Thursday, September 25, 2008

Seasons in transition - First turns of the year!

Well, it's been a rainy and cold summer in Alaska, which means earlier-than-normal glacier skiing :-) A group of us headed up to the Lane Glacier near Hatcher Pass for what turned out to be totally legitimate powder skiing! We got 4 runs in before calling it a day and hiking out in a blizzard!

Seasons in transition . . . lovely fall colors!

Getting closer to winter . . .

Oh, how we love Alaska skiing in zero vis! Thankfully we had pockets of better light :-)

Forest won the award for style :-) It was his birthday weekend, after all!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The 8000

8000 meters that is. Vert. On foot. Traveling 38 miles.

Each year, JanSport issues a challenge to outdoor retailers who sell their products.

The challenge is to ascend three peaks in Southern California, with a combined total vertical of 8000m (24,000 feet), up and down. The winner of the challenge is the retailer who can get the most employees up all three peaks by the end of the day. (In the event of a tie, the winner is the retailer who donates the most money to Big City Mountaineers) CEO, Jim Holland accepted the challenge from JanSport, and passed it on to his staff with emails like this:

"Let's go tough guys. Who's in?"

Twelve of us accepted his challenge:

Brendan Gibson, Brad Tollefson, Bill Hartlieb, Jamon Whitehead, Cathy Sonnenberg, Eric Miller, Colby Gilmore, Ken Myers, Walt Walter, Joel Brazle, Chris Dunn, Brenda Leonard as well as Jim himself.

Liz Dean and Ken Myers stepped up to do the planning, so in the evening before the start, we got together with the other teams at Mt. Baldy Lodge for a free feed and Skip Yowell's slideshow about his long history with JanSport. This was followed by the lowdown on the course for the next day.

For the first mountain, Mt. Baldy (aka San Antonio), we were told to "just follow the headlamps in front of you". Which we duly did at 5am the next morning. The problem though, was that those headlamps weren't following anyone, and five of us had run 25 minutes the wrong way.

The five of us were together because we had split into groups aligned with which of the four cars we had planned to be in for the trip to the next mountain. You see, as well as running up and down these three mountains, we had to drive ourselves between them - about 3hrs of total driving.

With all of our training, and we had all trained hard, and despite the extra couple of miles, Mt. Baldy wasn't too much of a challenge with 3800 ft vert over 11 miles, and the temperature was very pleasant at five in the morning. I was with the group that had taken the extra couple of miles, so found myself behind 70 other competitors at the top of the mountain. Brad and Bill (because they're arguably wiser), hadn't taken the detour, so were well placed in the top ten coming down the mountain.

That had changed a little by the start of Mt. Gorgonio, the longest and hardest of the three peaks. More efficient road logistics by my car meant that we were not far behind those guys and by the chilly top of Gorgonio, Bill and I had moved into 4th and 5th. Brad was a short way behind.

It was much easier to write that last paragraph than to actually do it ... Gorgonio gave us 5499 ft vert over 17 miles. A lot of that was seemingly interminable switchbacks up a scree slope in an adjacent drainage. The last couple of miles were much flatter, but at 11,500 feet - nothing is flat!

Back at the base of Gorgonio, had 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and according to the marshals, the first finishers who weren't covered in blood. The first two runners took some risks coming down the descent that was pretty technical, as well as long and grueling.

Across the desert to Palm Springs where it was 109F in the shade, the route first took a tram to 8516 feet on Mount Jacinto, and then a further 2564 feet to the summit, crossing 12 miles.

Although this was the Jansport 8000m Challenge and not the JanSport 8000m Race - we are a competitive lot, and so when we got to the tramdock ten minutes before the half-hourly tram was due to leave, we spent that ten minutes staring at the entrance, willing that no other competitors would catch up to us for the ride.

Thankfully, we were alone for the ride and enjoyed the sites from the "world's largest" rotating tram. From the top of the tram ride it was a pleasant jog up to the peak of Jacinto. This was my favorite leg. The late afternoon sunlight on the white granite was beautiful, and the view from the summit across the desert was stunning. The relief of finishing 12,000 feet of vert didn't hurt either...

On the way down, Bill, Brad and I passed the remainder of the team. Of the finishers, we had eight of the first eleven, and from my reckoning every one of us finished in the top thirty-five.

Brenda and Chris chose to camp for the night on the mountain, but the rest of us somewhat wearily caught the tram back down. Nursing 38 miles worth of sore feet and legs, but thinking of next year, and how we might run, or cycle, or paddle between the mountains, rather than drive.

Or not...

Words by Brendan Gibson. Photos by Jim Holland. Video by Eric Miller.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wild Weekend

With a few snows having dusted the upper Wasatch, I was anxious to get out and climb at least two more rock routes before winter closes in: Sundial Peak and Mt. Olympus. For this weekend, we decided Guert's Ridge on Mt. Olympus would be the best because we had the ability to watch the storms come in and adjust our climbing route accordingly.

Driving to the trailhead, the skies were heavy. When we parked at the trailhead there was a very suspicious and talkative fellow who immediately inquiried how far we were going and how hard it would be, etc. It seemed a bit odd, but I thought little of it. While walking up the trail, we notice a second person sitting in the rocks with no apparent purpose for being there. Immediately we thought, "Oh crap, he's a spotter who notifies his buddy in the parking lot when to stop breaking into cars and act innocent." Mt. Olympus has been known to have these break-in problems in the past, so we took the time to descend the trail, move my car down to Foothill Drive and hope it was safe. Turns out, at the end of the day the car was safe. Maybe we're just paranoid. :-)

Storms crossed the Salt Lake Valley all day long, but incredibly, the storms would split and the southern portion of the storm would hit Big/Little Cottonwood and the northern portion would hit downtown SLC. Other than some strong winds that we occasionally dealt with, we never got touched. Amazing!

Guert's Ridge was a fantastic climb. I would highly recommend it. There is one portion of the route rated at 5.5, but it felt easier. The rest is 3rd/4th class and low 5th class. Lots of fun, fast climbing and two moderate rappels with great views.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Red Mud

So it seems Fall has arrived in Utah now and the rainstorms it brings have followed suits. Other than teasing us with light snow dust above 10,000' it provides us with some awesome mountain biking conditions.

The combination of the rain, dry earth in UT, and red tires results in some awesome trail riding.

Here are some photos from the Mid-Mountain & Spiro Trails in Park City last weekend.
Mike climbing under park city chairs

I outrun the Fall storm system

Mike climbing in another Park City Aspen Grove

It’s not fun until I find something to jump off of

 Mike flying over some chocolate chips

I ride past some awesome greenery
 The athletes of 48Straight showing off
That's all until my next ride!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Progress toward a more bike-friendly SLC

I've heard other cyclists speak longingly of Portland (now ranked number 2 in the world's friendliest bike cities) and other places like Boulder, Davis, and San Franciso. Unfortunately, Salt Lake is rarely considered by locals to be safe for cyclists. This is rather incongruent with the fact that Salt Lake is generally considered one of the outdoor meccas of the United States, if not the world. I was surprised to find that the typical reaction of my friends and family after learning of my decision to bike commute to work was a mixture of shock and concern. Apparently, the streets here are perceived by most as harrowing and dangerous places- owing to the preponderance of drivers who range from the uneducated (and thus don't know how to safely react to cyclists) to the inconsiderate to the down-right pathological. In my own experience, a hand-full of drivers have frightened me well enough so that I am especially appreciative of the exemplary drivers who are observant, considerate, and safe. And yes, such drivers do exist in Salt Lake. My sincere thanks goes to each and every one of them.

However, recent events like last week's horrible crash involving Andy Chapman, a local climber and cyclist and all-around great guy have given me much to think about. Andy was Life Flighted to Provo Hospital for treatment of several major injuries after going through the window of a van whose (uninsured!) driver had cut him off. Thanks to the heroic actions of Adrienne Burke, Andy survived and is currently recovering quickly, but past tragic incidents have proven fatal. Reading through the online comments to the KSL and Deseret news coverage of the incident, it is clear that the cycling and motorist communities are rather polarized. The the solution to bring these two groups together and dispel the animosity underlying the fight over sharing the road is as yet elusive. However, this "problem" deserves our immediate attention as is not likely to go away (as some groups might hope). Indeed, continuing gas price hikes ensure that collisions involving motor vehicles and bicycles are, unfortunately, more likely to increase in frequency.

Image of Ralph Becker from the Deseret NewsStill, there is hope for Salt Lake. I was surprised (and delighted) to see new green bike lanes downtown this afternoon. These bright green swaths were introduced on September 17th by Salt Lake's mayor, Ralph Becker, and appear square in the middle of the right-hand lane. They serve as a reminder to drivers that it is, in fact, legal for cyclists to ride in the center of a travel lane. These markings are not meant to replace bike lanes and will be kept as a year long experiment. Of course, we will have to wait to see if they help to increase motorist's awareness of cyclists, but it's definitely a good to see of the city admit that sharing the road is an issue worthy of attention and is taking steps to improve the situation.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fall is in the air!

I cruised up Timpanogos on Monday with my wife. Her first summit! The day was phenemonal, perfect weather, chilly temperatures, and the colors are beginning to change.

Primrose Cirque, Timpanogos.

Mountain goats in Timpanogos Basin with their fat winter coats from the Timpanogos hike on Monday.

Fall colors from 2007. Good for some fall hiking/climbing stoke.
Timpanogos from Cascade Mountain.

Second Summit, Timpanogos.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Kesugi Ridge

After a summer of cross-country travel, Sherrie and I decided to check out one of Alaska's most amazing trails: Kesugi Ridge. We chose the 28-mile version from Little Coal Creek to Byer's Lake. The trail climbs and then hits a plateau that offers almost unbostructed view of Denali and the Alaska Range.

Sherrie coming up off the first climb, Denali in the background

What a ridge!
The Alaska Range - need we say more?
A truly amazing trail . . . a bunch of cross country really makes a girl appreciate a good trail!
It even got warm enough to wear tank tops . . . looking toward the Susitna River
The descent to Byer's Lake was, shall we say, direct :-)

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Full-Suspension Fun

Date: August 19 - 30, 2008
Location: Salt Lake City, UT - Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT
Featuring: Me (Jake Kirshner), Mike Saltsman

While the Dew Action Sports Tour may be all the rage in Salt Lake City, mountain biking in the Wasatch is where the real fun is being had. Here is some footage to prove it!

Low Res YouTube Version:

High-Res Version:
(right-click > save target/link as...)


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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Validating the Effort

Traveling in the mountains combines so many variables that one of the great thrills is meeting that uncertainty head-on, recognizing that the problem solving and decision making are half the fun. Unfortunately, the accomplishment of your mountain goal doesn't always mirror your efforts. You can be caught in a whiteout just prior to an epic line after hours of brutal trailbreaking; or, be surrounded by lightning and thunder a thousand feet from the summit after two days of climbing; or, experience furious, unstable winds on a narrow ridgeline midway through a traverse. Yet every now and then, the stars align and you have one of those experiences that validates all the effort that you expend in the mountains.

This summer I went back to the Cascade volcanoes to climb two more mountains off my wishlist: Mount Hood and Mount Adams (pictured below, as seen from Mt. Rainier).

At Mount Adams, the road was still snowed-in 3.5 miles from the trailhead. There was no way we could carry all of our climbing gear an additional 7 miles round trip, so we decided to abandon our more technical route, in order to spend half the day digging out the road and climb the standard route. We teamed up with other climbers and started to dig ruts in the snow. After four hours, we were only half way. With no possibility of turning the trucks around, we had to finish digging the road all the way to the trailhead parking lot--it was pure hell.
I cursed this decision multiple times, wondering how all this effort would ever be worth it. Then, when we reached the trailhead, a 30-day survival group had a young adult who had fallen in a tree well with a 70-pound pack and blown out his knee. They had no idea how to get him down the mountain. They were preparing to carry him in a stretcher made of sticks when we showed up at 8pm. They were stunned and emotional at the same time. We put the boy in the back of the car and drove him down our newly opened road. It was an incredible experience. To have spent all that energy and time on a seemingly stupid decision, and then to validate the crushing effort by helping someone in such desperate need. 
Although we didn't get to climb the Mazama Glacier, the following day was perfect weather and we climbed the standard South Spur route, nearly 6,700 vertical feet and 14 miles round trip. You can never have enough good Karma!

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The Sanctuary River . . . an Alaskan packraft classic!

I recently did the Sanctuary River loop with my friend Sherrie. We took 3 days so we could hang out in the high country and explore. The route is from Cantwell to Denali Park, where you catch the bus back to the park entrance. It's about equal parts hiking and floating . . . enjoy the view!

Me hiking up the Windy River. I had recently gotten flowers and had nothing to do with them, so I took them on the trip!

Sherrie hiking up over the pass . . . still enough snow to make some turns, and some great recon for amazing couloirs!

On the other side of the pass, heading down to Refuge Valley . . . just as the sun is trying to decide if it will stay or go :-)

Trudling (? sp) big rocks down sweet coolies on our peak bagging afternoon

The view from the top did not suck :-)

The view from the valley was also quite nice, as was the evening light!

On of our many scree descents . . . I actually felt it in my downhill ski muscles!

On the shore of the Sanctuary River, with what looks to be an amazing ridge walk in the background! We were so happy to be in the sunshine!!!

Sherrie floating the Sanctuary River . . . what a day!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Vacation Workout

A little more than a week ago I flew to California for the Michigan State vs. California football game. Arriving on a Thursday meant that my normal workout routine was interrupted.

Normally during the fall, I have yoga Monday, ski conditioning Tuesday and Thursday, ride my horse on Wednesday and Friday and go for a couple of big mountain bike rides on Saturday and Sunday. Exceptions to the rule are when I switch out a trail run in the mix.

Back to a week ago... I flew into San Francisco on Thursday evening and so Friday there were no plans - just whatever plan my mother and I cooked up to spend the day before the big game. It was only about 8:30 a.m. on Friday when I snapped. Away from Park City for only a day and I was craving an outdoor exercise outlet.

I hate the gym - the only reason to visit the gym in my mind would be during the months of November, December and January when it's not light enough to find your own car in a parking lot after work, never less share some quality time outdoors after 5 p.m.

So anyhow - before my mother had finished breakfast I was on my computer searching. This was tough - I was in San Francisco, California and I had absolutely no idea of where to go to get in the only outdoor activity that was feasible - a good trail run.

How many times do you go on vacation to a foreign state – never less a metropolitan city and wonder - where can I go and feel safe yet get in a good workout? Lucky for me my computer zoned in on the Tennessee Valley Trailhead located just off of Highway 101 on the scenic Route 1 in Marin County.

It seemed, at least on the computer, that Tennessee Valley had a labyrinth of trails along the Pacific Ocean. I told my mom we couldn't do anything unless I got in a good run first. She shrugged and went for a hike while I was running the "Golden Hills" and taking in the views of 200 foot cliff-bands meeting the deep blue sea.

I admit I thought it would be a snap to run there after coming down from the mountains to sea level, but to my surprise when the sign said “steep grade” it was serious.

The run that I did Friday morning was as steep as the Spiro Trail at Park City Mountain and had me puffing as much as I would have been on Puke Hill when we are hauling across the Wasatch Crest Trail from Deer Valley to The Canyons. I ran about 4 miles before finding my way back to the trail head. It was so beautiful I was almost sad for the run to end. And - since the game wasn't until 5 p.m. the next day, I was out the door early on Saturday morning to fit in another run.

I am sure that San Franciscan's have much better local secrets, but a tourist doesn't need 2000 feet of vertical when searching for a vacation workout. Instead a scenic and diverse trail system with lung bursting ascents and technical descents is more than enough to tide the tourist over until the plane lands and the tarmac is within site - sure beats the hotel treadmill any day!

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