I’ve been pretty busy lately, in a terribly fine kind of way.  I spent two long weekends up in Bellingham, WA with the good folks at the American Alpine Institute, learning to not die in avalanches (Level 1 + 2).  Level one made me really glad that I was already signed up for level 2.  It’s somewhat concerning that the majority of people who receive avalanche education stop at Avy 1.  Avy 1 just makes it terribly clear how little you know about your environment, and more importantly, it certainly gives you the feeling of having learned some things, which is just what you need to get into more trouble.  No, it’s ok, we can ski this, I have my Avy 1.

It's fine, he has his Avy 1.

Avy 2 was a bit more serious, and started to actually get into enough detail about the snowpack and human factors to make some go/no-go decisions.  Even here though it’s clear that there’s no amount of learning that can completely protect you, especially from yourself.  The only safe decision is to head to the bar, or stay in and train for climbing.

Sure is a lot less scary than climbing ice. And the G&Ts are right down stairs.

I’m now in a position where I have knowledge greatly disproportionate to my experience, which is pretty much a recipe for disaster.  My only hope is not to gain experience too rapidly, but to take my time and travel with experienced people.  The best education is watching the behavior of people who’ve survived the learning curve.

The reason that it’s taken a while for me to write anything about the AAI classes is that instead of doing so, I went climbing, which meant that I had to do a lot more homework in a lot less time.  Yes, I am, for now, still a full time student.  But when the sky shines blue on Portland in February, it’s time to go climbing.  Plus, it had been one of my written goals for this spring to get out there and climb Mt. Hood in the winter.  As I mentioned before, you don’t get to know about my goals, except when they’re completed.

Crazy-ass rime ice and fumaroles ~10,700'.

I’ve never climbed in such great conditions (2/19/10).  It was 20-32 degrees from 3:30-10:00 am, with moderate, dry winds coming out of the East, off of the Oregon desert.  The snow was plenty crusty down low, but it was at least a 150lb crust, so I wasn’t punching through.  Once the sun came up, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I brought my skis up to the Hog’s Back at around 10,500′, after which we followed the boot pack up hero kicker snow to a sunny and still summit.  Emerging from the top of the rime chute that gained the summit ridge, I encountered a man in an orange jacket with a fine mustache who was handing out mint Milanos.  A welcome surprise.

Have you seen the winter ski journal cover?

Avalanche danger was, on the whole, low.  The S/SW-facing slope climbers left of the Hog’s Back (the one which is traversed by the standard Old Chute) had been loaded a bit by those Easterly wind.  This made about a 2 inch layer of very hard wind slab, and a quickpit showed that it was sitting on some facets as well.  It didn’t seem very willing to propagate, more willing to break apart than anything, so we went ahead, thinking Moderate thoughts.  On the way back down, when it had started to warm a bit, it started to get a wee bit spicier.  Not enough to really worry about, but enough to think about.  It would be a small slide there, but the way that the terrain is shaped, it’s like a toilet bowl into a fumarole, and that’s game over.  That thing is the definition of a terrain trap.

The Hog's Back, and to it's right, the terrain trap of all terrain traps.

I skied from the Hog’s Back down Palmer and all the way back to the car, which I’d been looking forward to all morning, having hauled my skis up thousands of feet.  By the time I descended, the crust had softened just enough for some really enjoyable skiing.  There’s little that’s more fun than a 5000’+ continuous ski pitch with good snow

Yours truly, skiing in front of Illumination Rock, as it earns its name.

What a good time, all in all.  I’ve gotten enough sun now for a few days at least, which is a good thing because the rain returned to Portland today, which made the mountain biking messy and my lab slightly more inviting.  More adventures should follow soon enough.  Though the high pressure window has closed, that means that it’s snowing (hopefully).

The new and improved summit heisman. I'll be making more of these soon.