Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lots of skate skiing lately. Feeling strong, long skis from home, including this recent jaunt out on the mudflats near downtown. Pretty rare that the ice out there sets up to be able to skate on it.

Cold Smoke at Hatcher Pass today. Waist deep fluff. Low vis, but abundant face shots. Was great to be back on the board.. way too long for sure!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bluebird weekend!

A ski overnighter was called for so we tried heading back to the Flute Glacier.

Thin snow cover in South Fork...

Eagle Lake.. loving the sun, unfortunately this was the last direct sunlight we had for the rest of the trip.

It was dusk by the time we were heading up the first step, nasty snow conditions and lack of metal pointy things turned us around and we called it a night.

Little Hilleberg last weekend, big Hilleberg this weekend!

Tried again in the morning finding some softer snow and got higher, but still ran into wind hammered crust ice crap and went down. oh well. Spring will be here soon enough.

Furry quadruped mammal tracks on the way out.. Lynx or Wolverine?

The West Ridge of Cantata.. calling... inspiring...

(To be continued )

Monday, February 16, 2009

Spectating the Susitna 100

After coming back from Talkeenta it was full blown catch up sewing mode for almost 2 weeks. Finally Friday came and everyone that wanted gear for the Susitna 100 was taken care of. Two big snow races down, with the Ultra Sport to go and I'm looking pretty good for that one. Trying my best to get non-race orders out the door as well. Its a really good feeling having become the go-to person for frame bags for these events within a year's time.

Friday came and it was time to get out of town. I quickly sewed myself a proto version of the Handle bar Harness with 2 instead of 3 main straps and started packing. All my own bike gear was in dis-array. Everything was out, I had to scrounge through a box on the shelf to find one of my original gas tanks to take out. Most of my own gear was on loan or sold. I'm not complaining, but its kinda ironic in a way.

Left the Pt. Mac parking lot at around 4:30 and started slogging away. 3 days of food, a new solo tent to try out and some other knick nacks like a new GPS and camera. Really though the outing was going to be a test to see if the ole right knee was up to a bigger challenge in a little over 2 weeks.

At dusk I came across Bill and Kathi Merchant setting up their wall tent for a snow bike training weekend with Yair and Kevin. Both who I met the two days previously and had been corresponding with for a while about gear. After socializing I flipped on my headlamp and continued on to Flathorn.

It was quite soft out there and I kinda thought it was funny that I was breaking trail and not even in the race. The 4 mph pace got me bored and I scribbled some notes of encouragement in the snow to friends who would be coming through the next morning.

Slogged across the Dismal swamp to the Big Su, my goal for the night. Stomped out a nice spot and pitched my brand new Hilleberg Akto tent. I've never tried using a solo tent for anything, it was either nothing, bivy's, mids, or larger tents. I have a larger Nammatj 3 GT as a mountaineering tent and absolutely love it (survived 100mpg gusts at 17,000' on Denali for a week). I saw the Akto about 7 years ago in El Chalten in Patagonia. A German cyclist had one and I was drooling over it. My mid had been knocked down twice in the middle of the night during windy rainstorms and poor anchor choice and I was envious. The little Akto weights a hair over 3 lbs and like everything Hilleberg makes, is super duper high quality.

mmm nothing like a healthy breakfast.. left over food from the alaska range. Jimmy dean sausage egg&cheese crissant-witch's, bacon and pop tarts (organic of course!)

a quick pop through the woods and down to the Susitna River:

It had been a long time since I had been out here, since the 2005 Mcgrath race. Felt good to be back on the river, even though I was just a tourist and not racing anywhere.
My plan was to get up on the other side of the river and hang out for the front runners to come through. Hyper caffinated I started to gather wood for a fire, but it was in the mid-20's and not really necessary, it just gave me something to do. Soon enough a lone skier came along.

I immediately realized it was Cory Smith, he was out training for the 350 and to spectate as well. We both thought it was pretty funny to have camped out to come watch the race. I've known Cory on and off for a little while, we punished each other like 5 years ago in a Hammer adventure race, then I saw him go on to win the 05' Susitna 100 when I was doing the same thing training for Mcgrath. We talked gear and I was generally totally jelous of his skis given the soft conditions. Back to the fire building...

Finally Greg and Bill showed up chashing the lead skier, they were working it hard.

With no plan, I started riding out the trail to eaglesong. Generally poky and in no rush what so ever, letting racers / friends pass by. Mostly everyone was in good spirits, it was hard not to given the weather. Sunny and warm.. but that made for a really soft trail.

This is my favorite shot from the weekend:

The trail approaching Eagle song was really getting soft. Loaded fairly heavy and on a joy ride, so I decided to turn around when the fun meter started to dip.

Turning around meant it was social time, over the next few hours I ran into pretty much everyone on the way back to the big Su.

More photos of that Here

Back to the river, at dusk. I stopped on the east bank at the wall of death to brew up. Scores of walkers and still some bikers came on by. I grew a little tired of explaining that I was really just fine and out to spectate. I think in a racers eye the use of the stove - a piece of mandatory gear that is never really used, must dictate some sort of emergency. Nope just water & mashed potatoes with tons of butter.

keep an eye out for this guy in an upcoming movie:

I never really like riding at dusk with flat light, headlamps work much better when its totally dark. So with that taken care of I headed back across the dismal swamp. The trail had firmed up considerably from the day before, despite the thousands of perforations from the foot racers. You could actually cruise along quite well here:

Decision time - keep going all the way back? or spend another night out? no brainer... on to making fire and see if any of the leaders would come through.
Saving on fossil fuel:

The two lead skiers came through pretty soon looking good.
after that it was bivy time sans tent. However just about as soon as I sacked out I could feel snow falling on my face. sigh... I decided to try using the Akto without the inner tent and quickly pitched that as a tarp. Its a cool feature of Hilleberg's that normally the inner and fly are joined together and pitch as one - but you can easily unclip the inside and pitch just the fly. zzzzzz

Next morning woke up to women chatting, it was Theo and Shannon classic skiing on by. Guys would have long run out of things to say after skiing together for 24 hrs, but not these two! :)

a bit of fresh snow on pugs...

Properly caffinated and porked, I ran into Brij on Flathorn:

There was quickly some deja-vu. Four years ago I rode out to Flat horn on the trail from Knik to cheer Brij on his way back in this race. It was a rough year and Brij had pushed like 50 miles at that point, but was the lead cyclist and went on to win the bike division. Brij now has stopped "racing" and likes to take long naps in his events. Good choice Mr. Potnis!

Ran into Bill and Kathi out with Yair and Kevin and shot the breeze amidst falling snow.

snow snow snow..

That's about it. Good trip, but I learned / confirmed that my Knee isn't up to what I was planning for this year. Hard to swallow, but you never know until you try.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Six days with Masa

Masatoshi Kuriaki is a Japanese climber with a Love for one of the hardest human endeavors I can think of. Solo winter climbing in the Alaska Range. For the past 12 years Masatoshi (Masa) has been making trips all the way from Tokyo, to Anchorage and into the range. His record of previous trips speaks volumes about Masa's endurance, patience and mental fortitude. First person to climb (and come back) both Denali and Mt. Foraker in winter with over a decade of attempts mixed in as well as walking 860 miles from Anchorage to Prudhoe bay.

Winter climbing the big peaks in the Alaska range is something few people attempt to do - the lack of daylight and extreme cold is downright scary. Add in extreme remoteness - and a jet stream that can drive the temps to the coldest anywhere. Pick up a copy of -148 and you'll get a feeling for what I'm talking about here.

My good friend Matt and I had the opportunity to accompany Masa on his trip into the range last week for the start of his expedition to climb the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter. We were hired to film his activities and try to learn a bit about what makes him tick and also to capture the feel of the Alaska range in winter... In High Definition.
If Masa succeeds on Hunter (its turned him back 4 times already) he will be the first person to complete "The winter tripple crown" or Foraker, Denali & Hunter.

For someone who likes to spend up to 50 days at a time by himself in extreme mountain environments, climbing the highest peaks in North America, Masa lacks the pretensions that one might conjure about a person who likes to spend so much time alone. He is extremely likable and social. Through his broken English he claims to be both a couch potato and a person who does not like being cold (who does?). Patience and being conservative is what has kept Masa alive through his expeditions.

So with 3 weeks of food for a planned 5 days, 4 sleeping bags for 2 of us, loaned down suits (thanks Feathered Friends!), skis, glacier gear and lots of technology, we headed in with Paul Roderick owner of Talkeetna Air Taxi at the helm of his Turbo Otter.. the big three are out in full!

Masatoshi's route - The West Ridge of Mt. Hunter, the ridge starts at mid level on the left and goes up into the wing on the right, sweet route! Denali in the distance:

View of Mt. Foraker from camp:

Base camp for Denali (& Foraker & Hunter) is a bit of a zoo during the climbing season with lots of air traffic and many many expeditions coming and going, mostly to climb Denali's West Buttress. Winter is a much different scene. Just us, no planes and no other tents yep, just us...

Temps were -20 to -30 at night and -20 to zero during the day, no direct sunlight due to the ridges to the south. But did I mention we had down suits? They were key.

Shooting on the move was a bit tricky at times, this is the day we skied down to the main Kahiltna to get Masa returning from a carry.

The cameras we used was a Panasonic HVX-200 main camera and we brought 2 small sony HDV hard drive cameras. The 200 worked great for the most part, the solid state P2 media worked flawlessly in the cold temps, while the hard drive cameras needed to be warmed up to function. Some things on the 200 did stop working however - the autofocus was first to go necessitating manual focus, same with the zoom servos. The combo of these two lead liner glove operation on the lens barrel. Yep - lots of cold fingers!
An evening lens cleaning session, at these temps any vapor would freeze to the lenses and you'd have to literally scrape the film of ice off. Other things broke like tripods, brittle pieces of plastic and aluminum, but the important stuff still worked.

The muffins from Costco obviously froze solid.. this was remedied by slicing them in half and frying them in bacon fat. All efforts were made to consume maximum calories

Night time was amazing - during the summer climbing season there is 24 hr daylight. being the only people at basecamp and stargazing at -30 was quite amazing. Masa's tent with the north buttress of Mt. Hunter:

And our tent with Denali in the distance.

Masatoshi at the base of Heartbreak hill, his solo glacier travel system consisted of 14' aluminum poles and a host of self extraction gear.. but he's savvy enough to never have had to use most of it thankfully.

We had two days of bad weather - flat light and snow. So we mostly skied around camp and stayed in the tent.. proper reading material is key.

Matt, deep in "the hang"...

Denail's Massive south face, the Cassin Ridge runs right up the middle.

Three people and hundreds of huge mountains... our parting self port

Some pics from the flight out with Paul and his Turbo Otter. Mt Dickey with the Moose's Tooth massif in the back:

Flank of Mt. Hunter:

Masatoshi will be on Hunter doing his slow and steady thing for the next 4-6 weeks. Wish him good luck, he's doing something very hard and very unique with a humble spirit and deep appreciation for the land he travels through.