Apr 30, 2009

Live to Climb - BB Interviews Expert Climber Maria Henriksen

BB caught up with Maria Henriksen in-between endless studying and climbing sessions. Maria is in pharmacy school at the University of Minnesota working on her doctorate to accompany her master’s in epidemiology (study of health and human illnesses in regards to population) degree received from the University of Arizona. Eventually she will focus her knowledge towards clinical trial design. Maria follows her passion on her study breaks in her garage and is striving to keep climbing 8a and beyond while finding new ways to keep us all healthy.

Sunset  Maple Canyon, Utah
Sunset at Maple Canyon, Utah

How and when did you get the climbing bug?

I started climbing right after high school and have never stopped since. I started my career lead climbing as opposed to top roping, something that might not work for everyone. For me, most of the appeal of climbing is that its just really good fun. The act of climbing itself is just brilliant, but a large part of the satisfaction is derived from many of the entertaining characters that I have met traveling, the adventure of new places, and of course finding really good rocks. In general, the majority of my academic and career decisions are usually determined on how well they facilitate my climbing habit. For me, the real joy of climbing is the ability to train and climb at an area for months. I love the simplicity of living out of a vehicle for months on end, wearing pretty much the same outfit everyday, and climbing two days on and one day off forever.

Maria on Cowgirl Diplomacy
Maria on Cowgirl Diplomacy

What is your current level and can you explain what you had to do to get there. For example, do you compete to stay sharp?

I have competed in the past but have always preferred to just climb outside. I like competitions because it’s a great way for me to physically destroy myself and they are always a good time.

For many years, I never new what the climbing grades were. I liked not knowing because numbers after awhile become really meaningless. Ratings can be a good initial guide if you’re going from area to area but in general, I have never been a fan. I guess, that I really don’t need a number to tell me that I am getting my a$$ handed to me.  In terms of level, that’s hard to say. In my world, there is always room for improvement. Incidentally, I like to train. I like it better when I am outside just running laps on the usual suspects and hanging out with my friends. Most of the people that know me, know that I have a disturbing affinity for training.

Maria in Rifle, Colorado
Maria in Rifle, Colorado

Best climb ever?

Best climb ever is too hard to narrow down. I love most anything.

Favorite place ever?

Rifle, Colorado pretty much wins

Proudest accomplishment?

Surviving another Minnesota winter? Heehee. In terms of climbing, I am always super excited when I do a route that I am not expecting to redpoint (to finish on lead) in a couple attempts. I like surprises A LOT. In terms, of my best climbing achievement…hmmm. I guess that would be when I redpointed one of my harder projects, Path (8a+ or a 5.13c) with a fractured foot in Rifle. I fractured my foot climbing a different route called Cryptic Egyptian in Rifle. It was April and their was some hidden ice, put my foot on it and fell. Apparently, not the best place to take a digger. I didn’t think it was broken so I continued up the route. It was only until I reached the bottom and tried to stand up that I experienced nasty pain and could not really weight it. Orthopod said osteochondral fracture, use crutches, no weight bearing sports or else surgery. So I picked a route with no weird falls, Path in Rifle which is the one I really liked doing because it has lots of fun and jungle gym like maneuvers.

Maria at Milagosa, Spain
Maria at Milagraso Canyon, Arizona

Any funny climbing stories?

One in particular sticks out. Awhile back, I agreed to go to the Elephant Perch with my friend Mike to do a route that he had been salivating over for weeks. The plan was that to leave immediately after my exams in order to make the boat on time. Mike said he would take care of supplies (food, water, and beer). Naturally, we arrive at the trailhead late and have to bribe the boat master with a pack of beer to take us across. It’s almost dark and he gives us ten minutes to round up all of our stuff. In a mad frenzy, Mike starts shoveling everything out of his trunk and into his pack and mine. I grab my pack that has transformed from being reasonably light to a now engorged monster.

Maria in Jack's Canyon
Maria defying gravity in Jack’s Canyon, Arizona

We get to the trailhead and it is completely dark. We have several miles uphill to get to our destination. After 30 minutes, we are back at the place that we were dropped off. Mike stops and is looking at his map puzzled. I grab my headlamp and take a closer look into our thousand pound packs. Much to my horror, Mike had stuffed in our ‘food’ supply, which constituted glass bottles of beer, glass bottles of pasta sauce, a zillion Cliff espresso bars, and a huge glass French press. I look at Mike and hold up the glass beers. What are these? He laughs because it is really stupid. Since he finds this so amusing, I hand him the beers that I am holding and tell him to start chugging. So here in the middle of nowhere, Mike and I are slamming beer not because we think its fun. Truth of the matter is that neither of us really wanted to carry that extra weight. After we are both sufficiently inebriated, we make a second attempt at the trail. It’s just not happening so we crawl into our sleeping bags and sleep right there.

Maria on The Dry, Rifle
Maria climbing at The Dry area in Arizona

Fast forward to the lake and our camping situation. The rock looks amazing and we are both excited to wake up the next morning bright and early. It is July and the mosquitoes are like chainsaws. Mike starts unraveling the” tent.” Waves of mortification are an understatement. It’s a Megamid. All night long, we have the orchestra of mosquitoes happily feeding off of us all night (there is no floor in a Megamid).

Maria at Turtle Rock
Maria at Turtle Rock, Utah

I wake up and the sun is shining. Its 9:30 AM and not an early start. I stop caring as soon as we start climbing because the rock is impeccable granite. We happily swap leads until we notice that behind us is a mean and ominous black front moving rapidly towards us. We still have a few pitches left and are debating because now its raining. We sadly decide to call it good and rap down except there are not really great anchors except for some rotten looking webbing. I have extra and add another loop. I go first. By the next round of rapping, it’s pouring and lightening. The wind makes it hard to find the original rap stations so we tie knots in pieces of webbing shove them in the crack, attach a caribiner, and pray. We hit the ground and run for cover. After all was said and done, it was one of the best adventures ever.

Maria at Red Rocks on The Gift
Maria on The Gift. Red Rocks, Nevada

Favorite pieces of gear and clothing you dont leave home without?

Gum & tape!

I used to wear a striped shirt that I really liked, but it broke. Apparently, many people thought it was hideous. I may have to resurrect that gem. Usually, I wear the same exact thing. No particular brands, just whatever lasts the longest. I like to wear my pink fuzzy and Yamaha hat a lot.

Pre-climb ritual?

Laugh and enjoy a Natty Ice.

Training in the garage

How you stay fit year round when living in a place like Minnesota?

I train on that woody that is in the picture and also a campus board (both of which are home built). They both live in the garage and I have wireless so I can work and study while I train. In the winter, I just set up Mr. Heater on the propane tank. Last year, I was campusing and it was -35 below. Not ideal, but doable.

Future goals with climbing?

Have fun, travel more, and climb as much as possible. Currently, I am studying like mad and training in the garage. It is completely likely that I will be destroyed wherever I climb next, hee hee. But that in and of itself is motivating. Nothing like getting spanked on routes that used to be your warm ups and are now your projects.

Bravabella is inspired by your efforts! Brava Maria!


Apr 26, 2009

Touring the Keyhole. Aiguilles Rouges, Chamonix

While we waited for the official decision to be made from the directors of the Mezzalama regarding the rescheduling of the event on May second, I decided to have some fun while trying to stay in shape and motivated. This would allow me to be prepared in case we did go for round two (which while writing this post it was confirmed and we will be racing woo-hoo)! Spring has definitely spring in Chamonix but the high foehn winds accompanying the warm temperatures caused the snow to warm quickly creating interesting stability conditions.

My friend Martina, her boyfriend Hamish and I decided to give the Glacier du Morts a try. Its Northeastern exposure could still provide some late season powder skiing with the recent snow, plus none of us had ever skied it before. The Glacier du Mort is in fact not on a glacier, but instead a steep ski in the Aiguilles Rouges accessed by the Col du Crochus above the Flegere ski area, and a short descent to a second couloir which leads to the summit, the Pointe Alphonse Favre.

Route up to the Glacier du Mort. Photo courtesy of Camp to Camp

The Aiguilles Rouges (the red needles), are named for the distinctive colored granite that turns red with the morning sun. Their highest point is the Col de Belvedere at 2900m, and unlike its neighbor the Mont Blanc Massive across the valley, the AR has no glacial terrain making it a great touring place for beginners.

Col du Crochus. Photo courtesy of Cosley-Houston

I woke to find raindrops on my car - not the best sign as the freezing level was reported to be 2200 meters rising to 2700 meters, meaning it probably didn’t snow where we had planned to ski, in fact most likely it had rained and then frozen overnight. We decided to tour up and check out the situation. Rule number one in the mountains, go and see and then asses the conditions.

Martina and Hamish with the Brevent and The Mont Blanc

In the spring skiers must pay attention to the freezing level during periods of melt and thaw as small wet avalanches (loose snow or slab) can occur. A strong enough freeze over night is necessary for the snow to remain stable. If the snow reaches an isothermic point (meaning all the layers of the snowpack are equal in temperature) water can percolate through the layers causing the bonds to break and cause lubrication. The snow unable to support itself could then potentially slide all the way to the ground at any time during the day during a thawing period, but most often would occur in the afternoon when the sun’s radiation is most intense - which is why an early start is always a good idea.

Lyndsay and Martina along the ridge

We met at La Flegere at 8am for the first bin reserved for workers and touring enthusiasts. Next we hopped on the Index chairlift, and bummed a quick ride up the poma with the ski patrols. For whatever reason I got a very short poma and spent the majority of the ride about a foot off the ground. I could hear Hamish laughing behind me. The sun was out but the wind was howling and it was cold, not the spring skiing day we had envisioned. “Where is my spring ski tour day?” asked Martina. I have to admit I was considering skiing back down and sitting in the sun.

Martina and Hamish

The trip up the Corchues from the upper poma is short, only a few hundred meters or so. I had brought my alpine set up and Trekkers because I wanted to experiment with them for flatter, shorter approaches to ski routes that required mostly boot-packing or technical climbing.The Trekkers clipped into regular alpine bindings and fit over alpine boots and are a great alternative to touring gear if you prefer your solid downhill equipment for a technical or steep descent. The only draw back? They are not light.

Going from my light weight racing set up to a full set up was a shock as each Trekker adds about 21 ounces of weight to each ski, in addition to the weight of a normal downhill fixed binding and skis. Hamish was on a snowboard and had some very cool approach skis to facilitate his climb and to keep him from breaking through the snow. Martina had a slick mid-weight Dynafit set up. We were a motley crew with a variety of gear and some faff time was required before setting off.

Hamish and the approach skis

Close to the top of the Crochus we decided to boot-pack up the remaining fifty meters. I found kick turns were easy to maneuver on the Trekkers until the terrain became steeper and icy. My skis seriously weighed just under a million pounds and kept banging me on the head, I would have to adjust my pack. We reached the top and the wind was ripping across the pass and blew us around to the point of laughter. Other skiers were huddled behind rocks switching gear for the descent and trying to put skins away properly resulted in a snarl of purple.

The backside was rain crusted and we skied/slid to the base of the couloir to the point we would boot-pack up to the summit of the Glacier du Mort. It was frozen solid but had slid yesterday in the heat leaving a frozen minefield. We decided with the wind up high, the rain and the high freezing level that the ski itself would not be enjoyable (probably ice) and we moved on to plan B.

Traversing to the keyhole

We continued the traverse and skied ice crust down a bit further to access a route called the Keyhole. The sun had been on this exposure and it was soft but stable. The route would take us up along a ridge allowing for stunning views before exiting through a “keyhole” in the rocks arriving at the Breche de Bernard.

Reviewing the descent

We started up the first few kick turns with my zillion pound skis and me dripping buckets of sweat. It was good practice and training for the Mezzalama that’s for sure, and I had new respect for the story I had heard about a guide’s client that had shown up for a Haute Route with alpine gear. The pour soul had no way to rent for the first two days as they were leaving early and spending the night in a hut, so he just walked the whole way in his alpine skis and bindings

We skied the Breche de Berard line, original plan was from the Pointe Alphonse Favre

Martina lead the way to the summit of the ridge and began traversing its length towards the keyhole. The wind had died and we had amazing views of the Rochers de Fiz and the Mount Blanc Massive. We traversed through some small avalanche debris and boot-packed through the keyhole. Looking up at our original choice we realized we had made the right decision. Yesterday afternoon the Mort had slid in a few places and with the rain and its exposure it was a frozen debris-filled mess. Instead we enjoyed a lovely corn snow ski down, me now happy to be on my full set up.

Careful not to fall in the river we skied almost the length of the valley all the way into Le Buet with some extreme adventure spring skiing exiting the lower valley. We had a small hike and ski until we ended on the ski piste in Le Buet. Staking out some chairs and beverages, we celebrated the day with a few panaches (beer and Sprite) and snacks before hopping onto the train and heading home.

Relaxing in le Buet


Apr 21, 2009

Extreme Fitness - New York Style

Bravabella caught up with Rachel Schifter-Thebault, owner of Tribeca Treats and blogger extraordinaire (she was just picked up by the Huffington Post). BB wanted to know how Rachel stayed so fit while running a bakery, raising two daughters, and telling it like it is and giving us the sweet deets on her Tribeca Treats website.

Rachel and I went to Colgate University together after which she became an investment banker in New York City. Born and raised in Washington DC due to her families influence she always had a love for the culinary world. Slowly over her seven years in the banking industry, Rachel nurtured a love for cooking and entertainment while dabbling with chocolate as a hobby. If she didn’t realize she had talent right away, her friends certainly did and soon she was taking more orders than she could handle. In the spring of 2004 she changed gears and headed to culinary school widening her repertoire to include chocolates, cookies and cakes. Voila! Tribeca Treats was born. For a full bio on Rachel click here.

Photo courtesy of the Weblicist.com
Photo courtesy of the Weblicist.com

BB figured Rachel must have a way to stay fit while running her own business. If we were baking cakes for Paris Hilton and whipping us truffles galore we would definitely be a size or three larger. Rachel explains in her own words how she made her job her own personal gym.

“I was always a team-sports person and never that into running, so I have a hard time motivating to go running or spend time in the gym. So, yes, most of my staying in shape has to do with leading an active lifestyle. I am constantly lifting and running after my kids. We walk almost everywhere in NYC. (And I’m just a fast walker in general–it drives my husband crazy.)

Photo courtesy of the New York Times
Photo courtesy of the New York Times

When I first opened my store, I was doing most of the deliveries myself too! Also, at work, my office is in the basement of my store, so I am constantly running up and down stairs, carrying 50lb bags of flour, etc. There’s a lot of manual labor in my job.

I also like to try to do pilates about once a week–that’s more for a stress reliever though than anything else. We are also active on our vacations–go out West to ski for a week 1x per year, go kayaking with the kids or for long walks when we’re a the beach in the summer.

A cake for Paris. Photo courtesy of TribeaTreats.com
A cake for Paris. Photo courtesy of TribeaTreats.com

Don’t get me wrong–I spend a lot of time watching tv too, but living in NYC does make for a generally more active lifestyle. I am so rarely in a car.”

Brava Rachel, you are an endurance athlete of another sort all together!

Photo courtesy of TribecaTreats.com
Logo courtesy of TribecaTreats.com


Apr 19, 2009

Trofeo Mezzalama Postponed. To be Continued…

The weather forecast did not predict the heavy snow that began late Saturday night and continued well into Sunday morning. We three stood at the start of the Mezzalama carefully roped up in out matching suits stuffed full of the rations needed for the forty-six kilometer White Marathon. Just as we were to start the race, organizers announced that due to heavy snow, increasing avalanche danger and high winds the race would be postponed to May 2nd, with an official decision to be made in the coming days. Officials on course were not able to leave their bivouacs and guests at the guide’s hut on the Plateau unable to open the door. A video taped this morning perhaps explains it best.

Nina, Cecile and myself headed to Valtournanche, Italy, early Saturday, April 18th in order to beat the crowd at registration. After collecting our race bibs and our shiny new white vests and other random free gifts (block of paramsian cheese, socks, and bisquits), we headed to our hotel in Cervinia about fifteen minutes up the road. The Marmore (marbel in Italian) was a nice two star hotel and only about a ten minute walk to the start. We wandered the streets and then took a nap in preparation for the early 3:30am wake up needed for the 5:40am start.

Cecile’s mom was our amazing chauffeur, driving us to and from all the venues. We returned to the public hall in Valtournanche at 6:30 sharp for the weather and course briefing. The guides had been able to fly all supplies up on course and the track was set, reported to be in very good condition. The weather was forecast to be decent, with a chance of snow at noon. A we were double the number of teams from the last edition (352 compared to 200) We were given an extra three minutes for the first time cut, and thirty minutes for the technical section along the summit of the Castor to ensure that no one would push the limits of safety. The race would take teams anywhere from 4-8 hours  depending on ability, but no more than that due to the strict time cuts. We returned back to our hotel to eat and try to get some rest which is never easy when waking up in the middle of the night.

Le Maratona Bianca

We woke around two from the people upstairs banging doors and wandering around. I don’t know  what some people’s pre-race rituals are, but do want to know the benefit of getting up 4 hours before the start and wandering around the hotel room. We ate, dressed and walked to the start in the dark. Cecile, the Italian speaker of the group overheard en route to the avalanche beacon check that a woman was not allowed to get a ticket up to watch the event as it had been canceled. I took a look at the heavy snow and considered the possibility. I did think to myself…do I really want to be at 4000 meters in this weather?

After placing our skis on the line and tying into the rope, the confirmation came in a variety of languages and was applauded by everyone. Twelve hundred people would be on course, and there was no way to ensure their safety in this weather. We skinned up for about an hour and a half until the weather prevented us from continuing. It was nasty and cold. Racers smiled and nodded but disappointment was heavy in the air. Many would not be able to travel so far again and a season’s culmination of training would go unspent. Such is the way of the mountains. So now we wait and see what May 2nd will bring.

We are waiting…..


Apr 17, 2009

The Final Team World Cup - The Tour du Rutor Extreme and Countdown to the Mezzalama

Tour du Rutor finish and customary kiss

The Rutor holds a special place in my heart. It was during this competition two years ago I heard the term, “Brava, bella,” for the first time. Fellow competitors had cheered that phrase as we passed and I am happy to report that on that same course this year, just about the same place, I got another, “Brava, bella,” from one of the head guides. It made me laugh out loud and reminded me how much I love the sport of ski mountaineering.

The Tour du Rutor became “extreme” this year when organizers headed by Marco Camandona decided the course would be changed from one day to three. A bit like the Italian answer to the Pierra Menta, teams of two would spend three days in the Valgrisenche Valley completing just over 2000 meters each day in elevation. The entire operation was incredibly well organized complete with an inspiring video and live televised starts each morning on Italian RAI television. The courses suited us with technical sections and long descents to the finish. The temperatures were warmer, days longer, and the Italian guides worked diligently to create routes taking us to higher altitudes with amazing powder and cornsnow. We were excited.

Gear prepped for early morning start. Suit courtesy of Texner

The Valgrisenche is only about an hour from Chamonix making our commute very easy. The valley is famous for its heli-skiing and with the beautiful downhills we experienced I can see why. We stayed at the base of a huge dam at the Hotel Foyer de Montagne along with a few other teams including the Italian national team who mysteriously got served first at every meal (the food was awesome pasta with the exception of some slightly over cooked croissants for breakfast so I am not complaining). Weather was not on our side for the start of the event, so the organizers cleverly switched stages around accordingly. The first day, meant to be the worst weatherwise, we ran the shortest course planned originally for the last day. The second day we ran the course prepared for the first day. And the last day, the nicest of the three, we ran the longest and most technical stage. Normally the last day is the shortest, so we had to conserve our energy and recover well.

Hotel Foyer de Montagne with dam in background

Day one started with a long cross country style ski along the side of the dam and rose into the mid-mountains staying lower in elevation due to the new snow and poor visibility. The descents were in the trees and full of powder, but finished with an unexpected long skate down the way we came. For some reason while shorter, only 1800m, it felt as hard as a stage of the Pierra Menta perhaps due to end of season fatigue.

Day two started in the same locale but added a twist. After skinning up to the height of the dam, we took skis off and ran across its length before throwing skis back on and fighting to get back on track. The snow that had warmed the day before was now crusted over from the temperature drop and people forged their own paths on the icy surface. Some went straight up, some followed the set trail, racers were all over the hill. The elevation gain was 2200 meters and we had two technical sections requiring the use of our via ferrata kit. The corn snow was great, but the heat was intense. I suffered on the last climb as we bootpacked up a bowl with not a breath of wind, saved only by the Coke Nina had brought.

Preparing via ferrata kit

The final 1400m descent marked day one of the two day “Freeride” competition. Competitors would be timed from the top of the last transition through the finish.  We had an excellent ski down tapered a bit by the fact we again had to take skis off and run back across the damn before descending again to the valley floor.

Day three was the big day, the original Tour du Rutor course we had done two years before. The first ascent originated from Planaval and was 1300 meters with a 2:15 hour time cut. Even though we knew we should make this easily, it always adds a bit of stress. At the last minute I decided to use shorter poles. They allowed me to use my swimming muscles and push off my triceps on the steeps, I was amazed at the difference in my ability to climb and my balance along technical sections. We passed the time cut with a half hour to spare and skied down to the next 700 meter ascent. The route took us up to a col, and then followed a steep track with  numerous conversions. I have never concentrated so dilligently on my footwork.

Final stage, Tour du Rutor

Racers above us were getting tired and losing their footing. Thankfully they stepped to the side and let us pass. Along the ridge the views were beautiful, we ran along a technical section clipping into the line marveling at the scenery - it was here I got my, “Brava, bella!” Ninas hands were ice and Micol, a friend at a transition, gave her her mitts and saved the day. Later Micol gave another racer her boot and ski to replace a broken binding. Brava Micol! What great support.

Nina pointing to lower peak skied in final descent

One last bootpack and we reached the top ready to fly 2000 meters to the valley floor in Planaval. The descent too us about fifteen minutes (with one short slushy skin) and we had completed the Tour du Rutor Extreme. We placed ninth over all and seventh for the World Cup event. I am happy to report we placed fifth for the freeride competition, not too far behind the winners! After the event we drove down valley to Morgex for lunch and the awards. Every female team (fifteen) got a prize couresy of the Italian supermarket CRAI. The best part was the pasta and the Easter pennettone, a traditional light and fluffy sweet cake shaped like a cross.

Finish, Rutor

No rest for the weary, two days later we met up with our third teammate for the Mezzalama, Cecile Pasche and headed to Cervinia to spend a few days up high at the Refuge Guide del Cervnio on the Testa Girgia ski area. As it is on glacer, we took all the necessary kit to practice for our last and final challenge, the Trofeo Mezzalama. I will borrow from the translated webpage,

“The historical marathon founded in 1933 from the Ski Club Torino, reborn in 1997 thanks to the Mezzalama Foundation supported from the region of Valle D’Aosta, takes place every two years also for the great organization effort that it requires. Yesterday eighteen alpine guides from the four Mount Rosa valleys (Valtournenche, Ayas, Gressoney and Alagna) have traced the track that connects the Colle del Breithorn (3826 m), where the slopes of “Plateau Rosa”, with the Lago Gabiet (2400 m)behind Gressoney. It consist of more than 20 kilometers of glaciers signaled with 2000 poles that will be removed after the race. The roped party that are already training in the area will be facilitated even in low visibility conditions in the flat area that goes from Colle del Breithorn to the  Passo di Verra, to the feet of Mount (4200m) after in the wide depression of the Felik Glacier on the feet of Naso dei Lyskamm and finally in the great descent on the east base of Naso to  Gressoney-la-Trinité where is situated the finish line.”

I love the translations, they are the best part!

Cecile, Lyndsay and Nina ready to roll

We spent two nights and three days in the hut which located at 3400m. We planned to ski each day with one day skinning up the Breithorn, a 4100m peak with easy access from the hut. The first night was very social, we were joined by the Swiss and Italian teams, as well as competitors we knew from previous races throughout the season. It was a who’s who of ski mountaineering and a great place to get lots of tips on gear and the race itself. French, German, English and Italian were spoken freely amongst everyone and certain teams gave advice on how to manage the rope between us while on course. As we were traveling on glacier, we would be climbing and skiing roped creating the ever present challenge to not run over the rope.

Lyndsay and Cecile on the rope

Mixed weather gave way to one very nice day that allowed us to summit the Breithorn, bringing my count to 4000m peaks to fourteen. We prepared to ski down roped for the first time from the summit and took our first turn. I felt a little unstable and wrote it off due to the fact I was in the middle. A stronger skier is best in the middle as they can be pulled both forward an backward while on the rope. Another turn and I realized my binding had come undone. Closer inspection revealed in fact the binding had broken. Since skiing was not possible, we just put skis on packs and ran the rest of the way down to the plateau and I was able to ski the piste back to the hut.

Skin track up the Breithorn

Returning to the hut I explained my situation to a sympathetic crowd. Fortunately Nicolas Comb, the Swiss coach, happened to have two of the same kind of bindings and promised to ship them to me the next day. I was relieved it happened then, a bit of bad luck now rather than on course, and good practice to have to deal with a situation as a team - a good test to prepare us for the last dance, I think we are ready!


Apr 14, 2009

My First 10k. Guest Post by Kristen Virgilio

The following is a post from a dear friend. With her creative and insightful assistance BB morphed from an excited idea to a reality.

I just finished my first 10k and I had a blast! I will admit I had my doubts due to the fact I felt like a total amatuer while training. I tried to run at least three days a week but really, sometimes it was more, and sometimes it was less. I’ve been running 5ks for a while now and they were born of a desperate excuse for “girls night”.  My friends and I found a series of evening runs close to home (Charleston) and I was lucky enough to sign up with a quietly competitive and committed crew. It was great to do something together that didn’t involve our posse of kids and it was especially fun to celebrate with margaritas after each event. I was thrilled to find this new level of camaraderie with friends I had already known for such a long time.

Well, somewhere in there I discovered that running was a great way to carve out some personal time. I love my time with my two boys and I enjoy my work in the marine insurance field, but with that and a marriage there’s not a lot of the ever elusive “me time”. I’ve been athletic most of my life and always dreaded running but now I actually look forward to it. It’s quiet, no one knows where I am and I actually can set and reach goals. It’s mine and I can control it. Is there anyway to qualify running as Mom’s attempt at a power trip?  I guess I have to get it where I can create it.

Okay, back to the race details. We ran the annual Cooper River Bridge Run.  I walked it about ten years ago when it ran over ancient bridges that creaked and swayed with every step.  Back then it was maybe 20,000 people and that’s a big deal for little ol’ Charleston.  This year it was a record breaking 48,600.  My friend Carrie and I got a bit of a late start which is nothing out of the ordinary for two girls with four kids under five. We also had no idea of just how many people would be involved in this show. I mean, this is our town. Surely we can find a parking spot, right?  After ten minutes of hunting in way overpopulated parking lots, we spotted an empty area. We pulled up slowly and out crept a lady from seemingly nowhere. She was slow and cautious and a little shady. I rolled down the window and after looking us up and down we hear “$10″. I’ve never handed over cash so quickly.  I’m sure that lady made $1,000 before 7:30am and I’m almost as sure that she had no right to that lot but I have no regrets.

Kristen and pal ready for well deserved post race mimosas
Carrie and Kristen ready for well deserved post race mimosas

Okay - now we had to find the start.  We had thirty minutes and the only thing I had to do is pee. Well, Carrie had a red bib and I’ve got purple but that’ll be okay right?  Whatever, let’s just move on.  We were about a half mile form the line up and somehow they’ve got the entire road fenced off so that once you get onto the sidewalk, there’s no way onto the road except for the color coded entrances to the race line-up.  We were herded like cattle.  Now I was nervous. I really had to pee, it was ten minutes til the start and I will not leave my wingman. I had crowd support that there will surely be porta-poties between here and the start and Carrie reassured me that we won’t get trampled but now I could see the start and there was absolutely no where to pee.

The lady announced it was three minutes to the gun so we found an entrance, pretended to stretch and waited for the inevitable.  We had made it to the start in time and I was still with my partner, but I still really had to pee. Two out of three ain’t bad I suppose! The race start was surreal. I heard the gun but no one moved. It was a solid five minutes of hopping and “here we go”-ing until the first steps were taken. Then I was off running in my first 10k! (By the way I am sure that the winner crossed the finish before I even got to the start line!).

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia.com
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia.com

The race itself was great. I felt so good and it was so exciting. I was surprised by how little control I had over pace - in the end I think that was a good thing. I was also surprised by how swept up in the event I became. There was so much to see and take in keeping my mind occupied. The first half of the race was through my home turf and then continued over the bridges which have become something of a symbol of Charleston. There were so many crazy thing to see, people who were clearly on a mission to make record times, a man running in a broccoli costume and a lady in her wedding dress. We were met at the base of the bridge by a water station and some fresh Krispy Kremes. Couldn’t do it. Once we were downtown the streets were lined with spectators with signs and cowbells. The rest was somehow easy. We finished in what I was shocked to see was almost two minutes under our goal time. And I had completely forgotten that I had to pee. The hubbies and kids came down by boat and met us at after we had some time to play racers and have a mimosa.  We spent the rest of the day celebrating what had suddenly morphed from “our big race” to “our first 10k”.  I still love to run but I am now madly in love with races. Not sure when the next 10k will be but I’ve got another 5k lined up for next weekend. Will you come run one with me?

Willy G, Kristen, and Joey V
Willy G, Kristen, and Joey V

BB is pretty sure we have not used fast-twitch muscles in over a year, but will definitely put that on the calendar as long as there are mimosas! Brava, Kristen!


Apr 11, 2009

Spring Ski Endeavours in the ENSA Couloir

ENSA from the cable car platform

I love adventure skiing. The spring stability awards the patient skier with all kinds of steep lines to explore in Chamonix. However the warm temps also brings out the rocks making entering some of the couloirs a bit tricky. One of the most famous lines in Chamoni located below the Brevent cable car is the Couloir du E.N.S.A, first skied in the 1950’s by two instructors from the famous mountaineering school in Chamonix that bears the same name.

Looking for the anchor at the top of the couloir

The couloir is most definitely off-piste and is found by ducking under the rope almost immediately leaving the exit of the cable car. It was a bluebird day and the thermometer was rising as we skied around the West side of the Brevent. The ski across the back was still a bit icy as it was early in the day. As we traversed round to the South-facing entrance, the snow had softened considerably having seen the sun since early in the day.

The entrance to the ENSA is between 45-50 degrees for about the first two hundred meters or so. The main obsticle being the large pyramid shape rock blocking the entrance. There were two anchors available, we chose the one on the right (the other was buried), tested it, and rappelled in. The sun had done its work and the rock was well exposed requiring a little bit of ski-yoga. Later in the season the rocks hold their heat causing snow around them to melt rapidly.

Everyone needs a pair of Chamonix rock skis

We followed the groove of the skiers who descended befor us and continued to slide down after pulling the rope down along with us. We had a longer rope of about forty meters which was the perfect length ( in certain conditions its possible to do two rappels if necessary), a second anchor existed further down near the large exposed rock in the center of the line.

Free of the rope and well into the shady couloir, the snow was chalky and still held the feel of winter. The skiing was steep and fun. Soon we had to navigate both the soft cornsnow on the sunlight side and the wintery snow in the shade, you could pick your line and your season.

The middle was the most memorable, linking turns with the soft snow enjoying the view across the valley. Lower down still (the descent is 1500 meters) the snow predictably turned to mashed potatoes and we hugged the side of the couloir to find the better snow until we exited out onto the road below. A few turns later we were back at the carpark, total elapsed time one hour thirty, and we had taken our time. A great pre-work ski to say the least!


Apr 07, 2009

The Rapid Rise of Snowkiting. Guest Post by Becky Bishop

Becky Bishop at first checkpoint, photo courtesy of Aaron Beck

We scoured the horizon for bold hovering kites, dancing over the undulating endless white. Once they appeared the car in front of us slowed. If not familiar with the sport of snowkiting, the sight is strange indeed. Large expanses of colorful fabric swaying back and forth in the sky seemingly attached to nothing when seen from a distance. They may as well be UFO’s.

The kites were exactly what we were looking for, and we were excited to finally have arrived. February 20th, 2009 was the 2nd Annual Kite Soldiers Event in Soldier Mountain Idaho located about an hour out of Sun Valley. The Red Bull Banners, Dakine “sliders” and throngs of people materialized as we parked. We rigged our gear among familiar faces adding skis, telemarks, or snowboards and boots rather than wetsuits and surfboards. For snowkiting, some people prefer “foil” kites (that have no air bladders). They are more compact, lighter to carry for backcountry expeditions, and some find them easier to relaunch. The relaunching is a personal preference because the kites with bladders are fine to relaunch in snow.

Colorful kites mid-competition

One final scope of the terrain and we jumped out onto the course. It was set up as a Poker Run Competition in order to encourage participation. At each checkpoint (competitors chose five or three based on a loose two hour time limit) racers were given a playing card, the winner thus being determined by his or her hand. We flew at probably thirty miles an hour across the fields in search of the winning hand.

There were some natural obstacles on course we needed to carefully avoid. The first involved jumping a barbed wire fence, and the next low power lines that we steered our kites under. After that we were home free and began to head up hill pulled with ease by the kite on our skis, an amazing feeling! When we reached the last checkpoint we were at least ten miles from the parking lot. With the wind in our sails it only took us minutes to return, it was truly a spectacular way to travel. Following the competition we played around in the foothills, climbing up and down the terrain while learning how to finesse the kite to pull most efficiently. We jumped off cornices and skied down with not only the speed of momentum from gravity, but also from the wind in our kites.

The brains behind Kitesoilder, Trisha Smith, Pam Smith, and Malissa Anglea

Currently there are probably about twenty-five snow kiting events in the world (nationally and internationally), it is a very young sport drawing people with strengths in different disciplines. Water lovers looking for a frozen ocean were drawn to this event from coastal locations in the East, West and Texas. As kiting is a hybrid sport, there were also participants from ski/snowboard states including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and California. The snowfall and flat frozen lakes of the Midwest drew yet another crowd. There were even appearances form France, Norway, Sweden and other parts of Europe.

Trisha Smith, Director of Operations for Snow Kite Soldier LLC worked many tireless hours for almost five months to arrange the event. Her role consisted of designing the event website, managing the finances, and negotiating and working with the many great sponsors, including Promoshop, Ecopromos.com, Head, Dakine, Ozone, Trew, and Naish. Trisha is a relatively new kiter with her first passion being skiing. She recalls, “On my first day, I was snow kiting for miles, playing on wind blown cornices and having the time of my life. Kiting has been a challenging sport to learn, but it something new and full of excitement. There is amazing freedom being in the backcountry with new snow and a breathtaking view you only see on postcards, blue skies, perfect wind and knowing you can go for miles and literally create your own playground.”

Photo courtesy of Utah Kite Addiction School
Photo courtesy of Utah Kite Addiction School

There are very few women snowkiters in relation to all the males out there.Trisha and I are intent on involving more women in the sport and do so by encouraging them to take lessons, participate in friendly, inviting events like Snowkite Soldier, and to just get them out there to be a part of the fun. Which is easier to start with, water or snow you ask? I think that since kiteboarding originated on water many people do start on the water. I would suggest that because when you fall it is a little more forgiving. That said, you have a little more control over your stance on snow.

I also think that having experience first on water or snow will help the other discipline immensely. If you are more comfortable on snow, you have some time to practice some kite skills that you would not otherwise so freely be able to practice on water. I actually learned to loop my kite consistently in one direction to pull me uphill. This was something I was afraid to do in the water because the pull is so intense. On snow however, the pull is still strong (strong enough to pull you quickly up a hill), but the resistance from the slope counters the speed you generate so it is not as scary. On the flip side, I think a lot of the more advanced tricks might be reserved for water as they often land in a splash-which would be a hard fall on snow. I did not see a lot of MOB’s (which is a forward rotation handle pass). It will all be done sometime, and if there is enough powder and with young pliable athletes, anything is possible.

Photo courtesy of Windwing.com

The second day of the Snow Kite Soldier event was a special treat. The wind switched direction changing our location. The prevailing winds had created a huge, soft ridge with a long cornice that extended for half a mile or so – a frozen wave. As the cornice was formed by an East wind, but during the competition blew West, we were pulled up the lip of the cornice resulting in great amounts of air. It was also a perfect launch for rotations, flips and other tricks.  Once on the lip we could get a running start and launch off of the cornice hovering in the air for long precious moments.

The weekend before Kitesoldier we attended the Snowkite Rodeo event in Mount Haggin Montana, and the weekend after next there is a large and growing event in Salt Lake City.  This young sport is in the process of being invented and is calling your name ladies! For more information on lessons and events visit www.snowkitesoldier.com. Still curious? check out www.snowkiting.com.

Photo courtesy of Snowkiter.info


Apr 01, 2009

Skiing the Pas du Chevre - the Footsteps of the Goat

Pas du Chevre

Chamonix has had an epic year for snow. A few weeks ago my roommate Ali and I headed out for our second official roomie-adventure ski day and decided to ski the Pas Du Chevre Couloir off the back side of the Grand Montets. After coffee and breakfast, we left the house around eleven and walked the five minute trip to the lift station.

The route is accessible by two cable cars, the first stopping at Lognan, and the second arriving on the top of the Grand Montets at 3300 meters (multiply it by 3.2 people). The bin doors opened and everyone rushed out to be first to navigate the steel steeps down from the Aiguille de Grand Montets to the saddle below.  Beginners beware, its not a staircase for the light-hearted, especially with powder hounds breathing down your neck.

Sardines in the bin

Chamonix is a competitive town and the competition isn’t limited to skiing. It also includes who can get into the bin last - therefore getting out first, and who can run down the stairs the fastest and get skis on first, regardless of whether its a powder day or not. You may notice these few veteran looking souls standing nonchalantly off to the side while the bins are being loaded. They wait and wait eyeballing each other out of the corner of their eyes to see who is going to break first and enter the car (while seeing who has the fatter skis). They are not scared nor intimidated, they simply waiting to be the last one in the bin by the door to be the first one out. I have seen people fight over this awesome privalege.

There are three main ski areas avaible off the top of the Grand Montets. One side leads to the Argentiere glacier and numerous touring options (the Haute Route starts here), another to the North Face of the Grand Montets which offeres endless smooth skiing. Last was our choice for the day. We would ski off the West side towards the Vallee Blanche on the Pas du Chevre.

Staircase leading down from the cable car

Numerous tracks lead into the Pas du Chevre, but its a vast expanse of terrain and we would find our own secret stash. Before we headed off into the off-piste area, we checked beacons, harnesses and packs to make sure all was secure. I lost an ice axe off my pack once, it was a serious buzzkill as I climbed some fifteen 4000 meter peaks with that thing, not gonna let it happen again. There are three lines accessible from the West side entrance, the Pas du Chevre, the Couloir Centrale and the Rectiligne. Skiing down the first pitch (between 35-40 degrees) the snow was light a fluffy, unusual for Chamonix but it had been a very cold winter.

As we descended carefully while reveling in the view (hard to do) the temperature increased along with weight of the snow. Further down we were rewarded with an amazing view of the Dru. We finally stopped to take in the 360 degree view of the Dru, Aiguille Verte, Le Massive du Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles Rouges covered in a fresh coating of white.

Ali navigating her powder options.

Looking down we could just start to make out the tiny dots of skiers flying down the Vallee Blanche far below. Ali and I continued on our 2300 meter descent until we entered the scattered patch of pine trees signaling we had reached the moraine.

The Dru captured through my goggle lenses

We waited in a short line while skiers gingerly took their turn side-stepping over rocks on the narrow exit down the steep banks of the moraine. Earlier in the week it had been ski-able but due the previous traffic much of the snow had been scraped off - it was nice to have something to grab on too as we stepped over the sharp rocks. Traversing the wall of the moraine we skied the last steep pitch onto the the glacier floor. Behind us climbers played on the ice falls above.

Ali and the ice climbers

We crossed the glacier and joined the growing number of skiers boot-packing up to the les Roches de Mottets Buvette. Pausing for a few moments to look from where we had come, we hopped on the James Bond Trail and skied the rest of the way into Chamonix ending at les Planards, the town bunny slope.

Expensive Cokes - but maybe worth it

I watched the little children ski by in huddles with matching bibs and internally thanked my parents yet again for giving me the gift of skiing starting at age three. Brava Mom and Dad!

Je suis content!