I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock. -e.a.
The River Paddling Protection Act has passed the house, and is currently under consideration by the senate. If you have opinions about wilderness paddling in Yellowstone National Park, now is a rare occasion when speaking up might have an effect.
The bill is very simple. It nullifies several existing regulations prohibiting boating in Yellowstone and Grand Teton beginning three years after passage, and opens river within the parks to paddling after that time period as determined by the director of the NPS. That is it.
Not Yellowstone, but perhaps it could be.
Unfortunately and predictably, the public rhetoric has been largely vacuous and misleading, even from people who should know better. It is important to keep in mind that the bill does not mandate any particular outcome, beyond consideration. It is also important to keep in mind that no one has a good idea, to say nothing of good science, what the impact of opening certain rivers might be. This is largely because the NPS phoned in their analysis of these issues last year in the Snake River Headwaters Environmental Assessment. By far the most compelling reason I see to support the RPP Act is to take the NPS to task for that that dereliction of duty.
On the other hand, I’m not wild about the precedent being set. While they occasionaly earn the moniker of the Dark Service, the post-Gingrich era of fee-demo has done a lot of harm to the NPS, and especially their fiscal ability to manage proactively. A charitable interpretation would be that if Yellowstone hadn’t spent the last decade fighting over a snowmachine management plan, didn’t have to solicit private funds to make Lake Trout control possible, and actually had funding to do proper research (e.g. not just counting elk from a plane a few times a year), they might be more disposed to give a fringe recreational issue due consideration.
Presumably the intent of the bill is to allow the NPS to keep (for example) the Firehole, Madison, and central Yellowstone (between Fishing Bridge and the falls) closed to roadside access, while the Snake, Lamar, Black Canyon, Bechler, and upper Yellowstone could be opened, at least seasonally. The critique has been that such access will negatively affect wildlife, and further civilize the backcountry of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The former is likely, to a certain extent, and seasonal closures might be a good idea. The latter is a naive and frankly silly assertion which makes it difficult to not question the personal knowledge of the declaiments. Holding outfitters in the Teton Wilderness to the regulations which supposedly restrict things like number of stock per person, gear caches, and illegal permanent structures would have a substantive and noticeable effect. It is hard to imagine a world in which packraft traffic on the upper Yellowstone and Lamar would be in the same universe of significance of impact.
More broadly, a felicitous interpretation of the 1916 Organic Act (which created the NPS, and has been frequently quoted in this debate) would focus more on quality of individual experience and less on quantity. Traffic restrictions in Yellowstone are inevitable, and places like the Lamar and Hayden Valley are downright scary on any given summer evening. Last August we saw a car almost hit a bison in the later, and almost got hit by a tour bus ourselves in the later. Good management would shuttle more people into the backcountry, cut down on the number of front country visitors, and mandate that everyone slow the heck down.
Insofar as the RPP Act supports this end, I support it. If you do as well, writing your senator today would be a good idea.
It’s been a great winter for snow sports. In addition to my fatbike, I’ve been using two separate ski rigs since things got going in earnest after Christmas. All the modes of transit have been used a lot, often competing for attention, and almost always providing one option well suited to the conditions of the day.
My AT rig, shown above, is 176cm Black Diamond Current skis, with Plum 145 race bindings, and LaSportiva Sideral boots. As a quiver of one for my not especially rigorous uses, this amalgamation has been quite satisfactory.
My skis are heavier than the new version of the Currents, and not particularly light by modern standards. What they are is extreme predictable and confidence inspiring in difficult snow. NW Montana has had lots of powder in the last two months, but we’ve also had lots of wind-hammered weirdness. The Currents hold an edge on icey hardpack, and bust through curd and sastrugi just fine if I do my part. The hardest part of my transition to these skis was learning that they reward a lot of forward pressure; keep your technique good in more difficult conditions, and you’ll do well. Of course, they do fine in powder too. If the extra weight gives me more stability in certain conditions, and more durability long term (they’ve held up very well thus far), I’m willing to carry it.
The Siderals have continued to impress. They’re light(ish), walk great, and since I got the sixth toes punched a bit by the folks at RMO have been multi-day comfortable. I still wish the liner was thicker, and find the lower buckles tendency to flip up while boot packing annoying, but I can live with those. Upgrades for next winter will include new liners and hopefully replacement buckles.
The Plum 145s have also been solid performers. They’re exceptionally elegant in both appearance and design, and shamelessly efficient for their intended purpose. Contrary to some claims, tech bindings won’t help you walk on water, but they match so well with skinning that if it is something you do often, you need to get a light tech rig. Necessity is right up there with tubeless mountain bike tires in the southwest or a Werner paddle for your packraft: expensive, but you deserve and will not regret for a minute. I actually managed to break a heel piece last month, but that was my fault. Back in the spring I was heating a screw to swap the bindings to my then new Currents, got lazy, and let the soldering iron melt a bit of the plastic housing. Oops. Finally, a particularly violent fall and vertical release put enough pressure on the steel fork and the weakened bit of plastic popped right off. My AT was out of commision for a few weeks, handily during the worst avy cycle in living memory. Plum in France sold me a replacement set at a very generous discount, especially considering they shipped them FedEx express, which took 48 hours from Thyez to Whitefish. So now I’ve got a spare heel piece and a fair degree of loyalty to Plum.
That crash was one of two, hard vertical releases I’ve had this winter. The second was a clumsy, low light plow straight into a pile of avy debris. In both occasions I released right about where I’d want to, for safety purposes. It seems that the 145s inherent, nonadjustable setting and my ~185 pounds (including clothing and pack) work well together.
I purchased BD mohair skins for these, and had a bit of troubled. I dremeled in a skin notch and went with the left rig, above, but that let in too much snow, which led to a bunch of at least partial skin failures. I bought a BD tail kit, and redid the skin with a Climbing Skins Direct tip loop, as per right and these instructions. Much better. Ideally, you’ll have two sets of skins for your skis, a full coverage set in the McLean fashion, and a skinnier, race style rig with a tip bungee only. The BD mohair works fine, and is very packable, but I’m not convinced the cost is worth it, and the CSD plush seems to glide almost as well after break-in.
My nordic rig has been a pair of 179cm Fischer Outbound Crowns (70-60-65, sintered base with a routered-in negative pattern), Voile Mountaineers, and Rossi BCX12 boots.
The skis I found for 50 dollars at a swap this past fall, which is nice for when you have to ski across the occasional dirt patch. They’re fast, light, and do every well. Longer would be faster in set tracks, but I’ll take the speed penalty in order to have them be more maneuverable in the woods. Nordic skis takes such a beating on multi-day trips that I’m perfectly willing to compromise performance metrics in the name of buying used.
Voile Mountaineers are Voile Mountaineers; simple, solid, dependable. I buy used or on-sale ones whenever I see them.
The BCX12s I’ve gotten sorted out, finally. I was having issues with the outer cuffs rubbing my lower legs. Dremeling off a centimeter seems to have done the trick on that issue. Otherwise, the BCX12s have been comfortable, waterproof, and supportive enough. Compared to the previous iteration they have even more range of motion fore and aft. Indeed, they have almost no resistance at all in either direction. Paired with the quite rigid carbon cuff, it makes for an odd blend. They’re great nordic backcountry boots, in that they combine excellent touring freedom with good edge control, but they will do nothing to keep you off your butt if you get thrown backwards. They are not an XCD boot by any stretch of the imagination.
Noteably absent is any middle-ground in between nordic and AT. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve improved enough that I can ski a lot of wooded stuff on my nordic gear. Part of it is that I pick routes in different ways. Part of it is that the boots simply aren’t there, and thus I gave on the genre, at least temporarily.
Over the years I’ve learned the skiing is a discipline. It’s a lot more like hunting than it is like mountain biking. External forces are always a moving target, and while there is only so much you can do to adapt to those conditions, a lifetime is not enough for sufficient practice. The most important thing is to have functional tools when the snow flies, and get out in it.
Thus far I’ve spent the weekend chasing deer. Snowbiking Friday afternoon the packed trough winding through the thick forest was covered in deer tracks, and as I did laps on the short loop kept spooking and respooking the same critters. They’ve been using the skier and biker packed trail to commute from aspen patch to aspen patch, eating bark.
Yesterday, headed up to the ski area, deer were everywhere in the lower reaches of the road. The forest there has been thinned for fire suppression near all the big condos, and faces south. Deer are smart, they know where to find the least deep snow, even if it exposes them to lots of car traffic.
Winters are hard on deer, the old saw is that they eat the cereal May through October, and spend the rest of the year eating the cardboard box.
This winter has been hard for deer and humans both. Abundant snow and wide, frequent temperature fluctuations have created some crusts out in the woods which must be hell to walk through. The lengths to which the deer are avoiding this is likely why there have been so many corpses along the highway in the last month. Last winter I took my big down parka on one trip, and had perhaps two or three days of slow, scary driving south to the office. This year we’ve had four extended cold snaps in the last two months, and over a dozen mornings where I wouldn’t have been able to get out the driveway without studded snow tires.
This past week has brought the harshest weather yet, and a reminder that even the most extensive trappings of civilization won’t prevent us from being vulnerable to the world outside when it does its worst. Friday and Saturday both the upper chairlift was closed due to wind chills down below negative 40F. Having the top of the mountain to yourself on a sunny Saturday afternoon is quite rare, even if it does require special preparations, and a hurried retreat back down to the trees.
Our cabin trip this weekend was canceled, due to hazardous driving conditions. We rerouted to a brunch with friends Saturday morning on the other side of town, which still involved snowdrift busting in our front-wheel drive car. I was very glad to be around others that day, as the inhumanity of the world at large had come crashing home 10 minutes before we left the house.
I think I was looking for socks when M said something about an avalanche having taken out houses in the Bitterroot. This seemed unlikely, so I went to have a look. The woman in that first photo looked familiar, but the side of me that wanted order pushed it away. Back in the other room I pulled my phone out of a coat pocket and saw the text: “He is talking and moving and doing great. A miracle for how long he was buried in the avalanche.” Denial can only go so far. Yes, that woman in the photo with her grief screaming out at you is the same person we drank beers, hunted berries, and shared a campfire with back in August. That boy who was buried for an hour while playing in the front yard was the same huge smile who sat on my leg and refused to let me leave after a visit last winter.
Regardless of what we choose to do with today or tomorrow, our lives are not always our own.
There is nothing in the world which terrifies me more than that. I was glad to leave the house, see people I care about, and be reminded that in many respects nothing had changed. I was just more aware of something I had known all along.
It seems that everyone involved will end up without any permanent, physical injury. We’ll all be different as a result, forever. My own fear, gratefulness, and resolve to use tomorrow well, will I think never be the same again.
On several occasions in the past I’ve speculated on when, in the history of American outdoor culture, the hook and bullet sides of being in the outdoors separated as thoroughly as they have from the recreational sides. Today we have REI and we have Cabelas, and a cultural chasm between the two. The antipathy often expressed by one side towards the other can be quite severe.
I assume I am correct in thinking this was not always the case. At one point, perhaps when the US population was smaller and the distinction between rural and suburban ways of life less drastic, getting outside was getting outside. Then again, perhaps it has only been in the haze of post-WWII affluence that large numbers have had the leisure to get outside for purely recreational purposes. Perhaps this same haze has given us too much free time to contemplate identities built on the fragile moorings of non-life sustaining activities, which has given rise to the culture war which permeates so many aspects of contemporary American life.
Take coyote hunting as an example. In most western states, coyotes are classified as a predator, and can be hunted year-round, without limit, by anyone. This time of year they are one of the only things one can hunt, and thus serious hunters hunt coyotes in late winter. I assume almost none of them eat the coyotes they shoot. The normal narrative is that doing this helps control the population of these predators, and provides respite for ranchers of sheep and farmers of chickens.
Biologically, this is an absurd view. Coyotes have vastly expanded their North American range since 1500. They weren’t seen east of the Mississippi until the 1930s, and they now inhabit every state save Hawaii. Eastern coyotes are 30-50% heavier than western coyotes, and for at least several decades have been regularly forming Coywolf hybrids, usually when male coyotes mate with subordinate female wolves. A growing body of opinion holds that eastern coyotes are bigger because of wolf DNA, and not merely because of a robust diet of garbage and cats.
The point is that the last five centuries have consistently shown us that humans cannot significantly impact or control coyote populations. Even the most drastic poisoning operations in the early 1900s were remarkably ineffective. Coyotes have lots of pups, and when the populations come under external (non food) stress, they have even more.
Coyote hunters kill coyotes because they like killing coyotes. It is neither a harmful nor beneficial action for the ecosystem at large. This persistent mass delusion is a good example of the cultural belief the hook and bullet crowd uses to define itself. As is of course the contempt with which the prototypical Keen-shod REI denizen views coyote hunting and it’s proponents.
Another example is national parks. The REI crowd thinks nothing of going through a convoluted, irksome, advanced permitting process to go on a backpacking trip, nor driving a long ways and spending a lot of money on entrance fees, tourist food, and 28 dollar campsites. Few actively enjoy these aspects, but they are tolerable obstacles because the scenic reward at the end is so considerable. The hook and bullet view might be that only suckers and neophytes spend so much for an over-regulated, nanny-fied wilderness experience.
There are class dimensions here, but the cultural ones are far more robust.
In the end, the most important distinction might be in another place entirely. Most outdoor enthusiasts on the REI side favor day activities. The most popular outdoor pursuit, according to a report which came out around the latest Outdoor Retailer show, is running. A fine pursuit, but for 95% running has as much to do with the outdoors writ large as golf. The story is the same on the hook and bullet side; most folks prefer to fish somewhere reachable by road accessed downstream or motor power, and most hunters do so for the day and close to the road.
The outdoors, and the adventure found in it, is a mental construct. Mystery and challenge can be found almost anywhere, if your eyes can see it. But this creativity is predicated on the existence and influence of big places. If fewer people, for whatever reason, go big, that influence will grow faint, and the integrity of outdoor adventure will deteriorate.
Surely, the windshirt quest will never stop. Finding an ideal active layer for days which are neither warm nor arctic, neither calm nor storming fiercely, involves delicate balancing of contradictory attributes. The shirt must be significantly wind resistant, but quite breathable. It must be light, but tough, especially given that a windshirt will be used more than just about anything else aside from undies and socks. It must resist rain, and in a durable fashion, not absorb much moisture, and dry quickly when it does.
Conventional windshirts are made from lightish, tightly woven nylon fabrics. The good ones succeed at most of the above, having only suboptimal breathability and durability (though they’re tougher than most think). An example would be the Rab Cirrus, which I discussed here. The recent trend of light softshells, like the Rab Zephyr, typically use a poly/spandex blend. They breath well and the good ones are very tough, but the fabrics tend to suck up and hold on to water in a manner which makes them a liability in multiday wet conditions.
As discussed in the first link, Pertex Equilibrium promises to hit almost all these metrics, save durability. Much though I liked my Rab Alpine jacket, the fragility just wasn’t going to stand. Ergo the continued quest.
The recent BD Alpine Start hoody is the closest thing I’ve yet found to an ideal windshirt. It’s more breathable than a Cirrus, and more wind resistant than a Boreas or Alpine jacket. The Schoeller fabric is 93% nylon, and 7% elastane (spandex, in essence). The weave is exceptionally tight, and the fabric thinner than you’d expect for the weight (80 g/meter), all of which gives me high hopes for durability. The nansphere DWR is (thus far) very good. I’m not calling this a proper review, as these two things aren’t subject to meaningful comment until after months of heavy use. Most importantly, it dries very fast indeed.
Thus far I would change nothing at all about the fabric, and the fit and features are 96% good to go. The hood is big, big enough to go over a smaller helmet, and has an interior channel for a drawcord, with cordlock adjustments on either side of the face. It cinches down tight over a bare head, and moves with you. There’s a single chest pocket which is fabric backed, a slim/athletic fit (medium is in line with a company like Rab or Montane), elastic binding at the wrists, and a full circumference drawcord at the waist. Nothing else is needed in a windshirt. The main zip is a nice metal #5, one of my favorite things. My medium weighs 7.2 ounces after cutting out the tags and trimming the hood drawcords.
The hood is the major thing I would encourage BD to change. The bottom/chin area could go a little higher for max protection, and the whole hood feels set a hair further back and is completely natural. When my pack pulls the shoulder back a hair, the zipper presses on my neck. Not a big deal, and easily dealt with, but less than ideal. The cordlocks and excess cord are hidden inside the hood, and I’d prefer them outside. Exterior cordlocks can be used without unzipping the hood, and exterior anchors for the excess don’t flap around and get caught in the zipper. As seen above, my standard procedure with this sort of think is to tie knots that hold the hood with a little tension (a good default setting for general use) and then trim the cord so that most of the time their is no excess flapping around.
To further the nit-picking, ideally the chest pocket would be backed with mesh rather than fabric, to save a few grams and maximize breathability. I also wouldn’t mind another 1/2″ or length in the sleeves to make a better seal over gloves, though the current arrangement would stay out of your chalk bag nicely. The wrists are flexible enough to roll up over my elbows, and the armpit articulation is fantastic. The hem does not ride while cycling or during the most exaggerated pole plants.
In short, the Alpine Start hoody is close to ideal, an impressive first effort on a demanding garment. Construction is as good as or better than any top brand you might name. As mentioned, arm articulation is massive, and most of the seams are felled and then double-stitched. The only drawback is the price, a rather egregious 149 dollars. It makes more sense to spend big bucks on a windshirt than on a raincoat, as the former will be used more. Nonetheless, I’d have hesitated long and hard at full retail on this one.
My original post on this subject, written over 3 years ago, has proven to be enduringly popular. I take this as a testimony to the scant material available on the subject, ever increased interest in winter backpacking via ski, and the continued intransigence of many of the issues I discussed back in October of 2010. Said post was meant, more than anything, to explain the relevant problems and tradeoffs to myself. Coming as I have late to skiing, the learning process has been a continual source of humility. I’m certainly a better skier now, but the number of things I don’t know has if anything grown larger. As I’ve mentioned recently, backcountry skiing in all its forms is probably the most complex, demanding, and overall most refined form of human powered backcountry travel. I disagree with a number of things I said years ago, and several years from now will probably do the same with some I’m about to write. In any case, that old post was due for an update. The following is best read in concert with the original.
Bindings for backcountry traverses remain largely unchanged, and I still think 3 pins and tech are the two serious options. A number of folks do fine with NNN-BC, but I’ve seen too many iceing issues, and heard of too many breakages, to consider them myself. A full set of tech race toe and heel pieces are actually lighter mounted up than Voile Mountaineers, and failure rates for both seem to be similarly slight.
Boot choice will likely continue to drive binding selection, and here quite a bit of growth has occurred recently. Scarpa F1s are archaic technology, with race and near race AT boots being lighter than F1s and with better range of motion in the ankle. Boots like the Scarpa Alien and Dynafit PDG are significantly lighter than any backcountry worthy 3 pin boot, a remarkable achievement. As I wrote before, the added warmth and weatherproofing of plastic double boots, especially with thermo liners which absorb relatively little water, is a huge bonus for multiday trips, especially in adverse conditions. Unfortunately, there has been no progress on light plastic tele boots, with the Garmont (now Scott) Excursion still the only option. Using an AT race boot and tech toe for nordic touring does have disadvantages. I’m not a fan of hiking in rigid boots, though the short and heavily rockered soles of all worthy boots improve this enormously over conventional ski boots. The complete lack of fore-aft resistance in tech toes makes skating and manipulating skis in brush a bit more clumsy, something which might be addressed by a mount slightly forward of balance point. I’ve also found a tech toe and rigid boot to be less efficient at transmitting grip during diagonal striding, significantly so under most conditions. On the other hand, the efficiency of tech bindings while skinning and breaking trail in deep so is unsurpassed.
Several noteworthy developments have taken place on the ski front. First, skimo race skis have, like boots and bindings, become much easier to purchase in North America. You might even find some in a retail shop. The weight of these skis makes for a compelling argument, with 24-28 ounces each being typical. Just as with some of the skimo race boots, the backcountry appropriate durability of race skis remains an open question, and one worthy of further research. These skis are also, typically, quite stiff fore-aft, which makes me wonder how good they’d be for a rolling tour in mostly softer snow. The second development is Voile’s introduction of the Vector and Charger BC, which brought fishscales to 90+ mm waists and (arguably) alpine flex skis generally.
These two developments come to the same old question, to fishscale or not to fishscale, from different directions. Fishscales are undeniably handy in many circumstances, and by most accounts essential in spring conditions. They are also, all things being equal, slower. But all other things are almost never equal. For cold and dry conditions, like the Wilderness Ski Classic, waxing has and will continue to be the favored option. The non wall-to-wall, fast gliding mohair skins favored in skimo racing provide a third option. These skins can be impressively fast, while providing considerably more grip than scales and all but the most aggressive kick wax jobs. In some circumstances fast skins may be superior because they allow all energy to be put into forward progress, rather than into the exacting technique necessary to wring ideal traction from the wax pocket.
Conditions will drive ski choice, both in terms of flex and dimensions and in terms of the device used to gain traction. On one end of the spectrum, long, skinny, and waxable skis like the Madshus Voss and Glittertind will remain favored by Wilderness Ski Classic racers, with binding and boot systems being determined by personal preference. Tech race bindings, the more weatherproof and durable of the near race boots (i.e. not the Aliens or anything full carbon), and the growing category of light, yet practically dimensioned backcountry alpine skis (80-90mm waist, 1000-1200 grams a ski) will no doubt continue to rule the roost in ski mountaineering speed traverses. As was the case three years ago, it is in the intermediate realm where gear selection will remain ambiguous. The account linked to above of an 8 day ski of the JMT is a good example. The author used Karhu Guides, conventional tech bindings, and older (heavier) AT boots. Race bindings and near race boots would obviously have suited him better, but the ski question is more complicated. He reported that fishscales were obligatory for the rolling terrain and many gentle ascents, yet the only really light fishscales skis currently available are firmly in the nordic category. Might something like the Fischer SBound 98, sized short, do the trick in this department? Do such skis have enough reinforcement in the heel for an AT mount? These are the relevant questions which need answering in years to come.
Thankfully, the only way to do so is to get out and ski.
Put on by the American Packrafting Association, the first annual Packraft Roundup will be at the Big Creek Campground on the North Fork of the Flathead, July 11-13th. A one day swiftwater rescue course will be held on Friday the 11th. Cost for the former is 30 bucks (including camping), and 75 for the later. Given that Big Creek is a mere 30 minutes away, I can’t but do both.
Rivers and creek should be up but clear, and fishing should be just coming into shape. Bugs can be bad then, but the campground has a decent riverside breeze amongst its nice ponderosa stands.
If you can make it, it’ll be worth your while.
Most analyses of remoteness in the lower 48 are misleading. They ignore on the ground factors, though for the understandable reason of accessible numbers to crunch. There is the famous claim that the place furthest from any road in the lower 48 is a bit east of the Thorofare valley in Yellowstone. However, 19/20s of this hike is on fast, flat, easy to follow horse trails. Apparently Hinsdale County, Colorado has the fewest roads per capita. Those roads get a ton of peak bagger and 4×4 traffic. Other examples could be discussed.
Then there is the following map, which color codes distance from “major roads.” I like it, and it’s a good discussion point, but has a few shortcomings. As the creators discuss in the original post, northern Maine would be much bluer if roads in Canada were included. That big red section of central Idaho (the Selway and Frank Church complex) is cut in half by the Magruder road. Most seriously, the roadways which are reservoirs and rivers are not taken into account. The Fort Peck reservoir cuts that big yellow patch in eastern Montana into shreds, and the Powell/Floyd Dominy reservoir does the same to the spidery yellow patch in south-central Utah. Both are extensively trafficked by power boats, at least 9 months out of the year. The Grand Canyon, that big red patch in NW Arizona, suffers the same fate, with close to a quarter million user days on the river each year.
I’ve long been interested in some coherent formula which would account for functional remoteness; how far a given place is according to the effort required to get there under human power. A good amount of first hand knowledge and spitballing would be required. Ideally, the roughness of dirt roads and their frequency of use would be taken into account. For instance, the Magruder road does prevent the Selway-Frank from being the largest contiguous roadless area in the lower 48, but the central reaches are only driveable (or bikeable) for 3.5 months a year, or less. A separate set of calculations for winter, taking into account snowmachine access, would also be a great project.
It’s hard to think of places in the northern rockies which are more than a strong 1.3 days hike from the road in the summer, thanks to all the horse trails. The Selway-Frank suffers similarly, as well as from having several very over-loved rivers. Because of this, I suspect the most functionally remote places in the lower 48 will be those protected by terrain. The bushwacking of the Cascades, for example, as well as the wrinkled hide of the Colorado Plateau. Nonetheless, I would guess you’d be hard pressed to find any places more than 2 days travel from the road, when a sufficiently practical array of routes are allowed. I find this sad.
The remedy is obvious: drain a few reservoirs, bulldoze and gate a few roads. Powell, Fort Peck, and Flaming Gorge are high on the first list. Lee’s Ferry, Magruder, the Salmon River road, Whitney Portal and Benchmark are on the second. Say no to permits, and yes to longer walks.
As it turns out, civilization is strictly contextual.
Glacier has a lot of gobsmacking valleys, and it’s an absurd exercise to quantify them.
St. Mary in winter has a special fondness for me. The road is so crowded and hectic in summer. It’s narrow enough that looking at the scenery while driving is not really possible, and I’ve never been inclined to bike it along with the cars, so skiing it is.
Many is nice, but St. Mary hems you in quickly and hard. Besides the usual nuclear headwind and weird snow, at 7 miles you have a short piece of mandatory, low-level avalanche exposure (visible at far right). More on that later.
By the time I left the road and headed off on trail I was already 10+ miles in. A few more miles and a good opening in the river and a meadow presented a good campsite. The sun was out, but it felt like a storm was brewing. Camping away from trees seemed wise.
Some time well into the night I woke up to the sound of rain pounding down on the ‘mid. As if the sticky, crusty snow needed to be worse. Nothing to be done, and I was prepared to spend the morning inside drinking tea if conditions dictated it, so I went back to sleep.
I woke back up a bit before dawn to driving graupel and 60 mph, panel-deflecting gusts. As I couldn’t enjoy coffee with the shelter flapping into the back of my head, I put on boots and headed outside to move a few stakes (2.5′ sticks, buried) and tighten things up. With the rockin and rollin under control, I was able to get back in my bag and enjoy breakfast while waiting for full light. The snow had firmed up a bit, and while storm visibility made my original destination into a question mark, the day at least seemed worth investigating.
I packed sleep gear and lunch into my pack, and left the food bag, wood stove, and sleeping pad strapped to the center pole so they’d stay put if the shelter happened to blow away in my absence.
The world started to go dark by mid-morning. Temperatures dropped 10 degrees F between 7 and 9am, the snow picked up, and the wind rose until it was steady at 30 mph. Putting on skins to get up a sub-alpine lake seemed a bit pointless if I couldn’t see anything, and avalanche exposure was a relevant question. I puttered around the woods, the skiing ever better as the swampy, waterlogged garbage under the surface froze solid. I selected a waterfall as my final destination, though it was so well covered in snow that it was invisible.
Back to camp I went, temps dropping further, and the skiing ever the better for it.
The ‘mid had survived the test admirably; I shook a bit of snow off and headed inside. Out of the wind at last, I checked my watch. It was 2 hours earlier than I had thought possible. It was an easy choice to make tomorrows coffee, and that nights dinner, right away and ski out to end the trip earlier than planned.
An hour later, and 500 meters down the trail from camp, I came upon this tree, freshly fallen across my tracks from the day before. In summer, you’d be right there and psyched to make the last 20-30 minutes back to the pavement. In winter, the same spot felt way the hell out there.
You can’t cheat the mountain.
The wind relaxed slightly as I went further east, away from the heart of the alpine. Snow no longer tried to infiltrate my hood with so much insistence. When I reached the aforementioned avy zone, I saw that it had indeed slid in the last 24 hours. Colder temps made me less nervous about a repeat offense, and I didn’t have to ski across the debris themselves, but I still went quickly through to the other side.
As a reward for my patience and discretion, the wind gave me the last five miles. 3.5 of them had been walking on the way in, and the pavement was still scoured bare anywhere not well lined by trees, but the ditch was filled in with silky, predictable, fresh snow. I was able to do one of my favorite things in the world, leisurely and fast diagonal striding with no track set, for miles.
It is to be expected that a heavily used jacket with a #3 main zip, like the 2.1 year old Rab Xenon pictured here, will have zipper failure within the useful life of the garment. While manufacturers continue to use these zips on weekly-use pieces, for reasons of weight, cost, and pliability, repairs will be necessary.
Some makers will replace the zipper. I’ve had good luck with Patagonia doing this under warranty. Anymore it’s too much of a headache to be without the jacket for weeks. With some coats it’s worth replacing the zipper. On something like the Xenon picking seams would be a nightmare, due to thin fabrics and the appropriately tight and sturdy stitching. The jacket has a number of ember holes in it already, and the Primaloft One probably has until the end of 2014 until the insulation is shot. Thus the easy, if messy, answer: turn it into an anorak.
First, zip the zipper shut. It’s ideal to do this conversion when the zip is not so far gone that this is no longer possible. Pick a zipper height; I like 16-18″ from chin down to end.
Sew a tight bartack across the zipper from seam to seam. This one is 2mm wide with a .8mm stitch length.
Thin thread is a good match for thin fabrics. I used 100% poly embroidery thread.
Next, sew over the zipper seam on both sides, nailing the upper to the draft flap. No draft flap? Make one from some spare fabric. Double stitch both sides. finish with a bartack at the bottom of the open side to take the main force when pulling the anorak on and off.
Finally, cut the zipper out, carefully. Fuse the sides, very carefully, with a lighter. As can be seen above, this often goes a little wrong with uber-thin fabrics, but this isn’t a big deal with synthetic insulation.
Continue wearing. It’s ugly, but using Primaloft for a town coat is foolish, due to the way it accelerates loft degradation. Get a wool, fleece, or soft shell for that purpose.