Blog Category: ’Spark in the Field’

Trip Report: Ullr’s Playground

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The awesome beauty of Norway, where ocean and mountains collide.

By Justin Lamoureux

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Justin Lamoureux and crew in the Lyngen Alps, Norway.

Through a haze of jetlag I hear Miikka Haast say, “…it starts with a 20 meter rappel into a 50 degree, 3-meter-wide couloir…yes, let’s do that…” Sounds like a great first run in Norway!

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Justin rapping into Øksehogget, or the “axe cleave” — his first run in Norway.

This past May, I was lucky enough to join friends Miikka Haast and Jonas Hagstrom in their adopted playground of Tamokdallen and Lyngen in Northern Norway. I didn’t know what to expect, but as I soon found out, the area is mind blowing.

Rising right out of the ocean and up to about 1,800 meters in elevation, the area is primarily alpine terrain. ‘Steep’ would be the best single word to describe the riding.

Nearly every mountain has epic, steep faces and couloirs splitting the rocks. Access is easy — straight up — and if you need to cross a farm to get somewhere, just be sure to close the gate behind you.

My trip had 11 days of possible splitboarding and we rode every single day. From powder to slush (mostly powder) we got the best conditions of the year and rode some area classics.

Highlights included two possible first descents; a second descent; camping out; hunting for first descents; and overall had an epic time.

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Jonas Hagstrom in the Lyngen Alps.

I never thought it would be that good in Norway, but it is an amazing place and truly worth a trip.

There are not a lot of places to stay in the Tamok area, so if you go, hit up Aadne Olsrud at Olsrud Adventures (olsrud.adventure@gmail.com). He has places to stay and, as the local avalanche forecaster, has tons of area info.

Takk Ullr!!

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Miikka Haast scouting the lines.

Trip Report: The Canadian Rockies

 

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The author approaching Stanley Glacier in the Canadian Rockies. Photo by Evan Ross

By Clark Corey

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The beautiful Narao Peak.

In the spring, the travel bug can become quite strong. Which got me thinking: A cold and wet spring in Montana surely means it’s looking good up in the Canadian Rockies. With that in mind, we found ourselves cruising down the Trans-Canadian highway towards Lake Louise. I didn’t take long to realize that a week wasn’t nearly enough time to explore the expansive terrain.

Geographically, the Canadian Rockies are not far from Montana (a day’s drive), but they are a whole different animal: huge vertical, scary steep terrain in every direction, and glaciers clinging to craggy summits. In other words, the sheer amount of seriously impressive peaks one can see from the road is 100 percent overwhelming!

While mid-winter snow in the Rockies can be a little thin, the conditions for steep riding become ideal in the spring. On our trip, fresh snow was sticking to the steepest chutes and faces, while the winds remained light. Some lines that were likely not ridable three weeks prior were suddenly “in”. The Y couloir on Stanley Peak (Kootenay National Park) was an example of how quickly conditions can change. With a foot of new snow just four days prior, we found 1.5 feet of snow perfectly bonded to ice as the angle reached 50 degrees. Without that last storm, I’m not sure it would have been ridable!

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About to drop in, Narao Peak.

Although we did battle our fair share of challenging weather, we did get to sneak in a few stellar lines, which made the quick foray up to the great north well worth it. Now armed with recon pictures, a good sense for the area, and a taste for some Canadian mountains, we will surely be back!

Postcard from Kyrgyzstan

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Mike Handford, Nine Springs snow cave, Kyrgyzstan
Photo by Jock Gunn

British splitboarder Mike Handford and a group of freeride skiers from New Zealand and Australia are currently traveling through Kyrgyzstan riding and skiing the remote mountains that blanket the country. With little information about this former Soviet country, they set out aiming to explore as much of the terrain as possible, while educating local guides in avalanche awareness.

“The terrain, while perfect for freeriding, makes life difficult in this part of the world,” Mike wrote from Kyrgyzstan.  “Lacking the oil or infrastructure of its neighbors, and a huge portion of its landmass buried under permanent ice, there are few sources of income for the traditionally nomadic people.  A painful succession from the Soviet Union and two further revolutions further weakened the economy, the third poorest in Central Asia. While the country is home to a handful of ski resorts, relics of Soviet control prior to 1991, even greater opportunity for tourism lies in Kyrgyzstan’s endless backcountry. Mountain roads and alpine villages provide spectacular and easy access into freeride terrain that ranks among the best on earth. While a huge amount of effort has been put into training local guides for summer hiking, lack of training and avalanche awareness leaves many afraid to venture into the mountains in the winter.”

 

By Mike Handford

We first started discussing the possibility of a backcountry trip into Kyrgyzstan as the 2013 winter season in New Zealand drew to a close. Twenty-four hours and some hasty Googling later, we had agreed the trip was on.  Fast forward six months and we were arriving in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, with little to no idea of what to really expect — but an awful lot of enthusiasm to make up for it!

We spent the first week in Karakol, which had been marketed to us as Kyrgyzstan’s “Outdoor Adventure Capital.”  Unfortunately, after a little exploration, the snow down low was rotten and the ridge lines up high wind scoured, which was a bit disheartening.  It was, however, a great place to spend some time and come to grips with what we had to expect in the coming two months.  We were all very surprised at how much technology has engulfed the culture in the past couple of years.  Everyone has a mobile phone that seems to ring 20 times an hour (although we still have no idea what they possibly have to talk about) and WIFI was easily accessible.  If you pick up a guide book, however, be wary of when it was written:  Kyrgyzstan is a rapidly changing culture right now and it would be very easy to find yourself caught out.

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Mike Handford, Arslanbob pillow line
Tyrone Lowe

Luckily we heard through the grapevine that Arslanbob, a small traditional, mainly Uzbek-populated town in the south west — a mere 18 hour drive away — was having a record snow year.  That was our signal to pack up and head that way. As we wound our way through the many mountain passes on the Bishkek-to-Osh road, the climate and snow level were ever changing, and when we eventually arrived in Arslanbob, it was a winter wonderland.  It was one of the most scenic drives we have ever done!  Topping out at 3586 meters, the Too Ashuu pass is certainly spectacular — if you can find time to enjoy it between one of the near death experiences with the speeding taxi drivers and the negligible road laws.

Hayat, the head of Arslanbob’s community-based tourism, greeted us on arrival and set us up with a host family for our stay. The community-based tourism system all over Kyrgyzstan is great and a really effective way to both immerse yourself in the local culture and help out the local families with some passing winter trade. Arslanbob is situated in a valley, surrounded by 4000 meter peaks and the largest walnut forest on earth, which gives great possibilities for both high alpine mountaineering and stormy day tree skiing.

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Mike Handford, Arslanbob walnut forest pow
Photo by Tyrone Lowe

Our first trip was to a zone called Jaz Jarum.  We left first thing in the morning and toured four hours into base camp. On arrival, the options were overwhelming!  We decided to have a look at the snowpack and ride a single line before dinner.  After a quick skin up, we were standing atop our line with a combination of both excitement, and a little apprehension.  Alex dropped first and after a huge woomph, the whole face started to slide.  After 200 meters of tumbling over rocks with both skis off and both poles gone, we were relieved to see him giving the OK from the bottom.  He had somehow managed to claw his way out of the main path of the slide and over the ridge into something a little smaller that had only buried him waist deep.  We returned to camp, where the atmosphere was somber.  We needed to decompress and reassess our options.

We woke the following morning to another amazing bluebird day and, after talking things over the previous night, we decided to ski some really mellow terrain and get a more concise understanding of the snow pack before we went back to any steep faces.

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Nooruz Hut Shashlik Kebabs
Photo by Tyrone Lowe

On our return, we were greeted by the arrival of a few more of the crew.  Blake, Chris and Jock had all just arrived from Bishkek and brought in a great boost of energy after the previous few days happenings.  We immediately started planning to head out for five days, staying at the base of a peak to the west of town called Nooruz.  After talking to Hayat, we were informed we could stay at a shepherd’s hut close by, complete with a wood burning stove, insulation and, as we later found out, mice that steal your eggs. This was great news and it turned out to be an amazing place to eat, rest, and dry out our gear.

We managed a summit on our second day in camp, topping out at 2876 meters. We woke at 4am one morning to catch the sunrise from a nearby ridge and rode some amazing lines. Definitely a zone we would recommend and, to top it off, the snowpack was becoming more stable, which gave us confidence in what we were riding.  Hayat and his CBT guides came and joined us for the last evening, cooking us amazing food and sharing stories. The following morning we arranged to take all the guides out for some avalanche education.  We spent the day talking them through digging a pit, identifying snow layers, testing the snowpack along with terrain and approach selection. This was something we had talked about doing while organizing the trip and it was great to pass on knowledge that will keep the guides and their clients safer. It was a great way to end the trip into Nooruz.

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Hayat avalanche class for local guides

On our return, we heard that the 21st of March was New Year’s Eve on the Persian calendar.  This coincided with Chris heading back to Australia, so we decided to head back towards Bishkek.  In the three weeks we had been away in Arslanbob the city had completely changed. All the snow had melted and the atmosphere was much more vibrant. We spent the day around the Ala Too Square, which although the centre of many political clashes had been transformed into a huge street party filled with music, entertainment and a lot of balloons. The crowning glory of our day was definitely starting a street party with a group of kids from a local dance group. Growing a crowd of ten to hundreds within minutes will certainly live long in my memory.

As I sit writing this, we are currently preparing to leave for the last two weeks of our trip. First on to Bokonbaev where Hayat has arranged for us to meet up with the CBT there and then on to Narin before finishing up in the high alpine of the Ala Bel Pass.

Keep up to date with our travels on Instagram: @renegades_ob

or Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Renegades-OB/1423971274519585

Cave Camping in Antarctica

Our buddy Tommy dropped us another note after his latest adventure down in Antarctica. Read below:

Hi Spark,

Still in the thick of winter here. I’ve been planning a mountain
ascent next week on a peak that’s out of our travel exclusion zone.
It’s quite a big one and will really test the splitty out. It’s a 5
day trip and I’ve been training quite hard for it, as it’s going to be a
grawler. I went on a camping trip this weekend to a cave on the other
side of the peninsula. I took the board to see how I would cope with a
winter pack with all my rations, fuel, tent, bags survival equipment
and so on. To my delight I found that I was able to get down the hill
with it all on. I’m definitely getting the hang of boarding fully
laden. These packs come in at around 30kgs, so turning is a little
complex. You really have to commit but once on either edge your plain
sailing.


On the way we passed a really nicely presented snowdrift loaded face,
so I couldn’t resist ditching the bag, and
riding a few lines.

Weather was really good, but after spending the night in the cave we
woke up to a storm and a white out. So it was a bitch getting home.
Took some slogging and had to resort to snowshoeing as we couldn’t see
well enough to ride-shame.


But all in all a good weekend away and I’m ready for “black peak” next week

Tommy

 

Thanks for the update Tommy. The snow looks pretty good down there. Enjoy it!

 

Snowboarde​rs are now Useful

Our buddy Tom Whitfield checking in again from Antarctica.

 

Injury Simulation

Injury Simulation

 

Hi Spark,

Done something quite interesting the other day. I had made a stretcher
and we decided to go out and test it in our pulk. It was a search and
rescue exercise. We simulated a broken leg in the hills. We all
gathered the equipment, strapped in, and hauled our arses for hours up
and down hills with the patient strapped in.

Splitboard Breaks

Splitboard Breaks

We had seen some videos where skiers and snowboarders are able to go
down hill with the pulk so we had a go. I used the splitty and skins
to go up the hills then I was the brake and co-coordinator when going
down hill in snowboard mode. Between me and Rob (skier), we had no
troubles going down hill laden with weight. It was surprisingly easier
than I thought, and good fun. You may have seen similar things on
pistes I guess.

I’m glad I did it because when we go on winter trips we bring sleds to
tow our gear. So I could use this technique when coming down hill.

Just thought you guy’s might be interested in seeing what fellow
splitters can do with this relatively new concept! Everything worked a
treat.

Tommy

July in Antarctica

July in Antarctica

Riding Antarctica​

A little love from our friend Tom down in Antarctica. Not the easiest place to ship some Blaze bindings or Chomps too! Here is a note and some pics Tom was nice enough to share with us…

Hey Spark!

Well long awaited my remaining parts for my Jeremy Jone’s split board
finally turned up, after a journey of 6 months waiting, pining for
snow, thousands of miles from home and any civilization, Calling in
favors from friends and relatives far and wide, paying extortionate
prices for post/delivery, Brief conversations via satellite phone’s,
organizing the mail once arrived in the Falklands to be put onto a
fishing vessel then waiting a further month for the Fishing vessel to
come near our shores, then board our pilot jet boat to retrieve the
mail from a very rolley boat! Why all this trouble you may ask…

Showing off the new setup

Well For the next two years I’m living and working in Antarctica! with
only 8 people on this whole island, no other civilization, no shops,
no police, doctors, fire service, food stores, nothing, just us and
the science we do, I’m employed as an Electrical engineer, the only
Electrical Engineer on the island, I support the running of the base
and all equipment, including the science equipment, jet boats, power
generation, refrigeration so on so forth. Anyhow all that Stuff is
boring, the real reason I Quit my job in the UK, said good bye to
friends family, got rid of my house, sold all my possessions (including
my much loved motorbikes which I used to race) is to snowboard!!!
primerily that’s why I’m here, I’ve long wanted to go and do a season
somewhere but wasn’t prepared to quit my career as an engineer,
luckily I found a compromise, It’s great here as I’m my own boss, as
long as all my work is done and nothing is broken I can get out on the
hills, and as you can see there are lots and lots of them.

A View from the Top

I’m a die hard snowboarder, the only one on the island in fact,
everyone else skies, walking in these hills with snow shoes on is hard
work, skiing with skins is the way to go, But I couldn’t face
abandoning my board, luckily Thanks to the guy’s at The Snowboard
asylum and with help from Whitelines snowboarding magazine they
pulled out all the stops and was able to get me a split board! and how
brilliant it is too, Conditions change by the hour here so I’m still
playing with my settings but I have found absolutely no compromise in
performance, The interface kit is simple to set up and adjust, and the
transaction once you have the hang of it, is fast and relatively faff
free even in windy icy conditions. All in all the splitboard is a
marvel of a creation! it has made my life so much easier and allows me
to hit the hills hard and frequent, now it’s just a case of waiting
for the right conditions.

Tom in Antarctica

So many thanks Spark for all your help, Keep up the good work and keep
the blog updated, it keeps me sane on those long cold women-less nights
down here.

And to all you other splitboarders out there, keep on splitting and
finding new terrain, It’s great knowing that I’m the only boarder
here, and the first ever splitboard ever to be on the island and even
on the continent as far as I’m aware (with exception to Jeremy Jones of
course). I also see the lack of lifts as a blessing, the whole
mountain is my back garden which no one will ever get to explore
except me, true freedom of the hills.

Steep Approach

Attached are a few photos from a recent trip, there was a good dump of
snow on another peninsula so we boated over there, I got dropped off
and spent the day skinning to the top with some pretty steep icy
ascents in places (I’m still waiting for my Chomps to turn up) 5 hours
of climbing, brew at the top then 30 mins coming down, Still it’s all
worth it . . .

Kind Regards

Tommy