Oregon Mountain Community

Down a Creek (a story of love, hate and respect)

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Anywhere there are mountains, there are creeks. Creeks are as natural as parking spaces in strip malls. Creeks run downhill, from mountains, and are a feature of the alpine landscape that play, obviously, into cross-country navigation. Creeks can range from an easily fordable, burbling, inconvenience to a life threatening death swim, depending on many factors. As you might expect, Ol’ Grumpy has a few stories to support this hard-earned evidence, and it’s probably a stretched metaphor that life has inconvenient gaps that often require a difficult crossing.

Working as a nordic ski instructor, at a Pacific Northwest ski area (before they got all resort about it) in the 80’s, I had a creek drama that perked-up the painful tedium of taking suburbanites on snowy nature walks. I worked the mid-week “ladies day tours” although it was open to men that were men enough to handle the label. The buses rolled in around 10 am and we would weed-out the nord lessons, from the lift riding, one-piece suits, and depart for our tour de jour.

The relevant tour, for this story, was up White River canyon, which was usually a predictable slog up a mellow glacier-cut valley. I traded-off “dog” duty with, my co-leader, Tammy. We would either lead the hobbling line of suburbanites, or bark like dogs from the rear until the herd stopped for lunch. The shared, Sunset magazine inspired, lunch fare was always delicious, and we fended-off the camp robbing jaybirds, exchanging gossip and avoiding politics. Maybe a plucky Gewurztraminer was opened, can’t remember that part. But, I do know, on the way back down the canyon, shit got real when one of the gals couldn’t pull a hockey stop before skidding into White River. It was easily a five foot digger down the steep bank, and Tammy and I were on the hook for retrieving this gal from the hypothermic thigh-deep stream. The other tourers were understandably freaked-out. Tammy peels-off ski togs to bra and panties, and says she’s going in. I’m impressed and play along, pull some moldy 7 mm Perlon line out of my daypack, and tied a quick bowline on her pale waist. Our brave gal grabs the handwaving, frantic madam, drags her to a snow bank, and our crew hoists them both up the bank. Tragedy was averted, the lady didn’t sue, and a bond of respect was welded with a co-worker. The creek was a prop, not the villain, in this drama but everyone learned a lesson from it and it garnered our respect.

Hiking up the Matukituki river valley, in New Zealand’s southern alps, hopping from bank to bank, blue skies above, smell of sheep in the air, we had no clue that this “creek” would flood into a raging brown drain pipe of death after a 3 day storm. My buddy, Jeff, I were on a mountaineering trip after a, relatively lucrative, summer of work in the woods and mills. We were aspiring to climb Mt. Aspiring and after being pushed off the route by a Tasmainian Sea devil of a storm we squirreled-up in the French Ridge hut, soaked and snow blind. The shallow, babbling Matukituki river was now a frisky torrent, and the forecast was for even more rain, so we needed to get across or be stuck on the wrong side for another week or more. With a heavy mountaineering pack on, and the current pushing me down, I took a panicky swim to the far bank. Dragging myself up the rocks, onto muddy ground I think I might have given it a kiss of thanks. Jeff had a similar bad experience, so we ate a cold dinner and failed to sleep in wet down sleeping bags that night, but were very happy to be alive. That bad swim was the capper on a crappy misadventure, and it’s funny how bad memories remain vivid after all these years while happy times fade.

The rental customer, shuffling through the stickered-up ski shop door, holding a broken ski, usually prefaces their explanation with “i was just skiing along when…” And after you’ve heard enough of these sorrowful spiels, and tried to avoid an eye roll, you might suspect a creek had something to do with this breakage. Light touring gear is light because tough=heavy material is intentionally left out. A novice skier; say a 220 pound dude on a fitness outing, can break a touring ski like a shingle when a creek is involved. Most times you suck up the rental deposit, give a short scolding about diligent behavior, and hope the manufacturer might warranty the wreckage.

Sometimes you might be even be the guy that is “just skiing along” when a creek decides to snare you, and break some needed equipment. Skiing an epic powder shot, on a hut trip in the Kokanee Mts. of BC, Canada, I had the good fortune of farming some deep powder, face shots from a creek depression. It was a perfect pipeline of bliss until the creek decided I was having too much fun. The inevitable misfortune of stuffing a ski in this creek’s depression, at the bottom of that shot, was consequential. My releasable tele binding release broke, and a bailing wire/duct tape job luckily kept me from postholing all the way back up that 1000 ft of vertical to the hut.

Creeks demand respect. I broke an ankle, falling down a mossy creek waterfall three years ago, on a search and rescue mission. My ankle tingles, to this day, then a creek crossing is encountered. I use that pain as an early warning device, and hopefully a reminder, to a slow-learner, that creeks get the respect they deserve.

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G3 ION Binding Review

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Our pal and editor at Off-Piste Magazine, Dave Waag, has a thorough review of the G3 Ion binding on his blog, and it’s well worth a  read if you’re considering an AT tech binding purchase.

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Winter Outdoor Retailer Show – 2015

An intrepid team of OMC buyers attended the Winter Outdoor Retailer Market and On-Snow Demo, last week. Although snow conditions, at the demo, weren’t optimal (i.e. hardpack) for testing wide backcountry skis, energy and optimism ran high. At the Salt Palace, in SLC, the general trend was “refinement” and expansion, as opposed to massive innovation. With low snow levels in the West, and inventories of snowsports equipment flush, it was with some anxiety we attend the annual pow wow of the snow tribe to buy equipment for next Fall. But hope springs eternal, especially for skiers, and gear just improves to the point where it’s irresistible.

 

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Fischer has some wild new products including AT skis, Dynafit style bindings, and the PROFOIL Ski Base Attachment which is made from a very thin layer of polyethylene instead of the traditional nylon or mohair. This non-skin won’t absorb water, and is purported to glide better than skins. The MSRP is in the $225-275 range.

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After skiing Marker’s new Kingpin binding, on hardpack, I was impressed by the lack of flex compared to my Dynafit Radicals, but the extra weight, in the backcountry, might be a factor to consider. Also, you need to remove your skis to change from ski to climb mode. This isn’t too much of a factor when it’s the bottom of a shot, and your taking skis off to put skins on anyway.

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Other noteable highlights from Winter OR:

Julbo Aerospace Goggles – A backcountry oriented ski google with a lens that can pop out a centimeter, away from the frame, and then snap right back into place. This extra ventilation is pretty nice when climbing.

The North Face FuseForm Dot Matrix Jacket – A blending of fabrics together through fusion, rather than stitched seams, reduces weight while improving performance. There is a weight-saving dividend, as well. It comes in at just 11oz!

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Polartec Power Wool™ –  Bi-component fabric combining the advantages of natural and synthetic fibers. Knowing Malden Mills, they’ll do it right.

Arc’teryx Lithic Glove - Three-layer, seam-sealed Gore-Tex glove unlike any other because it’s put together more like a jacket than a glove, cut from from a unique three-piece pattern. Primaloft insulation reduces bulk, and is reliably warm. I don’t think you want to use these on the rope tow, however.

Super Natural long underwear – Also a Merino/synthetic, combined in the yarn, with a great “hand”.

Craft Beer Carriers — Stanley (the thermos company) has the Classic Vacuum Growler with a heavy-duty handle and insulated walls the company claims will keep your craft beer cold for 16 hours outside. Mmm…beer.

 

 

 

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The Chamonix Experience

This is what heaven on earth looks like for climbers and skiers. I spent six months there in the 70’s and still can’t get Chamonix out of my system.

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Holiday Jewelry

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As we approach the holiday season I think it is important to reflect on things I am thankful for. There are many things from the great north that I am grateful for. The Stark clan, Scandinavian women, dog sledding. Today, I am most grateful for the northern weather.

 

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A Swiss Photographer Just Captured Matterhorn’s Hörnli Ridge Like Never Before

To help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of Matterhorn’s Hörnli ridge, in the Alps, by Edward Whymper and his team in 1865, photographer and mountain guide Thomas Bosch organized an amazing photo and video tribute.

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Thorung La Pass, Nepal before the blizzard

At least 40 people died on the Annapurna circuit last week due to avalanches, this video from the Washington Post documents life along the trail before the blizzard.

 

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NOAA VIDEO: Official 2014/15 Winter Weather Outlook

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The Versatility of Trekking Poles

As an addendum to the post about tarps, I’ll add that tarp/wings like the MSR E-Wing Shelter are a great choice for treeless enviorns like deserts or beaches where your trekking poles become a way of keeping the tarp off your head. The E-Wing packed is about the size of a tall boy and weighs a pound. For emergency shelter, when benighted day hiking, there isn’t a good reason to leave it or a similar shelter behind.

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The Light and Right MSR E-Wing

There are more good reasons to use trekking poles, hiking and backpacking, than bad. Trekking poles improve footing and balance (especially while crossing creeks), decrease stress on joints and back, push back wet vegetation on trails, splint a broken limb, repel bears (see video) and, as mentioned above, work as tent poles. The only probable downside, of owning trekking poles, might be the price of carbon poles or getting wacked by an irate spouse. The Black Diamond Trail trekking poles and Leki Micro Stick Carbon models can fit into luggage or packs, for travel, and perform all required tasks when you arrive. Bonus feature: you always have an emergency pair of ski poles if you can find the powder baskets in your garage.

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Black Diamond Trail Poles $109.95

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Leki Micro Stick Carbon $195.95

Although using trekking poles would seem self-evident, this video has some useful tips regarding their use. Especially, the bear repellent feature at 1:37. Enjoy.

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The Rain Dance

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Fellow Oregonians,

Do not despair. The fall rains are coming. This is inevitable, but a little rain never stopped anyone from having a good time in the hills! Dust off your rain boots and hit the muddy trail. I am going to highlight some excellent hikes for the fall, to be enjoyed on a sunny day or torrential downpours.

 

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