Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mountain Biking with Morgan

          The past 10 days have afforded me an in-depth look at the newly instituted Wilderness Program discipline, mountain biking. Thanks to the vision and hard work of a number of students and staff in the Program, there now sits in the freshly cleaned and stocked bike room a fleet of almost two dozen Giant and Scott hard-tail mountain bikes. To complement the bikes, the Wilderness Program also purchased an equal number of top-of the line helmets and biking backpacks.

            Last Saturday, September 14th, I had the privilege to sit atop one of these finely tuned machines and join a group of my peers for the first official Mountain Biking 101 trip, hosted at Catamount Family Center in Williston. I met my friends and fellow WP instructors, Steve and Jenn, along with five other SMC students, at noon in the Dion Center to load up for the inaugural trip. We each grabbed a bike and helmet, which had been sized to us a few nights prior during an intro skills session, and piled into a school van for the 20 minute ride to Catamount. Thanks to the very reasonable hour of departure, the van was alive with excited conversation and discussion about the rides to come. Upon arrival, we quickly geared up (pun intended) and reviewed some of the skills covered during the intro session. Within 15 minutes the fresh rubber of our tires was bouncing across stones and dirt towards the winding single-track trails hidden in the woods of Catamount.

            Our group spent the early hours of the afternoon warming up on the comfortable twists and turns of “Pure Bliss.” This trail is flat and relatively smooth, providing the perfect place to practice fundamentals such as the ready position, cornering, and maintaining speed throughout a run. After a few laps on Bliss, we pointed our tires towards a more advanced trail titled “Cliffs of Insanity.” Nowhere near as intimidating as its name, Cliffs presented the pleasant challenge of burmed turns, steep dips, and some rooted sections. Building confidence with every pass, we finished up the first half of our day by heading over to one of the more technical of our early trails. “Porcupine,” as it is called, presents a challenge to beginners and experts alike thanks to the numerous rocks and roots scattered along the length of the trail. Throughout the navigation of all three trails, Steve and Jenn provided each participant with instruction and encouragement, reminding us to have fun pushing our limits without going to the point of discomfort.

            With our bikes growing more and more comfortable underneath us, our group stopped at the van for a quick granola bar refuel before heading over to the other side of Catamount for an entirely new set of trails. We spent another hour and half hooting and hollering our way through drops and switchbacks, sunlight peering through the canopy to dapple the trails in front of us. We even pushed our energetic limits with a few tough climbs. By the time we called it a day, every single face had a smile on it, every pair of legs rippled with pleasant fatigue, and every person had seen improvement in their riding. I was no exception; my first day of instruction-oriented mountain biking had kindled my passion for the sport. I was ready for more.

            Luckily, I got just that in the week to come. Within seven days, I had the opportunity to go to Catamount twice more. Friday the 12th was spent riding as the subject for the students of Professor Jon Hyde’s Adventure Film class. I returned to the now familiar turns of Porcupine and Cliffs of Insanity to take some laps in front of the camera. I was by no means a professional (far from it), but my comfort level had increased, and I was able to navigate each trail successfully and more quickly than I had on Saturday. The Adventure Film students even had the chance to try the trails out for themselves, and yet again I wasn’t the only one smiling as we loaded up the cars Friday evening for the return trip to SMC.

            Now with two solid days of biking at Catamount under my belt, it was only natural that I would want to complete the “charm” of a third time. The very next day, Saturday the 13th, I joined one of the IMBA-certified Mountain Bike instructors, Ian, in leading a fresh crop of students for a second Mountain Biking 101 trip. I was amazed how much I had improved since my own trip as a participant, and the insight I gained on that side of the handlebars made it much more rewarding to help out my peers who were familiarizing themselves with the sport. Ian and I took the group to the same three trails I had first been introduced to, explaining and demonstrating the skills that had served me so well on the original trip. Yet again I was lucky enough to see a set of WP Mountain Bike inductees grow comfortable on their bikes, pick up new skills, and leave at the end of the day with smiles emerging from their mud-spattered faces. Looking back at all the fun, challenge, and education from the three trips, I feel absolutely confidence calling the WP Mountain Program a successful addition to the SMC community.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Break in Baja.

This Spring Break SMC Paddlers were yearning for fun and the Wilderness Program heeded their call. Each year the WP runs extended excursions over winter and spring breaks, having visited locations far-flung as Kenya and Scotland. But this year marks the first time we made the trek over to Southern California/Northern Mexico, and it was a journey well worth the travel.

Our group of nine flew from Burlington to San Diego on the first Saturday of Break, spending the night at the home of our west-coast contact and British Canoe Union Level 5 Coach extraordinaire, Jen Kleck. The next morning, van packed and boats loaded, we made the crossing from San Diego into Mexico through Tijuana to Ensenada (where we stopped for fish tacos and quesadillas at the market), and finally out to La Bufadora, only after picking up some tamales for dinner.
Crossing to Las Islas de Los Todos Santos.

Our first day on the water consisted of crossing from the peninsula to La Isla de Todos Santos, which was about a 7 nautical mile crossing. Being our first day out, many of us spent some time finding our sea legs (or since we were sitting, sea bums?). The swells (waves) on the coast that day were big (9 feet at 18 seconds), so the crossing took a bit of time. When we finally arrived at the islands, we were welcomed by  seals and other aquatic amigos. However, it had been a long day and ocassionally nauseating day, so terra firma was a welcome sight.. Our camp consisted of  a bunkroom built inside an old lighthouse, next to its newer replacement. It was a wicked cool experience camping out in such a unique place.
Mr . Coughlin alongside some wildlife.
Our second day out we paddled and played in and around the numerous features of Todos Santos. In coastal conditions, there are often rocks and other geological formations that allow for white-water-esqe boating in the swell. After circumventing the larger island and looping back to camp, we posted up for a good night’s sleep before our 7nm trek home.

After our excursion to the islands, we spent our remaining days paddling numerous venues near La Bufadora. We paddled everything from caves to 'slots' (wave runs that will form between two rocks as a swell comes in from the ocean), and even a couple blowholes (La Bufadora actually means 'the blowhole', and we paddled in the blowhole that the town is famous for). Throughout the week, our group of paddlers made significant strides in developing both their paddling and navigation skills, largely due to the presence of precisely one half of the BCU Level 5 Coaches residing in North American (the WP’s Todd Johnstone-Wright and Jen Kleck), combined with the challenges of our beautiful location. It was a fun and productive week, to say the least. To check out more pictures from the week, head to the WP's Facebook page.

Thanks for reading; til the next adventure.

--Ben (may or may not be pictured below) Rosbrook

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Instructor Ice at the Notch

Beginning the approach.
Ice Climbing is a popular program offered in the winter months at SMC, such that even instructors have a hard time getting on a trip. So two weekends ago, the program ran an Intro Ice day for instructors who haven’t been out on the ice much yet, or who wanted to review skills. The day involved: reviewing crampon use/movement, getting to and from the wall (‘the approach’), proper climbing and resting technique, as well as expectations at the base of the climb. The conditions were wonderful: soft ice and mild temperatures, which are great for first-timers.

Instructor-in-training Meghan ascending
one of the intro routes.
I had never been climbing on ice before, and I found that it was challenging in a different way than rock was. In my experience, 90% of the challenge on my first day out was learning to trust the tools and the crampons on my feet. In theory, it would make sense that one should feel secure (because one IS secure) when ascending ice with sharp things. Realizing that definitely took an adrenaline rush (or two) before I was able to really hang on my tools, but at the end of the day I felt I'd learned a lot. If you're thinking about an ice trip, I highly recommend it!

Peace, Love & Snow,

-Ben R.
Instructors JJ (Jess) and Jen, all smiles.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snake Mountain Snowshoe

The snowshoe-crew.
As the weather warmed from the unbearable arctic vortex, an ecstatic group of students ventured to Snake Mountain for a night of stargazing at the 1200’ summit. Upon arriving at the parking lot, it was evident that the arctic vortex had one more night on its itinerary with temperatures hovering around 10 and wind chills down to -5 degrees. Who ever said cold weather could hold back a group of SMC students?! After learning the gear from assistant instructor, Forrest Owen, the group made their way up the ice covered trail to the summit. Once there, the group was welcomed to a 180 degree view Vermont scenery darkened by a moonless sky. Although the stars were not out, the group had some fun with absorbing the silence of the Vermont wilderness and participating in some light writing. After thirty minutes at the summit, we began our descent back down the icy slope and back to the van.

All in all the hike was a good one with many new friends. Interested in going on a hike just like this one? Go to the Wilderness office on the second floor of Alliot Hall! We are offering snowshoe hikes, backcountry skiing, ice climbing and mountaineering trips but they are filling up fast!

Tom and Forrest

Friday, January 31, 2014

Montana Ski and Ride: Notes from the Field

Spring Break has arrived! After a strenuous sprint to the finish, the middle portion of our school semester was complete and the masses were released to do as they chose. Many opted for southern latitudes containing warmer weather, sun drenched beaches, swimming suits and tiki bars. This group however, opted for a different direction. Montana. Where the mountains had retained their heavy winter blanket, stashing powder in it’s open glades and high class adventure in it’s alpine.

But first we had to get there.

Who knew airplane food was so good?
After a nights stay in Bozeman, we were off to the Absarokas where we were acclimatized to the elevation and gained our first perception of the landscape. The scale and vastness of the area presented us with the realization of an endless week of possibilities and an un-ending variety of backcountry ski and mountaineering opportunity.

After a year of preparation, late night emails and early morning phone calls, we had finally landed in our destination. The outstanding beauty of Montana eased our minds and fueled our feet as we climbed our first ski decent of the week.

The North entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The stone at the top of Roosevelt Arch reads:
“For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”

An idea that was certainly not lost on this group. As we passed through this gateway, making our way towards Cook City, we were instantly greeted by Mule deer, heards of Buffalo and various bird species. It sparked the debate in our minds as to whom this land was really for, and how our presence in such a place filled with recreational delight, may in its own way defeat the preserving nature of the park system. Something we could all agree on however, was by leaving the oil fueled cages of the traditional lift lines and using human power to access our destinations, we were in a way, enjoying our sport in a more ecologically aware means.

Cook City. Typically known as as a snowmobilers paradise, this little town contained more snowmobiles than it did cars. The roads were in fact, as it seemed to us, left un-cleared of snow so as to maintain the ease of snowmobile travel through town. We met a variety of interesting people from a broad range of backgrounds, but all of whom fostered a deep appreciation for the park and it’s available resources. After a short, but intensive packing meeting the night before, we were off into the mountains, as seen in the background of this photo, and into our destination of Woody Creek, which was nestled in the Beartooth Mountain Range.

Access to the cabin was slightly  challenging however, as all of our gear needed to be accumulated in ski pulks, or sleds pulled with harnesses and rigid poles. The effort we found, was worth it in the long run, as we were rewarded with large meals and comfortable sleeping situations later.

Woody Creek Cabin, our new home and basecamp for the following three days. We were met by the owner Ben Zavora, who joined us for our initial skin into the hut and helped us to get situated. This is the Cabin’s first year of use.

And the living was easy!

It wasn’t long however, before we were out of the cabin and on our first decent. Here, TJ Londregan shows us how it’s done on our way down Hayden’s Highway, which topped out at around 10,000’ in elevation.

We were greeted by a large variety of terrain and assessment options. The skiing was amazing but required thoughtful planning and a safe travel route. Below, Erika Olson navigates a difficult terrain trap…and does it in style.

Taylor Luneau riding the White Wave in Montana.

“In the Pit”
With Steve Charest

Snow assessment was our theme for the week. Having practiced with the Saint Michaels College Wilderness Program all year as well as gaining invaluable training and leadership from head guide and owner of Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and Mountaineering school, Steve Charest, we placed a large emphasis on assessing snow pack stability in order to determine safe aspects to ski. Here we are making field observations, through the use of a snow pit that we had dug, in order to identify the existing layers in the snow and characterize the stability of our intended travel route.

Our investigations suggested a worthy and safe ski route. Here, Camden Latimer, fresh from the whiteroom, reaps the benefits of intelligent mountain travel techniques.

Departing Yellowstone is never easy, but the sight of three wild wolves made it a little more enjoyable.

Traffic in Yellowstone National Park.

Hair Styled by Montana backcountry:
With Camden Latimer.

To which he replied, “When your Hair stands up on it’s own, you know your on a great hut ski trip.”

After having refueled our gear, we began the long skin into the Bell Lake Yurt, placed high among the Tobacco Root Range, southeast of Bozeman.

Relieved from a long and strenuous skin into the Tobacco Root Range, we discovered our yurt, devoured our dinners, stoked the fire and fell into our cots for a deep nights rest.

In the morning the mountains greeted us, revealing their massive size and impeccable ski lines. A sight that Andrew Blessing relished, a sight that we had all dreamed about the night before.

Snow Analysis in the Tobacco Root Range

(L) TJ Londregan  (R) Taylor Luneau

Steve Charest, Loving Life.

Upon our return to the Yurt, we lounged in the days last few hours of sun and shared stories of the week that had come and gone so quickly.

It was a successful week, filled with great friends, amazing ski descents and memories that will stay with us for a lifetime.

But the time had come to leave the amazing mountains and people of Montana and return home to Vermont. Thank you to Steve Charest, Andrew Blessing and the Saint Michael’s College Wilderness Program for all of your help and for providing us this remarkable opportunity.

Did you think last years trip sounds cool and are you interested in pursuing a backcountry skiing adventure this spring break? Then come and join the Saint Michaels Wilderness Program on a trip to Parc National de la GaspĂ©sie from March 15-23. The Parc is a veritable sea of mountains located on the GaspĂ© Peninsula in eastern Quebec. The Chic Choc mountain range is the heart of the Parc, and offers huge annual snow fall and significant vertical relief with 25 peaks over 1000m. These factors make for a truly phenomenal backcountry skiing destination.  Conditions permitting, we will spend our days skinning up, and then cranking turns down bowls, glades and couloirs, before returning to our heated cabin to cook hot meals and rest our tired legs.  Please review the full program description and return an application to Taylor Luneau at no later than Monday, Feburary 3. Trip cost is $750, an absolute steal of a price!!!!!