Lindley Hut trip (Central Colorado) – 4/30/10

May 11th, 2010
As winter rolls into spring in Colorado, it is time for my annual hut trip in the Elk Mountains. While most people do the huts in the winter time, but I always prefer the longer days, shorter approachs, and safer snowpack of early May. Luckily, I was able to find a couple of other backcountry enthusiasts that have not retired their boards for the mountain bikes just yet.

This year I chose the Lindley hut, which provided a very short hike to get to. Even better, the winter gate at Ashcroft was open, which allowed us to drive an additional two miles to the summer trailhead.  All the way up from Denver to Aspen, we encountered every sort of weather condition imaginable. It was supposed to storm all weekend, so I was prepared for whiteout conditions at the trailhead. However, we were greeted with partly-sunny skies and light snow for our entire approach to the hut.

Ed da’Gnarly getting stoked at the trailhead.
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We skinned up Taylor Pass road through about four inches of fresh powder. This was my first time taking the left branch of Castle Creek road, instead of the usual right branch towards Tagert, Green Wilson, and Friends Hut. As we crept around Greg Mace peak, the rest of the Cooper Creek drainage came into view. We reached the hut in a little over an hour. I was already beginning to like this hut  .

Skinning up the road
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The hut was very large, and quite comfortable for our small group. From the south deck, we were treated with an incredible view of the Cooper Creek Basin

On the left is the north shoulder of Star Peak. On the right is an unnamed peak that separates Cooper Creek Basin from Pearl Basin (towards Pearl Pass)
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On Saturday morning, we decided to head up the basing towards the face on the right. The aesthetic couloir direct center was calling our names.

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We started up the Cooper Creek drainage, but greatly underestimated the steepness and rugged bushwacking required to reach the base of the mountain. Getting up there would have required many ups and down into creeks and ditches, and skirting cliffs. Its no wonder this area doesn’t get skiied much. It was much gnarlier than the standard approach to Pearl Basin from the other side. Regardless, we found some good features to ride back down towards the hut.

Ed riding a steep tree line
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Mike hucking a small cliff
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Rachel making turns below the cliffs
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After regrouping at the hut, we decided to head back towards the mining road that we came in on, and climb the north facing slopes above the hut. The terrain here was variable. There was deep powder in many areas, but really nasty and rotten ‘snirt’ in others. After an exhausting and frustrating climb, we finally made it near treeline, and switched over to drop in.

Mike
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Afterwards, we retired to the hut, opening the whiskey and running through the various board and card games there. (Let it be noted that I kicked Mike’s ass in chess, twice)

A few photos of the Lindley Hut
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The next morning, we awoke to a much more overcast day. It was snowing much harder than the day before. We cooked a hearty breakfast and prepared to leave.

Mike and Rachel out front
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Ed, locking it up. Goodbye, Lindley Hut!
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Just because we were on our way out didn’t mean we were done making turns. We had spied a small chute during our approach that we decided to return to. Mike left to hike up around it to get above the cliffs, while Ed and I ascended the chute proper.

Ed, dropping into the chute. Best powder of the trip right here (not bad for May!)
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‘Huckmaster Mike’ in action
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This hut trip was pretty casual. There were no huge lines descended. However, it was very relaxing for me to get away from the city life, avoid Facebook for three days , and just chill out with some good friends.

Until next year!

Indian Peaks, Mt. Audubon southeast shoulder

February 17th, 2010
The Indian Peaks are the prominent mountains that can be seen from almost everywhere on the eastern plains of Colorado. Their serrated, snowcapped peaks and ridges stand in stark contrast to the dry desert foothills in front of them. Every day thousands of people are subjected to their view while hurrying along US-36 on their daily commute between Denver and Boulder. Millions more have seen them out of an airplane window while flying into, out of, or connecting at Denver International Aiport.

The Indian Peaks seen from Denver International Airport (photograph provided courtesy of Denver International Airport)
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However, as beautiful as they are from a distance, 99% of those people are completly oblivious to the true feeling one will find when adventuring deep into the wilderness of these mountains. Ironically, although these mountains are within an hour drive of the most densely populated area of the entire Rocky Mountains, it is easy to find solitude here in the middle of winter.

I planned to meet my partner, Barrows, at the Brainerd Lakes trailhead early in the morning. This required the aforementioned drive along the Boulder Turnpike. As I drove, with warm coffee in hand, I enjoyed the sun rising in the bluebird sky, and lighting up my view of the Indian Peaks during my drive. With good tunes on the radio, I sat in silence for over an hour, enjoying the peacefulness of the morning.

Barrows and I got to the trailhead around 9:00 AM. I did not know what was in store. I knew the Brainerd Lakes trail involved a longer approach than I was used to along the usual ‘I-70 trailheads’, but I did not know how far we were going to go up the mountains. At least a foot of new snow had fallen, and the CAIC was reporting ‘considerable’ avalanche danger with ‘pockets of high’. This meant that the front range snowpack was very variable. It could be deadly in some areas, but perfectly safe in others. Because of this, we would have to use our keen observations and experience and make very smart decisions on this crucial day.

The initial approach was as expected–on a two mile snowcovered road. Although I was cursing out the local authorities for not plowing the road, Barrows was good at reminding me that if the road was plowed all the way to the lake, there would be ten times as many people out here. I was gracious for this, for if I wanted to be surrounded by crowds, I would have gone skiing with the rest of the masses at the ski areas on this President’s Day. Not my cup of tea.

The initial hike up the snowcovered road
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After a short while, the mountains really started to come into view. Barrows pointed out many of the peaks that give this range its unique name–such as Apache, Arapahoe, and Pawnee. I wondered back hundreds of years, what the local Indian tribes must have felt while exploring these mountains.

At Brainerd Lake (still on the road!)
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We were making progress along the road, and the weather was perfect. I was getting anxious to start making some vertical progress. Eventually, we made it to the ‘Summer Trailhead’. There were picnic benches, cabins, restrooms, and dumpsters all covered in a few feet of snow. This place would be bustling with activity in the middle of July, but here in February it was very serene. I got a good perspective on things when we skinned past the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary. I have seen these signs all over the state on various trails in the National Forests–they all stand about five feet tall. Here, the snow all but covered the entire sign.

The standard ‘Wilderness’ sign found all over Colorado, they stand five feet tall on dry land
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We skinned a short while through the forest and came back out in a large clearing out in front of Mitchell Lake. Here, I had my first full view of the challenge that lie ahead. Across the cirque was the south shoulder of Mt. Audobon.

I am skinning across Mitchell Lake(photo courtesy of Barrows Worm)
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This relatively ‘short’ face was decorated with a half-dozen couloirs of varying size and steepness. One very long and narrow couloir branched up towards our right, but it looked like it needed more snow, as it had many rocks in the middle of it. We decided to head towards a lower-angle, wider couloir located on our left side of this face.

Barrows skinning up the basin above Mitchell Lake
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Bonus pic of some really cool looking north-face features on the ridge leading towards Mt. Toll
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As we made it up into the cirque, we performed a series of quick avalanche tests. Everything was feeling safe. I was feeling very strong, with intentions of conquering the couloir at this point. Once we made the apron, we packed the boards and began to boot up the couloir.

Barrows enjoying the February sunshine
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At this point my motivation started going downhill. The snow was very deep and unconsolidated. I had instant flashbacks to my attempt on Mt. Rainier last spring, where two feet of fresh snow had ruined any chance of us post-holing our way to the summit. Back here on Mt. Audubon, I was already starting to lose my energy with each step that I struggled to make in the snow. There were times where we could find rocks to scramble upon, until the rocks ran out, and we were left with the sea of snow. Sadly, I had had enough. Thankfully, I looked up and my partner was removing his snowboard from his pack. It was time to go down.

I am scrambling up the rocks in lieu of the deeps now (photo courtesty of Barrows Worm)
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I just couldn’t make the final 20 feet! (photo courtesty of Barrows Worm)
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The afternoon sun was already creeping down the western sky. I strapped into my board and waited for my partner to drop in from above. We were both nervous. All signs during the day pointed to a stable snowpack, but we all know that initial anxiety before dropping in for the first time. “Do I still know how to do this?” My partner asked.

“Just like riding a bike” I yelled in support.

With a quick hop out into the center of the couloir, he was off, making furiously smooth turns in the snow. As I aimed and shot my camera, I saw powder flying everywhere. The apprehension eased for a moment as I watched him ride all the way down the the basin below. Then the anxiety resumed: it was my turn.

Barrows dropping in
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Barrows down in the bottom of the couloir
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I got up on my toes and looked down below me, took three deep breaths, and throttled it. No worries whatsoever! I felt the thrill of the ride hit me, and suddenly remembered why I always put myself through so much torture for these 30 seconds of descent.

I met my partner back down in the basin and we looked up at mountain. The couloir was now decorated with two parallel tracks, making s-curves all the way down the mountain.

Looking back up at our fresh tracks
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It was getting late, so we made a few more turns down in the basin before switching back to our skins for the long slog back out to the trailhead. I stopped many times to look back up at the face. There was definitely a whole lot more to

Storm Clouds over Breckenridge

January 26th, 2010
IMG_4271, originally uploaded by Adam Reiner.

I just bought a Canon Rebel XT, my first step into the DSLR camera world. I’ve already started capturing some scenic photos. Here are some photos of some storm clouds over Breckenridge, taken from Keystone ski area.

See more here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamreiner

Rocky Mountain National Park motorcycle tour

September 13th, 2009

This weekend my parents came to visit from Illinois and we decided to stay up in Grand Lake for the Labor Day weekend.  I had only been there one time, over three years ago when ‘Briguy’ and I tried to drive over Trail Ridge Road in the middle of February.  We were stopped when the yellow pavement lines terminated at ten foot wall of snow at the west entrance to the National Park.  That was the farthest I’ve ever been on the west side, although I have explored most of the terrain on the east side of the National Park many times since.

To save my Dad a couple of hundred bucks on a rental car, I agreed to hand over the keys to my trusted 1997 Ford F-250 Powerstroke to him for the trip.  That truck and I have been through heaven and hell together four seasons a year, but all I could think about what gaining the freedom to ride my 1989 Kawasaki KLR-650 for 200 miles through the Rocky Mountains! (of course, the fact that I still owe said Dad a few bucks on the generous truck loan, had little to do with the decision.)

I geared up at near 4:20 in the afternoon and made a final pit stop before heading out on my own.  I topped off the KLR with 87 octane and looked around for an air compressor.  I circled the entire parking lot before finding one that said “out of order”.  Without a guage, I estimated that I had about 40 psi in the rear tire and 30 in the front.  I figured it a worthy experiment for my first mountain trip. 


84 degrees in Denver with clouds rolling in

I got out of Capitol Hill as usual without a hitch, cruising out at top speed on U.S. Route 6 towards Golden.  I decided to continue on US-6 up into the mountains because it had worked well on my last motorcycle ride and was much more relaxing than Interstate-70 would have been regardless of the situation.  My Clear Creek detour proved once again to be a good decision, and I made my first stop at the infamous “Kermitts”, a saloon with a large “Tuaca” sign and a collection of the Harley-Davidson types parked out front.  I’ve seen this bar with my own eyes over 200 times by my estimates.  I snapped a few photos anyways., but had no need or desire to go inside.  Maybe next time.  Instead I put on the rest of my makeshift ‘cold weather gear’ I had brought to experiment with on this trip.  I had a light fleece on under my textile motorcycling jacket, which gave me excellent mobility and warmth.  I also put on some ‘waterproof’ (I use that term sparingly) EMS pants over my poly hiking pants. I kept on the leather ‘MLB-branded’ batting gloves although I still had some winter touring gloves in the tailbag.  Speaking of tailbag, that is also a makeshift idea using the legendary DaKine Heli-Pro backpack.  The bomber hip belt and cargo straps on the back secured the bag to my stock rear rack of the KLR.  I had found a motorcycling use to add to the multiple uses of my favorite pack throughout the snowboarding, climbing, mountain biking, city-trekking, and hunting seasons.


My KLR parked in front of Kermitt’s

When I got going again I was forced to pick up the interstate for a few miles.  Just as I ramped on I was stopped in gridlock Labor Day vacationer traffic not unlike the hellish ‘Bormon’ through Northwest Indiana on such an important American recreational holiday.  Strangely, I wasn’t the least bit annoyed by the traffic while riding the KLR instead of driving a ‘cage’.  After about ten minutes it opened up again and I exited onto US-40 to head up Berthoud Pass. 

The temperature started to drop quickly while heading up the pass.  I pulled over and changed into a super-warm pair of Tourmaster gloves I had bought in the bargain bin at Moto-Gear Outlet.  Now my hands were nice and toasty, and I continued up the pass.  I enjoyed making the hairpin turns around each switchback, climbing higher and higher up the pass.  I had read mixed reviews about riding a carburetted motorcycle up to high altitudes, but I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  I parked at the top of the pass and took a few photos.  Without snow everywhere, I could see where the dirt road went up to the science station at the top of the mountain.  However, the road had a gate in front of it and a sign that said “No Motor Vehicles”.  That was a bummer, for I really wanted to rally up to the top on a short detour of my trip.


Looks like a perfectly good road to me!


Self photo on Berthoud Pass

I departed down the west side of Berthoud Pass, through Winter Park and Granby.  The air started to warm up again, and with the mountain pass behind me, I settled back and enjoyed the cruise. 


“Sweet Mary Jane!”

I may have gotten a little too comfortable out on that straight stretch of highway, and caught my eyes wandering away from the road and to the beautiful mountain scenery around me.  At one time, I brought my eyes back to the road just in time to see a large white van coming right at me in my lane!  He was apparently making a pass, and at the time I made eye contact with him he was already moving back into the other lane, but it was short enough to scare the crap out of me!  For the rest of the ride I told myself “eyes on the road!”

The views from lake Granby were just amazing.  It was a little over an hour before sunset, and there were dozens of sailboats out on the calm lake.  The sun cast a warm glow over the entire scene.  I just had to pull over and take a few more photos before finally reaching my destination in Grand Lake.


Sunset on Lake Granby

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On day two, we occupied ourselves by riding the mountain bikes and hanging out around town.  When I had a little free time to escape, I took the KLR out on my own to find some highly addictive dirt to play in.  By looking at my map of Rocky Mountain National Park, I identified a forest service road called “Kewanachee Road” that climbed up into the foothills on the southern end of the Never Summer Range.  When I got to the trailhead, it was packed with trailers.  A few guys were loading dirtbikes onto their trailers to ride back home in there cages.  I smiled to myself and was so glad I had a dual-sport motorcycle so I would never have to do that!

After I passed the parking lot, the road got pretty technical.  I was met with a long, steep hill immediately.  As I started up, I saw a train of “family-types” on ATVs coming directly at me!  I realized they had no concept of yielding to uphill traffic, I stopped my ascent halfway up the trail.  As soon as I did I groaned to myself about making such a bad decision.  It was going to be a pain in the ass to get started again.  When the “cotton-and-denim army” finally passed me I was all alone again and hit the gas.  I couldn’t handle the angle I was trying to get on, and the rear wheel started spinning wildly.  The next thing I know, I’m perpendicular to the road and going down!  I try to stick my left leg down but it was too steep.  I gave up my effort and the KLR slammed down on the ground.

Breathing heavily, I scrambled to pick it up before more ATV traffic came upon me and suffer any more embarrassment.  Not only is a KLR heavy to pick up on flat ground, the challenge was magnified by me being so far downhill and trying to push the bike up from below.  Grunting, I finally got it up and found that the end of the clutch lever was busted off, and the gear shifter was bent.  “Stupid!” I yelled to myself.  But instead of feeling pity for myself, I decided not to give up on the hill climb.  I got back on the bike and coasted back down to the flat area at the bottom.  This time, I aimed the tire directly up the hill and cranked on the throttle.  ATVers be damned, I wasn’t stopping!  Luckily, I made it up without incident and breathed a sigh of relief.

The remainder of the road was a lot of fun.  It wasn’t too steep, and offered plenty of winding curves as it climbed up through the desert forest.  It was a perfect evening for a ride, and I had some excellent views back to the east.  About halfway up, I stopped to look at my map and realized it had fallen out of my vest pocket.  Although I thought I could keep going, I figured the smart thing was to turn around and head back to meet up with my family.  Luckily, I found the map down on the trail on my way down.


Traveling on Kewanachee Road


Self photo from high up on the road, looking out towards the east

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On day three, we loaded up the convoy (one car, one truck, and me on the motorcycle) and headed on our way through Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was a cool morning, and as I rode through the lower valley on the west side of the park, the temperature was dropping.  I changed into the warmer gloves, but as I started climbing up above the valley floor, the temps rose again.  I took in the sweeping views of the Never Summer range while winding up trail ridge road, and we all stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of the road for a short hike and some photos.


Wapiti….yum yum


Epic mountain views!

Afterwards, I mounted up again and continued over the pass.  The views from the top of Trail Ridge Road were epic!  I could see the distinctive flat-top of Long’s Peak to the southeast.  The craggy face of the continental divide dominated the view on my right side.  The upper part of the road was very crowded with tourists pulling over and getting out.  I rode very carefully and finally started to descend to the east side of the Park.  I also passed dozens of motorcyclists.  Most of them were on cruisers.  Not many people waved, but neither did I because I was focused on controlling my descent.  However as I came around a lower curve I saw a dual-sport rider coming up.  He gave me a big “thumbs up” as he passed me!


Self photo on top of Trail Ridge Road with Long’s Peak in the background

After making it through the Park we did an awesome hike up from the Glacier Gorge trailhead to “The Loch”, where I was able to show my dad one of my favorite snowboard descents, Taylor Glacier.  Then we went into Estes Park for dinner and finally got on US-36 and took that all the way back to Denver.

This was the first “long-distance” ride I’ve done on the KLR.  I learned a few things, but all in all I didn’t have any problems and had a lot of fun.  I may be in the market for a more comfortable seat, but other than that, the KLR is a great touring bike!

Splitboarding Mount St. Helens, 5/18/2009

May 27th, 2009
5/18/2009

My 10 day long tour of the Pacific Northwest took me midway up the slopes of Mt. Rainier, trekking the urban streets of Seattle, touring the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula and the Hoh Rain Forest, body surfing on the sandy beaches of the Oregon Coast, and the greatest “slackcountry” turns I’ve ever had making yo-yo laps on Mt. Hood until the sun went down.

On the final day of my trip, we awoke at dawn at 2700′ in the Marble Mountain Snopark, 5665 feet below the summit of Mount St. Helens. To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to the huge climb ahead, for I was all but done with my vacation and a bit homesick. But I figured “hey, I’ll just start up and see how far I get.”

There were already a lot of people ahead of us. We only caught a glimpse of a few skiers, some on skins and others with snowshoes on their feet and skis strapped to their pack for the long ascent.

The trail wound through the forest for a few miles on a long, flat approach on pine-needle covered brown snow very similar to most Colorado 14er approaches. Finally, we emerged from the trees and had our first view of the monolithic south slope of the volcano. It looked huge (just as Rainier and Hood had before), but most of the slope was low angled, which meant we could maintain an efficient pace with climbing skins.

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First view of the whole mountain.

It was already getting very warm in the morning sun. Forecasts were predicting over 80 degrees at our elevation. As I climbed I could see Mount Adams dominating my view to the east. While on Mt. Rainier the week before, I looked to the south at these two mountains, and although they still looked very big, they were very far apart. Now, Mt. Adams appeared to be right next to St. Helens. The immense size of these volcanoes plays weird games on your perception.

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Mt. Adams

As we kept climbing, I wondered when we would decide to turn around. Funny, however, that the farther up I got, the stronger I felt. At every stop, we set a new goal, whether to get to a rock outcropping, cornice, or ridge. Before we knew it, the summit was in sight, and felt attainable. There was a group of telemark skiers already on their way down, but I could see at least three other groups still heading for the summit.

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Heading for the summit. It was so relieving to be able to skin up the whole thing!

At this point, some dark clouds began moving in. I have heard many things about Cascade weather, that when it comes in, it comes in STRONG. I was a little nervous about the oncoming clouds, but we hurried our pace and set out for the summit.

On the way up, I saw a lot of hikers “glissading” down. Some of them were on plastic garbage bags. Still others had on nothing but jeans and tennis shoes. I couldn’t believe they were up here, soaking wet with clouds rolling in, but I am no one to judge.

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Are these people for real?

By the time I could have seen the summit block, it was a total white out. I could barely make out the figures of the group of climbers on the summit, and finally met my partner and celebrated our accomplishment. For not really being “in the mood” at the trailhead, I had made it to the top of the mountain roughly 5 hours later!

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Conditions on the summit

On the summit, one man asked us “Did you guys climb this because it is the 29th anniversary of the eruption?”

We both looked at each other in surprise. We had no idea of the historical significance of this day, but thought it was really cool, almost ironic, that we had climbed to the summit on this day. I tried to peer over into the crater rim, but could barely see anything but some very steep spines that disappeared into the white abyss.

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The team on the summit with the inside of the crater barely visible behind us

We tried to wait for some sort of sun break to make our descent, but finally realized we would not have the luxury, so we made some careful turns down the upper face of the mountain.

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Dropping into a total white out

Once we got out of the clouds, however, it was sunny spring conditions again, and we were rewarded with 5000′ of excellent corn snow on the descent!

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Brian making great corn turns

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The author slaying the volcano

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Life is not better than this!

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Brian hucking the cornice

This trip has been a series of milestones after another. But the final day was the best of all, as I had finally snowboarded off of the summit of a Cascade volcano. I can’t wait to come back!