A Few Days of Efficient Ski Touring

It would be a bit hypocritical for a person with a blog (no matter how neglected) and, as of recently, a twitter account (the horror!) to claim to be against shameless self-promotion. So what the heck, here are a few photos and details from a couple of days spent trying to ski efficiently in the mountains.

Eric Carter.

Eric Carter. Motivated and fearless (in his sense of fashion).

I’ve always had mixed feelings about speed records in climbing and skiing. These are activities where what matters most are that you come back alive and that you enjoy yourself. The values of most skiers and climbers reflect this, and justifiably so. Looking at the bigger picture, trying to shave a few minutes off someone else’s time (and now blogging about it) sometimes makes me feel like a bit of an egotistical jerk.

On the other hand, attempting something that requires you to try as hard as you can is rewarding regardless of how you happen to compare to other people. And while skiing quickly for a few hours on a popular peak or traverse is more an athletic feat than a committing adventure, you can’t help but learn things that can be applied to more remote or technical objectives in the future.

Looking rather pleased with myself.

Looking rather pleased with myself after having skied the Spearhead in 3:10. Photo: Eric Carter.

The Spearhead

In 2001, Greg Hill skied the Spearhead in 4:01. It goes without saying that Eric and I are not as badass as Greg (not even close, in fact). Thankfully, when we attempted to make an efficient trip around the traverse, we had lighter gear than Greg had, as well as an intimate knowledge of the route and excellent conditions. As a result, we were able to ski from the Blackcomb backcountry gate to Whistler Village in 3:10. I spent the majority of that time suffering with my head down while Eric pushed the pace up the climbs. Nonetheless, it was an awful lot of fun to feel the many glaciers and high cols passing beneath our skis in such quick succession.

Eric and I after our successful tour of the Spearhead.

Eric and I after our efficient tour of the Spearhead.

The Garibaldi Neve

The Garibaldi Neve is another of the classic ski traverses of the coast and starting as it does above Squamish, it’s practically in my backyard. A few weeks after doing the Spearhead, there was a day of nice weather with good conditions when my usual partners all seemed to be busy or injured, so I made a last minute decision to ski the Neve alone. My fueling strategy was not exactly ideal: I ate breakfast at McDonald’s and filled my pockets with gummies since I only had a few gels. Nonetheless, I felt strong on the long but gentle climb to the highpoint and only started to bonk while skating across Garibaldi Lake. The route down the Barrier appeared too melted out to be worth trying so I stuck to the trail and eventually ran the last 3km or so (thankfully downhill running in ski boots is one of my specialties) to finish the traverse in 4:27. The highlight of the day was taking off my boots and putting on the flip-flops which I had carried with me specifically for the hitchhike home.

Eric skiing off the summit of Mt. Baker.

Eric skiing down from the summit of Mt. Baker.

Mt. Baker

Eric had to cross the border to pick up a package and decided that in spite of the fact that he was still recovering from a back injury, he might as well ski Mt. Baker. I had embarrassingly never climbed Baker and decided to tag along. It was a warm day but the snow was still firm on the lower mountain so we sweated profusely while falling repeatedly as our skins slipped on the ice. Eric was not quite his usual self and I’ll admit that it was a nice change to be able to look back and see him suffering a bit. I reached the summit 2:45 after leaving the trailhead but didn’t linger up there as it had become quite windy. We took our time skiing down and arrived back at the trailhead 3:37 after leaving it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Baker has been skied more quickly, but we enjoyed ourselves and some of Eric’s enthusiasm for Cascades Volcanos might even have rubbed off on me (as a climber, I’d always considered them to be rather dull).

About to drop down the Coleman-Deming on Mt. Baker.

About to drop down the Coleman-Deming on Mt. Baker.

Mt. Rainier

Karina encouraged me to bail on climbing with her so that I could go ski Mt. Rainier with Eric and Stano. Bailing on climbing to go skiing – what has become of me?

Stano and Eric gear up in the parking lot below Mt. Rainier.

Stano and Eric gearing up in the parking lot below Mt. Rainier.

Having never been to Rainier before, I enjoyed seeing a new place and climbing on a peak which has had a very central role in the development of North American mountaineering.

We had excellent weather and conditions, and despite the exertion we were able to look around at the other large volcanos that dominate the skyline. The major disappointment was that Stano, likely the strongest and most accomplished of us, didn’t feel well and selflessly decided to turn back. I didn’t feel so hot myself as we slogged up the Disappointment Cleaver and towards the summit but perhaps my extensive previous experience with AMS came in handy and I was able to continue grinding upwards.

Skiing up the Muir snowfield on Rainier.

Skiing up the Muir snowfield on Rainier.

The descent was genuinely enjoyable (unlike the ascent which is only fun in retrospect) although since I was feeling light-headed I skied with a bit of extra caution down the most exposed sections of the Cleaver. We made it back to the trailhead at Paradise 4:19 after we’d left. Eric and Stano have written about it in a bit more detail if you’re interested in our splits and whatnot.

Eric and I on the summit of Mt. Rainier.

Eric and I on the summit of Mt. Rainier.

Rainier is an iconic mountain with an interesting and at times bizarre history of speed ascents.  Even in the likely event that our record is short-lived, I’m rather pleased to be a part of the story. Interestingly, in spite of all the attention it receives, I think Willie Benegas was right when he said that his record of 4:40 was a bit soft. We came from sea-level with no prior acclimatization whatsoever and we carried a rope and avy gear, so I imagine our time will be improved upon significantly in the future.

In any case, skiing quickly in spectacular places is a lot of fun; I suppose I’d better get training.

Don't worry, I still climb! Here's Hannah cruising up Uncle Ben's on the Chief.

Yes, I still climb! Here’s Hannah cruising up Uncle Ben’s on the Chief. We took 6:18.

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2 Responses to A Few Days of Efficient Ski Touring

  1. Eric C says:

    Well put Nick. While I think most of us talk too much, you certainly don’t give yourself enough credit. Also – while you can tease me about my fashion all you want – we all know that when you get that red suit, you will be wearing it 24/7 🙂

  2. PaulB says:

    NIce work boys, you’re on a role these days! You got your climbing rack up for sale yet? If so, call me first.

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