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.