One of the best things for me to improve in alpine touring are transitions. Being quick in a transition will allow you to do more laps or get out of bad weather in a hurry. No one likes standing around when weather is moving in, or waiting for someone to re-pack their exploded pack.
Yesterday I skied from Government Camp to just below the top of the Magic Mile lift. I was planning to go to the top of Palmer but mid-way up Palmer to the summit was in the clouds and dark skies were moving in from the East.
Going out solo takes some pressure of moving faster or slower than you would with a group, or stopping to snap photos or take a snack break. I was planning to put in the ear buds and listen to some music on the way up – but it never became important to stop and I just kept climbing.
The other thing that I like about going solo is that you can try new things and dial in your systems with little risk of slowing down a larger party. Yesterday I did a few things that I like that worked well for me:
- I carried a Salomon soft flask in my pocket – it’s about 500mL and fit perfectly in my shell pants pocket. It’s soft enough (silicon) that I never felt it and as I drank it collapsed down to palm-sized. It was great having water when I needed it and not worrying about a bladder in the pack (that it exploded or is leaking or freezing).
- I just wore compression shorts under my shell pants. I have been wearing a pair of Marmot 3/4 fleece pants as a first layer but they’ve been way too hot for skinning up. My knees were completely exposed under the shell pants, but never got cold. And with my side zips open my legs stayed cool while I was skiing uphill.
- I took my GPS (Garmin CSX60) yesterday and marked a waypoint where the trail back to Govy cuts into the trees – I was worried last time I skied this trail that I’d miss the turn on the way back down and end up somewhere at the bottom of a lift with no pass.
- My upper layer system is working well. A thin sleeveless poly shirt and a long-sleeved zip-T over that, a buff as a headband with the top of my head exposed to shunt heat off as I’m going up. When I got to treeline I added a hooded softshell and pulled the buff into a balaclava. I also switched my thin gloves for my warmer leather Kinco gloves.
I had a good lunch break – good being very fast. I carried my puffy in the outside shove-it pocket on my pack and was able to take it out without unbuckling any straps on my pack. My lunch was in my lid so all I had to do was pull my puffy out, put it on and grab my lunch to eat. It was quick, warm and I only opened my pack to take out my tea which was on top.
Not so good was my turnaround transition. It was very windy above treeline when I decided to turn around and I was trying to find a shelter behind a boulder to take my climbing skins off and put on my helmet. Additionally, there was a huge dark cloud coming toward me and I started to worry that I was going to be in a whiteout momentarily. I was just outside the boundary of Timberline, but the thought of skiing in a whiteout had me freaking out a little bit. The freaking out caused me to tramp around in a circle trying to find the sheltered aspect of a huge boulder. Not sure what I could have done differently except remain calm, turn away from the wind and not let go of anything (gloves, skins, poles).
The last thing I’ll mention is the percentage of time it takes to ski uphill vs. downhill. I’m having a hard time calculating uphill to downhill ratios. I could have continued to climb for another 45 minutes and still been back to the car and home for dinner. This is the second time I’ve done this route and I’m always amazed at how early it is by the time I get back to the car.
All in all a good day in the mountains – and good tests of old and new systems.
PS – What’s in that pack? (It’s an Osprey Variant 37):
+ puffy, 1 liter vacuum bottle and lunch.
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