Skiing

i am titanium

Man…I’m a wee bit rusty at this blogging thing.   It took me almost a day to think of a title for this post, to which I’m sure you’re thinking, “and that’s what you came up with?”

Yeah, I know.  But trust me, this was the best option.  Let’s just say that one of the options referenced Justin Bieber.

So yeah, bear with me as I work the kinks out.

Way back in the day I told ya’ll the story about how my husband tricked me into going on my first backcountry skiing experience.  It was touch-and-go at best.  But I kept at it and something magical happened:  I liked it.  I liked it a lot.   So I took an Avalanche Certification class.  I got all the fancy gear and spent some time getting my pack together and organized just-so.  We started getting out often and going on weekend trips to backcountry ski, like here and here.

And then we had a baby and my fancy skis and perfectly-packed pack sat in the corner collecting dust.

Until recently.

This past week the Hubs and I carved out some time to reconnect and spend time together doing something fun and reminiscent of our pre-baby days.   We (correction, “I”….let’s not kid ourselves, the Hubs pack has never collected any dust) dusted off my pack and headed in search of spring snow.

We found it at Trapper Peak.

Trapper is the highest peak in the Bitterroot mountain range just south of Missoula.  It’s about an hour and-a-half drive to the trailhead from our doorstep.   I’m still trying to figure out if it was necessary to pick the highest peak around because (a) it’s spring and snow is hard to find, or (b) The Hubs go-big-or-go-home philosophy.

To be honest I think it was a little of both…and I was skeeeered.  I mean, this thing is over 10,000 ft, ragged and gnarly looking!

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The Hubs planned our ascent which took us from the trailhead to the peak in 4.2 miles (basically the lower red line to the purple line in the topo map below).  If all went well we would only need to hike for a mile or so until we hit the snow line and could skin up (fancy words for “hike with our skis on).

Only 4.2 miles!  No big whoop.  I crush more than 4.2 miles in a lunch run these days.

So we make arrangements for Abby and head out bright-and-early.  We arrive at the trailhead by 10:00 and hope to be at the peak by noon…a fairly conservative estimate, we thought.    When we arrive at the trailhead I notice how lush and green everything is and take a moment to marvel at the pretty yellow daises that seem to welcome us to the trail.  There are bees buzzing and birds chirping, insects flying by.  The air smells of morning dew and spring thaw.  The weather wasn’t quite what we hoped for…the peaks are hanging in clouds and the sun is hiding behind a dense layer of fog.  But I tell myself that it’s still early and it could burn off by the time we reach the peak.

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I load up my pack and grimace a little as I heave it on to my back.  It’s heavy.  I still hike in my alpine boots (the same boots I would use to ski at a resort), not willing to make the investment in the lightweight backcountry boots that weigh half as much.  Although at this moment I’m wishing I had them (as I catch a glimpse of the Hubs practically floating around with his light-weight gear).

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After the obligatory “we’re off!” photo, we start hiking.  It’s steep.  Really steep.   And constant.  There doesn’t seem to be any break from the steepness.

And then I remember…a “mere” 4.2 miles. Well duh.  No wonder it’s such a short hike; it’s steep as hell!

Awesome.

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But I keep going…I keep trudging along…trying not to think about what torture lie ahead.   At this point I’m not really loving it but not really hating it.  I find myself doing Oula dances in my head to take the focus off my burning calves…

I’m bulletproof….nothing to lose….fire away, fire away’
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium!

Seriously.  I think that song got me up half of that damn mountain.  That and Justin Bieber….All around the woooooooorld….people want to be loved.  Do doo doo dooo….do do do dooooo….

Have I lost ya?  Sorry Dad.

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Anyways….of course the Hubs is rocking it.  He runs up a GD mountain on his lunch break so this is nothing.  PLUS his gear is so much lighter than mine that obviously gave him the advantage…right?

An hour in and we’re just finally hitting snow.  I have no idea how far we’ve come but it feels like a long ways.  The GPS says 8,000 feet…so we’ve climbed 2,000 and have 2,000 more to go.  I kind of want to die.

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I’m bulletproof….nothing to lose …..
Fire away, fire away…

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Instead I scarf down a clif bar, get my ski boots on, skin up and head back up the mountain.  We seem to be entering the cloud covered area and everything is dense and foggy.  I could really let myself get creeped out about the eeriness of it all but the Biebs was keeping me going (Baby what you doing? where you at? where you at?).

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We climbed for what seemed like forever.  And then we climbed some more.   Another hour later we were almost to tree line.  I was still in good spirits but starting to wear down.  Afterall, we thought we’d be to the top by now (it was noon) and we still had 1.3 miles and 1300 feet to go.  I think the Hubs was trying to be helpful when he said “Sweet, just 1300 feet….like climbing up Mt. Sentinel!”   I secretly gave him the side eye and said, “yep, just like Mt. Sentinel!”

This is Mt. Sentinel:

I’m not sure any amount of Bieber could motivate me up that.  (After reading this you probably think I’m a total Bieber fan….but this is actually the first time I’ve probably ever typed or even said his name…hahaha.).

This was the actual view of Trapper from that point:

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We obviously misjudged the time it would take for us to climb up 4,000 ft carrying all of our gear.  And I certainly didn’t account for the altitude.  I definitely noticed a difference skinning the higher up we got…but I wasn’t sure if it I was just getting tired (over two hours of constant climbing) or the fact that we were now around 9,000 feet.

We decided to climb for another hour and see where we got.  The Hubs took off like a bat out of hell towards the peak which we could see intermittently between fog banks.  Per usual I trudged a long behind muttering something about pacing myself.  The higher we got the more fog started to blow off and patches of sun came through.  It was really beautiful watching the peaks come in-and-out of it, but it also made it hard to judge how far we had to go.  Plus, I’m pretty sure I was missing out on what was an amazingly majestic view.

It didn’t take too long to get above tree line which I have to say was pretty cool.  Gone were the snow-covered trees and winding white bark pine.  Instead we had wide open spaces that lead to the rocky peaks above us.

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Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away

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As we approached the peak I started to wonder how exactly we were going to get to the tippy top.  It was surrounded by a boulder field (rocks as big as a car) that weren’t completely covered in snow.  There wasn’t a direct path but there looked to be a few ways you could snake through them to get to the top.  To be honest, I wasn’t convinced the effort was worth it.  Part of me thought “you HAVE to get to the peak…you’ve come this far!  You’re so close!”  and the other part thought “who the hell cares, I’m tired.”   In the end, the devil on my shoulder won.  When we got to the saddle about 300 feet below the peak I called it….”Are we done?”  I yelled to The Hubs.  “What??  You’re done???” he replies.

Yes.  Yes I’m done.   And I could care less that I didn’t make it to the tippy top.  This counts damn it.

You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium

I made my way to a small rock pile to rest, get my skins off and eat my lunch.  The Hubs wanted to climb just a little bit futher so he took off up the mountain.  Show off.

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As I sat on the rock (at nearly 10,000 ft) eating my PB&J I couldn’t help but notice how SILENT it was.  There was no wind.  No birds.  No bees.  No crunch of snow as I skinned.  No heavy breathing.  No songs running through my head. It was literally complete and utter silence that I can’t even describe.  That I’m not even sure I’ve ever truly HEARD before, because when I thought about it, it’s a fantastically rare occurrence in life.  Just me, sitting alone at the top of this giant mountain as the fog rolled in and out between the peaks.  It was almost surreal and at the same time extremely beautiful.

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Not much later I finally heard something – the familiar “whaaaa hoooo!”  from the Hubs which usually indicates he’s either skiing powder, drunk, or running a rapid.  He met up with me at the rock and we took some more photos while getting ready to descend.   I think we were both waiting around to see if it was going to clear up at all so we could take what had to be amazing views.  But it never did and we gave in to the excitement of skiing after working so hard to get there.

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15 minutes later we were back to dirt and putting on our hiking boots.   Funny how that works.  Such is the life of a backcountry skier and earning your turns.

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The decent was soooo much better than the trip up (well, not if you asked my knees).  And it was really cool to leave the cold, foggy snow and transition to the budding trees, blooming flowers and sounds of the forrest.   I was tired but I was still riding the high of actually accomplishing such an awesome feat.

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That’s the thing about doing stuff like this.  I don’t really consider myself extreme, although some of my friends may think I’m a wacko to carry my skis on my back up a mountain.   I know not everyone would entertain the idea and I’m not sure that I would seek something like this out if it weren’t for The Hubs.  But I like it, I really do.  Sometimes I just need to remind myself of that when I think I don’t have the time or ability to do it anymore.  Once I get past  the mental side of it (this is going to be hard, I may not like all of it, it could be dangerous) and just let myself enjoy it (because I have the knowledge, skill and ability to do it)….I’ve never regretted it.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get after accomplishing something that you’re a little scared or is outside your comfort zone.

Basically you feel like a bad ass.  Or something like that….hahaha.

We stopped to take a few pictures on the way down because of course the fog started to lift and the views were incredible.   I will definitely be returning to see this from the top when there’s no fog around.

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And of course we had some victory beers (and dry clothes) in the car to celebrate our outing.   Nothing ever tasted so good.

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10,000 ft (4,000 climbed)
30 lb pack
4.2 of the longest miles I’ve ever crossed
3.5 hours up
1.5 hours down
1 giant gnarly peak

Yep.  I am titanium.

Not sure what song I’m talking about?  Watch this.  The video is a little strange, but you’ll get the idea.

I’m in a park!

No, not me.  I’m not lucky enough to be in a park yet this year.  In fact I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately.  June is a bit crazy for me this year as I’m working several weekends (which turns out to be 19 days straight with no days off).   Truth be told:  June can’t pass soon enough for me. 

When I travel for work, people often ask me “how does The Hubs do while you’re away?”   I usually just roll my eyes smile and say…”oh just fine.”

You’re all aware that he’s not one for staying home on the weekends, and me being gone doesn’t change that.  He still embarks on amazing adventures and always has plenty of stories and pictures for me when I get home.   This past weekend was particularly epic (as he would say) so we decided it was a good one to share with ya’ll.   So for the second time this week, please enjoy a guest post.  This time from non other than The Hubs. 

And don’t mind me…I just had to interject at a few points along the way.  You’ll notice those instances by the pink text.  

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So it seems the “Hubs” has been given full access to the wheel house. In the past I’d suggested I do a guest post but finally Janna must have taken me seriously, plus she had to work all weekend while I went to Glacier National Park. I could at least capture some of the adventure in a post.

As the weekend approached those “full sunny icons” stayed on the National Weather Service page. I think it was Thursday and realizing I didn’t want the weekend to go by without a solid plan I emailed the usual crew to see if they wanted to ski Lolo Peak or Sheep Mountain. Don got back quickly and suggested we could pull off a trip to Glacier Park and Joe had some ideas of ski tours we could do. This is probably the latest I’ve made it into the spring without a camping trip, so with enthusiasm building, we planned a Friday departure. We finally settled on the west side of the park and planned a first day tour into Granite Chalet.

There were two “required” stops along the way due to past favorable experiences. First was dinner at El Topo where I had a smothered burrito the size of my arm. Next, just before entering the park we stopped at the iconic Frita’s Bar. Don and I discussed for some time why we called it that as the only name we see is the West Glacier Bar. No doubt what the locals probably call it or something.

The plan was to camp at Sprague campground along Lake McDonald. We rolled into a campsite with plenty of time to plan the next day’s adventures. The length of the days in June is amazing.

 

Still lots of light to setup and enjoy our camp.

I quickly realize why I can’t wait to get camping in the spring. We’ve got a fire going and as evening comes on the birds are going nuts. One bird in particular, the Varied Thrush, might be my favorite bird. Below is a picture as well as a short video of Lake McDonald. At the end of the video you can hear the high-pitched call of the Varied Thrush.

 

Its shrill erie call is common in the spring in Western Montana.

Video of Lake McDonald with call of the Varied Thrush.

In the past I’ve been accused of being a birder which I quickly deny. Basically when I hear or see something that is unfamiliar to me I tend to want to know more about it. Being tuned into your surroundings often allows you to experience much more of what is going on. On this trip I also heard several Ruffed grouse drumming. Later we were able to see a Blue grouse strutting and blowing up the red sack on the side of its neck.  Wouldn’t want to forget the bush growing through the mushroom. Spring time is a good time to be out.

Crazy ass mushroom and bush.

The next morning we proceed to Avalanche Creek where the road is closed to vehicles. From there we gear up for the 7 mile ride to the Loop where we will hike/ski to Granite Chalet. We chose this tour to get in on some great views while assessing the snow conditions.

 

My setup with skis on the backpack.

Just as we pass the gate we see a sign indicating the road is closed 3 miles ahead. Having made it this far and a little late to attempt another tour we decide to ride up and see where we get. Maybe half way up Ranger Rick comes down the road and announced over the PA for the “skiers to stop” and “he would like to talk to us.” We pull over and he proceeds to tell us that there is construction going on and we won’t be able to get to our intended Loop. He then begins to say that it isn’t safe up there and he doesn’t like us being up there. Supposedly 6 skiers had already foiled him earlier that morning and he was looking to ticket them all as soon as they got down. It’s obvious now Ranger Rick isn’t so much concerned with the construction but rather his preconceived notions of what is safe and how others should enjoy the park. This isn’t the first time I’d thought about safety and risk. Both my mother and wife had expressed concern about “skiing in Glacier” but followed up by saying I probably knew what I was doing. So do I know what I’m doing?

Now Ranger Rick in in my face, Joe is not happy (the park website had mentioned nothing about the road closure) and Don is explaining to the Ranger how search and rescue takes safety into account first when doing any rescues.  <<Eric is currently on Missoula Search and Rescue and Don has been involved in the past>> The discussion continues about the recent rescue on Stanton Peak just a few days earlier. A couple of park employees had climbed the peak and while glissading down one of them was unable to self-arrest went over a 30 foot cliff. Ranger Rick quickly explained how irresponsible it was to put the rescuers at risk. This is a common argument that often plays out after an accident has occurred in the backcountry. In an attempt to experience the backcountry you must accept some risk. Through experience and training you hope you can reduce the risk. Ultimately we are trying to experience some absolutely amazing places first hand. Skiing off peaks, bow hunting for a week in the wilderness and spending 7 days running whitewater are first hand experiences I feel fortunate and lucky to have experienced. Can things go wrong? Yes, but we manage that risk constantly and for most of us it’s worth it. My guess is Ranger Rick isn’t very educated on avalanches and doesn’t understand the specific risks.  His retirement portfolio probably sucks too.

This topic of risk sparked several conversations throughout the weekend. I couldn’t help but think about the documentary 180 Degrees South. I’ll probably have to watch it for a 4th time. I’ve added a link to the trailer below. There are two quotes in here that I particularly like. The first is when Yvon Chouinard says, “Any mountain at certain times is safe and at other times its super dangerous.”  The second is when one of the climbers yells that “finishing the climb doesn’t seem worth risking his life for.”  The crew has already traveled thousands of miles sailing, climbing, and surfing and just a few hundred feet from summiting Corcovado the climber realizes the risk and decides it not worth it. I supposed some would have just said the whole trip was too dangerous and left it at that; I disagree.

After the ranger finally decided that he couldn’t tell us not to go up the Packer’s Roost trail (instead of our intended Loop) we proceeded on up the road. We figured the distance would be a bit far for carrying the skis, however no one would complain about just getting in a great hike. We stashed the bikes and skis and proceeded up the trail.

 

Don breaking the law.

 

Trail was covered with mountain lion, black bear, wolf and grizzly tracks.

 <<This is where Janna would turn around>>

Lots of water.

 

Clouds broke to reveal Heaven's Peak

 

Towards Logan Pass

 

Road on the way back.

On the way out we played slalom with the hordes of tourists making their way up the road. Other than one flat tire, it was a smooth ride out. We finished with a stop at the Lake McDonald lodge for a Going to the Sun IPA and time at the lake. Back in camp I was able to pull off lasagna in the dutch oven for the first time (no you really don’t need to cook the noodles first). While I don’t have any pictures I can assure you that it was outstanding. I guess Ranger Rick did stop by to make sure we made it back to our campsite safe. It’s probably best he doesn’t know where we are headed tomorrow.

Sunday starts at 5:30 am as we load up the vehicle and head for the Trout Lake trailhead. Joe had decided the night before, after looking at Stanton Peak from the lakeshore, that it would be a hard hike and possibly not worth it.  But we’d better give it an attempt anyway.

 The Trout Lake trail climbed quickly but at least had been cut out this year. I knew I should enjoy the trail as we’d be off of it soon. We came to a large avalanche chute that would be our route. Still piled up at the bottom were huge piles of snow from avalanches during the winter. I certainly brought up the question of traveling up the avalanche chute but later realized just how far we were from the snow at that time. Wet avalanches had been sliding when we reached higher elevation and had not progressed far down the chute. The reason for leaving early in the morning was also to beat the wet slides with the heating of the snow pack later in the day. The plan was to make the summit around 11am.

 

Avalanche Debris

The climb to the top would be about 4000 vertical feet.  After an eight mile hike and 6 miles on the bike the day before it certainly seemed steeper than it probably was.  We reached snow around 9am where we starting skinning up the rest of the slope.  We quickly found out that the snow was softer than expected.  While we didn’t have substantial ski penetration we figured it probably hadn’t froze during the night.  On the route up we saw some tracks that were most likely the where the group had glissaded down a few days earlier.  We reached the ridge about 700 feet below the peak around 10 am and decided the snow had softened enough and we did not need to proceed any farther.  Views in all directions were spectacular.

<<So, they were within 700 feet of the peak and decided that it wasn’t safe to continue if they wanted to get some skiing in.  Do you know how hard it is to stop at that point?  After working so hard to get that far?  But it’s one of the things I truly admire and respect about the Hubs and his friends; they are constantly analyzing risk and making decisions based on the conditions around them.   No they didn’t make it to the peak, but they made solid, safe decisions and probably had a good time out there sliding around.  And that’s what it’s about>>

Stanton Peak behind me.

Lake McDonald

 

View over the ridge.

Skiing down, the snow conditions were better than expected and we got some outstanding turns.  Ending right at dirt, we put the skis back on the packs and continued down slope. 

Sweet spring turns!

I spent the afternoon back at the shore of Lake McDonald with another Going to the Sun IPA that was particularly tasty.  Sitting on the shore you can look directly up at Stanton Peak where we had been earlier that morning.

Stanton Peak

It was unanimously decided that the steep hike was more than worth it for the turns and views from up top.  My only interruption to a sunny afternoon was Don showing up saying we needed to go pick up Jenny.  Turns out she was about 20 plus miles away and had broken her derailer on their road bike ride on the Camas road.  After we “saved” Jenny we headed to the Garden Bar in Bigfork for cheeseburgers. 

Sunny Weather Service icons were fully taken advantage of this weekend.

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So what do I think about all of this?   Several things.

  • I think The Hubs is not your typical guy.  Perhaps it’s fair to say he’s a bit more ambtious than most people.
  • I think he does a lot of cool shit.
  • I think I would have a minor panic attack after seeing Grizzly bear tracks “all over” in the snow where I was hiking. 
  • I think everyone can be reassured after reading this, that much thought and anlysis is put into decisions when we’re out on trips.   The Hubs has a lot of training and experience that help him mitigate risk (for himself and us). 
  • I think the answer to his question…”So do I know what I am doing?” is “yes.”
  • I think “epic” surely is the word to describe his weekend.  And did you know that when you text the name Eric in T9, the first choice that comes up is Epic?  Coincidence? 
  • I think I need to stop working so much so I can take part in these amazing adventures. 
  • I think (at over 1600 words), The Hubs just surpassed my longest post.

Now do you understand why I say The Hubs gets along “just fine” while I’m away for work??

Altoona Ridge Lodge

This past weekend was bittersweet.  We were at Altoona Ridge Lodge for what was our last backcountry ski trip.  It was our first time to this particular area and our first stay at the lodge. 

Altoona Ridge Lodge is located about 90 miles from Missoula  in the Flint Creek Mountain range.   

I love how the map point is just out in the middle of nowhere!

The experience was similar to our Yurt trip, where you haul all of your gear in by snowmobile…think ski gear, food, beer and this time around, a small child.  Fortunately the trek was only 5 miles and used an old mining road that still had several old abandoned mining claims along the way.  It was really cool to see some of the old buildings.  Unfortunately, old mining roads aren’t exactly what I would call maintained, so the ride in (even on a snowmobile) was pretty sketchy.  But we made it despite a small dramatic episode by yours truly.   That is, if you call fainting after crashing your snowmobile with you and your best friend on it a “small dramatic episode.”  I kinda do.  But that’s another story for another day when I can devote proper time to explain my fainting condition issues.     

So yes, despite a pretty banged up knee, we all made it in safely (yes dudes, the snowmobile is fine).  The Lodge was perfect…just big enough for the six of us with one of the most amazing views.  Which, after winding up, down and around through the trees for five miles it was hard to believe that we’d ever get to a clear vantage point….but wow.  Here’s the view from the deck of the lodge.

I took this picture on the second night. Unfortunately we missed the sunset the first night!

I wish you could see the mountains in the distance more clearly…it felt like you could see forever.

The lodge itself was great.  It was three buildings that were all connected by a large deck and wooden path.  The first building housed the kitchen, small living room and dining room.  The second was essentially a bunk house that could sleep up to 8 people.  The third building had a sauna and several showers.  I’d never seen anything with that sort of setup, but it actually worked out great because people could go to bed early or late and not be disturbed by people who did the opposite. 

This is a shot of the lodge from the south....you can see two of the three buildings here, along with the deck that is directly off of the main cabin area.

Here's a shot (from the deck of the main cabin) of the bunk house and the far building that houses the sauna, etc.

The kitchen/dining area in the main cabin

The rest of the main cabin

I have a picture of a couple of the boys enjoying the sauna…but don’t think they’d appreciate me posted them on the ‘ol blog.  Just take my word for it that the sauna was indeed enjoyed as well.

Some of you may have noticed that I mentioned a small child earlier…haha.  And in fact I did.  Our friend’s 21 month-old son Tor joined us on the trip and seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.  Truth-be-told, I’m not sure what we would have done for entertainment without him there!  He’s quite the charmer.

Trying on The Hubs slippers. Maybe a titch too big!

But I digress.  We were there for skiing right?  Right.  Too bad we woke up Saturday morning to the storm or all storms….and not the good kind.  It was the kind that started out with fog, lots and lots of fog.  Then rain.  Then wind.  Then snow.  Lots and lots of snow.  Big, wet, heavy snow…and more freezing cold wind. 

We held off until about noon and decided that we couldn’t wait anymore.  So we headed out in the rain/snow/wind and started touring up the ridge behind the Lodge. 

Made it to the top...unfortunately no views this time, which is a bummer after hiking all that way.

I was pretty bummed to get to the top and miss out on what I know would have been some amazing views.  Plus, the wind on top of the ridge was incredibly cold…so the best thing was to keep your head down and keep going!

I really was trying to smile....I think my lips were frozen at this point. Along with my face, coat and hands!

We hiked up the ridge a ways until we found a slope that looked good to ski back down towards the lodge.  Two turns into the run and I realized this was not going to be easy.  It’s too cold to be spring skiing but not cold enough to be powder skiing; so what you have is a weird mixture of new “spring-like” snow on top of a crusty layer filled with snow snakes.  You know what snow snakes are right?  Little critters that grab your skis when you’re turning and try to make you fall.  Yeah, this snowpack was full of’em.  And it turns out that the only thing that gets rid of snow snakes is whiskey – so we decided we best head back to the lodge and get some. 

So in the end…bittersweet it was.  An amazing and beautiful place, which actually would have some sweet terrain in better conditions.  It’s just unfortunate that we hit it when we did.  I mean, who woulda thought that we would have anything but spring skiing in April?   If you’re The Hubs, it just means that there’s that much more skiing to be had this year.  If you’re me…well…it might mean I just don’t get any spring skiing this year. 

P.S.  Anyone interested in learning more about Altoona Ridge Lodge can look here.  They do book the lodge year-round.  In the summer you can drive straight there, so no need to worry about fainting episodes.

I ski, you ski, we all ski for YurtSki!

Remember this post?  My first blog-rant about winter, plus the bonus John Denver video?  That just happened to be published the same day I left for a backcountry ski vacation.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  More than likely though I was just stoked about all of the snow we were getting….therefore all of the powder I would be skiing.  Or as John would say, I was “Dancing with the Mountains.”  (Please tell me you watched that?!)  Classic. 

And dance we did.  This winter has been phenomenal.  Incredible.  Snowtastic.  Yes I just said that.  And the backcountry?  Glorious.  Absolutely amazing.   

This was our second vacation to YurtSki….a backcountry adventure in the Swan Mountains of Montana.  A lot of people don’t understand this type of vacation.  I can relate…it’s different.  It’s not your typical ski vacation with cushy condos, fancy lodges, chairlifts and over-priced tickets (don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely room for those kind of vacations in my winter).   Instead, you haul all of your gear in 11 miles yourself, share a 20 ft diameter one-room yurt with 6-8 people of what better be your closest friends  (a yurt, that as hard as you try, will not be clean and/or organized), build your own fires for heat, use an outhouse (with no door), cook your own food (that you hauled in), and earn each and every one of your turns.   There are no chairlifts.  This is no resort.  It’s basically a building that’s strategically placed next to a huge skiable mountain.  Enter at your own risk.   And FYI….any joker can rent this thing.  But common sense is not included in the price of the yurt.   You better know what you’re doing.

I don’t really have a funny story or anything to go with this adventure.  Hard to believe I’m sure.  What I do have are some amazing pictures that I want to share.  Because there’s something about being out “there” where only a handful of people have been that is truly amazing.   The feeling you get when you’re miles and miles into the woods and you’ve worked so hard to get to the top of the mountain, and the sun is just coming out letting you see for miles.   It’s pretty much indescribable.  And then you get to ski down through some of the best snow you’ve seen all season?  Well…it just pretty much makes you feel lucky to be alive.  That probably sounds corny and perhaps it’s the two glasses of wine that I’ve had while I’m writing this.  But ironically, when you’re standing on top of that ridge it feels somewhat grounding….like all of the things you’ve been stressing about all week aren’t worth the worry.  If I could bottle that feeling I would be a wealthy woman.  Since I can’t, I’ve come to the conclusion that outings like this need to be a regular occurence so I’m reminded that life can be beautiful and simple.  It doesn’t take a heckuva-lot of money to escape from reality for a few days.  These things that we worry ourselves with (squeezing one more thing into the day, hurrying here, hurrying there….and for Gods sake work)?  They are all pressures we put on ourselves.  And for what?  All that really matters is that we’re happy, we’re healthy, we’re pursuing activities that we love and we are surrounding ourselves with good people.   Yep.  Got all that from working my ass off while skinning up a mountain.  I’m kind of digging it.   

So this post, I’m going to let my pictures do the talking for once.

 

Jenn and I headed in! What's that? A decal of two people sitting on a sled with a line through it? That must mean don't let two huge fat lazy men ride on the sled together. Not two 'lil ladies.

Don was in charge of the gear sled (Paco)

Then there's these two jokers...riding "Canadian" style. I'm still not sure if that's a real thing. Pretty sure there should be a decal for that too!

It took us about 5 hours to get in 11 miles to the yurt. Doesn't quite add up, does it? Let's just say there was some digging to be done on the "road."

Here's the yurt! Last year when we were here there was NO snow on the sides...so this was pretty exciting.

I thought this was cool with all of the skis outside.

 

Yep....that's the outhouse. Image courtesy of M. Doherty

The next morning our hike in was pretty foggy...kinda eerie

Until we got to the top of the ridge....then it was sunny and blue skies...and the fog was moving off of the peaks which was really pretty.

But we weren't done yet. We continued hiking along the ridgeline. There were the neatest cornices and wind features along the way (that's me 'n Hubs)

And even some snow ghosts that Whitefish Mountain would be jealous of

From the ridge you could look down into the Swan Valley and see Seeley Lake (the lake we ran around for the Snow Joke). It looked like a loooooong way around...I was glad I did this after the race!

Just for reference-sake - here's the ridge we were hiking (or part of it). We ended up skiing those bowls you see here

See the fire lookout in the distance?

You’re probably wondering if we ever did any skiing….well yes, yes we did. And it was sah-wheet. I think my tracks are the furthest to the right in this pic. Just sayin’…..

That there hiking and skiin' is hard work. I would like to point out at this point that I was not the only girl this year! Thanks Jenn!!

 
If this was the view I got every morning walking back from the outhouse….I would consider having one at home.

Can you spot the yurt? Isn't that insane?? I love the little chimney peeking out from the snow.

Second day was sunny and warm. It felt like spring skiing

We were on a different ridge the second day so I was checkin' out my lines from the day before.

And making some new ones

"Yes, you're all doing a group photo! Sheesh!"

So there you have it.  A small compilation of what is probably around 500 pictures we all took. 

And now for a special little treat for those of you that hung in there…turns out even my pictures are wordy.  A little video of yours truly skiing.  I know, I know.  I’ve come a long way in the past 3 months (where I couldn’t be found in any of my pics).   What’s even better about this little treat?  I totally eat it.  Yep.  And I’m showing it to you!   Forget the fact that I would rather show you a video of me totally ripping it up….and forget the fact that it really, really sucks to fall when you’ve worked so hard for your turns.  But what the hell.  I love you guys.   So enjoy…

Please notice all of my friends laughing at me.  Thanks guys.   

I think I’ll end on that note. 

See you next year YurtSki.

You’ve come a long way missy

There was a time in my life (not so long ago), that I didn’t even realize you could ski off-area.  Why would you want to?  Ski areas have lifts that take you to the top.  They have lodges with fires, hot chocolate, cheeseburgers and beer.  They have groomed runs.  Why would anybody want to go off-area

So when I was dating then-boyfriend-Hubs, I didn’t blink an eye when he asked me if I wanted to “go skiing up Lolo Pass.”  Sure!   I said.   I heart skiing.  I’ve been skiing since I was six years old.  I’m sure there’s nothing Lolo Pass can throw at me that I can’t handle.   I guess I didn’t let it worry me that I’d never heard of a ski area called Lolo Pass before…I’m sure it was just because it’s a cutesy little local mom-and-pop shop.   And somehow I didn’t blink and eye when he told me to bring my backpack.  Um…ok.  That’s weird.  But ok. 

An hour later we pull in the parking lot and our conversation goes a little something like this:

Hubs:  Ok, get your boots on and strap your skis to your pack.
Me:  Excusemewhat?
Hubs:  Put your ski boots on and I’ll help you strap your skis to your backpack
Me:  So I did hear you right the first time.  You’re serious?
Hubs:  Um, yeah?  How else do you think we’re going to get to the top of the ridge?  
Me:  You want me to hikeIn my ski boots?|
Hubs:  <sighs> Yes!  Is there a problem??

Oh buddy.  Is there a problem?  Yes there’s a damn problem!  Have you ever tried hiking in your ski boots with 30 lbs on your back?  Because up until 3 minutes ago the thought had never (in all the years I’ve been on this earth) crossed my mind.   Ever

I took this opportunity to make a few mental notes about this so-called-boyfriend of mine which probably included:  “blatant disregard for other’s feelings.  Extremely poor communicator.  Fails at setting expectations.  Willing to throw me into situations that I am extremely uncomfortable with.  Bat-shit crazy.”  

I’ve since discovered most of those aren’t true.  Although I still to-this-day do not rely solely on his accounts of skiing, rafting, hiking or mountain biking.  I choose to do my own research and decide for myself how “extreme” it is, because he apparently has more confidence in me and my abilities than I do.  Bless his heart.

Anyways, I digress.  I guess I still had some of the “I’m-a-cool-girlfriend-and-I-want-to-try-and-impress-you” attitude in me.  But silently I felt as if I had been slapped across the face with the harsh reality of backcountry skiing.  I was still trying to convince myself that it was a “real thing” and not just some crazy form of torture as I trudged up the ridgeline.    But I made it.  Not without a few tears; but I made it.  And here’s proof. 

Now everyone will know that I was holding back tears in this picture. Even if it does make me look bad ass.

Check out that powder though…knee deep!  Seriously.  This is why people love the backcountry.  Fresh tracks.  Untouched powder stashes.  No lift lines.  No out of control snow boarders whizzing by.  No crowds.  Just you, the outdoors and some sweet snow. 

We skied one run and traversed back to the parking lot.  And to this day, I’m not 100% sure what made me say “let’s do it again.”   So up we hiked for the second time that day.

Fast-forward 4-5 years.  I didn’t kick the Hubs to the curb like I thought I might in those first few hours of my intro to backcountry skiing.  And as you know (if you’ve read previous entries like this and this),  I’ve actually continued to backcountry ski and invested quite a bit of money into making sure I never have to boot pack again.  Now we’ve got fancy powder skis with special bindings, and skins that allow you to hike on your skis. 

And you know what?  Two weekends ago we went back to this exact same area up Lolo Pass for a tour.  I’m glad to report that I’m all grown up now:  there were no tears this time and I actually had an amazing time.  I can still hardly believe that in just a few short years I’ve done such a 180, but it just goes to show you that “you never know where you’ll end up.” 

Here are some highlights from the trip two weekends ago:

Lolo Pass is located on the Montana/Idaho border and is getting pounded with snow this year. It has just under eight feet!

There is an “official” visitor’s center at the Pass that has restrooms, hot chocolate, a fire and a little gift shop.  So I guess it’s kind of like an official area.  Kind of. 

Said Visitor's Center

The hiking begins....no tears this time! At least that I saw.

Strangely this doesn't intimidate me anymore.

Look at that beautiful pit!

Using the snow saw to isolate my column

 

Ok I’m going to fast forward here cuz no one really cares about my pit test!  Bottom line…..we deemed it fine to ski.  Pow pow!! 

I told you I would get better at putting me in pictures. I didn't say they would be close! But I promise that's me!

Here’s a little bit better one:

Ah yes.  How I do love backcountry skiing.  I love the isolation.  The lack of lift lines.  The lack of anything other than me and a mountain that has stayed the same for hundreds of years.  I guess I am turning a little hippie Don.  I hope you’re proud….but don’t tell anyone.

And you know what?  I even like the touring.  The climbing.  Because when you work for your turns it makes them that much better. 

So yeah.  I’ve come a loooong ways in just a few years.  And I’m kind of proud of myself.  Tear….

And guess what? When you get to the bottom you "skin up" and do it all over again. Here the Hubs and I are getting ready to head out for round 2.

Ok, I forgive you Hubs. But I'm still not sure why you tricked me into doing this!

So another glorious day at Lolo Pass.  And no day at Lolo is complete without a trip to The Lumberjack Saloon on our way back to town.  If you love dive/country/in-the-middle-of-nowhere bars.  This one is for you:

We really were having fun...I think everyone just looks angry because we were out of beer.

Here are the bathrooms. I'll let you figure out which one is which.

In the end…I have come a long ways.  Don’t you think?  In fact we have a ski vacation planned this winter that will be purely backcountry skiing.  Can’t say I would have been too thrilled about that 4 years ago (what, no condo?  No big fancy lodge?  No high-speed quads?  The horror!!).   Don’t get me wrong, I still dig real ski vacations….but when in Rome….bring your own beer.