Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mammoth Lakes, California


The plan was to go to Park City, Utah with the Canadian and US National teams, the AWCA and a bunch of other random teams from across North America. Who wasn’t in Park City? Well me actually. 2 weeks before leaving I found out there wasn’t in fact room for me on the camp I was invited on… just great. I was at least glad that I'd saved myself from listening to fantasy football nonsense with the guys. The things people waist their time on these days. 

Having strategically planned training leading up to this altitude camp, I was pretty bummed out. Lucky for me, Dave Wood and the Black Jack Ski Team out of Rossland, BC came to the rescue. Dave Wood was the National Team Coach back in the day and I personally would credit him with most of Canada’s skiing successes to date. He now has built the most successful program in BC. I had called Dave to ask about accommodation in the upcoming NorAm scheduled for Rossland. Dave said “no problem” and then invited me on short notice to their annual altitude camp in Mammoth lakes, California, which just so happened to fit in perfectly to my training schedule.

Air North gave me the flights I needed and before you know it I was sun tanning in Cali. By sun tanning I mean going on 3-hour mountain runs and double poling up switchback roads in the sun.

The bulk of our training was in Mammoth Lakes (elevation 2,400m). Training was top notch here- plenty of good roller skiing opportunities: bike paths and quite roads. The Black Jack crew was awesome training partners. They’re very motivated and hard working. It was nice having a small group of us (6 altogether). Dave was able to give us lactates after nearly every interval and during most training sessions. We also did lots of video/technique work. Living up in Mammoth was very comfortable in our condo style apartment with kitchenettes and beds each to our own. Except Julien, he had to sleep on the floor (sucka). Having a comfortable place to chill after a 5hr workout is crucial to recovery. We always had a fridge full of food and time for an afternoon nap.
5 hr workout! Mountain running
Working on my striding
Woking on my skating

After our bodies got used to training at high altitude we’d hop in the van and zip down to Bishop (elevation 1260m) to bang out some intervals. The idea is that we trick our bodies as they take quite a while to acclimatize. Sucking back thin air at altitude eventually becomes the normal, then when we suddenly go back to lower elevation the normal normal feels super easy… if that makes sense. In Bishop we stayed at a campground on the outskirts of town. Dave is like a mad scientist. He would get us to stick electrode things on our chests to track our heartbeats, analyze the data, and decide when we’re going up to Mammoth and when we’re going down to Bishop. I just did as he said.
Camping in Bishop
Julien and Scott doing bounding intervals 

Apart from the awesome training scenery and soaking up the sun, other highlights included going to a hot spring with a 15-passenger van full of gorgeous European babes, and finding a rogue tomato and pepper garden behind a hotel in bishop. Tomatoes for days! The peppers were also among the spiciest I’ve ever tried. One the size of your thumbnail would do a whole pot of chili.

A miscommunication on when we were actually leaving to go home led me to hire a guy in a Toyota Corolla to drive me to Reno, NV to catch my plane home. 300 dollars later I got there at half an hour before my flight left. We had to stop at Costco to fix a wobbly tire. A+ to Alaska Airlines for letting me on the plane. I slept on my old familiar sleeping bench in YVR and was home the next day on Air North. Another training camp in the bag!

Thanks to the Black Jack Ski Team!

Knute

Monday, October 6, 2014

Haig Glacier


Early August hunting trips were specially planned around training, leading into the second camp outside: the good ol’ Haig Glacier. Colin was in the Yukon preparing for his move back to Ottawa for the school year, while I was joining the Alberta World Cup Academy on their first and only glacier camp of the year. This would be my fourth time on the Haig but my first in five years!

I felt like I was one-up on everyone else having already had a glacier camp behind me this year. The Haig is more of a rustic glacier camp than the Eagle and Dachstein glaciers that I’ve been to the past five years. We hike into the base camp, space like dome huts. From there, it’s another hour-long hike to the skiing. The plan was to do a “yo-yo camp”: four days up on the glacier, three days down, and four days back up again.

late August was obviously the tail end of the glacier season for the Haig. The skiing was marginal at best, having had a long spell of warm weather just prior to the camp. Not helping the conditions was rain for the first few days we were up there. The trails were mashed potatoes most days but we did have a couple nice mornings where the snow firmed up. Because of the long hike to the skiing, we were only skiing once a day, so at the end of the first 24-hour week, only 11 hours were skiing. The training quality was still top notch, however. Skiing in tough conditions is great practice and in Europe these days, tough conditions just like we had on the Haig are the normal.

It was awesome to get some more On-snow technique work done and relax down in Canmore between our yo-yo camp. This was my first time doing two glacier camps in one year. No matter the skiing conditions, it beats roller skiing. Lets hope for an early snow year!

here are some photos of the camp by Russell Kennedy


Hiking onto the glacier

A nice morning of skiing

Hiking back down to base camp

Ready to run out


Thanks to the Alberta World Cup Academy for letting me join in on their camp and particularly Seb for giving me a place to stay in Canmore. And thanks to Air North for flying me there from Whitehorse!

Knute

Monday, September 22, 2014

Back to the land

August has come and gone. Most of it was spent out on the land, testing ourselves by hunting sheep, caribou and moose. If you haven't already read about Knute's epic bowhunt for Dall's Sheep, check it out here http://knutejohnsgaard.blogspot.ca/ . Hunting a sheep solo with a bow is about the most physically and mentally demanding tasks you can imagine.
While Knute was making stalks on Dall sheep, I went into the mountains to try and find a ram by rifle with Dave Gonda. For those of you who don't know, Dave is one of the fastest mountain bikers to come out of the Yukon, and one of the fittest people I know. In other words, a great guy to suffer with in the mountains. The first hunt of the year with Dave took me to a new area that Knute and I had been looking at for some time. Our focus of the trip was to find a sheep, but we knew caribou wandered into the area from time to time so we brought our tags and were prepared for a tough pack out if we shot one. We only had a short time, 3 and a half days, so we were eager to push into the mountains after starting to hike at dusk. The route in turned out to be a horrendous bushwack; an old burn partly regrown with densely packed trees and undergrowth. We wound up hiking by headlamp and setting up camp after midnight. The next morning we poked our heads out of the tent and took a look around. After only a minute or two we spotted caribou on the mountain above us! the animals that were visible to us were all cows and calves so we just watched them for a while as we ate breakfast. We started moving around/over the range of mountains following well-beaten game trails in the alpine. Every bowl or skyline we'd reach we would carefully glass the new terrain visible to us. 

After doing this most of the morning we came over a rise, glassed and started walking down. With heavy packs on we were watching our step on the steep slope. Close to the bottom of the bowl Dave looked up and said "Caribou!" sure enough, there was a bull caribou standing on the opposite slope looking at us. We dropped to the ground and stopped moving. After 20 minutes the bull decided to start grazing, then bedded down to chew his cud while keeping an eye on us. Very, very slowly we moved behind a small knoll for cover. We decided Dave would try and make a stalk on the bull while I kept an eye on the bull from our position. Dave nailed the stalk, crawling slowly across the valley bottom and not spooking the bull at all. Knowing the wind would give his position away going up the far slope, he picked up the pace and topped out on the ridge just as the bull started moving up the ridge away from me. A few minutes later the bull walked past Dave who took time to get a steady shot and pull the trigger. 
This was the result:

After field dressing the bull, we began the hike out. The weather had been blowing all day, spitting rain and was getting worse by the hour. It looked like a storm was coming so we made for a sheltered spot to set up camp. Just after setting up the tent and a tarp to keep the meat dry, the storm came down hard. High winds, driving rain and a long night followed. The storm let up late the next morning and we got ready for a big push out of the mountains. Our packs were about as heavy as I've ever carried; 120-130lbs of caribou and gear each. The bush was soaked by the storm and we were drenched the entire walk out. 

Dave, with a heavy pack!

A busted Skigo pole still made for a great hiking pole!



A few weeks later, Dave and I headed out on a second hunt. We hunted an area that I had seen sheep on before but never been able to get to. Unfortunately the first two days of hunting we didn't see much that was approachable. A few groups of rams on distant ridges, one lone ram closer to us that was close to legal and a few 6-7 year old rams tucked away in large cliff bands. We only had four days of hunting total so that ruled out going after the distant groups. We decided the next day to take a closer look at the lone ram we could reach. From a ridge well above the bowl he was grazing in we got a good look at the ram. Even from a few kilometers away we could tell that something was wrong with his face. We couldn't tell if he was legal (full curl) from there so we moved in for a closer look. Stalking around the edge of the bowl to get downwind of him was simple enough, but we had a tough time getting eyes on him because of the small ridges and gullies in the bowl. We first saw him from no more than 75-100 yards away as we crawled over a rock-covered convex slope. He was tucked away in a rocky hollow, invisible unless looking from above. With the scope on him that close, it was clear he wasn't full curl (3/4 inch short from full). However, I was able to clearly count the growth rings to at least 8 years, likely 9 or 10. 
I decided to take the shot as I was confident enough he was legal based on age. While I had been debating whether to shoot or not, he had been standing and looking towards us for about 10-15 minutes. Just as I decided I would shoot he went out of site and reappeared moments later, walking away from us. The first shot was rushed, I was shooting a new rifle with a cast on my hand and no rest to speak of. I missed. I settled down, let out a deep breath and took my time with the second shot. Just as he was about to disappear over a rise, I took the second shot. His legs kicked out from under him, flew up in the air and he rolled over the rise, dead. His growth rings confirmed him as a 10 year old ram. As we approached him, we finally got a proper look at his face. Two holes, one still bright with blood, the other swollen, black and clearly infected were on either side of his face. He'd been shot by another hunter no more than a week before (Biologists at Environment Yukon guessed 3-4 days before). While the body was in good condition (fat, good meat) there was blood all through his feed in his stomach, he was missing most of his teeth and his upper jaw was smashed to pieces. I was glad I ended his suffering. He also had a bone bulge on a rib broken years ago and a strange growth ring pattern that slowed at 5-6 years old and sped up (larger growth rings later in life) a few years later. It's possible that he was injured years ago and this stunted his growth until he recovered. He was a small bodied ram with small horns and 10 years old. 
After dressing and packing him out down a sketchy, talas-covered mountain, we floated out on a river back to the road with packrafts! This was a great way to end the trip after thrashing our bodies for four days.

Glassing for sheep




We found the remains of a ram that had likely died of natural causes a few years ago, quite close to the kill site.

Steep sidehilling





A beautiful packraft out!



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summertime

Summer is flying by, and it seems like we've been too busy lately even to take pictures of all the awesome things that are happening. After the Eagle Glacier we had a bit of down time followed by a trip to Haines, AK with some of the up and comers on the Yukon Ski Team. We put in a lot of good hours rollerskiing on America's lovely roads, working especially on skating technique. A huge thanks goes to the Deulings for putting six of us up in their waterfront home in Haines. Downtime was especially fun on this trip as we had access to crab pots, ocean fishing gear and Paul Deuling's brain to pick about sheep hunting. 
Since then we've bar tended a wedding (our old coach Jonathan Kerr got hitched about a week ago), laid plans for open season in August, thrashed ourselves at the gym, chased the Nish around on rollerskis and spent some time on the water enjoying the all-too-short summer. 

Post workout packrafting session at the intake:

Baby eagle above the Yukon River

Momma bird watching close by. 


That's all for now! lots more coming up for the YES men in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Eagle Glacier Video from Julia Kern

Julia Kern put together an awesome video of the week on the Eagle Glacier, it gives a great sense of what it's like to be up there! Some good heli shots in there too. Thanks to Alpine Air for helping to continue making the Eagle Glacier camp possible. Thanks again to Erik Flora for getting us back up there for a third year of some of the best ski training I've ever done. 


Eagle Glacier Camp

For it's third consecutive year, the Yukon Elite Squad headed to Girdwood for a week of summer skiing on the Eagle Glacier. We were lucky to be able to join Erik Flora and the APU Elite team for a whole lot of exceptional training, exceptional amounts of food and exceptionally long afternoon naps. 

Just prior to the Eagle, the Yukon Elite Squad was part of the winning 4 person team in the Kluane Chilkat bike race. Knute and Colin both won their respective legs in tough solo tests against the wind. Former Yukon Ski Team athletes Ray Sabo and Sam Lindsay rode strong legs as well to help put the team on top. Immediately after the relay we headed for anchorage. 24 hours after the end of the race we boarded a helicopter in Girdwood bound for a distant ridge line that happens to house a PB100, 8km of ski trail and a bunkhouse with beds, industrial kitchen and a few million calories of food at our disposal. Skiing started the next day.

The week was focused on volume, making technique changes on snow and applying those changes to racing. Efficiency on skis, power application and tweaking mechanics of skiing were some of the major themes. 

We were lucky with the weather when we arrived in Girdwood, after a day a major wintery weather system moved in, dumping a few feet of snow on the glacier and leaving us to ski in a whiteout for most of the week.

When the weather cleared on the last day we were treated to one of the best skis I can remember. Hard trails, freshly groomed corduroy and 3 hours of ripping around on a trail that skis like a race course was a perfect way to end the week.

Blizzard:

Lunchtime!

The door to the waxroom was left open during the storm. Rime ice and snow drifts coated pretty much everything inside.

Whiteout

Lex and Eric finishing off an epic whiteout ski.

The PB keeping things fresh for us.

The few times the weather broke were appreciated even more than usual.

Mock team sprint simulation. Some seriously good competition can be found in this corner of the world.

The pack heads out on the first lap of the relay.

Cruising with a big train of guys who can ski exceptionally fast.

Post intensity scene on the Eagle Glacier:

Eric Flora and Coda making sure things run smoothly:

Knute and Lex cruising in classic. Most of the classic skiing during the week was spent on "zero" skis.

Knute striding up the big climb back to home base.

Eagle glacier ridgeline:


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Packrafts!

Holy cow, packrafts are awesome. The Yukon Elite Squad just invested in these boats and after putting them to the test for three days in the wilderness it's safe to say they were a good purchase. They roll up nice and small, weigh less than six pounds and they can handle whitewater, flatwater, wind, waves and rocks. The three day trip started out easy: south winds to blow us down a chain of lakes, fish to be caught and trapping trails to follow. The second day saw 20km of hiking: lots of climbing, bushwhacking and scouting for sheep. Newborn lambs were playing on cliffs in the sun, bands of rams were roaming distant mountains and moose and caribou were out and about in the buckbrush watching their calves closely. The second day ended with a long, nasty piece of bush-walking down to the river that was our ticket back to the car. Even the night before the last day, we knew making it out to the car in one day would be tough. A stretch of 60km of unknown water lay in front of us. There's nothing on the internet about the river, no descriptions in guidebooks and no accounts from previous trips. In other words, it was a long day of unknowns. The river is silty, brown and shallow. Rocks lie unseen inches below the surface, sweepers jump out at you at nearly every turn in the river and gravel bars leave you bumping and grinding down a lot of sections. We were low on food and ran out entirely halfway through the last day.
The steeply graded and boulder strewn sections of river made for a tough job trying to keep the rafts unpunctured as we bounced off of rocks, trees and gravel. Moose were omnipresent the entire day. We had a half dozen encounters with cow moose and their calves, often at a distance too close for comfort. A bison stomped across the river just in front of us, obviously surprised at our intrusion into it's home. After 6 hours in the rafts, a bend in the river revealed the charred trees of a forest fire from the previous year. We decided to take a gander for Morel mushrooms, the prized fungus that grows only in soils that have been burnt in the previous few years. To our surprise, the forest floor was covered in them! after a short time, we had filled any remaining space in our packs with morels and were back on the river heading for home. By the time the river spat us out at our take-out it was late. We'd been on the river for nearly fourteen hours, were soaking wet for most of that time and hadn't eaten the last half of the day.
There will no doubt be more adventures with the rafts in the months to come.

Sailing the rafts with a tarp and paddles.

Trolling for lake trout while sailing.

Lake Trout!

Portaging is easy with packrafts!

Evening paddle post-dinner.

Lambs and ewes on a rocky cliff.

BIG antlers shed from bull moose in the alpine.

There's some monster bulls out there.

This bull looked like it met an untimely end. All that was left of it was part of it's spine, skull, a few ribs and some fur. Best guess: wolves hamstrung it sometime last fall or winter, waited for it to die and then fed on it until it was gone.


The river at last! Camp the second night was on the island in the middle of the river.

Partway through the morning of hard paddling.

Getting water from one of the few clear creeks in the area.

Morels!

Scouting a section of quick, rocky water towards the end of the last day.