As I break out of the trees onto the frozen surface of Rainy Lake my spirit soars with the opening view. It feels good to be out. The muted light that display's eye catching shadows, shapes and lines is captivating, and super surreal. I'm encouraged to shift my up hill mode into touring casual.
Before we left the Zermatt Heli-pad Barrymore gave us our only instructions for the day, "Don't lose a ski". "If you do the day will be lost." As I wait my turn at a run before the camera his words reverberate in my ears. My anxiety about skiing these high glaciers of the Monte Rosa (Europe's second highest, 15,203 ft (4,634 m)) is particularly piqued. I've never traversed in this realm of massive seracs and bottomless crevasses before, and I don't want to screw up now for a number of reasons.
For many riders, including myself, the best time of year to mountain bike on the local trails in Bend, OR, is after the first few rains of early Fall. Cooler weather combined with the added moisture keep the trails firm and tacky, making for the ideal rubber-to-ground contact. Technical climbs become a little easier, confidence brews on fast corners, and riding with friends is simply more fun on dust-free singletrack. The problem is that as the days grow shorter, there is less and less time to ride after the work day. This used to push mountain biking to a weekend activity come Fall-- not anymore.
While night mountain biking might seem like a masochistic, peripheral sporting endeavor, the fact is that with the advent of new generation, affordable, and bright LED bike lights, even beginning-intermediate mountain bikers can enjoy trail riding after dark. The longer days of summer used to be a mountain biker’s best friend—get caught on a trail after dark, and the chances for a hard fall or having to walk your bike back to the trailhead start to rise. Alas, the new, lightweight and fast charge LED mountain bike lights extend the mountain biking season into October and November, and if you’re an avid mountain biker, help alleviate the doldrums of the nine-to-five. I now begin rides in mid-October at 5:30pm during the last hour of daylight and segue seamlessly into an after-hours adventure-- the lights are bright and the fun doesn’t stop until I get back to the trailhead.
As Louis L'Amour sings in my ears, "The thing to remember when traveling is that the trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for." I pole tap in quick step to keep pace as Lowell takes deceptively long strides. It seems ages since my brother and I have partnered on a mountain adventure together. At one time we were so in tune that each others next move was anticipated, and the mental vibrations were felt on the other end of the rope.
Standing on the Col du Chardonnet checking my anxiety, I watch as Jeff repels into the swirling mist. Vaporizing into its depth of uncertainty we've taken a huge leap of faith; for this 55 degree glazed slot is the switching point. Once this bone yard of steeps and spires is crossed there is no turning back. We've laid our cards down on a questionable weather forecast in an attempt to ski from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland; some 60 miles across the spine of the European Alps, "The Classic Haute Route".
Three day weekends seem to have an air of importance and a sense of urgency. They are long enough to get out on a trip; yet still to short to cover much ground. With a three day weekend quickly approaching plans were laid for a relaxed trip to the Northern California Coast for a sampling of some bouldering on the beach and clipping bolts on beautiful sweeping limestone cliffs. Most climbing trips begin with days of thumbing through guide books, checking weather reports, and compiling a list of climbs you’d like to do.
Equipped with boulder pads, quickdraws, rope, and a quiver of shoes we made for a quasi-alpine start barreling out of Bend in Drew’s Scubaroo at 7:00 am sharp! Our trip had us starting in the High Desert and took us through snow covered mountain passes, through the jaw dropping Redwoods, and eventually to the boulder strewn California Coast.
With the first laboring strides my mind wanders, as it often does, from thoughts of the sketchy breakfast I had to kick off the day, to work related tasks, to the hordes in the flatlands that have queued up religiously in their daily lives. As I gain access to the open staircase of Silver Star Creek, my mind snaps into focus when Ed's CD player overflows my ears, and the first view of our destination reveals itself. For a moment I'm awe struck, and then overwhelmed again, as I'm stunned in my tracks by the grandeur of this place. I've come here many times over some 30 years, but what stands before me can only be described as the cathedral of backcountry skiing.
Anxious to test the high reaches, Ed and I linger little as we confront the lower headwall, while our eyes make note of the numerous plumb lines beckoning the arc of our skis. They will have to wait, as we have bigger vertical to fry. Swapping leads we relish in the effort, punching a path through a new up-line to a ramp that Ed suggests in order to gain the panoramic north ridge. Like every impression of the day, the route doesn't disappoint. I stagger as my balance is challenged by the landscape, and my constant need to take it all in. The truth is I can't. It's simply so overpowering that we agree to take a lunch break to reorient ourselves. Sitting in a lofty state of appreciation, we see Owen making quick work our up-track. Getting off to a slower start, he's been bird dogging us for hours wondering if he would ever catch up. As we share some of Ed's home grown, home made broccoli soup, the conversation flows to the conditions, and where to ski.
Standing on the lofty wooden scaffold trying to calm my nerves, I stared down the parallel track that ran straight as an arrow like railroad rails off into oblivion. With little conviction, I called "OK" down to the knoll. Back came the response, "Clear", which was received with mixed response. My heart leapt as my spirit said "Go", but my reason said, "What are you doing, this is crazy".Watch the video.