So Idaho is supposedly famous for potatoes, well not long into our drive we learned what famous really means. On top of the hundreds of dump trucks filled with potatoes that we passed on the road, the potato fields which we drove through to get to Driggs were nearly as immense as the salt flats in Death Valley. Almost to our friends house we made sure to keep peeling along. From the edge of the empty fields the rocky summits of the Tetons began to appear on the horizon. As we turned onto the dirt road our friend Milan was living on, we were beginning to realize what he has been raving about.
About to drop in on The A-Chutes
For our first real day in town the weather wasn’t looking great to be in the back country so we decided to ski Grand Targhee Resort which would make for our second resort skiing day out of the whole trip. With help from Milan, who works at the resort in the winter, and his super cool roommate Earl, who also works at the resort, we were able to ski for basically nothing. On top of the lift tickets, their local knowledge was invaluable and we ended up being pleasantly surprised by how good the skiing was. On every run we were finding powder especially when we skied what is known as The A-Chutes, which is a hike to portion of the resort.
Looking over at The A-Chutes
Milan ripping down The A-Chutes
The next day the weather was looking a little nicer, making it a no brainer to test out some of the cool terrain Milan had been exploring. We made it to the trailhead faster than cooking a baked potato in the microwave. Being far from the house, our speediness was most likely due to every road in Idaho seeming to have a speed limit of 70 mph or faster. Milan’s driving could have had a little to do with it as well. After finding some, let's say interesting, things around the parking area we starched up into the, as Milan would say, Nunya Mountains (meaning that he doesn’t want to share his secret areas). After a decision to take the adventurous route up to the top, we found ourselves utilizing all of our uphill skills before Milan had binding troubles with his splitboard (a splitboard is a special kind of snowboard that is used to backcountry ski). As the sun had come out and made for perfect conditions we reached the top and took advantage of our hard work. The sun had created the perfect creamy snow just like you would find in your mashed potatoes at grandma's house on Thanksgiving, giving us plenty to hoot and holler about as we made our way down.
Louis finding some steep stuff
Riley about to drop in
Looking back up at our ski line
The next couple days Milan continued to show us more of the quality skiing that there was around Idaho and Wyoming (sorry did we say Idaho and Wyoming we meant California and Washington wink* wink*). On top of the great skiing we found just about every kind of snow quality possible. Even with the non stop skiing we played more games of Catan than we could even try to count and we certainly weren't going to, as we were also distracted by the amazing food we were making every night (if you are asking what Catan is well than you have been missing out check this out Catan.com). Unfortunately the solid crew that we had formed didn't last much longer as Steve had to head back to work in Sun Valley and we saw a weather window to head south to do some rock climbing before we had to drop Riley off at the airport.
Arriving at the City of Rocks
The endless sea of rocks throughout the city
Driving into the park on the dirt road which is the only vehicle access that goes through the area, the immensity of the rock structures began to truly set in. The area had a very similar feeling to that of Cochise Stronghold, or Joshua Tree which we visited earlier in the trip. Despite the snow flurries during the first climb, a classic known as WHEAT THIN, we knew we were going to be hooked on this amazing place.
Reilly on Wheat Thin
Louis climbing up the Gallstone
The next morning we were excited to see sunshine and highs in the upper 50s. We eagerly headed out and got on some great climbs in the elephant rock area, as well as at the nearby gallstone, and finally the uber classic stellar crack line called The Checkered Demon. Other climbs included Conceptual Reality and Just Say No. Before running out of light, we scooted Hermelda slowly higher up the dirt road to camp near Bath Rock in the heart of the city. Before the sun's light completely left the valley we scrambled up the exposed back side of Bath Rock using rebar similar to what you would find on the Beehive in Acadia National Park, or on a via ferrata. From the top we enjoyed the sunset and went back to the bus to make dinner. Partway through dinner we saw another car pull in which was odd. To this point, we were basically one of two groups camping in the massive CIRO National Reserve. We invited him in for burritos and he decided to join us to hit the rock the next day, forecasted to be in the mid 60s.
Tyler on his way up Checkered Demon
Reilly getting on some cracks!
The sun came again and felt better than the taste of cheese cover scalloped potatoes (still in Idaho, sorry). We hopped in the back of our new friends pickup, along with his snowmobile and headed a bit higher up the road to the bread loaves. Reilly brought us up a fun route called Mystery Achievement with big plate like features before Louis set up a cool crack line called Bloody Fingers, another super classic at the city. Our new friend Leo had to take off home to Salt Lake City, but we managed to get on a few more classics that day such as Fred Rasmussen, another stellar crack, and then finished on the coveted Skyline. Skyline included some very airy moves stepping out over basically nothing with 100 feet of exposure under your feet before reaching the summit of the Morning Glory Spire.
Louis high up on Bloody Fingers
Morning Glory Spire
Looking for our route
Concluding our time at The City of Rocks we drove to the nearby Castle Rock State Park which is pretty much the same area just in a separate valley and climbed the multi pitch route Big Time. After a few days of pushing ourselves this was a great way to end our time here climbing up 4 pitches of super fun, more mellow slab and face climbing. Before the weather we were expecting moved in, it looked like we had time for one more short climb. Tyler and Riley got on the climb first before Louis went up to clean things up. Mid setting up the rappel the wind came and it came fast! After an exciting windy rappel we hiked out and reached the bus just as the first raindrops reached the ground.
Tyler on Skyline
This area was definitely special and we were glad we could add it to this special trip. Up next is Salt Lake City and Moab before we need to begin to make our long journey back to New England.
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Having received only a taste of sun in the desert of Washington we craved more, much like Louis's relationship with Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs around this time of year. As the name plainly states Sun Valley, Idaho was most likely going to be our best bet. We took advantage of the rainy weather that crept onto us in Washington and bee lined it to Idaho. We made short work out of the 5 hour drive and found ourselves in Mountain Home, Idaho just in time for the inclement weather to pass through. As we were unsure about the schedule of our friends in Sun Valley, we took advantage of the time by playing some disc golf. As the remnants of the gusty winds from the recently passing storm were still present, our game was more like trying to play waste paper basketball in a hurricane.
After scoring a higher number than the average MPG of the bus on every hole on the course, we got word from our friends that the plan was to head out to a hut the next morning. As the sun hadn’t even had time to rise over the highest reaches of the Walmart we parked by to sleep for the night, we caressed Hermelda’s engine to life. Driving with the thoughts of the upcoming hut skiing trip in our heads, we were picking up our friends in no time and on our way to The FishHook Hut in the Sawtooth Mountains. With only a couple mile skin (hike on skis) into the hut through flat terrain, we had enough time to take a quick lap on the moraine directly above the hut. That night we celebrated the weekly holiday, taco Tuesday, and were introduced to the board game Pandemic. For those of you who haven't played before, this adventure involves working together on the difficult task of curing four diseases that are out breaking across the world. And if you were wondering, yes it felt as exciting as one could imagine it would be in real life!
The next morning we got off to a rough start, failing to save the world in a quick game of Pandemic, so we took to the skis to cheer up the mood. Traversing up the ridge line to the destined bowl, we began to hear small rumblings coming from the cliffs. Reaching the upper portions of the traverse we got eyes on the unknown noise, witnessing a cascade of snow coming down the cliffs across the valley. As with most trips into the back country, our expectations for the weather were quickly changing as the sun began to reveal itself through the thick layer of clouds. After digging around in the snow and gaining some extra knowledge of the snow pack, we made a group decision to play it safe and ski the low angle face we were using as the approach. The skiing ended up being a blast and we made the best out of the descent taking advantage of the natural features along the ways. After doing one more lap on the moraines around the hut we took refuge back at camp just as it began to rain.
The next day we packed things back up and headed out of the amazing area that surrounded the hut and headed towards the bus. Before leaving the Sawtooths we drove to a nearby hot spring that sounded like the perfect medicine for our sore ski touring legs. Although the old buoy that held the natural hot spring water was a tight fit for all four of us, the surrounding views and sounds of the river were a welcomed distraction. Unfortunately as we dried off and started up the bus to head back over Galena Pass, a heavy snowstorm blew in covering the road in minutes and pushing us to stay on the other side of the Pass in the bus for one more night. Thankfully the next morning we awoke to a bright blue sky and a clear road which carried us back to the other side of the Pass.
Spending the next two days enjoying the warm sunny weather and almost winning a Beirut tournament, we rested up in preparation for the upcoming woodcut. At the end of the season every year the Sun Valley Trekking team gets together to gather firewood at all of the huts for the next season. As we conveniently (since you can't hear our voice this is sarcasm!) were visiting around this time we got the offer to join in on the fun and were also promised a day of epic skiing and another night in the gorgeous huts. Not knowing exactly what we were getting ourselves into we loaded into the car early in the morning and headed out towards the Pioneer Mountains. Another advantage of helping out, we got to catch a tow from the two snowmobiles which were also headed into the hut for the cut. Getting the hard work over with the first day, we cut down somewhere around 15 trees and stacked them higher than Willie Nelson on a good day. Looking to distract us from the sore muscles we formed from moving all of the wood, we got a quick ski lap in before dinner on one of the nearby slopes.
With all of the work done, we woke up the next morning psyched to get out and ski having contained the excitement as motivation the day before. Our objective for the morning was a line called The Dorsal Fin, a wide couloir that cuts a distinct white spine down the jagged face of the neighboring Duncan Ridge. The other part of the group planned to ski The North Couloir on Cobb, which fittingly stood across the valley from our line. Mother Nature rewarded us nicely as we met the top of the ridge just as the shining warm rays of the sun melted the tough crust on top of the snow that we were expecting to ski during the entire climb. Meeting back at the hut within minutes of each other, both groups were overfilled with psych that poured out with each high five and smile.
Before any wood cuts were “conveniently” going to come up, Riley and Steve were following us in the bus towards eastern Idaho to visit our friend Milan who is living just north of Driggs. Our plan from Driggs is to ski for a while and potentially fish before moving on to The City of Rocks to do some rock climbing.
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After a day of skiing in rain/snow that had us so wet that we felt like human raisins, an odd light began to shine from the sky. The closer we got to Seattle, the brighter the light became. Could it be the sun? Definitely not, this is still the Pacific Northwest after all, rendering that impossible. Despite the odd light, we made it to the airport to pick up our friend Ronja from Germany. After navigating the Seattle airport in the bus yet again, we headed south towards Crystal Mountain where we were hoping our best shot of decent skiing would lie.
We were able to camp in the same spot where we left to ski the next morning. That night we were able to make contact with yet another friend named Tyler from school up in Vermont who has been living in the area and offered to show us the goods. Morning arrived and that meant sorting out all of Tyler and I’s, plus Ronja’s and Bolcon’s ski gear and getting ready inside of a 120 square foot-ish space. Sounds fun right? After essentially playing a round of twister more complex than Hillary Clinton’s email server, we were ready to get out on the mountain. Tyler arrived and we hit the skin track towards East Mountain, a ridge away from the Crystal Ski Area. On the way up things were looking interesting to say the least. The optimistic way to describe the snow was firm. You could kind-of-sort-of get an edge in which was enough to bring us to the ridge where we would once again be greeted by an odd sort of light. We knew we were still geographically in the PNW, but maybe the impossible had become possible? It sure seemed like it. The aspect we were looking to ski had been baking in the sun all morning, leaving for much softer and fun turns down the rolling open glades that put smiles on everyone’s face.
After getting to the bottom we decided on lapping the area we had found one more time before circling back up and over to the bus. Another run carving and arching down the still firm but fun snow in the sunshine reached the same grin producing levels as the prior two. Practically skiing back to the bus doors, we dried off in the parking lot and enjoyed a few local spirits while basking in the beautiful weather. The next day the resort was running a $37 day ticket special. We have been going all human powered skiing so far this winter due to the normally ridiculous price of lift tickets, so for $37 we figured a few lift rides would be a nice change of pace.
A change of pace is exactly what we got after we were joined by a local on the gondola. The 60ish year old skier offered to show off what he thought was the best run on the mountain that morning after telling us that any ridge, face, couloir or peak that we could see from the resort he had skied already. “There are no first descents ANYWHERE that you can see from here” were his exact words, “I’ve skied it all”. We clicked in and all struggled to keep up with him as he straight-lined it from the lift across groomers, traverses, and even through some gnarly moguls before reaching the run called Employee Housing, a super steep and exposed expert trail. After getting most of the way down and waiting for us to catch up he got a call from “The Boss” (his wife) and had to take off. We spent the rest of the day exploring the potential that Crystal had for an amazing powder day (maybe someday we will time it right).
Unfortunately this was Bolcon’s last full day with us so we found a place to sleep a little closer to the airport so that we could get him on his early morning flight. After swinging through SeaTac Airport yet again, (4th time) he was on his way back to Boston. The remaining three of us decided to take a rest day and found a nice café called Marine View Espresso. We did some research and found some less than ideal weather forecasts. Lucky for us our friend Tyler from school who lives just outside of Seattle is a meteorologist for the area and invited us over to hang out for the afternoon. Very quickly we found the three of us, plus Tyler and his ski partner Chris talking through a plan to ski on Mount Rainier the next day. And just like that, our luck had changed from getting rained on, to heading up to one of the bigger mountains in the country where we would find plenty of snow thanks to elevation.
The next morning we rose with the sun (kidding, no sun) so we could time the drive to reach the park entrance just as the gates were opening. Driving through the rain forest, turned winter wonderland was a unique experience passing beautiful streams and waterfalls on the way. In no time we were several thousand feet higher than we were that morning, turning the rain that was falling everywhere else into light fluffy snowflakes. Our goal for the day was to reach Camp Muir which sits on one of the many ridges of Rainier and serves as a shelter for climbers just before the start of the summit proper. As we made our way up the ridge we learned that Mother Nature had another plan for our day, giving us very windy and white out conditions. With the inclement weather we decided to start our ski descent from where we were. After a couple turns the visibility started to open up again and just in time as the skiing was getting better too. After warming up again in the parking lot, we went back out to ski a closer run before heading back down the road where it was still raining. Down here it would have been hard to convince anyone that we had just being skiing fresh powder.
On the way back to Tyler’s, Chris convinced us into breaking our fast food streak again and getting some Little Caesars Pizza which honestly wasn’t hard for him to do after we spent the day hiking for our ski turns. That night as we sat back at Tyler’s house with our bellies filled with regret we planned to head to Snoqualmie Pass to take advantage of the one sunny day we ended up having while in the Cascades. Unfortunately we found more dust on crust and moved on to check out the town of Leavenworth to hopefully give skiing one more shot. Leavenworth is an oddly themed Bavarian town in Washington, weird right? So now you can imagine the look on Ronja’s face (quick reminder she’s from Germany) as we drove into town. After some good laughs and a morning of more rain at just about all elevations, plus a slight change of travel plans Ronja got a bus back to Seattle leaving us to head towards Vantage, WA.
While trying to plan possible ski tours around The Cascades with our friend Tyler, he threw us a total curve ball one night suggesting that we ditch the skiing and do some climbing at Vantage in eastern WA. As he explained it to us, the Cascades force all of the water out of the storms coming off of the Pacific usually leaving the eastern slope dry (in meteorological terms this is called a rain shadow). With less than exciting snow conditions we didn’t even need a fancy scientific explanation before we found ourselves high tailing it out of the mountains. To our satisfaction we found that this rain shadow actually creates a desert in the center of Washington making for a higher chance of dry and sunny days. And our higher chances held true as we drove into The Frenchman Coulee with the sun shining brighter than we had seen in several weeks, illuminating the magnificent columnar basalt that made up the eye catching cliffs of the coulee (fancy word for deep ravine or lava flow). We made sure to take advantage of the last bit of light that we had that afternoon, running around like two dung beetles who had just found the Frenchman Coulee pit toilet (you need to experience camping in the state park to understand this one).
As we were headed back to the bus practically losing it with excitement to start climbing the next day, we crossed paths with two other climbers who had been out scaling the basaltic cliffs that day. As we continued hiking back to the parking lot together, they generously offered to give us a list of suggested climbs for the next day and we all enjoyed some tasty beers that they had brewed themselves. After swapping several more climbing stories later that night around the campfire we headed back to the bus to try and get some sleep, hoping wake up early enough to beat the weekend crowd. Unfortunately we only woke up early enough to get on two climbs we had planned to do, Party in Your Pants was one of them, before the hoards of people with the same intentions of soaking up the sun and climbing on the breathtaking hexagonal columns started to move in. We spent the rest of day popping around trying to climb anything that was open. Surprisingly we got to climb several of the routes that our new friends Ben and Bekah had suggested to us. The next day we decided to avoid the crowds by exploring a slightly separate area called The Middle East wall, which due to its position had beautiful bright green lichen growing on it, only adding to the awe of the columnar basalt formations. Our escape from the rain was only short lived though and we ended up only being able to get on one climb, Human Sacrifice, before the rock was too wet to climb and we had to head back to the bus for shelter.
Not knowing exactly when the rain was going to stop we decided to keep moving east. We are now on our way to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch up with some more friends and hopefully get some skiing in before we keep making our way to Jackson Hole. Thanks for reading!
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