The Human Factor

When I first set out into the backcountry, I did everything wrong. I didn’t even know there were things I should know. That’s how clueless I was. I had been issued a beacon, probe, and shovel as part of my job as a liftie. I worked on a back bowl chairlift and had to ride down to the lift before routes, so we needed the equipment. I had it, and I understood it was for my safety. There is where my understanding stopped. I found out this was the same equipment you needed in the backcountry, so i figured I was ready for the backcountry.

I can remember my first outing. I had borrowed some extra equipment from another liftie, and a friend and I set out. I had heard people talk about one of the more popular trailheads so we found it and started climbing. I remember going straight up a creek bed with super steep banks that towered above us. At some point, we decided the creek wasn’t taking us where we wanted, and we wallowed straight up one of the banks bringing tons of snow down into the creek. We managed to continue to be lucky and get in a pretty fun (though short) run.

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Of course I bragged to some of my friends about getting out into the backcountry (a term I still didn’t understand). One of them was very kind, and gently suggested I could have been hurt. He proceeded to write down a list of books I should read, and some names of people I could talk to. I wish I could remember his name, he probably saved my life.

The more I learned, the more mortified I became about my behavior and my skills. I began to do beacon drills with my fellow lifties. I read everything I could find. I sought out experienced touring partners, and apprenticed myself.IMG_20160121_164607

But some where along the line, I got the idea that my knowledge had gained me some kind of control over things that were quite beyond my influence. I began to get sloppy and overconfident. It took many years, two heavy rides that could’ve killed me, and dozens of close calls, but I woke up.

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I realized that even though I hadn’t deserved it, I had lived to ski another day. That became my mantra. When I’m staring down a sick, steep, tempting line but the snowpack is against it, I tell that line “I’ll be back for you when the time is right”. When I’m on my way to a destination line and it starts snowing 3 inches an hour and the wind picks up,  I remind myself that some of the most fun I’ve had skiing has been low angle powder meadows.

Over and over in my career I keep coming across this diagram. I like to remind myself that I only truly have control over one of those factors, and it’s the most dangerous one.

Triangle

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#gettinouttatheshop

I’ve been lucky to have some great outdoor winter jobs. For over a decade I spent 50-60 hours a week in ski boots. A few years ago My aching feet drove me to try a different approach. After being spoiled for so many years, the bar was high. My first attempt was in the right industry, but didn’t really afford me the ski time I needed. Recently, I was given the opportunity to work in the industry, alongside others who are passionate about getting out to ski, with the ability to just walk out of the shop and go hit the sidecountry. It’s been an amazing alternative to having to spend time in my boots, getting to spend time in my boots. Sure, I sit inside on a powder day a couple of times a year. But when my turn to ski comes up, I slip uninjured feet into perfectly fitting boots, and shred with the homies.

On Touring Partners

 

 

It’s not often mother nature backs off and gives us stability like this mid-winter in Colorado. It’s important to stay in touch and take advantage when the time is right. Not only was I impressed with the conditions and the terrain, but i realized at the bottom when Trinity told me how adrenelized she was from skiing it, that it had never crossed my mind that she couldn’t, or wouldn’t ski it.

 

Touring partners need to be at the same ability level. They need to look at risk vs. reward the same way. A good touring partner has chocolate and nuts on the day when you bring apples and cheese. A good touring partner makes you laugh when you are getting pissed as the wind constantly glues your skins back together each time you tear them apart. A good touring partner takes beacon training seriously. A good touring partner has medical training. A good touring partner has a great smile, and a great attitude.

The whole premise behind a good tour is to get the hell away from civilization and do something grand. It has to be done with someone you trust implicitly, so you can both relax and do what you came to do with confidence and a smile.

The Road Trip

The Conception

After a summer of working six days a week managing the river operations of Stand Up Paddle Colorado, creating water-based education programs for middle school and high school students, and teaching and guiding river SUP tours I realized it was time for some extended paddling time for Trinity and I. Some of us at SUPCO had already discussed finishing the season with a Westwater trip. Why stop there? I began to research water levels, rapid classes, charted paths in my atlas, checked driving miles, river miles, it was starting to come together.

The Plan

I adjusted the itinerary constantly as the dates approached. Planning the end of season Westwater trip, planning my own three week road trip, and wrapping up a grueling summer of work I love was beginning to wear on my ability to stay in the moment. My vacation was weeks away, yet I was already gone in my mind. A path began to become clear as I looked at the whitewater parks and river stretches I was interested in.

Westwater Canyon

A well regarded whitewater run at any level, Westwater is an excellent mix of breathtaking scenery and quality whitewater. Gorgeous sandstone and schist provide a dramatic backdrop to one of the runs I adored for years as a rafter, and consider some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a SUP.

Cascade Whitewater Park

A breath of fresh air amidst urban sprawl. The features are fairly well spread out, so we scouted them out, picked the one we liked the look of, and sessioned into the twilight. Enough fun that we returned the next morning to shred some more before heading further west.

The Grand Canyon Of The Snake

Already being familiar with this run’s reliability into the fall, it was an obvious candidate for inclusion in the trip. Even at fall water levels this canyon holds onto a big water feel, and can be run in just a few hours.

The Main Payette

I had hoped to run parts of the North Fork, the South Fork, and the Main Payette, but dropping water levels left us with only the third option. It was everything we hoped for. After the big water feel of Westwater and the Snake, some technical water was in order.

Kelly’s Whitewater ParkImage-1444451646341

The infamous location of the Payette River Games. A well designed whitewater park, and even though it was super late in the season, we had a blast surfing and swimming for hours.

The Alberton Gorge

An absolutely epic run. Stunning scenery and challenging whitewater. The intro rapids were super fun and the inner gorge delivered some excellent technical drops.

Yellowstone National ParkIMG_20151014_113350

We didn’t run any water in the park, but it was a perfect end to the trip. Watching the water steaming and bubbling out of the ground, and the Yellowstone river cascading over the Upper and Lower falls, served to connect us further to the resource that has changed our lives forever.