The last touring day had come.  There was a Nor'Incher in the alpine which was to be our biggest "dump" of the week.  In the hut, I mentioned that I was bummed that it was coming to an end and Nate though the course should be longer and Instructor Mike P suggested it be 20 or 40 days long and include an expedition component.  Yes, we coulda' skied for an eternity.....even with lousy conditions.

Up to 12,300 feet we went and a weather window happened.  Snowboarded Jason led us down a moderately steep couloir which was dust on hardpack.  My skis made a curious chatter and I was patient with them.  We did more tech work and beacon work.  Then it was over.  We then ran up a huge bill by 9pm at the Ouray Brewery Company.

The next day was wrap-up and 1-on-1 review.  In the wrap-up, I mentioned that one of the best parts of the 12 day course was the team that was put together and I wondered what the vetting process was (perhaps it was all coincidental).  I mentioned how blown away I was about how spectacular the San Juan Mountains are to which locals Gary and Nate blurted out "SHHHHHH!!".  Then it was Mia's turn to voice her wrap-up and she touched me by saying how my "Hop In The Glop" rants would be something she'd never forget and use in her instructing - she's a 5 star PSIA Vail Instructress!  Then she mentioned the big problem....."look at me" she howled, "I'm the only female here......WHERE ARE THE CHICKS!  THIS COURSE NEEDS MORE CHICKS!"

OK, which of you chicks reading this is gonna' step up and get their Level 2?  That's a start.  It's fun, too!

Later, it was my time for my oral evaluation.  I had my tail between my legs and I mentioned that every day, I felt like I fell way short of what I could possibly do to which the Instructors told me that's the way they feel every day out.  I got some very frank constructive criticisms and some of that and some my subsequent written evaluation was tough to swallow......but I passed!

Hey, I also had the time of my life.......even with lousy conditions!  It's amazing what you can do with passionate partners and taking a sporting attitude towards the scene.
Mark P. Renson

On Wednesday, April 8, 2015 9:53 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Conditions continued to worsen and we still had more skiing to do.  Up Sam's Woods we went to treeline in glop.  There we did rescue scenarios, lowering sleds on multiple pitches and passing knots.  I did my first multiple lower/knot pass very well.  Then on my second one, I worked on pre-rigging the second pitch.  This made me uneasy with the rat's nest attached to the load line.......then it came time to pass the knot and I wanted to get it as close to the master point as possible and I really pushed that.....and then my prussik did not catch as quickly as I had hoped (thick cordalette on a thin rope), though it did catch.....too late.  I got hosed and I was crushed.  I was also judged much more harshly than I thought I should have and my first effort was seemingly totally forgotten.  Then again, there should be no margin for error in this scene.

It did start to snow a bit during our scenarios......and then it fizzled.

With my tail between my legs, we descended with Gary leading us.  We did debate a certain pitch, considering the possibility of a big wet slab being triggered and then there was a whoomph.  I deployed stem christies to deal with the difficult snow and we had to hop in the glop!

Back at the hut, we did avalanche rescue scenarios.  I was disappointed in my performance with my new Barryvox Pulse - 3 beacons in 8 minutes.  I've done better with my Barryvox Opto 3000. I did as well as a seasoned professional guide there, but I was disappointed.  Instructor Mike P assured me that I did very well with great technique and leading the scene.  He did point out that I tried to hard with the fine search and should have probed sooner and that cost me 2-3 minutes. This made me think hard about today's newer beacons - I suspect that many of us spend too much time trying to get the lowest number possible on the screen and that number is much lower than it had to be and we forget that the objective is to dig out the target as quickly as possible. Ranger Jeff and I discussed this last weekend and he advised that in scenarios, we're trending more towards a holistic view and some are advocating half of a bracketing - move forward and then back to the lowest number and then ignore moving laterally and just probe instead.

Take a big guess as to who got the best beacon search time out of the entire class..........that chick wins at everything she touches and I'm envious.  
Mark P. Renson

On Monday, April 6, 2015 9:47 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

For the next day, I was to lead the new group up to 12,600+ foot Ohio Peak and over to the other side to Minnesota Gulch.  Upon being given this assignment, I glanced at the map and felt confident - the route fell into place.  I can do this, I thought to myself.  I'd be without Nate on my team and Mia's energy, skill set and overall karma would be sorely missed but local hardman Gary was on our team and frequently looked after me during the course.

Still, I was anxious as we assembled at the trailhead on US 550, especially since it was on on-site lead for me.  Gary had given me some info which made me change the route a bit after some discussion. There was a chance that weather would move in, so I set a brisk pace up to treeline which was OK with the group as I could see that it was a very strong group.  I made numerous adjustments to the route as I negotiated a gully and directed us away from a terrain trap.  I then made the decision to eschew the summit initially and instead head for the shallow col to the north of Ohio Peak to bring us directly into Minnesota Gulch, figuring we'd go for the summit after Minnesota Gulch.  My strategy worked out exceptionally well and I really shone making adjustments to my micro-route setting.  It felt great for me especially since I had been very challenged in the course.  My route did not go unnoticed as instructor Mike lauded me for being super-efficient with a great consistent pace, making a great route choice and making good difficult decisions.  At the col, I pointed out a route we could take to the summit afterwards.

We had some great turns into Minnesota Gulch finding some fine chalk and fool's corn down on slopes in the high 20s/low 30s (slope angle) to below 11,000 feet.  We then had a nice ascent to Ohio Peak with Jason leading, descending down some 3rd Class scrambling to the top of the NW aspect bowl.  We found some chalk and manageable crud down to treeline to which we were very satisfied with - part of the game was to hunt down manageable skiing in the lousy conditions.  We then dealt with some rough crust and glop back down to US 550.  With all of this crust and glop, do ya' think we had a great time? betcha' we did.

We had more class work in the hut we were staying at near the Chattanooga Chutes and the entire class made dinner.  Our group then had to spend the night out in emergency snow shelters.  I crawled into our hole with Lunchbox Mike, laid down and then a hand poked in the "front door" with a flask attached to it - it was AK heli-ski guide Jason with a blast of single malt which was very welcome. We all looked after each other in many ways in this course.  As we retired, Mike and I reminded ourselves that when it came time to pee, just face into the snow wall and let it go.  I slept very well and peacefully.

Attached are pics from inside our snow shelter, the 3rd Class scrambling on Ohio Peak and the chutes leading into Minnesota Gulch.
Mark P. Renson

On Wednesday, April 1, 2015 10:09 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Well, that's what my trips are like.  I go big and put a lot into 'em.

The days were challenging and after our tours, we'd go back to the classroom and then there was homework.  I often got humbled.  AT our first guides meeting, I mentioned our snowfall was "Nil" to which one of the Instructors snapped at, saying that's not in the SWAG.  Fortunately, Gary defended me saying that was OK as that was an old-school term.  Gary also runs an intriguing club: Red Mountain Club 

So, the next day was another warm sunny day.  The high temps were astounding and nothing was really corning up - just slop and crust with some chalk and powder on certain higher N aspects. Gary the Brit led us, using local knowledge to bring us to the top of the Grandma Couloir.  On the way, we did ski crampon, boot cramp & ice axe work among other mountaineering skills.  

At the top, we did anchoring and lowering and rapelling skills.  It really turned out to be more of a workshop as all of us had climbing experience or even had Rock and/or Alpine certifications.  I have been drilled hard in the past up in Canada doing crevasse rescue in getting yelled at by multiple guides who wanted me to push it and get it dialed.  It was very obvious in many ways that we had "been there, done that" and there was a pause in the class and Instructor Mike then blurted out " guys really are The A Team".

We were finally lowered over the edge as part of an exercise - there was a mellow 40 degree entrance on skiers left that could have been used - onto a slope that was between 35 and 40 degrees.  Leave it to Mia the Alpha Female to take over and question the whole scene as to why so many of us were lowered onto slope with that angle with a known persistent slab issue.  She then demanded that Eric reach into the top of her pack for an inclinomter to which she got a 37 degree reading.  When Instructor Mike got us us, he explained that the slope had already slid - the crown line blended into the vertical drop-off, hence we did not realize that.  I just trusted the Instructor as he had scouted that area before the class.

So, we enjoyed some great turns down the couloir.  Nate then used his local knowledge to bring us through some trees and a super-fun 40 degree shot through the trees - another slope that had slid......yeah, that was a strategy that we used and that was to seek out slopes that had ripped loose in the brutal avalanche cycle from late Feb/early March as there had been very little loding since then and the persistent slab had been cleaned out.

We just kept on playing hard as a team and with the lemons handed to us, we broke out the salt shaker, shot glasses and high end tequila......we went through multiple fifths on this trip!

I had the task of getting food for one of our group dinners after class.  I went to the small supermarket in Ouray known as "The Place Where Old Vegetables Go To Die".  Ummm, Ouray is a bit isolated which is part of the fun and the 2 nice microbreweries gave us the only vegetables we, hops is a vegetable, correct?

We then got some sad news: The A Team was to be broken up.  Mia and Eric would not be with us......of course, Mia would still be heard from.
Mark P. Renson

On Wednesday, April 1, 2015 3:29 PM, Iski Stowe <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

On Tuesday, March 31, 2015 8:59 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Some pics from the Richmond Pass tour.  We have me ready to sideslip into the small platform at the top of the couloir, Mia crushing it, tracks with >mine spooning Mia's so tightly you can barely distinguish the 2 tracks (they've taught me well up in Canada) and finally hardmen/hardwomen on the

Wow, that is perhaps the most autoerotic  TR I have read in a while.  Almost NSFW.

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