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Skied to Camp Muir

I forgot to write up our Camp Muir trip 3-3-19. Sue and I used to ski up there a couple times a year. But since we had the kids (who are 31 and 34) we’ve been doing short little 4 mile loops around the area near Panorama Point.

The kids have been after us to ski to Muir. For them it’s no big deal. My son loped up there and down in two hours and 38 minutes on Sunday. That doesn’t include a half hour rest at the top.

We made a number of false starts over the last two seasons, getting turned around by bad snow, white outs, wind or low energy. But on the third, Sue, Lisa, Clint, Jamie, Craig and I all headed up toward Muir on a perfect bluebird day. The gate didn’t open until 9 and we started skinning up at 9:45, arriving at Muir at 4PM. Along the way Jamie (Clint’s S.O.) and Sue turned around  above Pan. Craig, Lisa and I continued on above Pan but we soon noticed Clint had  vanished.

Lisa and I were climbing together when Craig caught up. He was surprised that Clint wasn’t with me. I told him that Clint was probably making sure that his mom and girlfriend were OK. These are generally not people you want to ignore, especially on a dangerous mountain. It turned out that Clint had given his mom his ice ax, and persuaded Jamie to take off her snowshoes and descend in boots, using her ax for self arrest.  It’s easier going down steep snow in climbing boots.

Clint caught up with us in an hour and the 4 of us continued up under perfect sunny weather. In case you don’t know us, that means me, my two kids and Craig, Clint’s best friend.

As we approached 8500 feet I started to slow down. The last 500 feet of elevation was really hard. Muir is 5 miles one way, and gains 5000 feet of elevation. I’ve been working out on the stair master but it wasn’t enough. I got to where I had to stop every 100 feet of skinning and rest. And the higher I got, the more I had to rest, with the rests becoming longer.

I began to do the math and wondered if I’d ever make Muir. My heart was doing the pounding thing…but it was just like when we skied up St. Helens last year…so I figured I’d survive if I took enough rests. Time after time I’d be draped over my ski poles trying to catch my breath…waiting until I had the strength to climb up again. I’d look up the hill and there would be the 3 young people, staring down at me, patiently waiting and wondering.

When I finally made it there were broad grins and high fives all the way around. We hung out for a few photos but there was no time to spare. We were the last ones up and needed to get off the mountain. It was 5 miles back to the car and a lot could go wrong: broken bindings, sprained knees, white outs. There is no ski patrol or snowmobile rescue on the mountain.

On the plus side, we are all very experienced at  back country skiing, with decades of time on Rainier. The ski down was fabulous. It was 3 inches of wonderful corn snow slash powder…for miles and miles.

A climbing acquaintance of mine was recently featured in a film. I’ve met her and her sister numerous times at Vantage. She really is that good.

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Crossed over to the dark side

Ever since 1976, practically a lifetime ago, Sue and I have been trying to master telemark skiing. We used to do it on cross country skinny skis with 3 pin bindings. It got harder and harder as we got older, natural I guess, since it is such a difficult and dynamic turn. It’s like doing squats, except while hurtling down the ski slope.

There used to be a mindset among my generation during the 80’s when we were young. We shunned the downhill ski areas. They were too crowded and too expensive. We would skin up into the mountains where it was free. There were no crowds, no chair lifts, and we prided ourselves on our hardiness. The only reasonably light ski back then was the cross country ski. We’d buy the ones with metal edges. They were light on the uphill, challenging on the downhill, but that was all part of the fun.

senior ticket to snoqualmie in the rain
senior ticket to snoqualmie in the rain

When we had kids, they followed us up on their skinny skis, but they never really mastered the telemark turn. It requires a lot of practice. As they became adults, with money of their own, they looked at the learning curve in telemarking and went straight to Randonee skis. These are also called AT (All Terrain) skis. You can still skin up into the backcountry, but on the way down you lock your heels, just like a downhill ski binding.

Because they both have great jobs in the medical field, they were able buy downhill tickets and quickly mastered the difficult skiing conditions found in the backcountry. Whenever we took them out into the mountains (usually Paradise at Mt. Rainier), they would leave us in the dust.

5 years ago we bought new telemark gear, the first in 30 years. We thought it would be the ticket to skiing better. It did help a lot. When I bought my yearly downhill ticket I could ski all day on my telegear. That never used to happen on my skinny skis.

But I still can’t even begin to keep up with my kids. The teleturn requires so much practice that it is basically impossible to master without a season pass. And even then it’s not a super fast turn like you can do on downhill skis.

Diamond Helios and Blizzard Zero G 95
Diamond Helios and Blizzard Zero G 95

Long story short, Sue and I pulled some money out of savings and invested in new backcountry AT gear. They feature pivoting toes for skinning up, and  lock down heels on the bindings for skiing down.

I feel a bit guilty for giving up on my dream of being a great telemarker. There is an old saying about skiing: “Free the heel, free the mind”. It’s a bumper sticker seen at ski areas. Supposedly telemark skiing with it’s free floating heel is more of a zen experience. It is lovely turn, no doubt. But at our advanced state of decrepitude, I think we need all the help we can get.

There is another old saying in regards to telemark skiing. When you give up on telemark skiing, and buy skis with lock down heels, you have “crossed over to the dark side”. Still, now that I’m on the dark side maybe I have a chance of keeping up with my daughter. I just need to ride the chair a few times to get the hang of downhill skiing again.

Who knows, perhaps there’s hope for us old duffers. Sue got Black Diamond Helios skis, with the Dynafit speed Radical binding, while I got the Blizzard 95 Zero G skis, with the Dynafit TLT Radical ST 2.0 Binding. I’m dreading looking at my credit card balance after these purchases. But, these skis should be the last skis we ever buy, so it may be money well invested. We’ve skied on them once, in the rain, $40 lift tickets and they worked fabulous. It’s like having brand new downhill skis, which we haven’t had in 35 years. The bindings released correctly twice when I fell. I like the theory behind these Dynafit bindings. I did some research and they’ve been around since the late 80’s. They started as a modification of the Ramer binding, which was my downhill binding up until last week. Ramers had a “tuning fork” that would pivot on some pins. In  a fall, the tuning fork would flex enough to open, releasing the boot from the ski. These Dynafit bindings have a mechanism that reflects that heritage.