The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.

Junkshow Backcountry Weekend

A typical day on Teton Pass- not a space to spare.

A long January weekend in Jackson has a relatively narrow list of outdoor activities and most involve skis of one sort or another. Fully prepared for this reality, I armed myself with the full backcountry arsenal of an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, AT gear and snacks and headed out to Teton Pass.

But Teton Pass was a junkshow. I was punished for the none-too-early nine a.m. start with a ridiculous parking lot scene. The already limited parking on the pass has recently been reduced, resulting in a number of cars lingering in the lot waiting like vultures for earlier skiers to vacate a spot. On this particular day there was an extra bright spot- a large RV parked sideways across the middle of the lot. Staring at the RV with disgust, I was rewarded with the gratifying scene of a state trooper knocking on the RV door and a rag-tag ski kid poking his head out with a quickly evaporating smile as he eyed the man in uniform.

Eventually the troopers (there were two at this point) got the RV parked properly and four of the five circling cars were rewarded with spots. I was in car number five.

With a cursing companion, we backtracked to a midway parking lot with milder terrain and thus, less people. The small drop in elevation got us out of the cloud cover and into full, beautiful sunshine. The mild terrain was exponentially safer and while I had no regrets, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had played into “their” plan.

“They”, meaning the Wyoming Department of  Transportation (WYDOT), “considered not plowing the parking lots during storm cycles to decrease the number of skiers and snowboarders heading into the backcountry on days when the avalanche danger is high.” (according to Jackson Hole News & Guide on Dec. 3, 2010) While this obviously didn’t happened, the discussion did result in a reduction of the number of total spaces plowed. But how do they make sure only the smart kids park in the remaining spots?

When I took an avalanche safety course with the epically qualified American Avalanche Institute, there was some blame placed on the extreme sport film company TGR for exciting the uneducated (in terms of backcountry safety) masses to head out on Teton Pass and start hucking themselves off cornices and snowy cliffs. This is where I depart from the US government court rulings over the last 50 years and become a bit more Darwinistic in my thinking.

If people want to throw all logic to the wind and chug that just-poured cup of coffee or ski that dangerous slope, is it our job to stop them? I like the modern interpretation of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. quote, “Your rights end where mine begin” (his exact words were “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”). I had heard the above WYDOT quote in casual conversation around the valley but realized that many failed to consider the rest of the story – which was that “WYDOT has become concerned with motorist safety on Highway 22 over the pass due to the potential of human-triggered avalanches reaching the road.”

Your rights to be stupid skiing in avalanche terrain end when your avalanche buries my car. The pass remains plowed, but if catastrophe strikes, access could be compromised. Be smart- check the avalanche report before you go out, dig snow pits and make wise terrain decisions.

Cool house of the day: It really is a Stone House (in Portugal!)

The Horseshoe CHALLENGE

Topo of 10K Course

Topo of 10K Course

Saturday, September 19th marked the 5th Annual Horseshoe Challenge, a 10K and 20K race in Driggs, Idaho. Because I had decided to participate on Wednesday night, I had no time to “train” for my first competitive run ever.

I’m not a person that “loves” to run. I appreciate it for its simplicity and efficiently. A pair of shoes is remarkably little gear compared to the majority of my athletic endeavors and just 30 minutes can be enough to get your heart rate up and feel as if you accomplished some sort of exercise. I think that’s brilliant, but the activity itself is, well, boring. One foot in front of the next, plod, plod, plod. Despite this,  I was interested to try it in a competitive environment and spend time with the women that invited me along, so I signed up.

The $25 registration fee went towards Teton Valley Trails and Pathways and what they called a “trail 10K” proved to be 7.5 miles instead of the standard 6.2. It was well-marked with a water station between the two significant hills. With sections of steep single-track, I truly enjoyed exploring an area I would have never ventured into on my own and although I was running without others in sight, I felt comfortable enough with the amount traffic to wear my iPod. But between tracks, I heard a steady rustling quite close and ripped my ear buds out while I spun around for the approaching moose, elk or deer. Seeing nothing, I started running again only for the rustling to also resume. It was the number pinned to the front of my shirt. Oops.

Other then the dangerous rustling sounds, the lack of anxiety over “which way is the car” was fantastic and the last two miles of downhill opened up some fantastic Teton views. They were so fantastic that I forgot to look where I was running and tripped over a menacing 1/2″ rock.

Horseshoe Challenge Ladies at the Finish- I'm #44

Horseshoe Challenge Ladies at the Finish- I'm #44

This wasn’t a slow “oh no I’m falling” type of fall. It was a “how the hell did I end up on the ground?” fall from which I jumped up and examined myself for signs that I had fallen more than signs of injury. Quickly dusting myself off, I realized that I had not only skinned both knees but my right shoulder as well. I’d gone down hard. As another runner passed me, I muttered something about “watch out for the killer rock” to which he asked if I was okay. “Just my pride, just my pride” was my sheepish response.

When my friend (who happened to place second overall) saw me approaching the finish, she jogged out to cross the line with me and my first comment was “I tripped- can you tell?”. She made sure I was okay and we laughed a little before I attacked the delicious table of yummy treats and water. The organizers waited for everyone to finish and started drawing entry forms for some pretty sweet raffle prizes. I won a Patagonia Capilne shirt right before a hornet stung my forearm.

The sting. Ouch.

The sting. Ouch.

Driving away from the trail head, I had dried blood on my knees, right shoulder and my left forearm was mottled with red and swelling considerably. But I don’t think it will be my last 10K.