Another weekend, another wolverine trip. This time Sally and I were headed for Baring Creek, containing the world famous, roadside, Sunrift Gorge. The road itself is closed shortly beyond the St. Mary campground, so we had an 11 mile ski in on the road.
Taken as a whole I’ve had the full spread of conditions on these trips: (almost) no snow in Lincoln Creek, continuous snow and sub-zero cold at Logan Creek, rain and 50+ mph winds in the Belly, and bright hot sun in Many Glacier. Yesterday came in about average, chilly with a mild breeze, warming a bit and staying calm as the day wore on. The above picture doesn’t capture it well, but for a period late morning the barely waning moon and sun sat almost side by side behind the scrim of clouds.
I got into skiing doing pure nordic stuff in the rare snowy moments we got in the upper midwest, and until moving to Montana classic skiing, on and off track, was almost my entire skiing experience. Since then I’ve been seduced by the dark side of backcountry alpine skiing, and have lugged fat and heavy (by nordic standards) skis on plenty of flat tours recently. Last weekend I could keep up with the ladies, them on XC planks and me on 145 Hoks, by roughly doubling their cadence on the flat lake. But that’s a silly way to go about things.
So a few weeks ago I acquired some used Fischer Outbound Crowns from a friend. 169cm, 70-6o-65, a very subtle pattern cut into the sintered base, full steel edges, lots of camber, and darn stiff in every respect. I horsed around trying to turn them into fast shoes, but after trying Forrest’s Neo binding went back to the drawing board. That rig is nowhere near supportive and structured enough for a skier of my slight abilities, and while I do thing a decent soft fast shoe binding could be made, at the moment I’m not psyched to pursue it. I put a pair of Voile Mountaineers on the Outbounds and took them along yesterday.
It’s been a while since I’ve piloted skis with so little sidecut, and so much camber. The subtle scales got me paying attention to good hip placement while striding, and the great bases and firm snow on the road reminded me how much faster skiing can be than walking. They even have pretty good pop while skating. Post-Mukluk my next big purchase has been designated as a Dynafit rig, but now I’m thinking about a greater investment in nordic gear.
The round trip to the site and back is easily doable in a day, especially with the fast crust we had most of the way. We planned to stay the night in the nearby patrol cabin, because, why not? We could check out some waterfalls in the morning and generally enjoy the ambiance overnight. Sally’s bagged a lot of peaks in the park, and her encyclopedic knowledge of summit names has me thinking about dusting off that part of my brain come spring. A decade ago, at the height of my climbing obsession, I was of the opinion that only slow suckers camped away from the car and beer cooler unless absolutely necessary, and would in the manner of climbers since the beginning of alpinism wake very early indeed to make it back for tea before dark.
Today overnighting in the woods is almost a prerequisite for success.
Unfortunately we were given the wrong key to the cabin. We had summer sleeping bags, but no pads or shelter, and while we had justification for sledge hammering off the door with the available tools, the weather was too good to make that seem reasonable. So we found the site, did our job, drank the beers Sally had packed for dinner, and headed back home. I was having fun skating the gentle downhills, too much apparently, as I hit a bit of bare pavement amongst the sea of ice dusted and hidden with snow and endoed hard, harder than I have on a mountain bike in years, punching myself in a lip with one hand and hurling my other pole 40 feet away with the other. I lost some ease and confidence there, but we still made the miles out in little more than two hours, confined to the tunnel of headlamps.
We got home after midnight, and today I have for the first time in over a month not removed my pajamas all day. A good weekend.
Edit for new readers (Freshly Pressed, again!): This was one of a number of wolverine research trips I’ve been doing in 2012. You might find some of the others worthwhile if the subject is of interest.