Summer 2013: All Things Camp Echo

Radio silence is over. The spring wasn't all Cham Cham fun time. Upon returning from the incredible backdrops of the French Alps, it was time to get down to business. The business of summer camp, though I use the term "business" loosely.

Mid-April through mid-September was chalk full of outdoor work and fun with campers, staff, and friends. There were more trips back and forth between Evanston, IL and Fremont, MI than I care to count. Day trips to bogs, volunteer weekends, teaching school kids how to setup tents, paddle adventures, and a season of summer camp hijinx. There is no shortage of beautiful photographic opportunities in the summer camp setting, but I lose the urge to pick up my camera, preferring to get in the mix: capturing the flag, swimming across the lake, teaching campers how to (water)ski, scrambling eggs, and paying the bills. Wait, forget that last one. I'd rather take picture than pay the bills, but someone's gotta do it!

Volo Bog Boardwalk - Not sure where the kids went.
Many hands move many boats. Summer is near.
Echo Corps at The Marshes. Before.
A great crew ready for summer.
Pat and the Summer Adventure Club boys in the mighty red canoe.
I heard giggling and grabbed my camera. My favorite picture of the summer.
I think he had some help; it must have been Batman.
Extravaganza rounds out the summer season. 30+ jumpers are hard to coordinate. Surprise.
A peaceful barge, waiting for another summer.
A great deal of pruning went into the making of this photo. And a ladder. Worth it.

March 28th - April 1st, 2013: Chamonix. CHAMONIX!

I am a lucky dude. I might as well get that out of the way up front. At the end of February, I was pretty convinced that my ski season was over. Then this happened...

March 13th: The Invite
Jonny: "Um, wanna come to cham????  Seriously!  March 26/27 - April 1"
Me: "Why you gotta mess with me like this? You know I want to..."
Jonny: "Buckle down dude, we'd love to have you out there."

March 19th: Pulling the Trigger
Me: "Not sure what just happened... UA 940 Chicago, IL to Frankfurt, Germany... LH 1216 Frankfurt, Germany to Geneva, Switzerland..."
Jonny: "I'll fill you in in France!!"
Sara: "woo hoo!"

March 28th: Chamonix!
Two weeks after hatching the plan, we were walking the snowy streets of Chamonix, on the hunt for some dinner. The air was cold and the snow wet, which kept the streets fairly empty. We found our way into Le Bivouac thanks to Sara's expert use of TripAdvisor. The small restaurant was empty, save for the bartender/chef and waitress/hostess. We rolled the dice and were overwhelmed with deliciousness, as we would for the remainder of our stay in Chamonix.

Empty Chamonix streets

March 29th: La Flegere
Chamonix is not quite like any ski resorts in the states. Partly because it isn't a resort. Chamonix is a city resting at the base of a valley of immeasurable peaks and numerous ski areas. This is one of many things I didn't know about Chamonix (there were more than 8). Jonny, Sara, and I weren't actually staying in Chamonix, but just up the valley in Les Praz. The nearest tram was at the base of La Flegere and proximity was the deciding factor.

The snow don't stop. This was the best visibility of the day at La Flegere. We lasted two runs.
Luckily there are frequent buses between the handful of ski areas in the valley.
March 30th: Grand Montets
Grand Montets has a few more trees to cast shadows on even the foggiest of days, which we were experiencing for the second day in a row. We found a nice little niche of powdery trees and decided to lap it. And lap it. And lap it. Somewhere along the way, Adam, a fellow Americano, joined the crew. 

The four of us continued lapping our little corner of the alps, which Adam felt was rather similar to Tahoe's very own Kirkwood. Maybe we didn't have to fly to Europe to ski the 'Wood, but we wouldn't have gotten such good snow in California this year and there'd be the issue of fondue to boot.

Still snowing
Fondue Fondue
March 31st: La Flegere to Brevent
Had it not been for the overall deliciousness of Chamonix, the lack of visibility might have been more bothersome. Then again, we really didn't know what we were missing. Then the clouds began to clear. Every little hole in the clouds revealed a steeper and more magnificent peak. Walls of snow and earth rose across the valley, but felt within arm's reach.

Our crew stuck to the on-piste action, but the clear skies also revealed wide swaths of pristine treeless slopes being harvested by those with the proper backcountry gear and local know-how. With a little more prep and intel, we would have had some incredible runs. Next time.

Sandwiches and Smiles
High above Chamonix
Avoid Yard-Sales
Apres Ski
Walking the streets of Chamonix with skis raises no eyebrows.
Bus Stop Views
April 1st: Until Next Time
Just like that, our fun was over. For now. We vowed that this would not be our last trip to Chamonix, and hope to return sooner than later. Hopefully for longer and with a little more advanced planning. But I'd take another three days anytime!

Local monastery? Nope. A converted three-flat that we called home for our stay.
L'Aiguille du Midi. This is something else. Base camp for skiing 20 km of glaciers.
One of the coolest and craziest ski scenes I've ever witnessed.
Guided groups of adults. Families with young children. All in harnesses.
A deli counter for trams.
Longest caption ever.
And what would we do differently next time?
1) Book shuttles from Geneva airport to Chamonix in advance to avoid sitting in the airport for four hours, itching to get to the mountains. We used ChamExpress and AlpyBus.

2) Bring backcountry gear, just in case. When the snow got deep, many parts of the ski areas were left open, but with signs that indicated they had not been completely bombed. This was particularly true at Brevent, which is the main area directly above Chamonix. Getting a guide and heading for the real backcountry would also be rad.

3) Come for a week. If not more.

4) Wake up earlier each day. Admittedly, we took our sweet time in the mornings. It didn't help that daylight savings did a sneak attack on Easter morning.

5) Maybe rent a car. You really don't need a car in the valley, but if you want more flexibility getting to and from Chamonix, or to visit other areas of France/Switzerland/Italy, a car would be the way to go. Or if you wanted to save flight time (and maybe airfare), fly in and out of Paris and rent a car to go back and forth to Chamonix.

6) This one is really just for me... Visit the brothers in Italy. I was bummed to not make it down their way this time around, but will make sure I get to Jesi on the next trip!

Check Jonny's blog for more photo fun: One Word, Chamonix

February 16th-18th, 2013: The Hut Trips Continue - Benson Hut

It only makes sense that the Sierra Club would have a number of huts in the Sierras. There are a sprinkling of such huts throughout the Sierras, from south to north. Maybe even east to west, though I haven't heard of any in the Eastern Sierras. Come to think of it, I've never heard people speak of the Western Sierras, which would be the more well-traveled side of the range.

Despite living in the Midwest, I still find myself on the receiving end of numerous email invites to west coast adventures. Painful as it is to turn down so many great adventures, these invites pay dividends every once and while. Kevin's invitation to rendezvous at the Benson Hut was one such lucky break, conveniently falling on the weekend directly following Ostrander.

I had to drop Andrew off at the Reno airport to catch a flight back to Chicago and then meet Kevin, Paul, and Toro at the trailhead. Scratch that. They decided to get an earlier start and I would have to find my way to them. I parked in the Sugar Bowl parking lot, bought a one way lift ticket to the top of the resort, and started skiing for the hut. Luckily, it was a clear day and you can see the hut perched just below the peak of Mt. Anderson. I made it to the hut just in time to join the crew for a twilight bootpack to the top of Mt. Anderson and a sunset ski down, for which the sky rewarded us handsomely.

Benson Hut is just under the rocks on the left side of Mt. Anderson - that peak over there.
Somehow, there is private property in the backcountry. Blah.
Paul and Toro ski the crust.
Awesome sunset!
Awesomer sunset?
Kevin loves to bluebird tour. He even named his daughter bluebird powder.
Toro wears the threads of the last matador that taunt him with pink.
More sunset craziness.
Overcast skies mean it's time to hit the road. Northstar at Tahoe can be seen in the distance.
Benson da Hut: a smaller hut than most, bring good lights and your own dishes. I didn't.
Kev and Paul at the top of Sugar Bowl, ready to hit a groomer!
And thus concluded eleven incredible backcountry days. I was exhausted and ready to be done, but look back at it as eleven days that will be hard to duplicate: 2 trips to Ostrander, Echo Lake, and Benson Hut. It was disappointing not to have more snow for the trip, but luckily I love to tour and hard pack can make for great touring. Don't think I'll be back out this way until the fall, but...

February 13th-15th, 2013: Return to the Scene of the Crime

No sooner than Andrew and I left Ostrander and Yosemite, we started heading north for Echo Lake. The drive was long, but our Escape was up to the task - even if the new car smell was quickly being overpowered by old boot smell. In the interest of giving Andrew the true Echo Lake experience, we didn't start skiing into the cabin until 10 or 11 PM. The sky and lake cooperated and we slid to the cabin in quick time. We didn't even have to unpack our shovels to get in the front door, which was actually rather sad. Where is the snow?!?

Our first morning was spent hiking to the top of Talking Mountain, with the classic view of Tahoe, Sierra at Tahoe, and the Crystal Range. Boom! It never gets old. The ski up, on the other hand, got old quickly. Ice, hard pack, more ice, and a bit of crust, frustrated us on the way up. We did manage to find a few pockets of good snow on the way down, working further west along the ridge towards Mt. Ralston.

Another Rock-Solid View
The Talking Dead (Tree)
Talking Mountain gives a solid view of the surrounding lay of the land. Across Upper Lake, Keith's Dome called to us, with a south facing slope that looked to be full of spring corn. Nevermind that it is mid-winter. Andrew and I made for the top of Keith's Dome to get ours. It turns out, Keith's Dome is the dome that keeps on doming. Just when you think you've reached the top, it keeps growing at an annoyingly slow rate. We never did make it to the real summit. Damn.

From the top of Keith's we skied down to Tamarack Lake and back up to Talking Mountain, passing Saucer Lake on the way up. This was certainly a new route for me and I liked it a lot. The skiing on Keith's was good fun and is a definite destination for soft, fun, spring skiing.

It looks flat, but Keith's just keeps going up up up.
Someone is keeping Tahoe blue.
The Crystal Range

February 11th-13th, 2013: Ostrander, Party of 2

There are many theories about traits that are attributable to people based on where they fall in the birth order of their siblings. Only children are, of course, in their own category. I often hear that youngest children tend to be rather flexible, having spent their childhood adjusting to the schedules and interests of their elders. Sounds like a solid theory to me. Either way, I love being flexible. Flexibility allows you to push back a Tahoe trip for three days and instead return to Ostrander for a few more days. FLEXIBILITY!!!

A lot happened in the 36 hours beginning on the morning of February 10th and ending in the evening of February 11th. Below is the roughest of approximations as to how it all played out...

Sunday, February 10th
7:30am: Wake up at Ostrander
8:00am: Head out for first lap on Horse Ridge
8:45am: Crank out a 2nd lap on Horse Ridge
9:30am: Breakfast time!
10:30am: Hitting the trail for Badger Pass
4:30pm: Arrive at Badger Pass trail head
4:45pm: Consume Sierra Nevada Pale Ale slushy in a can
5:30pm: Pack up the junk show and head back to Oakland
9:30pm: Arrive in Oakland
9:43pm: Quick shower and sushi
10:00pm: Head out to Oakland International Airport
10:30pm: Pickup Andrew at baggage claim
10:45pm: Score rental Ford Escape w/ 750 miles and new car smell (new favorite rental)
11:30pm: Back at Burhop abode
12:00am: Call it a day

Monday, February 11th
7:30am: Rise and shine!
7:55am: Out the door
8:04am: Coffee and scones at Sweet Adeline
9:40am: Home Depot tool purchase to keep boots and bindings together
10:16am: Safeway grocery run (Did we grab an Americano sandwich? Probably.)
11:00am: Yosemite or bust
1:30pm: Welcome to Yosemite Andrew!
2:30pm: Badger Pass, packing gear
3:15pm: Hmmmm... Little late to be getting on the trail.
6:15pm: Sun has set, we be night skiing!
6:45pm: Ostrander Ski Hut, good to see you again.
6:53pm: Savoring Sierra Nevada Pale Ale perfection in a bottle.
7:30pm: Making ourselves at home sweet home

I've squeezed in the adventures before, especially when rocking the weekend warrior status while working in San Jose, but this was a true first. It was a wild ride, but well worth it. I was so happy to be back at Ostrander, but more excited to get Andrew into the hut for the first time. We called it a night pretty quickly, knowing that Howard had a full day of touring in store for us.

Twilight Fun up Heart Attack Hill
Smooth Sunset
Dusky Crescent
Howard imparting knowledge atop Buena Vista Peak
The Sierras are everywhere, and Andrew's a fan.
Are these things snow-proof?
Sweet turns off Buena Vista Crest
Probably the only time I was in front of Howard all day
Lonely skis in the quiver
Fireside chats
The stars in the sky go round and round
As good as it gets: morning laps, cup o' coffee, scrambled eggs, and a sunny snowy view