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“The most miserable fishing weather. Ever. Worse than snow.” – C. Scott

The NOAA forecast for the next 36 hours is a little gnarly. Note the winds.

  • This Afternoon Rain, with thunderstorms also possible after 4pm. High near 58. Windy, with a south wind around 60 mph, with gusts as high as 90 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.
  • Tonight Rain and possibly a thunderstorm. Some storms could be severe, with damaging winds. Low around 54. Windy, with a south wind 44 to 49 mph decreasing to 31 to 36 mph after midnight. Winds could gust as high as 75 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New rainfall amounts between 1 and 2 inches possible.
  • Tuesday Rain. Temperature falling to around 52 by 5pm. Breezy, with a south wind 24 to 28 mph, with gusts as high as 41 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between three quarters and one inch possible.
  • Tuesday Night Showers. Low around 51. Breezy, with a south wind 24 to 26 mph, with gusts as high as 39 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

Meanwhile the days have all started to blend together.

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This morning I drove west to east over the pass. There were natural avalanches on every aspect and on nearly every slope greater than 30 degrees. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Locally at 2 pm, resort management closed the entire mountain reporting more than eight inches of heavy, wet snow in four hours and winds exceeding 100 mph. The mountains aren’t a good place to be today.

The Danger Rose at left is from the Northwest Avalanche Center backcountry forecast for the area surrounding Mt. Hood. All that black isn’t a graphics error. Here’s a link to the complete avalanche danger scale:  Extreme.

And here’s Tuesday’s Avalanche Forecast: A major storm is expected to move across the Northwest on Tuesday. This is expected to cause strong southwest crest level winds and very heavy rain or snow with a warming trend especially in the central to south Cascades. These are great ingredients for building new soft or wind slab layers of increasing density on lee slopes. A change to rain will add further heavy loads and weaken underlying snow layers on all steep aspects. Natural and triggered avalanches possibly deep and large should be likely by Tuesday afternoon. Dangerous conditions are expected and back country travel is not recommended by Tuesday afternoon.

For the last hour I’ve been sitting with one running shoe on and one off, staring partly out the window and partly at a pile of snow gear. In a minute, I’ll lace up my other shoe and head out for a run through the wintery mix, officially giving up on skiing today. It shouldn’t have been a hard decision, and it’s definitely the right decision. Somehow, though, it’s always tough to stay home when it’s storming.

After a long drought, with only a day or two of respite, it’s finally snowing, but not even just snowing — nuking. An inch an hour. Two inches an hour. And windy. Snowflakes fly like needles piercing unprotected earlobes. Frostnip shows itself as small patches of white skin on angled cheekbones. Hoods cover googles cover hats, but still ice sticks to beards, curls, eyelashes.

Peering through the flatlight, eyes squinted, I can see the base building. I can see windlips forming from here to Kansas. It’s brutal.

At home the message light blinks, the emails pile up:

Where are you?
Is your phone working?
Are you alive?
What’s happening?

I’m here; I’ll call you back soon. I’m not sure, but I’ll call you back soon. Yes! I’ll call you back soon. Winter is here and it’s a gift. I’ll call you back soon.

You don't dry your skins in the shower?!

Temperatures fell to single digits, it dropped six inches of blower over night, the wind died, the sun came out, and I once again found myself laid out like a sorry little sea creature on the uphill route. Unlike yesterday, today there were other skiers skinning toward the summit, and from my snow level vantage point I had the perfect opportunity to watch them move across the 30 degree pitch of glare ice with only minor hesitation and baubles. What the heck?!

After a few minutes, I gave up, slid into some wind protected trees, stripped the skins, and amid bouts of wallowing like a pig in mud through two plus feet of wind blown and death gripping ice nubbins with my free hand, I kickstepped to the top. Then, because the turns were worth it, I did it again.

I think I have decent skinning technique. I stand up straight, try not to break at the waist, breathe, and attempt to keep my skis flat and my skin surface plastered to the ground. Starfish mode is not part of my regular skinning game plan. On the way off the hill, I stopped in at the local backcountry supply shop. I was thinking maybe taller climbing wires might help me focus my weight over the center of my skis, when the owner came over to chat. I explained my experience over the last two days, and in general. I said that I didn’t really think it was a gear issue, as I’d watched other folks maneuver across the death sections on similar set-ups. It must be something I’m doing wrong, I said. He looked me up and down.

You really want to know? he asked. Your “petiteness” is your problem*. Those other people were probably all quite a bit bigger than you.

So what, I need to start eating butter? He grinned, and suggested Deschutes Brewery Porter. Not funny. Not funny at all.

Frustration is a great motivator, as is pride. I’ll be spending the next bit trying to move from decent skinning technique to pretty near perfect. I’m going to stick just like the big kids.**

*While I admit I’m on the shrimpy side, there are a ton of other folks my size and smaller out there killing it.

**If that doesn’t work, I’ll be buying rounds, and asking for extra fat with my dairy products.

New column for The Source Weekly. This is the first time I’ve ever cursed in a published piece. I usually try to keep it to something I’d want my Grandma to read. I’m not sure what came over me, or the editor who wanted to keep it in. Maybe we’re all getting a little antsy. Here’s the beginning:

It’s not snowing and, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s(NOAA) weather forecasts, it’s not going to snow with substance anytime soon.

I know it’s just barely December, but I’m about one weak storm system away from stripping down and throwing a half-gallon of gasoline and a match on the pile of old straight skis and broken snowboards that has been building up in the garage for the last few seasons. All I want is one big storm. Then another. And another. Piled up on the horizon, loaded and heavy with precipitation for months to come. Nothing like a sacrificial fire and ceremonial booty-shaking dance to get that fickle bitch La Nina and all her snow-god pals on board.

For the whole piece, visit: High Pressure Blues.

It seems like the first semi-real storm of winter is crashing into the Cascades today.

I made my second attempt to have my studs mounted this morning. Just before 7 am, I walked into the smells of rubber, sweat, and stale popcorn at Les Schwabs. That place. Wow. They’ve been going non-stop since Nov. 1, and if the four hour wait is any indication it doesn’t seem to be tapering off. Yet, in the bays the guys are all smiling, laughing, taking a minute to say good morning. Awesome. One of these days I’ll actually have the time to wait. Safe travels.

 

 

I ran into a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while. We started chatting about jobs, then trips, then winter plans. She’s hoping to move this way. Hoping for a little skiing this winter. Some climbing when it’s warm. I asked if she’d want to jump in on some tours, maybe a bit of mountaineering. She hesitated. She said she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable, and that she doesn’t find suffering fun. She’s a rad girl. Strong, intelligent, aware. She knows what she likes, and is empowered enough to lay claim on what she doesn’t. I like that.

In continuing to talk she asked why I seem drawn to discomfort. I didn’t have a good answer. Or, I had a lot of good answers:

I like walking into the storm, and coming out of the cold.
I like sunrises, and emergency headlamps.
I like the taste of blood in the back of my throat.
I like the shared experience of doing something hard with a close friend, running out of water half way through, and dreaming about what we’ll eat if we ever get down.
I like trying to face up to the fact that in a battle between mind and body, mind is almost always the weaker of the two.
I like falling asleep sitting up, with boots on, and a hat covering my eyes.
I like being dirty, smelling slightly wild, and then the magic of a hot shower.
I like how one good day outside turns the volume down on a week inside.
I like feeling soreness in muscles of which I’d forgotten.

I like all those things, and they all, in one way or another, point to the real truth: I like it when it hurts a little.

Sometimes the pieces I read stick with me. A line echos after I’ve turned the page. Months, sometimes years, later I find myself searching for the piece  guided only by a phrase or two that’s been ping ponging around the dark corners of my mind.

In November 2009, Steve Casimiro, current editor of The Adventure Journal and former editor of Powder, wrote an essay titled, “The Elements of Skiing: Waiting for the Weather.” It was the first line that got me.

I want it to snow and never stop. I want big black storm clouds—not those wimpy gray ones—to cover the land from here to the horizon and beyond. I want flakes the size of dinner plates, blizzards that last for weeks, and powder so deep you need spelunking gear if you lose a ski. I’m only satisfied by “storms of the century”—and I’d be even happier with storms of the millennium. Each time I see a snowflake, I want to ask it, “Are you the one? Are you the first of the storm without end? Or are you gonna puss out like all the others?” It’s a bit of an obsession, I admit, but I’m just happier when snow is falling. Especially when it’s falling on me.

And so it’s November and the snow has fallen in some places and not in others, and most of us are staring at the sky wondering “when?” And “how long?” And because I’m not a selfish sort, at least when it comes to powder, I’m also wondering “where?” Will it come to Telluride and Taos or will it head north, just out of reach, like the fruit dangling over poor King Tantalus? Will the plucky, hardscrabble resorts of Southern California play Russian roulette with bankruptcy again, or will they reap some of nature’s wealth as snow instead of rain?

Or will we have what an old friend called a “grand-slam winter,” where the snow comes to Telluride and Taos and Southern California, and it doesn’t stop there but also falls on Mammoth and Baker and Kicking Horse and Jay Peak and Snowshoe and Steamboat. It’s happened, you know, most recently in 1996–97 and before that in 1982–83—two seasons that have become legendary.

For the full piece, click here: Waiting on the Weather

All morning the weather has gone back and forth between snow flurries and freezing rain. Now it seems to have settled with snow, and brown ground is rapidly turning white. Just like that it’s early winter.

Took a trip to Les Schwab’s to have the studs put on. Most of town decided to run the same errand. A seven hour wait. Going back in the morning, early, to try to get them changed over before a drive up to Hood River for an artist interview at noon. In town anyway, I bought new trail shoes to replace the old which are getting into the 500 miles range. Today’s run left Em with bits of ice stuck on ears and numb toes for me. In getting fitted, a discussion on injuries ensued. Of the four people in the shop, three had torn an ACL at least once. Rob, one of the shop guys was cradling a couple cracked ribs. Mountain biking. They put me on a treadmill. My strides still off, and somedays I wonder if any of us ever fully recover from big injuries.

New article out in TrailRunner. I reread it while waiting, something I don’t usually do. Once a piece is in print it’s gone.  I think it turned out ok. I hope so. Working on a column this afternoon, travel tomorrow, writing this weekend, travel Monday.

Look at that big blob up in the left corner of the infrared. Hanging out and building up above AK. It’s coming.

From the National Weather Service Special Weather Statement:

…COOLER WEATHER WITH PERIODS OF RAIN EXPECTED THIS WEEK… A LARGE AREA OF LOW PRESSURE WILL MOVE INTO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST EARLY THIS WEEK. THIS WILL PRODUCE A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN THE WEATHER PATTERN. THE FIRST COLD FRONT WILL MOVE THROUGH LATE MONDAY WITH ANOTHER STRONGER ONE TUESDAY NIGHT INTO WEDNESDAY. THESE FRONTS WILL BRING PERIODS OF RAIN ALONG WITH HIGHER MOUNTAIN SNOW. TEMPERATURES WILL DROP BELOW SEASONAL AVERAGES WITH HIGHS IN THE 50S TO LOWER 60S BY WEDNESDAY. OVERNIGHT LOWS WILL BE IN THE 30S AND MID 40S.

Woke up to rain on the roof, and it took me a moment to figure out the tapping sound. Far from pouring, it was just enough to bring the dust down on the trails and make the air smell clean. Just enough to dampen the seats in the Subaru, reminding me that it’s time to start rolling up the windows at night, maybe take the keys out of the ignition.

Em was born in June and had a very Oregon summer. She’s never seen rain. I’m excited for snow.