Monday, December 21, 2015

Intro to Misery at Egypt Lake: AKA Dome Tent Trial Run

The official title for this trip was "intro to complete and utter abject misery", but Kyle and I just shortened it to "Phil's stupid trip". The plan was to take the newly acquired, 40 lb dome tent somewhere into the backcountry and use it as a base camp for the weekend. As we all know, Phil loves to suffer, so we were prepared for the worst. It didn't help that the forecast was calling for -17 on Saturday night. However, in the days leading up to the trip, a Christmas miracle occurred. Phil decided that we would ski to Egypt Lake (where there is a conveniently located hut), just in case we couldn't set it up. How to break the news to Phil that we would rather sleep in the hut than a bottomless dome tent? Well unfortunately for Kyle, got sick right before the trip. The silver lining was that this gave us the perfect excuse to book the hut. Maybe this wasn't going to be a completely miserable weekend after all!

We met in the Sunshine parking lot at the crack of 8:30 after a rental gear mix up. Parking lot faff ensued but we were underway without too many issues. Kevin took the first shift dragging the tent. It wasn't so bad initially as the trail was well established (and I wasn't pulling the tent).
Phil helps Kevin get started with the drag bag
It was a 12km ski in and everyone took turns dragging the tent. I took the hardest leg of tent dragging (ok maybe not, but it felt pretty rough). When we reached Healy Pass, Kyle carried the duffle bag on his chest like a backpack for the ski down to Pharaoh Creek, which looked super awkward. We arrived at the Egypt Lake camping area just after 3:30, with about an hour of daylight remaining on one of the shortest days of the year.
View from Healy Pass
Lots of fresh snow at Healy Pass
Kyle is happy to be at the top of the pass
 We got right to work assembling the dome. None of us had ever seen this thing out of the bag before but Phil had read the instructions and had a bit of an idea of how to get it up. We were able to set it up on our first attempt despite a few minutes of panic when everything looked like it was going horribly wrong.
Dome tent set up chaos
 By the time the dome tent was set up, it was almost dark. We got to work building seats and started cooking dinner. It was significantly warmer in the tent than outside and the stereo sound system provided by Phil created a great ambiance for the evening.
Phil and his awesome lounge chair
Dave tries to burn the dome tent to the ground (no tents were harmed on this trip)
Hours flew by as we chatted and drank mulled wine, but eventually everyone made their way to bed. Only Kevin and Phil actually stayed in the dome all night, the rest of us migrated to the warm hut with its wood stove which was conveniently located 20 metres from the tent.
Dome tent with Sphinx in the background
Keeping warm in the dome
 The alarm went off far to early and we sat around quietly eating our breakfast trying to decide whether we actually wanted to go out for a ski. Kyle pulled the plug and got back into bed, but the rest of us slowly got ready and left for a line we had been scoping out on the Sphinx the day before. Not long after we left, Lisa realized she had taken Kyle's skis by accident. Dave and Lisa doubled back for her skis while Phil and I continued on, bushwhacking in the darkness. We arrived at the base of the line around 8 am and it was still pitch black. Luckily the sky was starting to brighten as we broke trail up the wide fan below the couloir we had set our sights on.
Phil contemplates why its still so dark at 8am
Despite an avalanche rating of low on all slopes, we were very cautious with the early season snowpack and the obvious layer 40 cm down. We took it slow on the way up to assess the snowpack and keep everyone safe. We didn't notice any cracking or noises and hadn't seen any natural activity in the area, so were happy to keep going up towards the couloir.
Phil takes a nap to recover from the mulled wine while waiting for our one at a time skin up the slope
Phil lead the charge with a waist deep bootpack up the couloir. About half way up, the snow wasn't looking as stable and he decided to ski from there. The rest of us got ready to ski from the top of the fan as the bootpack just looked miserable. Phil got first tracks as a reward for breaking trail and it was bomber! The snow was amazing, deep and stable and I had such a fun first run of the season!
Couloir turns
Lisa is all smiles after our awesome run
More smiles and evidence of our powder farming
After skiing it was time to head back to the hut to get ready to leave. What had taken us over an hour of bushwhacking in the dark only took about 20 mins with a broken trail and daylight to guide the way. There was a bit of ice that Lisa and Dave had crossed in the dark that looked very thin in the light of day, but we all made it across without breaking through.
The ice looked thicker in the dark!
Taking down the dome was a breeze but the real misery of the trip had only just begun. Towing the duffle back up the the pass was much more challenging than on the way in because the trail was far less established and there were way more twists and turns around trees. Once we got to the pass, it was a mostly downhill trail to the car park. We took turns carrying the tent, which made the luge track experience much more interesting, and the shuffle along the flats absolutely terrible. By the end of the ski out, I was so ready to be done with the whole dome tent experience. Overall, I would call the dome trial a success, but don't relish the thought of dragging it around on long trips!
Hut hog makes his second appearance this year
On our way home
Nasty weather at the top of the pass

Saturday, December 5, 2015

This House of Sky

We left Calgary at 6am headed for the Ghost. Because the days are so short, that meant that we spent most of the off-roading in the dark. Luckily, there was a really good road already broken through the snow, which made route finding a breeze. We stopped to check out some of the open water, but Kyle's truck had no issues with any of the creek crossings.
Scoping out the river crossing in the dark
 We left the truck at 8:20 to start up This House of Sky, a 750m WI III ice climb. The approach from took us about 10 minutes before we hit our first bit of ice. Since there were 5 of us, Matt and Kathrine went ahead as a party of two, while Alan, Kyle and I climbed together as a party of 3. Kyle had brought his 70m non-dry treated rope in hopes that dragging it around in the snow would clean it (it used to be white and green, but it is currently black), but more on that later. We were able to solo much of the ice at the beginning of the route, which allowed us to move pretty quick. It was pretty wet in places, with water running down the route, but the ice felt really solid. There has been some traffic on the route already this season, some of the lower steps had been well picked out.
Alan soloing one of the short ice steps
 We kept moving, to keep warm and stay close to Matt and Kathrine who were zooming ahead. As we moved farther up the route, we got into more of the steep ice that Kyle lead for me and Alan. It was chilly as the route is in the shade all day, but the ice was getting better and better as we ascended.
Kathrine making her way up one of the longer ice pitches
Alan actually really likes ice climbing
 We pitched out 6 of the ice pitches and soloed the rest. Most of the steep pitches had bolted anchors with brand new neon yellow webbing that was nice and easy to spot.
Matt leading one of the upper pitches
 As we got higher and higher, the rope got wetter and heavier, eventually freezing almost solid. This made belaying extremely difficult, both for a lead belay and top belay. Nobody wanted to belay, so we all had to take turns, cursing the rope the whole time.
Frozen ropes and belay devices add an extra level of difficulty to climbing - trying to take up slack for Alan
 We reached the top of This House of Sky just before noon. We had a break for lunch and looked at the ice in the bowl above. There was an awesome pitch way up there, but we weren't sure if we would be able to get to it. We started up the valley and more ice came into view. It looked like it would go! Unfortunately Kathrine's ankle had started acting up so she opted to wait. Luckily she had come prepared with lots of jackets!
Matt's rope turned into an icicle
Alan attempts to tame the froze rope
On our way up to the ice, we were able to get a great view of the Devil's Head, a scramble that we had attempted earlier this year. It was cool to see it from such a different perspective, and trace our route we had taken along the ridge.
Great view of the Devil's Head - we made it to the lower notch on the left when we attempted it in the fall
 We had two short pitches of ice to climb before we could get to the main flow that we had spotted from below. Matt lead the first and Kyle took the second one. These pitches were the steepest ice we had been on all day and it was really fun. Matt had to improvise on his pitch because the main route was too thin. He led us up a fragile ice pillar with a bit of mixed climbing in a rocky corner, and belayed off a questionable rock that was "frozen" into the scree. It was a great lead and a really fun bit of climbing. Kyle's pitch was another exciting one, and really beautiful.
Kyle leads a crux pitch in the upper bowl
Me following Kyle up the steep ice
 Finally we arrived at the money pitch. It was long, steep and sustained. The ice was a bit more brittle up top so there were lots of projectiles. Matt sprung a leak in the ice with an ice screw, and tried to plug it back up. The screw held for a few minutes but before long water started spouting out and running down the route. As the last one on the route, all I saw was a flood of water running down the ice! I was the last one to climb this final pitch and really enjoyed how long it was. What I didn't realize was that our rope had become so frozen that all three guys had to help belay me. Matt had me on a munter while Kyle and Alan worked to feed and pull the rope. They were so happy when I topped out!
Kyle leading the final pitch
We quickly rappelled back to Kathrine, who had been waiting patiently for three hours. One rappel took us over a hollow tube of ice with water running through the centre, which Alan thought was the coolest thing ever. Despite countless rappels, we made good time on the way down, but didn't quite make it out before dark. Kyle had brought a BBQ so we had hotdogs and beers to celebrate our awesome day, before making the drive back out of the Ghost in the dark (as usual).

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Family-Less Friendly Elk Lakes Trip

To kick off the winter season, Phil organizes a "family-less friendly" 18+ trip to the Elk Lakes Hut, where typically there isn't enough early season snow or ice to do much, but there is a wood stove and lots of wine. This year, there was more wine, more people and way more snow than anyone had really bargained for. Preparing for the worst, everyone brought enough adult beverages to keep themselves entertained, but Phil used the extra money from the extra participants to bring a back-up supply, mostly in the form of beer. This resulted in a very heavy load that he dragged all the way to the hut in a duffle bag and looked absolutely miserable. We were more than happy to help lighten the load over the course of the weekend for his ski back to the car on Sunday.

It was cold and still for our 11km ski tour in. The climb up to Elk Pass was quick on the groomed cross country ski trails. Beyond the pass it was downhill to the hut for 5km, but we were breaking trail all the way in. The moon was dazzling and illuminated our way, making the snow sparkle magically. Kyle and I used our mountain bike headlamps to ski down under the powerlines for our first turns of the season. The snow was great, but the terrain wasn't terribly steep. Upon arrival at the hut around 10:30 pm, the fire was lit and introductions were made while we waited for Phil to arrive with his cargo. Everyone was in the mood to celebrate and the stragglers trailed off to bed around 3:30 am. Phil hadn't suffered quite enough yet so he slept on the porch for some reason.
Bright moonlight to light the way into the hut
I awoke to the smell of bacon and sausage cooking downstairs, and in my half asleep state, convinced myself that we had organized a communal breakfast for the trip. Unfortunately, that was not the case and Kyle and I were stuck with maple pecan breakfast quinoa, which wasn't really a bad option. The hardcores had already taken off on an exploratory mission, and the not quite as hardcore but equally adventurous had opted to go look for skiing near the cabin. Kyle and I decided to keep Shea and Kathrine company and keep the hut warm. We lounged and chatted, moving seamlessly from breakfast to second breakfast and then onto lunch without any hesitation. Finally, our peaceful hut day was interrupted by the arrival of Gig, his girlfriend Danielle and his dog Alan. They were eager to get out and do some ice climbing, so we decided to join them. It took us a while to get ready as we hadn't packed ice gear. Fortunately Phil had left his ice stuff at the hut so we took it out for a walk with us. Gig and Danielle had already left, tired of waiting for us faffing. While we went out to put our skis on, Alan (the black lab who was supposed to be staying at the hut with Kathrine) took off down the skin track after Gig. So much for dog sitting for the afternoon.
Morning view from the hut
Plenty of snow
 Kyle and I followed the skin track highway that had been set by the 14 others that had ventured out before us that day. It was easy going with beautiful views but it felt really cold (or maybe I am just soft from a nice long summer this year!).
Lower Elk Lake
We almost turned around when we came to a creek crossing. We already knew we weren't going to be getting much skiing in that day and I was not interested in wet feet. Kyle decided to try the log and managed to clear off all the snow so we could walk across. Crisis averted.
Kyle prepping the log crossing
Kyle finds deep snow after crossing the creek
 We met one group making their way back to the hut shortly after the creek. They informed us that Alan had found Gig and that they were just up ahead. That made us feel much better now that we knew we hadn't lost his dog. When we arrived at Upper Elk Lake, the ice looked thin and although there was one slope that was steep enough to ski, you could tell that there were sharks lurking just underneath, ready to shred your skis apart.
Upper Elk Lake and the ice starting to form
 We met up with the exploration group who were on their way back from their 20 km walk/bushwack, which validated the choice to stay in bed and not rush out that morning. We skied back to the hut together, looking forward to the cheese fondue I had sitting in my pack.
Fun times on sketchy skin track descents
View of the hut from below
Lots of skis outside the full hut
 Dinner was three course affair, starting with cheese platters, sausage, our fondue and potato chips. Cooking for 18 people isn't easy at the best of times, especially not at a hut, but Kevin (our master chef) pulled it off and our starters were followed by a delicious pasta dinner. By the time the cookies and brownies were being passed around, I was stuffed. I am pretty sure I gained weight on this trip!
Party time!
The "hut hog" loves his mulled wine
Awesome dinner courtesy of Kevin
 As the night went on, there was vodka martinis, mulled wine, and a huge bucket of strawberry daiquiri, made to perfection with snow from outside. People trickled off to bed one by one which was accompanied by plenty of heckling by those still up. As it got later, conversations got more and more philosophical, as they tend to do in the backcountry. 
Bucket of strawberry daiquiri slush 
Warm cabin, lots of laughter and bright moonlight
 Sunday morning came too soon, but the was a group that hit the trail early to go look for some skiing. Most of us were content to have a leisurely breakfast before packing up to head home. The ski out was uneventful, but Kyle and I had grabbed a bag of climbing gear that we thought belonged to someone who had already left. When we caught up to him at the car, we realized that we had stolen Noels stuff! After a brief discussion, we decided to leave a note with the Breakeys and drop his stuff off at their place back in Calgary. It was a really fun weekend, and I made some new friends! I am looking forward to getting out and doing some actual skiing sometime really soon. 
After accidentally stealing Noels stuff, we had to figure out how to let him know where to find it

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Smith Rock

Somehow I got a week off! Kyle and I left the beautiful fall weather in Calgary and headed south with our fingers crossed that we weren't making a big mistake. Fortunately, it was even nicer in Oregon, with temperatures in the mid 20s and sunshine every day! We put in our long day of driving on Friday afternoon and slept in the Kennewick Walmart parking lot in our trailer. This made our drive on Saturday much more manageable and we pulled into River Rim RV park near Redmond Oregon early in the afternoon. This gave us time to set up camp, sample some local beverages and play disc golf. We cooked a thanksgiving dinner on the BBQ and camp stove, but had to retreat inside to finish the cooking when the wind picked up. We were in bed super early, eager for climbing at Smith Rock State Park.
Little american town - somewhere in central Oregon
We spent 4 days climbing in Smith Rock, repeating all the routes that Kyle had done when he came down with the alpine club in 2013. Most of our routes were multi-pitches and we only did one day of sport climbing because it was way more fun to climb cracks!
Chilly mornings at the RV Park
Mt. Jefferson in the background of the Monkey Face (very popular on a Sunday!)
Our first route of the trip was the most challenging. We did the West Face Variation Direct (5.8 Trad) up to the Pioneer Route on the Monkey Face (the landmark formation of Smith Rock). It was an eventful day and crazy busy on the route. High traffic combined with a late start made for a long day on the climb, but we had the fortune of watching a base jumper leap off the top and got to chat with some of the other climbers as we waited at the belay stations. I got to try aid climbing for the first time, which was much more difficult and frustrating than I had expected, but the views from the Monkey's mouth and from the top were totally worth it. Kyle and I topped out as the sun was low in the sky and we had the whole thing to ourselves. Suddenly he pulled out a ring!! I couldn't believe it!! I said, "are you kidding?! Of course!". What a way to start the trip.
A bit stunned and very happy

Celebrating at the top of the Monkey Face
Awesome rappel down as the sun was setting
The rest of the climbing flew by as we ticked off classic easy trade routes like Spiderman (5.7), In Harms Way (5.6), Super Slab 5.6) and Moscow (5.6 with a 5.7 variation). We also did a few fun sport multipitches; Wherever I May Roam (5.9) and First Kiss (5.8). We had great weather every day, met some really nice people, enjoyed local beer at Redpoint (the local climbing shop) and had a great time on the rocks. Smith Rock attracts a lot of climbers, base jumpers and high liners in addition to hikers and sightseers. People are drawn to Smith for the amazing formations, easy access, solid rock and beautiful scenery. It was an interesting mix of people, and I was surprised to hear that some people spend the whole season living at the bivouac near the climbing area. It made our RV Park life seem quite luxurious.
Spiderman (5.7 trad)
My new fiance rappelling down Spiderman
Kyle follows my bold 5.4 traverse on Super Slab
Hanging out at the top of Super Slab
High-liners are crazy!
Playing on the high-line
Fun in the sun at Smith
Kyle loves climbing! Dirty rope = dirty hands
Scrambling over Asterix Pass to get to the back side of the park
Fun with hand jams on Moscow
Not as much fun with off-width on Moscow
Kyle roams up Wherever I May Roam (5.9 Sport)

Moving around the crux corner of Wherever I May Roam
Amazing views over the Crooked River
 Climbing is not the only thing that Central Oregon has to offer. Bend has 16 craft breweries and lots of great mountain biking in the area. Our trip would not have been complete without checking out a few of the pubs. We combined an evening of biking at the Phils Trail System with a brewery tour at Deschutes for an excellent "rest day".
Kyle samples the local ales at Deschutes Brewery
Delicious beer
Deschutes brewery bottling assembly line
 We took a full day off climbing near the end of the trip to drive down to Willamette National Forest and ride Waldo Lake Loop, an IMBA epic. The trail was 20 miles long and only have 300 metres of climbing so we were able to get the ride done in just over four hours. The west side of the lake, where we started the loop, had the most technical riding, and the final 12-15 miles of the trail were fast and flowy. On the north shore of the lake, we rode through an area that a forest fire had burned in 1996. It was a very interesting landscape, much different than anywhere I have rode before. 
Waldo Lake Loop - IMBA Epic Ride
Waldo Lake
Excellent spot for a refreshing beverage
Old forest fire area on the Waldo Lake Loop
 Thanks to our early start that morning, we had some time to be tourists on our way back to camp. We stopped at Newberry Crater, hoping to enjoy the hotsprings but we never found them. Instead, we checked out an obsidian flow from an old volcano and drove up to the top of Paulina Peak where we were met with spectacular views of the surrounding area. We had an unexpectedly rewarding visit to the national monument despite the lava tunnel being closed for the season for bat hibernation.
Obsidian chunk in the lava flow at Newberry Crater
Paulina Lake from the top of Paulina Peak
Kyle checking out the obsidian flow with East Lake, Paulina Lake and the cinder cone in the background
 The trip was over far too soon, but we were able to squeeze in a few more activities, meeting up with Evan and his girlfriend for a hike in the Columbia Gorge before continuing up to Canada where we stopped for a bike ride in Fernie.
Kyle's favourite tree on our Columbia Gorge hike
Driving home on I 84 through the Columbia Gorge