Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter Climbing Photos

Basically, I follow Ian around in his red jacket and take pictures of him.  Some of those pictures come out nice and I horde them.  I realized that I can't really think of what else to do with them, so I'll share them here.  In no particular order, captioned with lesson's learned.  We've been learning lots of lessons...
One of my favorite pics lately.  Lesson learned:  The Iphone panorama mode works well, and makes cool-looking
 "art", but sometimes it gets fouled up.  

Heel Toe, LVC.  We may continue to learn this lesson on into old age, but: mixed climbing is dumb.

Heel Toe, again.  Ian learned lots of lessons:  keep your gloves on.  Don't try and rock climb while ice climbing. Then we saw a way smarter climber take crampons, tools and gloves off in almost this very spot.  Rules are meant to be broken?  

More "art".  Really just a poorly aimed camera.

Wet-tooling.  Mono points rule.  

Even wetter.  It's the "Alpine high 5".  

Mt. Morrison in early December.  Lesson learned:  It is indeed possible to climb in heinous winds and cold.  Just don't do it with a broken fly zipper.  Trust me.  

Morrison again.  Still cold, still windy, not yet "winter". Wtf?

All sorts of promise...
... and all sorts of punishment.  Lessons:  Never post-hole at the beginning of the day and never post-hole uphill.
Unless you can't avoid it.  

Dry-tooling is ridiculous.  But we do it anyway.   

Late afternoon, cloud-reflected light on LVC's Main Wall.  About as sunny as California
ice climbing gets. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Punta Bardini Speed Run

Just had a go at some fast up and down skiing on this Mammoth classic.  I'm sure it's been done faster, but that's not the point.  Well, it's part of the point...

Naysayers scoff at the speed thing;  "Do you do this just so you can blog about it?"  "Why don't you stop and smell the roses?" That kinda stuff.

Big skis: Built-in excuse.
Everyone gets their endorphins in different ways.  Finding  that literal "high" is elusive, even for those that get out and breathe hard regularly.  Today my moment was cresting the ridge into the sun, light wraparound snow blowing out of the way of speedy skins, Florence and the Machine cranked in the headphones, heart rate solidly "orange-lined" for the last 45 minutes, and the summit in sight.

Primary hazard, doggy land mines at the start and finish.  
 Strategy, splits and conditions:

  • Skin track in great condition.  Very few kick turns, very few diversion from the middle heel lifter.  Except near the top:  a couple ups and down around some rocks along the ridge.
  • I started and finished the time at the southernmost no parking sign at the propane tanks.
  • No warm up.  Probably should have.
  • Down conditions were fast with just a little zipper rain crust below about 9k.  
  • Start to summit, transition included: 59:21
  • Summit to car: 11:54
  • Total time: 1:11:15.  
  • I came down the Old Growth to the western margin of the Tele Bowls.
  • Coming down one of the chutes may be faster, but being out solo on this moderate hazard day, I promised I wouldn't.  
  • Amazing down-conditions for the upper 800 ft.  But one has a hard time enjoying that part under sprint conditions.  As much as there is potential for that "runner's high" on the way up, down-skiing for speed is more about survival.  Oh well.  
Notable Gear:
  • Volkl Nunataqs and matched skins.  Not the lightest at all, but I'm between lighter skis right now.  I probably got some of the time back by being able to ski down faster.  'Specially with the aforementioned crust in the mix.  
  • Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings
  • Dynafit TLT 5 Performance boots, no tongues or velcro.
  • Camp Rapid 260 pack.  
  • Shovel, probe, transceiver.
  • 1 qt water, only drank half.
  • carried some food, ate none. 
  • t-shirt and light fleece, up and down.
  • light gloves.  
  • Puffy in the pack
  • 1 lb emergency kit in the pack.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mount Tom Circumnav.

Ryan and I have a habit of sand-bagging one another.  He takes me on rock climbs that are way too big and way too hard for me.  I take him on ski tours that he says are hard.  He sure doesn't look as though it's hard for him.  Maybe when he says it's hard that means that I picked a stupid objective.  That could be closer to the truth, as we have yet to ski a "classic" itinerary together.  Nor have we skied real good snow.  And these things have been my idea.  Ryan is a nice guy, he's probably being diplomatic, wrapping his displeasure with the conditions up in expressions of exertion.  

Ryan contemplates early 20th century hardiness and handiness.
Remnants of the "Hanging Valley Mine" aerial tram.

It's true, I like adventures.  I like going new places.  In the Sierra, those new places are getting weirder and weirder.  Not necessarily fewer, just weirder.  

Speaking of weird...  thin facets over creekside rocks give way to icy creek crossing.  

Not so stoked...  Do whatchya gotta do.  

What does the Hanging Valley hang over?  This guy:  The Hangover Chute?

Ryan working off the hangover from a week of Ambien and Red Bull fueled hospital shifts with
frantic bare-boot step kicking, abundant fitness, and a reluctant quest for Jed-venture.  

We raced approaching shadows up between the mining shafts and across the Hanging Valley itself to Mount Tom's classic South Bowl corn run.  January corn is a different beast.  It's a little more textured and a little softer than its spring counterpart.  It germinates on just the steepest and most southerly aspects during the cooler months.   It ripens during the shortest window each day.  It cooks up only when wind-pressure and transport has already firmed up the snow surface and when a couple weeks of clear weather bring about the needed melt-freeze metamorphosis.  In these conditions, corn skiing is the best skiing to be had.  "Fair weather" skiers hang 'em up or head to the terrain park when it gets this way.  "Fair weather" Bishop skiers head to the boulders around this time.  And it's their loss.  Laugh all you want, but drought skiing is still skiing.    

See, it's good.  Fattys with rocker don't hurt here.  Heck, they're nice 'most anywhere it is less than rock hard.

Deep corn, deep wilderness, big smile.  

Less of a smile... what's around the bend?  When it looks like this and you're still 4
miles from the car, one can't help but be a little doubtful. However, I was able to
keep my skis on for the duration.  The two spots I removed them are already behind us.
Now, I was skiing on basically trashed skis.  And trashed them further.  Ryan
prudently removed his a few more times.  

The race through the sage, connecting snow patches along the Horton Creek road.  

Work in the Mountains

Not everyone goes to the mountains just for fun.  Of course, I work in the mountains all the time.  While guiding, I'm on the clock, but having fun.  In my case, however, someone else is indeed there for fun.  That makes the ultimate goal of the trip, even if I am working, some sort of recreation.  Many folks go the mountains and have fun (or not), but the primary mission is something other than recreation.  

Alex relieved to be in the sun.  Rush Creek, June Lake, CA. 
Mountain environments provide relief.  Geographic relief, that is.  That relief influences weather and wildlife habitat.  Weather and wildlife habitat are unique in mountains.  Among those that keep track of unique wildlife there will be some that keep track of mountain wildlife.  My lady, Alex, is one such biologist.  She keeps tabs on the elusive and endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep.  On most days that means crunching numbers and looking at a compilation of data points gathered remotely from collared sheep.

Sometimes, however, it is necessary to go out and see some sheep.  Notably, when a radio collar indicates that the sheep has been stationary for too long, the alarm is sounded.  This could mean the sheep is dead.  In that case, getting there before the coyotes and ravens do their scavenging could yield additional data on the health of this particular sheep and the herd as a whole.  

Alex isn't the only one to work in the mountains.  Historic Rush Creek
hydroelectric infrastructure.  
Relief in mountain environments drives an orographic effect in the weather.  It also drives significant gravitational forces.  Orographic precipitation falling on high mountain environments eventually runs off those landscapes.  When that water tumbles down the slope, it does so with a great deal of energy.  Humans have learned to tap into this inherent and ever-renewable energy in running water.  Since 1917 Edison has been making electricity along Rush Creek.  While the Rush Creek Powerhouse is located right among homes and roads in the lower canyon zone of June Lake, the aquaducts and dams that feed the turbines are up the mountain, inaccessible to traditional wheeled travel.  A historic cable tramway still moves supplies up and down in the summer months.  Avalanche hazard and deep snow block tram operations in the winter.  Major infrastructure, all winter long, exists and functions in an inaccessible winter wilderness.  

In order to monitor the equipment and water available for hydroelectric production, Edison employs a savvy crew to patrol the high country.  This group performs snow surveys to measure available water and forecast runoff rates as well as checks on the function of their expensive equipment.  Just more folks working in the winter wilderness.  

Two hours into the day, and still in the midst
of significant human presence. 
Hydroelectric interests are not the only folks concerned with snow amounts in the high country.  The entire state of California depends on Sierra snowmelt.  Residents, industry and agriculture all rely on the water that orographic snowfall melts into.  As a result, the State keeps a crack team of snow surveyors on call to monitor a number of standardized "snow courses" in remote and high corners of the range.  This team, a ragtag group of lifestyle "dirtbags" holding onto their sought-after positions despite abysmal pay and a dangerous work environment, patrol the High Sierra measuring snow on the ground over the bulk of the winter months.  They get paid to ski 10 days a month and have access to the only real network of high-country, fully-stocked huts in the state.  Not a bad gig.  And just another example of folks working in the mountains.  
Alex listening for aliens.  Or being the alien, investigating the natives.  

Last week I joined Alex for one of the above-mentioned sheep missions. Radio signals from a sheep on Mount Wood indicated abnormalities in the sheep's behavior.  Abnormalities in the behavior of Alex and I reveal a tendency to take on big days in the mountains.  What's better than a big day with a mission?  Where at least one of us can stay "on the clock"?  Let's do it.  

Sheepy terrain.  Alex terrain. They like this kind of thing?  Weird critters.  
We didn't find the sheep.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that we were able to conclude that the sheep is still alive.  Mission accomplished.  We did much of the work on the way up through Rush and Alger Creeks and up the backside of Mt. Wood.  We left the frontside "untracked" and unvisited until the end.  Not that tracks made any lick of difference.  Firm conditions barely allowed an edge, much less a track.  But we did see new terrain the entire day and get ourselves in position to gather excellent radio information from the sheep in question.  

Down the front was not exactly "work" but it wasn't the normal definition of fun, that's for sure.  Fast, firm windboard swept us down and down to the shores of Silver Lake.  

"Man, this work sucks.  I hate my job"

"This cubicle is so confining"

Sunday, January 20, 2013

5 Alive

Resolutions. Athletics.

In my own version of mountain-man mediocrity, the number 5 as a benchmark seems to exist at the fringe of difficulty. A 5000 foot ski day is hard but not ever impossible. WI 5 is the upper limit of my ice climbing accomplishment. Mixed climbing, same number.

Given all that, I'll wrap my goals for this year around nĂºmero cinco (or multiples thereof). Some of these benchmarks I have already achieved and will be somewhat easy to replicate. Those that I have not yet reached, by my estimation, will require a similar amount of training and skill work as the others.

My list, for 2013:

5000 foot ski tour in 5 hours, car to car.
15000 feet of ski touring in a day, on multiple peaks (few, if any "laps" on repeated terrain).
50 mile run
5.10 rock climbing: face, crack, etc.
WI 5 ice leading.
Skiing a sustained 50 degree pitch.
V5 bouldering
M5 mixed/dry-tool leading
5 minute mile

This latter-most may be the outlier, and a personal story here may be what got the ball rolling on this whole rule of 5 mission. In high school, at good old MCS, we would run a mile every year. The school didn't have a "proper" track. But the "mile" was widely held to be two complete laps around the athletic fields. One year, my time over that course was 4:55. Not a bad time, if it were indeed an actual mile. That shadow of a doubt has been a bit haunting. What if it was shorter? What if it was longer? In any event, any chance of replicating or measuring the actual course was preempted with the construction of the school expansion there. With a high school track just across town here in Bishop, and an apparently world class track up in Mammoth, I have no excuse now for not giving it a go. I ran tonight on the Bishop High track and clocked a 5:55.7. I have a year to shave 55 seconds. A full minute if I want to replicate the high school performance. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Emergency/First Aid Kit

**Text/list updated 12/2017. Photos are older**

More than anything else, folks ask what I carry for emergencies.  Now, this is by no means comprehensive;  For almost every trip I add in something more.  On ski trips, I add ski repair gear.  With bigger groups and overnight trips, more first aid gear is warranted.  In technical terrain, a minimum of retreat gear is in order.  Cold weather requires emergency insulation.  But packing always starts with this kit:

Enclosed, roughly top to bottom and left to right:

Nu Mask CPR mask
Space Blanket bivy
Tiny leatherman tool
Petzl E-lite headlamp
magnesium fire starter striker
2 pairs gloves
Baling wire
Various gauzes
Blister covers
Anti diarrheal
Blood clotting sponge
Alcohol wipes
Coban/Vet Wrap
Irrigation syringe
Steri strips
nasopharyngeal airway
Nighttime cold medicine
Tincture of Benzoine
Antibiotic ointment
Spare contact lens

All wrapped in a durable zippered pouch.  How many of the Ten Essentials 
are in this compact one-pound package?  It is small enough that I don't hesitate to take it basically everywhere I go.