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Whatever you do, don't look down....wait...what??!!!?

Whatever you do, don’t look down….wait…what??!!!?

I’d like to say the Little Couloir in Big Sky, MT has long been on my “to-do” or “must-do” list. Well it’s been on neither. I’ve seen a few descents of it over the last few years and none of them looked enjoyable. Firm, steep, oft rock-chocked would be better descriptors. Before my move to the Jackson in the winter of 2009/10 skiing “the Little” wasn’t even in my wheelhouse. I was a mediocre intermediate/advanced skier anyways, and whatever aspirations I had to do more, I wasn’t reaching as high as the Little. Now 4 years of 100+ a-day seasons later I’ve moved up the ladder to a mediocre sometimes-expert level skier. And my aspirations still don’t reach as high.

Big Sky Ski Patrol opened the Little Friday 3/14/14. Local BSSP-Pro Patroller Josh Winstead informed me they ran “like 30 people through there.” I was otherwise distracted by ski touring the mirco terrain off the Beehive Basin ridge line launching pillows and bashing branches. Saturday the area was closed and I had my sights set on the Lone Lake backcountry zone off the peak of Lone Mountain for Sunday. Josh had offered to guild what was to be my 1st trip back into this zone.

Josh between the West Wall and Apple Core

Josh between the West Wall and Apple Core

But the Little had other plans for me… Josh as well. The zone had opened back up and Josh was anxious to give it a go. His confidence and stoke was inspiring. Over and over he informed me that “it’s mostly a head game” and reminded me of things to the effect of “just don’t fall, because you’re gonna rag doll if you do.” The Pièce de résistance of Josh’s motivational pep talk centered around his personal testimony that he was “really puckered” and his out the patrol shack commentary on “getting out there and getting on top of it…to see if we can really sketch ourselves out” set the tone. I was inspired…to accidentally drop all the way down the North Summit snowfield. Or at least call my mom and confirm my living will and advanced medical directives.

While standing in line for the tram Josh and I discussed how it would be nice to see someone ski it while waiting. It gives you a little beta on the line, and mostly inspires you to think…well shoot if they can ski it and not die/get mortally injured, I must be able to do the same…right?!?!! Well we got our wish, a party of two posted up top and one dropped into the Little Couloir direct. While our planned route was to take Apple Core off the side it was still nice to see someone skiing the area. Until they fell, and fell, and rag dolled, and tumbled. The tram line exploded in gasps, and shouts of “o s%#t!!!” Both skis off, and a 500 foot fall under his belt the unknown brave sole came to a rest and slowly got back onto his feet. Confidence inspired. Good thing I saw that I thought to myself

At the top we waited 30 minuets for our spot. Just what you want to do when faced with a head game like the Little. The recent victim of the slope’s steep-ness and funky snow? A Pro-Patrol from Big Sky. Grrrrreat, if he’s a pro-patroller, what’s gonna happen to me I wondered? (A recent correction, this might have been a “volly” or volunteer patroller.) I stepped outside to take a leak and get another look. Mostly I wanted to have an empty bladder when I took the tumble. Seriously, that’s what crossed my mind. If I’m going to tweek a knee (or worse) I’d like to not have to use the restroom the whole time. While the patroller received a slow-clap welcome from his colleagues we made our way out into the wind and ridges of Lone Mountain’s Little Couloir.

It’s a quick ski and ridge hike to the entry of Little. Not to bad if the winds were lighter. 50 mph wind speeds would shut down the triple, and the higher gusts on the ridgeline at elevation buffeted us and made every movement a deliberate one. While watch Josh ski one blast would almost knock me off the ridge, my move to steady myself almost did the same to my skis. On top of Apple Core Josh offered to row sham bow to see who went first. That’s a doozie. Do I stand up here and get some beta on the line from watching you ski, alone, in the wind, with nothing but my thoughts and demons to keep me company? Well I had the Go Pro on my head, and the shots of him going in from the top would look better from here, so it was decided. Phil and his demons, and the wind, and his Go Pro could say up here and keep each other company.

The 1st Turn

The 1st Turn

The entrance wasn’t too tricky. The key was to not look down and to the left. You’re going down to the right anyways. The “west wall” as it’s known is a 700 foot plus cliff band you are sliding over for a few moments. Nothing down there but despair (and more demons, although the wind drops away rapidly once you come to a rest in a heap at the bottom of the cliff). Once off the west wall you slide down and into the upper choke. the snow here was loose, punchy with some big rocks sticking out. The move was to side step down those. Not the cleanest way to get in, but a way in none the less. Hopefully with the side stepping packing the sloe in the next round of riders will get a cleaner line with more snow and less rocks. That’s me, always doing my civic duty.

Once into the meat of the Little it’s all about big, energy expending jump turns (the 1st one of which I almost blew up on…niiiiice). I tried a bit to hard to get some style points for the passing tram car, and was thinking about my next turns before I completed my 1st one. After that I reeled it back in. Hard to get steezy with it when you’re in traction at a hospital. I reeled my tram-cred points down and worked it out a little slower. Little comes together in the choke above the apron of the Secret entrance from the Big things get quite a bit mellower. But even on the tram-tastic legs with days of running 16 hot tram laps, almost a million feet of lift service and 200k of backcountry touring by then I was worked. Between the adrenaline, the almost eating it, and the head game I was spent. Linking the turns was do-able but arduous.

Back in the tram line as the triple was shutting down for wind it was all high-fives and red bulls (to quote http://www.backcountry.com). As we exchanged congratulatory remarks Josh waxed phil-low-sophically (as seen at the end of the video) “Nice, well we didn’t tomahawk it, so we got that going for us…”

Indeed we do!

-Philthy

Days: 71, YTD lift assist 945,493, YTD self propelled 185,751

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Scattered but not distant

Posted: March 12, 2013 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

While the buzzards are currently scattered, geographically speaking, they continue to remain close to their core values and up to mischief regardless of their location. The next few posts are updates on what we have been up to in our particular place of residency (regardless of how temporary). Despite the many miles between us the bonds forged during past exploits remain stronger than ever and plans are constantly being hatched for future jaunts. Hope you enjoy.

Ratio of man meat to sq/ft of ledge is way to high. Palisade Traverse

Ratio of man meat to sq/ft of ledge is way to high. Palisade Traverse

Tris

The Moments That We Miss

Posted: January 18, 2012 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

You always hear that the destination is not what matters but rather the journey.  Although I agree with the sentiment, I really need the destination to be worthy of my journey and that’s the carrot that often drives me.  As a climber I can look back on the last 12 years of my life and very vividly remember the emotions, movements, and motivations that got me up some of the most meaningful routes in my life.  Nearly a decade after it happened I can tell you how hard my heart was pounding the first time I clipped the chains of my first 5.10 sport route or how terrified I was when I missed the pads on Strength in Numbers in Bishop, CA and wrecked my ankle.  It’s not that it is so unusual that I can remember these things so well its just that I’m in awe of how tiny these slivers of my life were, mere seconds.  The months of hard work that lead to that few minutes on the route seem to disappear into the mists of time but the route itself lives on in a disproportionally large time scale.  The journey’s of my life seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye while the destinations live in some sort of time warp that makes me feel like those were the things that lasted so very long.  A collection of very small moments, milliseconds, seconds, minutes, are what make up the bulk of the sense memories of my adult life.

100,000 ft and counting.

This year something new happened for me.  I decided I wanted to become a backcountry skier and really wanted to focus on seeing how many vertical feet I could ascend this season and basically chose 100,000ft as an arbitrary goal.  Just the other day I passed that milestone and have no intention on stopping any time soon.  In the process I’ve gone out for 34 days so far but it was also one of the first times where the journey is truly in the forefront of my mind.  There are surely milliseconds of amazing turns, or minutes of perfect drops, but the bulk of it is hours and hours of walking up hills on skis.  The journey is the destination for the first time in my life.  In a great and energizing twist a journey like this gives you a lot of time to breathe, reflect, think, plan, experience, dream, and remember everything that has come and everything that will be.

 

These last few weeks I have been very fortunate to share these days with some very good friends namely Tris, Phil, Wally.  These guys are always there being supportive, smiling, breathing hard up the last hill, and pushing harder for the next goal.  I firmly believe that the closest connections and the ones that have lasted the longest in my life were all forged in the mountains.  The mountains are a pure, simple, inspiring place.  And they are a place without limits.  There is always a higher peak, a farther destination, a bigger day, a faster time, a cleaner line.  The only thing that ever changes is you.  The mountains have infinite patience and they will wait until you are ready, and if the day comes they will reward you with a moment of your own.  That moment may be brief or it may be long, but it will be a moment that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

 

We can learn so much from our time in the mountains if we pay attention and come to it with a beginners mind.  Mountains are strong, but they can crumble.  They are beautiful, but they can become ugly.  They can be inviting, and they can be dangerous.  They can inspire, and they can cause despair.  All of these things are things the you can see all the time, but they will reveal themselves in the moment, and if we don’t miss them, we’ll be forever enriched.

Head out towards the horizon beyond the horizon, and you’ll find that your journey will be eternal, and complete.

Never Ending Lessons
 

A Life Elevated

Posted: December 17, 2011 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

So about a week ago a good friend of the Buzzard, Greg Gavin, started chirping in our ears about the awesomeness that is the North Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn (5.4, ~1,000ft and a 4.5 mile 2,900ft skin in) would be all the rage this holiday season.

Our route basically takes the couloir on the far right to gain the summit via the ridge on the sun/shade line

Little did I know that another friend, Rob Duncan had done the route a week ago and described it to me as “all grins, all day!”  With recommendations like that and no new snow in the forecast for what I’m pretty sure will be the foreseeable future, the gauntlet was laid down.  The North Ridge was officially on the docket for this morning and with a solid 6 hours of drinking under my belt, my engines were revved up for an early start.

Love these thoughts looming in my head.

We made our way swiftly to the trailhead at White Pine, with a quick detour to the Great Harvest bakery where Amanda Cencak was ready to fuel us up for the day ahead.  The scene was set.

So somedays you feel like your feet are made of lead and your eyes can’t see a single thing for what it is, and other days you feel like a superman.  Today I was the Übermensch, that rarified creature that just wants to get after it.  Unfortunately sometimes when you are feeling so good and moving fast you make mistakes.  I definitely made one today that could have ended poorly but luckily ended with only some wasted time and unplanned jumping jacks.  Here is the story of why you don’t solo when your partner is not right behind you.

Tris and I made amazing time heading towards the base of the route today and had managed the 2,900ft and 4.5 miles in three and half hours included a lung busting slog up the couloir that drops you off at the base of the climb proper.  Putting in the skin track, putting in the booter, and not even feeling like you’ve even begun to open up the throttle puts you in a weird place.

Making quick work towards the start of the route.

We got up on top of the saddle where the climb would begin and began a quick discussion regarding whether or not we should rope up or if we felt comfortable soloing the climb.  We decided that we would solo but if we felt wigged out then we could pull the rope out.  Although 5.4 is and should always been peanuts for climbers like us, things change when you are climbing it on loose rock, wearing ski boots, crampons, a full pack, and skis on your back, not to mention you are also wearing gloves.

So psyched for the boot. Skis are off, day is clear.

I set out into the great beyond and after a few feet started to feel the rhythm and ended up picking up some steam.  All the while Tris was pretty close behind and we were checking in with each other and deciding we were feeling pretty good about the whole thing.  I made my way up and over a bulge not thinking too much about it and found myself sitting beneath the gendarme near the top of the climb waiting for Tris to show up… and then I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting.  At this point I started to get somewhat concerned as he was right behind me and now was nowhere to be seen.  It tuns out what happened at that last bulge was that Tris got spooked, and it happens to all of us, but he could not commit to the 5.4 move under  the circumstances and so ended up staying on the ledge below.  By the time I began to think of down soloing to him to rope up (he had the rope) another party had offered to tag a line for him that I could belay him on once they made it to us.  I spent a lot of time thinking on the ledge that I wasn’t super comfortable down soloing some of that terrain and then thinking of options for what could be done.  I ended up doing a bunch of calisthenics to stay warm while I awaited his arrival.  Safe and sound (albeit probably a bit frazzled).

Sky Above, Earth Below (and our skin track)

Needless to say we roped up for the remainder and it went without incident.  But we lost a lot of time.  That we are sure of.

This was the first sunshine we experienced all day. On the summit.

At the summit we got to take a look at the Northwest Couloir which currently is completely devoid of snow but remains on the ticklish for the season (if it ever materializes).  A few photos and snacks up top led to less than stellar skiing back to the car.  Interestingly enough the skiing wasn’t bad because of the snow for once (as the high north faces are holding pretty good snow) but because the complete lack of snow is still making hit rocks, and lots of them, a problem.

Still no snow in the NW Couloir.

Back at the car, there was no one to look hard for.  With lessons learned, egos in check, we descended back into the smog of the city after having an amazing taste of a life elevated.

Sea of smog in the city. Sea of tranquility in the sky.

 

It’s Official

Posted: December 13, 2011 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

Here is the Official BC Buzzard’s logo. Arthur passed off a, uhhhh, rough sketch of the Buzzard’s vision off to Myanda Bair for a fair bit of refinement.  As you can see she crushed it, truly capturing the hyper vigilant lurking nature of the Buzzards. Always searching for scraps.

From dusk till dawn, bent poles and battered wings.

Posted: November 15, 2011 by bcbuzzards in Uncategorized

Dusk on the Wasatch

What a combo Fri/Sat/Sun for the buzzards, and the tri-canyons. Tris and I ventured up into the higher reaches of Ballroom at Alta Friday afternoon sans Arthur. Racing up with the sun was lowering down was a great way to start the weekend. The snow in the upper Ballroom area below Little Baldy Chute was rot and garbage. Growing up in Eastern Montana, I’m well used to seeking this snow there, but know in areas like the Wasatch, where big storms can roll in over night, I know this to be very, very problematic.

Tris's coat doubles as a sun on cloudy days

The discussion of Saturday’s tour resulted in an immediate roll back. Arthur had sights set on Room Of Doom, an exposed, steep, wide-open face in upper Cardiff. Reports of lingering instability, with the prospects of 6-9” overnight helped all of us reel in those ambitions. A tour up Days Fork, however, wouldn’t prove much better.

The climb up about 2 plus miles from Big Cottonwood Canyon was down right miserable. Blowing wind with sleet and grapple, and more wind pounded us whole way. A brief discussion on how to gain an East running, North facing ridge resulted in the decision to try and move up a steeper, low hill unto a bench which would then provide a more direct route up. This was opposed to the prospect of touring further up into the Days Fork upper bowl and looping back at the ridge. 2 to 1 was the final count. I’ll abstain from point fingers (*sheepish grin*).

Uggh

I pushed the skin-track up onto the face. 60 feet high, with an angle of about 35 degrees, and little snow created spicy, agonizing conditions. As I moved over a group of snow covered bushes, with Arthur about 20-30 feet behind me I saw the slope propagate about 6” deep, and begin to pull out 60’ or so feet, running mostly behind me. The loose soft slab ran over Arthurs boots and missed my entirely. Tris, making a kick turn behind us was right in a terrain trap. He was swept off his feet and about 20 feet down slope, bending his pole in the process.

After poking around the crown we all agreed the slide had broken on a long ridge of exposed rock, which had been covered, and was retaining no snow at all, filling in again as we stood there, re-setting the mousetrap for the next party of travelers. Evidence of a previous break and slide could be seen about 3 feet above this crown, indicating this is a frequent problem on this slope. This was a first hand look at our own personal glide crack. Taking this as a clear indication of what the snowpack held, the buzzards pulled back for the day, rolling back out to the car, and the warm embrace of SLC.

This skin track brought to you by bcbuzzards.com

Sunday found the crowds returning to Alta. An early start left us alone with first tracks down to the Collins Mid-Mountain station. From there, the Chilkoot Trail had formed. I kicked myself for commenting at the noticeable lack of crowds as we dropped down. Hordes of powder hungry locals were crawling up the hill in a relentless line. Armed with the common sense God gave Lemmings, they skied down on top of each other all day. Injuries off Gunsight from a previous rider being swept down in a slide weren’t enough to give people cause to pause for rescue work. Riders contented to descend, and send down slides onto rescue parties. While skiing a black, heavily treed slope off the Collins lift our group was interrupted by 3 skiers, running a train right down the slope, splitting our group in half, and placing all of their party onto a slope already occupied by one of ours. The Was-Angles was in full effect, all that needed to be add to the mix of un-prepared, un-educated, inconsiderate backcountry riders is a few helicopters rallying touristas to easily accessible backcountry lines and the season would have been in full swing.

Philth and the worm turns

The sad passing of Jamie Pierre serves as a distant trumpet call over a long forgotten battlefield, a call reminding all of us as to what this season holds. Amidst the joys of our turns, frustration, sadness, and harms awaits all of us. People will continue to push the envelope. People will continue to ride terrain they should not be riding, and will often come home with nothing more than an uber-rad story about how sick the snow is. Slope testers will center punch lines all over the Wasatch and beyond, doing so with little more than a cliff bar and some cold green tea in their packs. Even for the pious, well educated, errors in judgment will result in close calls, sobering reminders, and worse.

Winter is calling; as we awaken from our warm summer slumbers, take care to shake the cobwebs out early. The mountains have no respect for your knowledge, ability, sponsorships… Move cautiously, carefully and diligently. Take your time, and choose your actions wisely. Better to come home with no epic story than to not come home at all.

Philth

The Great Gig in the Sky...RIP Jamie Pierre

If It’s White, Ski It.

Posted: November 8, 2011 by bcbuzzards in Skiing, Uncategorized

Tris in lower Baldy Main

Baldy Main Chute

What an amazing weekend for the Buzzards.  We were lucky enough to the Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop on Saturday to brush up on some information as well as learn a bit about some accidents that happened here last year.  The presenters were well prepared and managed to convey their messages clearly and in an engaging way.  The title of this post is a not to a joke that was prevalent around the Wasatch last season and for good reason, we had record snowfall and certainly the most snow I’ve ever seen (as it was my first season amongst the Greatest Snow On Earth).  We’re hoping for another awesome year where the phrase will ring true once again.  On to the skiing!

Saturday morning began with with a trip up to Brighton to sample the conditions and get a feel for what the season was going to look like when they opened later this week.  There was loose talk of picking up our passes but that was not to be due to the time constraints of USAW later that morning.  We weren’t the first on scene today as a party of 2 were heading out to the lot at first light.  We made relatively quick work of the skin up to Pioneer Ridge where some thing coverage and windy traversing found us above a pretty decent face that we ended up skiing 2x that morning since it was pretty darn good the first time around.  We have to constantly remember that it is early November and not the heart of the season so there will be stumps, rocks, ice, trees, and dirt that will be hit if we aren’t pretty careful.  As a matter of fact I think all of those were nailed this weekend and some of that resulted in a few tumbles but no serious damage to any of us or our equipment.  Today’s true delight (not counting the skiing which goes without saying) was Phil’s deployment of his personal signature move, the MS!  The Manger’s Special is a day old rack found at Smith’s Grocery store around here and its bountiful delights blessed us with Mini Pecan Pies to fuel the second lap.  Little treats go a long way.

Sunday was the best day of the season so far with us finding ourselves with French Toast in our bellies, coffee in our mugs, an extra hour of rest, and a close call on the slippery road up Little Cottonwood Canyon!  All this before 6am.  We ended up at the Alta area before the lot was opened since they were still moving snow from the previous days.  We ended up parking on the road which worked out well since we are all eternal optimists so that meant that we would get a few extra feet of vert walking back up to the road, I’ll take em’ where we can get em’!  On Saturday night, I was thinking about the Lone Ranger from Wednesday morning and it got me thinking, we should ski Baldy Main on Sunday.  And as you get to know the Buzzards, you will know that the prospect of an adventure or a good time fraught with some sweat and hard work will almost always be met with grins and nods of approval.  We fired up the mountain passing the snow guns to gain the ridge beyond the Wildcat Chair we made quick and windy work up to the drop in.  Some wind loading on the Northern aspects had set up some interesting snow on the way up and we were interested what it would look like in the chute.

The last time Phil and I were up here it was early August and the coverage was thin… now it was early November and the coverage was inviting.  But like all things, the past links to the present and we found an icy bench just below the first drop that might be problematic later in the season as it gets covered over and new snow forms on this garbage ice bench.  Just below the ice bench there is maybe a 10-15′ icy headwall at this time which we rightly thought would be crux of the pitch.  Phil dropped in first and found that his beater rock skis weren’t up to the task of biting into that headwall and he ended up slipping down it before firing right back into form and shooting down to the safe zone and calling Tris down.  He picked his way down past the ice as well to the good stuff below, and finally I did the same.  The advantage of being 3rd in the lineup is I was able to figure out where most of the rocks were so I could link turns without much concern.  After regrouping at the safe zone we again leap frogged to the exit and then blasted out onto the apron into the first of the sunshine we’d seen all day.  Those were some amazing turns and plastered smiles on our face for the rest of the day.  We had time for one more lap before Phil had to get to work so we made quick work of a skin up the Collins chair from the angle station just as the hoardes were beginning to descend upon the area.

Always a great feeling to be finishing up with your tracks the lone ones on the snow from a great line on a great day, when others are just rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

"It seems so easy climbing to the top, you better know the way back down..."