Monday, December 30, 2013

Photos from 2013













Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays from Lost Trail

We'll be holiday stuff for the next week or so and may not post regularly but here are a couple of shots I took this weekend while skiing between powder frosted x-mas trees at lost trail pass. Early season conditions there are excellent as they've managed to catch at least the edge of a few storm and already have 50+ inches of snow.

The thinning they did this year to combat pine beetles has also opened up a number of glades and narrow schutes through trees which are a blast to ski.

Lost trail is an remote little gem of an area. It has almost as much skiable terrain as Snoqualmie pass but only a handful of double chair lifts and rope toes which access two points along a long ridge. Its perched at 7000 feet up by where the continental divide meets the Idaho state line. From my limited experience here it seems to catch a bit of both maritime and continental weather systems resulting in reliable snow.

I'll have to spend more time up there to know for sure.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The essential mid-morning snack

A Mid Morning Snack is a substantial snack I pack to eat in the car shortly before arriving at a trailhead.  It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that a day of skiing, hiking or climbing was so much more fun if I wasn't hungry when I arrived, and I make better time if I can go for awhile without a lunch or snack stop.

Some favorite mid morning snacks are: scones, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, other yummy baked goods. Sandwiches work to, or anything you can eat easily in the car.

Whole grains and protein give me more energy during the entire day.  Although the occasional donut is very enjoyable.

When we lived in Seattle, Ryan and I would stop for scones and coffee on our way out of town.  Now we don't really have that option, so we make our own.  I usually substitute some or all of the flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour.  Adding nuts and seeds ups the protein, and in some things I use less sugar than the recipe calls for.

Here's our favorite recipe for scones modified from Simple Scones.


2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 tablespoons frozen butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg
Nuts, dried fruit, etc. if you like extras


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Grate butter into flour mixture.  Use your fingers to work in butter.  Mix in fruit/nuts.  Don't mix in too much, you want to keep the butter cold so your scones will be a nice texture.  The mixture will look like peas and coarse meal.

In a different bowl mix together sour cream and egg until smooth.

Use a fork to stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form.  Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball.  It will seem dry, but keep pressing and the dough should come together.  If it doesn't, a little extra sour cream can help.

Place dough ball on a lightly floured surface and shape into a circle about 3/4 inch thick.  My dough usually gets a little crumbly, and I just pat the extra stuff into the top of the circle.  You can sprinkle sugar on top.

Cut the dough circle into triangles, I end up with 8.

Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes.  I like to eat mine with butter and honey when they're warm, but also great plain when I'm in the car.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

La Sportiva Vertical K: Inovative, Cushy, Minimal Soft shell Trail Shoes

The designers of La Sportiva Vertical K took some risks resulting in a unique shoe that works really well in some situations. They used a simple, mostly spandex upper and EVA foam midsole to create a light weight shoe that blends weather protection, breathability and a surprising amount of cushioning. 

After testing on a number of runs, hikes and scrambles, I've concluded this is a close-to-ideal shoe for long, big vert days on good trails in inclement conditions. Its light weight (~ 7 oz) also makes it a perfect approach shoe for skiing/climbing days where shoes need to be carried while you're wearing ski boots or climbing shoes. Even heading uphill with skis on my back I found myself feeling light footed and running sections of trail in these shoes.

The Soft Sole

I was initially a little frustrated with the Sole of the Vertical K's as I found my feet getting beat up on long rocky sections of trail. The minimal drop (4mm) blown foam midsole offers a lot of cushioning but the lack of any sort of rock plate means there is very little protection from sharp under foot rocks.

On smoother trails, however, the mid sole provides a remarkable amount of comfort for the weight. I appreciated this pounding down 3000 feet of forest trail after an early season ski day. The flexibility of the midsole allows the foot to flex naturally and feel the trail which is a good thing until the trail gets too rough.

The sole itself is sticky rubber with small lugs and large grooves between the waves of the midsole. I found that it works well on dirt, smearing on slabby rock or wading through fresh snow.  However the softness of the midsole limits the ability of the shoe to edge while scrambling up rocks or to kick steps in consolidated summer snow, limiting this shoe's usefulness off trail and above tree line. It is a running shoe optimized for use on terrain that can actually be run.

The Softshell Upper 

The soft, spandex upper of the Vertical K is my favorite part of the shoe and I hope other designs copy it. It offers an excellent blend of weather resistance, breathability, comfort and durability.

Climbers and skiers long ago figured out that tightly woven stretchy "softshell" fabrics like schoeller and power shield held up best to aggressive use and maximized comfort in all but sustained day long downpours. I'm surprised it has taken shoe manufactures this long to catch on. 

The spandex used in the Vertical K's offers similar comfort. I've been able to run through inches of sugary fresh snow and damp grass and keep dry feet. I've never liked goretex in footwear as I tend to sweat out so the amount of weather protection and breathability offered by these shoes was a pleasant surprise. 

As with softshell garment fabrics, the upper also seems to improve durability in a surprising way. I typically wear out running shoe uppers in the flex zone, just behind the stiff toe bumper where the coarse mesh develops holes from repeated flexing concentrated into a small area of fabric. On the Vertical K this area is still going strong thanks to the easy flexing fabric and minimal toe bumper.

I also often get blisters or hotspots on my toes on long sustained descents as my toes are forced into contact with the shoe. The ergonomic shape and softness of the Vertical K upper have minimized this phenomena and my toes were happy even on a 6 mile descent.

I'm sure this upper won't hold up to repeated abrasion and the tiny toe bumper doesn't offer much protection from kicked rocks but I don't feel either of these things are particularly important in a running shoe. I try to place my feet between rocks when running or hiking and am willing to give up this sort of ruggedness for increased comfort and resistance to wear from repeated flexing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coldest Days of the Year?

Just Before the Real Freeze
Temps at the house hit a low -8 F this weekend and never got much above 15 F. In the mountains it was colder, so cold they closed the local ski area Sunday. Fortunately we'd bundled up and gotten out Friday for a few cold runs in what powder was left after opening day.

The View of Lost Trail From the Drive Up
Ice Beard

Saturday we discovered that the river was freezing in an odd way. I'd wondered if it would freeze over with a solid sheet that could support weight but instead it has formed a breakable uneven surface. I don't fully understand why but I think that the moving water has been freezing first in eddies near the side and amongst rocks where the water moves less quickly. As the channel fills and ice dams form the water levels rise and the rivers flows though different channels leaving the entire river bed a broken mess of icebergs.

Water fall over an icy dam. 

Sunday I went for a run up Blodgett Canyon...or as much of a run as I could pull off in multiple layers, mittens and light boots.

The falls between Shoshone and Nez Pierce looked to be frozen fairly solid.

The sun broke through as I was heading back down canyon so I stopped to take a few more photos:

A couple more shots of the river from Monday. Fully filled with broken, breakable crusts of ice and faceted frost:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tips for picking a shoe for trail running in snow

Trail running for me tends to be during the shoulder seasons, fall and spring, where conditions are snowy, slushy, muddy, icy and beautiful.  Running on a trail covered in snow requires more attention to footwork and a bit of predicting what might lie just under the fluffy white cover: uneven rocks? ice? dirt?  A good pair of shoes goes a long way to help navigate these slippery situations.


From left to right: old Patagonia Nine Trails with the tread underfoot worn smooth, Brooks Cascadia 8s, La Sportiva C-Lites.

The most important aspect of a good snow running shoe is traction: will the sole grip the snow or just slide right off?  This is not the ideal time to break out your three year old beater shoes with the tread worn smooth in order to save your nicer pair for less mucky conditions.

Serious tread on the C-Lites

La Sportiva C-Lites (see photo above) are a good example of a shoe with excellent traction: the tread is deep, almost like rubber spikes that confidently grip snow, mud and pine needles.  These were Ryan's top choice for running all last winter.  I use the Brooks Cascadia 8, a shoe with less aggressive, but still quite good, tread.  I find they are more comfortable on harder surfaces.

Decently sticky rubber on your shoe's sole is also an asset, especially when running over wet rocks and talus.  However, the stickier the rubber, the faster it wears out.  The stickiest rubber is often on shoes with less aggressive tread - and I'd choose great traction with semi-sticky rubber over mediocre traction with really sticky rubber for trail running in the snow.

Good fit, not sloppy

I searched long and hard for a shoe with a comfy fit, snug heel and just enough (not too much) room in the toes.  These Cascadias fit just right.

When the snow covers the trail, you can't always see what your foot will land on, or how it will land. A loose and sloppy fit can increase your chance of stumbling when the shoe lands in a way you were not expecting.  Don't size tightly, you still want enough room for your toes, but don't use a very loose and sloppy fit.  If you are shopping for new shoes, try on a few different pairs in different sizes to get the feel for a shoe that has room for your toes but not lots of extra space at different parts of your foot.

Log some miles in your shoes prior to the snowy season in order to get used to your shoe and how it responds in different situations.  Your strides will feel much more confident if your shoe doesn't give you any surprise responses.

Stable heel, stable shoe

Compare width of the La Sportiva Quantum (left) with the Patagonia Tsali (right).  The heel on the Tsali is wider compared to the width of the shoe.

Most trail runners have a relatively wide and stable heel, and this is especially helpful in slick and snowy conditions.  A wider, more stable heel helps prevent you from rolling your ankle when the heel lands on a rock or an uneven patch of ground.  To test heel stability, rock from side to side on flat ground.  How much effort does it take to roll onto the side edge of your shoe?  It should take a little bit of effort.  I have found that the Patagonia trail runners, like the Tsali above, are lightweight and stable shoes.


Ryan using footwork to send a boulder problem

I carry the concept of footwork over from climbing, but it is just as applicable to running and hiking. There are better and more secure ways to place your feet on different types of surfaces.  You get better the more you practice, and the more you pay attention to what works well and what does not.  Good footwork is the most important factor in secure footing on the trail, even more important than good shoes.

A more sensitive shoe (you can feel the ground through the sole) or minimalist shoe will help you practice footwork.  But you can have great footwork in any kind of shoe.  An example of footwork is digging in and gripping with your toes while ascending a slippery hill.


Yep, snow melts through the mesh uppers of most running shoes.  If this bothers you, a waterproof shoe may be the thing for you.  I don't use waterproof trail runners because my feet would probably get wet with sweat if they were encased in a not-so-breathable waterproof membrane (even if they are advertised as breathable).  Also, if the snow is deeper than the ankle on your shoe, snow will creep into the shoe anyway and the waterproof membrane will keep the wet in with your foot while the mesh will allow some of that moisture to escape.  In my opinion, a better alternative is a short, light gaiter to keep snow out of your shoe and a good pair of socks.

An interesting alternative to a waterproof shoe is a shoe with a less permeable upper, like the soft shell on the La Sportiva Vertical K Miles (full review coming soon).  The softshell upper is more breathable than a waterproof upper, but also repels snow melt much better than mesh.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Yearly Snowshoe Trip

We go snowshoeing but once a year...

when the snow is thick, but not yet thick enough for enjoyable skiing (this is my opinion - Ryan accompanies out of love for me, not the snowshoes).

Saturday up Camas Creek in the Bitterroots was one of those days: patches of snow deep enough to wade through, and patches melted out and muddy.  Hoar frost in many places, and some cracking crust that I hope did some consolidating in the warm spell this week.

My MSR snowshoes are burly plastic and steel, and I don't worry about scraping them up on rocks the way I do with skis.

I love the quiet and slower pace of the snowshoes, nimble navigation through any and all conditions and mostly I love being out in the mountains at a time of year when no one else is around.

There's a big storm blowing in the mountains right this moment, expected to drop 18 inches or more in some of our favorite backcountry ski locations.  I imagine next week we'll abandon the snowshoes for the skis.