Winter Backcountry Photography.

Splitboarder Maxwell Morrill boots his way to a wintery summit in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.
Splitboarder Maxwell Morrill boots his way to a wintery summit in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

I had an idea about ten years back, “it would be easier to get great ski and snowboard imagery if I just shot the places I was backcountry skiing with friends.” No lift lines, no tracks, no crowds. Simple, just bring the camera along and watch the bank account grow from all the money rolling in from sales of my work…
That’s not exactly what has happened, not even close, but there is something rewarding about getting out into the wild and coming back with something that isn’t recycled.
With each passing winter season in the Wasatch I am always amazed with new discoveries. A different approach, a new zone, a new line I either didn’t know about or hadn’t visited yet. The exploration seems to be never ending…

Who really wants to make the Wasatch one massive ski resort?

A version of this article first appeared in the pages of the Utah Adventure Journal and again online for Backcountry Magazine.

A ski lift frames the central Wasatch Mountains, Utah.
A ski lift frames the central Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

“Who wants this expansion?” Salt Laker, physician and photographer Howie Garber wondered aloud. He was talking about Ski Utah’s March announcement of their intention to make lift connections that would enable a person to ski all seven Central Wasatch resorts in a single day. They’re calling it One Wasatch, and claim the process will occur through a collaborative effort representing the federal, state, city, county, business and private sectors, all part of Utah’s Mountain Accord process, a regional planning effort. And the map highlighting possible connection zones shows three that stir conflict with backcountry users.

Howie Garber.
Howie Garber.

 

Howie’s been active in local preservation efforts for more than 30 years, so I stopped by his place to get his read on the concept. Sighting the Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow 2010 survey in which locals gave input on future development in the canyons of the central Wasatch, he continued: “Ninety-four percent of citizens support limiting resort expansions…. When do local populations get an opportunity to determine how much takes place in their backyard?” He was right, and I needed to find out more.

 

Personally I love both resort and backcountry skiing, but more development makes me cringe. Open space simply seems more valuable to me. But it’s not just up to me.

 

I got Ski Utah’s Nathan Rafferty on the phone to answer Howie’s first question, who wants this? Nathan pointed to Utah’s tourism industry. He said that, by creating this unique skier experience “unlike anything in North America”, he, along with the areas’ GMs, believes it will grow tourist dollars, which would benefit the state’s economy. I asked about backcountry users, and he acknowledged the value of both in- and out-of-bounds skiing experiences. He assured me that this concept would not make that go away: there are no plans for lodges, parking lots or other developments. “Chairlifts and ski runs only,” he said.

 

In an e-mail from Park City Councilman, Andy Beerman, he declined to take a position on One Wasatch. He did concede that their resorts could be connected with minimal impact since they already share boundaries and suggested that linking the three Park City Resorts—Canyons, Deer Valley and Park City—would likely receive community support. Then, he noted that connecting to the Cottonwood Canyons would be more difficult because, he said, “they involve Federal lands, sensitive watershed areas, and potential recreational conflicts.”

 

To me, the connection from Alta to Solitude—the Grizzly Gulch to Twin Lakes Pass area—will raise the most objections. It’s popular among backcountry users but also one of my “go-to” places as a photographer. Converting it and other zones to inbounds terrain would not only cut away from the backcountry, it would impact my wallet.

Carl Fisher
Carl Fisher

 

Carl Fisher, director of Save Our Canyons, is also against the One Wasatch Concept. “We’ve received over a thousand comments since One Wasatch was announced,” Carl said. “Even out-of-state visitors say it will ruin why they come; which is easily accessed resorts and easily accessed backcountry.” He believes skier days in Utah are on the rise due to increased backcountry use, and thinks that the plans wont even make it through the Mountain Accord process.

Laynee Jones
Laynee Jones

 

The Mountain Accord is Utah’s effort to develop a planning blue print for the Central Wasatch that includes federal agencies, local governments, businesses and organizations with a huge public component. “When are you going to write an article about the Mountain Accord?” The Accord’s program director Laynee Jones had caught me caught off guard. As I stammered she continued, “We have the decision makers at the table. It’s a real powerhouse and they’re here to find solutions and willing to compromise. The ski areas are just one part of the equation in the future of the Wasatch.” She had a point. Through the Mountain Accord Laynee sees an opportunity to do something remarkable that could preserve the Central Wasatch for generations. They are currently developing blueprints in the four systems groups of transportation, economics, recreation and environment. Each group has been tasked with coming up with an idealized scenario, which then will be brought to the board where a consensus will have to be met before it can be approved. She suggested One Wasatch could be part of a proposed scenario, possibly coming from the economic group.

Peter Metcalf
Peter Metcalf

 

Next, I spoke with Peter Metcalf, CEO of Salt Lake-based Black Diamond Equipment, and while BD no doubt benefits from both resort and backcountry, Metcalf has always been a vocal proponent of preserving Utah’s open spaces and believes we currently have a good balance between developed and undeveloped terrain. Peter sees the One Wasatch Concept as a marketing move, but doesn’t buy it. “Who’s really going to ski all resorts in one day and is it even possible without sitting on lifts all day long AND doing mediocre traverses?”

 

Knowing the resorts’ desires to expand will not go away, Peter has given some thought to an arrangement. Speculating that if these connections were worked through the Mountain Accord Peter shared a possible scenario. “Approval of the interconnect as part of a much larger Wasatch agreement would include the following: a route that was the least impactful to the existing Wasatch backcountry ski experience, minimal & defined prepared piste on the sides of the lifts, guaranteed access to backcountry skiers of the linked zones, full support of the expanded Matheson Wasatch Wilderness Bill, a giving up of all future development rights via conservation easements on all private lands surrounding the new lifts, and binding agreements between the ski areas and the forest service to never expand the ski areas beyond their current boundaries.” This wasn’t the resounding objection on all fronts I imagined Peter to give on ski area expansion in the canyons. After letting this seep into my brain I began to understand how this concept and any other development might be handled.

 

When I shared Peter’s scenario with Nathan, he agreed that if One Wasatch were to become a reality, compromises would have to be made. “[Ski Utah] can’t have this conversation without putting something on the table,” Nathan said. And while he’s excited about One Wasatch he admits that it’s a complicated idea. There are, after all, seven areas with seven separate owners, he reminded me, and each link would have its own issues.

 

Eventually, I was back where I began, talking with Howie.“The bottom line, Louie, is that it’s about the preservation of powder skiing,” he said, “which I truly believe is a dwindling natural resource!” We both laughed, but Howie was serious. For him it’s preservation, for Ski Utah it’s about growing the economy. Is it possible to do both?

The central Wasatch Mountains from Clayton Peak, Utah.
The central Wasatch Mountains from Clayton Peak, Utah.

 

To find out more about One Wasatch and stakeholder counter arguments, visit TK, TK, TK.

 

mountainaccord.com

saveourcanyons.org

onewasatch.com

wasatchbackcountryalliance.org

copyright louis arevalo 2014

March 23, 2015

Morning above the San Rafael River, Utah.
Morning above the San Rafael River, Utah.

I slept in this Sunday morning. By the time I heard Chip roll out of the back of his car everything was illuminated. Unzipping the tent I saw the sky was glowing pink. I dressed quickly then grabbed the camera and tripod. The shutter snapped as Chip walked down toward the San Rafael River and the color in the sky faded.

Window Blind Peak and Assembly Hall held court above the grey and meandering creek bottom. Thin clouds had moved in over night holding on to some of Saturday’s heat. It felt relatively warm for March. Soon water was boiled and coffee was brewed…

Winter’s Sunrise.

I have never regretted waking before dawn… Especially in the snowy months.

Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It's been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don't ask me why.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It’s been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don’t ask me why.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
April 2014. It's funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. It’s funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.

I believe in wilderness. What about you?

larevalo_perch_0814_0214-2In 2014 the Wilderness Act celebrated 50 years with 109,511,966 million acres of protected wilderness in the United States.

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Lyndon B. Johnson

This August I had the chance to head into the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho for an alpine climbing, backcountry camping and hiking experience. Joining organic chemistry PhD student Shiho Kobayashi and English Professor Bo Earle at the Redfish Lodge near Stanley, Idaho we boarded a motorboat carrying packs filled with food, camping gear, ropes and random items to see us through the next few days. Dropped at the Redfish Lake Inlet we entered the Sawtooth Wilderness Area and began the approach to Saddleback Lakes home of Saddleback Peak, aka Elephant’s Perch.Shiho Kobayashi and Bo Earle backpack into the Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho.

On the trail our conversation drifted from literature to poetry to philosophy and even to beliefs. When asked what I believed in I could only respond, “Energy.” Personally, I lean toward the Buddhist thought that everything in the universe is connected. I even wear a tattoo on my back of an endless knot as a reminder.

In the morning twilight we awoke in camp high above the lowest of the Saddleback Lakes. Coffee was brewed and our spirits were high. Up to the golden wall we started up the line named Myopia. Climbing as a party of three could have been a struggle, but it wasn’t. “We’re a well oiled machine,” became our mantra as we managed the constant cluster of two ropes, dehydration and nerves while committing to the climb.larevalo_perch_0814_0031

Looking out from the belays we could see the other lakes and marveled at their marine color rimmed by a surreal turquoise. The jagged ridgelines surrounding us held occasional pine tree that stood in utter defiance of the inhospitable terrain.larevalo_perch_0814_0051

The next morning had us up early and to the rock for another route. I traveled only a couple pitches up before descending. I’d climbed the Beckey route before and with a forecast of afternoon thunderstorms I didn’t want to slow Shiho and Bo down.larevalo_perch_0814_0103

From camp and the lakes I watched their progress as clouds rolled in. A brief shower fell from the sky.larevalo_perch_0814_0171 Thunder rumbled from the unknown to the south. Pitch after pitch they continued up. The thunder ceased and the ceiling of clouds lifted some. As they disappeared on the summit dome a gust a wind rippled over the dark surface of the lakes. Hail fell from the sky then the sun appeared. The west face of Saddleback Peak burned amber in the late afternoon light while they made their final rappel.

The following day we managed one pitch before being rained off the wall. We rolled our camp into our packs and shouldered the weight. Walking down, out of the Sawtooth Wilderness we wore content smiles. I was still thinking about the question of what I believed and recalled a quote from Aldo Leopold.

“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.”

Plan B

Cindi Grant hikes along Mocassin Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming.I just returned from a trip to Wyoming where I had a blast with split-boarders Kordell Black, Zach and Cindi Grant. With rain and snow happening in the Wind River Range for much of the month we waited for the forecast to improve. Unfortunately this also put us a few weeks late to enter the Wind Rivers from the Dickinson Park trail head. Starting at 9500′ we were in the mud and patches of slushy snow. After a few miles we got a view of Baptiste Cirque, nice and snowy, but the rest of our approach looked to be 15 miles of the same muddy and punishing terrain. With the addition of boards, skis and boots on our backs we decided to retreat to the Tetons for plan b.Zach and Cindi Grant and Kordell Black view the Tetons.Down time at Shadow Mountain Camp with Cindi Lou Grant, Tetons.
The fact that we could see plenty of lies from our camp at Shadow Mountain made choosing our objectives easy.
Day one was a four am start that put us 300 feet below the summit of Buck Mountain on its east ridge before turning around, concerned with daytime heating.
Day 2 was a 3 am start leading up the Spoon Couloir and on top of Disappointment Peak in good conditions and great views.
Day 3 We slept in until 330 am and leisurely made our way into Garnet Canyon for a stomp up and down the West Hour Glass Couloir.Dawn Patrol in the Tetons with Zach and Cindi Lou Grant.Kordell Black makes a stream crossing in Stewarts Draw, Tetons.Cindi Lou Grant on The boot track up the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.The boot track up the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.Korrdell Black on the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.Zach and Cindi Grant booting up Disapointment Peak, Tetons.Zach Grant rides the snowfields of Disapointment Peak, Tetons.Cindi Lou Grant drops the Spoon Couloir in the Tetons.larevalo_wyoski1_0514_0272

Maybe next year we can get into the Winds earlier, but first we’ll need to catch up on some sleep and get back to our summer work…God's light over the Tetons.

The Quiet Man

This profile appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of the Utah Adventure Journal

 

Salt Lake City, Utah September 2013   Chris Thomas stood awkwardly in the kitchen of his modest Sugarhouse home. “Okay,” he told me, “I’ll just do this in brackets.” He straightened his lean frame, turned his dark eyes and tilted his pronounced chin to the left. Moving his gaze toward me in small increments I snapped away with my camera. He once told me he was 5’10”, but the fact that I’m boosted up on a bar stool to be at eyelevel makes me think he’s closer to six feet. We’d been at this for over an hour and he was only now beginning to relax. He’d just returned to Salt Lake after winning the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell climbing competition in Arkansas. At the comp he’d teamed up with Hayden Kennedy and together they’d broken records set by big names such as Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold and Sonnie Trotter. Hayden and he had climbed a combined 402 routes, 201 each, up to 5.12 in difficulty. And although his hands were too sore to make a fist they were able to hold beer. This helped Chris ease into one of his least favorite subjects; himself.larevalo_cthomas_0913_0004

I first met Chris in the Fall of 2004 just months after he had moved to Salt Lake City from Howard County, Maryland. At the age of 21 he had already climbed 5.13, established ice routes up to WI-6, done first ascents on traditional mixed routes and been on multiple trips to Alaska and Peru, but you wouldn’t have known it. He didn’t talk much about what he had done and only did when he was asked and even then he usually found a way to flip the focus back to the person who asked.

In the nine years since moving west, Chris has quietly continued his journey by free climbing El Capitan, red pointing 5.14, authoring more ice and mixed routes and establishing hard new routes locally as well as abroad. All this and more, yet hardly anyone has ever heard of him. After a few more photos in his kitchen I set the camera down. Somewhat relieved to no longer have a lens in his face, Chris took another swig from a rapidly emptying glass of beer and braced for the onslaught of questions.

 

Beginnings   Chris was raised in Columbia, Maryland and had what he described the typical suburban childhood along with his younger brother Jon. Chris explained that he did participate in organized sports, but didn’t excel at any until he found hockey. Then for a few years it was hockey 24/7. So passionate about the sport that at thirteen years old he developed his own training regiment and followed it without anyone keeping track.

“Hockey was an obsession that was almost as strong as climbing, but after my first taste of the vertical I knew there was no going back.”

His mother, Brenda Hawkins, recalled that he was fifteen when he told her he didn’t want to play hockey anymore. She was floored. Hockey in Maryland was not a mainstream sport. Practices and games occurred at outrageous hours of the night and morning, so when Chris first took an interest in the game Brenda had been cautious. But once she saw how good and graceful he was on the ice her reticence evaporated and the entire family jumped on board. When Chris came to his mother with a lengthy argument, where he compared all the negatives for hockey against the positive attributes for climbing, she could see that Chris had made up his mind.

After quitting hockey the next hurdle Chris faced was not having a car. Maryland doesn’t have a lot climbing to offer so in order to climb outside he had to rely on older partners with vehicles. Brenda insisted on meeting his partners and getting their license plate numbers before letting them take her son to the backwoods of the East, but Chris endured and these road trips paid off. It was during these weekends to Seneca Rocks, the Gunks, the Adirondacks and New River Gorge and with these folks that Chris developed a huge respect for ground up ethics and a solid mental reserve for his own climbing.

“All my climbing partners were much older. For them climbing was about preserving the adventure… where style was more important than the climb itself.”

Another trip he called a turning point was to the Tetons as a teenager. Chris proposed that his parents buy him a plane ticket to Jackson, Wyoming as a high school graduation present. Brenda recalled that she was initially opposed to the idea, but Chris was persistent. He researched, compiled logistics and countered any negative aspect of the trip until his parents agreed. Living out of the Climber’s Ranch that summer Chris was able to climb with a few friends, but mainly soloed around.

“Coming from Maryland the routes in the Tetons were wild… being alone, scared and hanging out on ledges in the Tetons solidified my love of solitude and wild places.

 

Ice   A ghostly image of Cerro Torre in a magazine motivated Chris to ice climb. Once he had access to a car he spent many winter weekends in the Adirondacks. A typical trip to the ‘Dacks involved an eight to ten hour drive from Columbia, Friday after work, climbing as much as possible Saturday and Sunday, then rallying home to make a Monday shift. While staying at the Bivy, a hostel for ice climbers in Keene, New York, Chris fell in with a great crew of climbers. Among them was Will Mayo.Riding the ice wave.

New Years day 2004, less than 24 hours after having first met, Chris and Will agreed to go work on a standing mixed project. The climb was a massive ice dagger hanging off the lip of a giant roof with a finger to fist size crack leading directly to the ice. Both Chris and Will took a lap on the crux pitch, hanging to work out the gear and tool placements. Feeling good Chris decided to give it a red point go.

“In classic Ian Boyer style (Ian was an east coast climber who Chris had climbed with in the ‘Dacks), I went up “bare handed and bloody knuckled.” Chris related, “Ian always said that cold hands would help keep you awake, alert and hungry, and without gloves you’d have better dexterity and get less pumped.” Chris went into the zone, tuning out his fear, and committed to the climb. He gave the rock section a huge effort and was surprised to find himself staring at the dagger of ice. “I battled from the overhanging rock onto the dagger.  I had an ice screw or two, but there was no stopping to place them.” He was told afterward that he got pretty “Neanderthal” by screaming, swearing, and chanting. Will recalled it as being, “the most impressive lead I have ever witnessed.” After topping out he noticed blood on the snow. His knuckles had been pulverized, but he was too amped to feel the pain. “The Fecalator”, M-10, is the most difficult traditionally protected mixed climb in North America.

 

Graduation   When Chris decided to live in Utah his mother knew he wouldn’t be moving back. Chris knew it as well. Climbing in the east involved tons of travel. In Salt Lake City he found rock/ice/mountains/skiing all within minutes of his front door. In the west Chris continued to execute trips in the states and around the globe.

In 2009 he returned to the Ruth Gorge of Alaska for a forth time to complete the goal of climbing Mt. Huntington. He along with fellow Salt Laker, Rick Vance, did the Harvard route in a 30-hour push. Afterward they spent one day drinking whiskey in celebration of their achievement then the next day, went out and put up a new route on Mt. Huntington named “Community College Couloir” M-8, WI-5.Chris Thomas mixes it up behind the Donorcicle, Joes Valley, Utah.

Another benchmark for Chris happened last January. Taking advantage of stable weather in Argentina, Chris flew to Patagonia. Within hours of arriving to Chalten he was on the move. He and Jonathan Shaeffer climbed the “Red Pillar” on Aguja Mermoz in a three day round trip. Back in Chalten the forecast called for continued stable weather so after a few hours of rest he headed back out. This time, with Ben Ditto as his partner, they climbed to the summit of Cerro Torre via the “Ferrari Route”.

“Climbing the final pitch to the summit of Cerro Torre… recalling the photo from the magazine… it felt like I had finished my apprenticeship.”

That wasn’t enough for Chris. Still in the region for a few more days and with a reasonable forecast, Chris teamed up with Whit Magro. Knowing the weather window was closing down they decided on a single push effort for the “Southeast Ridge” of Fitz Roy. Most parties take five days round trip, they planned for two. Their gear was one 8mm rope, a set of cams, one pair of crampons, an ice tool, tiblocs for ascending and no ice screws. The approach went well, but the climbing was tiring. The leader wound up climbing with a small pack while the second jugged with the full pack. Within two pitches of jugging they had torn the sheath of their rope. Twelve pitches later they hit another snag. The lower angled rock pitches near the summit were now full on WI-4, but they pushed on. Two pitches of ice later and they lost their only tool, but somehow continued. Leading out 150 feet above a sketchy belay anchor on low angled ice with no ax, no screws and no chance of rock protection, the crampon on Chris’ right boot popped off the sole and dangled useless, attached only by the webbing.

“Looking at a 300’ fall onto a marginal belay, I was certain I was going to kill us both.” Chris related. Frozen in time his left calf cramped then seized. Riding endless waves of emotions he screamed then cried, but eventually pulled himself together. Using a cam he chipped a hold into the ice then took the dangling crampon and used it as an ice tool for his right hand. He hopped his left foot, bit by bit, onto the hold. From there he was able to reattach the crampon and move to a band of rock and relative safety. Having been on the move for more than 30 straight hours, the weather deteriorating around them and surviving this episode, there was no need for a discussion. Less than 200 feet below the summit of Fitz Roy they retreated, lucky to be alive.

 

Motivation   In his kitchen that night I asked what was next, thinking that his hunger for adventure may have been sated. It wasn’t. He spoke about returning to Patagonia this coming season, a possible spring trip to Morocco, “but for now a little sport climbing in Spain”.

In a follow up to the interview I asked this determined, modest, loyal, climber’s climber, why? What drove him to push his limits? This is a paraphrased response from an email I received.

“The rewards (of climbing) are impossible to quantify. They are illogical. They don’t make us rich or famous. As an animal-like creature pursuing its basic needs to survive, these activities are extremely counterproductive, but I can’t help myself (and neither can you, or any of our friends for that matter).

If it weren’t climbing it would be something else. Some people find their purpose in career, politics, family and religion. I’ve never found a better way than in climbing.  If I hadn’t stumbled across this crazy sport and lifestyle, who knows what would have been?  But I can say with certainty that whatever else it may have been it would have just as much energy, love and focus thrown at it.  In other words, the climbing isn’t the essential part, it’s just the outlet…  And a goddamn good one.”

Am I a Skier?

“Oh, you’re that climbing photographer,” is the usual response I get when I meet skiers for the first time. I try to explain that I am a skier, climber, runner, biker, father, husband, brother, son, etc. who takes photographs, but it tends to get lost in the exchange.Icefall Lodge february 2014.

Saturday morning March 1st came clear and cold. The thermometer read -26 Celsius. My nose hairs froze and the wind stung my cheeks on the walk from the small bunkhouse to the main hut at Icefall Lodge. Changing shoes I heard the crackle of wood burning in the stove. Up to the dinning room and kitchen the smell of coffee made me smile. It was the eighth and final morning at the lodge. The week had comprised of perfect weather, non-stop skiing and unbelievable company. Coming to an end the long days, incredible scenery and constant laughter made an impression on me.larevalo_bcski6_0214_0005

After breakfast I sat at the table sniveling about what to do this final morning. I had originally thought I’d pack then relax until the helicopter arrived, but another bluebird day was tugging at my sleeve. The next question was, if I did ski would I bring the DSLR? For seven days I had carried it with me and shot non-stop and more. If I didn’t bring it would I miss the ultimate shot? As I voiced my inner struggle Pierre, the senior guide for our trip, looked at me. “What’s the problem? Let’s just go skiing.” The big camera would stay behind. Maybe today I would actually be a skier.larevalo_bcski6_0214_0069

As a group of four, Pierre, John, Tina and I, we made our way toward a ridge connecting Kemmel Mountain with La Clyte Mountain. We were gunning to drop into one of the small chutes off of the dividing Espresso Ridge, dubbed the Espresso Shots. I struggled to regulate my temperature. The March sun was strong, but any part of the body not in its direct rays frosted over. Up to Troll Pass the wind picked up. With no shelter we quickly bundled up and glanced north toward the skiing terrain that is the Canadian Rockies. My toes went numb immediately (a side effect from receiving second degree frost bite in the Teton’s in January is that they are now more susceptible). Heavy coat on, balaclava, heavy gloves and hood up, I marched in place willing the blood back to my toes. Tina brought up the rear and we all chipped in to get her wrapped up. Skis were strapped to our packs and we stomped on.

John gives me a frosty smile.
John gives me a frosty smile.

Constant movement was the only thing that would keep the chill at bay. Gusts of wind came so swift and cold they would steal your breath. I was worried about Tina. I think we all were. We continued up the sun-crusted ridge, booting easily for most and wallowing at times. Just below the ridge’s crest Pierre led us into a col and out of the wind. Tina’s hands had gone numb. I ripped open and shook warmers then handed them to her while she snacked on candy that John provided. Things were looking good… Just cold. We unloaded skis from our packs and got ready.

John, Tina and Pierre head up the ridge.
John, Tina and Pierre head up the ridge.

Pierre slid across the crusted south-facing slope to gain access to the main Espresso Shot. Tina slowly inched her way to Pierre. John and I exchanged a look. One false move would result in a slide for life into the Kemmel Basin. I pushed the negative thought away. Soon she was onto softer snow and standing next to Pierre.

Tina gets ready for her morning cup of espresso.
Tina gets ready for her morning cup of espresso.

Into the chute Pierre cut the top of the shot then skied down and out of sight. Tina followed linking strong alpine turns on her telemark skis. John offered for me to go, but I declined. He smiled then dropped out of view for a moment then appeared lower carving big turns into Seduction Drainage. It was then my turn.

Seven days of sidestepping and getting into position for the photos were behind me. No camera, no reason to hold back. I doubled checked my boots, buckled down, ski mode then synched the straps on my pack. I looked back to Icefall Peak, the Rostrum, Mount Arras, Kemmel and then over to La Clyte. A week in this place was not enough time.

I leaned forward rolling into the chute. Crust gave way to wind affected snow and soon creamy, consolidated powder. I let my skis respond to the slight drag and angle. Linking one wide turn to another I was clear of the chute and onto the apron. The skis opened up as I eased off the brakes. Floating right then eventually left I glided effortlessly over the Canadian snow. Down to John and Pierre we waited for Tina who gave us a Nordic-style finish by falling at our feet completely exhausted. Pierre was smiling, John was smiling, Tina was smiling and so was I.  Smack dab in the center of perfect ski country we all were flying high. And for a brief moment I really did feel like a skier.

Pierre, Tina and John beneath the Espresso Shots.
Pierre, Tina and John beneath the Espresso Shots.

August 14, 2011. What were you doing?

(This is a journal entry from the morning of August 14, 2011)

It rained lightly through the night. Neither Jacki or I slept well. Around 530 the rain stopped and the moon appeared through a hole in the clouds. It was nearly full. I reluctantly crawled out of the tent in an attempt to make a photo. I rattled off one blurry frame before it disappeared into dark clouds.

Another slow morning. I wandered around to see if anyone might be up. All the climbers were still down.

The clouds broke apart by seven. I brewed tea and ate breakfast alone, Jacki was finally asleep.

Pika’s whistled to each other across the cirque of Lone Peak.

I hear these sounds. Trickling water from the melting snowfields. Echoing planes overhead. A bird’s song in the distance. Pika’s; chirp, chirp, and then a responding chirp, chirp… their call.

I see these things. Clouds floating in a blue sky. The haze from the previous week is gone. Dirty, red, tinged snowfields flow down from cliffs and in between them piles of talus. Pikas sprint from rock to rock. A robin hops along the grassy patches in search of breakfast.

Small yellow flowers hover above the grass. At an elevation nearing 11,000 feet stunted pines hang onto ledges in the surrounding cliffs. They are ragged and hardy. Columbines, Buttercups, appear in sheltered corners of the rock. Their coloring appears tired, but beautiful. The Bull Thistle has yet to bloom and grows defiantly strong despite the limited environment.

Shallow pools of rain water vibrate in the coming day.

Yellow, rust and brown lichen clings to the stone which is covered in red and green patina. A few boulders are made of diorite. I sit on one rock.

The trailing clouds above are releasing the last of their moisture. It does not reach me.

I hear muted voices rise from the fields of granite. It’s time to start the day.