April 28, 2008

Warrier Seizes Weekend

Chris and I left Boulder on Saturday morning for a day and a half of skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park. After skiing our packs up to Lake Haiyaha in Chaos Canyon, we dropped all our camping gear and proceeded to ski various chutes, gullies, and glades for the remainder of the day.

Our tracks after the first run.

Since the upper end of the canyon is part of the continental divide, and the ceaseless wind continuously blows snow from the west side of the divide to the east, we technically skied 'recycled' powder for this entire trip. The photo below demonstrates the this effect in action.

Recycled powder blowing over the continental divide into Chaos Canyon

It turned out the best skiing was right at treeline, near our camp, on northeast aspects that were somewhat protected from the wind. We made several laps in this zone, working our way down canyon to some chutes we had seen from our approach hike.

Our skiing on mellower slopes to this point helped us gain some confidence in the snowpack stability, so we deemed the steeper slopes in the Otis Redding Couloir on the northeast shoulder of Mt. Otis a reasonable ski descent.

Otis Redding Couloir

We skinned up the steep couloir just to the north of Otis Redding, leaving a well engineered skin track.

Skin track going up the right chute, ski tracks coming down the left chute

Skiing the steeper couloir was one of many highlights of the trip. Chris was kind enough to let me go first so I could then take pictures of him coming down after me. Making fresh tracks in such a beautiful couloir was heavenly.

We made it back to our camp, nearly exhausted, around dinner time. Dinner brought me back to life and we proceeded to melt snow to make water for the rest of the night before going to bed.

The next day we made a couple more runs in the area we determined had the best snow on the prior day. Our tracks from the day before were nearly filled in with recycled snow, so it was fresh tracks again. We were the only skiers in Chaos Canyon for the entire duration of our trip.

More ski tracks

We were back in Boulder by noon, just in time for me to make my date on Seal Rock with Melanie. Seal Rock is a prominent Flatiron that dominates the view from our house. As such, I have had troubles looking at it every morning with the knowledge that I had not climbed it. I knew of only one way to fix this problem.

It took Melanie and I 4.5 hours to hike from our house to the bottom of Seal Rock, climb to its summit, and return to our house. The luxury of climbing such splendid routes from your doorstep is one that is not taken for granted. We simul-climbed the route, a technique that neither of us had done before, which turned out to be as efficient as I had imagined. I led the first half of the route, while Melanie led the second half. The weather was great, and we had a terrific time on a splendidly fun route.

Mel starting the upper pitch

View from the top of Seal Rock

April 21, 2008

Action Packed Weekend

This weekend began on Friday night at a group birthday party / kegger for Ashley and 3 of her friends at work who also happen to have birthdays around this weekend. At the last minute (only a few hours before the party), Ashley and some of her friends decided to give the party an '80's theme. It's quite possible that Ashley and I ended up with the best costumes at the party. It was difficult not to dance to the 6.5 hour '80's dance music playlist that Ashley and I supplied.

(Photo requires no caption)

Mind Erasers for the birthday boys and girls

After sleeping in Saturday morning, I joined Sean and Alison on a backcountry ski day up at our local, now closed, ski resort. The weather was warm and sunny, creating genuine spring ski conditions.

Alison sporting an indefensible get-up on the slopes

On Sunday Sean and I embarked on a ski mountaineering trip. The goal was to ski up and back down 13,294 foot James Peak.

James Peak

Despite some moderately windy conditions, we successfully completed the climb and had an unexpectedly adventurous ski back down. The snow conditions were extremely variable, crusty, and difficult - leading to several crashes on the descent. To add to this, Sean was experimenting with his leather telemark boots. The benefit of these boots is that they are lighter and more comfortable, making them a reasonable choice for ski mountaineering. The drawback, which Sean found out after making his first turn from the top of the mountain, is that they are very difficult to ski in as they provide much less support than a plastic ski boot. Consequently, I think Sean spent more energy descending then he did going up. Next time he decides to try out some new gear, he claims he'll do it when he's not committed to a 3000 foot ski descent. Overall, we both had a great time and I thoroughly enjoyed watching some of Sean's acrobatic tumbles, as well as having a few of my own.

At the summit - check out that mustache!

April 13, 2008

San Diego

I just returned on Thursday from a trip to San Diego to attend a science conference. My lab attends this conference every year (last year it was in D.C.) with about 13,000 other scientists. I had a poster presentation on Wednesday that went well. The conference was held at the convention center in downtown San Diego, but some fellow co-workers who previously lived in the area decided it would be best for us to stay in Pacific Beach. So, we stayed in a hotel that was a 15 minute drive from downtown, but right on the beach. Although the water was too cold for swimming, I did take advantage of my surroundings by running on the beach nearly everyday and then soaking my feet in the ocean while I watched the surfers (7 hours in high heels plus running in the sand starts to make the feet ache).

Pacific Beach

We arrived a day early, so we could spend most of Saturday afternoon at the Wild Animal Park. At the Wild Animal Park most animals live on the Savanna, rather than in cages like at the zoo. Jessica, one of my fellow grad students, has an aunt, Barb, who works at Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES) located at the Park. Barb gave us an awesome tour of CRES. Barb is a reproductive physiologist, so we got to learn all we could ever want to know about assisted reproduction for endangered animals. On the tour, we got to see the lab facilities (exciting to us scientists) and see the ultrasound of a frog to look for eggs (exciting to us who work with ultrasound). I think we may have witnessed the first sign (i.e., eggs) that they are successfully breeding this endangered frog species.

I guess the Jeep makes it feel like a safari?

We also went up to La Jolla one morning to see the baby seals. I took our old camera, so my pictures aren't very good and you will just have to trust me that there are babies on the beach.

The beach at La Jolla


More seals

All-in-all the trip was fantastic. I learned some new things at the conference, ate a lot of good Mexican food as well as some yummy fish (hard to get in the land locked state of Colorado), and stayed up too late every night causing me to suffer from severe lack of sleep that I am still recovering from.

Sunset at Pacific Beach

No More Ski Lifts

Just when the skiing in Colorado reaches its peak, all the resorts shut down. I heard various explanations for this, such as the forest service requires the resorts to shut down for elk breeding, and that the contracts with all the seasonal employees terminate in the middle of April. At any rate, the last day of the ski season for nearly every ski resort in the state was today. As a direct result and in anticipation of this, I skied at Eldora on Friday, Arapahoe Basin on Saturday, and again at Eldora on Sunday.

Friday at Eldora was one of the best days at the resort I've ever experienced. There was 6 to 12+ inches of fresh snow over a base that covered a large percentage of the rocks (unusual for Eldora). To top it off, there was no wind and enough clouds to prevent a sunburn.

Saturday at A-Basin was a celebration of "Thrift Store Day". Despite the ensuing snow storm, most of the people at the resort were dressed in costume and partying heavily on the beach, a strip of parking spots right along the edge of the ski area.

Ashley (The Canadian) and Jessica (Bjork)

Tony, Ryan, and Jim

Ashley and I attended this 'event' with a bunch of Ashley's friends from work and some other acquaintances. The snow was great, but the skiing took a back seat to the festivities, which included a Chinese Downhill race, fashion show, live music, hot tub, slip-and-slide, etc.

Going with the philosophy, "If it's not in style now, it probably was at some point, therefor it's retro."

It was a super fun day with the only two downsides being my crash into a snowbank on the way to the mountain and the severe facial sunburn I received despite the fact that the majority of the day we were in a blizzard.

On Sunday Ashley and I went to Eldora with Sean and Allison to be a part of the season-ending day. Once again, this is cause for dressing up in costume, and my favorite ski costume involves my traditional Scottish Highlands Kilt.

The Scottsman

Ashley skiing in a dress

There was a dramatic change in weather this day, which was sunny and quite warm (yes, I took the initiative to put sunscreen on today). We arrived at the mountain at noon and skied two runs before having a BBQ in the parking lot. Post BBQ we skied a few more runs before saying a sad good-bye to our ski area at the 4:00 closing.

Grilling in the parking lot

The good news is that spring skiing in the backcountry is just starting, and I anticipate having many more good ski days before storing the skis for the summer!

April 06, 2008

The Polar Star Inn

On Friday evening Keith and I skied into a 10th Mountain Division Hut that our friends had booked for the weekend. The ski in was roughly 7 miles and a little over 2000 vertical feet. It lies just above 11,000 feet immediately west of the Holy Cross Wilderness in the White River National Forest. I had previously heard about how fancy and luxurious these 10th Mountain Division Huts were, and it lived up to expectations.

The Polar Star Inn

The trip focused on backcountry skiing, of which we had several magnificent runs, but with nearly a dozen of us staying at the hut, the weekend was not without its share of shenanigans. One of the highlights was a bobsled course beginning at the peak of the roof. I managed a ski run down the course (as well as a few sled rides), and found the crux to be getting to the peak of the roof with my skis on.

Another highlight was the beverage induced competition of "eat the bag". I'm not sure what the name of this really is, but the idea is that you bend down and pick up a paper bag in your teeth while standing on one foot. Each successive round involves about an inch of the bag being removed, making it increasingly difficult to pluck the bag from the ground with your teeth.

Me enroute to a 1st place tie with Allison

In addition to a gas stove, the kitchen also contained a wood stove. Keith used this on Sunday morning to cook a nice breakfast of pancakes and sausage. I helped tend the fire.

Since it snowed a few inches on Saturday night, we had to hike up and ski the hill, York Mountain, behind the hut a few more times after breakfast and before skiing out on Sunday. The skiing was great on Saturday and even better on Sunday. There's just nothing like making earned turns in backcountry powder.

Andy, Matt, and Keith getting ready for yet another run down York Mountain.

Me enjoying some Sunday morning "spiritual" freshies