Entries from Guide News
Standing in the Taggert Lake parking lot of Grand Teton National Park, we gather for one of the last morning guide meetings of our AMGA Ski Guide Course. Everybody smiles and chuckles as our meeting leader reads the weather report. Over the last 9 days we have received over 80 inches of snow containing more than 8 inches of water equivalency. The avalanche forecast is high and predicted to hit extreme after a rain event starts this evening. We all talk about dialing back our terrain choices…way back. This storm has been relentless for many days, altering our objectives, creating whiteout conditions to navigate, forcing meticulous terrain selection, and making for some great skiing. We have all learned many tools for creating a positive and safe mountain experience amidst a dangerous snowpack. Today we talk about our tour plan, a planned route up a 3000 vertical foot feature in Grand Teton National Park. Through mapping tools, some math, and a little technology, we know what we’re getting into and have a plan to manage the risks. We talk about who will take the lead for our group on each climb and each descent, as well as our pacing, timing, emergency plans, equipment, and weather forecast. We break our meeting, beacons checked, skins on, click in, it’s time to go skiing!
In February with the help of the RMI guide grant I attended this 12-day AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) Ski Guide Course in Jackson, Wyoming. This is the second course in the four courses and exams that lead to becoming a certified AMGA ski guide. The course covers numerous factors of guiding in the winter environment. Managing terrain, instruction and modeling, and putting clients in the safest, best snow is the primary focus of our techniques on the down. Creating efficient tracks, navigation, and terrain selection is a big focus of our time guiding the climb. We cover many technical factors as well, including adding security in 3rd class terrain using our rope, technical lowers and rappels into steep ski terrain, crevasse rescue on skis, travel with an improvised emergency sled, and construction of winter emergency shelters.
Many thanks to RMI and the RMI guide grant for their financial and mentorship support. Another big thanks to our instructors Christian Santelices and Rob Hess for their dedication to growing the professionalism of our guiding community.
Chris Ebeling has been guiding with RMI since 2015. He grew up in the Northwest, climbing, skiing, and riding around Oregon and Washington before making the move to the Northern Rockies of Montana. He returned from Montana to join RMI, but still returns to Montana to explore the remote corners of his home range during the winter.
RMI Guide Leon Davis reached the summit of Mt. Rainier for the 100th time this morning with our Five Day Summit Climb. The team was able to spend some time on the summit celebrating before descending back to Camp Muir for their final night on the mountain.
On Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 2:02 p.m. PDT, RMI Guide Brent Okita reached the summit of Mt. Rainier for the 500th time, becoming only the second person to reach this exclusive milestone.
Brent; along with RMI Guides Leah Fisher and Christina Dale, Peter Dale and Aaron Mainer; ascended Mt. Rainier via the Disappointment Cleaver route. It was a windy day on the summit but the team took time to celebrate at Columbia Crest. After many hugs and photos were exchanged, they traversed to Liberty Cap for their ski descent of the Edmunds Headwall. Brent described his 500th summit and ski descent as “one of the coolest days of my life!”
To put this in perspective, Brent has logged over 9,000,000 vertical feet on Mt. Rainier throughout his 30-year career. “Brent is a mentor, leader, and above all an inspiration to all mountaineers,” said Peter Whittaker, owner of RMI. “The fact that Brent has challenged himself on this mountain for 30 years and successfully summited Rainier 500 times is extraordinary. Even more amazing, Brent continues to climb at the pace of a 20-year-old guide and will likely climb Rainier another 20 times this summer…his endurance and fitness are unmatched.”
Brent, 55, has worked at RMI since 1986 as a professional climbing instructor and guide, leading teams of climbers on ascents of Mt. Rainier. In that time, he has also reached the summit of Mt. Everest (via the North Side) and led over two dozen RMI guided parties up 20,310’ Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America. Other ascents to his credit include Vinson Massif (Antarctica), and several expeditions to the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps (Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Jungfrau).
Setting records is not Brent’s motivation; his 500 summits of Mt. Rainier are a natural consequence of his tenure with RMI and dedication to the sport of mountaineering. With no thoughts of retirement, Brent plans to continue guiding climbers on Mt Rainier and Denali for the foreseeable future. In the winter months he pursues his love of skiing, working for Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol. He and wife, Julie, make their home in Enumclaw, WA, where they enjoy bicycling and hiking.
Well done, Big Bro!! The family is all proud of you ... again!
Posted by: Brad Okita on 6/15/2016 at 8:57 pm
Awesome Brent, I remember when you first started guiding for RMI. Congratulations on your alpine achievements, I wish I was there to ski the Edmunds with you, snow is going fast in the Tetons so will head to the Winds on days off. Peace and much Love, Bill Moe/ former Paradise/ Muir Ranger/ Teton Helitack USFS, Jackson Wyoming
Posted by: Bill Moe on 6/10/2016 at 10:26 am
Geese gabble on the banks of the Crooked River as it winds around the cliffs of lithified volcanic ash that make up our classroom here in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon. It’s day nine of ten on the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) Rock Guide Course, a program focused on multi-pitch rock guiding and rescue techniques in fourth and fifth class terrain. This course is the first step to becoming certified by the AMGA in one of three guiding disciplines - rock, alpine and skiing.
In the days leading up to this we have worked through systems on the ground and on the cliff, and have guided each other while maintaining a play-by-play discussion to ensure that each participant learns from the mistakes and successes of the others. As participants, we are here to transition from competent recreational climbers to facilitators of climbing in a professional setting. There are myriad new techniques and subtleties that I have been exposed to in the last eight days.
Today is framed as a mock exam in which participants are put in the driver’s seat for a few pitches of climbing and descending. I do my best to put it all together - to select the best new tool in my tool box and implement it successfully. Throughout the exercise I notice how much more comfortable and confident I am with this process since the first time I was given the reins only a few days ago. I now feel equipped to enter the realm beyond recreational rock climbing.
My participation in this course was made possible by the RMI Guide Grant, and I cannot express my gratitude enough.
Before the big mountain bug bit me, I viewed snow as a blanket that came in the winter and lay quietly in place ‘til spring’s thaw. All that changed when I decided it wise to educate myself about avalanches. Taking part in the introductory Level 1 avalanche education course, I quickly learned how the snowpack, terrain, and triggers (like climbers or cornice falls) can transform that quiet blanket into a raging white dragon. Interested in learning more about this beast, I enrolled in a Level 2 avalanche course a few years later, and came to understand that each layer of snow that falls forms something of geologic record in that season’s snowpack: if the snow falls warm, that layer will stay warm for a long time; if hail falls, it can be evident in the snowpack months later. Even more incredibly—similar to plates of geologic sedimentary matter—that seemingly silent white winter blanket is often actively undergoing radical metamorphosis due to vapor and temperature differences in the layers.
This February—with the support of the RMI Guide Grant—I participated in a Level 3 course. It’s something of a graduate level course in the University of Avalanches: A rigorous curriculum that explores the intricacies of snowpack dynamics and the techniques used to assess how stable the snowpack is. Our course took place in the Wasatch Mountains and it began a few days after one of that area’s avalanche forecasters had declared it one of the weirdest snowpacks ever. An excellent classroom had been arranged!
A key focus of the course was learning to quickly identify weak layers in the snowpack and then to assess the structure of that instability. One aspect of instability has to do with the kinds of snow crystals in between the layers. A Cliff Notes summary would be: square ones are bad, round ones are good. But how can you tell with something so small? Were they the good guys or the bad guys? First, I had to identify which layer to look at, a process of first poking the snow with my finger to determine layer interfaces, and then prodding it with a fist, four fingers, one finger, a pencil, or a knife to get some grip on the specific hardnesses. Once all that was established, it was time to sort out the good from the bad. Somewhat ironically, amidst all of the grandeur of the Wasatch, I was often peering into the little lens of a snow microscope looking at the edges of myriad little bits of snow to determine their personalities.
Ultimately, beyond peering down a microscope, knowing the snow is a very sensory experience, incorporating sight, sound, and touch in order to determine its stability: windslabs are often squeaky like styrofoam, while faceted grains bounce off a gloved hand and make for a poor snowball. Of course, once stability is determined, the sensory experience is the pure enjoyment—how well does it ski? Through careful tracking of the Wasatch area over our week of study, we knew that north aspects were retaining the best snow. So, after our final exam, involving each person doing a complete analysis of the season’s snowpack and weaknesses, we gathered together for a final run back into the front-country. We ripped our skins and then laid tracks down a beautiful bowl, each up us kicking up huge roostertails of powder joy—a reward for all of our diligent study.
The pleasures of backcountry skiing and the benefits of big mountain climbing with skis are becoming increasingly known in the outdoor world and RMI is right out in front of the trend. Safely partaking of those pleasures and benefits involves really coming to know the snow. While in its essence knowledge of the snow is like knowledge itself, where “The more one knows the more one knows they don’t completely understand,” coming away from the Level 3 avalanche course, I feel good in knowing that I’m keeping the learning edge sharp. That sharp edge will aid me whether cramponing up alpine routes on Rainier or schussing down couloirs in the North Cascades.
At their teacher’s request, the 7th grade class in Crystal River, FL, Skyped with RMI guides JJ Justman and Joe Horiskey for 60 minutes yesterday. We discussed mountain climbing in general, and fielded questions about Mt Everest in particular.
The class was doing a novel study of the book “Peak” by northwest author Roland Smith, which centers on a 14-year-old boy climbing Mt Everest. Their teacher, Sarah, had inquired by email whether RMI would be willing to Skype with her class. Of course the answer was a resounding “Yes!”
The students, obviously well-versed in their subject, asked pertinent questions on topics such as: the effects of altitude on the human body, requisites of food and gear for climbing Mt Everest, necessary climbing experience, and surviving for an extended period of time in potentially hostile terrain.
Being familiar with the tragedies which had befallen the mountain the past two consecutive years, the class was riveted to hear JJ’s first-hand account of actually being at Camp l last April 25 when the earthquake struck. He also presented video of his evacuation by helicopter to Base Camp.
One student asked how climbers deal with being separated from loved ones, friends and family, for extended periods of time. Another inquired about our “scariest moments” as mountain guides. But throughout, our message to the class emphasized safety, and while mountain climbing does involve accepting a certain amount of risk that is the case for many activities in life (sports, driving, etc).
Sarah noted at the conclusion of our presentation the kids’ favorite photo was of the abbreviated ‘runway’ in Lukla (at Tenzing-Hillary Airport)! JJ and I really enjoyed talking with Sarah’s class and look forward to similar presentations with hers and others in the future!
Thank you for taking the time to extend our students’ learning. It was great hearing their excitement and discussions after you signed off. You did a great job connecting with them.
Posted by: Lori Casalvieri on 11/19/2015 at 3:15 pm
This spring, while another hot and dry winter in Utah began to wind to a close, my friend, and fellow RMI Guide, Steve Gately and I were desperate to find a real winter. The island country of Iceland, once an isolated and expensive island destination to visit, has made a big effort to attract foreign tourists, since the 2008 collapse of their economy, by subsidizing direct flights from Europe and N. America. Lucky for us skiers, this presented an opportunity to explore and ski the volcanic peaks and fjords that Iceland harbors amongst its wild and otherworldly landscape.
It being both of our first time to the island, Steve and I made our goal to ski as many of the coastal mountain ranges as we could. Arriving in the city of Reykjavik after a red-eye flight, we spent that first day battling heavy eyelids, touring the walkable capital city, sampling the wide array of fresh seafood and local brews, and beginning our feeble attempt to learn a few Icelandic phrases to help get us by for the next two weeks. “Tveir bjora, takk”, meaning, “two more beers, thank you”, was the only phrase we could retain well enough to use during that first day.
Car rentals are notoriously expensive, but we found a deal on an old Toyota Rav4 with decent tires that seemed to be held together well enough for half the price, and we were off. We drove the length of the main highway on the south side of the island, also known as the Ring Road, passing by the active and massively glaciated volcanoes along the southern coastline. Finally reaching the Eastfjords, we were a bit discouraged by the high snow levels in these broad fjords, but found charm and beauty in the tiny and isolated fishing villages. We spent a couple days skiing spring “corn” snow as it slowly softened with the warmth of the low angled sun of the springtime. An experience of a lifetime, the clear nighttime skies lit up with the Northern Lights like we could have never imagined. Domes of vibrant green and purple rocketed over our heads while we camped in the empty Neskaupstadur town campground, taking in the show in awe.
Moving northward and then west, we drove across the volcanically active rift valley where the Earth’s crust was being created in real time, creating hundreds of miniature volcanoes, steam vents, and rugged lava fields. Eventually, we reached the Troll Peninsula, the skiing mecca of Iceland. In recent years, the “Troll” has increased in popularity with skiers through recent ski films and the presence of Arctic Heli Skiing. The popularity of this place was well justified; we found some of the best spring corn skiing we’d ever experienced, with the Arctic Ocean serving as our backdrop. The aesthetics and quality of skiing was only matched by the hospitality of the people we met in the small village of Dalvik. Our days here were spent skiing while evenings were filled mingling with locals and tourist skiers alike on the front steps of the local Kaffihaus (Coffeehouse), which doubled as a pub in the later hours of the evening. As with many of the small communities in Iceland, the owners of our hostel also ran this Kaffihaus, serving their own fish stew from their friends’ fishing boats, and serving beer brewed a couple doors down the street.
Traveling onward, we drove the barren and isolated roads from Dalvik to the northwest corner of the island: a series of peninsulas collectively referred to as the Westfjords. We hunkered down in the town of Isafjordur, surrounded by hundreds of steep ski runs that plummet to the ocean, as the snow began to fall. We spent the next six days drinking coffee, while the snow pounded down outside, immediately jumping in the car as soon as the sun made one of a few brief appearances. In a neighboring fjord near the village of Flateyri, we found the siren that had drawn us to Iceland: a beautiful fjord that held the deepest and driest powder of the trip; a long series of steep chutes looming above the ocean. After a winter of scraping and scratching by in Utah, this mythical run made our ski season whole!
During these rare moments of sun the formula looked something like: drive around the fjords looking for ski runs (the best were steep rock-lined couloirs), climb up, ski right back down to the car, manage to drive our manual transmission Rav4 in ski boots to another ski run, and repeat.
The snow in the Westfjords did not let up for days, even as our time to return to Reykjavik approached. The most hair-raising adventure of the trip was driving the fjords and passes back to civilization in southern Iceland. Over one particular pass, we had to put our rental to the test, busting through snowdrifts until we found a lineup of cars waiting to follow a supersized snowplow the rest of the way back to the main highway. Back in the capital, Steve and I celebrated the end of our trip just like we did at the start; enjoying the fresh fish and brews of Reykjavik, knowing that we had only scratched the surface of the skiing that this country has to offer.
Robby Young is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions, leading trips in Washington, Alaska, and Peru. Robby calls Park City, UT home, where he is a ski patroller at the Canyons Resort. When not guiding, Robby is found chasing splitter crack climbing and perfect powder around the globe. He is also a talented photographer: view his images at www.robbyyoungphotography.com.
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May 23, 2015
Categories: Guide News
Thank you to everyone who followed the climb. I deeply appreciate all the support I felt from this community!
You can view photos of my trip to Nepal in my Dropbox gallery. Included are a few from working with the local people after the quake. As for what the immediate future holds for me, today I’m packing for my yearly pilgrimage to guide on Mt. Rainier for RMI. I am psyched to get back up to the Pacific Northwest, share the experience of mountaineering with others, and see my many good friends there. Again, thank you all for your support.
Hi Greg, great start,buddy! I hope you have found a nice hairy guy to keep you company this time - we feel guilty that we are not there looking after you :) Stay safe and strong!
Bruce and Joyce
Posted by: Bruce Tocher on 5/23/2015 at 1:04 pm
May 11, 2015
Categories: Guide News
Over the last week we’ve been trekking in the mountainous area above Gorkha. This area was at the epicenter of the quake. The villages we were getting “eyes on” had previously been declared “OK” by the Indian Army by helicopter observations. But these villages were anything but OK. Most were almost totally flattened.
Don Bowie has been our fearless leader. His ability to coordinate with large NGOs, and even the UN, to facilitate supply drops to these hard hit and hard to reach areas has been amazing. And when I say hard to reach I’m NOT kidding. Our first day from Baluwa to Laprak was another precarious scramble up a 10,000′ vertical gain and unknown linear mileage over rough, broken, and treacherous terrain. The heat had us all hurting and in many places landslides made the trek in very precarious. Descending down from Laprak, through the villages of Lapu and Bhirkuna, was straight-up steep no-fall terrain through a thick prickly jungle. Landslides in this area took the trail out, so we had to bushwhack a new trail. All in all, though, we were able to deliver accurate needs assessment reports from these remote villages. Once we made our assessments we would then forward these by SAT phone to the NGOs incident command with the ability to respond by arranging to helicopter in the supplies which was our objective.
Today Don Bowie, Ben Erdmann, Jess Roskelley and Cody Tuttle left to work with the UN’s World Food Program headquarters in Gorkha to assist in coordinating overland aid distribution. For more information, on Don and team check out donbowie.com.
Whats next? Soon I’m headed back to Kathmandu then stateside to begin the guiding season on Mt Rainier with RMI.
RMI Guide Alex Barber
Appreciate the eye witness updates you have provided. Safe travels home.
Posted by: Mary on 5/12/2015 at 6:23 am
May 3, 2015
Categories: Guide News
Trekked out to Tatopani yesterday (5/1) without too much difficulty. The UN affiliated NGO has supplied us with jeeps and equipment and we’ve started the effort to access remote areas of Nepal in need of assistance. Don’t know how often I’ll be able to provide updates, but I will when possible.