Monthly Archives: September 2011

Surfing Katia

A couple weeks ago JW Lafferty and headed east to chase down Hurricane Katia. After some great times with family and friends, JW and I caught some of the better waves of our lives. Surfing rules. BIG thanks to Nancy for all these wonderful photos.

Somewhere in RI


Grizzly Peak adventure. 8/7/11

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    the last pitch
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    at the top with a bottle of mead from colorado's own Redstone Meadery!
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    At the top of the cooly with my favorite ski book. "Brilliant Skiing. Everyday." by Weems Westfeldt
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The Story:

The dark north couloir was filling with a dull orange alpenglow and beckoning us further into the jaws of Grizzly Peak. First light had ignited a trademarked Colorado sky and now the sun was steadily climbing the east face of the Rocky Mountains. J W, Odell and I were set on climbing the carpet of snow that lay before us. J W wanted to fly his speed wing off the top and Odell and I were keen on skiing it.

It was steep already, and what appeared as a nice snowfield was actually a thick sheet of ice, peppered with rocks. Rocks, that seemed malicious and sat strangely still yet violent.

“Rockkks!”  J W yelled. I looked up to heed the warning and saw the jagged cannonballs instantly accelerate. Odell was behind and to the right of me, and was about to be gunned down. Luckily, they swerved wide, but were loud and fast enough to let the imagination turn dark. Grizzly Peak was moving.

Odell’s dance with the rocks left him particularly disenchanted so he decided to return to the sanctuary of the lake (the smartest decision of the day). However, J W and I kept climbing as the mountain kept calling to us. We were too weak to withstand the mountain’s persuasion.

Well past half way up, fear intoxicates me and my body weakens. I have felt this before, I do not enjoy this feeling, and I do not intentionally seek it out. I have been on my hands and toes for a while now, kicking into the ice with my ski boots and grasping the ridges that the sun has crafted into the ice. One wrong move and I might as well penguin slide down for style. How J W has made it this far in rubber toe adventure boots, I have no idea.  I keep telling myself, “you messed up, you messed up bad, all you had to do was bring a fucking ice axe.”

I look up at J W, and even though I know it’s not an option, I express my fear and quietly yell, “maybe we should turn back?”

I know there is no going back now, it would be impossible for J W to go down, and sacrificing my holds to put on my skis would be a poor decision. There may be other options but the falling rocks keep us from stalling to think. So it’s up, we just have to go up. Plus, as J W encouragingly replies, “we are past the hard part now, not too much longer to the top.” He is always the optimist, and a cheeky liar.

I look back and Odell is still making his way down. It’s a long way down, littered with jagged rocks piercing through what pretends to be snow. At this point I have controlled my fear, let it run its course, and now focus on what I have to do. J W’s climbing is inspiring as I watch his boots bounce off of the glazed surface.

I climb back into the warmth of the sun, out of the throat of the couloir. I am ecstatic. The ice is warming up. Now I can get my whole toe piece into a hold (it’s the little things). J W has just made it to the top; he is pumped, and is cheering me on. All I have left is a 50-yard top section that pleasantly inclines to about 50 degrees. J W suggests that I make for the rocks as he had done, but finding footholds on a loose rock face with ski boots is not for me. So I go straight up with my well rehearsed kick, kick, punch, and claw technique.

Finally, I make it to the top seam where I haul my mortal form up and over and relax between ice and rock. Safe. After some more hiking,I finally reach the top of Grizzly’s north couloir and hug J W. “Man, that was dumb,” I mutter.

He looks back with a smile and says,“yea, I was scared for you on that last pitch.”

“Thanks,” I respond, “how the hell did you get up here?”

He just smiles.

It was too windy at the top for J W to fly his speed wing and it would be hours before the snow would be soft enough for him to hike down the couloir. We had put ourselves in another great situation. Odell and all our camping gear was at the bottom, J W had to find another way down, and I still wanted to ski (kind of). We took some pictures, looked at our map, and made a plan. I would ski down, meet up with Odell and pack all our gear out. Meanwhile J W would climb down the alternate route and hike out 7 miles to the La Plata trailhead. Splitting up is a bad idea, but we figured it was the best option we had. Plus, I gave him the mead I had brought up for hydration.

We waited at the summit; I wanted the snow to warm up a little before I descended. It was only about 30 minutes but man it felt long thinking about the strip of ice and rock I had earned the privilege of skiing down. I thought about my brother Wallace. That made me feel sick. I thought about my brother Ben surfing in RI right now.  That sounded nice.

Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer and set up. I click in, feel some weakness as I look down, and mumble to myself, “Awesome, don’t loose your goddamn ski.”

I collect myself, give J W a sweet high 5 and make my first turn. Fear melts away. It is amazing how everything changes when I am moving on skis. Physics seem to bend, time slows down, and reality slips away. For me, there is nothing more pure than making turns.

I take my time going down the couloir. I simply cannot fall. It’s not the steepest run I have ever skied, but with the slippery and bumpy conditions it is one of the most dangerous. There is nowhere to dump speed; there is nowhere to stop myself if I get going too fast. I concentrate on every turn. The throat of the couloir is still in the shade, and the surface glistens. It is bullet proof. I make a few turns and slide slip a bit. I laugh to myself, man am I being lame, but it is kind of fun slipping down the sun sharpened ridges. Once I get past this section, I completely relax, and the snow softens. All I have to do now is ski through the maze of violent rocks and enjoy some fun august turns. Wow, this place is beautiful.

I meet up with Odell, we pack up, and make our painful journey back to the truck. We later decided that those three miles out were the worst three miles we had ever hiked. We had way too much useless stuff and not nearly enough water.

According to plan, we then drive over Independence pass and down to the La Plata trailhead. We finally get to celebrate as we find a cheery J W who has gotten himself well into the bottle of mead. Apparently, he had gotten tired of hiking a steep section and decided to fly a first descent. He deserved the drink. Thanks for sharing J W.