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Backcountry Snowkite Dreams

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Backcountry Snowkite Dreams

Postby Noahpz » Sun Apr 15, 2012 5:15 pm

Have you ever dreamed of a backcountry snowkite trip that opens new doors of awareness? Does the thought of being miles from the nearest road, of skinning up, up and away, far from your snowmobile, just to get to the kite launch sound difficult? How about something more committed than the usual park-n-ride? Does the idea of kiting over miles of challenging alpine terrain resonate to that snowkiter inside you? One never knows how ready you are until you put yourself to the test.

Backcountry snowkiting means pulling a lot of pieces together to make the dream come true. Weather, equipment, partners, snowpack, location, route finding, fitness, kite skills, avy awareness, and dumb luck all play a role in success. Fortunately for me and a couple friends, JJ and Dave, we were able to pull it all together and have a long weekend of backcountry adventure and excitement in the Absaroka Mountains outside of Cooke City, Montana.

It all started with the weather. Talk about lucky: 26 inches of fluffy new snow fell on the night of our arrival in Cooke City. In spite of our first night of hard drinking at the Miner’s Saloon, it was hard to fall asleep knowing what was awaiting us the next day. With clearing skies the next morning we anxiously loaded the snowmobiles with boards and kites and set off to find our route leading to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness boundary.

On a previous trip three years ago I gained some first-hand familiarity with the route. However this time, deciphering the unbroken way in all the new snow was a mind-bending challenge. A bit of bad luck came within the first hour when I misjudged my line through some tight timber. Here I smacked my sled’s left ski hard against a stout tree. This bump was enough to tear the suspension arm off the snowmobile and necessitated JJ towing me back into Cooke. Getting towed is no fun. To make matters worse, two miles before I got back to town the ski and suspension completely tore off from the sled. Fortunately, if you have to break down in Montana, the repair shop in Cooke City is the place to be. They can fix you. They had the parts, the skill and the time to wrench on my ailing snowmobile. Don’t ask how much it cost, the important thing is that I was back on the trail the next morning.

That next day our sleds pounded out the 10 mile route to the wilderness boundary without incident. No screw ups this time. Once there, we quickly launched our kites and tried to session into Goose Lake. Here we learned the narrow canyon leading to this mountain lake is a toilet bowl of circulating wind. After an hour I realized it was time to scratch that spot off my list. From there we retreated to a known kite spot by Lulu Pass. I’ve kited Lulu before and have always found clean wind, spectacular views and tons of untracked powder. That day was no exception. We kited all afternoon and into the evening getting our fix of freeriding in the mountains. It was immensely fulfilling to pull off spin after spin, launch long floaty glides and lay out miles and miles of tracks in the deep powder.

Our last day dawned clear and we knew that if we were going to make the dream come true we had to commit to the whole enchilada. Without hesitation we stomped on the throttle and made a bee line to the wilderness boundary. No route guessing this time, I now have that path wired. From there we slapped on our skins and began climbing our way to clean wind. Rapidly we ascended a ridge below Mount Fox. We made a short traverse and then climbed up another steep ridge. The higher we skinned the more we realized that we really needed to be more than a mile to the west. Oh well. Atop a steep couloir we peeled off our skins and got in a sweet gravity powered descent before we set off towards our goal.

A mile later we arrived at a point where I felt comfortable that I could get my kite up in the light west wind and ascend towards the alpine. Without hesitation my 13m Frenzy UltraLite and I quickly gained elevation. The kiting was super-technical. Winds were smooth but light. A steep section, kiting through sub-alpine timber, required total focus and planning. Three times I came to the point where I had to commit and three times I turned back. Finally, a decent gust came through and I made my move. A tense couple minutes kiting up through these fir trees and before I knew it I was home free! Freedom! Freedom to kite up huge alpine ridges, rip across expansive bowls of snow and marvel at the immense vertical world surrounding me. Up here there was not a tree in sight, just rock, snow and wind. In minutes I quickly kited up eight hundred vertical feet and began making lap after lap in this alpine playground. This is what I dream about. Now I am living the dream.

Having gravity and the power of the kite for propulsion is one of the ultimate qualities of kiting in the mountains. Boosting off snowy wind lips and screaming down mountain faces never gets old and it is one of the reasons that visiting wave kiters speak with awe and amazement when they have had a day kiting mountain terrain. Here in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness there are hundreds of square miles of committed backcountry mountains waiting to be kited.

Eventually the day wore on and I made a fast gravity and wind powered descent back into the sub-alpine zone and back down to JJ and Dave. For me a measure of a good kite spot is whether I would come back again. Yes, I will come back to Mount Fox! In fact all three of us look forward to coming back to this magical spot and hitting it fully powered on small kites. That day, we look forward to another successful adventure powered by wind, and dreams.

Thanks for reading and see ya out there,

Mt Fox Map.jpg
Route Finding.jpg
More Route Finding.jpg
Our destination is the horizon line.jpg
Looping my way towards Goose Lake.jpg
Noah slaying it by Lulu Pass.jpg
Boosting at Lulu Pass.jpg
Dave and JJ at Lulu Pass.jpg
Dave loving his 14m Rally.jpg
Skinning in.jpg
Dave flying out of the chute.jpg
JJ enjoying the pow.jpg
JJ west of 11550' Mt Zimmer.jpg
Heading up to the top.jpg
JJ West of Fox Peak.jpg
Noah's UltraLite on the Horizon.jpg
Livin the Dream!.jpg

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Re: Backcountry Snowkite Dreams

Postby fstdude » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:46 am

Dave told me about this but It didn't include the pictures. Pretty amazing stuff.
We got stuck with four straight days riding in the wet finishing it off with a river session in downtown Great Falls.

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Re: Backcountry Snowkite Dreams

Postby rvrrat » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:23 pm

:jump: Yeah, it is just a dream for me right now. Nice to see the pics and the story. Makes the dream so much more real. Looks like a great time. Maybe someday. Think my machine would get out there? JR

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Re: Backcountry Snowkite Dreams

Postby madman » Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:28 am

I have dreamed indeed... good work getting out there and nice writeup.
Here is a copy and paste from the Utah forum of a trip we did in March:

"Finally got the chance to go for a trip I've been thinking about for a long time. It turns out Eric G had been thinking about it even longer, so we made a plan and set out for an adventure. We started with a simple plan, snowkite, ski, and hike as far along the Wasatch Plateau as possible. When we got tired or ran out of food we could simply exit out of one of several canyons that run to the towns below in the San Pete Valley.

After snowing hard for 3 days straight the sun came out on Tuesday March 20th. The wind forecast wasn't very promising, but it's always windy in the mountains, right? Heather Schenck kindly drove us to the summit; it was an exceptionally beautiful morning up there. Lots of fresh snow... and not a breath of wind. We skinned up the ridge for 5 minutes and the wind came on. Love Skyline! Our kites carried us, tent, bags, clothes, stoves, fuel, and couple days worth of food easily through the cold powder for the first 2.2 miles. At the first group of trees, dubbed the "French Connection" we packed the kites and skinned up and through.

The wind had now backed off considerably, so we opted to just ski the terrain as it fell to the south in our direction of travel. It felt good to make some carving turns and we were all smiles. We saw a very large doggy (Wolf!?) charging full speed down the mountain in deep powder. Very cool. Another hike, rip skins, ski, hike, and repeat. All headed south. At some point we began to realize the burden of our heavy packs. The walking was grinding and the sun intense. We were relieved and excited when the wind came back up in the afternoon. The terrain looked kiteable as far as we could see and we rigged kites quickly. But this time was different. We made it only a few hundred hards before the wind let us down, our backpacked bodies hit the deck first, then came our kites. Sucker wind. Lots of work for no gain, and our energy and sprits were momentarily zapped.

Skinning along again we fell into a rhythm and covered some ground. We picked a spot high on the ridge, a NW aspect in the protection of the pines, to set up camp. This camp spot was particularly appealing because it sat atop a thousand foot gladed run perfect for skiing laps out the back door. Not bad at all.

Ironically, the wind blew 15-20 mph all night long and quit for good at dawn. No worries, fantastic skiing was to be had everywhere we looked, and the scenery was great. The second day was spent hiking and some excellent skiing was had on northerly aspects. We rode lines falling off both the west and east sides of the summit ridge, which was pretty awesome. After some head scratching and lots of squinting at a really shitty map, we decided that it would be too committing to push past Mt Pleasant Canyon considering the amount of food and energy we had left. A good ski run down into the canyon and a somewhat arduous pole and push out the sticky snowy road brought us to the pavement some 3,500 hundred vertical feet later. Brian Schenck pulled up in my truck a half hour later, grinning and with PBR's on ice. Yes!

This was a great adventure. Despite the lack of wind and some difficult decision making at times the dynamic and moral was positive and we made good progress. There's lots of little decisions to make when you add kites to a ski tour. Rig or not? Hike or ski? Push for distance or carve turns and have fun? The weight of the kite on our backs along with other gear was a huge factor and definitely burdensome. We left a good chunk of the route on the table, but that just provides the stoke to go back for more.

Eric's experience in the mountains as a professional guide was huge, and the help that the Schenck's provided was beyond generous. I'm still recovering physically and mentally but somehow I'm already scheming the next adventure into the Wasatch Plateau."

Matt D

Photos here:

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Re: Backcountry Snowkite Dreams

Postby knewschool » Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:01 pm

Wow! great adventure Dave and Noah! I especially love the epic journey and the awesome pictures. It's annoying to haul a camera around but it's so worth it for the people! We'll have to get together for another adventure like that for next year. That Wasatch Plateau adventure is right up there too, I've always wanted to find an epic adventure in Utah. Thanks Guys!

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