Thursday, February 7, 2019

We are now into our first month of training for the Haute Route ski trip planned in March 2020. The Haute Route is a 7 day backcountry ski trip from Chamonix France to Zermatt Switzerland.  Each day we will be expected to travel over several miles and about 5000 feet of vertical touring which is equivalent to hiking to the top of the Snowbird Tram 2 times. The group guide has instructed us to be prepared  for 5+ hours of touring each day, making transitions from skiing to bootpacking in steep terrain, and be able to ski variable snow conditions. To physically prepare for this event we have been meeting as a group every Tuesday night for a few hours making as many laps possible in the frigid night air  from the Alta parking lot to the top of Sunny Lift. In addition to our weekly tours we have scheduled Saturday tours that gradually increase our endurance to the Haute Route requirements. T

This last Saturday was our first  5 hour tour out of bounds from the ski resort in the Wasatch backcountry.   We started at 7am from the the Red/White Pine parking lot with the intention of skiing Scotty’s Bowl.  The sky was dark as we prepared our equipment for the 2000 foot vertical tour, except for a rutilant iceblink above the Monte Cristo Ridge line. We all paused for a moment as recognized the beauty we were witnessing.  The conditions were not the coveted 12” of fresh powder since it had been over 5 days since our last snow storm.  So we sought out for the shaded North face slopes offering silky condensed powder. The approach to the top of Scotty’s Bowl was a bit more difficult than anticipated.  There was a rime crust on the west facing slope combined with a pawky thin layer of fine snow that became very slippery, making up hill touring difficult (2 steps up, one step slide back).  There were several times we wished we had a support line to grab on to to help us over steep sections to prevent us from sliding backwards, but we able to bootstrap up the steep skin track to the 10,200’ ridgeline.  

We found some epic untouched lines through the trees of Scotty’s Bowls.  The Wasatch backcountry is becoming an increasingly popular place to ski and it's difficult to ski an entire bowl to yourself  like I used to when I started in 1993. As I look back at those days of boot packing to the top of the peaks across the street from Snowbird and Alta Resorts, I have to shake my head in disbelief that I am still alive.  From 1993-1997 I skied everything, Mt Superior, Flagstaff, Days Fork without any avalanche training and equipment. We spent several hours inefficiently bootpacking for one long epic untouched 2000-3000 vertical foot run down untouched powder.  It was worth every exhausting foot
step. Until one day we were passed by a telemarker on a 3 pin binding system, and ankle high leather boots. I immediately transitioned to telemark equipment but never developed the ability to confidently ski in the leather boots. So I transferred over to the Alpine Trekers,  which evolved to Fritschi free heel binding, and now I am on the Dynafit system allowing for efficient travel and multiple runs down 2000-3000 vertical foot slopes. Backcountry skiing became my winter passion. My life revolved around skiing. I remember my college professor, for stress management, shaking her head at me when I stated I had a stressful week because I could only ski a couple of times that week.   I continued to ski this way until 1997 when I took a avalanche course and my chin dropped to the ground as I realized the risk I was taking. I immediately changed the way I skied, and started utilizing the skills I learned from my class to minimize my risk of being caught in a avalanche.

I have spent years learning to prognosticate the signs of avalanches.  Listening for sounds, identifying snow types, observing the wind, digging pits, and daily reading of the avalanche reports (big shout out to our local avalanche forecasters who do amazing work to keep us safe). There is an instinctual alertness that you learn to attune yourself  while you're backcountry skiing. I am sure it’s similar to the same instinctual alertness the plains animals use watching out for predators. You are fully alert the whole time. It’s a an experience of stepping out of your comfort zone and developing skills that adrenalize the return of skiing confidently after the next storm

Backcountry skiers need to commit to a disciplined  temperament. There is an inherent risk of death and serious injury with the beckoning sirenic slopes all around you.  Each skier is responsible for setting their risk boundaries and having the courage not to cross them (easier said than done).   Many times I have had to say “not today” as I am drooling at the epic untouched run. This is something that has developed with time and more parental responsibilities. So, I was relieved to see Saturday's avalanche report showed “Low Danger” on all aspects so that this first time group would not be tempted to ski something beyond that boundary.

After our first run down Scotty’s Bowl we ventured off to some steeper terrain in the Temptation Chutes area. During our gibble-gabble to the top of the ridge line the people in our group were having epiphanic moments of how challenging uphill touring could be. But the effort was worth every amount of exhausting  step ups, backward slides, off balance falls, and awkward switchbacks. Especially after skiing the untouched line down through the chutes of trees.

The objective of backcountry skiing is to be energy-efficient so that you can ski as many downhill turns as possible.  You must relax your arms, glide instead of lift your skis, manage your breathing, and channel every available calorie of energy to downhill turns.  Many of the people in our group have been revving their heart rates up to zone 4 and zone 5 trying to keep up with each other during the uphill touring. This equates to the heart working at 80-90% of its maximum effort. The rules of endurance only allow you about hour of activity at this heart rate level.  I was excited to observe after Saturday’s tour that our group quickly learned that muscling through backcountry skiing will not allow them to accomplish our ultimate goal of touring for 7 days. They are going to have to learn the art of sashaying efficiently up and down the slopes.  Hence, this is why we started our training a year and half before our event.

There is another  realization among the group, and that is they're going to have to sacrifice some of their hygge environment and dedicate time to fitness training to enhance the backcountry skiing experience to its fullest potential. There is really only one way to get in shape for backcountry skiing and that’s getting outside and touring. But most of us don't have the time to spend touring everyday, and must supplement our fitness in the gym.  Many of the people who are going on the Haute Route trip, train with me 2-3 times a week at the gym doing a variety of workout modalities. And those who are committing to these workouts are already seeing the benefits of training. This is really what I am trying to show people, the greater the effort the grander the experience. I really believe that you enrich your life experiences when you put effort into physically preparing for them.  I truly love the recreational adventures and walks along the beach that do not require preparation and training. But the experiences I am referencing are those challenges that are out of our comfort zone. Experiences that provoke self reflection and development, and reaching beyond what you thought was possible. Look at Alex Honnold who spent years training to free solo El Capitan, and Killian Jornet who spent several month preparing to set the world record for the fastest ascent/descent to Everest.  Their experience was enhanced as they reflected on all the work it took to achieve that one great moment that would have not been possible unless they trained for it. My aspiration with the individuals I work with is to inspire them to want to self improve from their current state to reach something greater, giving deeper meaning and reward to their outdoor experiences.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

I wish...

I wish I could do that.  Arguably one of the most common phrases I've heard in my 20 years as a fitness professional. The examples are nearly endless: I wish I could climb that, ski, that, run that, float that. I wish I could go there, see that, cook like that, and lose that kind of weight.

It's a seemingly endless list of wishes, some unrealistic, but many of them are well within your reach. The common theme, the one that keeps wishes just that, wishes, is change. In order to achieve and make your wishes, your dreams a reality, is accepting that you must change. And, let's be clear, change is hard, it fundamentally means something in your life is going to be different. Often times our perception is that making that change is to give something up, to lose something. Sometimes it's true, but more often than not it means gaining something far more than what we lost.

Often times change does require us to give something up:

  • Bad habits
  • Poor choices
  • Unhealthy behaviors
  • Stress
  • Negative self talk
  • and a whole host of other traits that keep us from accomplishing our endless list of wishes
Change also requires us to evaluate our life, our choices, and our perspectives. In order to make our wishes come true, we need first to believe that what we want is possible. Often, when I present a challenge to someone, their first response is: "I could never do that." And, with that attitude, they're right, they can't. More often than not we've given up before we've even started, or even considered starting!

We like the idea of something, but seldom believe we have the ability to do it. We present ourselves a host of self created obstacles as to why what we most want is not attainable.

  • I don't have time
  • I don't know how to do that
  • I don't know how to start
  • I wouldn't be any good
  • I'm too (fill in the blank)
I get it, it's easy, way easier than committing to the process and making the changes that will allow you to stand in awe of something you once thought impossible. It can be terrifying, the thought of putting yourself out there, risking what you know, risking failure.

I've stood at the starting line, legs shaking, nauseous, terrified that after what seemed like a lifetime of training that ultimately I might fail. That's the risk! However: at the end of day, goal accomplished or not, I always knew I could stand proud because I was willing to take a chance, to challenge myself, and to dream big.   

I challenge you, write down your wish list, say them out loud,  and once you've done that, take the next step. Tell yourself, out loud, that it's possible, that your possible. Once you've committed to believing what you want is possible, start making the changes you need to make your wish list a list of accomplishments. 

Some simple steps to get you started:
  • Understand your goal, if it's a marathon, triathlon, or other sporting event, get an understanding of what's involved in participation. Talk with other participants, trust me they'll be more than happy to share their experiences (often in more detail than you want). If it's a hiking, outdoor, or travel adventure, seek out those who've been there and get their perspective on their experience. 
  • Respect that your goals will require work, plain hard work. Fitness professionals snapshot their lives so everything we do looks easy, but it's always been a product of dedicated hard work. There are no short cuts.
  • Acquire the skills necessary, learn and establish a solid foundation of the skills you'll need to accomplish your goal.
  • Commit to the process. This seems like an easy one, but often times it's one of the most difficult. Committing to the process requires trusting that what you're doing will actually work.
  • Don't give up. When things go south, and yes, they will go south, keep moving forward. Forging ahead through difficult periods is unfortunately a necessary part of the process. These hard times is what you'll draw on when you're out on your adventure, they create the realization that you can persevere when the road is dark.
  • Build a trusted support network. Surround yourself with people who understand what you're trying to do and will support you.
  • Communicate to your loved ones, family, and support network. Open and honest communication can solve many problems that creep up, especially when things aren't going quite as planned.
  • Embrace the change and savor the experience. The experience is so much more than the end product, it's the whole process, the life changes you made, the training, new friends, new places, good days and bad, it's everything. 
I challenge you, KOLIfit challenges you: Wish Hard, Dream Big and Live Your Story!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Top 5 Nutrition Mistakes You May Be Making

The Top 5 Nutrition Mistakes You May Be Making-

Isn’t losing weight simply a matter of being in the deficit of calories out minus calories in?  It seems so simple and logical.  Unfortunately, weight loss takes a lot of discipline and intention.  According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention approx. 40% of Americans are finding themselves obese with the rate rising.  We can avoid being a part of this statistic by consistently avoiding 5 mistakes.

1-      Giving it all back on the weekend:  Does this sound familiar?  “Monday-Thursday I track my calories and macros religiously, I drink water all day long, I work out consistently and I leave sugar alone.”  The weekend rolls around and the story changes “I go out for pizza wash it down with a few soda’s or beers, I sleep in so I skip my workouts.  I hit a family BBQ and maybe go to a movie snacking on popcorn and candy…and then it’s Monday morning and I am back where I started or even up on the scale.”
I have found that if clients eat clean all week they can usually still lose weight after “one” weekend indulgence…but not much more than that.  Stay consistent.

2-      Exercising for Weight loss: “I ran for 2 miles this morning so I can eat what I want today”.  We all know the benefits of exercise are endless!  My advice to clients is to exercise with the intent of building and strengthening muscles, working on cardio vascular endurance and cuing increased dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.  Nutrition is for weight loss; exercise so that you want to eat the right food.  You really can’t outrun your fork.

3-      Midnight snacking: I estimate that 95% of my clients mention that they usually snack on either Popcorn or Ice-cream before heading to bed or even in the middle of the night.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study suggests nighttime eaters ate 12 percent more calories than those who ate only throughout the day and International Journal of Obesity study found, nighttime eaters participated in more binge-eating behaviors than those who didn’t eat after dinner.  Most dietitians recommend not eating after 7:00-8:00 at night so that individuals have 2 or more hours to digest food before going to sleep.

4-      Miscalculating calories/macro nutrients:  I am a huge fan of restaurants that are transparent about their nutrition.  I have changed my mind on what to order several times at a restaurant based on this information.  Tracking can be laborious, but helps us get a realistic idea of what we are consuming.  Find an app you like and track your food for a while.  Popular apps include: Myfitnesspal, Food, Fitbit, MyPlate, and even your KOLIfit app.

5-      Eating a “healthy” bar:  Most bars aren’t what they claim to be.  Often bars marketed as “healthy” are full of hidden sugars and unwanted fat. I have found this especially with food marketed to children.  It is important to understand food labels.  When I figure macro nutrient percentages on most protein bars it turns out they are really “fat” bars or “sugar” bars.   I know a protein bar is convenient; but I always recommend eating a protein bar with something like mini carrots, sugar snap peas or cucumbers.

Let KOLIfit help you with your nutrition and fitness goals, we offer an array of options to help you achieve the results you’re looking for.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Life of Enrichment on the Bruneau River

As I begin to write this adventure story I fret over how to write the details that express our experience without too much over embellishment.  This story has it all, fencing, fighting, romance….wait, that’s from “Princess Bride.” This story has even more, improvisation, broken vehicles, astounding countryside, Class III and IV rapids, good food, and wonderful people.  Let us begin.

Descent to the mouth of Neon Canyon on the Escalante River
The story starts in late fall of 2017 in Escalante, Utah.  I had just finished a 2 hour cross country approach to mouth of Neon Canyon with 3 other friends.  We were preparing our canyoneering equipment when all of a sudden I saw some people packrafting down the Escalante River.  I was highly intrigued and started a conversation on where they had started, and where they were going.  At the end our farewells, I had already planned an Escalante packrafting trip for the next Memorial Day weekend.    I had it all planned out, leave Thursday morning, hit Neon and Ringtale canyons, float 35 miles of the Escalante River and explore the side canyons along the way, and then hike out Coyote Gulch on Memorial Day.  Eight months was going to be an unbearable wait.

Over the next few months I started studying maps, reading blogs, and doing my home work to plan to most epic adventure.  I then extended the invitation to friends and KOLIfit members, and 10 people jump on board.  This was going to be a strenuous and physically demanding trip.  We would have to carry heavy backpacks weighing from 40-50lbs; hike over 20 miles across challenging desert terrain and slot canyons; and paddle over 10 miles each day.  This was not an adventure for the faint of heart, and I wanted to be very clear that whoever committed to this adventure had to commit to a KOLIfit fitness training program. 

Utah experienced a mild 2017/18 winter, especially in Southern Utah.  Every week I would visit and look at the snowpack for the Escalante drainage, and it did not look good.  By the end of March the snowpack was about 20% of normal. Feelings of despair inundated me over the next few days as my gut feeling told me that my epic adventure was not going to happen this year.  I started looking for blogs with reports of the lowest amount of water in the Escalante River and a favorable paddle experience.  I made a choice that 1.5’ would be our threshold. Not being optimistic that the river would reach that high, I developed plans “B” and “C.” 

The month of April did not improve the snowpack, and by the beginning of May the Escalante River was fluctuating between 1-1.2 feet of water.  It was time to make the decision to go with plan “B” and run the Bruneau River in Southwestern Idaho.
The beginning of the gorge on the Bruneau River

The Bruneau River is a tributary of the Snake River, receiving its flow from the Jarbridge Mountains in northern Nevada and running north to its confluence almost halfway between Twin Falls and Boise.  We would be paddling a deep canyon gorge over 40 miles in 2 days, with 1000’ towering walls on each side of the river.   The river walls would be the perfect setting for a fantasy movie with its chossy brittle rock and eerie grottos and caves where goblins and gules could hide during the day planning their hunt on innocent river runners. 

I started doing my homework on the Bruneau River rapids.(Click here to view Boneyard Rapid)  The river is narrow and choked with several Class III and IV rapids at 1000cfs and above.  Our group had dwindled down to 4 people including myself, but we would be joining 10 others with prior experience on the Bruneau.  As I spoke with Spence,  our 71 year group leader, about the rapids I developed feelings of apprehension about taking people down a river without any personal prior experience.  Class III and IV rapids demand respect, and if anything were to happen it would be challenging to obtain help due to the remoteness of the area.  I struggled many hours wondering if I was making the right decision to join this group of people I did not know.  I had to trust their judgment, which was difficult for me, because from my perspective there was a lackadaisical approach to running difficult rivers.  But as I continued to read and watch videos on the Bruneau rapids it confirmed what Spence had said, that the best way to scout the river is to “read and run.” 

Scouting rapids is an essential skill to managing your risk on challenging rivers.  To scout a rapid you exit the river just before the rapid and assess the best route for avoiding, holes, snags, rocks, and other obstacles that could jeopardize your safety.   The “read and run” technique is used when it is difficult to scout from the shoreline, or when you have a prior knowledge of a rapid.  To read and run a rapid you quickly look downstream from your boat and assess the safest route.  I am comfortable with the read and run technique, for an experienced paddler this adds to the element of fun.  There are quick instinctual decision made in a matter of moments that bring a great satisfy feeling.  But when you are the only paddler with extensive whitewater experience with a “rookie” crew, I was uneasy about reading a river and making quick decisions, and then relaying that information verbally, as opposed to reacting instinctually, and then relying upon my crew to react with precision to avoid harmful obstacles. (Click here to view  Class IV rapid)

To prepare my rookie crew, I requested that we do a training run down a Class II section of the Weber River 2 weeks prior to our trip in the same boat we would be paddling down the Bruneau River.  My apprehension shifted to feelings of confidence as Ryan and Syndi quickly synchronized with may paddling commands.  At this point I made the decision that we were a 100% go for the Bruneau trip and if we did not feel confident that we could run a rapid that we would portage it.  That never happened. 

Old Mining Truck near deserted Jasper mine
The rookie crew consisted of Martin who is an adventurer with an amazing resume of outdoor experiences. One being the first person in the world to summit the 7 major summits and to sail the 7 major seas.  Ryan and Syndi are mother and son who shared the same enthusiasm as I did when I announced the Escalante packrafting trip.  Syndi has many world traveling experiences, but is a novice when it comes to packrafting and river running as to with her son, who is a student at the University of Utah.  One of life’s great experiences is when unlikely people are brought together by an adventure and have a life enriching experience.  This was our experience on the Bruneau River….it just took a little hard work to earn the enrichment.

Friday Noon: Text from Syndi, “we are running a little late.”  My philosophy on a river trip is that there is no time schedule.  You wake up when you want to,  you get to your destination when you want to, you eat when you are hungry, and you go to sleep when you are tired.  River life is the epitome of relaxation and leaving your cares behind.  This trip had a few exceptions.

Bruneau River put in
Friday 4pm: Half of the group wanted to spend the night camping at the river instead of camping on the front lawn in Hagerman ID. So 7 of us consolidated our gear into Spence’s old Dodge diesel truck, which was a comparable feat to building an Egyptian pyramid.  Rafting trips are not like backpacking trips where you are concerned with the weight you carry.  On  river trips we bring “glamping” luxuries and lip-smacking food, i bowel plugging  freeze dried food.  This requires a big vehicle that can handle rugged terrain and carry a lot of equipment.  You can usually spot a river trip caravan several miles away.
nstead of thin therma-rest pads and

Friday 5pm: River camping group leaves for the 70 miles of dirt roads to the put in.  Driving to the Bruneau River is an adventure itself.  It requires a durable vehicle,  good navigation skills, and patience as you drive over miles of baby head sized lava rocks.  It is my understanding that this region of Idaho was one of the prehistoric lava flows of the supervalcano in Yellowstone National Park.  As far as you can see in any direction there are rolling hills of lava rock.  Roads that are built on lava rock are not super highways.  The overall average speed for the next 3.5 hours was 20mph.  In fact, for the last 6 miles it was faster to travel by foot than by vehicle.  And the last 2 miles requires a good competent driver down a steep narrow, rock infested road.  We all opted to walk down the road to help navigate over rocks and steer clear of the vehicle grave yard at the bottom of the ravine.

Bruneau River Country
Friday 9pm: River life began with our arrival at the put in. It was a clear beautiful night with a ¾ moon drowning out most of the celestial stars.   The waterfalls from the natural hot springs, a few hundred yards to the South, were a refreshing steam bath. We explored the area for natural pools to soak in, but they were extremely shallow and very hot.  There was a makeshift hot tub with room for one if you were the early bird.   At camp, Spence played on his harmonica, danced the Irish Jig, and recited poetry.  There is not a dull moment with Spence as the head of  river entertainment.  He has an infectious energy, and I dare you to catch him without a smile, even when things are awry.

Friday 11pm:  As we retired for the evening we reviewed tomorrows plan to meet the rest of the group at 8am, put on the river around 10am, explore Cave Canyon, and float 20 miles to our camp.  I have to laugh that we even put a time schedule on our river trip because we never stick to it. We are on the river, who cares what time it is.
Saturday 12am:  Still awake because of my idea of a sleeping in a Lamzac as a sleeping pad did not work. It only holds air for about an hour before you feel the hard ground. Good thing the constant white noise of the river distracted my disgust and I finally drifted off to sleep.   

Saturday 7am:  We ate breakfast and started rigging the 2 of the 3 rafts.  Rigging a raft is a mastery skill.  Every boat captain has their own style for stowing gear.  For most it is prioritized on what you need to access quickly.  Generally Bluetooth speakers, Oreo Cookies, and beverages (this was a non alcoholic group) are stored for quick access, while tooth brushes,  pots and pans, and trip itineraries are buried deep in the bottom of dry boxes.  We finished rigging our rafts around 8am and started looking to the horizon waiting for the rest of our group.

Nap time
Saturday 11am: Still waiting for the rest of the group.  As stated, river trip itineraries are more of a guideline.  It is essential that you keep yourself entertained until river time and real time synchronize as one.  For about 3 hours people tinkered with equipment, took naps, ran to the top of hills, and revisited the hot springs.

Saturday 1pm: At last, it was time to launch.  Boat number 3 was rigged and everyone was ready to go.  Just as we were ready to launch one of the shuttle drivers who had left about 30 minutes ago, trying to avoid a heavy thunder storm and to take our vehicles to the take out over 80 miles away, came running down the road to inform us that the old Dodge truck had broken down a 1/3 of the way up the steep rocky road. Immediately the 71 year old Spence, and his 2 grandsons, ran up the hill to see if they could find a resolution to the broken down truck.  A couple hours passed by as we continue to stretch our downtime activities, when Spence came running back to inform us that he needed everyone’s help to push the truck back down the steep rocky road.   Unfortunately, the truck lost all power due to fluid loss and was dead in its track.  2 vehicles were trapped behind and another, on its way to the river put in, was trapped in front.  There was no possibility of towing the vehicle up the hill.  The only choice was through man and truck power to carefully coast the old truck backwards down to the bottom so that the other vehicles could pass.  As we carefully reached the bottom an hour later, Spence pulled out his harmonica and “Pied Pipered” everyone with a tune as we followed him back to the boat launch without a care of what we were going to do with the truck.  “That will be figured out after we are done with the river trip,” he said with a smile on his face.
Pushing the truck back to the put in.
 If you could only see Spence's smile through
the windshield.

Saturday 4:30pm:  At last, it was time to launch. The initial plan was to run 20 miles on Saturday and then 20 miles on Sunday making it possible to get home late Sunday afternoon.  But with only 4 hours of day light left we took the rangers suggestion and camped at a beautiful location about 11 miles downriver.   My river anxiety dissipated as we ran several Class III rapids without any problems. 

Enrichment:  I heard a person ask Syndi and Ryan if they were uneasy with all the chaos.  I do not remember their response, but I remember the person replying back with, “this kind of stuff happens all the time on river trips, and we are just used to it.” Implying a “no worries” attitude.  That conversation caused me to reflect on a  quote I copied from the movie “Martian” where the character Mark Watney, who was stranded on Mars for over a year,  states to a fresh group of  cadets after his rescue  “At some point, everything's gonna go south on you and you're going to say, this is it. This is how I end (or how I am going to quit). Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That's all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home (or accomplish your challenge).”    I have applied this philosophy to my adventure outings, especially adventure racing. Adventures offer the opportunity to face difficult tasks as challenges that need to be mastered rather than experiences to be avoided.  We strive so much to be comfortable in life thinking this will enrich our life, but from my observation this is not so.  Meaningful life enrichment comes from hard work to accomplish a goal or challenge.  I stated that river life is the epitome of relaxation, with an asterisk, after you accomplish all the hard things to get to that relaxation point.  I love rigging a boat, making decision on how to run a rapid, and even problem solving the best way to get your truck off the mountain.  All the hard work and chaos created an amazing story that will never be matched by a virtual experience. 

Ascent to the caves
Enjoying the view and avoiding poison ivy
The End:  The rest of the river trip was a quite traditional.  We explored the poison ivy infested Cave Canyon which had Martin and I sprinting to see what was around each bend, and then finally reaching the caves. The highly anticipated 5 mile section of Class IV rapids brought a lot of “WOO HOO’S.” At 1100 cfs the river was a perfect level for a rookie crew.  Plenty of rocks to dodge, but not pushy enough to cause any great alarm.  Spence continued with his infectious energy reciting more poetry,  playing “O Canada” in tribute to the Canadian Olympic athlete amongst our group, and even fixed his old Dodge diesel truck and drove it home a few days later. (Click here to view Burro rapid)

Now my mind shifts to next year as I have to wait another 12 months before my “Epic Adventure.”

Monday, February 26, 2018

It Was Worth It

 There is a scene from a 1982 movie called The Man From Snowy River.  It is about a group of seasoned Australian mountain men who are chasing on horse-back a coveted pack of wild horses called brumbies, free-roaming wild horses.  These skilled men are chasing these horses through rugged terrain and wilderness, trying to be the ones who capture the horses for a large purse.  The brumbies, however, evade the mountain men by jumping off an extremely steep down-slope.  Too steep for the mountain men to follow, the chase comes to a quick and abrupt halt.  Then, suddenly from the back of the group, the main character in the movie, a rookie mountain man trying to establish his place in the mountains, cracks of his whip as he leaps off the steep slope to continue the chase.  Eventually, it is the fledgling who captures of the brumbies.
Craig Dropping into Bowl
On February 13, 2018, six skilled skiers stood looking over the edge of the snowy Commissary Ridge in Wyoming Targhee Mountains, examining an untouched bowl of fresh powder.  They had spent 30 minutes sawing off cornices, in order to determine if the conditions were safe enough to ski without creating an avalanche. Once the conditions were deemed safe, the six men peered over the edge wondering who should go first.   With a crack of a Wahoo!, Craig, the rookie in the group, exuberantly leapt off the ridge, capturing  a one-year dream of backcountry skiing in the deep wilderness.  Everyone on the ridge echoed with Wahoo’s and Yipee’s as 62- year-old Craig carved first tracks.  
His journey to get here had been one of total dedication and commitment.  He made lifestyle changes to improve his physical stamina.  He learned the necessary skills to ski safely in the backcountry.  And he improved his nutrition in order to decrease his body weight so he could be more energetic on the uphill portion of touring.  

I write this commentary hesitantly because to explain the details of Craig’s repetitive efforts would make for a very boring story for most readers.  But, in the story lies the real journey for all those who desire to conquer their own ‘backcountry.’  Day after day after day, there has to be this undeviating commitment to goals and preparation, even overcoming the doubt and wondering if the discomfort will be worth it. It required months of training to be physically prepared for three days of leg-burning, deep powder skiing.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of Craig and his unrelinquishing attitude as he prepared for his KOLIfit adventure.  

The adventure began Sunday afternoon as Craig, Greg, Brandon, and I drove 4 hours to Driggs Idaho.  The time flew by quickly as we introduced ourselves to each other and talked about our past adventure experiences. There were stories of climbing Mount Everest, Alaska crab fishing, traversing ridge lines, and skiing steep n deep narrow canyons.  Indiscreetly, we were sizing each other up to determine how ‘adapted’ each of us was for this adventure.
We pulled into a quiet little Driggs about 9:30 p.m. in frigid conditions.  After we found our trailhead off a shimmering icy Leigh Canyon road,  which made for a fun adventure, we returned to the Korean Restaurant (pretty much the only thing open on a Sunday night) for an amazing family style dinner.  As we ate, we were continually sizing each other up as we shared more stories about our individual adventures and exploits.  

We met the rest of our group and a guide from the Teton Backcountry Guides on Monday morning at 9a.m.  Our group of six, Craig, Greg, Brandon, Brandon, Brandon, and  Aaron (say that 10 times as fast as you can), made our final preparations  with 40-pound packs full of three days of food and gear. Excitement was high as we anticipated our adventure in the National Targhee Wilderness.  
We had a four mile approach to the yurt where we would be staying with a 1,000-foot elevation gain.  As we encountered the trailhead, we noticed that it was well-packed and could be easily traveled in our four-wheel-drive vehicle.  A plan was proposed to haul all the gear 3 miles up the road.  This would save us some time and conserve needed energy that would be needed to ski the fresh powder.  We cleared the plan with our guide who expressed his approval with some excitement because he had another opportunity near the City of Rocks once he guided us to the yurt.  

Greg had read on the Teton Backcountry Guides website that sleeping bags were provided at the yurt for a fee.  This was a courtesy provided by the Teton Backcountry Guides in order to reduce the amount of gear, and consequently weight, to be packed to the yurt.  Greg had assumed that he could obtain the key to the locker at the yurt.  Consequently, he did not bring his sleeping bag.  I think you have figured out the end of this tale.  Yep! No key.  No sleeping bag.  And no way to get one at this point in the trip.  Now, we have a conundrum: six guys and five sleeping bags in sub-zero temperatures at 8,000 feet altitude in the backcountry miles away from any store.  We were all thinking the same thing: “There ain’t no way in h--- I am spooning up in a bag with Greg!” 
Luckily, our guide saw our plight and took pity on us.  Consequently, he called his boss and got us the key to the locker at the yurt, but with a catch.  Someone would have to drive back to Driggs to pick it up.  So, Greg and Brandon #1 got the job.  Meanwhile, Aaron, Craig, and the guide will drive up the road and drop off the rest of the gear.  Craig and the guide would get a head start and meet us at the yurt.  I would drive the vehicle back to the trail head parking lot and wait for Brandon #1 and Greg to get back with the locker key.  Once we got everyone and everything to the yurt, we could start skiing around noon.
We had not driven more than a  ¼ mile down the snow packed road when I started to feel uneasy about the conditions of the road and felt the plan needed to change. The road was less solid and firm the further we drove down it and I could feel the vehicle struggling for traction.  The road, however, was too narrow to turn around.  Now, I was left with the reality of having to drive backwards, by myself, to the parking lot after we dropped off the gear.  My anxiety levels skyrocketed as I imagined myself backing down a narrow snow-covered road.  I went through every “what if” scenario imaginable.  And as I did, my anxiety got worse.  You can imagine what’s going on in my mind as I visualize trying to back down the road, looking in the rearview mirror, in the side mirrors, over my shoulder, bumping long, spinning the tires.
Our guide sensed my uneasiness and he, too, was apprehensive about backing the truck down the road. Craig, however, was all in and encouraged us to continue down the road.  In his mind, this was his ticket to keep from expending energy and have more time to ski the beckoning white powder.  Quickly, the guide and I established a two-man dictatorship and decided to drop the gear at about ⅓ mile from the trailhead, despite Craig’s protests. Consequently, I sent Craig and the guide off to the yurt with their gear and left everyone else’s gear on the side of the road.
However, I still had to drive the truck down the road backwards….by myself.   As I clutched the steering wheel, I could feel the sweat streaming down my face, especially when the truck started to slide.  Despite the fact, there were some anxious moments and a few close calls of sliding off the road, I made it back, safely, to the parking area.  As a footnote, when we returned to the vehicles after our 3-day skiing excursion, there was a sign posted at the trailhead, “No Vehicles Beyond This Point.”  I think our guide must have reported out predicament to someone and they shut down the road.
Grand Teton in the Background
Shortly after I returned from parking the truck, Greg and Brandon #1 returned with the key to open the locker at the yurt for the sleeping bag.  Now, with all our problems resolved and anxieties relieved, we were ready to cut some track and ski!  We had some great conversations on our four mile tour, from “Should they make the Escalante area a National Park” to, well, let’s just say that boys will be boys.  We arrived back at the yurt by 12p.m.  Stoked up the stove with wood, and started boiling water for our Mountain House lunch.  As we sat there, enjoying our lunch, we soaked in the beauty of our surroundings.  There was no way to put into words what our eyes viewed and what our hearts felt as we were immersed in the ambience of brightly lit snow-covered peaks with the aroma of fresh pine all around us.  It was simply one of those things which could not be described.  It had to be experienced.  For me, personally, I was home!  The group kicked back and reminisced like we had all known each other since birth.  However, we came to ski, so like bloodhounds on the scent, we set off.  We had another four hours of daylight left and we did not want to miss a single ray as we sought the best rideable lines to ski.
To our surprise, however, there were a myriad of snowmobile tracks.  And many of the rideable lines we had observed from a distance had been obliterated by skiers and snowmobile tread.  There was a mood of betrayal among us.  We had come to backcountry ski in this remote area, supposing it would be unscathed by man or machine.  We had come to enjoy the silence of the backcountry and hear only the sound our breath as we climbed, searching for those untouched lines.  It was akin to coming to wildlife preserve and finding all the magnificent creatures left dead by poachers.  All the untouched lines had been obliterated by our “poachers” on their snowmobiles as they drove up to the top of Beard Mountain to drop off a skier, and then return for the next one.  They could ski four laps to our one with hardly expending any energy and the price was the destruction of pristine lines.  This was not what we were expecting and it dashed our dreams.  But, we refused to let this setback ruin our trip.  We expended the effort to find an area which was untouched in the trees and skied a couple of lines.  It was so exhilarating that our disappointment quickly turned into our joy as evidenced by the perma grins across our faces.   
After a few runs and the long tour to the yurt, a few in the group were ready to start their days recovery.  They wanted to have plenty of energy for the next day which was Tuesday.  Brandon and Craig wanted to head back to the yurt. But I was in exploration mode, which means rest and sleep are overrated. I can do that when I get home.  I wanted to make my mark and find the goods. So, rather than return to the yurt by the most direct route, the four of us decided to head towards Beards Mountain.  Even with the plethora of tracks, it was too tempting to not go have a look.  It had snowed about a foot of fresh snow over the week.  The temperatures had dropped into single digits, sucking the moisture out of the snow and creating very light powder
Craig Making First Tracks
As we traveled along the Commissary Ridge to find an alternate route to the yurt, we found what we were looking for.  It was difficult not to drool all over ourselves like Pavlov’s dog as we gazed at a north facing bowl unscathed by man or machine.  It was a perfect blanket of snow illuminated by the golden rays of the sun as it began to set.  As we stood there, gazing upon this pristine sight, it was all that we could do not to ski off “into the sunset,” but we knew we would run out of daylight, and the return trip to the yurt could be precarious if not dangerous in the dark.  So, we made mental notes and anxiously anticipated returning tomorrow to this heavenly place.  

We arrived at the yurt around 6:30 p.m., satisfied with our introduction to the Targee Mountains.  It was, now, time to rest our weary bodies in our humble 200 square foot home.  Equipped with just enough to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, e.g. good people , good food, and memorable times.
Now, when I tell my children that vacations are to be savored and that sleep is overrated, I am slightly exaggerating.  Sleep is a wonderful part of life and I value every minute of it.  I have trained myself to live off of about 6 hours of sleep per day.  If it’s not good quality then I need a bit more.   Camping, however, has never provided the highest quality of sleep for me.  Being a side sleeper, I usually toss-and-turn all night long.  I can never get comfortable on a 1-inch pad. Now, add to it a cacophony of snoring for 2 nights, by the time I returned home, I will felt like that I didn’t sleep the whole 72-hour trip.  I am adding one more piece of gear to my equipment---earplugs!  
The lack of sleep, however, did not hold back the excitement we felt as we anticipated skiing the untouched bowl. The whole reason why this trip was planned was because Craig wanted to experience a backcountry ski trip.  He had his shining moment.  Tuesday came and went by with everyone skiing one of the best days of their life.  Everyone made several runs, making their mark on the North Face of Commissary Ridge.  Every time we finished the 700-foot, 37-degree run,  it was instinctive to look up and see your perfect tracks while crumbs of powder would melt and dribble down our faces.  Craig’s hard work had finally become worth every drop of perspiration, every stair stepped, and every leg workout.  It was even worth the sacrificed Mountain Dews.  He realized the benefits of his commitment and hard work.  Before the day was over, he was already talking about and planning next year’s trip.  

It was becoming late afternoon on Tuesday and fatigue was setting in, but we dug deep to ski another run.  And then another.  And then another.  We had come too far and expended too much, in time, money, and preparation, not to capture every moment from our long-awaited adventure.  But, eventually, the mind succumbed to the body’s cry and Craig had to call it a day.  He had exceeded his expectations and experienced his dreams.  He and 2 others went back to the yurt to relish in their accomplishment. 
However, I wasn’t quite ready to go back, yet.  There was still one more thing that I wanted to do.  One of my most favorite peaks is the Grand Teton.  It speaks to my soul every time I see it and it was a stone’s throw away at the top of Beard Mountain. The sky was crystal clear and I wanted a picture of unadulterated view of the Grand Teton.   To acquire this view meant traveling another mile to the summit. But summiting Beard Mountain also meant we could ski the 2000-foot West Face run back to the yurt.  

Brandon, Brandon and I made it to the top of Beard Mountain and enjoyed the view with a pleasing selfie and a soulful chat with the Grand Teton. Then came a surprisingly amazing 2000’ run back to the yurt. Even though it was heavily skied we found untouched lines that gave us a rewarding leg burn. It’s adventures like these that change and reinforce a style of living. Everyone in the group understood the uniqueness of the experience.  It had been totally worth it.

I love the drive home from epic adventures. Bellies are full with burgers and fries from the local cafe. The analytical chatter of sizing each other up shifts to a quiet ride with reminiscent memories causing an occasional low chuckle. There’s the heavy breathing and head bobbing as sleep deprived bodies succumb to a relaxed comatose state. With Craig at the wheel and me in the shotgun seat, we pulled out of Driggs, gave each other that look “man that was worth it” and cranked the tunes and enjoyed the ride home.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Worth of Taking a Picture

While I was skiing with some friends in the solitude of the Utah backcountry the other day, I glanced over my shoulder to check their progress and saw something that awestruck me.  It stirred my soul and I felt a connection!  It reminded me of a statement made by Edward Abbey, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”  This was the kind of panoramas that inspired poets and writers.    The beauty of the colors and the  contrasts in an environment where the air was crisp and clear culminated in a scene that was breathtaking.  I had to take a picture and post it on social media.  Few people, I thought, have the opportunity to enjoy such raw, pristine beauty.  It needed to be shared.

As I gazed at the picture, however,  I realized it did not capture what I saw and felt.  A picture cannot capture the sounds or the smells, even the solitude.  A picture cannot capture what the human eye can see, a panorama so beautiful, so spectacular, it was hard to describe.  A depiction cannot produce the feeling of immersion in the splendor of such beauty.  Frankly, most people will probably scroll past it and say, “Just another sunset picture.”  

Sunset skiing in Grizzly Gulch
There is a reality, however, associated with the picture.  It captured a moment which, when viewed, solicited all the sights and sounds and feelings I experienced as I stood there immersed in nature. I scroll through my own social media photos and videos from time to time in order to relive the moments and recall the effect it had on my “human spirit.”  There are times when I wished I had taken more pictures.  They are not only a record of activities I love, but they conjure feelings which can be lost with the expiration of time.  A picture captures a story and recalls it to life, again.

For example, on the day I took this picture, I was skiing with a small group which include a friend whose name is Craig.  He is a stout, middle-aged man who has a zest for life.  He is a successful businessman who loves Mountain Dew.  He is an amazing athlete who played college  football and wrestling.  And he has an insatiable appetite ……..for adventure.  Despite his athletic prowess, his body bears the scars of time with  two knee replacements and a fused ankle.  Yet, he will not quit.

Last year, I exposed him to backcountry skiing.  I took him to a spot called “Short Swing” in  Big Cottonwood Canyon.  It is an ideal run for a first-time experienced down hill skier.  1600 vertical feet at 30 degrees  amidst interspersed quaking aspens.  Once you ascend to a 9200’ unnamed peak, you glissade down the slope, weaving your way in and out of the trees.  It is wonderful exhilaration.

It was interesting to observe Craig’s exuberance and excitement.  He was sweating profusely early into our tour!  I was amused that his gushing perspiration might create an ice hazard for those behind him.  Despite the fact he was experiencing a ‘sufferfest,’ with great energy, he bounded forward with gusto, enjoying every minute of his adventure.

Aaron backountry skiing in 3 pin bindings and leather boots (1995)
To put things in perspective, backcountry skiing requires a certain level of fitness.  Because I am a fitness trainer,  I don’t really think about the stress and distress physical activities might create for someone else.  I have been backcountry touring for years and, even when I feel out of shape, I can comfortably  endure 5,000 vertical feet and feel pretty good. I forget what may be easy for me as a result of years of physical and mental conditioning could be an excruciating reality for others, such as Craig.

Even though Craig was physically willing and mentally prepared, after a couple of hours of climbing and losing 10lbs of water weight, he was spent.   200-feet from reaching top he had to throw in the towel.  There wasn’t much energy left in his tank for the down hill return.  Yet, as a result of his skiing expertise,  he gracefully carved his way through the Aspen trees and, despite his weariness,  he could not keep from smiling.  

For some, this might have been labeled as horrible experience, e.g. to work yourself into exhaustion, not reaching the majestic view from the top of the summit.  For Craig, however,  it was the impetus for a new obsession, backcountry skiing.   He and his wife purchased backcountry skiing equipment, learned the fundamentals of backcountry touring, worked on their conditioning, took an avalanche class, and started touring in the solitude and beauty of the Utah wilderness.

Shortly  after the experience with Craig,  I went to Moab area with some other friends to ski in the La Sal range at the Geyser Pass Yurt near the base of Haystack mountain.  We skied for three days until our legs had become like puddy.  There was nothing left to hold us up.  Yet, these are the experiences for which I live.  I would be happy to survive on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to enjoy the majestic beauty of Haystack Peak, Mount Mellenthin, Mount Peale,and Mount Tukuhnikivatz.  There is simply nothing that compares to the raw beauty of nature in all seasons of the year!

Upon my return from the La Sal mountains, I told Craig what we had done with so much excitement that he wanted to experience it, too.  Which brings me back to the picture mentioned above. It has become one of my missions in life to expose as many people as I can to things that, perhaps, would currently not be on their radar.  Or, in other words, get people off the ‘freeway’ of life, have them slow down, and take a two-lane road to some of the most gorgeous country God has created, the backcountry of Utah.  Hike, bike, ski, it does not make any difference.  Rather than let National Geographic televise the wonders of our country, I want them to get out and enjoy it first-hand.  I want to help people create their own memories and recall the elation as they witness the spectacular beauty of nature in a way they thought would never be possible.

Training Day
Craig has committed himself to a training program that we hope will enable him to ski 10,000 vertical feet in a day.  To put that into perspective that is like hiking from the base of Snowbird Resort to the top of the tram……… 3 times.   He will follow an intense training program that encompasses high intensity weight training, hours on the stair master, and touring every weekend with me.  

It’s like a scene from Rocky IV.  The music starts as Craig walks into the gym.  He screams with pain and agony as he finishes his squat, leg press, and lunge circuits.  He reaches total exhaustion as he transitions from single step to double step intervals on the StairMaster, peaking his heart rate at 170 bpm each interval.  And then listens to his incessant coach  bark,  “Technique,Technique, TECHNIQUE!” and   “Keep your heart rate under threshold,”  as we tour natures training ground.

Craig is so excited for this adventure.  Every training session he expresses how he can barely wait to go to Moab.  He is like a little boy on Christmas Eve enthralled with excitement to open his presents.  He has trained hard for this event.  I can't wait to see the hordes pictures that capture priceless memories, and remind me of why I love what I do.