Entries By kel rossiter
Mountaineering and music have much in common to share. When we consider music, we often think of pleasant noises combined together to make song—but it is precisely the silence between those bits of noise that make music more than simply a frantic crashing of sound. So too, it is with mountaineering: much focus is given to the getting up the mountain, but it is the descent that gives it meaning. You can no more have a successful climb without a descent than you can have a front without a back. And adding the mode of skiing to that descent provides an additional aesthetic beauty to that project.
During early-April I had the opportunity to explore and expand my understanding of the ski mountaineering aesthetic through the American Mountain Guides Association’s Advanced Ski Guide Course. This ten-day course is the follow-up to the twelve-day, introductory Ski Guide Course (which I’d completed in 2015) and is the precursor to an eight-day Ski Exam. With the benefit of RMI’s commitment to the professional development of its guides, I was able to attend the Advanced Ski Guide Course in Thompson Pass, Alaska.
Thompson Pass is part of the storied Chugach Range, the setting for more extreme skiing videos than perhaps anywhere else on the planet. Jagged, flat-iron peaks are flanked with row upon rows of steep and deep powder couloirs that spill into massive glacial basins, with easy access provided by the Richardson Highway running through it, connecting the port town of Valdez with the rest of The Last Frontier. This makes it the perfect place for the Advanced course. Whereas the introductory Ski Guides Course focuses on safely moving groups through backcountry avalanche terrain and finding the best skiing along the way, the Advanced Ski Guide Course brings in the components of safe travel on glaciers (e.g., navigating in white out conditions, avoiding crevasses, dealing with crevasse rescue, etc) and managing skiers in technical mountain terrain (e.g., roped travel through steep rock and snow, belayed entry into steep terrain, effective group management in narrow couloirs, etc).
But there’s more to it than just the technical aspects—because, after all, in ski mountaineering the focus of climbing a peak goes beyond just the joy of standing on the summit—there is the consideration of finding the most enjoyable line to ski on the way down. Having completed AMGA certifications in Rock and Alpine Guiding, I’m versed in the technique and mindset needed to successfully climb large objectives, and that mindset could be generally summed up with the word “efficiency”. Moving into the world of ski mountaineering has been an exciting shift of paradigms, working to also incorporate in the concepts of “aesthetics” and “enjoyment”. In the world of alpine climbing, enjoyment is often seen as what you experience upon completing the goal, standing on the summit and coming back down safely. In the world of ski mountaineering, standing on the summit is a necessary pleasure before the true pleasure of ski descent can be attained. A greater focus on both product and process that I’m finding increasingly attractive.
I’m not the only one finding this product and process increasingly attractive: backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering is among the fastest growing segments of the outdoor world. And RMI is at the forefront in developing programs to help its audience enjoy the sport. RMI Guide Tyler Reid leads ski descents of Europe’s highest peak, Mt. Elbrus, and explores Chile’s renowned skiing with RMI Guide Solveig Waterfall. In 2018, I’ll be doing a Mt. Baker Climb/Ski as well as a custom ski/climb program. RMI, long at the lead in helping climbers reach their summit goals, now has a range of excellent ski options to ensure that the descent is both safe and extremely rewarding.
For a look at some of my other experiences with backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and the AMGA Ski Guide program, check out these links:
• Mammut Athlete Team Blog about my ski experiences in the Alps prior to the Ski Guides Course.
• RMI Blog post about my experiences in learning snow science during the American Avalanche Institute’s Level 3 Avalanche Course.
May 27, 2017
The Four Day Summit Climb Led by RMI Guides Kel Rossiter and Ben Liken reached the summit of Mt. Rainier early this morning. The teams reported a beautiful day for climbing with clear skies and light winds. They have started their descent and are en route to Camp Muir.
Congratulations to today’s teams!
May 22, 2017
RMI Guides Kel Rossiter and Solveig Waterfall led their Four Day Summit Climb May 19 - 22, 2017 to the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning. Kel reported mostly clear skies with very lights winds. The teams began their descent from the crater rim around 7:20 am and will return to Camp Muir and then continue to Paradise. They will end their day with a celebration of their accomplishment at Rainier BaseCamp.
Congratulations to today’s Summit Climb teams!
May 18, 2017
Posted by: Kel Rossiter
“I don’t think that people are so much looking for the meaning of life as they are looking for the experience of being alive”—Joseph Campbell
Climbing mountains is ultimately an absurd act, to stand on top of a pile of rocks and call it a success, laughable. In yet, it is something anyone who has ever shared the feeling knows the feeling: powerful, liberated, inspired. Wind-whipped, bodily spent, surrounded by ravaging beauty—beyond providing meaning for living, it provides the feeling of being fully alive. That feeling is only magnified when combined with the pure spirit of speed and fluidity found on a ski descent.
Early May is an excellent time for a climb and ski on Mt. Baker and I’m just back from two trips up in the northern reaches of the Cascades. Thick snows blanket the land—especially after this winter—providing a smooth carpet for cruising up to the high flanks of the mountains. That’s not to say the approach is easy—for starters, as is usual, the road was blocked by snow several miles short of the actual Heliotrope Trailhead. Secondly, navigating through the dense Pacific Northwest forests requires lots of muscles that no amount of resort skiing or even gym training can fully develop. Plus, there’s the prospect of needing to carry those skis on the pack. Forty pound packs quickly become fifty-five on the back. While our first trip allowed us to get to camp on skis, spring comes quickly in the Cascades and by the second trip we were shouldering the skis until treeline.
Whether approached by ski or with those skis on your back, the arrival above treeline on Baker comes abruptly and spectacularly. Unlike many an alpine ascent, where the trees gradually shrink in size to Charlie Brown Christmas trees, on Baker’s Heliotrope Trail approach it goes from massive towers to wide open alpine in the time it takes to apply sunscreen. Clouds came and went throughout our trips, but when they cleared, the stunning serac falls at the terminus of the Coleman Glacier, the stately girth of Mt. Baker’s volcanic cone, and the sheer ice face of Colfax Peak made it clear why we’d worked so hard to get there.
On both trips we were fortunate to have time and energy to enjoy some beautiful turns above camp on Hogsback Ridge. Skinning up, we looked at ways to improve our kick turns, balance, and tracking techniques and to practice roped travel while skiing. Viewing camp from a thousand feet above, we ripped skins, carved turns in sweet-edging snow and cruised back to camp to prep for the summit push.
The morning hour always come early, but it’s a little easier with the benefit of the full moon we experienced. Rising up to boil water for coffee, our shadows mixed among the long shadows cast by the small trees around camp. Shaking out the soreness of the approach, we slurped down some oatmeal and caffeine before clicking in and gliding up. On our first climb we utilized ski crampons to leave camp with skis on, digging the teeth of the crampons in with each step to allow us a smooth ascent. On the second climb we relied instead on boot crampons to power us up past the steeper parts of Hogsback Ridge to where things leveled off enough to skin without crampons. While both can work, ski crampons definitely allow more time to enjoy the fluid uphill motion that skinning provides, and ski crampons are definitely advisable for a Mt. Baker Climb-Ski.
A mix of shaky weather, altitude, and the challenge of converting climbing fitness to skinning finesse stopped us short of the summit on the first trip, but the beauty of ski mountaineering is that even without a summit, every step upward is a success, as it increases the joy of going down. High up on the Pumice Ridge, views of the Puget Sound and British Columbia’s Coastal Range slipped in and out of the clouds as we ripped skins and prepared for the descent. With the light sometimes flat and spring crevasses beginning to show, we pitched things out more conservatively on the descent, allowing time to enjoy all the hard-earned 4000’ of vertical. And with each turn of descent the skiing became increasingly edgeable and enjoyable, a fresh layer atop the thick winter’s snowpack. Rolling back into camp with smiles, fist bumps, and a feeling of refreshment is one of the uniquely attractive aspects ski mountaineering presents to the world of alpine climbing.
The second Mt. Baker Climb-Ski was a custom trip, so it allowed us time to both climb Baker in the optimal (if shaky) weather window and then sneak in some time afterward to focus on the pure joy of climbing to ski. Bagley Lakes, just outside of the Baker Ski Area, provided the perfect venue, as you can drive past 4000’, straight into a ten-foot snowpack, and on out into enchanting alpine lakes guarded by precipitous cliff walls. South facing slopes were graced with an accumulation of wind-blown powder and perfect runs.
Climbing mountains is a process. Summits provide a goal. Skiing down them provides a purpose. Everything that we seek up high is only of value if we can convert it into a currency that enriches our lives in the valley. The 2017 Mt. Baker Climb-Ski trips brought process and purpose together and brought us all back home to the valley floor refreshed and ready to move forward fully alive. Upward, downward, forward. Alive!
—RMI Guide Kel Rossiter
August 13, 2016
The Four Day Summit Climb Teams got an early start from Camp Muir today and reached the summit of Mt. Rainier. RMI Guides Brent Okita and Kel Rossiter and their climbers began their descent from the crater rim at 7 am PT. It’s a beautiful summer day with warm temps and clear skies. This is what Brent Okita calls a bluebird day.
Congratulations to today’s climbers. We look forward to seeing them at Rainier BaseCamp this afternoon.
Pawel had previously been a part of the Emmons and Kautz Seminars on Mt. Rainier. Finishing up the ice challenges of the Kautz, Pawel set his eyes on the prize, investigated ambitious alpine objectives and developed a plan. That plan included the North Ridge of Mt. Baker and the North Face of Mt. Shuksan. Last winter he trained for six days in Ouray, CO honing his ice skills to get ready for the task. And, as alpine climbing demands creativity, since then he’s trained hard in gym and combined it with a rigorous running schedule, sometimes with a pack, at home in Chapel Hill, NC.
We met up for the planned 3-day climb of the North Ridge of Mt. Baker on a Monday in the face of a grim forecast—rain coming in Tuesday morning. The plan was to establish base camp on Monday and launch Tuesday morning. So, not good. But you can’t win if you don’t play and a large part of success in alpine climbing is putting yourself in position for it and then letting the cards unfold as they do. We set off toward base camp, hiking along the Heliotrope Ridge Trail, popping with alpine flowers. On the hike in it was clear Pawel’s creative North Carolina training had paid off. He crushed it in two hours and—just as the thought entered my own mind—he suggested, “What do you think about going for it today?” Even with the crushing time to base camp, it was still 1p.m.—a rather untraditional start to the North Ridge. While we set up camp, I considered the timeline: We’d be pushing the weather forecast, but we felt comfortable descending the Coleman-Deming route (the standard descent) in poorer weather.
Once on the ice pitches of the route (approx. 9,600’) you’re pretty committed to the North Ridge, but we left camp with the caveat that should the weather change or the travel become more complex than planned, we’d turn back for another try later. Later never came. We made it to the ice cap in just over 3 hours, which is just over half the typical time. With a puffy cloud front still way off over the Puget Sound and a few small cells sweeping up over Colfax Peak, we committed. All the moments of consideration up to the moment of commitment in a climb like this is a struggle on par with Ali-Frasier—but once the decision is made, clarity begins—just climb.
And climb we did. Up through the ice cap, onto the upper flanks of the mountain, navigating through the upper bergschrunds, to the top. Descending the Coleman-Deming route to camp we were treated with blazing red sunset reflections on Puget Sound, rolling into camp just eight short hours after leaving camp.
We reconvened a day later for the North Face of Shuksan, a seldom climbed route. Seldom done for many reasons, among them being the formidable approach. After 5 hours of Amazonian bushwhacking and at least a Red Cross pint donation of blood from both Pawel and I, we arrived at the base of the actual climb. Not surprisingly, after that “warm up” the climb was like cake. Pawel’s commitment to fitness and technical prep paid off and we stacked pitch after pitch after pitch of climbing until arriving at our lovely bivy atop the ridge.
The next day was an open road with a full tank of gas. We connected smoothly from the Crystal Glacier to the Sulphide Glacier, crisply circumambulated the mountain, ascended the SE Ridge, and then moved out smartly toward Winnie’s Slide to camp. Arriving at camp at slighly past the stroke of noon, it occurred to the both of us that a trip out to the trailhead was easily doable, and since Pawel had some good friends in Seattle he wished to visit, we decided to go for it.
Four short hours later, we were at the trailhead. Packs were off, sandals on, sitting down. Life was good. And getting better. We met up for a culmination of the climb at the Chair 9 Bar and Grill. It was a pure pleasure to wrap up this stage of Pawel’s alpine journey. In the face of a formidable forecast, we’d pulled off two major North Cascades objectives—a tribute to the power of positive preparation in the face of pure challenge. Well done Pawel!
July 30, 2016
The Four Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Kel Rossiter reached the summit of Mt. Rainier today. Kel reported clear and cool weather with light winds. The Four Day Summit Climb team left the crater rim at 6:50 am to return to Camp Muir.
We look forward to seeing all the climbers at Rainier BaseCamp this afternoon.
Congratulations to today’s Summit Climb teams!
Yah Mary Stewart! Made us all proud!
Posted by: Vicki & Dennis on 7/31/2016 at 7:24 am
Y’all are all rock stars! Way to go! Big hugs and love from Columbia, SC. Casey, you’re Wonder Woman.
Posted by: Sally Peek on 7/31/2016 at 6:57 am
July 23, 2016
The Four Day Summit Climb July 20 - 23, 2016 led by RMI Guides Mike King and Kel Rossiter reached the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning with clear skies and winds around 15 mph. The team began their descent from the crater rim just before 8 am.
We look forward to seeing them at Rainier BaseCamp later this afternoon.
Congratulations to today’s Summit Climb teams!
awesome job brooke! can’t wait to hear about it and see pics!
Posted by: scott on 7/25/2016 at 12:56 pm
Congrats Mike! That should be your 50th summit right?
Thanks again for all you did on the seminar.
Posted by: Matt Voswinkel on 7/24/2016 at 1:11 pm
July 17, 2016
Posted by: Kel Rossiter
The Mt. Rainier Summit Climb team, led by Kel Rossiter, reached the summit at 6:00 a.m. The team was above the clouds, with the cloud deck hovering around 11,000ft. After spending an hour on top, they began their descent.
Congratulations to today’s climbers!
Way to go Eric! Amazing!! Now get back to work! :)
Posted by: Kim on 7/17/2016 at 6:48 pm
Posted by: Bob and Liz on 7/17/2016 at 6:14 pm
May 21, 2016
The Four Day Summit Climb team for May 18 - 21, 2016, led by RMI Guides Elias de Andres-Martos and Kel Rossiter, reached the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning. The teams only spent a short amount of time on the crater rim before starting their descent to Camp Muir. The teams will continue their descent to Paradise and return to Rainier BaseCamp later today.
Congratulations to today’s Summit Climbers!
Awesome climb, Robert. We are in awe of you! Can’t wait to hear all about it. Love mom& ron
Posted by: Mom & ron on 5/22/2016 at 6:31 am
Way to go. I am so happy you all made it back safe. I bet it was crazy. I can’t wait to hear all about it. You are all incredible!!!
Posted by: Dean Peyerson on 5/21/2016 at 6:22 pm