beginner’s Two” so we scrambled up to the start and I got ready to climb. Right way I realized this was going to be harder than “5.2” as the start was one of the cruxes and I ended up doing some tenuous face moves to avoid the flaring off-width crack. I figured the climb would mellow as I got higher, but the off-width crack remained and I climbed a good portion of the route by slithering up with half my body in the crack. Protection wasn’t super abundant either in the flaring crack. Once I topped out I spent a while trying to build an anchor I trusted in the still flaring crack. Finally, I pulled in the slack and hollered at Heidrun to start up. I knew she wasn’t going to like this climb.

Sure enough, she had trouble getting started and through the first crux. She probably had trouble reaching the gear I’d place fairly low down which had been a bit of a reach for me and I’ve got 8-9 inches on her. She asked to be lowered back down and didn’t think she could make it up.

After thinking about what to do for a while, I had her untie and then attached my end of the rope to the anchor. After double and triple checking the setup, I rappelled down on the single strand to clean the pitch of the little gear I’d placed. Once I arrived back at the start I then had to walk around past The Bong, then scramble up our earlier descent route to the top of that route. Then I found some 5.0 slab climbing to reach the top of Beginner’s Two. From here I could take down the rope and all the gear I’d left, then reverse my route.

However, I didn’t really want to downclimb the 5.0 slab, so I found a giant hole near a water pocket I could pass the rope through and rappel this section. Retrieving the rope was a bit of a fight on the textured rock, but it eventually came down and I downclimbed past The Bong and returned to Heidrun. With that, we decided to call our climbing to a close and take a hike.

Straight from camp we headed toward the nearby Barker Dam. It was only about a mile and a half away, but we missed where the trail crossed a park road and ended up walking the road for a ways until we picked up the other crossing.

It was nice to just hike without being loaded down by ropes and climbing gear, or the mental tasks of trying to decipher approach routes and pick out specific formations. Instead, I just enjoyed the desert views and the park’s signature trees.

We didn’t see anyone else on the trail from camp, but once we hit the one mile loop we also hit the crowds. The dam itself held only a little water.

Swimming also wasn’t advisable, or maybe even possible.

We stuck to the trail on the way back and spotted some rabbits – they largest wild life we saw in the park on our short visit. We did hear plenty of coyotes that night calling to each other.

Complete Photo Gallery

Read Full Post »

Our HAMS (High Altitude Mountaineering School) group met at a gentle 8am to load sleds, packs, boots and more for the drive up to St. Mary’s Glacier.

This would be our final field session for the HAMS school and the weekend would have two goals – practicing snow camping and having a final exam on the z-pulley crevasse rescue scenario. Once at the trailhead we split up into rope teams and rigged our packs, sleds, and snowshoes as if we were traveling on a glacier.

We found more snow covering the rocks at the base of St. Mary’s Glacier than the previous time we’d come this way. After a short break we headed up the glacier itself.

Once on the upper glacier the weather turned as it began snowing and visibility lessened.

Around 1:30p we reached the spot selected for our camp.

After a quick lunch break we started working on the quarry. First we stomped around to setup the snow then began the work of digging and cutting out blocks for transport to the growing wall.

As more people arrived the workforce grew to 20+ so quarry duties were handed over and we started to erect our tents.

Once our tents were up and the walls solidly reinforced, I joined Katie and Dave in digging out a two room latrine. A little blue sky appeared just before I dove into the tent for the night.

My tentmate’s JetBoil stove wasn’t quite up to the task of melting a gallon of water out of dry snow, so I kept feeding the Whisperlite for about 3 hours until all our water bottles were full and dinner was consumed.

The wind was intermittent overnight but the temperatures dropped as low as -10F (as reported by another tent’s thermometer). I had an incredibly warm night in a new -20F rated sleeping bag plus the plush down Exped mat. Still, it wasn’t the most restful night as I woke up every hour or so to turn over and rearrange myself along with the other occupants of my sleeping bag. Water bottles, anything battery operated, some food and lots of clothing curled up with me to prevent everything I’d need from freezing solid by morning.

The sun greeted us in the morning, but the cold temperatures prevailed. After a drawn out breakfast lasting two hours of refilling water bottles and making hot chocolate and coffee we finally ventured out for the final exam.

My tentmate, Debbie, and I took turns at the last and middle positions on a three-person rope team while assistant instructor Tom simulated a crevasse fall. One of us would have to self-arrest and hold the “fall” while the other built a two picket anchor and attached the rope. Then working together we’d complete the z-pulley setup and start hauling. The whole operation had to be completed in 15 minutes to pass.

With the final exam over, we returned to camp and to say goodbye to our snow wall.

Then back in our rope teams we descended from camp.

While passing through the glacier we experienced a lot of blowing snow at ground level from the winds.

But once back at the trailhead, it was all sunshine, smiles and beer.

Complete Photo Album
Instructor Dave’s Photo Gallery

Previous HAMS field days: crevasse rescue, snow practice and ice climbing.

Read Full Post »

For Sunday’s exercise I decided to skin up the Breckenridge ski resort for the 3rd time this winter season. Starting at the base of Peak 9 I hoped I wouldn’t run into too many snow cats on my journey since I found my headlamp batteries were nearly dead. The full moon wasn’t much help since it was hiding out behind the Tenmile range or some really thick clouds.

I cut north across some of the lower green runs and choose to gain most of my elevation following the run Columbia. Skinning up on my lighter nordic gear was proving to be about twice as fast as my AT setup and was helping to make up time for a late start. Once I reached the Peak 9 restaurant I started down the run Volunteer but soon hit some icy moguls. I was hoping for something a little tamer for my first blue runs on nordic gear and hopped over to the Gold King run which was being groomed. Amazing myself I made it down the steep slopes with some ugly half-parallel half-wedge turns and didn’t fall over once.

Next I turned left and followed the “Upper Peak 8 Transfer” route and then began trying to climb up the low-grade connector trail to the Four O’Clock run. Normally this road would have been easy to follow, but recent corduroy grooming made a poor surface for my waxless skis to grip. I could have stopped and put the climbing skins back on, instead I kept plugging away until I reached Four O’Clock run (so named for all the end-of-day skiers who take this route back to condos or town).

After a few turns down Four O’Clock, I transfered to the Dyersville run which dropped me at the base of Peak 8 just 10 minutes before the lifts opened. From Peak 8 I rode the gondola for a couple minutes to Peak 7’s base then ate some breakfast and walked to the Peaks Trail trailhead.

I’d skied this 8 mile trail last Sunday and the snow conditions on that day were excellent. Today I found a week of sun and warm temperatures with little or no snow had made the trail an ice rink. Scales weren’t gripping well on the uphills and the downhills were a hard-packed chattering-skis hope-I-don’t launch-off-into-the-trees affair.

Still, being solo and taking few brakes I was moving pretty quick and hoped to turn the day into an out-and-back. Unfortunately, I quickly found an area where a logging operation was being conducted (possibly to remove the dead beetle-killed trees?) which had obliterated the trail for an eighth of a mile or so.

I had to carry my skis over logs and huge cat tracks and finally picked up the route on the other side. I was pretty surprised that the trailhead hadn’t included any kind of notice about the logging. Closer to Frisco the trail became even icier (if that was possible) and I was sure I didn’t want to ski back this way. So I decided to end my day riding the free shuttle bus back to Breckenridge.

Read Full Post »

As part of the High Altitude Mountaineering School (HAMS) with the CMC we spent a day ice climbing at Lincoln Falls. For many of the students it would be their first time ice climbing.

When we all met at the trailhead at Montgomery Reservoir we found another CMC HAMS group also destined for Lincoln Falls, only this group was from the Colorado Springs chapter.

The sun was coming up over the mountains to our east and highlighted the water ice flows we’d be climbing. The sun wouldn’t last long on these north-east facing slopes however.

As a group we hiked up towards the ice flows in the path of the Colorado Springs group.

I helped one of the instructors setup a fixed line over some lower angle ice for everyone to prussik up as a warm up. Meanwhile, a couple other instructors had climbed up the falls and setup two top-rope anchors for the group. Then I was asked to demo the fundamentals of ice climbing by climbing up one of the top ropes. I think I was doing a fairly good job of demoing descent technique (keeping my heels low, making efficient swings, etc). Then in the middle of my demo the spring clip on my right Grivel crampon loosened and suddenly that crampon was hanging in two parts from my boot. After being lowered I repaired the crampon and vowed to replace the spring clip with a bolt and lock nut like I had with my mountaineering crampons after a similar experience on the Dead Dog Couloir.

I backed off from the large group gathered at the base of the two routes and took a break back at my pack. I chatted with a few of the assistant instructors and then joined a few other students practicing v-thread anchors. With a v-thread anchor the ice screw is used to bore two connecting holes in the ice through which you thread a runner to form an anchor.

As more of the students finished a turn or two on the ice climbs I returned to the ropes and took a couple laps trying some different tools and searching for the most vertical portions of the ice.

I had to skip the post-climbing trip to a local bar with the rest of the group as I had some prior work commitments to hurry back for. Still, it was a fun return to ice climbing and reminder that I need to get out and climb more ice in the winter months.

Instructor Dave’s Photo Gallery

Read Full Post »

Peaks Trail

My Backcountry Ski Touring School had finished up last weekend, but one of the instructors invited a couple of us students along on a 14-year tradition of skiing the Peaks Trail on Super Bowl Sunday.

The Peaks Trail runs 8+ miles from Breckenridge to Frisco and I’d hiked the trail last winter on snowshoes. I recalled not being very impressed with the trail, too much time in the trees with not enough views (it was a cloudy day then). On skis I’d find my opinion of the trail completely changed.

After meeting at the gondola in Breckenridge, we road up to the Peak 7 base area and then walked a road a short distance to the trailhead. The morning was cold (in teens when we started), but the sun seemed to be winning a battle against a few clouds (sun was the underdog in the forecast). We warmed up through a series of short ups and downs, working on getting our downhill reactions ironed out for the bigger slopes to follow.

Views were more numerous on this sunny day than when I’d last hiked the trail. Unfortunately, the pine beetle epidemic was also more pronounced in the sea of brown lodgepole pines.

We’d really warmed up by the time we’d reached the somewhat open meadow at the trail’s highpoint. In the strong sun we stopped for a lunch break with more sunscreen than insulation required.

Looking more south we had excellent views of Guyot and Bald Mountain.

I made it through the downhills with only a couple falls. One was a very soft face-first landing into powder on the edge of the trail. Laughing I dusted myself off and realized I was having much more fun on this trail with the skis than I had while wearing snowshoes.

Further on we were greeted with excellent views to the west of the northern portion of the Tenmile Range.

At the end of the trail we split up with most of the group returning back to Denver and myself hopping a bus for Breckenridge. On my walk through town I strolled through the snow sculptures still on display from last weekend’s international festival.

Read Full Post »

During our first HAMS (High Altitude Mountaineering School) meeting we were issued modified plastic sleds. A few were already completely outfitted with runners, tie-down straps, brake straps and haul lines. The one I got only had a few cord loops tied around the edges and the rim was strengthened with some cut sections of garden hose.

After a few trips to the local outfitter and Home Depot my sled was ready to use. 1″ webbing with a bunch of overhand knots would act as a brake when dropped under the front of the sled for downhills. 18″ angle aluminum runners would help the sled track across hills. 3 40″ 3/4″ buckle straps would hold down the load. And finally 1/2″ webbing would connect the sled to my backpack’s hip belt for hauling.

For our second field day we’d start out hauling our sleds with a bit of a load and roped together as if we were on a glacier. While sorting out the medley of ropes, harnesses, sleds, haul lines, prussik cords and the like, one of two dogs spending the day with us ran over to my backpack and pissed on it. I couldn’t help wondering what type of day was in store with this inglorious start.

Our team of three took off for the base of Saint Mary’s Glacier and encountered some bare, wind-blown sections of trail just below the glacier.

He we gathered up with the other rope teams and switched crampons for snowshoes and added a few layers. Above us and beyond the trees we could see wind gusts moving clouds of snow around.

From the shelter of the trees we pulled the sleds uphill and then into a rocky “camp” from which we’d conduct a few clinics.

After leaving the camp area we traversed across the slope practicing a running belay. The first team across placed snow pickets just often enough so that the team of 3 was always protected by at least one such anchor.

On the other end of the slope the instructors had setup a fixed line for us to ascend using mechanical ascenders.

We were still moving as a rope team, so each time one member of the group would reach an anchor, we’d all have to stop while they moved their safety tether then passed the mechanical ascender around the anchor.

Slowly we moved up, but we were thankfully out of the wind on this steep slope. Once at the top of the line, we had to switch over to a downhill fixed line to practice that technique as well.

Completing the fixed-line course we headed back to the camp for a very windy lunch. Air temperature was right around freezing and the sun was out, but the 25+ mph gusts add a bit of a edge to our break.

After lunch we headed to the right hand side of the glacier to practice self arresting a fall with our ice axes. Starting out with our backpacks off we began sliding in the 3 classic positions: on our butt or back with feet first, head first on our stomachs, and head first on our backs. We then added our backpacks to the mix where I ended up tearing out one strap on my pack. I was having a fairly good day, but my pack certainly wasn’t.

We then moved on to discussing snow anchors, starting with pickets placed vertically or buried horizontally as a “deadman”. Our instructor Bob even demonstrated an alternate use for Nalgene bottles as a buried anchor.

The snow was firm enough that all these anchors held aggressive pulling by 3 or more people tugging on them from down slope. Finally, we built a 3+ foot diameter bollard which also proved solid.

Finally, we headed back to camp as the sun was ducking out of sight and hurried back down to the trailhead. The other group was still running through the fixed-line course and wouldn’t make it to the brew pub until we were well fed and hydrated and just about to leave.

Complete Photo Gallery

Read Full Post »