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 tluneau@mail.smcvt.edu no later than Monday, Feburary 3. Trip cost is $750, an absolute steal of a price!!!!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Training and Certification for the Wilderness Program: How We Stay Safe While Having Fun.


WP instructor setting "traditional"
climbing hardware.
The Wilderness Program at Saint Mike's is not only an organization with a high level of student engagement but a fully-functioning guiding service, with access to state-of-the-sport equipment and professionally accredited instructors. As a result, applicants to the Instructor Training Program (ITP) are vetted extensively before they're accepted into the ITP, and again before they are ultimately selected as senior instructors.. This evaluation process includes training and assessment in outdoor living and group management skills, completion of both a fall and a winter skills session, as well as successful completion of both a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. Beyond this, there are also opportunities to gain nationally recognized professional certifications in climbing, paddling and skiing through the program.

Climbers can pursue the American Mountain Guide Association Single Pitch Instructor (AMGA-SPI or SPI) certification; for climbing trips with the WP, it's required that at least one SPI instructor is present. The AMGA SPI program requires a demonstration of personal climbing skills on intermediate terrain, including ground-up leading of climbs using traditional, removable protection. In addition, there are numerous teaching, group management, and rescue skills assessed.

For paddlesport instructors, there's the option to pursue multiple levels of certification from the American Canoe Association. Students are trained and assessed in both River Kayak (Whitewater) and Coastal Kayak disciplines up to Level 3. Their training takes place over 4 days and then they put their newly learned skills into practice over a season working with other instructors and then return at the end of the season for a 3 day assessment. Like climbing, for every paddling trip we send out, it's required that at least one instructor leading the trip be ACA certified.
AIARE trail rescue training
In order to guide for the program, backcountry skiers and boarders need to complete an in-house Backcountry Ski/Ride guide training and assessment facilitated by an AMGA certified Ski Mountaineering Guide, and complete an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 1 Training which prepares them for travel, decision making and incident management in avalanche terrain. This is completed over the course of three days, and is part-classroom, part-practice. The training includes extensive route-finding practice, the assessment of avalanche risk, and the use of beacons and other tools for finding missing persons, as well as how to gauge potential avalanche hazards in the backcountry. This certification is conducted at the start of the spring semester, and is required for instructors who lead backcountry ski/ride programs.

For the purposes of the WP, the certifications required to instruct in the field are intended to equip instructors well beyond the problems they will likely confront in the field. The goal of this is to ensure that, rather than an instructor having to manage an emergency situation out of their control, potential accidents and emergencies will be well within the realm of the instructor's knowledge. As an added bonus, instructors themselves find immense value in the pursuit of these certifications, and enjoy the opportunity to pursue broader knowledge of guiding in their respective disciplines.

"Having completed the Wilderness First Responder course in May, I feel that I can actively manage a range of backcountry situations--from knowing the signs and symptoms of dehydration and hypothermia, to knowing how to improvise a traction splint for a broken femur. Unfortunately, I haven't seen too many broken femurs, yet." - Ben R.

On the SPI (climbing):
 "The value of the Single Pitch Instructor course and certification lies in the knowledge that once you have achieved it, you are prepared for anything that can happen in the single pitch environment of rock climbing...the confidence with which you can enter the single pitch environment which comes from being certified by the American Mountain Guide Organization is perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Single Pitch Instructor certification." - Peter B.

 On the ACA (kayaking/paddling):
"This summer I had the privilege to receive my level-2 ACA instructor certification for coastal kayaking. Previous to this experience I was fortunate enough to work with very experienced and qualified kayakers on developing my personal skills, as well as how to instruct others in any given environment. In August, I was finally able to spend a week putting what I'd learned into practice. I went through a personal skills assessment and an instructing assessment, and receiving the ACA has honestly been one of my favorite experiences so far with the wilderness program. It was a unique experience for me, since previously I was always used to being the person 'instructed'. I can't thank the program enough for that awesome experience." - Molly D.
On the AIARE (backcountry guiding):
"I got from AIARE a sense of safety in the backcountry...there's a lot more to know out there than just shredding the slope. AIARE made me realize the importance of safety when you're having fun." - Tom B.
Interested in the program? Come play with us! You can sign up for trips on the second floor of Alliot Hall in the WP office. There are still hiking and climbing trips this semester, and in the spring begins our ice climbing and backcountry skiing/boarding season. Until then, see you in the field.