After a frustrating year of not feeling like myself, I have decided that 2019 will be dedicated to doing what I love most – mountain adventures. So far it is going well with mild temperatures enabling lots of scrambling and trail running, while still continuing to explore more and more on my touring skis. My only complaint is that the front range xc ski trails have not been very good, but you can’t have it all 🙂
The month of January was dedicated to getting as much vert as possible, and my friend Philippe set up his annual vert challenge for a little extra motivation. I kicked off the month with a 5-peat on Prairie Mountain. This was an intimidating run as I hadn’t done that much vert (3500m) in a single push in many months.
I had the not-so-bright idea of trying to fuel with beer, one beer for every summit. This was my thought process:
- I planned to do 90 minute laps so I shouldn’t get drunk.
- Alcohol contains 7 cal/g, as compared to carbs which only have 4 cal/g, so it seemed like an efficient way to fuel.
- Historically, pedestrians used beer during multi-day races.
- I like beer.
Unfortunately I quickly learned that beer is not a good fuel for ultras, as alcohol blocks normal carbohydrate uptake. By my 4th repeat (about 5hrs in) I had a massive bonk. It felt like I was drunk, but looking back on it I think I was just extremely low in blood sugar. After stumbling down the mountain I had a Mars bar and about 10 Oreos (no exaggeration); instantly I felt much better. The 5th repeat felt a lot stronger than the 4th and I finished the day feeling successful.
I had another big day on my feet with the French-Haig-Robertson Traverse. This traverse is a classic ski tour that I’ve been thinking about since I got my touring skis. The route has also been nicknamed the Majo traverse since he’s done it so many times,so when I heard he was planning a trip out I asked to come along.
The forecast was not looking good and I fully expected the trip to be cancelled, but on Saturday morning Majo and I (and 13 other Slovaks) were in the Burstall Pass parking lot preparing to head up the trail. The snow was lightly falling, with hardly a breath of wind as we made our way up French Creek. It was a perfect morning and I wondered if the sky might even clear up. We hit our first obstacle as we reached the basin below French glacier. The group had split into two pace groups, so we waited for the slower group to catch up before heading toward the glacier. The wind picked up and temperatures dropped as we approached the glacier. The snow was windswept and crusty, which made skinning across the angled slopes very tricky. The slower skiers were struggling to keep up, and the faster skiers were getting cold waiting. The decision was made to split the group in two, 8 people turned around and 7 of us continued on.
I was familiar with about 80% of the route, and I was fairly certain that following the skin track back would be more difficult than continuing up the glacier to the Robertson col. Majo assured me I’d be fine on the col so I continued forward on the traverse with the 6 other guys. This was my first experience in high winds on skis. The wind would catch my pack, and I got blown over a couple of times as I was slow to react to the sudden gusts. Every once and awhile I found myself worrying that I wouldn’t be able to ski down in these conditions. This is when the other side of my brain would assert itself and convince me to keep moving; it wouldn’t be windy on the other side of the col and the wind was blowing all the nice soft snow over there so I would be able to ski just fine. Sometimes when I have these internal debates I feel a bit schizophrenic. We got over the col, and were completely sheltered from the wind as predicted. The ski down was lots of fun, with soft snow almost the entire way.
The entire traverse took us just under 6.5 hrs. It wasn’t the stunning day with incredible views that I had envisioned, but it was a mountain adventure all about making new friends and learning new skills. I’m already looking forward to doing it again.
I woke up on January 26th to hail, lightning and driving rain. It was like an alternate universe had suddenly appeared. The plan was to scramble up a couple of mountains, but I wondered whether or not I should even leave the house. Thankfully Leo was driving so I didn’t have to think too hard, and he white-knuckled his way out to the trailhead as Philippe and I enjoyed our role as passengers.
The first objective on our list was Gap Peak. Philippe and I had been up before, but this was Leo’s first time. The rain/snow mixture had stopped falling and we enjoyed mild temperatures as we hiked up the steep slope. In keeping with the crazy weather, a blizzard blew in, and then blew out, treating us to amazing views of the Bow Valley. We had been a little concerned about traversing the summit ridge with the forecast high winds, but the winds were not bad and the ridge conditions were excellent. It was the perfect ascent.
The descent was nearly as perfect, but I sprained my ankle a few hundred metres from the parking lot. I felt the pop, and although it wasn’t particularly painful, my stomach felt sick. I was pretty sure this was going to need some recovery time.
After a few tentative steps I found that I could weight-bear without pain, so we decided that we could still go up a second peak. I could start my recovery tomorrow.
Another storm blew in, and by the time we made the 10 minute drive over to Mount Yamnuska it was snowing. Thankfully I could power hike without pain, so I was able to maintain a reasonable pace as we made our way up to the chimney. The trail had been fairly clear up to this point, but now it was becoming quite slick with snow and ice. I delayed putting on spikes for as long as possible as I was fairly certain they would aggravate my ankle, but eventually I had to put them on.
Neither Leo or Philippe had been up Yam, so I had the privilege of leading them across the chains and the even trickier section afterwards for their very first time. In a blizzard! Yamnuska is a much tougher mountain in winter conditions and I was super impressed with their composure as we safely navigated the exposed terrain and made our way up to the summit.
Leo lent me his poles for the downhill, as I was nervous about rolling my ankle again. All was well until the traverse across the scree slope just a few kilometres away from the car. Snow had balled up underneath my spikes and I rolled my ankle again; the pain dropped me to the ground and brought tears to my eyes. At this point the path was snowy but not icy so I decided to take the spikes off. Sadly, the damage was done. I hobbled my way down the path back to the car with Philippe and Leo leading the way.
The ankle is healing well, but I had to take the rest of January off. It was disappointing because I wasn’t able to push to compete for the win in Philippe’s elevation challenge. Still, I finished the month with over 25,000m of climbing and I’m feeling quite satisfied with my climbing fitness at the moment. I was already planning to schedule a rest week, so now I just get to start it a few days early. Here’s hoping February ends on a more positive note 🙂