Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Katmandu, round 3

Well, I have to admit that my first two visits to Kathmandu were a little different than I had expected. You hear so many things about this Nepali city that bring to mind the exotic, the timeless, the spiritual. Yet when I first arrived and wandered around for a couple days, it seemed awfully similar to the polluted, chaotic, concrete-filled cities of other Asian towns that have expanded simply by laying more rebar and asphalt.

This time, however, I was goaded into visiting Bhaktapur, a preserved population center on the outskirts of Kathmandu, an area known for its historical buildings and lack of intrusive roads. We got out of the taxi and walked into what I had been envisioning all along.

Narrow streets, tiny doorways, old wood carvings, neighborhood temples, round wells, woodcarving or pottery or cobbler's shops... It is easy to imagine that these buildings, these paths and gathering places, haven't changed much in several hundred years. Stone carvings on temple stairs, rows of bells hanging from the eves, intricate forms hiding in wood in the shadows - all of these things seamlessly and un-selfconsciously a part of daily life

And I have to imagine that the whole of Kathmandu had this air about it when it was "discovered" by the western world in the 70s. In the early 50s, there were no roads that accessed this place from the outside world. (There were cars that had been taken apart and carried in, but you couldn't drive there!) The city in 1970 must have been so incredibly different from the West in ways it simply isn't now. I took a right by the Nike sign and went upstairs to get a 3G modem for my computer this morning. A little different, 40 years later.

But tomorrow we are on the first plane out to Lukla, back to a land that has changed in some ways, but not in others. The mountain trails are still steep and rocky, and yaks and people still carry everything that has to move up and down the valley. Follow the Everest Base Camp trek at www.alpineascents.com/everest-trek-cybercast-spring10.asp

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More skiing!

Well there's more winter, isn't there?

One last trip in home territory before going back to work - into the Baker backcountry for a trip to Mt Ann, a place I haven't been since my second-ever glacier climb up the Fischer Chimneys on nearby Mt Shuksan in 2002. It looks very different in the winter to be sure! A mid-week day with not a lot of new snow meant we saw almost no one, and a bit of a crust from some sunshine meant the travel was easy. Nice.

Up and over the ski area, across some flats, up the flanks to the ridge of Mt Ann (avoiding the skin track set right under a huge cornice being warmed by the sun), and along to the summit, where we deemed the skiing too steep (telemark [v] : Finnish word meaning "ack, it's too steep!") and too icy to be fun, booted up to the top and enjoyed the view before sliding back down on our butts. The greater part of having fun is knowing when to call it.

The skiing down was a little crusty to be really enjoyable, but we made some nice arcing turns and enjoyed being out in the pristine snow and beautiful weather. Sunshine and warmth - it must be spring! The days are getting longer, and we're looking forward to the opportunity for some longer tours.

But for now, I'm off to Nepal, to lead the Everest Base Camp trek for Alpine. Work is great, but it does so get in the way... *grin*

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lizzie Creek Cabin

Well, Dave wanted to know how I was going to spin this particular trip, because the net result of two weeks in Canada was a whole lot of skinning, hard work, and being soggy, and not so much sunny powder skiing. Yes, it's true. You win some, you lose some.

We were psyched to have a nice long chunk of time off, and lots of terrain we had seen in print and on blogs. 8-to-12-hour approach, cozy little cabin, and tons of alpine terrain of varying aspects and steepness. Sweet!! We took a couple days to organize, pack, and position ourselves just outside Pemberton, BC, about 30 minutes north of Whistler, and parked at the trailhead for the evening after sampling some "Chinese Japanese Canadian Cuisine" at the local Centennial Cafe in town. Equipment, check. Intentions, check. In position, check.

Weather, not so much. We woke to steady rain and couldn't bring ourselves to start uphill, choosing instead to haunt the bakery and library in hopes of finding a region of better weather nearby in time or place. No luck! A powerful low pressure system was spinning warm fronts out in the Pacific that were riding right over all the coastal ranges. We went back to the trailhead prepared to start out wet. Sure enough, on and off showers gave way to the dreaded "snain," part rain, part snow, as we trudged up a logging road toward our destination valley. Lots of incredibly heavy snow hadn't been skied for some time, and the trailbreaking was astonishingly tiring.

8 hours in, we decided to call it for the day and built a snow shelter, half cave, half ski-tent, that served quite well since it wasn't stormy, just snowy. A much-needed rest, as we were still a little tired the next morning continuing up. Another 5 hours, directions that didn't quite match the terrain, and lots more heavy trailbreaking later, we reached the hut. Home sweet home!! Very cozy, and almost entirely covered with the 8-9 feet of snow on the ground and roof, it did have some wood stacked inside that let us finally get dry and warm. Whew! The continued snow and fog led us to spend the next day harvesting dead branches and trees to stock up the firewood supply for the next few days, and excavate an outhouse entrance from under the same huge snowpack.

Time to ski! There can be too much of a good thing, though, and we had it. So much snow that trailbreaking continued to be difficult, and enough clouds and snow to keep us from being able to see anything. All those beautiful mountains and valleys around us, and we can't even see them! The avalanche danger had our attention, too - it was warm and had been snowing continuously for several days. We turned back from an intended tour and took a couple of consolation runs on the slopes above the cabin. Could be fun snow, but soooo much work to use it! Fatigue and increasingly soggy precipitation made for an early afternoon.

Next day, a similar story as we broke trail up the same exact hillside, our previous track completely obscured by snow and wind. We had a few runs and still-dry layers when we called it a day - quite an improvement! The next morning was already day 6, and time to head out. Fortunately, the snow had finally consolidated enough to enable us to actually ski out (instead of breaking train again), and we made good time. We even saw the sun once!

If being all hard-core and outdoorsy requires fortitude and endurance, it also requires knowing when to actively avoid it! We ended up at a great place called The Hitching Post Motel, and highly recommend it to anyone heading north of Whistler. Super nice owners, some nicely renovated rooms, and a perfect kitchenette area to allow for breakfast in bed options. Much needed after six days of being cold and soggy! Slept in, checked out, and hung out in her laundomat to reorganize and regroup. The weather was improving, so we stayed close and drove up to Duffey Lake for two more days of skiing, moving back into truck-camping mode.

This time, the weather and snow cooperated beautifully! Others had set a skin track up before us, the snow was fluffy, and we actually got some sun. Ah, timing. A few more people there, not the complete solitude of a cabin 13 km in, but the backcountry of British Columbia is definitely big enough to accommodate. Lots of natural and triggered avalanches were coming down, and we were more than happy to observe from afar as they set off slides across the highway and then cleared debris from the road. By this time, we were pretty tired from only one day of rest in the last nine, so were grateful to head back home, only a 4-hour drive! So close, just across that border line.

I'm definitely hoping to go back to the cabin again, hopefully when the weather is a little more cooperative. Next time, it would be nice to get something more like this: http://richso.blogspot.com/2011/01/lizzie-creek-new-years.html Ah, well. (Oh, and if it looks like I was shooting in black-and-white, I wasn't, it was just grey out!)