Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day on the coast, Seafood Feast and then debauchery

This weekend the mountains were getting mostly rain except for Bend which we found out later had some of the best skiing of the year.  Emily and I didn’t want to drive to Bend so instead we picked up Scott and Danielle and headed to the coast for some whale watching during “whale week” in Oregon.  This week is the peak migration time for Grey Whales up the coast on their way to feeding grounds in Alaska for the spring.  At noon we drove to Cape Perpetua and hiked down the Whispering Spruce Trail high above the coast to look for whales but after some time searching didn’t see any.
We then decided to stop at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport where Danielle used to work.  I hadn’t been there since COAS initiation week in 2006 so it was cool to see all the updates and new exhibits.  We got to read a bit about the Oregon Sea Otters which is what our friend Eleanor Hodak had studied and saw a pretty cool lobster in a tank as well.  
We then headed into the waterfront district of Newport to buy some crabs and steamers which we found to be at a good price.  We also had a bowl of the ciaopino from the shop which was the best I had ever eaten.  From there it was off to the Chowder Bowl for the usual bowl of Slumgulion Chowder (Clam chowder with pacific shrimp on top) and a chunk of garlic bread.  Yummy!
We then returned back to Corvallis and Emily and I started heating up the pre-steamed clams with old bay and borrowed a pot from Kevin and Alexa.  Scott and Danielle showed up an hour later with garlic pasta and we had a feast of crab, pasta and steamers.  After our feast Colin and Amanda showed up as well as Mike and Jess whom we hadn’t seen in months.  Everyone brought games to play for game night.  We started playing a game called Origin’s but it wasn’t fun so switched to start another game but with past photos playing as a slide show on the PS3 in the background everyone was a bit distracted.
To get everyone back into party mode I started to deal out a game of Kings.  This of course forced everyone to drink a bit more and by 1am we were all sloshed.  It was then decided that it would be fantastic to prank my old roomate Jason and his girlfriend Jen.  We carried the Urban Iditarod cart over and placed it on the roof of her car.  The ladies then went to work attempting to put celophane over the door but to no avail.  Instead we simply blocked the door with sawhorses we found nearby while I snapped photos of the shinanigans.  In the morning we got a very funny text from them both asking us to let them out so Mckenzie could pee.  ha!  They hadn’t even noticed it until 11am.  When we had finished messing with our neighbors we then came back to the house and used Emily’s Macbook to prank call Brendan with a robotic computer voice speaking out a hilarious paragraph we had typed out for the computer to read.  I was in tears laughing at it all.  A great night! 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Skiing Cone Peak Again with Emily

Our first weekend back to Corvallis after Hawaii we of course wanted to get back on our skis.  After debating the conditions at Hood and Willamette Valley we conceded to head to Santiam Pass again with Holm as Emily hadn’t skied Cone Peak yet and this would allow us to sleep in a little bit after a long week or settling back to work life.  
After parking at tombstone pass we were headed down the road at 9:30am.  The pass had received a ton of snow over the week but the last couples days had been warm and dry so we were able to take the Prius without a problem.  Unfortunately, this also meant that the fresh powder had been heating up and getting heavy which posed an avalanche danger problem and also produced a “mashed potatoes” skiing experience for us.  
We were obviously the first people to enter the trail as there were no other tracks along the side of the road.  This meant that we would have to break trail the entire way up to the top through a couple feet of thick, wet snow. I took the lead as we ascended over a few open fields of snow, making sure to skirt the field so that we and others would have fresh “powder” to ski through on the way down.  Having 122mm waist skis compared to Chris and Emily’s ~95mm waists they were enjoying the highway I was stomping up through the snow.  When we got into the crustier, harder snow of the woods I let Chris lead the way as he could stomp down the crust either with his skis of less surface area.  
We quickly made it up to the open meadow below the summit where we took about 20-30 minutes to dig an avalanche pit to test the snow conditions.  I had done this before with CMRU but it had been a long time and Chris had just taken a certified Avalanche Course last year so he took the lead digging and showing us how to do the proper testing.  I had seen it all before but had forgotten some, so it was a great refresher for me and a good learning experience for Emily.  The hole Chris dug was deep and so was the layer of snow the area received that week but it took a lot of pounding to make anything break and when it did it was uneven and and random in the new snowpack.  This meant that the snow had adhered well to the layers below and we would be pretty safe our descent it seemed.  
I encouraged Emily to break trail for a ways to gain the experience of leading the way through thick snow.  She made her way across an easier flat area until we reached the base of the summit cone where I again took over and pounded a highway up to the summit.  At the top we had tremendous views north to Hood and South all the way to Diamond Peak just as Chris and I had the week before our Hawaii vacation.  I didn’t bother to bring the DSLR on this hike as we had just been there in similar weather.  The big difference between the two backcountry descents of Cone Peak were the enormous cornices hanging over the northeast face.  They were easily 6-8 feet bigger than 4 weeks ago and we dared not venture to their edge for fear for breaking them off and setting off a deep wet slide below with us in it!  Chris tried in vain to cut one off with an avy probe and a saw to no avail. 
We began to take off our skins and switch over from AT mode to Alpine mode for our descent when Chris suddenly lunged forward and then seemingly waved at the horizon.  Having no idea what happened he told me his ski had just rocketed down the mountain before he could put the brakes down on it for alpine mode.... uh oh... This was not good and the ski was brand new this season....  Once I was ready to ski down I took a few turns down the face following the track of the ski and came to a small hole in a wind lip with no other tracks beyond... After a second or two of poking around I miraculously found his ski, just 150 feet below the summit.  Lucky is an understatement as it was the last wind lip it could have gotten stuck in before the trees below would swallow it forever.  I was super happy to find it but even happier to get to witness Holm trying to ski down to me in super deep sticky snow with just one ski, falling hilariously several times.
When we got down to the flat meadow we happily returned for another quick run from the summit as we quickly made our way back up the skin track I had initially laid down.  We got some great video and photos of each other ripping down the open face.  Once we got into the woods it was a different affair with Emily having a lot of trouble making it through the heavy snow.  I think it’s great that she is so cautious as it means I don’t ever have to worry too much but in the case of skiing heavy snow a skier needs to push it a little and go faster as it will allow them to turn easier, a skill that is counter-intuitive yet works wonders in the backcountry.  

On the way down Chris as well had a few issues in the deep snow which made for some funny photos.  When we got back down to the lower meadows I heard Chris talking to some people and after skiing up to them was surprised to see Logan who introduced me to his new fiance Kate.  I also told him that I was recently engaged in Hawaii and it was great to catch up with Logan who didn’t even realize I was still in the area!  It took Emily a bit to make it down to us as she had gotten stuck in a deep hole.  I didn’t want to keep Logan too long as storm clouds seemed to be moving in and it was late in the afternoon already for them to make it to the top so we bid them happy skiing and continued down.  Later I would get a note from Logan that the skies cleared up and they really appreciated the skin tracks we had laid down for them to the summit.  Another great day skiing Cone Peak in Santiam Pass.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Skiing Dimple Hill

Today in Corvallis it was dumping snow all day.  One of the longest sustained snowfalls I had seen in this town since moving here.  All day at the office I watched as snow flakes fell and the roof of the neighboring building getting deeper and deeper.  At 4pm I had a sudden thought... it may be possible to ski in MacDunn Forest!  I and many others head up Mary’s Peak to ski as it is 4,000 feet but at just 1,000 - 2,000 feet the smaller peaks of MacDunn often don’t get enough snow or it doesn’t last long enough to ski and I wasn’t sure if anyone had successfully skied Dimple Hill at just 1,500 feet.  So... I was damn well gonna try.
Emily was on the couch home early when I got home and surprised to see me rushing around the apartment getting ski gear ready.  She gave me a crazy look as I dashed out the door and then drove up to the top of 29th street to start the skin up the trail.  There was plenty snow in the open fields at first but I had to walk with my skis over a small section of gravel path to avoid destroying the bases.  Once I got up onto Upper Dan’s trail from the Chip Ross Park area the snow got deeper on the trail and it was easy going.  I passed several people and a runner on the way up who gave me big smiles at my obviously crazy idea.  
I hauled ass to the top making it with about 30 minutes or so before dark.  I set up my camera on some sticky snow and got some photos and very lame video of me skiing the thick powder off the face of Dimple Hill.  It was so thick it just clumped together in front of my skis like a snowman stopping me halfway down the face.  Then a group of OSU runners showed up who also got a photo of me.  On the way down it was fun skiing alongside the group of 10 runners and between steep sections where I pulled ahead and flat sections where they pulled ahead we made it down to the Chip Ross Area at the base of Dimple Hill at about the same time.  
I had to walk the small section again in Chip Ross but made it back to the truck easily by dark but with very tired legs.  When I got home I sent a photo into the local Corvallis Gazette Times thinking it would be amusing to show a skier on Dimple Hill.  They replied and asked for a short story about the ski descent which ended up in the paper the next day.  I thought perhaps I may be the first person to skin up in AT gear and ski down which was noted in the paper.  I was pretty sure others had taken skis to the top to ski the higher elevation but I wasn’t sure about skiing and skinning from the base with alpine skis, not cross country.  Well, there were a few replies that it had been done with a photo of some guys skiing much better powder in the 80’s that was forwarded to me by the editor.  Even Chris Holm (no surprise there) had done it a few years back in cross-country gear from the top.  I pleased to be proven wrong and pleased that the article garnered a few responses from curious backcountry skiers of Corvallis.  And, it was a heck of a fun time for a quick after work backcountry ski in Corvallis.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hawaiian Engagement

Emily and I just got back from the best vacation I’ve ever had in my life.... and we came back engaged!  It seemed throughout the trip that everything worked out perfectly for us, from seeing all the wildlife we wanted, to timing, to weather, everything just worked out perfectly!  Our trip, which I had spent several months planning, took us first to the Big Island of Hawaii to night swim with giant manta rays and climb Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world from base to summit (where I proposed at sunset).  We then hopped onto an inter-island flight to Kauai to hike/camp and tour the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon.  We got to the islands just after record rainfalls there for nearly two weeks which trapped tourists inside their hotel rooms.  The weather for us was literally beautiful and sunny every day with just one or two days of late afternoon showers that only lasted about 20 minutes it seemed and cleared the air for even better views!  We were gone for 8 days so you can believe I have a lot to tell about so read on by clicking the “read more” link and get ready to see some amazing photos!

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Engagement to Emily Riggot

Well, I am finally engaged as everyone has told me, and there is quite the funny story behind the engagement I will now share.  Emily and I have been dating since May 2006 and although I was on the “5 year plan” I tore out my ACL last year and ended up sitting on the couch for a while rather than going on the Hawaiian Vacation that we had to postpone for a year.  But, this year I’m in great health and we were able to take the vacation I planned on popping the question on and although I had quite the scare before we left everything turned out perfectly and Emily was thoroughly surprised.  
I knew in the Fall of 2011 that I would propose in Hawaii and although we didn’t make it home for Christmas we were able to see the Riggott Family in a surprise trip to Disney for Emily’s brother Nick’s 30th birthday.  That is where I planned to ask her father for his daughters hand in marriage... until he suddenly was found to have a problem with his heart around Christmas.  I was both very concerned for his health as well as concerned that he wouldn’t be able to make the Disney Trip.  Emily’s dad, especially with her being his only daughter, is not the man you ask about marrying his daughter over the phone so that would have meant another thousand dollar trip home and perhaps a fishing trip with him or something.  Thankfully he was able to make the Disney trip and I was able to shock him with the question when the rest of the family made a bathroom stop at Animal Kingdom on the last day.  He was clearly not expecting it but of course gave me his blessing.  Later that night after drinks at a fancy dinner at Don Shula’s we talked a bit more about it and he seemed happy about it.  Phew... that wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be!
So, about 4 weeks later Emily was on a business trip back to Florida and I had to pick her up at PDX on a Saturday evening.  I used that week and all day on Saturday to drive around to Jewelry stores looking at rings.  I was about out of time when I saw a Morgan Jewelers shop in Cascade Station near the station and found a beautiful ring that was both unique and could be customized to accept the large pear-shaped diamond my mom said I could take from the center of her wedding ring.  A nice young girl named Kellie and the store owner Sue gave me their info and I went home with Emily that night having no clue what I had been up.  On Sunday on the couch I spent all day googling ring designs and ultimately decided that my favorite was still from the “love collection” at Morgan Jewelers.  

I had filled out all the paperwork for a 0% interest line of credit for 6 months at the store and later was surprised to hear my credit was amazing and was approved.  Nothing about this seemed wrong to me but in the end this decision for using the line of credit rather than just a card in my wallet would nearly prove disastrous.  A week later I heard I was approved and two weeks later while Emily was on a girls weekend in Bend I drove back up to Portland on a Saturday to meet with Sue and their goldsmith to shape the ring around my mother’s diamond.  This was after stopping at Berg’s to mount skis in Eugene so I had a long day of driving.  While they were working on the ring I went to the REI in Portland and bought stuff for our upcoming Hawaii Trip.  I later told Emily about the ski binding and said I had went to the REI in Eugene while there.  Thankfully, she never saw the Portland REI receipt with the store address.  
The ring turned out beautifully and I was extremely happy to not have to drive back to PDX to pick it up.  I thought all was fine and had packed it away in a safe place.  Then, on Thursday, two days before our trip I had a sinking feeling at work... What if they sent me information on my credit line!!!  On the drive home from work I called the store and inquired and the girl said it usually took 3 weeks so I would be fine.  NOPE!  I got home to discover the single piece of mail in my mailbox, THAT EMILY HAD PUT THERE, was a thick envelope from Morgan Jeweler’s with a ring on the front that said, “It’s here”.  The jig was up!  My surprise and over a year of planning was sunk.  I panicked and went for “a run” which was really a 30 minute panic streak of calling Sue at Morgan’s to explain how upset I was and to call Danielle, Sarah, and Chris (who knew about it) for support.  I couldn’t reach any of my friends at first but Sue at Morgan’s felt extremely bad about it.  I never buy Jewelry for Emily (except pearls on our anniversary) and suddenly before our first legit personal vacation paperwork from a jeweler shows up.  How more obvious could that be!?  
To remedy the situation Sue came up with an idea.  She was going to pick me out a nice white gold diamond necklace from the shop and send it down with an older employee named Patty who would meet me in Salem on Friday afternoon, the day before we left for our trip.  After a lot of thought and talking with Danielle I decided to try this plan.  I knew the necklace would throw her off but I also knew it would disappoint her as she obviously would be expecting a ring, but I figured a little disappointment would be worth the ultimate surprise later in the trip.  I later found out that Kellie, who had filled out the paper work and hadn’t thought to mention the address problem to me, spent the morning crying on Friday about what had happened.  Coming back 45 minutes later from the run that usually takes me 10 minutes, I had to make up a reason so I faked a twisted ankle and had to remain on the couch the rest of the night with a cold icepack on my perfectly fine foot while Emily cooked dinner for us.  This, I thought, would be a good way to propose - fake twisting it again on the Kalalau trail and end up on one knee...
Well, I planned on giving it to her at a nice dinner in Portland but we ended up going to a dinner theater show and the opportunity never arose.  So, I ultimately gave her the necklace at our first beach we went to just an hour after leaving the airport when she was laying in the sun.  Her expression was that of both appreciation and yet a little disappointment it seemed.... perfect!  But, I knew that I couldn’t wait another 5 days until the Kalalua trail to actually propose as I didn’t want her disappointment to ruin the trip for her.  Later that night while we were on the Manta Ray dive and I was explaining our plans to climb Mauna Kea we were told to forget climbing back down and to make sure we were up there at sunset.  This went against my belief that in a true climb you must also descend on foot as well but it dawned on me suddenly that the idea of proposing in a beautiful sunset on top of Mauna Kea (the tallest mountain in the world base to summit, about 3,000 feet taller than Everest) could not be passed up and was completely appropriate for the kind of life we both lived.

We got a late start on Monday at 2pm on Mauna Kea and with the trailhead at 9,200 and the summit at nearly 14,000 feet I had a lot of doubt that we cold climb over 4,500 feet at altitude in just four and half hours to make it to the top by sunset.  Fortunately, both I and my lovely lady are animals when it comes to climbing and we made it to the top by 6:15 with just 20 minutes to spare with perfect, yet cold, weather above a sea of clouds below us.  I couldn’t believe we made it and neither of us seemed to be in any pain from the altitude thankfully.  I encouraged Emily to start asking other tourists at the top who had driven up in their 4x4’s for a ride down while I sneaked off to sort through my bag pretending to get out camera gear.  
That’s when I called her over on one knee and asked casually, “Babe, will you do something for me?” She of course thought I meant for her to hold a camera or something.  Then I said, “Will you marry me?” and handed her the ring on one knee.  The look of surprise was priceless and after catching her breath she said, “of course!, yes!” and we embraced.  She was so excited and surprised!  All the trouble and stress I had gone through was worth it at that moment!  It was the perfect engagement.  We spent the next 20 minutes watching the sun set into a sea of clouds over the Pacific and a nice gentleman (cop from Roseville, CA) after congratulating us offered us a comfy ride down in his rental jeep.  For the rest of the night and trip she admired her engagement ring and we both practiced saying fiance to each other.  Wedding in the fall of 2012 in Oregon.  After 7 years it’s time to put your party pants on and come visit us in the Northwest!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Skiing Mashed Potatoes on Cone Peak

This weekend Emily and the girls went to Bend for a girls weekend at the Antelope Lodge that I had been to years ago and told them about.   Thus, I had the weekend to myself allowing me to run some last minute errands for our upcoming Hawaii trip and also to get outdoors with Chris in Santiam Pass to test out my new Dynafit bindings on my Black Diamond Megawatt skis that I had mounted on Saturday at Bergs.  

Chris and I got a leisurely start at around 8am on Sunday morning which worked out great for me because I had hung out a little bit with the guys who were playing poker next door for a bit and drank me a decent amount of bourbon in the process!  After checking the webcams I decided it would be ok for us to take the Prius up to the pass because the roads looked pretty good after several days of sun.  

We reached the Tombstone Parking lot around 10:15 and were headed up the trail by 10:30.  From the very start I was super happy with my new ski setup which felt like it was half the weight of the skis with Marker Dukes mounted to them which is what I had to deal with before.   The bindings combined with the really great mohair mix skins and 122mm width was just fantastic.  The ski/snowshoe trail we followed up the peak was very steep in places and switchbacks were tight but the surface area of the ski just gripped everything and I never slipped once.  

The weather was super hot for March and both of us felt like we could have comfortably been climbing in shorts if we had them with us.  The snow was super sticky and was getting really heavy so we had a little bit of a concern for avy danger up on the open summit slopes.  When we reached the edge of the woods we actually paused for a bit to soak up the cool shade before moving on.  Once once on the final stretch to the summit we realized to our amazement that the snow depth wasn’t even deep enough to worry about layers or a possible slide as rocks were poking through everywhere.  Was this really March???   Our concern turned from our safety to the safety of our equipement over all the lava rocks!  

When we reached the summit we were greeted with amazing, yet a little hazy from the heat, views north to Hood and south all the way to Diamond Peak.  I had lugged up the long lens for the D7000 so I took some time to snap a bunch of really good telephoto shots of all the Oregon Cascade Volcanoes we could see from the top including Hood, Jefferson, TFJ, Washington, South, Middle, North Sisters, Bachelor, and Diamond with Mary’s Peak even visible above a valley of clouds to the west.  

We both took two really fun runs down the face of Cone Peak.  The first run Chris went down to get some video of my with our AW100 which takes 1080p but as usual I’m cursed and it didn’t work so the next run he took some with his own camera while I tried to get him the best I could with the D7000.  Both runs were super sticky and it felt like skiing through thick mashed potatoes.  We only saw two other people on the peak with us who were snowshoeing and were thus a lot slower on the ascent than Chris and I with our AT gear.  
After the couple runs it was a quick descent back through the woods to the road which we then skinned up along the snowbank to get back to the parking lot.  I joked with Chris that perhaps the girls would drive by and see us but that didn’t happen.  Instead, they passed us unknowingly as we had a couple beers in the parking lot and then we caught up with them near Lebanon on the drive home when I passed them and game the girls my “game face” as I did.  I felt a little bad because I had told Em it probably wasn’t a good idea to take the Prius with the road conditions and then I ended up passing her in her own car coming down from the pass!  Whoops!  

It was a great and great weather and I definitely got a little burned under the hot sun... a good base for Hawaii next weekend I suppose!