And so it begins

Mountain tops and goat tracks. Bluebird days with friends. Divide Peak, Gallatins.

Mountain tops and goat tracks. Bluebird days with friends. Divide Peak, Gallatins.


Once again. The snow has laid down just enough cover in the mountains, and the ice has come in quite nicely so far. Vert is being logged on skis and with ice tools. While winter proper is still about a month away, it has started all the same…let the games begin!
Mark McAlpine leading the way. November in Hyalite.

Mark McAlpine leading the way. November in Hyalite.


Early season powder. Before the requisite early season thrash of an exit. (Photo: Adam Pohl)

Early season powder. Before the requisite early season thrash of an exit. (Photo: Adam Pohl)

Summer ’15 mountain running adventures

The Beaten Path in its early season splendor

The Beaten Path in its early season splendor

Well, well. After a full summer’s hiatus from the old blog I am back to share with you some personal highlights of the summer season here near home in SW Montana and beyond. Some technical WordPress difficulties led me to discard a midsummer 1000+ word recap of my longest race to date (53 miles) but I’ll do my best to decant some of that here in the near future. In short, 50 miles is a lot longer than 30 🙂

Somewhere during the 2015 HURL Elkhorn 50M, sometime before things got really real

Somewhere during the 2015 HURL Elkhorn 50M, sometime before things got really real

The main theme that unfolded for the warm season has been mountain traverses and ridge running for long distance training – both single-push days and planned overnights with tiny packs/vests. Fun, big weekend objectives with moderate mid-week training led to an avg of 40 mile/10,000′ weeks from June through Sept. Both my mileage and vertical gain ramped up incrementally (and slowly) through the summer as strength and weather joined forces. This training revolved around three mountain ultras – an Old Gabe 50K early summer tune up, the HURL Elkhorn 50M mid summer main event and lastly, The Rut 50K end of summer celebration. All of these runs are heavy on the vert with each over 10K’ on the up, hence the emphasis on such in my training. This proved to translate well, thankfully.

Myself and RD, Steve at the HURL Elkhorn 50M finish

Myself and RD, Steve at the HURL Elkhorn 50M finish

This summer has been spectacular for high mountain adventures and the segue into autumn has been most pleasant with an abundance of sun, warmth, and limited precip. A bit of end-of-summer snow fell here at Sept’s finish, but nothing to shut down sneakers in the high country. Recent snow will certainly linger on some aspects until winter lays its white brushstrokes again… but until then I’m into soaking in as many golds and bronzes as I can.

After a Beartooth night beneath Medicine and Castle

After a Beartooth night beneath Medicine and Castle

Here’s a quick recap of this summer-into-fall highlights for me. Most of the distance/elevation stats came from my Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch. Thus, variance is to be expected. In chronological order:

Beartooth: Beaten Path from East Rosebud to Cooke City. July – 26 miles, 5000′.

Jonah, into the clouds on the Beaten Path

Jonah, into the clouds on the Beaten Path

Gallatin: Mt Blackmore to Hyalite Pk high route. July – 18 miles, 6700′.

Adam on the Hyalite high route

Adam on the Hyalite high route

GTNP: Paintbrush/Cascade Canyon loop. August – 20 miles, 4300′.

Julia nearing the top of Paintbrush Divide. And check out that rockslide splitting the tarn below!

Julia nearing the top of Paintbrush Divide. And check out that rockslide splitting the tarn below!

-Bridger: High ridge traverse from Morgan Cemetary to the ‘M’ (Overnight). September – 35 miles, 17,000′.

Adam on the full Bridger Ridge traverse. Windy was an understatement.

Adam on the full Bridger Ridge traverse. Windy was an understatement.

-Crazy: Big Timber Canyon to Cottonwood traverse (Overnight). September – 23 miles, 6200′.

Sarah, Adam, and myself early on in the Crazy traverse (pic: J)

Sarah, Adam, and myself early on in the Crazy traverse (pic: J)

-Gallatin: Devil’s Backbone (Gallatin Crest) Portal Creek to Grotto Falls high traverse. October – 25 miles, 6100′.

Julia mid-route on the Devil's Backbone - highly recommended

Julia mid-route on the Devil’s Backbone – highly recommended

Julia and I also spent quite a few starry nights out in the alpine whenever we could. We actually bivied more than spending time in a tent this year, learning from it and giving more opportunity to practice astro and night photography. I’ve got a lot to learn in this discipline but am really stoked on some preliminary results.

A new moon, the milky way and sleeping under the stars in the Tetons

A new moon, the milky way and sleeping under the stars in the Tetons


Shadows of giants

Shadows of giants

As always, I’m super thankful for the support that I receive from friends, family, sponsors, and those of you out there on the internets/the gram/the whatever/ that are filling the well, one drop at a time. I’m looking forward to Hyalite ice coming in here shortly and to the (hopefully) ridiculously deep winter that will follow. Cheers, folks!

Elation expressed on a summit nearing the end of a fine day on the Gallatin Crest. With the best running partner ever - my wife. Thanks Julia for being the raddest! (and for the snap!)

Elation expressed on a summit nearing the end of a fine day on the Gallatin Crest. With the best running partner ever – my wife. Thanks Julia for being the raddest! (and for the snap!)

Transitions

Not too bad of a view - the Tetons on Julia's Birthday

Not too bad of a view – the Tetons on Julia’s Birthday


As the days now grow shorter (yet again, how crazy!), I reflect upon a winter and spring that brought new peaks, new lines, and an abundance of good skiing. Julia and I recently got back from the Tetons where I put in a last hoorah of sorts for the season on skis. Had to hike em 2700′ before skinning but I still eked out a couple K’ of big mountain corn skiing. And we got to celebrate J’s 30th B-Day in one of our most favorite places!

Not a bad place to bivy. Julia and the Middle Teton

Not a bad place to bivy. Julia and the Middle Teton


Iceflow Lake and into Idaho

Iceflow Lake and into Idaho

It’s now running season for me – having just completed the Old Gabe 50K for my second year and looking forward to a couple other mountain ultras before the short lived Montana alpine running season is re-blanketed in white. For the few months of summer that we have here, I do my best to run the hills as much as possible. But when I feel the need to ski, there’s usually snow to be found if you walk far and high enough.

About 30K into the 2015 Old Gabe 50K. Thanks for the morale boost Julia!

About 30K into the 2015 Old Gabe 50K. Thanks for the morale boost Julia!

Skiing off of the Middle Teton. Photo: Julia

Skiing off of the Middle Teton. Photo: Julia


The flowers are out and stunning as usual. Wildlife is moving about. Things are generally opening up in the high country and the trails are mostly runnable. Not a complaint here. I hope that the solstice was enjoyable and the ensuing summer treats you all the best!
A colorful explosion in my own backyard at June's end

A colorful explosion in my own backyard at June’s end

A Teton birthday grizz

A Teton birthday grizz

It makes one quiver

A quiet moment in the backcountry.

A quiet moment in the backcountry


As spring arrives here a bit early I thought it would be a good time to revisit the skis I’ve been on over the last year or two. Last season, I chimed in on what variety of skis I was utilizing for various human powered backcountry adventures. Again, I have found myself with a similar quiver and corresponding outlook on such setups. Not much has changed but I’ve been on a bunch of skis in the interim – some good, some bad, and some indifferent. Luckily, I have a ski partner who has the same BSL as me, which has helped facilitate the amount of ski testing I’ve had access to over the last few years.

Said ski partner, Adam, high in the Crazy Mountains

Said ski partner, Adam, high in the Crazy Mountains

For a quick background, I am 5’10”, 145lbs. I love big mountains and fast lines but more often than not, do my fair share of wiggle turns. Bridger Bowl is my hometown ski area although I’m usually there in the pre/post-season. My average day is somewhere between 3000′ and 7000′ vert in the 5-15 mile range here in Montana and Wyoming. Going into spring, this season has me at over 50 days of backcountry skiing with hundreds of miles and hundreds of thousands vertical feet. October-July is usually our season with everything from knee+ deep cold smoke to spring corn and all points between. Most of the winter here often entails some form of deep powder skiing.

Snorkeling. JaPOW?! Nope, just some mid-winter MT blower

Snorkeling. JaPOW?! Nope, just some mid-winter MT blower

An equally important piece of the pie, I ski on a couple different boots and bindings. Some of this is dictated by cost and/or availability but it all is part of a system. I use a mix of bindings – all tech (Dynafit) style. Currently I have a some Plum race bindings, Dynafit Speed Superlights, and Speed Radical toes/Speed Turn heels. For boots, this is my second season on the TLT6 Performance. I can’t say enough good about this boot, with a few minor nitpicks (cuff pivot!) that have already been hashed out on WildSnow/TGR. I’ve also just taken the plunge, and snagged some Aliens. No, not the 1.0, but a damn light and sneaker-like ski shoe all the same. My horizons just may have been expanded yet again.

Aliens, GTR, and sastrugi. Going up

Aliens, GTR, and sastrugi. Going up

On to the ski quiver. I’ll start with the skinny and work my way to the fat. I’ll also include skis I’ve skied over this last year but don’t currently own.
(My current quiver of three will each have an * to denote).

Myself on a Montana classic, close to home. Photo courtesy Jon Cummins

Myself on a Montana classic, close to home. Photo courtesy Jon Cummins

SPECS:

[Sidecut (mm), Mfg spec weight per ski (g), Turn radius (m), My verified weight per ski (g)]

Dynafit Cho Oyu 174 (125-88-111, 1190g, 16-12-15, 1208g)
Sportiva GTR 168* (114-82-104, 1250g, 22, 1253g)
Voile Vector 180 (121-96-110, 1560g, 23, 1550g)
Voile V6 173* (121-98-107, 1499g, 18, 1503g)
Voile V6 183 (124-100-109, 1675g, 19, 1698g)
Dynafit Huascaran 177* (134-112-123, 1780g, 35-19-30, 1794g)

Adam styling a surfy exit from another MT classic

Adam styling a surfy exit from another MT classic

As I had considered about a year ago, I broke down and purchased the much hyped Dynafit Cho Oyu in a 174cm length late last season (13/14). Skied it a bunch of times and couldn’t wait to sell em. Mounted center with Speed Superlights and rear adjustment plates. The Cho was a squirrely ride, even in near perfect boot top pow. My aforementioned ski partner, Adam, also skied them in the same great conditions on the same slopes/aspects and came to the same conclusion as I. Despite this I continued to try to make them work in various terrain but was time and time again left unimpressed. That’s the game though – can’t really know until you try. I’m sure the Cho works for some, but not for me. I believe that Coast Steep Skier has used them in dicier conditions than I’ll ever ski, so please take my dislike for this ski with a grain of salt.

Adam skiing the Cho's smaller more stable sibling - Seven Summits 2.0 on ice

Adam skiing the Cho’s smaller more stable sibling – Seven Summits 2.0 on ice

So moving on to what works for me: Sportiva’s GTR (168)

La Sportiva GTR 168. On the up

La Sportiva GTR 168. On the up


Bomber. My go-to “edged alpinism” ski. As a nod to the GTR, both myself and Adam have owned/extensively skied the GTR and give it high praise. Steady, stable and fairly traditional. A bit of tip rocker and a straight tail. Not super light, but not porky either. And damn dear shreddable in most terrain. Also, now discontinued if I’ve done my math correct. I guess I’m a bit late for the boat but am nonetheless stoked on this inaugural ski from Sportiva. A keeper.

Other thoughts on the GTR:
skimolife
Cold Thistle

The best of show/workhorse: Voile Vector (180)

Voile Vector 180. Handheld with real camera on the fly

Voile Vector 180. Handheld with real camera on the fly

Lots of previous internet thoughts on this rad little number. Get it, ride it, shred it. Smile. And repeat. Thank you Voile.
I skied two pairs over the course of three years and have not a bad word against the Vector. A great balance between weight, durability, and ski-ability. In all reasonable terrain. From steep lines to spring corn, this handles everything but the very deepest. I believe it demands more from the skier than the V6 but the results can be quite pleasant. It’s definitely not as playful as the V6 but it still has enough rocker to make it surf when need be. My trusty workhorse.

Voile V6 (173 and 183)

Voile V6 173. Late season skinning with bear spray

Voile V6 173. Late season skinning with bear spray


I snagged a couple of these in different lengths and ended up settling on the shorter 173 as my quiver of one length. The 183 was a better length for my style of skiing but I made a choice and learned my lesson. The 173 has been seeing use this end of winter and into spring as what I thought would be a wider and lighter replacement to the 180 Vector. I was also wrong in this assumption.
Voile V6 up in the Tobacco Roots

Voile V6 up in the Tobacco Roots


Both the Vector and the V6 have characteristics that make them unique skis in the quiver. I should’ve known but had to ski it to believe it. The larger turn radius and narrower profile of the Vector I find to be better suited for ski mountaineering and opening up the throttle, while the playfully shorter radius and wider platform of the V6 makes it better suited for treed powder and trickier, variable snow. Although I’ve skied some steeper technical lines with the V6, I would likely choose the Vector for said terrain given another round.

Last but not least, the venerable land shark: Dynafit Huascaran (177)

Dynafit 177 Huascaran. Looking down at two very memorable solo lines. The next photo gives some perspective

Dynafit 177 Huascaran. Looking down at two very memorable solo lines. The next photo gives some perspective


If there is a quantity of snow, this beast of a lightweight plank keeps me grinning all day long. Two years of use and I’m sold. They turn big, turn small, shuck and jive when needed, and smear like a modern 5-point ski is supposed to. I have to really try to break their speed limit in deep snow – which is quite pleasant for such a relatively short ski. Too bad that Dynafit is doing away with this offering and replacing it with a more “freeride” (read: HEAVY) oriented ski. Oh well, at least these exist and should now be on steep discount online. Get em while you can!

First of two deep btb north face lines. Huascaran and my signature

First of two deep btb north face lines. Huascaran and my signature

In a nutshell, ski it and find out. After, of course, sufficiently exhausting your online resources for pre-game honing. Then, go spend some of that hard-earned loot and forget that it ever existed! Human powered bc skiing is far more valuable than any monetary figure (obviously) and I’m pretty enamored with the whole process (again, obviously). Despite a quirky snow season here, this ski year has brought me more skiing and more summits/lines than I could have imagined. I hope that yours was just as enjoyable and that spring brings what you are looking for!

Summit bunny dance!

Summit bunny dance!

Adam one fine winter's day

Adam one fine winter’s day

A Grand Canyon winter run

Looking north. The one and only, The Grand Canyon

Looking north. The one and only, The Grand Canyon

A week off and a short flight recently brought Julia and I southbound, to one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Grand Canyon. After a bit of pre-trip planning, we concluded that car camping on the South Rim and venturing out for a couple of runs would be an effective way to see a lot of the canyon in our short 3-night January stay. This was my second trip in over a decade and Julia’s first glimpse of the area. The inexpensive flights came with the small price of landing us in Phoenix, where we rented a car and then drove north, through Flagstaff and onto the canyon. We didn’t mind at all, as we drove through the desert and iconic Saguaro on the way to higher, colder elevations.

Julia amongst the big Arizona Saguaro

Julia amongst the big Arizona Saguaro


Sunset just north of Flagstaff (photo: J)

Sunset just north of Flagstaff (photo: J)


We arrived in the dark on our first night, and embraced the cold evening with a nice campsite fire after enjoying a margarita and our second Mexican meal of the day. We awoke well before dawn the next morning to run the South Kaibab to Bright Angel. Our proposed round-trip to the canyon bottom and back was to be a bit over 16 miles with the 5000′ descent being mostly along the steeper and more direct South Kaibab ridge. Coming up the Bright Angel is a different experience altogether, with it being less steeply graded and a lot more wet. There are a few springs and even waterfalls at this time of year along the BA. It is quite the vibrant side canyon, providing a great counterpoint to the dry South Kaibab.

Looking down along the iconic South Kaibob trail

Looking down along the iconic South Kaibob trail


One of many water crossings in the Bright Angel side canyon (photo: J)

One of many water crossings in the Bright Angel side canyon (photo: J)


Bright Angel watershed (photo: J)

Bright Angel watershed (photo: J)


We ended up adding a few miles to our trip by rallying out to Plateau Point. Once refueled and rehydrated at the verdant oasis of Indian Garden, we agreed that this little side-trip was pretty much obligatory given that we had already come this far. It’s not that often to get these trails mainly to ourselves and in great running condition. So three more miles of sublime desert single track and a direct overlook of the muddy Colorado was our fine reward.

Julia running superb singletrack en route to Plateau Point

Julia running superb singletrack en route to Plateau Point

The muddy Colorado from Plateau Point

The muddy Colorado from Plateau Point

After our brief detour, it was onward and upward for the last five miles and 3000′. Fairly reasonable given the many mule switchbacks that lazily wind their way to the South Rim. By this time we could feel the legs starting to weigh but the scenery and solitude in such ridiculously outlandish country was enough to sustain. The last stretch went by easily and with much appreciation for the day. I’d like to give a big word of congrats to Julia for cruising on her longest run to date. Twenty miles in total and an experience not to be forgotten. Well done, J!

Julia. On the way to her longest run yet

Julia. On the way to her longest run yet

We experienced temps ranging from highs in the 50°s F to lows in the 20°s. From bluebird to overcast and even a a couple inches of snow fell one evening. Perfect running and hiking weather for the Canyon. Both Julia and myself used running vests from Ultimate Direction, much to our satisfaction. In these we carried wind pants and wind shirts, nanospikes, gloves and buffs, fuel for the day (mostly chews, gels, and bars), P&S camera, a liter of water apiece in soft-sided bottles (refilled along the way), a map, and a small emergency/FAK.

Julia along the Colorado. UD Ultra Vesta in tow

Julia along the Colorado. UD Ultra Vesta in tow

The only bit we didn’t need were the nanospikes, as nearly all of the trails that we encountered were free from snow and ice. Truly a pleasure. We did some hiking, sightseeing, and good eating for the remaining two days along the South Rim. Took in as much as we feasibly could during our short stay in such a large and intricate place. It was a wonderful trip and one that I imagine will trickle back to us for years to come.

In duplicate. Along the North Kaibob trail (photo: J)

In duplicate. Along the North Kaibob trail (photo: J)

Sightseeing. Desert View (photo: J)

Sightseeing. Desert View (photo: J)

Westward from Hermit's Rest. Look close, the Colorado's down there

Westward from Hermit’s Rest. Look close, the Colorado’s down there