Monday, December 15, 2008

Joan's Weekend in Vermont

The CT Climbers & Mountaineers started an annual trip to Vermont about 5-6 years ago. Joan, the widow of a past member, Dennis, invited us to her vacation/rental house near Killington, and it has become an annual tradition. I've been on almost all of the trips, and hope we have the opportunity for many more. It's such a great time!

The old farmhouse sleeps about 20 people comfortably, and we usually get about 15 or so in attendance. The weekend goes something like this....Drive up Friday night and arrive in time for drinks and nachos. It's a chance to get reacquainted with folks I haven't seen in awhile. Saturday - After a quick breakfast, we head out for various outdoor activities. I usually ski with my old climbing partner/mentor, Paul (a.k.a. EuroMan) and others. We don't ride the lifts...we use backcountry ski gear (Randonee or Telemark) to "skin" up the mountain and then ski down. Talk about a great cardio workout without the pounding...more on that later. Saturday night is filled with tales of great adventure and an ethnic theme dinner (this year was Ethiopian) followed by a Euroman slide show of past adventures and more drinking. Sunday calls for a more leasurely breakfast followed by clean up/pack up and heading out. Some folks go for more skiing or adventure while others head home.

I talked Dawn into joining the crew this year, so we drove up together Friday night. We arrived around 9:30 to find that the power was out due to the ice storm and we were on generator power. While the beer tasted great, we could not escape talk of the economy, etc. It wasn't a great start, but it was good to be away. Dawn planned to try cross-country skiing with Goat and Dagmar while I headed out to poach some runs at Killington or Pico with EuroMan and others. Generally, the ski resorts don't mind us skinning up the slopes as long as we stay out of the way. It's tough to find non-resort skiing this early in the season as there is usually not enough snow in the woods, etc.

Six of us started up the slopes at a section of Killington that was not open to lift service yet. The snow making equipment was running, but no lifts. Basically, we had the place to ourselves. Four of us stayed together for the 2,000 vertical feet to the summit while Jody and Rick poked along behind us. The conditions were a bit icy, but the skiing down the top half of the mountain was reasonably good. It felt great to be back on the slopes! Unfortunately, our fun was about to come to a screeching halt. One of the resort employees on a snowmobile decided to give me a hard time and asked us to leave. This side of the mountain was not open and we were not paying customers, so we understood the rationale. We complied with his request even though some of the other employees told us it's not usually an issue. I guess this guy was in a bad mood that day. Anyway, we waited in the parking lot for Rick and Jody for awhile to make sure they were safe. Since we had nothing better to do, we started happy hour early.

After Rick and Jody arrived, they decided to head back to the house, and Matt, Jerimy, Paul, and I decided to try to get in a little more vertical at Pico. The resort was not open for paying customers, so we figured we could get a nice run in. On the way up, we saw a skier coming down, so we figured there was no issue with us being there. The skinning was relatively easy because the slope was not very steep for the first 80% of the way up the mountain. Matt decided to take it easy, so it was EuroMan, Jerimy, and me heading to the summit. Jerimy was moving well until we got to the steeper terrain. He did not have ski crampons for biting into the ice, and he was losing the battle with friction. He started sliding down and we couldn't do much to help him. He decided to take off his skis and try boot-packing it to the top. EuroMan and I were within 200 vertical feet of the summit when one of his crampons came loose. Yikes! He worked on re-attaching while I continued to cautiously work my way up the ice covered, steep slope. There were moments of concern to say the least. One false move on this stuff, and you were going for a long ride! Paul had enough at one point and suggested we turn around and ski down. The section I was on was so steep that there was no way I could convert from skinning to skiing. This involves removing the skis, tearing off the skins, re-setting the binding, buckling the boots, and stepping back into the bindings. "No Way!", I yelled. We have to get to the summit! At least it would be level at the summit, we could changeover, and decide on our next course of action. Paul agreed and we pressed on to the top. I managed fine with the ski crampons while Paul and Jerimy cautiously booted it to the summit.

After summiting, we elected to ski down a more gentle slope, but the conditions were not much better. It was "survival skiing" at it's best. We just wanted to get down the mountain before dark. Here's a shot of EuroMan and Jerimy after we managed to get through the steep, nasty stuff. Yes, that is EuroMan's trusty companion, Grover, riding shotgun on the back of his pack. Grover accompanies EuroMan on most adventures. He has earned his wings sky diving recently and has managed to solo rappel. He's quite the ladies man as well.

Anyway, back to our story! After fumbling our way back to the cars, we headed back to the house for the real happy hour, a hot shower, and an incredible Ethiopian feast prepared by Al, Marlene, Dawn, Dagmar, and yours truly. The meal was amazing and Matt provided an amazing selection of dessert goodies. I found out that Dawn, Dagmar, and Kevin tried snowshoeing because conditions were too icy for cross-country skiing. Their day was a bit shorter, but it sounded like they enjoyed themselves. The EuroMan slideshow included his recent adventures to Nicaragua and other far off places, and I truly enjoyed it. What a day!

We awoke to a wonderful breakfast on Sunday morning prepared by Rick and Jody, and then the adventure started to wrap up. We cleaned and packed the cars, and said our "goodbyes". Another Joan's weekend was complete.

I had to wonder if this was the last weekend of it's kind. EuroMan is moving west in a week, and he usually coordinates this trip. I hope we continue this event. I love this retreat weekend. It marks the transition from climbing to winter sports season, and is a great opportunity to hang out with friends I don't see very often. I also wonder if I will see EuroMan again. He is a one-man band and goes with the wind these days. I truly miss our days as climbing partners. He taught me a lot and it was a pleasure to watch him climb. We still hold the record for most pitches in a day at the Gunks (at least until someone proves us wrong). We had many great trips together and I hope we get the chance to share more adventures in the future. All the best EuroMan. May you find great adventure and the other things you are seeking!

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