Trans Catalina Trail

Trans Catalina Trail, Catalina Island, California

Earlier this April, Claudia and I trekked the Trans Catalina Trail – a 45 mile hike across the entire length of Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California. Below are some photo highlights and a brief trip report of this interesting trek.

Avalon, Catalina Island, California, sunset

Avalon : Prints Available

Postcard view of the town of Avalon at sunset.

Catalina Island is only a one hour ferry ride away from Los Angeles, but it’s a world apart. Unlike the hectic, traffic-clogged city of millions, Avalon just oozes a relaxed vibe, kind of like the Californian equivalent of a quiet Mediterranean seaside town. We spent a relaxing evening here before getting an early start on the trek the next morning.

Trans Catalina Trail

The first day of hiking from Avalon to the Blackjack campground was a killer – 15 miles of ups and downs following the main ridge crest of the island. The entire trail, for that matter, is almost never flat – just constant up and down hiking! With a full pack and hot sun, those 15 miles pretty much whooped my butt!

Catalina Island, California, Blackjack, sunset, Pacific Ocean

Blackjack Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean, as seen from the top of Catalina Island near the Blackjack campground – April.

The Blackjack campground is located high on the island, right below the tallest mountain, Mt. Orizaba which is 2,103 feet above the ocean. Despite our tired legs and sore feet we walked a short ways over the hill to watch the sun set over the Pacific.

Lots more below the fold! Continue reading “Trans Catalina Trail”

Jackal & Fowler/Hilliard Huts

Jackal Hut, Gore Range, Mt. Elbert, Sawatch Range, Colorado, winter

Winter at the Jackal Hut, in the southern Gore Range, with a view towards Mt. Elbert (left) and the Sawatch Range.

Last week we spent four days and three nights on a 10th Mountain Division ski hut tour in the southern Gore Range of Colorado! The first leg of our trip took us to the Jackal Hut, which is perched on a high ridge with expansive views towards Leadville and the highest peaks of Colorado in the Sawatch Range.

Jackal, hut, Gore Range, Mount of the Holy Cross, March, Colorado, moonlight

Prints Available

Snow covered Jackal Hut in the moonlight with a view towards Mount of the Holy Cross – March.

Our trip coincided with the full moon, and it would have been a perfect night for some moonlight skiing but we were too whooped from breaking trail up through Pearl Creek to the hut to motivate. Lesson learned: stay at least two nights at each hut so you can spend a day skiing… that’s the whole point after all!

After one night at the Jackal Hut, we made the grueling 7-mile trek to the Fowler/Hilliard Hut – again breaking trail all the way up from Resolution Creek to the ridge of Resolution Mountain. Normally putting in a skin track isn’t so bad, but it’s a different story with a heavy pack!

Continue reading “Jackal & Fowler/Hilliard Huts”

Yurt Weekend

yurt, stars, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, march, night, snow

Yurt Under the Stars : Prints Available

A cozy backcountry yurt in the snow on a winter night in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Some friends of ours kindly offered us their backcountry yurt for the weekend, and we gladly accepted! Situated atop a hill above Red Mountain Pass and surrounded by heaps of intermediate ski terrain, the yurt provided a perfect base for two nights and three days of relaxing and skiing.

Skinning Up

Claudia skins up the mountain…

Backcountry skiing

…to enjoy some cruisey powder turns.

yurt, interior, Colorado, evening, winter, march

I apologize in advance for the cheese-factor of this photo, but I couldn’t resist showing how cozy it was in the yurt! After two nights like this, I’ll probably never want to winter camp in my tent again!

Ouray Dawn Panorama

Ouray, San Juan mountains, Colorado, winter, panorama, dawn, february, lights

Ouray Winter Dawn Panorama : Prints Available

The lights of Main Street and the snowplow drivers cleaning up a fresh snowfall in Ouray on a clear February morning in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. The mountains to the right are illuminated by lunar alpenglow from the setting almost-full moon.

Here’s a view of Ouray early on Wednesday morning. Be sure to click on the photo to go to the page where you can view this larger!

On Tuesday it was absolutely dumping snow around here, and with a nearly full moon and a forecast of clearing skies overnight I was up half the night thinking about where I should go for a sunrise shoot. Well, I ended up just going to the “Switzerland of America” overlook, just a minute drive up the road from my house. I’ve shot photos here many times before (as have millions of tourists), but this time I wanted to capture a more panoramic winter view of the valley. This here is a panoramic stitch of 6 vertical overlapping frames shot with a 24mm wideangle lens. That should give you a sense of the grand scale of the landscape here!

The snowplow drivers were in full attack mode since about 2:00 in the morning, and I thought about how it would have made for a cool time lapse video to see them zipping up and down all the streets. But I don’t have the patience for shooting time lapses, so I’ll leave that to somebody else…

Ridgway, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, February, winter, dusk

Dusk light over the town of Ridgway and the San Juan Mountains – February.

After shooting the sunrise, I went back home for another couple hours of sleep, drove a little ways up the road for a lap on the splitboard, got a bit of work done, watched the sunset over Ridgway with Claudia and a thermos of gluwein, and enjoyed excellent pizza and beer at the Colorado Boy Brewery. What a day! I love it here…

More February Snow!

Skier: Jeff Skoloda

For all my bitching and moaning about the lack of snow earlier this season, I must say that the snow has been pretty much fantastic around the San Juans this February! The last series of storms dumped another 1-3 feet of powder around here, and I’ve been doing my best to get after it. Here’s some more shots from the last three days of frolicking in the powder (while staying wary of the lurking snowpack instabilities, of course).

Skier: Dan Chehayl

Avalanches and Heuristic Traps

night skiing, fullmoon, Stevens Pass, Washington, Cascades

Stevens Pass on a fullmoon night.

The New York Times has published an engrossing article, Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, by John Branch documenting last year’s tragic avalanche accident at Stevens Pass in Washington state.

The article hits home for me, not just because I’m an avid backcountry splitboarder concerned about avalanches, but also because I spent the entire 2001-02 winter season working/bumming at Stevens Pass and have ridden the Tunnel Creek terrain many times. This article delves into the story in a much deeper fashion than the usual avalanche accident reports, providing background of the circumstances, the conditions, and most importantly of the people involved. The website also provides thorough multimedia integration to tell the whole story as clearly as possible. It was a truly tragic day, and the article is well worth a read for anyone who ventures into the winter backcountry.

One aspect of backcountry travel that the article hits on is the concept of group dynamics and how that can affect backcountry safety. A while back I read a very interesting and surprising report about this: Evidence of heuristic traps in recreational avalanche accidents, by Ian McCammon. “Heuristic traps” basically means poor decision making due to unconscious social reasons. The study is based on statistics compiled by the CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) from 622 avalanche accidents over 30 years. Here are the key points from the study to consider every time you head out into the backcountry snow:

• The safest group sizes tend to be 2-5 people, with 4 being the safest. Groups of 6-10 are just as hazardous as 1.

• For all levels of training, everyone tends to be slightly safer in unfamiliar terrain. Groups with advanced avy knowledge stand out as being the clearly the safest in unfamiliar terrain, and actually the least safe in familiar terrain!

• The mere presence of people outside the victims’ group correlated with a significant increase in exposure to avalanche hazard. Again, especially so with advanced-trained groups.

The group involved in the Tunnel Creek accident hit all three checkboxes: a large group of experienced skiers in familiar terrain with presence of outsiders (the place is a very short hike from the ski resort). The power of these heuristic traps is evidenced in the NYT article by some of of those involved who said that they had doubts and misgivings at the top, but didn’t say anything (because of the social influences of being in a big group).

“Traditional avalanche education places a heavy emphasis on terrain, snowpack and weather factors. While there’s no doubt that this knowledge can lead to better decisions, it is disturbing that the victims in this study that were most influenced by heuristic traps were those with the most avalanche training.” ~ McCammon

Tragedies like the Tunnel Creek accident underscore the importance of keeping a conscious attention to not only the snowpack behavior, but our group and personal behavior as well in order to maintain objective and rational decision making in potentially dangerous circumstances.

Two More

Jake and I got out for two more skiing/splitboarding days. For me that’s been 6 out of the last 7 days on the snow! I guess Jake’s been out something like 12 days in a row… what an animal.

We’d pretty much tracked out the entire mountain we’ve been riding on previous days, so we moved to a slightly lesser known spot with north facing preserved powder.

Time for a few days off to get some work done!

February Fun

I’ve been happy to be out riding powder the last four days here in the San Juans – with a full-on powder day at Telluride ski resort on Sunday, followed by three superb days of splitboarding up on the pass.

The skier above is Dan, a local Ouray ice farmer. All the rest of the photos below are Jake, who timed his trip from Vermont perfectly!

Below are a bunch of pictures from the last three days in the backcountry.

Snow at Last

McMillan Cabins, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Last week a series of storms dumped a much-needed 2-4 feet of snow in the San Juans! On Monday we enjoyed a day of knee-to-waist-deep snow at Durango Mountain ski area. On Thursday the storm broke and Claudia and I went up to the pass for a couple laps under the gorgeous bluebird sky.

Skinning in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Unfortunately the avy danger is still so bad that we can’t really do much with all that fresh powder… We’re still sticking to the low angle safer stuff for now.