Wouldn’t it be Easier to Take a Helicopter?

When I tell people my plan they either instantly get it, or they don’t. The ones that don’t, start asking questions. “do you count the feet skied, hiked, or both?”, “can you take lifts?”, “how many miles is that?”, and my personal favorite “wouldn’t it just be easier to take a helicopter?”

Some of the answers to these questions are pretty straight forward, “No, I cannot take lifts”, but others are a bit more nuanced, so I will do my best to answer them as fully as I can.

What am I counting?
The goal is to earn 2.5 Million vertical feet of skiing. This sounds simple enough, but actually has a couple complexities. Assuming I start and end the day in the same place (most days), I can count either the up or the down, but not both. For simplicity sake I will always count the up.

On the occasional day where I start and end at a different location, it is not as simple. If I end below where I started and take a car back up to the trailhead, essentially that vertical was not earned, so it does not count. However if I start below where I end and take a car downhill then… I am not sure to be honest. I will have to contact Greg Hill and see.

2014-10-01 12.46.54 (3)

South American volcanoes, not Washington…

There is another case as well. Lets imagine it is spring and I am skiing a volcano in Washington. I start the day hiking 4,000 feet through the forest with skis on my pack. Then I hit the snow and skin to the summit. Then I take a few laps and ski down, then hike the 4,000 feet back to the car. Does that 4,000 feet count as earned vertical. I certainly earned it, and I had skis on my back, but I didn’t ski… Again, I have to ask Greg Hill and see what he did. I will follow whatever rules he followed.

Joey Camps. Holds the FKT for the Cali section of the PCT!

Joey Camps. Holds the unsupported FKT for the Cali section of the PCT!

As a short tangent. Breaking Fastest Known Times (FKTs) is a new wave in the ultra running scene. It applies to short hikes and long trails (ie The Appalachian Trail). In this community one of the ways of hiking is unsupported. There is no hard and fast definition of what an unsupported hike is, so whoever attempts an FKT must follow the rules that the previous person followed/created. The rules that the new FKT follows must be equal to or more stringent than the previous rules. It is this logic that I am following in conforming to Greg Hill’s rules.

Distance
The question of how many miles often comes up. I guess this has two answers. I will be hiking 473.5 vertical miles and skiing 473.5 vertical miles as well 🙂 That is 86.1 Everests from sea level.

However, I think the question people really want to know is how many horizontal miles will I be walking. And I don’t really know. Some tours have long approaches and other are just straight up and down all day. Last year I kept track occasionally and it seemed that it was about 1-2 miles per 1,000′ of vertical. And I would assume about 1/4-1/3 of that is the skiing itself. So a very rough estimation would be about 1.25 horizontal uphill miles per 1,000′. So for 2.5 Million feet that is 3,125 miles of hiking. I have no idea how accurate this is.

A long day from last winter. I think this tour was 32 miles.

A long day from last winter. I think this tour was 32 miles.

The real take away for me is that the mileage is really not a concern. Walking uphill 10K per day is the difficult part if that 10K is over 10 miles or 15 miles it doesn’t make too much of a difference. Most importantly though no matter how many miles I hike, I still only get to ski the vertical feet. So bring on the steep skin track!!

Earned

Skinning with a pine bow

Skinning with a pine bow

I will be hiking, skinning, boot-packing, climbing, mountaineering, postholing, side-stepping?, and likely any other self-powered way of going uphill you can think of, for 2.5 million vertical feet. Using these forms of travel to ski makes the skiing earned. I like using the word earned. In many ways the earning of the turns is why I enjoy skiing in the backcountry. It doesn’t diminish unearned turns. I mean if I was walking down the road and someone handed me a slice of pie, I would gladly eat it. But the pie I pick the berries for and rolled out my homemade dough and make a woven top for is just going to taste better.

When earning turns there is no choice but to be where you are at that very moment. As one ski moves in front of another on repeat, every gust of wind is right there. When it’s snowing and the wind is from the South as you walk East along a ridge, the whole right side of your face becomes coated in snow. There is no doubt that the north slopes are becoming loaded and should be of concern. Or skinning up the South face in the morning, it starts rock solid and you are kicking yourself for leaving the ski crampons at home. But right as you crest the ridge it begins to corn up. Now is the perfect time to drop, and the skin back up will be easy, then on to north facing slopes for the rest of the day.

Sometimes, what can be noticed when earning turns is the smallest of things. There was one day a couple years ago, where there was a light breeze coming up Little Cottonwood Canyon from the West. It was a warmish day with a thick layer of fog. I was planning to ski a Southwest facing slope. On the way up I noticed a very, very thin crust beginning to form on the west-facing aspects. The fog was laying down a thin rime crust, not enough to ruin a run, but enough to notice. The due south slopes were enough out of the breeze that they remained smooth and soft. On my descent I carefully stayed just on the South facing edges of the sub-ridges and had a perfect run down.

[Inset picture of me mooning a helicopter]*

So while taking a helicopter may seem easier, the truth is not so simple. Would I have been able to perfectly time a spring corn run? Maybe. Would I have noticed the thin rime crust? Ignoring that fact that helicopters would not have even flown with that much fog, likely no. A helicopter is certainly less strenuous, but it could never provide the experience that I’m looking for.

 

*while I have done this, there is no photo evidence… yet.

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About the author: Aaron

Has one comment to “Wouldn’t it be Easier to Take a Helicopter?”

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  1. Aunt Marilyn - August 20, 2015 at 6:55 am Reply

    Aaron: Sounds rather difficult. Good luck!! Keep the blogs coming. M

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