The north face and its springtime bunny ears are a siren call to glisse mountaineers here in town based on a mix of accessibility, appearance, and the mountain’s ski history. Names such as Tom Jungst, Doug Coombs, Hans Saari, and Alex Lowe are just a few that come to mind. Also, ski touring this winter has provided a great aerobic base as well as strong legs for an easier transition into spring ultra marathon training. So why not give thanks to mountain running by skiing the mountains – and visa versa?! I hope to get some summer skiing in but until then I’ll probably be running the trails these last few weeks in prep for the summer-opening Old Gabe 50k. Pretty psyched for it! Anyway, here’s my recent Blackmore trip in photos and some standout gear notes below:
Gear Highlights – all of the below has been with me for many miles and thousands of vert over the course of months to years. It was also all used on this trip to Blackmore. Buyer beware:
Sportiva GTR with Plum Race 145. Mounted 2cm forward. Awesome.
Dynafit TLT6 P. No tongue or powerstrap. The gold standard of LW touring boots.
BD Whippet. A little extra security goes a long ways. For the up & the down.
RAB Fusion pant. Hybrid of Neoshell and Matrix softshell. My go-to touring pant.
RAB Boreas Pull-On. 4-way stretch UL softshell/windshirt. Highly functional mid/outerlayer.
Patagonia Houdini. Simple nylon windshirt. One of my most used pieces over the last five years.
RAB VR Tour Glove. Super breathable two-ply softshell with a Pittards leather palm. So very nice.
Thanks as always for checking in and please do enjoy yourselves out there!
I’ve been out on my AT gear a bunch recently, with a few fruitful outings to some gorgeous alpine and subalpine terrain. Snowpack here in SW Montana has been quite deep but variable depending on locale and the Bridgers have been the most consistent and stable lately. Not as much snow as Cooke City (!!!) but a bit more stable and still very deep. So home is where I’ve spent quite a bit of time, putting in the miles and vert on a variety of ski setups.
This season, the Voile Vector has replaced my trusty Dynafit Manaslu as my quiver-of-one and the Vector has since been by go-to plank for the majority of my skiing. The TLT6 P has also replaced my TLT5 Mtn as my one boot to-do-it-most. Arguably all changes for the better. My recent quiver has consisted of a skinny(er), a mid, and a fat(ter):
While the surfy Huascaran wins on the deep snow fun-o-meter, the Vector wins on the universal touring front, and the GTR wins on the LW skimo spectrum. I’m talking about a quiver, and this entails specific pieces of equipment to adequately cover a variety of terrains/conditions – from meter deep cold smoke to rock speckled and icy spring couloirs. Pick and choose your optimal tool for the terrain is the theory I’m going with here.
Anything less than boot-top and my touring requirements often trend towards an all-terrain ski such as the Voile Vector or a similarly profiled and weighted ski. This is ideally somewhere around mid-90s underfoot with a bit of early rise/tip rocker, mid camber, and possibly some tail rocker. In addition to the Manaslu and the Vector, a DPS Wailer 99 may be a great example of this all-mountain quiver of one. Regardless of brand, a ski at 1100-1500g apiece that fits in the 90-ish mm waist range should do nicely when paired with a LW tech binding.
A step down from the Vector and we hit the skimo/ fitness ski in the 70’s or 80’s underfoot. One could even go skinnier if they really wanted but a bit of ski goes a long way with the current lightweight ‘low-fat’ offerings. Unless it is for racing, of course. My latest low-fat is the Sportiva GTR at 82mm underfoot. This thin side of of the quiver is often used for long traverses and exploratory missions, spring corn, and ski-mountaineering objectives. While not the Huascaran, it is not meant to be. I truly enjoy having a LW ski that skis well and there is now quite a variety in this category, such as the recently lauded Dyanfit Cho Oyu and the Movement Response-X. I’ve got my eyes on a pair of 174 Chos so I’ll keep you posted once they’re mounted and skied.
Until then, I’ll continue to daydream about the long-off Montana summer trail runs and relish in the few months of snow that remain. I just had knee to thigh deep turns just outside of town so I’ll pause a moment and appreciate the fun while it lasts. Immaculate tree skiing in the best of snow and the fading of the day’s light. I must give a nod of respect to both Dynafit and Voile for their respective market leadership and innovation. I’m absolutely loving it all.
Over the last few days Julia and I have spent a night in the Yellowstone backcountry and then for the New Year, an overnight at the Fox Creek cabin in the northern Gallatin range. Both trips have been via metal-edged XC skis with lightweight packs over easy to advanced terrain. For such outings we’re both on Fischer S-Bound series skis with 56mm NNN manual bindings paired with this season’s Fischer Offtrack 3 BC boots. These particular setups do have their shortcomings (flimsy plastic bindings, lack of much downhill control) but the compromises and limitations are OK so long as they are used in the proper conditions. The fore-aft efficiency of movement with these XC ski rigs is great though and for that we are appreciative. We probably aren’t going to push them too far based on previous breakage issues – hence an eight mile YNP round trip and a twelve mile ski to Fox Creek and back.
The overnight in Yellowstone was quite sublime with us experiencing a nice range of weather from bluebird to blowing and snowing. And waking to the sound of wolves howling is fairly unique in the lower 48. Skiing amongst huge bison is also quite fun, until a small herd sneaks up on you. While skiing along the Slough Creek trail, which is also a bison freeway, I joked that it be funny if we encountered a herd along the narrow corridor of a trail that we were attempting to ski up. And sure enough, on the way down I turned around only to see a bison jam directly behind Julia. I can only imagine what those huge beasts were thinking upon seeing us flailing down their path on skinny skis! So we politely stepped aside behind some convenient boulders and watched as they passed by to the valley. Not your everyday traffic jam to say the least.
Our next backcountry outing was on New Year’s eve to the Fox Creek Forest Service cabin which is located six or more miles out the S. Cottonwood Creek drainage near Bozeman. Unless you really have to, don’t pay for the cabin is my recommendation for future parties. I’ve stayed in plenty of cabins – hell, I grew up in one, but this one takes the cake. Not in a good way. From the broken windows, rancid cots, and the overflowing outhouse, to the likelihood of hantavirus and the highly hazardous wood stove, it was not worth a red cent. But the experience is most of it, and we somehow made it work with a crackling fire, homemade mulled wine (!), homemade fish pie and garlic baguette, chocolate, and some bubbly to ring in the 2014 New Year. Here’s to hoping that you all had a lovely 2013 and wishing everyone a wonderful 2014! Keep calm, keep crushing, keep pushing, and keep carrying on.
A couple friends and myself went on an exploratory ski touring mission into the Tobacco Root Mountains yesterday. We’ve experienced a 50°F swing in temps over the last week or so, with the last few mornings at -20°F. Snow conditions have also fluctuated drastically, with a early-week storm that dropped over 15″ of fresh in some of the surrounding mountains.
Just the conditions I have been waiting for to give my new 177 Dynafit Huascaran skis (112 underfoot) a go. Mounted with toe-shimmed Speed Radicals and paired with Dynafit Speed Skins and TLT6 Performance boots, the setup is both fat and light. A dream for backcountry powder, as this week has confirmed. For reference sake I’ve put over 11,000 vertical feet on the Huascarans since the beginning of December, and over 16,000′ of BC touring so far this month. Anyway, enough tech and specs – on to skiing!
We set off in below zero degree temps and freezing fog, in hopes that we were in an inversion and that the alpine would be warmer and clear. The approach begins on a 4WD road through the tiny Petosi Hot Springs area until the road dissolves into a snow machine track. Nothing a 4runner and some chains can’t handle. We then spent the next few miles skinning the sled track until it went no farther. And into trailbreaking mode we went.
Well over two hours into it and nearly six miles of skinning, we reached the Bell Lake Yurt and the amazing alpine zone that surrounds the basin. The weather gods looked to be smiling upon us with the yurt’s thermometer reading nearly 8°F and the skies slowly clearing. A bald eagle soared overhead while we took a moment to sip tea and snack at the closed yurt. Steep couloir terrain abounds back in this area, but early season continental snow pack relegated us to an easier objective of mostly tree skiing off of Long Mountain (10178′).
We put a track up through the trees and the south ridge before summiting at 3PM to sunny and windless skies. Our descent consisted of a few bony sections traversing the east ridge before dropping into the subalpine fir and the oh-so-tasty whitebark pine forest. The snow was perfectly light and sufficiently deep (12″+) as we dropped over 2000′ back to our approach track. Hoots and hollers from all of us – with only the wildlife to hear us back this far in the hills. What an absolutely stunning and successful recon mission! We safely made it back to the truck before dark and rallied back to town with grins on our faces.