Monday, July 18, 2016

It's All About What We Value or, "Fu*% the front yard, Fu*% the front yard, Fu*& em" (sung to Fu&* the Police)

A man way too happy with his lawn.
Listening: Ani DiFranco
Drinking: High West Double Rye

I was given an exercise once to help manage my anxiety. It involved drawing a circle on a piece of paper and putting the things I value most in that circle. Then, draw a concentric circle around those things and add in more things you value, but to a lesser degree than your original circle. This "circle" of values diagram is designed to get you thinking about your priorities, clarifying your focus when you feel overwhelmed.

In order to be healthy, my center circle of highly valued things should not be a large list. If it overflows, then I need to push some things out of that circle and into an outer circle. And consequently, I may need to push things out of that next circle. This continues until you have a distilled hierarchy of priorities.
Circle of Vales Summer of 2016

I wish this was something I had done throughout my life. It would be interesting to see the changes in my values over my lifetime. I can tell you that since moving into my new house in the spring of 2015, I pushed lawn care out in to the far reaches of those circles, somewhere between finding the perfect low calorie beer and playing Pokemon Go.

Keeping a lush, green lawn was never really in my center circle, but last summer it became a frequent excuse to not ride my bike. Now that I've decided to ride in the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, I realize that so long as my front yard doesn't become mistaken for The Grapes of Wrath, I'm OK. As a friend of mine recently pointed out as we stared at the streak of pale yellow grass in my backyard which I affectionately call the Sahara Strip, it's pretty irresponsible to not have some yellow grass in the west. We do live in a desert after all.
That's the green lawn I seek. Courtesy Jared Hargrave and

So that's the point of this return to blogging, to focus on the things in my center circle; cycling and writing being two of them. That may mean a bit of sacrifice in the arena of perfectionism that has held me back in the past, but when I see that most of this country is looking for bon mots from Donald Trump and Kim Kardashians' navel gazing for some reason, what harm is there in throwing out a few less than erudite rants a couple times per week?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I Open My Presents Christmas Morning

Freuliche Weinachten. Ist eine Powdah DAY!
Most people under the age of having a heating bill in their name likely equate winter to two things: Christmas and Winter Break, unless you grew up in Wisconsin. Then you had three things on your mind during the end of the year: Christmas, Winter Break and figuring out what recess activities could distract you from the fact that the two pairs of socks, Roman Meal bread bags and Sorels wrapped around your feet were no match for the arctic cold which turned every kickball game into  a reenactment of the 1967 NFL Championship game. When a national sportscasters describes the frosty conditions of the game (dubbed the Ice Bowl), I picture the entire state of Wisconsin saying, “Yeah, and…?” So with that in mind, it’s with great disappointment that I have to share this detail from my great Christmas break weekend of skiing at Alta. I was cold.

This probably isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned how spoiled Utahns are when it comes to winter… and I guarantee you it won’t be the last. Show me a Beehive state native that complains about winter and I’ll wager that a) they also complain about the heat in the summer  and b) they don’t ski. That is where I have been spoiled. Years of skiing in the harsh environs of the midwest and east coast bore an appreciation of the banana belt conditions in the Wasatch. I love winter here. Snow dumps in the mountains and I never go more than a week without seeing my lawn. However, when the temp drops like it did in the wake of this awesome storm we got for Christmas, even I get a little frosty.

Santa brought a rather unique gift for me. A powder day combined with a day off. When I got up Christmas morning, I shoveled at least 4” off my driveway. “Think what it’s like up on Alta,” I thought. “The skis were p-texed and ready to go and my father-in-law and I harvested soft laps off Wildcat most of the morning. When he left before noon to spend time with the family (yeah, I know, what’s that all about), I stayed and wore my legs out skiing until 2:30 when the winds picked up and the visibility dropped. I was so elated with the day that later that night when my friend texted me about skiing Saturday as well, I couldn’t say no. This was another rare conflagration of factors: day off, fresh snow and Jared, the newly minted father, had the day to ski as he wished, (yeah, I know that family thing again, notice a trend?) Unlike Christmas Day, the day after Christmas was clear and cold. Temps on top of Collins were starting the day below 0 and suddenly it occurred to me that the insulated jacket I often complain is too warm for skiing would have been perfect on this day.

Skiing after a storm cycle that hit the Wasatch with such velocity meant much of the resort was closed. All around us were pristine untracked slopes roped off like the VIP lounge. Because I knew Jared’s ski days are diminishing  due to non-ski obligations, my hope was that at least one set of velvet ropes would be lifted before we called it a day. A few early hikes up the ridge beyond Wildcat yielded some great floaty turns, but everything off the shoulder was still roped off. Ballroom, Backside and Catherines all closed as well… and with good reason. The volume of this storm was more than our shitty snowpack could take and patrol had to be cautious. When we shared a chair ride with a rather burnt out skier who kept interrogating the patroller sharing our chair, I had to hold back laughter when he asked if they might open up East Castle or Main Chute. Stupid questions like that from are probably why Alta patrol has a reputation for being gruff.
Jared makes the most of a short hike from Wildcat

The clock got closer to 2pm and there was little hope that Catherine’s would open by the end of the day, but while we rode up Sugarloaf, we saw skiers coming down Chartreuse Nose, the rocky spine that runs underneath the chair.  These were powder starved skiers devouring the terrain like locusts; and who could blame them. They were also, to a great majority, powder illiterate. Picking out tourists at Alta isn’t hard. If the clothing and difficulty appreciating the virtues of “quading up” don’t give them away, then their inability to ski powder certainly will. Due to their unfortunate geographically driven lack of experience and the valid need to protect against litigation, most rental shop bindings are set to release somewhere just above a sneeze. Bindings with that DIN didn’t stand a chance on conditions that existed on Extrovert and Amen that day. From our chair it seemed like a dozen people were digging for skis. Others were just sprawled out, searching for the best line through the still rocky and treacherous terrain that is almost never safely covered. From above it was kind of fun to see them unknowingly head straight for a land mine. Sure, I’m cruel, but keep in mind my skis have taken their share of damage over the last few weeks.

After a few laps through the carnage on Chartreuse, we thought the day was going to have to end with a lap down Rustler, but right around 2pm, the gate was opened into Ballroom and the line to ski it stretched all the way to the chair ramp. There is a tendency, at least for me, so see a lemming cue of such proportions and be so disgusted that I would rather ski a groomer and let things thin out, but that slope was about to take a beating and as painful as it was to traverse like you were in line at Golden Corral, I knew it would be worth it.
As you might expect at this time of year, there was an element of amature hour. I overheard someone congratulate himself on taking a parallel traverse that temporarily shunted people away from a stump… a STUMP?! If you can’t ski around a stump, then don’t ski at Alta. Imagine of this guy was on the High T? Dammit, I hope that the biggest obstacle in my way is a stump. When it comes to “vegetable or mineral” I’ll take vegetable every time. Once we got past the needless merge with the half-wits protecting their precious boards on the “upper” traverse, we crossed the rope line into the crux between Ballroom and the Baldy Shoulder. Jared picked out a pretty untrammeled line just before the main hike up to the Shoulder-proper that served up the  softest, hovercraft turns of the day. “For once, Ballroom wasn’t choked with avy deb--,” I thought way too soon. I crossed the lower boundary where the deposition zone debris built up and the fresh pow thinned. It interrupted my turn and I got thrown like a rag doll, cheering the whole way. Those are the falls I love taking and help me forget my feet were iced cinder blocks afterwards.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Save those skis for the good days"... Are we gonna get good days?

Those babies are just gettin' broken in.
Seasons were designed for some reason. I’m not sure how important that reason is. Ultimately they serve to divide up the year into four neat little segments and, as a person obsessed with taxonomy, I can dig that-- but like a lot of things we construct for the purpose of classification and identification, it’s pointless. Winter officially started today with the Winter Solstice. Our north pole is now tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun and this day represents the least amount of daylight during the calendar. If you are a skier, the solstice really has no impact on what we call winter. I suppose if I had to pick a quarter of the year to call winter, I would start it exactly 45 days before the winter solstice on Nov. 7th or so, and end some time in early February. That boundary of winter seems to make more sense since it corresponds to what I feel is the true Winter ski season, but there is no scientifically quaint correlation to the celestial mechanics of our orbit, so I will settle for today being the start of winter. Also, by settling on today as the start of winter, it serves me with a benchmark I can use for the proclamation of a personal goal; to share my thoughts, not only as a skier, but as a resident of the planet, on this blog on a much more frequent basis. You’ve probably gathered from my prior paragraph that I value scientific explanations for things, but like farmers and baseball players, skiers have a healthy dose of superstition. I’m going to posit a new superstition relating to snow fall called “The Rock Ski” precipitant. Essentially, I’m theorizing that true commitment to skiing shitty, old rock skis in lousy early season conditions will result in a hastening of big storms. By proving to commit to protecting your prized boards, the snow gods will reward you.

Don't let the grass and exposed rocks fool you, this was a powder day.
If by "powder" you mean unconsolidated sugar.
Go back a few weeks, before the big storm on the 14th. I was out touring the Catherine’s Pass area with my friend Jared on our faceted and rotten early season snowpack. Not wanting to risk the tender bases of my “less-than-a-season” old Voile V6s, I opted to ski my now 10 year old Black Diamond Verdicts which were still rigged up for my ill-fitting Garmont boots. Things were fine until we skied our first lap and I felt no control over my skis. Then, on my 2nd lap, after transitioning from ski to walk mode, my feet started killing me. In my mind I thought I had to get these bindings adjusted to my better fitting boots I was fortunate enough to buy last year. Thinking that the thin snowpack could last for a few more weeks, I felt like parting with the essential parts of my AT rig for a while would be worth it. Then, while my rock skis and precious new AT boots were in the shop being wed, we got nailed with the biggest storm in a few seasons. Jared suggested a dawn patrol, which sounded great, until I remembered my Black Diamond skis and Dynafit boots were on their honeymoon in the back of a ski shop.

This unholy matrimony of Dynafit and Fritschi has
been condemned by the Westboro Baptist Church.
Let’s jump ahead a week to this last Saturday. I was inbounds this time, skiing my resort skis at Alta. They were already in bad shape thanks to an especially abusive day the week before. Once again, before our big storm, I took two inch long core shots right along the edge. When I checked them out at the end of the day, it was a sick joke. I expected the worst and when I turned over the first ski I thought, “Oh, not so bad.” Then I turned over the second ski. Uggh! I was reminded once again how skis, unfortunately, are a disposable item. Unlike bikes which, with maintenance, can withstand the nature of their purpose, skis take the brunt and eventually wear out, like tires. I should have brought them in immediately for some PTex, but I knew the craptastic early season condtions would persist and they weren’t done taking a beating. I was right, even after our big storm, the High T at Alta extracted it’s toll. It’s somewhat validating when you hold off a tune-up and take a few nicks in the plank, kind of like using the toilet before you clean it. After my day on Saturday however, I decided it was time for a tune. What should happen the day after I get my skis in for some long overdue TLC? Another storm. I pick them up tomorrow. I’ll have my meager quiver back at my disposal. My only hope is that this cycle we are in keeps up through the week so that with the upcoming 3 day weekend, I can spend time on the mountain.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Don't Believe The Hype" or "The "Stages of Ski Season Has Started" Realization

Oh, yeah, this is why I ski.
I try to understand enthusiasm, but if one more skier talks to me about El Nino and how it’s going to make every day of the 2015-16 season a never-ending face shot that fills my cranial orifices with High West whiskey flavored snow, I’m going facey them with the business end of a monoboard. Actually, in all fairness no skier has really tried to prop up my expectations for the season with pseudo-meteorology. No, the real culprits have been the marketing departments and media outlets; my favorite people in the world. These are the same people that sent me a Mountain Accord propaganda mag with no less than 7 photos predominantly featuring corduroy. That gets me about as revved up for ski season as a Utah County hot cocoa run.

All criticism of hype aside, it should probably be clear by now that I’ve become somewhat ambivalent about ski season expectations. It’s like the Superbowl, after 2 weeks of promotion, you really just want it to start already. Well, today the season started for me. I got up this morning and decided today would be my first trip up to Alta.

The first moment of ski season awareness was when I opened up my bin of ski gear and was reminded that I wear a knee brace. Even three seasons after tearing my ACL, I guess I just forgot that strapping on the Donjoy was part of the routine. It felt like a buzzkill, and I don’t know why, kind of like when you’re a kid and  you have a kick ass Halloween costume that your mom makes you cover up with a winter jacket because in Wisconsin where I grew up,  30 degrees on October 31st wasn’t uncommon.
Hellooooooo KNEE BRACE!
The second moment of ski season awareness was pulling up to Alta over an hour before the lifts open and realizing that most Altoids won’t charge the canyon that early unless it’s the pursuit of freshies. I don’t think I’ve ever parked as close as I did today. But I wasn’t alone, there were other die hards there in the lot, but what I realized is that there are some strange people in the Alta lot at 8am. One guy could not stop the German soccer chants as he tried to stoke up his ski team. “Zicke Zacke, Zicke Zacke, HOI HOI HOI” and other tired euro-trash garbage. Where the hell was that monoboard? Then there was a guy grabbing a nap in his vehicle while he waited, which really wasn’t that weird, but the fact that his friend kept pounding on his window to try and wake him up seemed like I was in a freshman dorm as opposed to a Wasatch ski resort.

The third moment of ski season awareness was remembering how much a pain in the ass putting my boots on can be. Well fitted boots are well worth it, but you’ll burn more calories putting them on than skiing, especially on that first day of the season. Guess the early start was necessary.

Up until now, these moments of clarity have all been fairly negative I realize, but that all changed with the 4th moment of ski season awareness, the view of Mt. Superior on a clear fall day. Sure, the coverage of Little Cottonwood was still pretty bare, but that doesn’t change the inspiring view. I was now really happy I came up and although I spent my abbreviated ski day lapping Collins, it was worth it. Perhaps the corduroy stoke got to me.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Greatest Good, for the Greatest Number, for the Greatest Amount of Time

One Christmas, I think when I was 3, my parents somehow managed to get a Blue Spruce, root ball and all, to survive the holidays to be transplanted in our front yard. Because it was my little brother’s first Christmas, it was dubbed “Kasey’s tree” and through the years, we watched it grow along with him. For a while my parents were concerned about an asymmetry in the branches, perhaps a sign that it had some sort of coniferous blight that was affecting its shape, but it turns out that blight was just the 4 year old version of my brother discovering how much fun it was to whack his tree with a stick. Despite being treated like like a pinata, that tree became a landmark of my boyhood front yard. One of the great things about my yard was how many trees we had, especially in the back where two big birches stood as sentinels into my own mini-forest. Funny how rose colored the memory is of all my, primarily broadleaf, trees when raking is not stored next to it in the grey matter RAM. So before this devolves into a Robert Frost poem, what I’m trying to say is that in my first year at our own house, I really wanted to plant a tree in our rather sparse frontyard.

We moved in in May, but the planting didn’t happen until a few weeks ago. Adjusting to a lawn maintenance routine contributed to the delay, but I also realized picking a tree requires more forethought than I originally thought. I assumed the process started with getting the tree in the ground and taking care of it, but instead, deciding what to get and where to put it seemed to be the painstaking part. Lexi and I were at the local nursery looking for more stuff for our flower bed. Being the end of the season, much of their inventory was marked down and we were looking at a healthier plant to lift the spirits of our dogged looking yucca’s. We picked out a plucky looking specimen as well as a cactus, because if you are going to garden in the desert, you might as well have the rewards of making your front yard look like a Roadrunner cartoon.

While browsing the cacti in the back of the nursery, we were eventually drawn to the trees and I asked Lexi, “Do you think we’re ready for a tree?” as if we had just kept a goldfish alive for 6 weeks and we felt ready to have a child. Once we agreed that it was time for the stork to make an arbor related delivery, we had to pick a tree. There were some logistical limitations to consider , such as the fact that Oskar, my Subaru Outback, is not really designed to carry tall trees, so small was key. After I saw the price of more mature pines, small was even more OK with me. Who knew a 4 foot tree could cost over $200? I guess, like wine, in the tree business your price tag goes up as your inventory ages. A small pine (less raking and  emblematic of the west) was what we sought and we just sort came upon the Bristlecones. At first, I didn’t connect the name on the tag to the 4000 year old stalwarts that are often the main reason people visit Great Basin National Park. Because of their extreme longevity and rugged setting, you just don’t think of them when you are walking along trees lined up in little black pots like cans of creamed corn in the supermarket. Once I connected the little green sapling in front of me with the crotchety old man of the western botanical world, my mind was pretty made up. Lexi liked the choice as well, so we walked out with our new bundles of joy, a yucca, a cactus and a little pine. [I’m already planning a lame rear window sticker set in the same vein as the vomit inducing stick figure family.]

Figuring where to put it became the dilemma of the afternoon. After we got the yucca and cactus in the ground and did a little upkeep on our existing yuccas, we realized two things, 1) our newly found pine was VERY small and was going to look weird in the middle of our yard and 2) according to the tag, we could expect the pine to grow 15 feet and require 20’ in width! That surprised me, this wasn’t a Ponderosa after all. So here was this dwarf in front of me, and I had to pick a spot where it will have room and look good! We had to worry about how it would look, fully grown, at the front of our house? Is it eventually going to block the view of our flowerbed? Will it give us any shade into our house? In 10 years, what will this tree look like? The irony of worrying about how one of the oldest living organisms on the planet will affect me soon caught up to me however. Here is this tree, which could live long enough to see humanity crash and burn twice in the common era, and it’s probably wondering, “Man, how long do I have to look at this house? Hopefully that spray tan guy in the “Make America Great Again” hat wins the election so these idiots burn themselves up and we get the planet back.” [OK, I suppose pines don’t get political. And since they are trees, they have no place in conversations about scientific matters.]

Just thinking about the possible lifespan of my tree got me thinking about how inconsequential the placement of said tree really was. Who’s really in the driver’s seat here, the long living entity that could still be standing well after I’m gone, or the moron in Sandy trying to keep 3 yucca’s alive? What does it matter where I put him?... or her. Once he/her gets the roots in the soil and I get it through the transition phase, “Bristlecone gonna do its thing.” Until Kasey’s 4 year old son comes to visit.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pilgrimage or Different Ways to fight Pre-Ski Season Malaise

Is it possible to grow tired of this view?
It sure wouldn't suck to find out if it did.
The guy wanted to know if there was a “gentleman’s club” in town. I’ve used that term myself to seem less skeevy when referring to strip clubs, but it still makes me laugh. The basic concept is, “I have a dollar and you have tits,” so “Gentleman” certainly should not be in the name. The patron asked discretely and earnestly, and as someone who has frequented more than a few “gentleman's clubs” over the years, I probably took his question too seriously. The idea of a strip club in Ketchum seemed really outlandish to me, but he explained they were here for a bachelor party. Why wouldn’t you look for a strip club? I hope I didn’t seem too dismissive when I replied, “Not that I’m aware of. I think the closest one would be in Boise.” Disappointed, he was ready to be done with me. That was probably good because baseball and strip clubs are two topics that I have a hard time walking away from. He was lucky to get out before I started reviewing the various strip clubs in Boise.

I guess this interaction reminded me once again about how I just seem to be a magnet for people looking for directions. In my last SummitBrew blog, I explained how, inevitably, every confused hiker at the trailhead seems to seek out my guidance. Apparently that carries over into bars. Now, the question is, did he ask me because I looked like a local, or I looked like someone who frequents gentleman's clubs? I’ll go with local. After all, isn’t what all of us want is to be a “local”, someone who lives in someone else’s favorite resort town? I’m enough of a realist to know that living in a town like Ketchum wouldn’t be all that it’s cracked up to be, maybe the desire to be a “local” is more a product of just not wanting to be perceived as a “tourist”?

The thought of being a local and living in the mountains of Central Idaho had already occurred to me earlier that morning while driving north on ID-75. The morning’s drive completed a 350 mile, spur of the moment, “pilgrimage” to my favorite mountain bike trail. (If you know me, or know mountain biking in Idaho, you already know the trail). Looking to my left and right, seeing thick pine covered foothills, pure flowing streams and majestic mountains with craggy features, I wondered, would this place be as special to me if I shared a zip code with Sun Valley? Would the views still inspire me if I saw them every day? Would I feel the same sensation of escape and lightness while venturing deep into the Sawtooth National Forest boundaries? Tough questions to answer? Save for the greatest snow on earth, my life in Salt Lake City holds very little sway over a Wood River Valley lifestyle. But these are probably pointless questions to answer considering I’m too old to live the life of a 20-something resort town free-agent scraping by on numerous seasonal jobs and struggling with the cost of living. The idea of a “pilgrimage”, making an impractical journey to visit a place that is special, distant and outside of your routine, appeals to our need to elevate our lives above the mundane, work-a-day humdrum of our everyday lives. If I lived in Ketchum, where would I find that pilgrimage? The distance to my mecca, stretching from the Timmerman Hills on the northern edge of the Snake River plain to the Salmon River mountains on the southern boundary of Idaho’s vast River of No Return Wilderness, seems to add sanctity to the locale.

White clouds over the White Clouds
One certainty is that regardless of whether I lived her or not, the mountain bike trail I rode that morning would never stop putting a smile on her face. The prior day’s rain hadn’t soaked the trail as I had feared and the skies looked like they would hold off more rain until I finished the 18 mile tour. As I started out on my Scott Genius, the day seemed absolutely perfect for an October in the mountains. Between the oncoming clouds, there were some blue skies to the west and the temp was in the mid-60s. I felt pretty comfortable in shorts and a pair of arm warmers. I stopped feeling comfortable on the climb 8 miles into the ride. The short, steep section that leads to the first descent rises just 350 vertical feet, but enough loose rock and dirt litter the forest road to make the 7 tenths of a mile climb to the summit hurt. I stopped 4 times, which disappointed me knowing at one time in my life, I could ride this stretch without stopping. The shortness of breath reminded me I have my work cut out for me if I’m going to be ready for the skin track this winter in the Wasatch.

I took a mellow approach to the ride, mainly because I was alone and that’s no time for going argy-bargy. The casual pace was also because now that I’m 5 hours from the trailhead, I only get so many trips on this trail. Savoring what could be the last mountain bike ride of the year was the order of the day. I rode the trail twice last year and that had come after a 4 year absence, so even an annual ride is tough to make a reality. As I crested the climb and the end of the forest road, the burnt, rolling hills around me came into full view and I felt proud for getting up here so late in the season and making my pilgrimage.

My preference is to be alone on any trail, but for practical purposes, it’s good to have some company, even if they are strangers. I like trails popular enough that if you did get in trouble, crawling for days just to make it back to the trailhead wouldn’t be a legitimate concern. However, I also don’t want a trail so popular that you feel like you’re riding the Wasatch Crest. Plus, considering that my last ride here involved an encounter with a freaked out bear, crossing paths with a dirt bike, only a few miles from where I encountered said bear, didn’t bother me in the least. (A side note. In all honesty, dirt bikes have never really bothered me on this trail. While they are part of the motorized nuisance crowd, they have a tendency to be on you and gone, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. Unlike ATVs which approach with all the grace and serenity of Shriners on go-karts in a 4th of July parade. The slow rolling armada can usually be heard long before they ever reach you, and after passing, the drone of their engines can usually be heard well beyond until they decide to turn right back around and pass you again; seemingly with no purpose to their journey other than to risk the lives of their helmetless children and raise a din in the outdoors.)

As I finished my ride on a descent that opened into the Sawtooth Valley and presented the breathtaking panorama of the jagged peaks to the west, I felt so good; not only from the ride, but also from the good fortune. The weather gave me just enough of a window to finish my ride before resuming its fall drenching. Within 20 minutes of loading the bike into the Outback and heading back to Ketchum, the rain had resumed. With my prescribed ride out of the way, I was free to head back into the resort town during slack season. The only thing on my agenda now was to drink and write-- in a place where Hemingway did the same thing.

Post Ride Reward
My post-ride oatmeal cookie wasn’t going to cut it, so I headed to KB’s, a burrito joint I discovered way too late in my lifetime of journeys to the Wood River Valley. I paired my pork and yam burrito (Lonestar Taqueria can’t top that!) with a Grand Teton 208 Blonde Session Ale. For a rainy day in October when the summer seems way too distant, (even though it was really less than a month ago), the crisp, clean, lightly hopped flavor of this Idaho tribute beer (Idaho is 208 area code) really hits the spot for an early Saturday afternoon. Lets face it, at 2pm, I wasn’t quite ready to crawl into my cups yet so a session ale seemed fitting. You get the rewards of a beer without the weight of intense beers. 208 has no after-taste, just a sparkling golden flavor that doesn’t ruin things with that weird aftertaste that ruins other light, golden ales.

"No, I said 'WHITE' not 'WET'!"
After finishing my burrito and walking through Ketchum, I made my way to to Sawtooth Brewing, conveniently nestled in the same structure as my hotel. (If you don’t think that partially dictated my lodging choice, then you obviously don’t know me.) And that is where I ran into the bachelor party and the strip club query. It seemed like a great place to open up the laptop and try to kickstart the blog in anticipation of ski season. The rain picked up somewhat while I sat there and any precipitation at this late point in the year gets me a little turned on. Who needs gentleman's clubs when you have an oncoming winter? The very top of Baldy had a slightly reflective look to it; maybe it was snow?! I can’t start getting too excited about ski season yet, not when when we still have a ways to go before those first turns. Maybe that’s why the bachelor party was looking for the gentleman's club, something has to distract you from the ski season when you’re stuck in October.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Horn of Plenty

As you may know already, last weekend, Alta got so much snow so quickly that they
couldn’t open on Sunday, the days I was planning on logging my first day of the season. If I had convinced myself that winter is a product of chance and is not at the whim of any outside influence, the bitter frustration I felt last Sunday makes me still wonder if there isn’t someone with a sense of humor behind this. Ullr?
Jared approaches A-1 Peak

Blogs about pre-season ski rituals are as ubiquitous as overly optimistic pre-season ski forecasts. Yet, we all know that shitty ski seasons will happen despite what the over caffeinated talking head from Ski Utah says, and we also know that people like me and my friend Jared will spare no preseason blog-space on chronicling our mythical snow god liturgy. I’ve written quite a bit about my pre-ski season rituals in the past, most notably, the annual mountain hike to offer liquor to Ullr, the Norse god of winter-- but not last year… and that’s because I didn’t make an offering last year. I think after I tore my ACL in 2012, I felt forsaken-- my faith waivered. To borrow from the Mormon movie billboard I pass on my way home, “I strayed.” I am a man of logic and analytical thought; there is no rational evidence that proves pouring out 3 oz. of alcohol on top of a peak is going to make a difference in our snow totals.
Yet, as much as the empiricist in me hates to admit, I am also a spiritual person; a Zen Buddhist who struggles to silence his monkey mind long enough to enjoy the present. So superstition aside, I seized on the opportunity of a unseasonably warm November day to go hiking in the Uintas and, if I just so happened to spill a little liquor while asking Ullr for a bountiful winter, so be it. What better way is there to get exercise, enjoy the present and practice mindfulness. With packs full of layers and libations, Jared and I parked on the side of the Mirror Lake Highway with a goal of climbing A-1 Peak.
A-1 Peak viewed from the saddle
Now, most people may not realize the significance of “A-1” as a moniker, but in the good old days before Google, using A-1 as a company name was a great way to be the first auto mechanic, dry cleaner or escort service that one might happen across while thumbing through the yellow pages. Considering this mountains "top of the list" nomenclature, you might expect it to be a popular climb, but if you are seeking a Uinta hike that lacks human interaction, then climbing A-1 in November would be a fitting place to begin. In fact, considering the lack of a trail, this might be a pretty solitary hike on most summer days.
Hayden Fork
Setting out at 7:30am, we figured we would have plenty of time to make the summit.  The route is a very direct and short course right off the Mirror Lake Highway, but the terrain still proved to be a grind. While not as long or technical as hikes like Superior or Nebo, the climb is relentless in its pitch and without a trail, we got very little "easy treading". After a short, steep descent from the road and a crossing of Hayden Fork (which had a nice shell of ice covering most of it’s width) we rummaged our way across the gentle slopes just below Kletting Peak which were littered with fallen trees. Occasionally, we would come across a game trail, but it was pretty clear that we were on our own recognisance. As the gaps in the trees began to widen, we could start to make out the ridgeline and spot some of the rocky spires we used when planning our route from the car. In my limited research online, there didn't seem to be a commonly accepted route up the west face of Kletting so Jared and I angled a bit south and found ourselves looking up between two minor cliff bands and what appeared to be a mellower angle up the slope.
Bald Mountain and Reids Peak
After 2 hours of tiny steps up the sharp flank of Kletting, we found ourselves with an ever improving view over our shoulders, and shortly after that, when we reached the ridge, we stared down into the large West Basin that lies behind Hayden Peak. The jagged walls of the huge amphitheater were dusted with snow and the small lakes were surrounded by white and showing signs of being frozen over. Once at the ridgeline, the hike traveled north over large talus that was thankfully pretty stable and steady. When we reached the wide, multi leveled summit of Kletting, we started our first of two offerings to Ullr and his mother Skadi. Jared opened up his flask of whiskey and I shared my Aquavit. Winds were surprisingly calm, but the chill reminded us it was still November in the Uintas.
A-1 peak has multiple approaches, but going up and over Kletting is the most direct. The shortened days make hiking summits this time of year a little more interesting than in the summer, so direct was definitely our friend. From atop Kletting, A-1 seemed much higher, although the difference in elevation was only 300 feet. I think the reason it seemed much more lofty was the severe amount of elevation we would lose going down the east side of Kletting to the saddle between the two peaks which tacked approximately another 600’ to that 300’ peak difference. Make this eastern course over a mile and a half even more fitting for the purpose of our hike was the ankle deep snow we were now walking on down the backside of Kletting and back up the north facing side of the ridge. As I told Jared while we worked our way down between the two peaks, it felt good to be in snow again.
Jared just below the sumit ridge of A-1
The west ridge of A-1 essentially has 3 major bulges in its crease that require some pretty demanding scrambling. The worst bulge being the second one which coincides with a rather large outcrop which hangs out over the climber's right of the ridge. While not technical nor exposed, the pitch is just steep. At that point, I collapsed my poles and stowed them in my pack so I could use all fours to keep balance. The method increases stability, but being hunched over like an ape carries with it its own annoyances. Most of our path cheated to the north side of the ridge, which was climbers left because to the right it was a pretty sharp drop to the depths of West Basin. That meant our footing was concealed by snow and judging where to step took greater care. Worried that I might sink down into a gap in rocks or teeter-totter on an unbalanced rock, I couldn't trust any step that planted on white, so I picked the best, exposed boulders I could find and watched Jared dance up in front of me, his trekking poles still out. My inner mountain goat now has a more cautious tendency after you've had a knee destroyed, but I won't discount Jared's skill either at planting those poles.
While the summit of Kletting was broad and flat, the pinnacle of A-1 felt more like a perch. We found some spots to situate ourselves between the rocks and absorbed one of the better views I've had from this section of the Uinta's. The peak lies just north and west of the main crest and is high enough that you can see the depth of peaks for four, maybe five drainages. In addition to awesome views of Hayden, Spread Eagle and Ostler, you could make out some of the giants that guard the depths of the upper reaches of the East Fork of the Bear River. These guys are giants, and when they are fanning out in front of you from a 12,400’ perch, you have a hard time convincing yourself it's time to head back down, even if you are running out of daylight. The Wasatch were a universe away, but still visible in the clear western sky. I ended my season in the Uinta mountains, skiing into June on some of the peaks accessible from the highway, so even though I wasn't on skis this time, I felt like I was now starting my ski season.
West Basin
I felt pretty euphoric, and that wasn’t just from the Aquavit. We had come to this amazing spot seeking gifts from Ullr. We yelled, we drank, we came up with absurd incantations. I raised my voice in each direction and yelled “Kampai”, a Japanese toast, because I had no idea how people in Norway toast. I asked for a ski season that was a “horn of plenty”, with bountiful gifts of powder that fell only on my days off. I don’t know where the horn of plenty idea come from, but it seems fitting now in the Thanksgiving season when, for some reason, we use a wicker horn filled with fruits as a symbol. I don’t know why, no one on this planet has ever eaten plain fruit on Thanksgiving...EVER. I think when Squanto pulled out an apple with the Pilgrims, some chubby kid in a belt buckle hat probably said, “Get that shit outta here and pass the green beans soaked in cream soup and the onion rings on top.”

So the 2014-2015 season is supposed to be a good one. Not because of weather
models that say so, not because ski resorts want to motivate skiers, and not because I climbed a mountain and had a few drinks either. This season will be good because winter will do what it always does: winter gives, winter takes away, and sometime, like it did last weekend, winter clobbers Alta upside the head with a wicker horn filled with snow and says, “I’ll give you snow.”