Sunday, April 11, 2010

Skiing the North Face of Pioneer

Pioneer Peak in late spring conditions

For years I have wanted to climb Pioneer Peak's North Face, which rises 6300' directly from the road. Not only is the approach...wait...cut that. There is no approach. Repeat: there is NO approach. Cross the road, start climbing...approach done. Did I mention that there is NO approach?!?!?!

There seems to be a short window every April where avalanche conditions are stable and the snow is firm enough to climb and occasionally ski.
I had heard of many different ways of it being climbed. Some people told of pitching out ice lines, others brought a rope but only used it in a few spots, others brought an ice axe and nothing else.

Driving by it two weeks ago I knew I had to climb it this year. Plus, it would be great training for the upcoming trip to the Revelations. It just had to settle for another week or so and it would be primo!

Then I saw that Ryan Hokanson had skied it solo in an afternoon. The thought of skiing it had never really appeared as a feasible option in my head, but...I'm not afraid to jump off into the deep end right off the bat.

It turns out Pioneer is loaded with much more snow than usual and it was in great skiing conditions. So after a few repetitions of liquid courage one night, I decided I had to do it! A friend of a friend named Eric from Crested Butte, Colorado would be my partner in crime. Eric is a rippin' tele-skier who has packed a shit ton of skiing into a two-week vacation to Alaska. I figured Pioneer Peak would be the perfect send-off.

On Friday we drove out under absolutely stellar blue skies, moderate temps and high hopes. It was surprising to instantly see that we were not alone on the North Face. We quickly saw that not one but TWO parties were ahead of us. Lucky us...we had a great skin track and boot pack all the way up!

We passed the first team after an off-route double-black diamond alder schwack suffer-fest that only Alaska could deliver. Not only were there other teams on the route, but low and behold, I knew both of them. Brian and Joe made it to about 3500' before turning, but it was great to see them up there. We eyed the other team ahead of us, kicking a stairway to the summit.

Kevin rocking upper couloir

Eric and Cody contemplate the drop-in

When we got to the summit, low and behold, we knew the other dudes. It was Cody and Kevin, Small world! We enjoyed beautiful views all the way around then watched as Kevin started the ski train down the initial 55-degree couloir. We skied off the summit (mostly side slipping the first icy chute) then cut great turns all the way down the snowfield into the sun. Several rocky cliffs were navigated and we skied the final 3000' avalanche chute down to the car. Then we made the long walk across the street to our car and hit up some delicious burgers at the Longbranch Saloon.

Replicating Ryan Hokanson's signature top of the couloir shot!

Eric staring down a 6000' descent

All smiles!

A Longbranch burger never tasted so good!

Needless to say, it was probably one of the best ski runs I've ever done and I think Eric would agree!

Thanks to Ryan Hokanson for the stoke and Kevin and Cody for the stairway to the top!

More pics: HERE!

Monday, April 5, 2010


In preparation for our upcoming trip to the Revelations this spring, I have been practicing the process of self-visualization. It has been very interesting to work out, repeat and refine this mental rehearsal process.

I remember my step-dad talking to me about self-visualization when I played baseball as a kid. He tried to get me to rehearse the process of watching the pitch, following the ball and connecting all the way through with my bat. While I was never a great batter, I always found the process to be very intriguing.

Years ago when I first started learning about alpine climbing I picked up Mark Twight's book, Extreme Alpinism. He dedicates a portion of the book to visualization. In it he says "visualization presupposes a belief in your ability to achieve a goal."

Trying to read and understand an unknown mountain, route or path is in some ways an aspect of visualization but I think it falls more under the category of planning.
Our upcoming expedition into the Revelations is stacked with some pretty heavy objectives. Seth and I have been putting our time in under the weights and we feel physically strong. For the past month though, I have been trying to perform a daily ritual of self-visualization of our intended climbing route, from start to finish.

Usually well before work, while enjoying a morning cup of coffee i will put on some non-distracting music and lay on the couch. Then I close my eyes and focus purely on the climb and the mountain. I try to visualize and feel everything...the cold, my breathing, the weight of my pack, snow crystals forming on my face. I try and imagine timeframes for different fast will I be able to get to the first alcove if the snow is firm and fast? What if it is deep? How will that change our outcome? Where will the cruxes be and how will I feel when I get to them? Then I try to visualize myself climbing fast, strong and confidently, observing from both the first and third person perspectives. In my head I can look down from half way up a mountain that I have never even touched.

In my self-visualization process (which can range from five minutes to well over an hour), I try to focus only on success. I do not stop until I have successfully completed a positive visualization.

In my head I have already climbed our intended route a thousand times. I can close my eyes and see a burned in picture of our route. I remember where critical rocks and snow gullies are. I feel 'more' comfortable with our mission.

That said, I still have fear and apprehension. I dream about our climb all the time. There is definitely something to be said about the practice of self-visualization. While it didn't make me hit a baseball any better as a kid, I am quite confident that it has prepared me to approach our upcoming climb with more familiarity and a measure of mental fortitude that I have not had on previous endeavors. Some of these times have suddenly become so intense that they feel like a vivid dream. It has been a unique approach to climbing that I've never explored before. I have no doubt that it will make me more comfortable, familiar and most of all, confident on our upcoming climbs in the Revelations.