Rob's Blog Archive

March 22, 2015

The Last Best First










This past winter, I did a number of things for the first time.  I worked for a dogsled tour operation.  I broke my own trail skijoring----I didn’t go near as far as I had wanted, but it was still an entirely new experience.  I camped alone for five days and four nights in wilderness, the longest I’ve been by myself.  I skijored 32 miles in a single day.  Finally, on March 22, I skied 17.5 miles in a single day.  This broke my previous longest day, skiing Colorado’s “Commando Run.” 

My long ski tour started on the snowmobile trailhead next to the big west-side parking lot.   Mid-winter, it’s not unusual to see fifty trucks there.  On Sunday, as I parked, there were only three.  I’m sure the snowmobilers were like me.  I just wanted to get one last run in.

If the trail would let me, I wanted to ski to Lake Elsina.  I had checked .  The round trip would be about eighteen miles with a little more than 2,000’ gross vertical.  What I couldn’t know was the condition of the trail. 

I started out on my skis rather than carrying them, a promising sign.  Still, most of the beginning was a thin layer of snow on top of a thick layer of ice.  The ice was the result of snow, then grooming, then rain, then snow, then grooming then rain---a sequence  that happened quite a few times this past season.  Add to that many warm days and cold nights during late winter, and even the x-country ski trails ended up with a rock hard layer of ice as their base. 

The good news is that the trail to Elsina climbs rapidly.  Being able to start with my skis on meant that, at worst, I’d meet up with only a couple of blank sections and these would be small enough that I could just walk across---carefully---with my skis still on. 

I had hoped that I could ski all the way up without putting on climbing skins.  Everybody has a love hate relationship with klister, the wax on my skis.  When it works, you forget what a sticky pain it is to handle.  I tried skiing with just the wax for nearly two miles and had climbed a couple hundred feet.  With most of the steep climbing in front of me, it was clear that I needed to skin up----attach my climbing skins to my skis.  Seven minutes after I stopped, I was moving again, and much more steadily.  The skins didn’t just keep my skis from sliding back, they stopped the  side-slipping that had occurred all too often when I weighted them.  Even with the extra  drag, I was moving faster.

It was shortly after turning onto the Lake Elsina trail, proper, that I skied past the highest blank sections of the tour.  From there to the lake, it was all snow and ice, but it was mogul after mogul.  Like moguls on downhill ski runs, those on snowmobile trails start as small variations, but with each successive skier or snowmobiler, build on themselves.  The one difference is, for skiing moguls, it’s the high points that are shaped and the depressions that are lines.  For snowmobiles, it’s the depressions that are shaped and the high points between them, the ridges running across the trail, that are narrow.  There is a joy in hitting the lines between bumps in a ski area.  There is no joy in skiing over ridges running perpendicular to the snowmobile trail.

Steadily, I humped my way up to Lake Elsina.  As I approached the lake, I wandered around looking for a good place to “touch” it.  After finding one, I headed out twenty yards, then stopped, enjoyed the spot, took some video and still pictures.  I then headed back to the high point just above the lake.   There, I’d eat lunch and take my climbing skins off. 

By the time I started back, the snow was warm wet slush.  Corn snow can be as good as powder, but with the ice holding the water in place, this corn was slow.  There were some sections through which I could glide without double poling, but not many.  During the entire run downhill, my max speed was 12.5 mph, and that was on gear built to handle speed and downhill running.  By comparison, I typically hit 16 and have hit more than 20 mph on my skate skis. 

The downhill of the run out is interrupted only a few times by climbs.  Unfortunately, the longest of these comes just two miles from the end.  Like so many trips, it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.  Having done the route so many times before with my dogs, I knew exactly where the climb would end.  Cresting the final long climb, I knew there’d be one more relatively short uphill grade, then downhill to the truck.  I poled and kicked, then dropped down the final “steep” at a wopping 7 mph.   A few more strides, then I stopped, reached into the pocket that held my GPS and pulled it out, looked at it, and then turned it off for the day.  The run was over.  Time for a hot bath.

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