Category Archives: Traveling

The City

Fall has burst onto the city like a trap, summer is suddenly overshadowed by color in the trees and the crisp air of an early sunset. After an amazing wedding and lovely honeymoon, the professional responsibilities we happily shirked have surged out of the closet with fervor.

training, gym, weight lifting, burpies

Tuesday nights, trading one set of work for another.

I met Michael during my interview in 2015 and I hoped we would become friends regardless of what job I worked. I am grateful to be right, and our early friendship has since been nourished by miles of trail and late nights at the office. No surprise either that he also loves to suffer in the gym, and has been a reliable motivator to work on our weaknesses together.  A few weeks ago, both of us were headed for a late night at the office but managed to shift towards a different plan, well honed over the past years. We dropped into the company gym around 630pm and got dinner at a local joint around 8pm.  There is nothing like an old school ass-kicking to shed the weight of an overly full workday.  Conversation, when possible, ranges from business to art to the delicate balance of living in the city.

I haven’t written as much as he deserves, but our friendship has been one of the distinct highlights of my experience in the city. Seriously intelligent, both deeply passionate and empathetic, and always a pleasure to spend time with. Michael has supported me (and Abigail) in many great ways since we arrived here. Tonight I stopped by his desk around 6pm and encouraged him to get out of the office- and to ride together for the short common section of our commute home. He obliged and insisted on riding far out of his way, just for the joy of picking our way through Seattle traffic and catching up on life a bit. For a commute that I have regularly begrudged, I appreciated every moment.

Thanks for jumping at the chance, buddy. To many more.

 

Josie

How do you say goodbye to a hunk of metal?  Quickly, as it turns out. It marks the end of an era though- my beloved VW Jetta is no longer mine. Getting married demands releasing old, embracing new. My stepdad let go of his collection of custom guitars, my brother gave up his closet-full of random electronic parts. Weddings aside, it was time and when a good dude off Craigslist made a reasonable offer, I needed to rip the bandaid off.  When you consider that she has been one of my most reliable adventure partners and an icon of my personal style- it hurts quite a bit to say goodbye to an old friend.

A few thoughts and images from our years together:

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2011, Bishop, California. The acoustic skid plate got mangled approaching a trailhead with Jordan Siemens. We pulled it off in the campground so it would stop rattling.

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2012, northern Nevada. A lucky shot while speeding home to Missoula from a trip to Yosemite. An amazing drive.

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2013, crossing the Columbia River to see friends in Portland. Josie loved driving eastern Oregon.

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2014, Missoula –> Las Vegas. Always the reliable partner, Josie worked all night to take me and Simon to Red Rocks.

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2015, Indian Creek, Utah. Josie always acted taller than she looked. Dodging potholes, or plowing up to an ice climb, she was always game.

 

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2016, headed north from Portland to Seattle. Two reliable partners making it happen together.

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2017, North Cascades National Park, Washington. Gwen and Rich find solace past her dusty exterior. In service to others, always.

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2018, Seattle, Washington. A elegant machine. I’ll miss her badly.

That hunk of metal became much more to a young man searching for his way in the world. A bunk, a traveling companion, a resource, and a welcome relief at the end of a long walk in the woods. A social gathering and medium to experience so many good things. A dashboard confessional, confidant, jury, and judge.  I am deeply grateful for our adventures together Josie. Drive safe.

Bergner-Stanley

“Are we in the flow state?”
“Yes.”
“Then we must be doing fine.”

Last Saturday I took a long walk with my friend Webster and climbed the Bergner-Stanley route on Prusik Peak. We discovered that the hyperbole often used to describe that mountain and route was in fact true. Considering my last car-to-car (mis)adventure  and with the chill air of autumn settling in, this trip was the perfect cap to a summer full of adventures.

Webster wanted to push himself, and while I wasn’t sure I had another big summer adventure in the tank, his stoke goaded me to the trailhead- from there, I was all in. We left the car at 4:25am, made it to the base of the climb by 9am, and started climbing at 9:30. We got to the base of the route just as another party was leaving the ground, and caught them again at the top of pitch 2.

I quickly made the acquaintance of Mr. Ben Boldt, and didn’t complain when he started taking photos of us as we followed them up the route. Ben and his partner had tried the route before, but gotten stymied by the challenging squeeze chimney on pitch 5 (or 6 depending how you do it). We waited for a bit while they fought their way thru, and Ben hung out to shoot my own battle. Webster was relieved to follow this one. Check out more of Ben’s photos here, and only use with permission. Thanks again man.

The last pitch is the money pitch, and I was happy for Webster to fire it. Despite some melting snow on the final crux section, he sent with aplomb. Following the pitch, I was surprised to find it steeper and more technical than it appears. Strong work Webster!

prusik peak, crux, rock climbing, enchantments

Man going to work, pc me.

We summited at 3pm, made 5 rappels and walked around a snowy north face to collect our packs at 515pm, and started the walk home at 530pm. We stayed focused and positive despite the many miles, and moved well, tagging the car at 9:15pm. We stayed in the flow state for almost the entire day, feeding off each others energy and enjoying every aspect of the experience. Not much time for photos, but we did hike past an amazing hydrologic feature- this drain pipe throws water between lakes:

As usual, the full effort in the mountains cleared my head in a way that nothing else does. It cemented another friendship that has been growing for a long time, and for which I am deeply grateful. It bolstered my self-confidence and increases the gratitude I feel for so many things in life, including my lovely lady (even though she doesn’t necessarily want to do these things with me). This piece by Hayden Kennedy says it better than I can. I love this stuff.

 

Copyright Skander Spies, 2017

Still The Best Day

Working hard up Headwaters Ridge, the wind pushed through my T-shirt and I thought to myself “enjoy this, it will be the last time today that you are cold.” Being right is over-rated.

The Rut, Big Sky Mountain Resort, Steven Gnam

Me. South Ridge, Lone Peak. Photo Credit: Steven Gnam.

The 2016 Rut 50km race got cut short due to snow. The 2017 race was about performing in the heat. I am in no way a hot weather animal, and September 3rd was a warm one. With some experience though, I picked an appropriate motto for the race and shared it eagerly with spectators and other racers- “today is still the best day.” After a long summer of training, race day was both a joy and a relief.

I was lucky to have a deep bench of support this year. Devon ran the 28km on Saturday, his wife Katie ran the 11km on Sunday, and both Michael and Abigail lined up for the 50km with me. Our little crew shared a house just down the valley from the mountain, and the stoke was high all weekend. Bonus stoke from seeing Missoula peeps like Evan, Brink, Nick, and Damian.

I had a clear training plan throughout the summer, and a detailed spreadsheet that paced me to my goal of breaking 7 hours, but once it got hot, that just didn’t seem as important as running smart and strong. I did a good job eating and drinking early, and made the wise decision to put a hydration pack in my drop bag at mile 18, before the big push over Lone Peak and Andesite Mtn. I felt great and stayed on pace out to approximately mile 22, but after a pounding descent and a little route finding, the heat caught me off-guard.  I fought desperate cramping in my quads and hamstrings for the rest of the race- many others faced the same demons.

Outdoor Research, visors, runtherut, hammernutrition

Obligatory salt-stained visor.

I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I never ran out of water, my head was clear for the whole race, and my heartrate average was below 150bpm. I started taking salt tabs early in the race (and ended up taking 12 in total), and stayed on a disciplined slow pace early on. Other than the cramping, my legs felt strong all the way through, but the warm temperatures and full sun exposure on many parts of the course simply took it out of me. I finished as the 51st male- 15 places and 22 minutes better than my previous bests, and I feel pretty good about that.

I also absolutely must call out Abigail. It was her first 50km race, and her goals were simply to have finish and have fun. She was the 13th woman and probably ran the best race of all of us. She even had enough left in the tank to play with a puppy as soon as she crossed the finish line. Holy smokes.  The photos just after the finish line tell all:

Once again, The Rut delivers a superb racing experience, community, and sense of accomplishment in the face of adversity. Doubly cool to work with Devon and Michael, people you want to run something hard with.

mckinstry, engineering, runtherut

The place brings us together.

I love this stuff.

 

 

Copyright: Skander Spies, 2017

A Standard

For a small tribe of rock climbers in the Cascades, climbing the complete North Ridge of Mt. Stuart, in less than 24 hours, without sleeping (“car to car in a day”), represents something of “a standard”. Certainly not a noteworthy climbing achievement, but enough effort to warrant a little respect. 8 miles and 3,000ft of gain on the hike in, 3,000ft of rock climbing up to 5.9, some scrambling and route-finding down a steep snow couloir on the way out. For most recreational climbers, it’s a pretty full day.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, just ride along for the photos.

I climbed Mt. Stuart via a different route in 2010. Our “car to car in a day” took 23hr30min, and was an eye opening experience in alpine snow and mixed climbing. I was grateful for strong partners, but was mostly just along for the ride with more experienced people.

Last year, Pat and I climbed the upper North Ridge, approaching via an overnight camp at Ingalls Lake, the Stuart glacier, and a snow gully that cut off a bunch of more technical rock climbing. We had a blast, and after a punishing descent, made it back to camp in 15hrs. The position of the route, the quality of the rock climbing, and the reputation amongst my friends made me think that doing the Complete North Ridge was fully warranted. Sometimes it’s fun to bite off a little more than you can chew.

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(First look at the whole shebang)

Between weather and other commitments, I usually only get to partner with Ky one weekend a summer – so when we lined up for the July 8th weekend, I wasn’t going to waste the chance. Reliable beta indicated that the descent was in good condition.

We left the car at 315am and somehow managed to nail the approach- I was leading in my rock shoes at 715am. We let another party (Nick and Austin) pass us at the crux 3rd pitch because I wanted to take my time on the lead. I don’t regret it, but did cost us 45min. After the crux we lost a little more time with some route-finding, reaching the “halfway” notch at 11am. We were already low on water and while we rested and nursed a snowfield, the hoards caught up to us from below. I think there were 6 or 7 parties on the route that day. There are fewer possible variations higher on the route- so traffic management slowed us further.

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(Ky follows the crux)

It gets real at the Great Gendarme, and suddenly folks were more orderly in letting faster parties go. I blitzed the layback pitch (which I had followed in 2016), and Ky made excellent grunting noises while sending the off-width pitch on-sight. Both pitches are amazing climbing, but we were tired and I was really glad I didn’t have to lead the off-width. We raced for the summit, topping out at 645pm. I wish I could have enjoyed it without dreading the time of day on our descent.

(The only non-blurry summit photo I got of Ky. Instagram PC – Ky)

We gratefully followed Nick and Austin (because they knew where they were going), and found a legit snowfield water source just before really getting onto the snow downclimbing. Conditions were good, but I was very grateful to have aluminum crampons and approach shoes- we had to front point all the way down. We approached the bergschrund (where the glacier pulls away from the mountain) around 915pm, just as daylight started to fade in earnest. Steep snow was hardening, and our brains were fried from effort and dehydration. A safe path was not obvious, and it was not the time to be bold. We opted to give up on completing the sub24 hr standard, sit out for the night (with no bivy gear), and make a better decision in the morning. Nick and Austin agreed and we collectively found a nice little rock ledge to hang out on.

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(Starting down the snow. PC Ky.)

After 5 hours of shivering, it was glorious to see the sun-rise. We warmed up for an hour, and left around 6am. Breakfast was a peanut butter packet and a fruit leather, the very last of our food. With daylight, the bergschrund crossing was more obvious and we were soon cruising towards the car.

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(Ky finds salvation below the bergschrund)

I love mountains, even when it doesn’t all go according to plan. Thanks for following.

 

 

Copyright Skander Spies, 2017

Scratch

“Shit guys, my hands are done.” I hated to be the one to call it, but I had just tipped past “fun” and my hands were giving up on holding my ski poles.  It’s always humbling to hang out with people just a little tougher than you are.

We’d been skinning for a couple hours up the long south face of Mt. St. Helens. Wind-driven snow at 35F has an uncanny ability to turn into liquid upon contact, penetrating every last layer. The gale increased with elevation, but visibility dropped. I didn’t stay focused on self care enough to make sure we hit the summit before the painful wet cold overcame my ability to smile about it. Not being able to see up from down didn’t help the case for continuing, despite Devon’s GPS coordinates keeping us on track.

mt st helens, skinning, backcountry skiing, whiteout

The best visibility we had all day.

This spring storm cycle has been unforgiving for those of us limited to weekend days and smaller plans. Every once in a while, you can’t scratch the itch any other way. You make the long drive, put a smile, and go see what Mother Nature serves up.  The snow was really good on the way down, but we skied some of the flattest, whitest conditions I’ve ever been in. We side slipped together, checking course every 100yds.  There were no visual references. Like the best of friends, Martin and Devon wore smiles all the way. Its always remarkable to me how much better you feel as soon as you slip on a puffy coat, thick gloves, and rip your skins off.

I don’t know why we needed to do that, but I’m glad we did. Maybe it was a test. Or a smackdown. Or just a day out in the mountains, full of acceptance for what we got. For a power much greater than ourselves. In a world where we tend to see the best of everyone else’s days on Instagram, where failures are uncelebrated- an unremarkable day of skinning, freezing, and smiling with friends feels like the best thing we could have done.

Colorado

Despite learning how to ski here, my normal adventure map has strangely omitted time in Colorado. Abigail has cool friends- they celebrated their wedding in Crested Butte, and she managed to find cheap airfare for both of us. It was a good start to February. One photo per day:

lowa mountain expert, altras, outlaws, cobras

Day 0: Packing for adventure schizophrenia.

grand canyon, alaska air, ski crested butte

Day 1: Fly from LAX to Gunnison- Grand Canyon scenic flight for free. #AlaskaAir

crested butte, ski bunnies, ski bosses

Day 2: Meet friends and make new ones. SKI.

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Day 3: Vacation. Cute houses, deep snow.

Staircase, crested butte, steep skiing

Day 4: Steep. The Staircase. Amazing.

crested butte, deep throat, bluebird, colorado skiing

Day 5: This place keeps on giving. Deep Throat. Bluebird

ouray ice park, ice climbing, top rope tough guy

Day 6: Switch gears. Every ice climber has to go to Ouray once. Thanks Drew and Lindz

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Day 7: Never say never. Abigail swings tools. The girl has grit.

alaska air, crested butte, steep and deep, Big Chute

Day 8: Abigail comes to terms with Big Chute. Steep AND deep. Free lift tix from Ak Air.

sunset, BoiseState plane

My version of vacation might not work for everyone, but it sure does for me.