29 May 2012

Monkey Face Birthday Climb

As I was writing my Mt. St. Helens blog it dawned on me that I never actually wrote about my last birthday celebration. Lazy and unacceptable - so here you go!

I spent my 27th birthday climbing Monkey Face at Smith Rock, Oregon. The iconic 350 foot rock pillar stands is the centerpiece of Smith Rock State Park, and has a number of challenging routes to the summit.  

New bouldering rock modeled after Monkey Face at the camping area

This was my 3rd of now 5 trips to the park, and I absolutely love it there. HAPPY PLACE! We followed the Pioneer route, which is traditionally 5 pitches of trad, aid, and sport climbing. 

My elementary attempt at route mapping

From my Climbing Terms blog, you should know what I mean by trad and sport climbing. Aid climbing is a different beast altogether. Aiding is the act of climbing a wall by pulling on gear, either trad pro or bolts. When a wall has zero features, aka no holds for hands or feet, climbers will drill bolts into the wall and use those bolts in harmony with specialized tools to climb. You clip into the protection, run the rope through, and use ascenders and étriers (ladders) to work your way up. Here's a visual:

Push ascendars up and lock into place, pull up and stand on  ladders. Rinse, repeat.

I've got to tell you people, aid climbing is HARD. I was not very good at it. Like, at all. We breezed through the first two pitches no problem with Jere on lead. Look, he wasn't even wearing climbing shoes the first pitch! 

Jere on lead with Duffy on belay

Duffy leading the bolt ladder

We got to the aid pitch and Duffy got on lead - it took him 15 mins max to put up the pitch. I was second in our group of 5 and I started out well enough. Jere was showing me the rope-ladders so to speak, and I was making progress.

When I was about 10 feet up we had some visitors - Kristi, my birthday buddy!, showed up with her group in tow and they perched on the adjacent ledge to cheer us on. 

Birthday girl Kristi at her perch

Around this time, more groups started to amass across the chasm from Monkey Face, because obviously climbing is exciting and they all wanted to watch! This is all well and good, except by this point I was struggling. Flailing to be specific.

I may be smiling, but there are tears behind those sunnies

Aiding, I'm told, can be easy when you know what you're doing and when all the gear is set up right. I was climbing on gear that wasn't mine, on an overhung bolt ladder, trying not to look down and get freaked from the exposure. 

It felt like ever 2 moves I had to take a break. The pitch took me 45 minutes and it was miserable. I was wallowing. Then, someone who shall remain nameless shouted to the masses of observers that it was my birthday. How did they respond? By singing me Happy Birthday as I'm 200 feet up! It was all the motivation I needed!

Tony finished the route

Jere cleaning the aid like a champ

After "sending" the aid route, I joined Duffy in the cave where we belayed up the others, who suffered equal difficulty at the hands of the ascenders. At least it wasn't just me.

View from the Monkey's Mouth - The Sisters

For the last pitch, the first move is very committing. You step out of the mouth over 300 feet of NOTHINGNESS and have to scramble up the side of the face to the top.

Duffy heading out of the mouth

I was freaked. So freaked, in fact, that when everyone else climbed to the very tippy top of the head, I stayed safe and sound hugging the rock at the belay station. What? I have no shame in admitting defeat!

Crew at the Top, me safe at the belay station

We shared a few celebratory cheers then it was time to rappel down. I was definitely excited about the rappelling! Open air long rap? YES PLEASE! Unfortunately, due to rope weight, the rap was not as exciting  (read: fast) as I had hoped but we all made it down in once piece, happy with our work for the day!

300 feet straight down

Double rope rappel - pretty scary exposure

Team Monkey Face You In The Eye

Thanks to everyone who joined me for 27 and 28! I need something epic for 30 (and 29 for that matter) - any ideas?

Birthday candles for all the May Babies - Kristi, Duffy, Tony, and me!

22 May 2012

Kendall Lakes

On March 23 I ventured out into the Kendall Lakes area with my buddies Anne and James. Kendall Lakes are near Snoqualmie Summit along the I-90 corridor and we had some great views of the surrounding hills on the clear, sunny day!

Summit at Snoqualmie

I still can't get over the amazing scenes that appear as if from nowhere when you're on skis. It's like all the sudden, BAM - gorgeous explosion right before your eyes! I'm so glad I stayed in Seattle, because the Cascades just have so many nooks and crannies waiting to be explored.

James taking it all in
Our day involved a lot more touring than skiing, but it was still a great workout and fun to be out in the sunshine.The snow was pretty deep, and we created quite the rut skiing up through some old tracks. It was also warm, so avy danger was increasing throughout the day.

Ski Tracks - you always know they go up by the pole marks along side

We made one lap breaking trail (mostly James) the whole way up, and we were hoping to take some laps, but alas snowshoers followed us and decimated our skin track. Note to snow shoe travelers - we love you and we're glad you're outside, but seriously don't follow ski tracks, it ruins them and then we have to make new ski tracks and that is not very neighborly. Nonetheless, the one run through this untracked pow was pretty darn fun!

Kendal Lakes Area

18 May 2012

Luna Locks

Seattle is showering us with unbelievably gorgeous weather of late. I have been riding to work for bike to work month, and of course for exercise and to tan my pasty, pasty PNW skin. Last week I rode through the Locks to mix up my commute. Luna insisted on posing for a glamour shot. It's a good thing she's pretty.

16 May 2012

Helens Dress Pics & Corny Video

I meant to post this video to the St. Helens blog but forgot, so here you go blogosphere - the awesome spring-corny turns coming down Helens on my birthday weekend! As you can tell from the giddy laughter, I really, really like skiing.


Also, here are some other great photos that were captured on other people's cameras!

Leaving at 5am

Weirdos on the summit

My friend Matt was flying over about the same time I was standing on top. Look carefully, you can see me. I'm right next to Kevin's sequins dress.

14 May 2012

Birthday Volcano Ski

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this SPECIAL announcement: In celebration of my 28th Birth Anniversary, yesterday I successfully summitted and skied Mt. St. Helens.

In a dress.

With about 300 other people.

That's right, they ALL care about my birthday!....that or it was Mother's Day and this is an annual event...but I'm going to continue to believe that they were all there for my burfday!

Our first glimpse of the mountain
I heard about the Mother's Day Helens Dress Ski a few months ago from my friend Ben (who you remember from this post) whose birthday is ALSO May 13! He's exactly 10 years older than me. When he mentioned it, I immediately took the opportunity to invite myself along. Thanks Ben!

Ben, Johnny (another BC skier friend I know), and I left Saturday early-afternoon and headed south. Leaving Seattle was a little sad as the weather has been absolutely stunning here lately, but it was equally nice down at Helens. We arrived around 6pm and it was still "shorts weather" - shorts and a tutu that is! We ate, drank, had some delicious birthday brownie cake (thanks Ben!) and got all prepped for the big ski before hitting the sack early! Our alpine start time had us waking up at 4:15am!

Kristina + Scissors + Beer = a good idea? (click to enlarge)

Night Flight

Johnny, Ben, and I were joined by 3 other people from Ben's hood on the Kitsap Peninsula and the 6 of us were on the trail by 5:30am. Most of the campers left the parking lot between 3-6am due to a warning issued about high avy danger. Actually about 1/2 of Ben's friends who were going to come down bailed because of the NWAC warning, but we assessed the situation and decided to still go, and I'm sure glad we did.

Always happy to be on the trail, I enjoyed skiing up through the trees for the first 1,000 feet while watching the sun come up. 

I'm enthusiastic in the morning without coffee. Don't hate.

As we got closer, you could see the ants heading up their giant hill. You can see the different paths straight up below. The true summit is to the left in the shadows.

Highway to the top
The trip took me a little over 5 hours and I stood on the summit by 10:45am. I'll stop yapping and let the photos do the talking. 

Getting out of the tress

Ben bootpacking post ridge traverse

One of my fave pictures from the weekend

About half way!

Head up on the left. Glissade down on the right. This is the hill that never ended

Once on the summit, I took in the amazing views, and was surprised when Kevin scooped me up for a summit pic, backpack and all! Kevin wins the unofficial Best Dress award.


Not a bad view. Not bad at all.

Closeup, Mt. Rainier got all dressed up for us

Birthday Buddies!

After spending my last birthday climbing Monkey Face, I didn't think I could top it, but this was definitely just as great! Thanks to everyone who was a part of it, and to all of you who mailed cards/got me flowers/called/texted/facebooked me Happy Birthday wishes. You know how to make a girl feel special.
Celebrating 28 years!

09 May 2012

Source Lake

March 18 was a fun day up at Source Lake. The Source Lake area is near Alpental, and feeds into the sidecountry of Alpental Ski Resort. It's also near Chair Peak, which many people will circumnavigate in one long day of touring. You can climb it in the summer, and I think I'd like to do that this year!

Heading up the valley
The skinning was interesting, as we went up a safer route in the trees to stay off open bowl, but the skin tracks had been laid in were quite steep and slick. I can definitely say that there was wallowing on my part. But, we eventually made it to the ridge that was our objective, then took 3 short laps down the back side to Source Lake before coming back out from whence we came.

Frozen Hair - a great look for me
The skiing was pretty mellow, only about a 3,000ft day in dry, fluffy snow, but as always, it was super fun!

07 May 2012

Skyline Ridge

On March 16, I tagged along with 3 boys to Skyline Ridge and got in about 4,500 feet of skiing. For me, that's a good day (although most boys will say they'd like about 7,000 feet at least).

Skyline Ridge, also known as Heather Ridge, is off of Hwy 2, which goes through awesome towns like Sultan, Start Up, and Gold Bar, Washington. Since I was with 3 hungry men, we stopped en route at the Sultan Bakery where I ordered a breakfast sandwich. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Well, I knew I was wrong when they asked if I'd like mayo on it....yeah....no thank you. Actually to be fair I had been forewarned about the size and sheer awesomeness of the food at the bakery, but nothing prepared me for this:

My nemesis

A sandwich the size of a large styrophome basket! The breakfast sandwich comes complete with very thick bread, a sausage patty bigger than your face, 2 slices of plastic American cheese, and at least 3 eggs overeasy. Yum?

Did I eat it? HELL YES (full disclosure, I only ate about 60%). Was it delicious, greasy goodness? Absolutely. It was the perfect hangover food (not that I was hungover)  However it did put me in a food coma - so much so that I had to take an emergency siesta for the rest of the car ride to the mountain.

For more reading on the Sultan Bakery - check out this amusing blog post!

Okay, on to the point: skiing! We got up to Skyline ridge and the boys broke trail through amazing, deep snow. I don't know how I got so lucky, but this was another great day in the backcountry! Here are some pictures taken by the talented Chris Parks.

Heading up to the ridge, you can see the deep snow, I'm 2nd in line, Imran breaking trail

Stump Cornices at the top

Chris uses a trick where he takes a picture through his sunnies - I am going to borrow it!

As you can see, it was another nice day outside (there was even sun!) with some blower tracks! Have I mentioned I *LOVE* skiing?

Last tracks of the day - still freshies!

03 May 2012

Lichtenberg Mountain

Here I go promising (threatening?) to tell you about all of my backcountry skiing adventures, and I fall off the face of the earth. Never fear, I'm alive, just really, really busy. Family, work, and a social life will do that to a girl. But I miss you blog readers, so here's another story for you!

On March 10, I headed out with a big group (8 people) up to Lichtenberg Mountain, which is off of Hwy 2 near Steven's Pass. The weather was Seattle-like: foggy and sleeting. It's not fun to start out a trip in the rain, but that's the way of life for Cascade skiers.

Heading up in the fog - Imran breaking trail

We skinned up through the trees and worked our way around avy debris to the top of the mountain. It was about 3,000 feet to the top and took a little over an hour. Wish I could say we had a nice view :( 

Stephanie near the summit

Instead of coming down the face/aspect we climbed, we chose to take a few laps off the back side. The snow was actually pretty great, and avy conditions were stable..

Skinning back up after our first lap - I am clearly not the fastest one in the group. Our tracks down are to the right.

We took two laps off the back side, then the weather cleared a bit for our descent down the front. The final ski out was much more fantastic than any of us anticipated! We were all surprised because it didn't seem great on the way up, but it was fluffy and fast on the way down!

On the trip out, I had my first experience of skiing out through pine-needle covered snow in the trees. I can confidently say the last few hundred feed of any backcountry day are my least favourtie: they are riddled with hazards (downed trees, stumps, potentially eye gouging branches) and have the worst, heaviest, wettest, most-miserablest snow. But, we had a great day!

Now, not to be a Debbie Downer, but I feel as though I would be remiss to not mention this: About three weeks after this trip, we got sad news. Two of the people skiing with the group on Lichentburg, Knox and Kimberly, were visiting from Colorado. On March 30, Knox was caught in a massive avalanche in Colorado and was killed. I only spent one day with him, but his death has been a sobering reminder for all of us. He was a very experienced skier and an all around cool, nice guy. This is very sad and my thoughts go out to his family and loved ones.

If you're interested, you can read this article about Knox or look at pictures of the slide here.