Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Liberty Chute

After ingesting some excellent winter-sports-oriented forecast data from Powdiction, Hatchett and I left Reno at 4am Saturday to visit the vaunted East Side of the Sierra. We were treated to some wonderful early-morning views on our way south on 395, too.

First light on the Sawtooths

Golden light across Mono Lake

The praises of these mountains have been sung far and wide, but this was my first visit to them with snowboarding gear in the car. Oh, how has it taken me this long to get down there?!?

First look at the playground of lines below Dana Plateau

Turning off Tioga Pass just before the winter closure, we parked, geared up, and skinned onto the snow just before 8:30. We made quick work of the first pitch, V-Bowl, which is a solid 2000 vertical feet. The scale in this area is so deceiving; we're not used to seeing terrain this big! Over the hump, we continued up into the basin below the Plateau. This basin is framed to the east by a view of Mono Lake and the desert beyond, and to the west by a ridiculous amphitheater of skiable chutes, couloirs, bowls, flutes, and cliffs.

Our goal for the day was Liberty Chute, a steep sliver of snow that resembles the Statue of Liberty (as the snow heads up and to the right, this is the Statue's arm, and the torch is formed by the cornice on top). The top of this chute rises something like 4600 vertical feet above the parking spot; this was due to be a long day. We were the first visitors since the last storm, so the skin track was ours to break all day, too.

Liberty Chute, looking wonderful

We had two options for the chute itself; to bootpack up it, thus learning about the snowpack on our way up, or two rappel into it from the Plateau, guaranteeing access to the scariest(=funnest) bits, but making the snow an unknown until we'd be committed. We decided to bootpack up, so we stopped below the rock wall on the looker's left side of the photo above and shed unnecessary gear like skins, poles, ropes, and harnesses in favor of crampons and ice axes.

Our waypoint at the bottom of the chute; cloud cover thickens

The first couple hundred feet of bootpacking were torturous: waist-deep in 50+ degree powder is only awesome if you're going downhill. The snow finally became more suited for ascending, then promptly turned sketchy. The aspect changed slightly from E to SE, the slope steepened a bit, and we found ourselves a few hundred feet below the cornice and on snow that was dangerous to ascend (even with crampons) and also dangerous to descend. Even more disappointing, the cloud cover was thickening signaling the approaching storm, and the light went flat. Not wanting to make headlines, we opted in favor of discretion and started our descent from the halfway point in the chute.

My first turn out into the middle confirmed our suspicions with the discovery of even sketchier snow, so I stuck to the skier's right side and enjoyed the softer deeper snow we had struggled through on the way up. We collected our gear at the bottom of the chute, and were rewarded with a break in the clouds. The nearly 2000 vertical feet of wide-open bowl and sparse trees between Liberty and the top of V-Bowl were filled with stupendous snow, and these turns were rewarding beyond comprehension. So good, in fact, that our failed top-out of Liberty was relegated to distant memory.

Hatchett uses a tree for spiritual purposes

The descents I'm used to closer to home don't offer nearly the vertical that this one did, as we still had the 2000' of V-Bowl to play in! More open trees and great snow awaited us there, and we reveled in every last damn turn. Giggling like idiots, we made the parking lot after 7 1/2 hours on the snow.

We had a beer, packed up, and started the drive home, pausing for a few photos here and there along the way.

Hatchett contemplates steepness

Mono Lake from Tioga Pass Road

And a few more of Mono from alongside 395, thanks to dark clouds and low-angle sun:

Save a stop at In-n-Out, the trip home was swift (and 50mpg!). I literally can't wait to get back down there for some more fun. Many lines beckon, offering up big mountain riding that we spend our early years of riding only dreaming about. Special thanks to Hatchett for being such a good tour guide for an East Side newbie, too. :)


Monday, March 7, 2011

Racing Lines and the Call of Duty

After the last heavy post, it's time for something a little easier to process.

One of the first things they teach you in racing school is that the fastest way around the track is to drive into the corner slow and out of the corner fast, maximizing exit speed onto the subsequent straightaway.

Sam has totally blown it, entering the tree at an extremely high rate of speed and puttering out of it like he's on his way to church.

I get bonus points for not falling off the slick roof and breaking my neck to get the photo.

Later, he frames himself nicely in the only sunspot in the entire house, taking care of his daily ablutions.

Next up will be more luscious backcountry snowboarding shenanigans.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Progress and Change

A year ago today, Grant's life changed in an instant (more on this later) aboard his snowmobile. I wrote about it here: linky

Since then, there's been a lot of sacrifice, suffering, and hard work on his part and from everyone around him, most notably his wonderful wife Shawna. They've given 100% of their time and energy to his rehabilitation; anything less than a full recovery is not an option.

He's been helped along the way by an embracing community of organizations and individuals who understand his stubborn commitment to rejoin society with a whole body as Korg 3.0. Arguably at the top of that list is the High Fives Foundation. To quote directly from their website, "High Fives Foundation is a Tahoe-based non-profit organization dedicated to raising money and awareness for athletes who have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community."

A couple weekends ago, Grant invited Ethel and me to join him for his halftime appearance at the UNR basketball game. I got to be on photo duty while Ethel and the rest of the crew lined his path out onto the court.

Watching the Korg 3.0 promo video

Video plays far overhead to a packed house

Making his way onto the court

Leaving the court; notice the nice heel-strike!

Passing the Korg 3.0 crew

He's been out of the wheelchair for a couple of months now, sworn to never return to it. And he's also moved past the walker, exchanging it for a pair of arm braces. He's started, in the last couple of weeks, turning the arm braces around to make them canes, all part of the quest to walk again. And, just a few nights ago, he held the arm braces in the air and stood, unaided, supporting his full body weight, for the first time nearly a year. Watch the video on High Fives' Vimeo channel here. And for the most current tidbits from Grant's recovery, visit him on facebook...or his youtube channel (gratuitous shirtless cameo by yours truly).

So back to that first sentence about life changing in an instant. I waxed poetic after Grant's injury a year ago, and I'm going to subject you to a little bit more. Hey, you've made it this far!

Several years ago, I was asked to make a timeline of my life up to that point, taking note of important (totally subjective) events and periods. Over the course of a morning, I trawled back through a lifetime's worth of memories and came out the other side with a timeline with about 20 tick marks on it. A pattern soon emerged.

About half of those tick marks corresponded to lengthy processes, encompassing months or years. Learning how to snowboard, for example. This process was a hugely positive one, having a substantial influence on who I am today. In no particular order, this sport has exposed me to a community of genuine, fantastic, and positive people; has given me reason to travel to mountains near and far; has been a safe place suitable for frequent catharsis in difficult times; and has been a source of bottomless spirituality. Not to mention bottomless pow turns!

The other half of those tick marks corresponded to instantaneous or very short events (less than a few minutes, say). Breaking both of my legs in a snowboarding accident, for example. The impact on my life of learning how to snowboard unquestionably pales in comparison to the impact of the injury, which had a far-further-reaching effect on who I am. In spite of the glowing review I just gave for what snowboarding has done for me, the changing effect of this instantaneous injury far overshadows the aforementioned benefits. It changed the path of my life in unimaginable ways: reset my perspective on disabilities, made me realize how much I'd taken for granted, and introduced me to a new athletic pursuit...which in turn ignited a passion for world travel, yet again realigned my mental approach to challenges of all sorts, and put me on a collision course with the girl of my dreams.

This pattern continued, not of learning vs. injury, but of lengthy process vs. instant in time. Without a single exception, the most formative and change-inducing influences in my life were instantaneous.

Unable to resist obvious temptation, the engineer in me added up the total elapsed time for all of those highly influential events. Five minutes, give or take. And if we cherrypick the top 5 of these events...about 30 seconds.

Changing gears for an aside, it's easy to argue that who we are today is simply the sum of every thought, experience, and interaction in our pasts.

Okay, back on track. We're going to say that my present self owes its constitution to my amalgamated experiences. And we're also aware that the handful of those particular experiences that were most influential total a whopping thirty seconds. I can then conclude the essence of my being and who I am today has been defined by those thirty seconds, chopped into memorable little bits. Is the rest fluff? Absolutely not (see above argument that I'm the sum of my past). But the core? Less time than your average pee break.

Needless to say, this realization presented itself as an epiphany. I enjoy thinking back to it and regard it as a valuable lesson. We'd best be ready for those fleeting moments; hell, we'd better square our shoulders and step in front of them. These are the experiences that force us to evolve and to improve.

So, to come full circle, feel free to ask Grant if the few seconds in the air when he knew it would be a bad landing, followed by the fraction of a second that it took his L-1 to explode and shower fragments into his spinal cord has been a defining moment in his life; I'm quite confident in his answer.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hully Gully

Apologies in advance for being long on action photos and short on setting photos. You'll have to rely on my description of the area instead.

Ed visited from NYC this past weekend to slay some light Sierra powder. He picked a pretty darn good weekend as the mountains got hit hard with snow on Friday! We fought silly crowds at Squaw on Saturday and then escaped for backcountry merriment on Sunday.

I blast through a claustrophobic chute in Broken Arrow at Squaw, photo courtesy Ed

We met the rest of the crew along the Mt. Rose Highway at 6am...another early morning. Hatchett, Matt, Chad, and Hobie (dog) piled out of the truck and we headed across a meadow, into a ravine, and across a creek to access the south face of Mt. Rose proper. We began a long ascent of a SW-facing gully to the bench a few hundred feet below the summit, where we reconfigured gear and hiked to the entrance of Hully Gully.

Hully Gully is an aesthetic line that stares straight at Mt. Rose Ski Resort. A common occurrence on the lift at Rose is to stare back at Mt. Rose proper and Hully Gully, lamenting one's choice to ski the resort when there's an untracked 2000' powder line taunting from a mile away. Fortunately, we chose to be on the giving end of the Taunt Stick instead of the receiving end!

Dropping in at about 10:30am, the snow was starting to warm and consolidate thanks to a solid southern exposure. Glad that we weren't there any later, we took turns riding from safe zone to safe zone. We were also taking pains to make perfect turns, carefully crafted to incite maximum jealously in the resort-goers. Hey, it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

Here are some photos.

Ed navigates some flora, brimming with enjoyment

Hatchett drags his pack heelside

Loving it

Hatchett runs it out

Chad goes deep

Chad picks 'em up while crossing Hobie's line

Hatchett is stoked for Ed

I lay one over near the bottom, photo courtesy Ed

The crew hikes out, entrance to Hully Gully visible far frame right

Aye, not bad for a flatlander!

Chad and Hobie; Hobie's ready for a nap

After a rowdily successful descent, we realized that the five of us (and Hobie, who gets the Sickbird award for straightlining the whole chute) utterly snatched every last patch of good snow from anyone who might come later. Guess they shoulda gotten outta bed earlier :)


Past Detritus