Let it be stated here, if it has not be said before: Cy Whitling is a gentleman, a scholar, and the owner of the most ridiculous touring pants in skiing.
Like some nice touring pants, his have suspenders. A fly. Buttons on the cuffs to keep the outer flap from going the wrong way in a breeze. From there, however, the similarities sort of stop. The camouflage pattern on the outside reminds anyone looking that their intended purpose was not ski touring, or even skiing at all, but hunting ducks. The thick material gives great insulation, which is of course wasted on the exertion of walking uphill on skis. Hence the full length side zips, usually wide open. In the shot below, you get some sense of this need to vent, which also manifests in him seldom wearing a shirt. And in such fine company, I spent three great days skiing around Logan Pass shortly after it opened on June 11th.
If you're not familiar, the Going To The Sun road over Logan Pass more or less bisects Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. Its June or July opening heralds fresh car access to above 6000ft. Gear that was stored is pulled from local closets, and for a few weeks, backcountry shredders have a crack at an easily accessible middle season. Cy, who I met last year at the Beartooth Summer Session, was headed up to join a group of skiers from Panhandle Backcountry, an Idaho-based forum for touring skiers and boarders. With an offer of breakfast and wifi, he showed up at my house Friday morning after sleeping in his car in a Walmart parking lot.
The plan from the Panhandle gents looked something like this: arrive Friday, get camping spots at Sprague Creek, hang out, ski Saturday and Sunday, then peace. We both putzed around for a while gathering up gear in town. Our impression was that Larry, the head of the Panhandle delegation, had gotten to the park early to snag the camping spots. NSers who have met up with other people they've only met on the internet before know the feeling: we drove in looking for people we'd never seen, but assumed we'd recognize by the stickers on their cars. Two laps of the campground yielded nothing we thought were fellow skiers. We grabbed a spot in case we'd missed something important, threw the tent up, and then headed for the pass to get the lay of the land.
Cy was out on his ninth day touring, ever. That's including Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Hood (twice) this spring, so I somewhat doubted his self-proclaimed title of "mountain gaper." He did a really solid job of keeping up all weekend, even on a heavy setup and boots with plastic soles and no walk mode. We skied a couple of snowfields off the top of some bluffs, but not before noticing an enticing slot on Bearhat Mtn across the way:
I filed that away for the next morning, maybe. Then we dropped in again. Cy took much better pictures of me than I ever took of him:
Parking lot tourists don't quite understand skiing in June. Maybe they've driven from Iowa, or Texas. Maybe they're astounded to see mountains or bighorn sheep licking up antifreeze in the parking lot--but they are not ready to see people skiing. A couple verbatim questions from different people:
"This seems like a dumb question, but what are the skis for?"
"Where are you going skiing?"
"So, are you going skiing?"
As we walked back into the parking lot, Cy's pants seemed to throw them off a bit, though. I have to give the pants that credit.
We packed up, made the drive back to Sprague Creek, and then went looking for the rest of the Panhandle folks. They'd gotten there late, and had to set up camp further back. The classic "I know you from the internet, have seen your stuff, and now we are talking face to face and.....uh......" conversation was had, and we mentioned the Bearhat couloir for the following day. It turned out that Cody and Dave, two of the guys we'd just met, had come north to ski that very line. They planned an early start so that Dave could get back south. Cy and I initially planned to follow later, then gave up on sleeping in to join them. 5am in the parking lot was the agreed time. I made some dinner after our drive back to camp, and passed out for a quick six hours.
5am saw us atop the pass, getting ready as Dave and Cody pulled in. A light coat of fresh snow decorated the upper elevations of the peaks. Skinning out across the surface frozen from the night before was wonderful compared with the slush we'd dealt with the day previous. Light hit the summits around us as we moved up and over the Hidden Lake overlook and down on a traverse to the foot of the lake.
We had to get wet; there's no bridge. Not that I was sleepy before, but the chill in the water was a lot stronger than any coffee might have been.
Some flats lead around the mountain. We then punched up through a cliff band, put spikes on, and continued wrapping around and up to the base of the couloir. After a rest, we were off again.
Photo by Dave Glueckert of getoutridehard.com
Cody, Dave, Cy right to left.
The last time I skied a couloir in Glacier, it had proven to be a bit less intimidating than we'd thought. This line, though. It got narrow, twisty in the chokes, and was filled with deep runnels. It was legitimately steep. Up front, I got excited. It's a huge credit to Cy that he kept at it behind, because though I knew he could handle it if he took his time, it was a full-measure piece of ski mountaineering--an ascent and skiing like he'd never done.
Photo by Dave Glueckert of getoutridehard.com
Leave it to him to roll over the upper lip with no shirt and a big, shit-eating grin full of stoke.
Going into familiar places with people who haven't ever been there brings a freshness of perspective. Cy's stoke for a place I've spent so much time was infectious--not that I'm jaded, but there's an element of casual acceptance that just isn't there when the terrain and vistas are new. As a group, we hung out for a few minutes and talked strategy. All of us were clear that this wasn't going to be a pretty run--the key was safety. Keeping it under control. Slow, cautious turns. Falling wasn't an option, and might likely pinball into someone else further down. I skied first, and found it steep, committing, and really fun.
I ducked into a safe spot. Cody made his way, axe in hand. Then Cy next, taking his time, and skiing well, especially for someone new to the steep chute game.
Things got wilder from there. A broad section lead down into the final chokes, but thin snow cover left small parts of it isothermal and grabby. At the bottom, both narrow spots made for some hot action requiring axes and a fast turn onto the apron. One by one, the group skied down onto the apron making those noises of excitement that only come from safely skiing something that demanding. High fives all around.
Making it back to the lake was easy, and the crossing seemed warmer with the sun up. We hiked out with a ranger we ran into, then spread our gear in the parking lot and tailgated it for a while. Tourists took pictures of Cy in his pants as he lay half in the lane of the lot, dozing under his climbing helmet. Dave had to bail, and Cody went with him. It was an honor to join forces with them, a pleasure to have more solid company, and I'm hopeful we all get out in the future. Cy napped on, and I went back out for another lap.
After I got back, we headed back down to camp. I fell asleep in the hammock, then made dinner, and we headed down to find the other camp. Three of their number had opted for hotel rooms, so we sat around the fire talking for a while about the non-plan that we didn't have. We agreed to try and meet them "not too early, and not too late" the next morning.
A too late start saw us meeting them as they skied the final hundred yards back to the trail while we skinned up. Cy's feet were in bad shape from the past couple of days. He'd done 6500ft of climbing over two days, and he still skinned along behind me, intrepid as ever. Our plan was to ski over, then switch to shoes and climb Mt. Reynolds without our gear. Cy near the top:
Two stoked dudes, impeccably attired. I didn't realize that Cy is that much taller than me.
The trip back down has some loose scree, or fields of really small rocks you can run through, so I obliged and Cy snagged a photo.
After a little climb and some shred, we transitioned again to make the final up before heading for the parking lot. I was tired, and I can only imagine how Cy was doing, but that's honestly what impresses me most about the guy: he can go hard for days on end, still stay stoked, and then engage in a philosophical conversation as his legs cramp and blisters yell at him. That's no ordinary tolerance for suffering. I'm just hoping that he waits for me once he's got a proper setup, and especially after he puts those ridiculous pants into the gaper day bin where they belong.
Thanks to Cy for a great weekend and his shots, Cody and Dave for their company and photos, as well as Larry, Mike, and everyone else we met from Panhandle. Here's to more wintery adventures.
Read Cy's account of it all over on Blister: http://blistergearreview.com/features/trip-reports/trip-report-glacier-national-park