Continuing on from the previous post….
So – as we got down to that big rock where our splitboarders had been waiting for us, we shared some high fives and discussed the next pitch – which was going to be the highlight of the day, and possibly the whole trip. The ramp we had followed up was wide and gentle, with enough slope to keep from being boring. We had taken care not to track the whole thing up, and there was plenty of fresh to get everyone first tracks. According to Seth – probably only one other group had even skied there all that winter, and the blanket of powder on it was looking virgin indeed. The whole skier’s right was in perpetual shade, so you had the choice of light and dry or sunny turns as you wanted, and despite the warmer temps and some of the weather the previous few days, a layer of surface hoar had built up on the surface that was going to ski like frozen air. We were stoked!
The slope was gentle and the stability was good, so Seth made the call and let everybody go for a gang-ski. Tobi and I took off with the others in tow, and it was quickly apparent that this was going to be the best run of my season. Tobi was on my right – no whoops and hollers here – we’re both more of the quiet sort, and we traded turns down the slope – at least once getting so close to one another that our boots touched! (sorry Tobi!) The others similiarly enjoyed the run, and as we made it back down towards that little lake and the bottom of the ramp, we were sorry that we had a climb up ahead of us.
I really can’t say enough about that run. If you get up there, and get the chance, I would recommend it to everyone. You’ll be alone, most likely, and I believe that due to the aspect and sheltered nature of the slope, it would be a good choice for a ski in every situation excepting perhaps summer.
Make sure you get in early, and don’t waste your time futsing about. We didn’t – and it while the day was still one of the best of trip, what came next was trying and tiring.
We regrouped, and got skins on…went well enough for most of the group….except for two of our splitboarders. Their glue had given up the ghost on account of the cold they had experienced sitting on that rock in the shade. Those of you who have been doing this a while know this….but for those of you new to the game, it is ESSENTIAL that whenever you take off your skins, you do not put them in your pack – or anywhere where they can get cold. This will cause the glue to lose its stickiness, and it doesn’t even have to be all that cold for it to happen.
Some of you might say: “Super-Awesome-Brand Glue” doesn’t do that, and its true, some glues are better than others, but depending on the day, the temps and the age of your glue, it will happen to ALL brands of glue – so proper skin maintenance is a really important thing and not to be skimped on. Having skins that don’t stick can range from being a headache to becoming a potentially life-threatening issue, depending on where you are and the conditions around you….so: what to do?
First – Always take care to keep snow, dirt and water off your skins – especially the sticky side. This can be a challenge especially if the wind is howling about your ears at the top of some really uncomfortable ridge. Practice ripping your skins quickly and folding them over themselves, sticky side together. If you think I am joking about the practice – ask the most experienced in your crew if he or she thinks its a good idea or search YouTube for instructional videos on the subject. Its a big issue!
When you get that done – don’t put those skins in your pack. Even if you THINK you won’t be needing them. Skins should go inside your jacket – and depending on your own temperature and the temperature outside, maybe even under your insulating layer. You get extra points if you jam ’em in your underwear – but beware of the sticky bits if you do that. On the other hand – there is no way to get a Brazilian that is cheaper…..
This will keep that glue soft, warm and sticky. It’ll also keep the water that has certainly gotten into the fabric from freezing up and also keeping you from getting a grip. You’ll need to figure out a way to be sure that your skins don’t fall out the bottom of your jacket as you ski as well. Most of the time – the waist strap of your backpack should take care of that – but I’ve been on trips where a skin was lost without noticing it a couple times – so its worth mentioning. Many ski-touring specific jackets have pockets specifically designed for this – and I really like them. Its one of the main things I look for in a jacket – but your own opinions may vary.
Last point – when you get ready to put those skins on – make sure you get as much water and snow off the base of your skis as you can. A little won’t kill you – but it usually takes hours for your skins to really dry out, so if you’re lapping a shot all day, or sleeping in a tent, those little drops of water can add up – and really take a bite out of your fun towards the end of your trip. If you get to a place that is warm and dry – DO take the opportunity to hang up your skins and let them dry with the glue exposed – but DO NOT hang them over a stove or put them somewhere hot – this degrades the glue, and it can happen quickly!
So – two of our snowboarders – despite having heard this – had still put their skins in their packs, and now were getting pretty much zero grip on their skins. Don’t think I’m blaming them….this is something we ALL DO and almost everyone does exactly ONE TIME…its kind of a rite of passage – and now they’ve done it. If it ever happens again to them, it won’t be because they did something boneheaded.
The rest of the crew – me included – had already slowly started up the rolling hills we had painfully down-skinned on the way in. We didn’t know what was up – but as we neared the top after about ten minutes or so, our guys were still down there and it was clear that things were not going well. As we were short on daylight – I offered to ski back down and see if I could get things going while Seth continued up with the rest of the crew to get into the sun and perhaps down to the boat. I rounded up some Voile straps from the group and took off….
This deserves a side-note as well: Voile straps, as they are called, should be part of everybody’s kit. If you don’t know what they are, google it and you’ll see. They come in a couple different lengths, but 2 or 3 of the middle or longer length are a good idea for everyone. Since one almost always tours with at least one partner – you can usually get a bunch together in a crew that has got their crap together, and with 2 to 5 of these babies, you could probably repair a wankle rotary engine if you had to.
All they are is a stretchy, but very tough plastic strap, with a very simple kind of buckle on them that uses its own tension to keep it closed. You can use them for anything – and ski-tourers do – but the most common thing is to attach skins whose glue has quit. If you put your skin on, as best you can, and then wrap 2-shitloads of Voile straps around them and your ski, and pull them really tight you can get that skin to stay on well enough to get you out of there. I have seen other off-brand straps that are similar, but they get brittle in the cold, and I have seen them get cut on ski edges as well under tension. The Voile-brand straps seem to do better with this, and I have had them last for ages, so while they are not cheap – I would recommend.
Other common uses: busted boot buckles, explodified binding-bits, backpack straps, or even splints for an injured buddy.
So – I got down there, and I see my pals doing this: they’ve got duct tape rolled all over the skins and splitboard of one of the pair’s gear. Since the skins were not sticking – they had been trying to accomplish the same using duct tape. I was both amazed, flattered and forced to laugh all at the same time.
On a previous trip – one of the two had seen the duct tape I keep on my pole, and he had seen how I had used it to fix at least two minor mishaps on that trip. While I do always have a bit around my poles for emergencies – duct tape ain’t for everything – and in this case, the glue on the duct tape is just not up to the cold it will experience in direct contact with the snow. (even SKIN GLUE fights with this, remember?) So it was falling off all over the place. I was flattered that my friend thought so much of my skills that he emulated me, AMAZED that in contrast to my minimalism he had been carrying around a whole HUGE roll of duct tape in his pack all week and laughing at their silver-plastic encrusted conveyance they were creating!
Since only one of them had trouble, I sent the other on his way. Too many cooks in the kitchen is never a good thing, and after attaching the skin on one side with the glue – (lots of pressure and snow-cleaning) I used to the few Voile straps I had to attach the other.
We set off. The glue on the one side didn’t hold for long though – and my poor buddy lost his grip, plopped down on his backside, and partly due to the frustration he was expiriencing, slid all the way back down the slope. I turned around, picked him up – and because I knew time was getting really tight – I sent him back up the hill – this time, without skis!
The skin track had been well-plodded out by now. I don’t know if it was the right decision, but my friend was getting cold, and we needed to hustle. I knew I could catch up with him – and I also needed to be able to work on his gear without him….um….getting in the way. So – off he went – again, quite demoralized and tired.
I got to work. There is seldom a short-cut to success, so I took the time to get those skins off and get them cleaned up. I took off all that duct tape – hard work – and got the splitboard attached to my pack. I scraped all the water and ice out of the skins, pulled up my shirt, and wrapped them around my body. (COLD!) Then, I tucked everything in, zipped everything up and put on my puffy and zipped that up too. I did everything I could to be too hot – and then I straightlined it up that hill….again.
Plan worked! I was sweating and working hard up that slope – and I could feel my temperature rising fast. By the time I caught up with my pal – the skins I had wrapped around me were sticking pretty well to my sides!
I didn’t waste time – and remounted them on the splitboard. I thought my troubles were over….but then….
I look ahead and see my other splitboarder buddy has crossed the flatter section ahead, and off in the distance, I can see him trying to get up the next step section. Up up up….then sliding out and down. His skins were not gripping – too much ice on the top of the slope. Watching his progress – it looked really difficult – and the second time up, he elected to take off his splitboard halves and try it on foot. Snowboard boots are pretty dreadful on ice…..he slid all the way back down.
I could see from where I was that he was getting winded. So I shouted over that he should just stop – and that I would come give him a hand. I left my other buddy on his own – sure that he could make it now – and made tracks as fast as I could over to the next big slope where my other friend was now waiting.
I kicked in steps for him. It wasn’t that bad on skis – but he wasn’t getting any purchase – so I used the toe of my hard boots to create holes for him to step on. It worked! Only – I started higher up than I should have – and when my second splitboarder made the slope – he wasn’t even able to make it up high enough for my steps! So down I went – again….and kicked in the last few steps – while also shuttling up some splitboard parts. My buddies were really tired – and to be honest – so was I! So I did what I could to help.
Up and down, up and down – I hit all those slopes at least twice – also while having to burn up a lot of energy carrying stuff and doing hard work. I really, really wanted my ice-axe to make those steps – and in the future – I think I’ll be a little more liberal in taking it with me. Also – Snowboarders = Knives – Splitboarders really do have less purchase on their gear – so while I tend to think of knives (ski crampons in USA-Speak) as specialized ski equipement, mostly for spring – I’d go so far as to say that splitboarders should nearly always take them.
The route out was no picnic for the snowboarders either….a lot of it was flats – so they resorted to booting it, and the think shrubs near the boat was combat-boarding all the way for them. They reached the boat barely having the will to live – and the cold wind on the ride back didn’t make it better!
Still – the experiences had made for one of the best days out yet, and now, after a few months, we all laugh about the hard work it took to get out of there.
All in all – the trip was a round success. Everybody left a little different than when they came – and that is, after all, the mark of a good vacation.
Compared to our first trip to the islands a few years ago – the scene has exploded. Its not a secret by any means…and it has lost something through this. The isolation and the authenticity of the experience aren’t what they used to be, for sure. Before you think I’m advising against a trip – let me also say that while the Lofotens have surely come closer to the mainstream – that has also brought a lot of good things with it.
This time out – we met a lot of others who are into touring like us. The scene is here, for sure. I’m a bit old for that now – but I still like those people, and its a great vibe. The lodge is a great place – and only the volume of people coming through today can sustain that – so that is a good thing!
The numbers of skiers also make a lot of the other infrastructure issues like flights, boats, busses, etc much easier – and I was glad for that.
All in all – I think we will certainly be going back again someday. If you’d like to go yourself, hooking up with Seth Hobby and Northern Alpine Guides is a good choice. They have good guides, and they can provide amenities that a smaller, or non-local guide cannot. In the end – its pretty cost effective to ride with Seth. He’s got a great operation! Go check it out at Northernalpineguides.com