Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The Louie is popping its top off, the Midway is kicking and of course all the rivers up the shore are going nuts (alhtough most of it is over my head) I am pumped to get out on the water this weekend and scare myself witless......
Wenonah, Rogue the St.Louis River, out the back door.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Ah, I have been dreading this post for a long time. Margarets Father passed away last weekend. He was 79. Blaine lived and fought with COPD, a wierd lung disorder for the last four years. If you spoke to him he would say that he was not in pain or that he was dealing ok, but the reality was that he could not breathe. He was on oxygen, he was on a plethora of medications and he was driving like a mad man in his motor cart. Despite this he was himself to the end. He was still working for his law firm right up until the day he died. His last email to his firm was to answer some legal questions for a client and to tell them that he would not be in to work anymore and that he intended to die with his boots on. This was a man so organized that he wrote his own obit. He planned his funeral with his daughters, he planned his gravesite with Margaret and he made sure that his world was in order for his family before he passed. A truly extraordinary man.
Blaine grew up in a small farm town called Ponytown Corners, just outside of Harmony, Minnesota. He went to elementary school in a one room school house called "The Brokken School." He went to school at age four, because there were three other kids starting first grade that year and his parents did not want him to be the only kid in his class. Later at Harmony High he graduated highschool second in his class at 16. He went to graduate from Luther College, did a stint as a highschool teacher, then went into the army for two years, got out and worked as a broadcaster at Radio Station. It was then that he decided to go to Law School. He had many choices as to where he did that. The University of Minnesota won out over Cal Berkely because, as he said it, "Not many people come back from California and my family is in Minnesota". He graduated fourth in his class at the U. He was the President of the Law Review while he was there, elected by fellow classmates who included Walter Mondale and several other lawyers who later became State Supreme court justices and also MN Attorney Generals. Later while practicing law he becaame known as the top Real Estate lawyer in the state. On top of all this Blaine was just truly a colorful and interesting person. There was never ever a dull moment with Blaine, he was always making people talk, always asking questions, always creating humor of a higher level and always learning, reading and educating himself. While hanging with the Harstad Family either at the cabin in Brainard or at the family home on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis you were going to be pitted against the daily "Issac Assimov" in the paper or quizzed deeply about what book you were reading at that moment.
My wife will miss him, but I too will truly miss him because he was one of the few people in my life that challenged me to look at myself and see what I was up to.........
His funeral is this weekend. Visitation on Sunday and mass on Monday. I believe that Mondale will be one of the guest speakers as well. I will post the Obit soon.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Hanging with this group of individuals is like hanging with a group of pirates. Only pirates with with a serious addiction to powder. The reason that we can actually hang together without literally killing each other or without just pissing each other off is because there is a loose code among us. Honor among thieves if you will. A couple of good example are thus. On Chris Clarks birthday he was awarded with the bottom line, aka the "Birthday Line" , yes it was his birthday all day, but of course he was given just ONE line, not two, not the whole day, just one. Another example is that when Tree would ski with us, the only female in the group (Tree has been our cook over the years and we greatly appreciate she can deal with us), generally there was a waving of the arms, a bow to her and a presentation of at least one set of first tracks. Yes honor among thieves. However, there are times when the code comes into question and its ethics must be questioned. As you know, just like any good artist, you must know the rules in order to break them, or at least to know when there is a loophole that you can exploit without losing your honor.
I say this because I was the exploiter on one such loophole. It was on one of the last days of the trip. Lars mentioned that there was a peak that was yet unskied in the valley. As he put it, he put all his time in doing first decents on the major peaks and now it was time to fill in the gaps. So as fate would have it, late in the day we ended up on said peak. All the usual suspects were lined up over the choice lines. Lars of course, Hatten high and to the left, Chris Clark in front of me to the right (always a bad spot for me) Mark just between and behind me and Hatten. Lars of course took the goods right off the bat, he has the guide clause so what can you say. After Lars though there was a pause, an unsaid moment where all of us were close to just fucking ripping the next line. When you look at the skinny picture on the post you can see there is a left line down the face. That is where Chris and I were standing. Hatten looked at Chris and for some reason found it in his soul to give him the nod. I was bummed because I knew right where he was going to go. Hatten, altough chivalrous as hell, was really just trying to make sure that Clark went left because he had already staked out his own line to the right. Nothing but seconds for yours truly. Clark jumped in and had sort of a jerk and then a jolt and stopped dead above the line. His bindings had malfunctioned and had gone from locked down to "tour" mode. There was an awkward silence as we all drooled over his line. Now to fully understand my thinking you should know that there had been some other business that had ensued before the skin track up. Now this business may or may not have been attributed to Chris Clarks binding malfunction. We will never know but to me this was a loophole. Did the bindings malfunction due to Chris's hedonistic lifestyle? Did he basically screw up? IF so that was warrant for a demerit in my opinion. I voiced this question out loud to the other addicts, hoping that none of them took the clue quicker than me. To my surprise there was nothing but praise for my interpretation of the rules and I was urged to go for it, which I did. About halfway down, snow up to my knees, rock walls floating past me, the valley spread before me, I heard Clark exclaim in anguish AHGHGHGHGHGGHG. Like they say, ski it like you stole it.......
Every once in awhile you meet a genius. Genius comes in all shapes and forms and Kim Millers is beyond description. WIthout Kim this trip would not happen, he would tell you that its no big deal but we all know better. On top of that, not only does he organize it but he also defines it and makes its culture what it is. He does this without premeditation, he does it without force, he does it with genius....
I have skied with all of the people on this trip for years. I have had good conditions with them, I have had bad conditions with them, I have had insane adventures with them and I have endured tragedy with them. It has been really gratifying to have had the ability to spend alot of time with these people in my life. Life is too fast, too busy and too crowded with noise and we tend to not have traditions anymore. Well this trip has come to be a very important tradition in my life and in the life of the other people who have come on this trip. We dont all make it every year, certainly life intervenves from time to time but overall the people have mainly stayed pretty constant.
There is "Stick Boy" AKA Brian Cousins, there is "Dr.Evil" (Kim Miller), Eddy Bear, Eddy, Bill Woolston, Craig Hatten, Chris Clark, me, Mike Mead, Mark Kornmesser, Andrew the Android, Tree Calow. We missed a few regulars this year but we know we will see them again. Oh the stories that have come from this group.....
We are not the fastest group, we are not the most aggressive group but we are certainly a solidly passionate group of skiers. When I group is voracious like that two guides are needed for sure. All said and done the people that come on our trip, year to year are experienced backcountry skiers. However we have all come to the conclusion that having a professional guide has not only made us safer, it has amped up the amount and the quality of skiing we can do. Rich Marshall is perhaps one of the best guides in North America and I am sure if you went world wide he would be rubbing elbows at the top there too. Rich has guided this group on and off over the past 10 years and his knowledge and his energy always make the trip that much better. It was my first time skiing with Rich and I was stoked to see that although he was safe, he was patient he was also willing to guide us into terrain that I would have NEVER skied on my own and in doing that he took me to experiences I wont soon forget.
The biggest thing that I have learned in backcountry skiing is patience. Patience with my partners, patience with the weather, patience with my ski gear and patience with the snow conditions.
My trip to Whitecap Alpine, in British Colombia was a case of practicing this mantra.
Whitecap Alpine is run by the Andrews family. A person could write a nice blog post on the Andrews family itself. A great mix of art, music and intellect. The head guide at the Mcgillivary Lodge is Lars Andrews, the prodigal son literally raised on great heaping spoonfuls of Mcgillivary Pass powder, he left to guide other areas but returned realizing that the best ski terrain he had guided in was in his own backyard. Lars is himself quite musical, he is always singing and dancing and has one ear glued to his Ipod while he scopes possible lines and scouts what slopes will have the perfect snow. Although strong as an ox and faster than anybody else on the skin track he exudes patience. He has a zen about him that perhaps can only come from a person who is perfectly in his element, not just as a ski guide but as a person who is skiing through his childhood playgroud. On one long skin track out of a beautiful hanging valley, Lars pinned it non-stop to the lip of a long exposed rim ridge that separated us from the home run to the lodge. As he was cruising along Lars told me stories of his dads skiing in the valley in the 1970’s and about his mother playing her French Horn in the meadow during the summer. As we skied I had images of a young Lars, late for dinner, kicking ass up the skin track as he hears his mom blowing her horn impatiently in the valley.
To me this defines the area, it was beyond a doubt one of the most aesthetic and artistic places I have ever skied.
Many skiers get off on danger, many go for speed and others just plain love the longest ride they can put together. Me, I am an aesthete, I like to ski beautiful lines, creative places and I like to ski faces of mountains that are unique and crenellated with spots to etch your signature tracks. Finding these spots however takes a huge amount of knowledge, patience and sweat. Perhaps it is because of Lars and his familial background or because of the place itself but in any case Whitecap Alpine provided one of the most beautiful ski experiences I have had in my life.