Off Belay: La Cueva del Aguila – Guatemala

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Exploration in a pure sense is an elusive quarry.  Men such as Shackleton , Cousteau, Norgay and Hillary picked some of the biggest and brightest fruits on the proverbial exploration tree in efforts that were hardly free from struggle or pain.  This begs the question: Does the twenty first century still offer new exploration for the willing and able to make their mark?

The answer is yes.  Enter rural Northern Guatemala and a pair of adventurers stocked with climbing gear on our way south to Patagonia.  With our faithful Land Cruiser taking a relentless beating, we made it to the town of Lanquin near the beautiful waterfalls of Semuc Champey.  One ridge from the town there is a village situated along a flowing, jade-hued river shrouded by thick jungle on either side. High above the twists of the river, the smoldering cooking fires of women and the chipping machetes of men, rises an enormous limestone rock face.  Reaching nearly 300 meters, the wall is framed in dense green vegetation and is threaded by industrious jungle vines descending from its pinnacle.  Approximately, three fifths up the cliff is the looming shadow of a beautiful, gaping cave pockmarking the rock face with personality and mystery. Read More →

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Snowy Mountain Lodge & The Strait Couloir

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By Riley Leboe

The first week of February I met up with 3 Armada Skis teammates: JP Auclair, Ian Provo and Kalen Thorien, Salt Lake City-based photographer Jim Harris and Powderwhores Productions filmer Noah Howell for a weeklong ski touring trip to Snowy Mounain Alpine Tours. On assignment for Backcountry Magazine, we made the journey to Blue River, BC, Snowy Mountain’s Caribbo Range location.

Our guide for the week was Steve Ludwig, lodge owner and one of the most experienced guides in Canada. Steve has over 31 years of experience; with his knowledge of the area we had exactly the man to lead the group. Steve and partner Dana have poured their hearts into this lodge. They truly love ski touring, mountaineering, guiding and showing new groups around the terrain they call home. Steve’s insights, stories and history really made this more than just another ski touring trip.

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Off Belay: High-Altitude Mexico

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After nearly three weeks of sun and surf south of the border, we were itching for some elevation and knew just where to find it. To the surprise of many, North America’s third tallest peak does not lie in one of Alaska’s formidable ranges, but instead 250km to the west of Mexico City. Pico de Orizaba is a standalone volcano with a staggering amount of prominence. The mountain dominates the surrounding countryside, and simply needed to be climbed.

Our siege of the mountain began with a pitstop in the small town of Tlachichuca to gather supplies and a bit of beta from the reputable Señor Reyes, proprietor of Servimont, the classic European-style climber hostel in the heart of downtown. After collecting our intel, we embarked on a roller-coaster two-hour drive up to 14,001 feet where the Piedra Grande Refugio stands and our acclimatization process began.

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I would be lying if I said our acclimatization process was all day-hikes, mountaineering stories, and games of chess. Due to the fact we had spent the last month-plus at sea-level, we had a long way to go to adjust our bodies to the thin air and lack of atmospheric pressure. Señor Reyes’ recommendation was for us to hike down 2,000 feet to the tree-line the first day, as opposed to up. Of course, ever confident in our bodies physical capabilities we chose to ignore his advice and within 18 hours at elevation I was unable to hold down food or drink. Carson was able to squeak by without any major ailments beyond a small headache; I had no choice but to retreat back to town at lower elevation for a night of rest and eating as it would be impossible to tackle an 18,490 foot peak on an entirely empty stomach. Read More →

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Eric Larsen: Thoughts on Staying Warm in the Most Extreme Cold

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By Eric Larsen

People assume that because I spend much of my time in polar regions that I must enjoy being cold. The truth couldn’t be any further from the fact. I like being warm, just like everyone else. The only difference: I like being warm in really cold places. But there’s also a catch, I don’t like being hot in cold places either. I’m kind of like the polar version of Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

To achieve the perfect arctic equilibrium while traveling is no easy task and it requires careful diligence and following a few simple rules.

1. Be the onion.  Back in the day, we would throw on a huge down jacket, go outside and call it good. Sure we were warm, but there was also a gallon of sweat that pooled up inside as well. Today, were smarter understand that being warm as important as the ability to wick moisture away from our bodies. Dressing in layers allows for clothing to have different levels of moisture wicking and insulation. There is no such thing as cold weather just not enough layers. Read More →

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Off-Belay: Beating the Early Winter Blues on Mt. Lemmon

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Photo Credit: Ben Neilson

Climate change has likely altered previous conceptions of the winter season timeline. If you’re from the Pacific Northwest as we are, you have learned to be patient because winter will come, but chances are it’s not going to be on time.”

Regardless of where you’re from, all winter freeriders have been granted a couple of extra dry months absent of white, fluffy precipitation. So, what’s a mountain brother or sister supposed to do while their skis or boards sit waxed, tuned and ready to go?

Our trick for survival during the early winter season blues is to head south.  Enter Mount Lemmon, an elevated craggy oasis perched high above the city of Tucson, Arizona.  Ascending from the desert floor takes one through five distinct biomes ranging from giant Saguaro Cactus stands poised in full salute to a distinct alpine setting clustered with quaking aspens.  The expansive views stretch one’s eyes over three separate states and southward toward Ole’ Mexico, culminating the journey from the burnt landscape thousands of feet below. Read More →

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Eric Larsen Heads for North Pole on ‘Last North’ Expedition

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On Saturday, polar explorer Eric Larsen departed Northern Ellesmere Island and began skiing across Arctic ice on what could be the world’s last unsupported ground expedition to the geographic North Pole. Eric and expedition partner, Ryan Waters, are attempting to break the 2006 expedition speed record. To do so, they’ll need to cover 500 miles of ice in less than 49 days, traversing by skis, snowshoes, and at times swimming through semi-frozen slush.

Because they’re not receiving outside help, the pair is pulling all of their food and equipment—nearly 350 lbs—in sleds, which also serve as rafts. They’ll have to eat an incredible amount of calories per day, avoid polar bears and navigate dangerous shifting ice.

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Eric is a veteran to extreme expeditions. In 2010, he became the first person in history to complete expeditions to the South Pole, North Pole and summit of Everest in a 365-day period. In 2006, he completed the first-ever summer expedition to the North Pole. He’s making this expedition for reasons beyond setting the record. As the Arctic ice melts at increasingly faster rates, becoming less stable each year, he believes expeditions like this will be impossible in the very near future.

We’re proud to support Eric and Ryan with MSR equipment tailor-made for extreme Arctic conditions (MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes, Flight 2 poles and the XKG EX stove). The Summit Register will offer exclusive content on his progress, including voice and video updates supplied by Eric from the ice. Check out our Facebook page for expedition facts. And please join us in wishing the team safe and speedy travel.

Click here to listen to Eric’s report from the ice Sunday night of day two.

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Terrible Skiing: An Ode

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Photos and Story By Evelyn Spence

Over my three and a half decades as a skier, I’ve witnessed a lot of things and been to a lot of places, from Alyeska to Vermont, from heli to hut. But before I stepped off the bus at Mongolia’s Sky Resort one January, I’d never seen a man skiing in pink swim goggles. I’d never seen a woman tucking with a Louis Vuitton crossbody purse flying behind her. I’d never seen a group of kids passing around a bottle of vodka while standing in the middle of a groomed run, nor a teenage boy plucking his eyebrows while waiting in line for a rifle range that’s inside of a ski lodge. I’d never seen a girl walk through a building with her skis still on. As a longtime lover of mountains and adventure, this was the farthest I’d flung myself so far.

And I’d never been so cold in my life.

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I was in the Land of the Blue Sky to explore the country’s first ski area, which was built in 2009 by South Korean developers and then bought by a mysterious conglomerate that dabbles in beer, vodka, mining, construction, cashmere, and real estate. Mongolia’s economy, fueled by the discovery of natural resources like copper, was and still is growing like double-digit wildfire; I heard that there were already two Lamborghinis in Ulan Bator, and the woman with the flying purse probably purchased it at the sparkling new Louis Vuitton store just off Sükhbaatar Square. At the VIP building at Sky Resort, there were $4,000 Lacroix skis for sale, and someone told me that they’d already sold six pairs. Lots of new money in a very old, very nomadic place. Read More →

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Off-Belay Americas: Home is Where You Park it

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Among outdoor adventurers, rarely is one’s vehicle simply a form of transportation. Instead, it often doubles as a storage unit and can even moonlight as a mobile hotel. For our overland adventure from Seattle to Patagonia, our 1987 Toyota Land Cruiser needed to be ready to go in all three of these categories. Thus, we were forced to make a few modifications to “Beckey” that dramatically increased both her gear capacity and level of comfort when trying to grab a bit of shut eye.

Storage

If you hit the fabrication blogs you’ll discover one thing real quick—the two tiered system is king. A two tiered storage system eliminates the need to unpack and repack all your gear when you want to access some of it. It allows you to isolate gear that needs to stay dry from the wet stuff (skis, boots, etc.) on the bottom. It also gives you a significant level of increased security by covering your valuables without looking like you’re covering expensive gear with a blanket or tarp. In certain circumstances and vehicles (Westfalias) it may not be the best fit, but I highly recommend it as a starting point for your first design iterations. Below you can see our implementation of the system. While our top tiers are offset due to the height of our refrigerator, the design is still undeniably two-tier.

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Off-Belay Americas: Climbing in Joshua Tree

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As climbers, our path has led us from one crag to the next while we continue to push south to Patagonia. Two weeks in our route brought us to the community of Joshua Tree, California. I say “community” because Joshua is not simply a National Park or popular crag, but a winter season gathering place for dirt-baggers, weekend climbers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Eleven months had passed since our first visit to the lunar landscape of granite mounds in this unique place and we were stoked to be back. Read More →

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Off-Belay Americas: From Seattle to Patagonia and Everything In Between

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Belay: verb – fix (a running rope) around a cleat, pin, rock, or other object, to secure it.

A rope and harness are essential pieces of equipment for any climber on a belay team. They offer assurance and security while crossing glaciers or when scaling a sheer face. Comparisons are often drawn between climbing and the journey we all embark on in life. Both offer peaks, valleys, treacherous crevasses and points at which the hand holds just seem to run out. A year ago we asked ourselves if this life journey we are on is at its fullest when navigated “on-belay.” Honestly, it’s an answer we don’t have, but a question we are dying to ask.

Over the past two years we’ve had the ability to see one side of the equation. We enjoyed established corporate careers where we were comfortable, insured and safe. It’s now time to give the debate a fair shake and dive head first into the flipside of the conversation. Through the next 10 months on the road we are taking this rope team off-belay to embrace a life of adventure and meaningful relationships along the way.

To achieve an undertaking such as this we enlisted many key partners throughout the planning process. Hailing from Seattle we like to keep things local, which led us to reach out to hometown companies to lend us their strengths. At the top of the list fell Mountain Safety Research for outdoor equipment ranging from stoves to tents; Nuun for hydration tablets; TorFab for Land Cruiser support; and KAVU for outdoor lifestyle apparel. In essence we’re stepping “off-belay” while maintaining an incredibly strong rope team built from these sponsors and our supportive friends and family.

So at this point it seems we’re unroping proverbially while maintaining an incredibly strong rope team…Wait, that doesn’t make sense… Or does it? Regardless, we’re on our way, and you can ride shotgun with us as we continue to contribute right here at The Summit Register!
~The Bowlin Brothers

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