Thursday, December 26, 2013

Intracranial Climate in a Dry December

Motivation is a matter of perspective. But conditions can't be faked.
17 days since the last real snow fall. Red Cone Bowl, December 25, 2013. Jed self portrait.
Chad would call 'em Life Lessons: One ties livelihood and social life and avocation to a fickle low-latitude mountain environment. And then chooses to live among an isolated community of like-minded snow fiends. And that town happens to be in a desert state; A desert state that relies on mountain snow fall for residents, agriculture, and industry. Everyone's economics and mood are tied to the clouds. No one is exempt, no one can resist offering up lamentation and theorization. In 2013, the clouds are not delivering. It is no secret that we're reeling from two poor winters. A third, if that is how this plays out, will be devastating. Heck, it already feels devastating. But therein lies the rub. Like anything, there's the facts and there's the feelings. Fact is, both Mammoth and June Mountains are open from the top. You want to stay on the groomers for your p-tex's sake, but the sun's warm, the lifts are turning, and town is relatively uncrowded. Those are the facts. It sure seems like the collective "feeling", however, is that the resort's aren't even there this year.

This guy doesn't have snow pessimism in his vocabulary. With probably the world's greatest powder chasing resources, Plake chose to be in June Lake for .9 miles and 500 vf of chocolate-chipped green groomer. What's your excuse? Ken Etzel Photo, December 13.

Extend the same analysis to the backcountry. The fact is, there is between forty and eighty centimeters of supportable snow in the Mammoth Lakes "snow-belt". That is not a lot of snow. But it is also not zero. Feeling? Well, if bar-stool conversation and ski-track history are any indication, virtually no one's been out there to feel how good it can be.

That's a good feeling: Camber pressed out of the skis, snow spraying. Jed photo December 14.
This happens in the Sierra. We go a long time between storms. Get used to it. The ski area goes rock hard. The terrain park is your friend. Maybe even the Owens River Gorge. But the forces that influence ski area conditions are different than those that influence backcountry conditions. Believe it or not, sometimes the backcountry gets better with time. Don't believe it. In fact, I strongly recommend against embracing this truth. Because then you will have to abandon your victim mentality and actually go hiking for your soft snow. Go ahead, revel in the seemingly unanimous support of your friends in asserting that the skiing is horrible. Drink too much. Ride your road bike. Fly to Baja. Collect unemployment. Go down that easy path, because the alternative is solo exploration of a beautiful granite landscape. Skinning is hard. Repairing base damage is expensive. Don't bother.

Red Cone Bowl. Also Christmas Day. The most popular early season terrain in the range, getting tracked out, over two weeks post storm. Six turns. Of many. Jed photo, Jed turns. 
Backcountry skiing isn't like the movies. It's actually better than that. Because you watch a movie and get to participate in the BC. How many times have you fought the lift lines and wind holds on a storm day for six fresh turns? Those six turns were worth the weeks of riding groomed runs and the chained drive from wherever and the twenty other chopped up runs. Those turns weren't like the movies either.  They were better. Why couldn't six turns off the top of a wilderness peak be worth a similar investment? Hike for it. Dare to find out that its actually not bad out there.

It's not all rainbows and sunsets. Mammoth, December 22. Jed Photo.
Sure, I'm grouchy too. This isn't what I like to have going on. I've skinned up the back of Mammoth Mountain and skied down inbounds, just for exercise! Twice. By this time last year I'd had faceshots on 4 different days. None yet in 13/14.  Most years I can make between 10 and 15% of my yearly income guiding during the Holiday period.  That sure ain't going on this year. But I'm grouchy and know the realities. Others are griping ignorantly. That gives me a little self-righteous pedestal on which to stand. Get the F out there and see what's going on before you spout off about how we're doomed. Indeed, in the big picture, this drought status is heavy. And if it really does dry up for the rest of the winter, the ski season is kinda hosed. But there is skiing to be had right now. Justify your laziness however you want, but it is just that. Choose to do more rock climbing, choose to go ride your bicycle. It's your life. Ma Nature nor big oil nor Fukushima nor George Bush nor Chris Farley have hosed your ski season. You're choosing to sit it out. Heck yes I'm grouchy! But shit, I'm trying.

"Sightskiing". TJ Lake. December 25. Jed Photo.

Maybe therein lies the problem: I love skiing. A bad day of skiing is better than a sunny day at the boulders. Thrashing in brush and facets and rocks is more appealing than the Owens River Gorge. Even destroying skis sounds better than "giving up". I'm a stubborn dude. And I don't want to be alone in the pursuit of snow. But I've been alone out there. Kinda by choice. That's just where my head is lately. But also from a lack of partner and client interest. Sure, there are real hazards. But change the tactics. Go for distance. Go for the climb. Go for the scenery. Go for the lakes. Go for the fitness. And get your six turns as bonus.

Maybe the solo travel isn't by choice.  Maybe that's just what I tell myself. But, I am a quirky partner. Taking elaborate "selfies", wearing obnoxious clothes. Damn, I wouldn't ski with me either.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ski Mountaineering Gear List, 2014-2015

Ski mountaineering is a broad category. People practice a wide range of skiing and refer to it as ski mountaineering. One way to define ski mountaineering is skiing in which the hazard or concern is something other than, or in addition to, avalanches. Maybe you're going for speed on a low-hazard day. Maybe you're going for distance over multiple passes. Maybe its spring-time corn touring.  Perhaps its high altitude, or glaciated, or requires technical climbing equipment and skill. Here are some thoughts and notes on what I carry for this.  To see what I use on "simpler" missions, check out this article. To see what I carry for winter alpine climbing, check this out.  Additionally, help support this blog and Eastern Sierra business by shopping at Sage to Summit.  Anything that I use that is sold there, is linked accordingly.

Ski Gear.  Keep it small, light and simple.  Use skill to negotiate funky snow and terrain:
  • Dynafit TLT 5P boots- no tongues, no powerstrap.
  • Black Diamond Stigma Skis (80mm underfoot)
  • BD mohair skins
  • Trab race bindings
  • Black Diamond Fixed Carbon poles
Clothes.  Most carry and wear too much.  Keep it simple, move fast, carry an awesome puffy jacket. 
  • Darn Tough Socks
  • Arc Teryx Sawatch pants
  • Syn boxers.
  • Syn/wool t-shirt. 
  • OR Rumor Hoody.
  • Patagonia Houdini Shell
  • Feathered Friends Daybreak Hooded jacket
  • Dynafit Ski Touring Expert Gloves
  • Warm hat
  • Sun hat
  • Kaenon Burnet Sunglasses

Safety Gear, etc:
  • Pieps DSP Pro, Voile Telepack shovel, BD Carbon 240 Probe.
  • Communication- Sometimes as simple as a cell phone, sometimes a SPOT Device, occasionally (mainly in Canada) a 2-meter, 2-way radio, and more and more my new Iridium sat phone or Iridium GO Smartphone modem.  Adventure is awesome, thriftiness is noble, but failure to consider communication with the outside world is ridiculous.
  • Navigation- 80% of the time the phone, preloaded with maps and apps, is enough.  Carry a "back-up" paper map.  In big, new-to-me, complicated terrain where visibility is likely to shut down, I'll bring the full kit:  Dedicated GPS (Suunto Ambit 2), large-scale waterproofed paper map, compass, altimeter, clinometer.  
  • Emergency Shelter- Very occasionally it is as simple as the mylar (space blanket style) bivy bag that lives in my omnipresent First Aid/Emergency kit.  Usually though, I bring the 8.5'x8.5' 9 oz Hyperlight Mountain Gear Cuben Tarp.  
  • Emergency Evacuation- Sometimes it's as simple as the bivy or tarp.  Drag someone on that.  In many cases, I'll carry the Brooks Range Eskimo Sled.  If you are not already packing a rope, carry a chunk of cord for dragging a packaged casualty.
  • First aid kit.
  • Ski repair kit.  (it should be around a pound for groups.  Less is probably inadequate.  More is silly.  Let me know if you want more detail on what I carry)
  • Snow Study:  Saw, crystal card, magnifier, ruler, documentation.  Be equipped and trained to make sound decisions for yourself and large column tests for the avalanche center.
  • Food, water. Whatever's clever.  
  • If I need a rope while skiing it's almost never less than a 40m half rope.  If I need a rope while skiing it's almost never more than a 60m single rope.  
  • Spikes.  As it gets steeper and firmer, add in this order: 
  • Also as needed:
    • BD Vapor Helmet
    • CAMP Blitz Harness
    • Rack of gear.  If it requires more than 5 of anything (cams, nuts, screws, slings) leave the skis behind.  
  • Glaciers?  Crevasse rescue skills and equipment.  
  • Pack:  Maybe the BCA balloon pack, maybe an alpine pack (Cold Cold World Valdez), maybe the little CAMP Rapid race pack.  
Multi Day Ski Touring
This is what we live for.  Getting way out there, going out of contact.  Seeing what few get to see.  Most of the gear is the same as for day trips.  But you'll add in camping gear.  And eliminate some things.  You won't need emergency shelter if you have a dedicated tent, for instance.  
Living the good life in British Columbia's Coast Range.  April 2013.

  • Shelter.  I pick from three, in increasing weight and weather protection:  Black Diamond Betalight, Black Diamond Firstlight, and Hilleberg Nallo 2.  
  • Feathered Friends Widgeon -10 sleeping bag.
  • At most a half length foam pad and extra small Thermarest Prolite.
  • Jetboil with 2 oz per person per day of fuel
  • Lighter and matches.
  • Bigger Pack.  Hyperlight Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack
  • Food.  Just add water for dinner and breakfast.  A mess of bars and energy candy and jerky and cheese for lunches.  It should all add up to about 2 pounds per person per day.  Depending on individual metabolism and work load.
  • Water bottles.  2 gatorade bottles.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

Stuff for Sale

Cleaning house.  Folks on the Eastside, we can arrange cash transactions.  If you want me to send it elsewhere, let's do Paypal and you cover the shipping. Shoot me an email at the address just up above. Boom.

Black Diamond Fixed Length Carbon Poles. Lightly Used. 125cm.  $50

Patagonia Men's R2 Jacket.  Size Medium. Brand New. $90
No pics just yet:
  • FlyLow Baker Bibs ski pants. Used one light season. Orange. Size Medium.  $175
  • Sierra Designs Zissou 0 deg waterproof down sleeping bag. Lightly used. $175
  • Five Ten Anasazi Guide rock shoes. Size 9.5. Brand new, never worn. $90
  • Petzl Sum Tec 52cm adze. Brand new. $110
  • Patagonia Houdini. Size Medium. Used, but fully functional. $45

Monday, November 25, 2013

Backcountry Skiing Gear List, 2013-14.

Snow is slowly accumulating here in the Eastern Sierra.  As they say "We'll get ours". And when we do, be ready. Get your gear together and polish up what you carry.  I've kinda got my system down, with minor tweaks from one year to another.  I wrote up a similar list for winter alpine climbing.  And one for Ski Mountaineering.
Mike B tearing up accessible powder.  Banana Chute, Mammoth Lakes, CA.  March 2013

Here and now we're talking about your typical day out.  6-8 hours at most, a group of 2-7 people, hunting down good snow and good terrain with minimal "faffing" around.  Don't think too much about it; this is standard skiing.  I'll follow with a post noting what I carry for more "specialized" missions.  

  • Darn Tough ski socks
  • Arc Teryx Gamma SK pants (or Flylow Bibs for super stormy days)
  • CAMP Magic pants (in the pack).
  • Synthetic boxers
  • Synthetic/wool t-shirt.
  • Outdoor Research Rumor Hoody
  • Patagonia Houdini wind breaker.  Or Outdoor Research Axiom for when the weather is full.
  • Patagonia Primo Down jacket
  • Dynafit Ski Touring Expert Gloves
  • Warm stylie wool hat
  • Buff
  • Sun hat
  • Giro 9 Helmet (sometimes…)
  • Sunglasses.  Native Hardtop, Julbo Explorer, or Kaenon Burnet, depending.  Maybe, just maybe, goggles. Of the 60-80 days a year I ski in the backcountry, I probably carry goggles 2 times on average.  And use them for one run before I remember how annoying it is.  
Ski Gear:
  • Scarpa Maestrale RS boots
  • Black Diamond Amperage Skis
  • BD nylon/mohair blend skins
  • Dynafit Radical ST bindings
  • Black Diamond Fixed Carbon poles
Safety Gear, etc.  Some of this is individual and needed by each group member. Other gear can be shared by the group.  Divided well, even this comprehensive list of emergency group gear will go barely noticed in the pack:

Some gear failure is repairable.  Some is not.  
  • Backcountry Access Float 32 Pack
  • Voile Telepack Shovel
  • Black Diamond Carbon 240 Probe
  • Backcountry Access Tracker 2 Transceiver
  • Food.  4 bars and a salad or sandwich.
  • A liter of water and a half liter of hot drink.
  • First Aid/Emergency kit.  
  • Ski repair kit.  (it should be around a pound for groups.  Less is probably inadequate.  More is silly.  Let me know if you want more detail on what I carry)
  • Brooks Range Ultralight Guide Tarp 
  • Brooks Range Eskimo Sled
  • 30m of thin sled dragging rope
  • 2 locking carabiners
  • Navigation kit:  GPS, maps, compass, clinometer, altimeter.  Often the iPhone versions are enough.  Sometimes bringing the dedicated tools is justified.
  • Snow Study:  Saw, crystal card, magnifier, ruler, documentation.  Be equipped and trained to make sound decisions for yourself and large column tests for the avalanche center.
  • Extra clothes:  An extra puffy jacket and pair of over mitts are regularly appreciated.  Especially in a large group.  
  • Iridium Extreme Sat Phone.
Ken E. getting adventurous on Mt. Gibbs.  Eastern Sierra, January 2013. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013


I rarely suffer for motivation. I get outside a lot. And it always feels good. My default state is to go to the mountains. Even when my own ideas and creativity slow, there's this physically active community I live among to inspire new endeavors. Whether on the clock, chasing my own aspirations, or partnering for fitness and sending, there is ample opportunity to tackle physical and wild objectives. A quick scan of the calendar indicates I've spent 174 days in the wilderness and crags since February 6 of '13. That's out of 284. Or more than 3 out of every 5 days, on average. And that doesn't include "civilized" fitness.  If I worked out in the gym or went running it doesn't "count". This has been a good year, so far, for mountain time. I'll break down the highlights, as I usually do, nearer the end of the year.
Between the Smileys and Ian, I've spent what
 feels like half the year swaddled in down up
 close with these same people.
They're all great people.  No better on earth.  But there's
 more to life than cold wilderness, I've heard.  Mark Smiley photo.

My point here, though, is to acknowledge and embrace the slowed pace I've adopted this late fall.  With all that mountain time other aspects of life have suffered. I've isolated from friends. I've neglected to make new ones. I've had precious little family time. I've been asked a couple times recently what my favorite part of guiding is.  Unequivocally, the answer is "the people." All summer long I spend 2-4 days at a time in an inspiring environment with happy and motivated people. And I get paid for it. Between work binges, my friends want to go to the mountains too. Mountain time is social, its true. But it's different.  We're dirty, out of breath, and facing hazards. We have agendas other than bonding and getting to know one another. I need some social time that isn't on the go. I need social time that isn't stressed by external factors.

Ski touring in British Columbia's coast range.  April 2013.
My body isn't stoked. All of us in this alpine rhythm do too much with our bodies.  For comparison, those training for 100 mile runs (a 20-30 hour effort for anyone other than the elite), a 70 mile week is considered high volume.  Even on 15 minute miles (pretty low intensity), that's 18 hours. Spread through a whole week. There were multiple weeks this summer  and fall where I logged more than 50 hours on the move. It's low intensity movement, for the most part, but it's a body flexing and slogging around nonetheless. My joints do not appreciate this high volume, slogging schedule. I ended up with a case of plantar fasciitis in late summer.  My shoulders are pinched and tight from backpacks and rock climbing and sleeping on the ground. I gain weight when I do that much low-intensity volume.  My energy levels stay low and mental status declines.  I sleep really well and I wouldn't trade the big alpine binges for anything!  But I need a break a couple times a year.

I have basically no schedule. Some days I wake up at 4 am, some days (like today…) at 11am. Some days I wake up in my car, some in a tent, some on a friend's couch, and some in my own bed.

None of this is to complain. In fact, I couldn't be more happy. This has been one of the most accomplished and memorable years of my life. I live well. And I have the luxury of being able to tweak my schedule and priorities. I'm an adult, after all. I'm in control of my own path, and when everything says, "go easier on your body and spend more quality time with people", its an easy voice to heed.  So, what am I doing?

Indian Creek vista.
I am not camping in the backcountry.  I haven't slept more than a hundred feet from a car in over a month.  Carrying a pack, sleeping in lightweight gear, being that far from a community, none of that fits what I need now.  So I'm not doing it.  Partially, its a question of timing.  This is not the season for High Sierra backcountry climbing or Alaskan expeditioning.  But I've taken an active role in shaping my schedule that way.  And I won't camp in the backcountry for the foreseeable future.  For that I am thankful and focused.  Don't get me wrong, with the right opportunity I won't skip a bivy, but I'm not going out of my way to shiver alone.

I went to the Utah desert. In most cases, I feel isolated when traveling away from home.  I miss parties, dinners, and impromptu encounters with friends. However, if anything, Indian Creek this year was more social than staying home in the Eastern Sierra would have been. I've already documented the nature of 'Creek socializing.

Owens Valley running. 
I am exercising with more intensity and less volume.  I am running, cycling, and going to the gym. I am sport climbing and spent almost a month climbing single pitch crack routes in Utah.  I am mustering the discipline to keep it to one "big" day a week.  And the big day can be 6-8 hours.  A normal day of training is 1-3 hours.  My body loves it.  I'm lighter and my joints are stoked.  But it does take discipline.  This eastern sierra community is built around physical activity.  It takes some work to maintain a social life that isn't always at the crags and peaks.  However, thankfully there is now more time for that social life.

I am being more social.  Even in my new home town, the relatively-quiet-for-now, shoulder-season-deserted Mammoth Lakes, there is just enough action to keep me out of my shell and engaged in the scene.  I'm talking with girls, bs'ing with dudes, and remaining up to date on the couple gossip.  I have only attended one board game night, but I hear that's what all the cool kids are doing now.  I even did yoga.
Deer meat and dudes in the grungy Red Fir cabin.  Mammoth Lakes, CA. 
I have attended meetings and slideshows and mass bouldering sessions.  I have hosted and visited.  I am on the phone and Skype and texting more than most teenagers should.  I just got a satellite phone, intending to stay connected to my people even better in 2014.  I'll go "on the road" again in a couple of days.  I'll climb and hang in Yosemite the middle of this week and then fully vacate the mountains for two weeks of family time around Thanksgiving.

Timely FaceTime with laughing faces.  Shooting the shit with Mom and Dad.  

There are times in life to live, and there are times in life to work.  I'm in a "life work" phase here.  Building connections and fitness and health.  I am resting, recovering, and processing.  I have comfortable patterns and habits.  Some of these, regardless of how comfortable they are, need to change. I need to isolate less. I need to embrace commitment and maturity and what it is I want.  I need to work towards what I want in deliberate and organic fashion. I need to structure my fitness and activity to better honor my body.  And I'm on track.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rocktober 2013. Cast of Characters

Rocktober is a state of mind.  Or, more accurately, it is a community.  Predictably and understandably, rock climbers migrate to the desert in the fall.  These climbers bring their personality and party ("Be the party!")  to crags throughout the arid west.  This year my own Rocktober journey began in Vegas but spent the most time in Indian Creek.  By far, my favorite part is the people.  One can't recreate the climbing, campfires, conversing, and connecting.  But one can get a vicarious sense of the ever-shifting crowd that inhabited my climbing vacation this fall.  Hereby, in order of appearance, the cast of Jed's Rocktober 2013:
It's all about the people, but who wouldn't connect in an environment like this?

Viren makes my decisions for me and connects half the climbing world.

Mark S and I met in a twisted version of "summer camp" and have been best buds since.

Janelle's married to Mark and serves as the ultimate wing-woman to her single friends.

Amber got kicked out of Yosemite with the Smileys and followed their party to Vegas.

Leah came with Amber and left us all a little less naive.

Dale does more things than one human can possibly do.  And he knows everyone. I'm convinced there is no one Dale.

Ian and I have spooned more nights than we should admit.
If you look good, you feel good.  If you feel good, you climb well.
If you climb well, you climb safe.  Ian putting safety 3rd.  

Jess keeps Ian sane and knows every climber from Canada.

McKenzie is one of my employers and quietly crushes.

Luke came with McKenzie and brought all his toys.

Chance came with McKenzie and Luke.  Chance has badass facial hair and earned multiple campsite MVP awards for firewood contribution.

Megan A came to us via friends of Dale.  Her Moab address gave the rest of us street cred.  Oh, and she brought s'mores.

Denise worked with Jess at Outward Bound and brought the stoke.

Mark A is a guide and knows Ian and I.  We didn't know he'd be there until he came to our site in the dark looking for someone else.  Ian recognized his voice and commandeered him into our posse.
Metametaphoto:  Jed captures Dale capturing Luke capturing the sunset.
 See, it's all about the people.

Sheldon tolerates Mark A and finds strays to shower with gentle kindness.

I used to be married to Annie.

Heather got recruited by Sheldon.

Josh and I go way back.  Back to the golden age of the Bishop Zoo.

Rob was invited by Meagan.  Meagan didn't appear until a day after Rob.  But Rob fit in just fine right away.

Meagan works with Jess at Outward Bound too.  She's Canadian and likes Vegas.

Max came with Mark A and climbed with Rob.

-Intermission-  I took off for a little while in Boulder for the AMGA Annual Meeting.  Where I met another bazillion people and bonded with countless old friends and acquaintances.  I fricken love people.  Back in "The Creek", many of the same people were still around, but we continued to expand our "reach" with new and random connections.

Elyse is friends with Sheldon.

Simon led pitches for Sheldon and Elyse before Sheldon handed him off to us.  He's from England.

Rainbow is a guide.  Many of us knew him from various angles.

Ryan lives in the newest version of the Bishop Zoo.

John and Jessie live in the Eastern Sierra.  Ryan brought them to Utah, but I first met them when teaching an avalanche course.

Adam works for OB too.  Meagan brought him along.

Bill, same story.  But Bill wore badass and expensive american flag tights for Halloween.  For like 18 hours.

It wasn't all climbing.  Amber and I ran too far on the final day of my stay there in Utah.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Quick Tip: Headlamp and Depth Perception

Don't go towards the light...
Perhaps you've heard me say it before:  It should be a crime to manufacture and sell flashlights that don't strap to one's head.  The headlamp is a perfect invention.  I think if I ever own a house, it won't have light fixtures.  Why light up where you're not looking?  Instead, everyone will rock a bulb on the forehead when needed.  Brilliant, eh? In my uber-energy efficient living arrangement, everyone will keep both hands free:  free from holding a light, and free from turning switches on and off.  

Light on light.  Trick of photography, or
Jed being an altitude-addled idiot?
Ian McEleney Photo

In the backcountry, it makes even more sense.  Whether hiking, tooth brushing, or being even more active, the benefits of a strapped light source are clear.  Lightweight headlamp options abound; LED technology means batteries remain small and power lasts long.  

If suggesting regulation of something as seemingly innocuous as the strap on your headlamp is so stereotypically "California" of me, allow me to take it a step further with some hypocrisy compounded with self-self-rightousness. 
In short, lights that strap to your head are great, but I don't always wear mine on my head. In fact, when I'm on rough ground and need to move fast, it works better to have it in my hand.  You see, having a light sitting right between your eyes means that you see everything that is lit up.  And nothing that is not.  You don't see the shadows of roots, rocks, and topography.  Try it next time you're trying to motor on uneven ground.  Hold the light in your hand, down at waist level.  Shadows will pop out and you'll wonder how you ever functioned otherwise.  Just don't let the Ministry of Truth know you've regressed so.  

Still can't see?  Light 'er up old school.  Cochise, Halloween 2010.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Winter Palisades Reflections

The Palisade Traverse.  Jed photo

I shouted into the granite, snow, and sky, “Ian!?!”.  No response.  In terrain where Ian normally smoked my wobbly self, I had pulled ahead and out of sight.  We were simul-soloing, near the beginning of our long-awaited 2013 winter attempt at the Complete Palisade Traverse.  I yelled again, “Where you at?”  Still no response.  A third shout and my buddy’s normally booming voice responded weakly “I’m pooping... again”.  
Ian in "the cave".  Day 2, Mt. Williams.
 "I just want a hug". Jed Photo

Ian and I have post-holed, scratched around, and bailed from all over the wintry High Sierra.  We climb like guides, ski like climbers, and plan like the obsessed.   Over the previous year we shared a step-by-step roller-coaster of climbing’s strongest emotions.  

Bailing from the Evolution Traverse.  3/12 Jed Photo
A 2012 failed attempt at the first winter Evolution Traverse and subsequent “scoopage” at the hands of the talented and motivated Pullharder collective left Ian and me briefly, but deeply, disappointment.  Serious climbers in the Sierra over the last decade can be lumped into two categories:  those that post on and those that, usually secretly, want to be like those that post on Pullharder.  Ben Horne, Konstantin Stoletov, and Shay Har-Noy started their eventually successful attempt at the winter Evolution Traverse on the same day as Ian and I, but had more time to wait out poor weather.    We exited the Evolution region on day two, with Pullharder entrance tracks a taunting indicator of their likely intention. 

We rehabilitated from the Evolution disappointment with shared and burning motivation to tackle something even bigger.  If at first you don’t succeed, try something harder...  An exchange with a friend shortly after the Evolution failure reveals the seeds of our plan: “The Evolution Traverse in winter is smaller now, psychologically.  And I dig big things.  But there are always bigger things...”  

The Complete Palisade Traverse, according to Peter Croft’s legendary guidebook The Good, the Great, and the Awesome, is an enchainment that “...[encompasses] six 14000-foot peaks, even more 13,000-footers and offers several miles of technical rock climbing.”  The late Sierra guide John Fisher accompanied Jerry Adams along the full length of the ridgeline in the summer of 1979.  Incidentally, the year Ian and I were both born.  In the ensuing years, according to exhaustive research documented by Horne on, the short list of successful ascent parties collects a ragtag group of Eastside locals, visiting hard-dudes, and high-end soloists.    

We shouldered a light five-day kit of fuel, shelter, and climbing gear and heavy burdens of history, uncertainty, and challenge at Glacier Lodge above Big Pine, California at first light on February 26th.  Light conversation, familiarity with the terrain (Ian had done the entire route the previous summer and I had done about half at various times), and a solid plan fed the fire and dampened the burn.  Fitness, discipline, and a healthy balance of athleticism and experience worked in our favor.  A solid weather forecast filled the sails.  A simple itinerary broke the whole endeavor into roughly five palatable chunks.  

Team hubris encouraged a bivy site selection strategy closer to “winging it” than to “owning it”.  While we set the watch to remind us to drink and eat every hour, we piloted the seat of our pants to excellent campsites four nights in a row.  Night number one was by far the most memorable.  We perched ourselves, as close to “as planned” as could be, on the summit ridge of Middle Palisade, enjoying both sunset and sunrise from fourteen thousand feet.  

Freakin freezin. Jed Photo 
By the end of day two, at a sheltered camp on the north side of Mount Williams, the optimism of our first day in the open and night on the ground had yielded to the realities of Ian’s lower g.i. distress.  Upon pitching a Scimitar Pass camp in the dark of night number three, still less than half-way through the route, we had only progressed as far as planning indicated would take us two days.  Had we overestimated our booted and gloved climbing pace?  Had Ian’s slow day number two cost us crucial progress?  

We huddled in the tent that night considering our options.  We were two fifths of the way through the climb with three fifths of our resources consumed.  We had the familiar guiding terrain of the “classic” Palisade Traverse (Sill to Thunderbolt) ahead.  Pace would inevitably pick up there.  We also had ahead the feared and cruxy descents of Mounts Jepson and Winchell.  Rate would drop through those sections.  Progress-slowing snow-cover would not decline ahead.  If anything, these next, highest peaks above the main Palisade Glacier receive more snow than elsewhere in the immediate vicinity.  Ian’s guts were getting better, but my tolerance for the continuous exposure was wearing thin.    

Ian Photo.  
As any practitioner knows, mountains are more than geology and weather.  They are more than challenge and opportunity and certainly more than a “proving ground”.  Sincere motivation and profound experiences in the hills come from within the athlete.  A climb, the cliche goes, is a microcosm of all of life.  Furthering the abuse of cliche, the journey is the destination.  That being said, our experience up to and on the Palisade Traverse had no shortage of distracting elements.  

In June of 2012, another Pullharder team, this time consisting of Horne, Gil Weiss, and Brad Wilson, completed the seventh ascent of the Palisade Traverse.  By then Ian and I knew we wanted to give the route a go in winter.  With our own aspirations and regrettable, but real, competitive natures, the possible meaning of the team’s “warm up” (Horne’s words on climb did not go unnoticed.   If a sense of competition and the accompanying internalized dehumanizing is burdensome on it’s own, imagine the entanglement of feelings when Horne and Weiss died in a climbing fall in Peru on July 13, 2012.

The most significant prior attempt at a winter traverse of the Palisades was made in 2009 by a local/visitor partnership. The local player in that climb was a friend.  He and I lived and climbed together for years.  In 2010, this climber played a pivotal and deeply hurtful role in the demise of my marriage.  

For myself, the Palisades were (and are) more than geology and climate.  They were more than challenge and opportunity and more than a proving ground.  A winter traverse attempt was hard work, and an act of creative expression.  While I would be in the peaks pushing myself regardless, the morass of motivation and emotions accompanying this particular endeavor cannot be discounted.  

Ian Photo
That uncertain evening at Scimitar Pass, Ian and I sat under the weight of illness and fatigue.  We sat together under the burden of logistics, conditions, hazards, and the unknown.  We brought individual, but similar stories to the Palisades. To that point, we had lived parallel and separate lives through formative and profound relationship upheaval.   My own relationship drama is woven from thread that traces a strand through this very chunk of topography.  Ian and I both work in the same field, a field where one’s success can be driven by alpine notoriety. We both had our hearts broken with the retreat from the Evolution ridge.  And fully crushed when we learned of the virtually immediate success of our hidden counterparts.  Ian moves on.  Ian lets it go, and just goes.  Hard.  I struggle a bit more. Until that third night up high, I could not have really told you where the motivation was coming from.  And I couldn’t escape the guilt born of introspection and harsh reality.  I went to the Palisades that week with many motives.  Not the least, nor the most admirable, was competitiveness.  And not just your ordinary sense of competition:  Competition with the now-deceased.  And competition with he whom, it can be said, had out-competed me once before.  

All this stewed around, mixed with your standard high-and-wild logistical concerns.  Not to mention that we were tackling an endeavor for which there was no blue print.  However, in a rare moment of inspiration, I found myself sharing a welcome and sincere internal motivation.  “Even if we had no chance of actually finishing, I would be psyched to go on; just use up our fuel and enjoy the opportunity to work hard up here.”  I’d be overly dramatic to say that the relief was instant and cathartic.  However, the three hours of snow-melting that evening passed fairly quickly.  That’s all one can ask of a long, dark night with short, spooned rest.  

Ian Photo
Resolved to “enjoy the journey”, we proceeded free of pressure.  Familiar terrain eliminated, at least briefly, the burden of uncertainty.  Night four’s cold, wet, and horribly faceted snow ledge on Thunderbolt Peak gave us the drive to get out before number five. Winchell’s descent, elevated to mythical and impossible status by a year of dread, passed far more quickly and easily than anticipated.  Ian returned to typical rock star form.  We fueled the finish line slog to Agassiz on sunshine and inertia.  The post-holing descent back to Glacier Lodge presented mainly supportable snow, with just a mile of thigh-deep sugary snow-swimming.  

The return to town and life and work was gentle, welcome, and comfortable. Our bodies slowly recovered.  Some attention for our “accomplishment” brought unexpectedly bittersweet sentiment.  It was super sweet to share our experience with the world.  Earning the approval of peers is, predictably, a great feeling.  However, much of it rang hollow.  Indignantly, and ungratefully perhaps, Ian and I both found ourselves downplaying congratulations. “No, it’s not that sort of a big deal.”  We are flush with satisfaction born of hard work in a challenging and uncertain environment. We are blessedly not drunk on the glory or inflated in the ego. Even the congratulatory phone call from the aforementioned adulterer did not carry quite the satisfaction one might envision. It is a deeply reassuring revelation to discover that it is indeed the challenge and resulting hard work and creativity that makes an endeavor like this worthy.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Creative Energy...

...If you can call it that.  In any case, much of mine has been spent in these videos I've been cooking up.  Sure, sure, they're super rough.  But I'm still figuring out the mechanics of the editing software, both on the computer and on the phone.  And I'm into it.  I've never considered myself a "creative" person in the traditional sense.  Writing, taking pictures, and now these videos is as close as I get.  However, I've also been expanding my own personal definition of what it means to be creative.  And it feels good to nourish the creative soul inside me.

In any case, here's the latest effort.  On this trip I was too busy laughing to get a great deal of footage.  How many 9 year olds are confident and witty enough to dish it out to the 34 year old bearded guide?  I wish I had captured some of Sam's humor...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Best Rock Climb in the High Sierra

Who's gonna argue?  The South Face of Charlotte Dome presents impeccable moderate climbing, long pitches, and enough of them to make it more than worth the scenic walk.

Charlotte Dome starts as a speck on the horizon.  With each step it looms larger.  Art F on the "trail".

 Speaking of the non-climbing experience, the traditional and best approach is a beautiful walk through backpackers' paradise.  A high pass, beautiful, warm-watered lakes, biomes from Eastside desert to lunar high country to Westside manzanita scrub, and gradually thinning crowds enhance the athletic climbing portion. The latter portions of the "trail" are undeservedly maligned for brush and route-finding difficulty.  The truth is, enough climbers (and off-trail backpackers:  just google "Gardiner Pass" and see countless reports of adventurous hikers' trips through the zone) tromp in there that the route is clearly defined, well-trodden, and almost-a-trail.  

The camping right close to the dome is unparalleled.  Charlotte Dome sits in the convergence of three classic hanging valleys, with more visible across Bubbs Creek.  A small creek drains the south side of Mt. Gardiner.  Up out of sight, this creek disappears dramatically into a flat sandy zone.  Just before the topography plunges to Charlotte Creek, the creek resurfaces in an idyllic oasis immediately adjacent to perfect flat campsites.  

Charlotte Camp's Disney-quality spring.  Where are the frolicking gnomes?

Gardiner's south creek plunges over it's hanging wall to Charlotte Creek, which in turn drops to Bubbs Creek.  This leaves Charlotte Dome and the convenient camping perched well above the canyon bottom.  

Perfect camping.
On route, in Art's words, "the rock seems made for climbing".  Cracks, holds, friction abound.  When the terrain kicks back, the holds get smaller.  Where the rock is steeper, the holds are huge.  Climbing basically never drops below 5.6 and certainly never rises past 5.8.  

Featured, bomber rock.  It's almost like a cliche.  

Pulling out of the steeps into yet another comfy and exposed belay ledge.  About halfway up, Art glances back and involuntary exclaims "We're really f***ing high".  

Summit ridging.
All in all, Charlotte Dome's a perfect experience.  The classic three-day itinerary from the East is head-and-shoulders above any other way to do it.  However, there are more ways than one to skin this cat.  Other ways I've done the Charlotte Dome thing include, from Road's End on the west (twice, and not recommended...), on skis in April (totally bitchin'!), from a camp at Charlotte Lake (in order to leave time on the exit for a University Peak attempt), and via 6 passes and Sixty Lakes.  Be creative, it pays off.  Or follow the formula and you won't be disappointed.    

Monday, August 5, 2013

Wilderness Climbing in the Central Sierra

It's a couple weeks ago now, but Alex and I busted out a sweet trip through new-to-us country. We cooked up a video and snapped a few pics.

This is the video:

And some still pictures reside at this link:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mt Whitney

I continue to experiment with video editing.  This one was shot and edited while working with a real awesome family of 4.  The upside to on-the-phone editing was that I could have the kids narrate.  However, the audio got kinda jacked up.  The volume isn't modulated very well.  In any case, check it out:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Jed's Guide to Reentry

If anything in life deserves meditation, it is big accomplishments.  If big accomplishments require reflection, it follows that reflection is integral to realizing the value of these sizable exploits.  Justifiably, much is made of the “let-down” from intense expeditions.  I am right now a living, breathing example of the result of stacking one big endeavor on top of another on top of another, for months.  Contemplation could well be my middle name.  Each of three big performances in 2013 has had its own treatment here.  But the sum of the parts is overtaking my thought process these weeks.  

Ironic trivialities await your return to reality.  Don't the proprietors of McMurry's know we go
there on a normal night to see the "Best Dressed"?

I registered for April’s AMGA ski exam knowing I’d be joining Ian for an intense climb just a month before.  I committed to digging deep with Ian in February in the Palisades knowing that I’d have to turn “it” back on soon after for the ski exam.  I didn’t, however, expect to extend the psychological demand into June to climb with the Smileys.  The reality of climbing on the Carpe Ridge was less intense than either the Palisade Traverse or the AMGA ski exam.  However, the intellectual stretching it required puts it on par. 

In his seminal info-tainment-spiration tome “Extreme Alpinism”, perhaps Mark Twight’s most valuable advice is summed up in the page dedicated to “Reentry and Recovery”.  Therein Twight wisely notes the difficulty in “[reentering] normal society within one to five days and [being] quickly immersed in a totally different environment and value system.” 

Now, I am no Mark Twight.  The dude climbed truly ground-breaking stuff.  Nor do I have any false pretenses about how fortunate I have been to have pieced together the last four months of “sending”.  I am incredibly fortunate.  Tackling three enterprises, each of which I could grant the qualifier “-of-a-lifetime”, is more than enough to provide clarity on the reentry ritual.  One need not spend half his days tromping the peaks in order to desire a guide to smoothly transitioning to “real” life.  In short, you will some day reenter and tackle your own version of profound transition.  And this is how I’ve made sense of it all.  

  • Forgive yourself the elitism.  Forgive yourself the judgemental eye-rolling at dinner party conversation.  Forgive yourself your complete lack of understanding for those fully engaged in the inanity of “normal” life.  Or, heck, don’t disregard the elitism.  Embrace it. That uncomfortable sense that you’ve glanced through a sharper lens, even if oh so fleeting, is why we push the boat out a little further. 

  • Realize that you have just participated in a creative act.  What we do in the mountains is creative, by definition.  Little to nothing we find there is created for us.  Therefore, we create our experience.  The more natural the environment, the more conducive to creativity it is.  You will see concerts, and theme parks, and movies differently now.  No matter how many drugs you take, a concert will always be someone else’s creation.
  • Make plans for your next climb, but make no other life-changing choices.  At least not yet.  That was intense.  It cannot be sustained, no matter how realistic and possible that feels.  Similarly, you wouldn’t want to sustain that, no matter how intoxicating it is.  And adventure is an intoxicant, with all the implications therein.  It is no etymological stretch to point out the toxic roots of the word.

  • Engage in the healthy vices.  Eat ice cream.  Cook huge chunks of meat.  Dance.  Sleep.  Keep reading, playing cards, eating simply and slowly.  

  • Tune in to the addictive nature of mountain sports.  Immediately following a big send, it will indeed seem like this is the only way you can live life.  Step away, because that isn’t true.  Break the cycle, take time off, let the next objective and motivation come from a level playing field. 

  • Find your friends, wherever they have gone while you were gone.  Ideally they'd find you.  But not everyone understands the isolating effect of expeditioning.  They probably don't even realize you were gone.  
  • Set aside time and space for “dealing”.  Come back slow and easy with your loved ones.  Push to the back of your mind the big questions while at work and at dinner with your sweetie.  Look at the pictures, edit the video, write up your journals and blogs in designated times and spaces.  

In the end, after compiling this “how-to”, I came to realize that this process and mental exercise can be applied to the “come down” from any sizable endeavor.  Ian M, the master of big sending in the mountains, pointed out exactly that.  Having just seen his lady through the culmination of her grad school, he wisely points out that this concept “could be relevant to folks from all sorts of endeavors, not just adventure sports. The student who just finished her thesis, the architect who's been working 80 hour weeks to bust out an award winning project” etc.  Wise words my man.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mt. Fairweather, Carpe Ridge

Indeed, this contains some good pictures.  Mark does well that way.  However, the vast majority of "media" we collected is in video.  And that is held in reserve for later publishing.  Thanks.  

It's all my parents' fault.  There I was, a kid who liked to read.  We were a family planning to vacation in "the last frontier", shortly after the Exxon Valdez crashed.  Mom and Dad fed me a steady diet of books about the great white north.  My vocabulary, childhood dreams, and bed-time stories included endless references to bush planes, sled-dogs, big wilderness, coastal mountains taller than Manhattan is wide, bald eagles, wild rivers, sourdoughs-and-cheechakos, gold mining, and national parks larger than most east-coast states.  

Mid way up Mt. Fairweather's Carpe Ridge.  Mark Smiley Photo.
And my adult life has been sprinkled with a steady diet of the northland.  Since graduating high school I have made nine separate trips to mountainous terrain north of the 49th parallel.  And I see no reason to stop anytime soon.  That landscape "speaks to me", to say the least.  

Back in early March, Mark and Janelle Smiley invited me to join them on their spring trip to the Fairweather Range of Glacier Bay National Park.  Mark and Janelle are on a quest to be the first couple to climb the "Fifty Classic Climbs in North America".  Mount Fairweather's Carpe Ridge is on that list. I met Mark when he and I both took the AMGA Alpine Guide Exam in 2012.  This winter they found some extra funding, acknowledged the need for more video footage to please the sponsors, motored through a long list of preferred partners, and when they got to the bottom without any takers, they called me.  

The best trips in the best mountains of our best state start with some flight time. Mark Smiley Photo  
Just getting to and from the end of civilization was its own adventure.  From Haines we employed the services of "FlyDrake".  Drake's his name, and flying is one of his games.  He's also a race car driver, skier, opinionated conversationalist, and concerned mountain-logistics specialist.  In order to get us and almost a month of supplies to the Fairweather Glacier we needed two 45 minute flights in Drake's Cessna 180.  I went in first, presumably the expendable one.  

Mount Fairweather is a horribly ironic moniker.  Like Greenland and Iceland.  What's with explorers of the northland and their sand-bagging?  Fairweather, with 15,300 feet of relief separating the stormy Gulf of Alaska from the arctic desert of Canada's interior territories, collects foul conditions like Sierra climbers collect sunburns.  Fair weather does happen, and when it does nothing stands in the way of motivated climbers.  Poorly acclimatized 3rd wheel?  Check.  The meathead mountain guide chasing the world-class lungs powering team Smiley?  Check.  The same guide having drank, slept, and flown his way from tropical Florida in mere hours?  Check.  
Jed Porter Photo
When you can fly you can climb.  When you can fly right away, you can climb right away.  I landed in Juneau at 10 pm, we caught the ferry to Haines at 7 am, and by noon a drowsy Drake peeled himself from a temperate tarmac nap to introduce himself.  "Jed?...  Jed, get your shit together and lets get you the fuck out there".  No time for pleasantries or delay.  Get it while the getting's good.  

We all convened at 4700 feet on the Fairweather Glacier, did what it took to get repacked, lightly rested, fully fed, and ready to launch in the darker hours of the middle of that very night.  On a Thursday I was snorkeling in Florida's inland Serengeti, Friday I ate Mexican in Dallas and Indian in Venice Beach, Saturday I landed in Juneau, and by Sunday evening I was packed up for 11000 feet of steep and glaciated coastal climbing.  

Janelle and I at the waterfall.  Not the sort of waterfall climbing one expects in the Arctic.  Mark Smiley Photo.

Coastal Alaska gets tens (often hundreds!) of feet of winter and spring snow with 20 some hours of sunlight by late May.  Air temperatures rarely exceed the low 50's ocean temperatures, and drop predictably with altitude.  At about 6000 feet then, lies the freezing level.  Warm systems push that line up, with even summer cold spells bringing frost nearly to sea level.  The beginning of our climb was solidly below the average freezing level.  A good weather window, the back end of which we arrived in, had pushed the freezing levels even higher and left the snow melting, rotten, and bottomless.  Rock was newly exposed, a creek ran through the route, and serac-fall return period to either side was best measured in minutes.  The very first few hundred feet of climbing on the Carpe Ridge is the most exposed to serac-fall and holds the most technical rock climbing. Thankfully the most technical climbing is in slightly less exposed areas.  We raced through the easy-but-exposed bits, scrambled over the rock, and wallowed in isothermal slop everywhere else for that first section.  Finally, at 7500 feet or so, the snow firmed up enough to support us and our overnight packs.  

We set up a camp at 10,000 feet that first full night, bathing in spectacular weather and watching something roil the ocean way below.  The textural patterns we saw on the surface of the sea can not be explained by wind, current or shadows.  My best theory is that the roving clusters of circular and periodic disturbances were breathing and breaching whales.  That's right, I'm going to claim we watched whales from a glaciated campsite two miles up and 16 miles across.  

So far, we had done well to live by the maxim "when it's blue, climbing is what we do".  Fair weather Fairweather days are few.  We had rallied in mere hours from sea level and civilization to 10,000 feet and wild.  We encamped that first "night" at 11am.  We stopped where we did to take advantage of flat, sheltered ground and reasonable sleeping altitude.  In hindsight, dropping our camping gear and suffering on to 15000 feet on that first push would have been a wise idea.  Regardless of acclimatization, rest, fitness or whatever, climbers in coastal ranges are well-advised to stick to the above rule.  As it was, we chose to rest and acclimate.  And we woke to snow and flat light on our summit day.  As we climbed, winds picked up, the clouds closed in, and the rate of snowfall picked up.  
Janelle and I at our whited-out high point.  Mark Smiley Photo

By the time we reached 14,300 feet visibility was poor, snow was coming down, and a fierce east wind blew the rope out in an arc between us.  Over a couple hours, we pushed twice from a sheltered resting spot to the highest crux on the route, the "Ice Nose".  Both times we got smacked down by the wind.  It didn't help that we had taken the wrong route to get to where we were.  On the way up we led off the ridge to its side in an ill-advised effort to avoid some crevassed sections of the wind-swept crest.  Instead we encountered deep snow and then extended steep ice.  We knew that the way we had went was not ideal, but we also knew that, under these conditions, we had to retrace our steps if we wished to make it back cleanly.  In the wind and clouds and snow we could take care of ourselves, as long as everything went according to plan.  However, these conditions left zero margin for error:  kicking off a crampon, or twisting a shoulder, or dropping a glove would result in an "evacuation" effort over extended technical terrain that we simply could not count on pulling off.  Not to mention, of course, the consequences of something more dire.  So we pulled the plug.  Literally more than 90% up the route, we bailed.  Half way back to our high camp, now feeling the accumulated effects of travel and effort and altitude, the weather cleared briefly behind us.  We didn't have it in us to try again up that high.  

We ultimately escaped all the way back to where we had been dropped off.  Over the next nine days of basically poor weather we turned the landing zone into our glacier home.  We took pictures in brief windows when the weather was nice and slept, ate, and played cards when it wasn't.  I read 8 books, watched 2 movies three times each, savored the whole first season of "The Big Bang Theory", and poached the Smiley's entertainment arsenal for additional movies and solar charging.  

Basecamp life.  Occasionally we'd get a few hours of clear weather.  Enough time to watch the big peaks for serac fall and avalanche.  The mountain never failed to respond when we'd shout "entertain us!" Mark Smiley Photo.  Mark came out of Indiana on mountain dreams and scrappy resourcefulness.  And no shortage of athletic ability.  His claim to fame, that he refuses to claim, is that this winter he beat Killian in a rando race.  In a relatively short career (yes, it's all relative.  I mean, our neighbor on the glacier Bill Pilling did his first Alaska expedition, like, before any of us were born) Mark has built a successful guide service, tromped all over the world, and pleases an impressive list of sponsors to bankroll their travels.   Mark's a self-taught photographer, videographer, and film-editor.  He has enough clever and entrepreneurial ideas to ensure that he'll afford to fly to glaciers and come up with clever and entrepreneurial ideas for a long long time. 

 We endured the nine days.  Well, Mark and Janelle endured.  They're burdened with motivation and fitness not unlike thoroughbred horses.  You've gotta get them out to run or they'll slam their heads through the stall walls.  They literally ran ski laps around the base camp most days.  "Crop circling" for fitness became the highlight of the day.  While Mark and Janelle worked hard to reign it in through the crappy weather spell, I lazed around in luxurious torpor.  Despite an agenda that suggests otherwise, I really love to do nothing.  I could lay in a tent and space out for weeks at a time if I didn't start to feel guilty.  Speaking of guilt, I have to confess that I let the sneakiest of Christian burdens interrupt my sloth.  One day I dug a "pull-up" pit:  11 feet of excavation, spanned by skis rigged for some upper-body exercise.  Glacier life is very two-dimensional.  Stepping down into the pain cave for a round of fitness activated the primal climber in each of us, reminding the team that there is life after storms.
Deadly serious cards.  Mark Smiley Photo

Additionally, perched just over a rise in the glacier, was another climbing team.  In a profound coincidence, the very day we flew in, another team of four had landed in the same vicinity.  With the same goals.  Even more coincidental, I had climbed with one of this party way back in 2005.  I've since run into Brett all over the Sierra.  And now coastal Alaska.  Another member of our neighboring team was an acquaintance.  A third lives here in Bishop, but we had never met.  The fourth, Bob, is now a friend too.  We interacted with those we came to call "team high camp" (they perched a gentle 10 feet higher than us, and wisely brought more intoxicants than we did...) periodically through the entire trip.  They'd rally eventually to follow a somewhat similar agenda on our second attempt at the peak.
One day a clear spell surprised us with more than a couple hours of scenery.  We went on a "Segway tour" ski trip all the way to the head of the Fairweather Glacier.  The goal was to reach the col to look down at Glacier Bay.  Alas, the marine layer came back in and we retreated.  Typical.  Mark Smiley Photo
We watched the weather, as religiously as one can do from a remote glacier.  We received multiple satellite text message weather reports each day.  Team High Camp had a weather radio.  In addition to juggling weather conditions on Fairweather,  The Smileys Project had to hash out other components of the most ambitious version of our plan.  If all had gone perfectly, we had info and connections and a rough plan to move over to Mount Saint Elias for a go at another of the "50 Classics".  It was a long shot.  And we knew that.  Weather is poor, these mountains are big, and glacier festering is a limited resource.  Like the friend who avoids exercise because "we're only born with so many heartbeats, I'm going to stretch mine out over a longer life", expedition climbers only have so many days of lying around in sloppy conditions in them.  And we knew that.  What we didn't fully account for, and what proves to be a valuable lesson, is bush flight logistics.  Bush pilots have complicated jobs.  Not unlike mountain guides, pilots are juggling client rewards with risk management.  And tight schedules and high-strung personalities.  In the central Alaska Range, where 99% of Alaska climbers travel, flight logistics are pretty well dialed.  However, escape the protection of Alaska's granite womb and big-business charter flights, and things get more complicated right quick.  We were asking a lot of the bush pilot business.  We flew in with one pilot and wanted to exit to another mountain with a different pilot.  We were hoping to link together two of the biggest and least climbed peaks in the state.  And we wanted to arrange it all via satellite phone.  It was a long shot, and didn't work out.  Something to go back for.

Eventually, freed of the questions surrounding how to execute the two big peaks, we could focus on the one resting mainly invisible outside the tent door.  With a day's notice, the forecast cleared up.  We would have blue skies, light winds, and cold temperatures.  At one point we'd placed the odds of achieving this sort of prognosis as "pretty damn impossible".  But it happened.  We had the prediction, and I don't think I'm spoiling much to say that it held even better than predicted.  Additionally, but possibly needless to say, we were rested.
Perhaps too rested, it took a half-pint of the Catskill's finest arboreal glucose to jumpstart this comatose climber. Mark Smiley Photo, Mike Porter Syrup.   
 In most ways, the route was the same as before, if not in slightly better shape.  Low altitude old snow had consolidated with more time.  Cold nights locked it down further.  Much had melted too.  Up higher, a few feet of new snow had mainly blown off where it mattered.  And metamorphosed to a perfect climbing surface.  On our first attempt we found extended sections of very hard ice.  The week of high pressure preceding our arrival had ensured that high altitude snow saw many melt freeze cycles before our passage.  The fresh coat we encountered on our second go brought welcome and efficient crusts with awesome plunge stepping back down.
Scrambling loose crap is a sure way to crank the blood back into the sugar stream.  Mark Smiley Photo.

Just 10 days earlier, this step was completely covered in snow and ice.  Alaska melts fast when it melts.  Yeah, Mom and Dad, the rope's on my pack.  Hey, did you see that syrup picture?

Waterfalls, slop, sweat down low.  Powder, crisp cold and no diurnal snow changes up high.  These are the beauties of climbing huge routes!  Mark Smiley Photo

Classic cornices.  This probably isn't what my Mom and Dad pictured when instilling Alaska passions in their scrawny kid.  

Classic exposure.  

Classic posing.  Janelle represents.  She was born and raised at altitude and climbs with attitude- the right kind of attitude.  I'd climbed extensively with Mark.  But Janelle didn't know me.  She did what it took to "size me up".  I think I made the cut, and besides, she didn' t have a choice once we hit the glacier. She's self-aware, acknowledging that the pro life takes something away from the pursuit.  Whether that pursuit is climbing to the corners of the continent, or crushing the competition on funny little skis, Janelle more than earns the accolades you'll find elsewhere on the web (I mean, she has her own wikipedia...).  What you won't find elsewhere on the web is that she struggles just like the rest of us with climbing's big questions.  In simply acknowledging the facts of climbing and skiing as a job, Janelle negates any adverse impacts that may have.  Lay it out on the table, let it go, and keep crushing.  

Summit shot.  Duh.  
 We employed basically the same strategy for both attempts.  We camped in the same spot, woke at the same time, used the same amount of time we anticipated.  We had good weather forecasts in both cases.  The difference the second time around was primarily in the actual weather.  And we benefitted at least a little from the scouting we'd done.  Round 2 we stuck to the proper ridge, saving a great deal of effort and techy climbing.  We were certainly better rested for the second round.  We took more food for the successful go, but carried the extra day's ration down at the end.  Our summit day actually took less time than our fruitless run at the same terrain.

In typical whirlwind fashion (I mean, "When it's blue, climbing -or flying- is what we do") we summited in mid afternoon on a Sunday.  We were in high camp that evening, back in base camp by 8am, and drying gear at the Haines airport by 2pm that Monday.  Reentry's a bitch, especially when it goes that fast.  Mark and Janelle are back on the glacier.  They flew back into the central Alaska Range today for another try at Denali's Cassin Ridge.  They'll miss me, I'm sure.  They'll take pretty pictures, struggle with the how's and why's of their strange quest.  They'll probably bicker, and certainly love each other.  My parents, they love each other too.  But their opinion of Mark and Janelle, who knows.  They have a lot in common.  They all have served to stoke this Alaska fire.  But my parents probably thought I'd grow out of it.  Mark and Janelle haven't grown out of it, nor do they expect that I will.