Monday, April 2, 2012

Wallowas! (aka, Winter's Last Gasp)

I'm back on the grid! After weeks of blogging and talking about it, the trip to the Wallowas happened.

Bright and early last Tuesday morning, five of us set out for a 7+ hour drive to Joseph, Oregon, from Bend. Our ultimate destination: the Wallowa Mountains. After playing in Bend for three straight days, I was my hip flexors were grateful for a travel/rest day. 
Gear and skis for 5 actually fit into a Suburban!
I'd skied the backcountry before, and I've even hauled in my skis a few times for the spring Tuckerman Ravine ritual. But the Wallowas would be my first multi-day backcountry ski trip. Until this week, I'd only done day trips, and I'd slapped skins onto my skis a grand total of probably 4 times, if you count the first day of my avalanche class where we were focused on rescue, not climbing, techniques. I'm also counting the time that I skinned up a closed ski area in New Hampshire.

I'd been feeling for a few years that backcountry skiing was the next progression for me, so I was super excited when Charlotte called in January inviting me on the trip that she and Aaron were planning. It would be a relatively flat 4-mile ski into the huts, from which we could access some amazing terrain. My hope was that even coming from sea level, I'd be able to keep up with everyone (uhm, yeah), and with any additional luck, my feet would remain relatively blister-free (I was a little more successful at this one). 

We arrived in Joseph, Oregon, just after 5pm. Our plan was to spend the night here before heading onto the trail the next morning. Not so conveniently, nearly every store in town closed at 5pm in the winter. Our only options for killing time before dinner were checking out Our Little Store and window shopping. 
The results of our not-so-blind taste tests of Mexican Pepsi
and Mexican Coke purchased at Our Little Store: Mexican
Pepsi has more flavor than Mexican Coke. Who knew?
Carb loading at Embers Brewhouse, one of the few
open establishments in Joseph after 5pm
My room at Chandlers' Inn. Pretty inspiring!
The hut company sent an employee to our B&B for a briefing Wednesday morning, and a Forest Service ranger also joined us. Then we headed out to the Sno-Park.

If you've spent your entire life on the east coast like me, you probably have never heard of a Sno-Park. Thanks to Google, I've learned (in the last five minutes) that there are Sno-Parks in Oregon, Washington, California (and probably other states), and permits are required for parking there. Yay, Google.

DAY 1
After gearing up in the parking lot, we set out. Our goal for Day 1 was to make it into camp, and depending on how we felt afterward, maybe climb for some turns.
I've never been successful at shooting non-butt
photos of people gearing up...
View from the Sno-Park parking lot.
Every now and then, the sky brightened, and we were treated 
to great views. 
Practicing some spacing. The guys are way out in front with 
the sled. We won't talk about the sled, but let's just say there's a 
reason that two people needed to maneuver one sled. Charlotte 
and Christa are also in front of me, so I was just hanging out, 
taking pix.
Snowmobile high marking tracks on the treeless slope 
near center.
We arrived at camp too late for more skiing, but Christa and Andrew had brought in fresh food (hello, sled!) and whipped up an amazing backcountry meal: fresh salmon, rice, asparagus, and...brussels sprouts. My second brussels sprouts experience ever, and it happened in the backcountry. Not kidding. They weren't bad, either.
Veggies being prepped. I was a little apprehensive about the sprouts. 
I mean what kind of wacko people pack in Brussels sprouts??
The complete meal.
DAY 2
When we woke up the next day, it was snowing and there were several inches of fresh snow on the ground! Whee! After a bit of climbing and some snow pit digging and analysis (thanks, Aaron!), we skied.
Rise and shine!
Freshies at camp!
The kitchen hut is to the left, and sauna hut to the right.
Charlotte skins up.
I've approximately two photos of the climb up because I was working hard. The reward, though, was worth it.

Here's the thing: I know this is blasphemous, but my powder skiing is marginal, and with a pack throwing my balance off, it became atrocious. Nevertheless, I managed to get comfortable with it by the end of the run. So even though this isn't me skiing down, it's a picture of my tracks, which enter the photo on the left behind some trees, cross over another set of tracks and end, well, at the bottom of the frame, where I'm taking the photo. 
My tracks (and evidence of my outriggers).

DAY 3
And on the third day, it rained. All. Day. So I played Bananagrams. A few times with Charlotte, Aaron, and Andrew, and once solo. Yep, I know how to have fun on a rainy day in a ski hut. 
The completed Bananagrams board. And honey bear.
A part of me was glad for the forced rest day. I'm not used to skiing with a pack. Between skiing in on Day 1 and the skiing on Day 2, my right calf was weirdly sore in a spot I don't think I'd ever felt it sore. I sort of felt that I needed some rest so that I'd be able to ski out the next day. But the rain was also depressing. We all hoped that it hadn't deteriorated the snow too much – like melt the snow bridges over the water crossing – for the ski out, and that the weather would improve in general.

DAY 4
I don't know about anyone else in the group, but given that it was pouring rain when we went to bed on Thursday night and raining even harder on Friday night when we hit they hay, I wasn't entirely sure it would clear up for our ski out. I woke up a few times in the night and was pleasantly surprised not to hear any drips. I did, however, hear weird rippling sounds that sounded like rodents and freaked myself out. After I finally fell asleep for good, I woke up to this:

The sun rises behind Christa & Andrew's hut. 
We cleaned up camp following the strenuous checkout requirements and then worked our way out of the backcountry. On our way out, we actually crossed paths with the group coming in for the weekend. I was mildly jealous because the weather report looked pretty good for their stay.
Strenuous checkout duties (and camp rules).
We had lucked out with amazing weather for the ski out!
Amazing views, too. Btw, does this beacon make me look fat?
The route follows the contour of the slope.
It was sunny, warm, and a little very breezy. We could spot the parking lot from a distance, and it was a little sad to realize that each stride brought me closer to the end of my 2011-2012 ski season. I had eked out all that I could. It's now time to hang up the skis and focus on running.

I'm super grateful to have had this opportunity to head out into the backcountry with such fun and patient people. I can't wait to do it again!