The Everest Wife and Deseret peak by Ski

Is there such thing as Ski Tourers anonymous?  I think I need to go. Because I’m still skiing at the beginning of June.  Last week, as we eased into summer in Utah, I had the privilege to be the first Utah Mountain Adventures employee to guide Deseret Peak.  40 miles west of Salt Lake city, at 11031 feet, Deseret is the tallest peak in the Stansbury range.  I’ve got a real soft spot for the Great Basin.  Primarily in Nevada, this inland basin of endless sagebrush and mountain ranges, spreads from the Sierra Nevada of California, to Utah’s Wasatch range.  It’s a vast area, a scrubby desert of scorching heat and long evening light. The rivers that drain from the 200 or so ranges never make the sea.  They evaporate in low-lying salty lakes. There’s the odd (and I mean odd) town: Bizarre Wendover, an isolated sin city on the border of Utah’s Bonneville salt flats and Nevada; And cowboy towns like Elko, Nevada (where my in-laws lived for 22 years).

To Deseret Peak:  With Scottie away on Everest (and easing ever closer to the summit), there were many moving parts to coordinate my 5am departure for the peak.  Obie was in his last week of school so I needed both before and after school care.  We needed bikes to access the trailhead (the 2 mile/1000 foot access road being closed until Memorial weekend). I was to guide regulars Neil and Scott.  Fit guys, good skiers, adventurous.

I felt a little weird shouldering my skis and biking out of our garage in the pre-dawn but our meeting place was a mere 5 minute bike ride from home.  Sleep had been marginal as I fielded calls and texts from Scottie at Camp 3 and from Adventure Consultants in NZ (the company whom Scottie was working for) with updates.  Scottie had the flu but somehow was recovering at Camp 2.  That’s how it is being an Everest wife – you multi-task.  It’s a fun, though often fretful challenge.  You worry, you rejoice.  I’ve never been up the South side of Mt Everest but I feel as if I know it.

Our ride up to the trailhead was strenuous.  It’s always strenuous biking with skis on the back.  I was suffering a little from a fearsome Gym Jones training session the night before but my experiences from adventure racing allows me to suffer just fine.  We ditched the bikes with relief and continued on foot for another 700 feet.  Slivers of resistant snow got us upon skins and we made good progress up through pinyon pine forest.  Gaining altitude, the views to the east opened up.  The Great Salt Lake and it’s salty white flats stretched to the peaks of the oh-so-familiar Wasatch.  Our route narrowed heading into the Twin Couloirs and the pace slowed as we made endless kick turns between the rock walls of the western couloir.  Uncertain of the angle and snow conditions, we’d brought crampons and an ice axe each.  They remained stowed, weighing us down as we sweated to 10400.  A final jaunt on foot took us across a corniced ridge to the summit.  We basked in our unusual 360 perspective of basin and range and strange man-made constructions (military?)  Neil confessed to feeling totally turned around by a familiar landscape seen from a completely new angle.

The hour was getting on and we missed peak corn.  I never think of Utah as a great corn destination.  My friend Kowboy (a forecaster with the UAC) reckons corn is for drinking anyway.  He’s so Midwestern.  Not exactly gliding on the grabby snow, it was still easier than the ascent.  We skied to the bitter end, even lower than our skin track.  The bike ride down was awesome – warm wind, effortless coasting – the truck in less than 10 minutes.

The next day my neck was locked.  A combination of Gym Jones lifting, biking with skis on my back, broken sleep.  I made an emergency call to my Chiropractor, Suzanne.  I saw her twice that day – once in the morning and again that afternoon when I brought Obie in (also with a stiff neck).  It was a miracle.  A little roller action to get the kinks out the following day and I was good to go.

Obie finished school the following day and we rolled west, across the Great Basin toward California to raft with great friends, ski at Mammoth (I know!), visit old haunts, hotpools and sight see.  Arriving in Wendover, the aforementioned sin city, Caro from Adventure Consultants texted me:  “Summit!” I love that moment.  Scottie’s coming home.  We could relax and holiday.  Descending is never a sure or safe thing but it’s downhill.

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Antarctic Peninsula & South Georgia Island

For years I’ve wanted to go and guide on the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island.  From March 5-27 the dream came true as I got a job with Aurora Expeditions out of Sydney.  I joined the Polar Pioneer, a St Petersburg based ship and it’s Russian crew of 22, for a three week trip from Ushuaia – Antarctic Peninsula – Elephant Island – South Georgia Island and finish in the Falkland Islands (aka Islas Malvinas if you are Argentinean).  Aurora has offered a “Follow the Footsteps of Sir Earnest Shackleton” journey over the past two years to celebrate the “glorious failure” but incredible survival in his heinously unsuccessful attempt to cross Antarctica in 1916.  Our crossing of South Georgia Island would (kind of) follow the final footsteps of Shackleton’s epic journey.

I was to go last year but the sad demise of my dad meant that I ended up in NZ instead and Jane Morris (fellow Kiwi chick guide) replaced me.  In an odd turn of events, Jane broke her arm badly and was not sufficiently recovered; Thus the tables turned for 2017.

Scott was preparing to go to Everest for about the 5th time (I’m not even sure!) so it was hectic in the Simper-Keeling household and we actually missed each other.  Everyone asks: “what about Obie?” but if you know Obie then you know that he’s a versatile boy who is happy to stay with friends.

I’d not been to Argentina or Chile before so enjoyed transit days in both Buenos Aires and Santiago on access and egress as well as setting off from Ushuaia and arriving to the Falklands…. all new and interesting.
The Polar Pioneer is a 75m steel ship, built (obviously) for the Polar regions.  We had about 45 passengers and 4 of these had signed up for the South Georgia Island crossing.  We were a geographically varied team – Phil Penney (old friend from NZ) and I as guides, Eamonn from Ireland, Tats from Japan, Sheona from England and Peg from Colorado.  Everyone was super fit and into it and we enjoyed some great climbs and a lot of ribbing and laughs.

I also hugely enjoyed my fellow staff – the Expedition Leaders Stephen and Anna (both from Oz), Naturalists Heidi (Canada/Oz) and Marilou (Falkland Islands!), historian Alisdair (Oz), Hotel manager Justine (NZ/Oz) and Leila (Argentina).  I hope I get to go again!!

I wrote an account for the ship paper about the South Georgia crossing:

Stephen, the Expedition Leader, positioned us climbers perfectly in terms of weather.  The SE gales began to ease on March 17 as Marilou dropped us on the shores of King Haakon bay.  This is where Shackleton and his four men alighted after their desperate 800 nautical mile journey from Elephant Island in the 20 foot wooden lifeboat, the James Caird .  Clouds scudded for the brisk 2km walk over glacial moraine to the glacier toe.  Roping up, it was a steady 300 metre/5.5km climb to Shackleton gap and view into Possession bay.  The plan was not to set out on the full trek this day, instead opting for a fairer forecast the following (an option obviously not available to Shackleton and his men!)  We gazed into Possession bay, less than an hour’s stroll away.  An overnight boat ride around the Northern tip of the Island would let the storm die out completely and set us up for best success.  The next morning  dawn spread it’s shining perfection into Possession bay.  Shackleton had crossed to Possession on the initial part of their trip so the start of our trek would look somewhat similar to his (our modern gear, our half start and a half wheel of brie notwithstanding).

The first disembark point was vetoed due to an actively calving glacial face and Marilou (our trusty zodiac driver for almost every one of our trips) dropped us on a beach below Shackleton gap.  Our trail came within 200-300m of our track the day before.  The two rope teams angled toward the Tridents – a series of 650 metre black rocky peaks that are generally agreed to be the crux of the journey.  Firm ice conditions made for fast travel as we cramponed crisply in the morning sun, shouting joyously on occasion that we were finally making this historic trip.  On the East side of the Tridents, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley made the infamous bumslide in the dark.  We sweltered under hot sun and descended via the lowest point – a steep, narrow glaciated gully that compressed just enough to allow safe zig-zag passage through crevasses.  On the lower section, in an attempt to emulate the Shackleton experience, we slowly bum-slid toward Crean camp.  The snow was thick and slow like mashed spuds.  For momentum I ran down the slope pulling Sheona and Peg behind me.

Stopping for lunch at Crean camp, we scoffed quarter of the brie wheel with crackers.  The Crean camp is on a lateral moraine above Antarctic bay and from it, we had a clear view through to our next objective, the Nunatak, 450 metres higher and 9km away.  There followed a fairly nasty section weaving through an old and tired blocky section of glacier.  Alternately balancing on ice stacks then mushy snow, the odd person (mainly the guides) stumbled through hidden crevasses.  Seeping wetness eased unpleasantly  into socks.  A long hot push into the afternoon took us back to 550 metres and we stopped to camp on a rocky shoulder opposite the Nunatak.  Sunset from our eyrie flooded us in a diffuse gold light as tents were positioned and hot soup consumed.

A slightly cold and uncomfortable night for us was nothing compared with the all-nighter that the Shackleton team endured in late May 1916.  We woke at 5.  I had set our stove in the tent vestibule and it was a simple thing to light from my sleeping bag for several nice hot cups of tea before trekking out at 6.20am.  Grey wispy clouds obscured nearby peaks but looked like they’d burn off to another glorious day on South Georgia Island.  We crunched down the Fortuna glacier in our usual two rope teams –  ladies on one rope, gents on the other.  I wondered at our wide trajectory to the north but all was revealed as the glacier rolled into a low angle icefall.  A fabulous section through serac (blocks of ice) corridors had cameras clicking as we wove into the glacier and emerged at the “Fortuna Pinch”.  This secret route was figured by guides before us and passed on by GPX file (to our GPS), making  for an aesthetic and fast route to the lower Fortuna glacier.

Fortuna bay sparkled below as we finished the morning’s 10km trek with hours to spare.  Finally we could take the ropes off and a small celebration ensued; The billy was boiled and Eamonn’s magic green bag of chocolate treats was produced.  Last: a simple stroll through the terminal moraine to the beach.

A feature of the climber journey to both the Peninsula and South Georgia was our constant-seeming sprint from ship to shore, quick changes from gumboots to climbing boots, harnesses and crampons and mad dashes to climb a peak within the timeframe of Polar Pioneer stops.  We arrived at Fortuna hours ahead of schedule and were able to finally relax on a beach in the sun and watch wildlife.  King penguins eyed us curiously.  Fur seal pups bounded in and out of the water; Sometimes growling, sometimes chasing us; Fat, lazy sea elephants dozed and moulted on the beach, occasionally scratching themselves with surprisingly supple fins.  Idyllic.  Eamonn dozed off at one point and woke to find himself surrounded by fur seal pups.

Marilou and Stephen scooped us by zodiac; We had a heartening welcome back onboard the PP, a quick lunch then boots back on for the walk to Stromness with all of the other passengers and many Russian crew.  Big packs were jettisoned  and we merrily chatted our way over the hill to Stromness to the now-dilapidated whaling station that had welcomed Shackleton, Crean and Worsley back in 1916.

Over the three days we hiked a whisker under 47km with 1360m of elevation gain and loss, mostly on glaciers.  The weather was unbelievably perfect for an island that receives rain 300 days a year – calm, clear with travel conditions as good as you can get. We savoured the well-filled crevasses and good firm ice travel.

South Georgia crossed, the team settled into ship life and joined excursions to the north side bays of South Georgia –  the old whaling station – Grytviken and some other glorious spots – Gold Habour, Hercules bay and maybe some others that my simple mind has lost already.  Glaciers spilled to the beaches crowded with seals, penguins of all kinds, sea elephants and the stealthy skuas and other opportunistic birds (some of the group watched a penguin chick get chomped right from it’s parents).  At sea we were followed by several species of albatross, prions and various types of petrel.  We’d go to the bridge and watch for hours.

If you read this and feel an inkling of keenness, let me know.  I want to go back to both the Peninsula and South Georgia and I also want to ski there!  October-November would be best for skiing but March works for climbing.

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Me n Phil

Phil & I, Peninsula

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Me and my friends of Fortuna bay

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Peninsula – Livingston Island

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Polar plunge (had to be done)

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Marilou releasing a prion (the naturalists are super vigilant about trying to prevent bird strikes on board). Marilou grew up sailing this area with her parents and brother. A remarkable 23 year old!

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Gold Harbour King penguin colony

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Russian crew on the Stromness hike

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Sad big guy

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Stromness hike – Phil & the ladies….

Adventuring with kids

20130419-221439.jpgThis is a blog I wrote for Chill a few weeks ago.  As we adventure with Obie, I often wonder – am I doing this for me or for him?  It’s a good perspective to maintain.  It’s a long weekend and Scott, Obie and I are going down to Mt Cook National Park to fly in by heli and stay at a high hut then ski the Tasman glacier.  I do this a lot for work but the boys haven’t done it so I think it’s fair to say this is a bonafide family trip!

Oh and I didn’t run the Snow Safety courses during the spring holidays.  Look out for them in the next July holidays.  They’ll be advertised on my website.

Kids and Adventure

Is it a good idea to take kids into the backcountry or side country?  Since side country is backcountry in terms of being outside the ski area boundary, then there’s really no difference.  Here in the Craigies at least, it feels like it’s a bit of an issue as people duck in and out of the ski areas.  It’s easy to take the kids on missions with short hikes.

I recently read world champion Adventure Racer, Nathan Fa’ave’s book “Adventurer at Heart.”  I was both inspired and appalled by the level of adventure he was prepared to hit with his kids.  Sea kayaking around D’Urville island, Nathan paddled a double sea kayak with his three kids while his extremely able wife, Jodie, paddled a single kayak.  They got caught in rising seas and a tricky tide as they tried to negotiate their way past a headland into sheltered waters and camp.  Nathan’s water experience from 20 years at the top of Adventure Racing, as a sea kayak guide and his sheer physical strength got them through but I was left wondering: “What if they’d bailed out?  Three kids and Nathan swimming and Jodie trying to pick up the pieces in rough seas…”  Although I’m ok in a boat (I can take care of myself only) sea kayaking is not my thing.  It’s easier for me to view the scenario in the mountains:  Myself and another able adult take three kids into the backcountry – say the Ryton from Mt Cheeseman.  We are two hours from Cheeseman ski field at the quickest and two hours from Mt Olympus ski field.  Weather comes in and stability is changing rapidly – a fast moving southerly hits hours earlier than expected.  Can we adults handle it?  Can the kids?  Are we equipped for it?  We may need to change course and hike further with skis on packs.  We may need to drop straight to the valley or take a longer route on the ridges to get to safety. Worst case – we may need to dig in and wait out the storm.

I’m a proponent of adventure with kids and like Nathan and Jodie, I believe in the benefits in terms of life skills and resilience gained in the outdoors.  However, skiing in avalanche terrain (which the Fa’aves don’t do with their children) takes a new level of seriousness to me.  Last year two promising 20 year olds (friends of a friend) from the US junior ski team died in an avalanche after they crossed a boundary rope in Colorado.  Fresh powder would have been clearly visible from the ski area.
When our kids ski black diamond runs so young, it’s natural that we’d seek out better runs for them – or they’d find it for themselves.  My son (9.5) has been asking to go into Crystal valley for a couple of years now.  I did take him there last year with some other kids and adults but we pulled the pin at the top due to poor visibility and deteriorating snow stability.  Once you commit to skiing into Crystal, there are huge slopes above and you cannot escape.  It was better to leave it for another year.  Everyone was a bit disappointed.

The thing that bothers me about these mostly stable recent years in the Craigieburns is that one year, it will change and become a season with persistent weak layers in the snow pack.  And we must be able to adapt to that change and change our behaviour.  How and what we model to our kids is especially important.  We are churning out these solid skiers.  Where will they take their skiing?  To Europe?  To the great off-piste runs of Chamonix?  To North America (Whistler, the Colorado and Canadian Rockies, Red Mountain, Montana, Utah, California)?  To Japan – where the hazard rises and falls very quickly due to ongoing snowfall?  To Northern India?  In these amazing places, access to the backcountry may be very easy but avalanche conditions can be decidedly less defined.    A world of ski adventure awaits.

Risky behaviour is fine when there’s low risk and you are aware of the risks you are taking.  However low avalanche hazard never means no hazard and it’s important to understand that – and understand what it takes for hazard to change.  If you have the experience to go backcountry or side country with your kids, teach them about avalanches.  The younger ones can’t really probe or dig – but they should know how to use their avalanche beacons.  Older kids should carry a probe and shovel.  They should be aware of what exactly is avalanche terrain and have an understanding of slope angle, aspect, elevation and slope shape – and how these factors work together to create avalanches if there is unstable snow.  There are simple tricks for understanding surface snow instability and kids can easily be taught the class one signs (avalanches running, cracking, collapsing, snow or wind loading, rapid warming etc) to help them identify when the  likelihood of avalanches increases.  Teach safe travel protocols – how to spread out and how to identify and regroup at islands of safety.

To alleviate my angst over this issue, I’m running a snow safety course for youth (12-18) at Broken River on the best day of September 27 or 28.  Numbers are limited to 8.  Tune into BR for details:  http://www.brokenriver.co.nz/prices/avalanche-courses/
Next year I plan to run them earlier in the season at both Mt Olympus and Broken River.  I’ll probably take 10 year olds by then!

Weather Forecasting – Art or science?

If you live in NZ, chances are you are obsessed with the weather.  My husband (who is from Utah – where the weather is continentally stable) reckons that weather and sport are New Zealand’s biggest obsessions.  And rightly so.  Before the internet, I tried to never miss the weather on channel one at 6.55pm.  I’m happy I’m no longer so restricted to the 6pm news but I still try to see the news weather if I can.

As a backcountry ski guide who skis 5-7 days a week, weather forecasting is essential for planning my activities.  Last Friday I began one of my Craigieburn Haute Route trips at Craigieburn Valley and travelled to Cheeseman the same day. On Saturday the plan would be to head across to Mt Olympus. For weeks now, we’ve enjoyed fine, stable weather during midweek only to see it crap out for the weekend.  True to form, last week’s forecast predicted deteriorating weather heading into the weekend.  The good news was that the low would cruise right across the south island, hopefully bringing some easterly snow at the tail end of it’s passage.  The cruel news as Friday approached, was that the storm would begin right as we did.  The tricky part of forecasting was the call on wind and rain/snow levels.  Too windy and wet and conditions would be too dangerous to travel with a big group (there being less of a margin for error with a larger group size in rain and wind).

Sometimes I wish I was better at physics and had better skills for weather forecasting but when it came to Friday, the best thing was to get up early and look out the window.  Hazy stars were visible and it was calm with no frost.  I sat down at my computer and ran through all of my favourite weather forecasts in order to get an idea of the rain/snow line and wind speeds.  All forecasts agreed that winds would be calm but the freezing levels differed per forecast.  My co-guide and I decided that we’d need to stay high – above 1500m to avoid the risk of getting into the rain zone. No wind made it good enough.

I recently asked some local experts where they got their weather forecasts.  My neighbour, author of the guidebook to New Zealand Backcountry skiing, James Broadbent recommended WindyTY.  This site gives a broad overview of Southern Hemisphere wind patterns and direction and you can select temperature and rain/snow as well as wind speed.  The format is similar to that of Google Earth so it is handy for general pattern identification.  I often use this for the general picture.

Doug McCabe, head of snow safety at Broken River and a year round patrol leader in both NZ and the US kindly sent me his process.  A man of restraint, Doug avoids the temptation of going straight for forecast models like snow-forecast.com or the computer generated ski field models on Metservice.  He uses a combination of weather station data and the simple act of being out at the weather station, on the mountain, to establish a baseline or “nowcast”.  Like me, he checks out weather radar for the South Island to get a sense of precipitation location, intensity and movement.  Both of us have taken the same Mountain Weather Forecasting class in the US and from this experience, we seek out the pressure charts at the 700millibar level (approximately 3000 metres) for wind speed and direction at ridge top and above.  I’m happy to report (since these are the forecasts I mostly use) that Doug believes that both Metservice and MetVuw do a good job at providing this information.  Doug additionally recommends earth.nullschool.net for the big picture.  This site was unfamiliar to me but it’s actually very similar to WindyTY.
My next port of call was Luke Armstrong.  Ops Manager at Porters, Luke was a mine of information.  The week before he’d shown me a weather site that was completely new to me.  It’s called FNMOC and is put out by the US Navy and Luke uses it for the big picture.  Unfortunately my server did not allow me access to it as it is a US government site.  However, I did read the FNMOC guide to forecasts and analyses.  Although very technical, the usefulness of this model was in it’s ability to predict rain/snow levels using the 540mb line.  You’ll need some time to work this one out!

Luke did place credibility on the Metservice “Three-day rain forecast model” and this is one that I frequently refer to also.  Three days out seems like a reasonable prediction in most situations.  The Metservice model is automated and is thus less confusing to look at the the bright pinks and blues and tight isobars of MetVuw (which I still refer to anyway).  We were both dismayed last Friday by the Metservice computer generated forecast for the Craigieburn fields that gave a prediction of snow to 800 metres but a 1700 metre Free Air Freezing Level (FAFL).  Basically this created the distinct impression that Metservice, like the rest of us, were uncertain about snow levels as the low crossed the South Island.  It could snow to low levels or it could rain to high levels.

As it turned out on Friday, we made it from Craigieburn to Mt Cheeseman, thanks to the hospitality of lunch at Broken River’s Palmer lodge and the friendly patrol who let us ride the BR main tow for faster progress.  We hedged our bets on the FAFL and  never descended below 1500-1600 metres unless passing through a ski field and we enjoyed a calm, snowy but wet day with limited visibility and great skiing up high.  Various forecasts had predicted anywhere from 15-25 cm of new snow and we ended up with 15cm new for the rest of the trip across the range.  My studious attention to the forecast in the preceding week had paid off – but not as much as advice from Ski Guide Trev Street, who wrote and told me that his favourite weather forecast would always be http://www.lookoutthewindow.com.  Why? “It never crashes, it’s constantly updated, 100% accurate , and it works off line….”

Get up early and look outside.  If you are not in the mountains, ring someone who is.  Or go direct to the ski field’s website and trust that they are telling the truth.  They’ll provide a 6am nowcast.  Bear in mind that it may change by the time you get to the field – and that’s where a solid weather forecast comes into play.  Look at several of them and get the average prediction for temperature, wind, FAFL and cloud cover.  Good luck!

 

Ode to my Dad, Rick Keeling

A shout out to my dad, a ski enthusiast and the life of the party.  He died on June 13 and we sent him off in huge style from Castle Hill village.  This is from my Chill blog:

Ode to my Father (Rick Keeling)

In 1986 (God, 30 years ago?), I was heading to school one spring morning.  My dad was on the phone making rallying calls (exhortative calls) to supporters urging them to buy into the ailing Porter Heights after several marginal seasons.  There was a triumphant shout from my old adventure racing team mate, Sandy Sandblom:  “I’m in!”  Rick gathered a crew and the place was rescued from closure.  It was the ultimate sacrifice really.  Not only did my parents lose a bunch of money (that was ok because they loved the place and my dad thought making and losing money was just a game) but my brother, Adrian died there on June 19 1994 in an earthquake that astonishingly triggered an avalanche that hit the groomer he was driving, and flipped it.

My dad died on June 13 this year after a long but good fight with Parkinsons and associated dementia.  He still sparked, his wit remained but he became increasingly confused and less mobile in recent years.  Last season my husband Scott Simper, took him up to Porters to ride the Easy Rider chairlift and see recent developments on the ski area.  Inspired, my dad then commanded Scott to take him skiing.  I showed a complete lack of faith in this project and refused to have anything to do with it except watch.  Scott is a methodical man with excellent patience.  He coaxed Rick into his ski boots, got him onto his skis and they rode the platter lift.  My dad skied as he always had – slightly in the back seat (he hated me calling him on this but it was true – he rode the back seat but I reckon he did it because he enjoyed the rush of speed it’d give him).  He made three successful runs on the platter, accompanied by his men-in-black and urged on by a group of lady admirers on the sidelines (myself included).  We then took him to the cafe for a coffee and he announced his official retirement from skiing.

At my dad’s life celebration, there was a big crowd of Porters people.  Uli spoke.  I spoke to or received messages from ex Porters ski club members, half of the Porters staff were there, and many old staff from Springfield, including several who were great friends of Adrian. Many acknowledged that they had jobs or great holidays and memories because of my dad and his optimism and passion for Porters and skiing.  The guy went for it.

In 2013 as part of my ski column for the Christchurch Press, I interviewed Stu from Chill about his vision for the Chill pass twenty years ago.  Initially Stu’s idea met a chilly (sorry – pun so unintended!) reception from ski areas.  When I asked him who made the leap of faith, Stu told me “it was actually your father.”  My dad was an ideas man and he liked people with ideas – especially those who could follow the ideas through!  So years down the track, now that I’ve returned to the Craigieburns, there’s a real satisfaction in joining forces with Chill, working with the Craigieburn ski areas and carrying on the type of vision my Dad had.  Of course, Rick was all about lift expansion and I’m all about lung expansion and linking the ski areas by good, honest hiking – but we are kind of the same (although I’m less cavalier with money).

Rick Keeling was a good man, kind of brash and direct but generous, with a total lack of self-consciousness.  One friend recounted the time he rallied a big posse to ski Bluff face with him.  She joined nervously, linking hesitant tele turns down the big face.  My dad yelled encouragement to her, leading the fray in his mad and heinously awful Union Jack jacket, charging the slope in his oh-so-slightly unorthodox style.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to shout to people to let him ski first or they wouldn’t be allowed to ski at Porters anymore.  I used to die of embarrassment but now I’m proud.  He was a crazy visionary, the life of the party and a character with a capital C.

Throw some turns down for him this season….

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Dementia

I just returned from six weeks in NZ due to my dad, Rick, breaking his hip.  He has a combination of Parkinsons and dementia…. it’s been a tough run as Rick has struggled through delirium, confusion and agitation (but surprisingly little physical pain). As his primary caregiver, I returned to help figure out the next move.  It’s easy to attach judgement to this situation and feel a bit hard done by as his diagnoses came on the heels of my mother’s death in 2009.  Couple that with my brother Adrian’s death in an avalanche in 1994 and life does feel unfair at times.

So what to do but look for the silver linings?  One is that NZ is a country with socialized healthcare with some wonderful and varied medical people.  Rick has been in the psychogeriatric ward at PMH since March 9 and he’s been treated beautifully.  Another silver lining is that shit happens and you just spiral into negativity if you dwell on the negs.  So the lining is positivity.  Another positive is that we are loved and Rick has an awesome group of friends and family who do not give up on him.  Those are friends I’m happy to call my own.  Another great thing is that Rick still lives in my hometown of Christchurch and he fell down in early fall.  I stayed with great friends by the hills and enjoyed many bike rides and surfs.  The great Sarah Macnab coordinated my living in the moment and I enjoyed music and good times that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Uncertainty certainly remains but what I learned (and posted on FB) is that people with dementia are forced to live in the moment, painful though that moment may be, it will pass.  We ride the downs and focus on the good moments.  Some are even great.  We cry when it’s hard and sad – and then patiently recover our equilibrium.  There is lots to learn about acceptance and understanding of neurological illness and aging (which don’t have to go hand-in-hand of course).

I used to think that strength was about effort – but it’s not.  It’s about letting go and accepting that heaps of things are beyond our control and you just have to remain nimble, able to flow with the conditions and do what you can, when you can.  It’s like that in the mountains, especially in changeable old NZ.  I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to take what I’ve learned in the mountains to my lowland life!

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Me and my parents at Scottie & my wedding December 2000. 

Mt Kenya

I’ve managed to hit 4 continents in the past few weeks. It’s 5am and I’m up writing – the jet lag from Africa to Utah has well kicked in.

Obie and I arrived from NZ on December 18. Scott had gone ahead to film an Animal Planet shoot about bears. After a merry Christmas week I dashed off to Kenya to guide my friend Michele Gilbert up the sunny, south facing Nelion peak. Mt Kenya has three main summits – Lenana at 4995m, is the trekking peak, Nelion at 5188m and the slightly higher Bation at 5199m.

Michele and I have talked about Mt Kenya for years. We’ve been climbing together since 2001.  Michele has had an unfair share of injuries and illnesses in recent years so was game to seize the day.

US guide friends linked us with James Mwangi at Alpine Trekking Kenya. He provided super outfitting services – top trekking guide Antony Kibaki and an entourage of cooks and porters. We embarked on a gentle acclimatization schedule. It served us well as we saw zebras, waterbuck , baboons and a tortoise as soon as we entered Mt Kenya national park at the Equatorial Sirimon gate. The trek wandered through ancient volcanic valleys, some undeniably scribed by glaciation from the last ice age. The initial jungle gave way to many types of giant lobelia plants and surreal Suess-esk landscapes. The closest living relative to the elephant, the rock hyrax, appeared at around 4000m. They look like big rodents – like the marmots common at 10000feet and above in North America. But they are pachyderms! Go figure! We stayed at trekking huts and enjoyed the sunrise on New Year’s Day on top of peak Lenana.

Summit day arrived on Jan 2. I awoke with the queasy feeling that I’d eaten something disagreeable (nothing to do with our cook, who was excellent)!  A complex stroll across the dying Lewis glacier to the base of the technical climbing , gave me some fresh air and we enjoyed a pleasant 16 pitch rock climb to the summit of Nelion. Other parties were on the route as well. Since they were Kenyan guided parties, I respectfully let them go ahead and Michele (who is a strong technical climber) and I cruised along behind. We arrived later than anticipated to the pointy summit. The cloud had moved in but we parked up next to the tiny Howell bivouac on the summit and enjoyed the views to the plains.

I began to dry retch on the rappels. It made things tiring but not dangerous. By the time we arrived back at the Austrian Hut, I was really pukey! That continued through the night, much to the concern of poor Michele, who is used to me as robust. The following morning we packed and made the dash to lower altitudes – 25km and a nice 1800m descent via the spectacular Chogoria route with red rock gorges and speccy waterfalls. It was a fantastic walk and as the air thickened, I improved until I was good for a beer by the time we arrived at camp.

Michele and I spent the next few days on safari.  It was a pretty fancy affair with nice hotels and our own driver, the very knowledgeable and low-key Michael.  Initially visiting the Ol Pejeta wildlife sanctuary, my highlight was the sunset viewing of a family of elephants bathing in the river.  Elephants hang out in matriarchal family groups and they are fun to watch as they are so social and take such good care of the young ones.  The poor old bulls lurk around the edges on their own.  Our second safari took us to the Samburu area north of Mt Kenya.  Much hotter and drier, this wildlife park was more rustic with rougher roads.  Michael took us on a long drive to a place called Buffalo springs where, during the second world war, the British accidentally attacked a herd of buffalo thinking they were an Italian camp.  There’s a spring created from the bomb crater and I went for a swim in the clear water.  My only swim for the NZ summer!  We glimpsed a few ostriches on the way.  The males look like frilly, fussy ballet dancers on thick legs.  The females, like most birds, are way less glam than their male counterparts.  Another highlight, the “Giraffe breakfast” – was a take away breakfast eaten in the safari vehicle as we watched a family of Samburu’s ‘reticulated’ giraffes.  Giraffes are silent creatures and very graceful.  Michael told us that they communicate by sign language.

Because I am now an elephant fan, the final highlight was visiting the baby elephant orphanage in Nairobi.  This was maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and a fantastic money spinner for elephants.  The babies jog out of the forest to meet the keepers who hold out two x 2 litre bottles of formula.  The littlest elephants drink their bottles in about a minute then go to play (and get petted – see Michele all covered in mud!), much to the entertainment of all of us watching.  The second group of elephant orphans are older like 2-3 years – they can hold their own formula bottles with their trunks.  The head keeper gives a talk about the history of each elephant then the crowd disperses to go and sponsor these cute charismatic mega-fauna babies.

Michele then headed to Uganda to see the Mountain Gorillas and Golden monkeys.  I headed home via Amsterdam, a city I’d never visited.  Heading downtown at 6am, I entered a ‘coffee shop’ for a coffee, only to be escorted out without coffee.  It turns out it’s not a coffee shop, it’s a smoke shop and I don’t smoke – “no coffee without smoking,” I was told.  Not exactly Utah!

I’m now back ski guiding for Utah Mountain Adventures and am soon to begin an AMGA Ski Guide Training course.  Obie is back at his school here in Salt Lake City and is on a local ski team.  Scott is trying to ice climb as much as he can in between film shoots for Animal Planet. On the agenda after the AMGA Ski course is another exciting opportunity – I’m heading to South Georgia Island as a climbing guide on the Polar Explorer.  The plan is to cross South Georgia Island in the footsteps on Earnest Shackleton.  It’s big year – the centenary of his legendary survival and crossing of South Georgia Island.

Watch for the reports.  They’ll be late – but interesting!

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The Sirimon hut situated under the north face of Batian.  Lobelia plants in the foreground.

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Michele at the giraffe breakfast

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Michele and I on New years day on the trekking peak Lenana (5995m).  Surprisingly cold on the Equator at dawn at this height!

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Lewis glacier – not long for this world

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Michele  about half way up Nelion – the Austrian hut can be seen across the glacier

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Buffalo springs