April 25, 2009:
I got an e-mail from Tim Petrick on Thursday, who was eager to ski the Nisqually Chutes down to the bridge on the weekend. The forecast was for nice weather, and the snow was certainly deep enough all the way down. I made a date to meet with him and Keith Rollins somewhere on the way up (they were set on an earlier start than I was, since I had to work the night before).
I pulled into the Paradise lot around 8:20, and saw Tim's truck. As I geared up, Tom Broznowski pulled up and I remembered that this was the weekend for the Mountaineers' Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue field trip. I've done the class for the last four years, and so it took me a while to make the rounds of old friends like Monika, Jeanette and Amar before heading up the mountain.
Neither the weather (rolling fog) nor the snow (frozen bootpacked corn with a trace of new on top) looked too promising. Tim had been worried about the snow in the chutes becoming too sloppy early in the day, and I guessed this wouldn't be a problem. I got them on the radio, and they had just reached the base of Pan Point as I left the lot, so we arranged to meet at the stone shelter/restroom at the Pan Point lookout zone.
I had to get within 20 yards of the shelter to see the thing, and saw four people waiting - in addition to Tim and Keith, they had brought Ned, a former RMI guide, and Paul. Just to make the trip more balanced, Ned was on a splitboard.
To give you an idea of how bad the visibility was, Ned (who's made this trip hundreds of times) and I had our hands full navigating up the standard winter climber's trail, ending up climber's right of the ridgeline that delineates the Nisqually basin, but only by a bit. We broke out of the fog near the top of the chutes at about 8,800 ft. and snacked a bit, but by that time the cloud deck had drifted upward a few hundred feet and we were challenged when it came time to find the entrance. I was pretty sure I had found the steep entrance, and quite sure I had the normal entrance (enough to side slip into it and radio up to the rest) but there wasn't a consensus "go" vote, and we decided to retreat along the route we had ascended.
It was a good call. After dropping down into the chute part way and finding I couldn't tell if I was moving or not, I developed a severe case of vertigo, and ended up puking several times on the way down. Good thing I can ski as well as I can walk, because I was in bad shape. We finally reached the bottom after three-thousand+ feet of side slipping and snow plowing, and I had to have Ned drive my car down to Puyallup so I could lie on Keith's floor with my eyes closed for an hour or so and recover. What an ordeal!
So much for the skiing. On the plus side, it was good to catch up on what was happening with K2. I saw some of next year's backcountry line including the WayBack (same ski as the current Baker SL with new topsheet) and the SideStash (108mm underfoot with a rockered tip, they look fairly light but Keith had Dukes on them so it was hard to tell). More interesting were Tim's prototype K2 skins (sorry, no closeups, but you can see how clean the tip hardware on Tim's skis is in the first picture above), with plush and glue provided by the folks at Climbingskinsdirect.com and proprietary tip and tail hardware that fit into the holes in K2 skis. The system is very slick, with an "L" shaped fitting that slots into the tip and a hook that fits into the tail hole after the strap wraps around the tail. It seems quite secure, and is significantly lighter than either the BD or G3 systems. The finished version will have a slightly longer "L" fitting for the tip, and they are still thinking about the mounting point for the tail strap, but leaning toward one that will offer field replaceability (good call). Props to K2 for joining the touring fray; it's always nice to have new minds liven up the competition!
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"Incoming" covers developments that have personal interest to me (ie. gear I might consider acquiring, or events I feel may impact the sport of skiing) - it is by no means meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of gear or events in the ski world at large. Feel free to contact me via the randosaigai.com link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .
© 2009 Gregory C. Louie