Monday, November 26, 2012

Teton's Adventure Part 2

With our assault on Death Canyon halted just a few hundred feet from the summit of it's western bowl, we had retreated back to Jackson Hole just ahead of a nasty storm.  While a cold rain beat down, we refueled with pizza and considered our next move.

I was looking over the park maps when I remembered something about a Tram close by that went up into the mountains.  I had scoffed at the very idea when reading about it before but now saw a way we could complete nearly all of our initially planned hike with some modifications.  Peter and Dylan agreed it was a good idea, especially since our legs were already crushed from the previous two days of climbing.  We would at least maximize our time in the backcountry in the limited time we had.  After getting off the tram, we would use connectors trails to get to Granite Canyon, hike all the way through it then turn south to get back to Teton Village.

Peter scored us some Tram tickets from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain.  We spent the rest of the night attempted to dry out all our sodden filthy clothing and gear by hanging it from every conceivable (and some inconceivable) surface in the hotel room.  The rest of the night was spent doing laundry and re-sorting gear for the next two days.

The next morning, the weather broke, and we were greeted with bright and clear, if chilly morning.  We downed a continental breakfast then loaded back up in our rental van and sped off for Teton Village.  Shockingly we were able to park for free (after some discussion with the tram staff that we would be leaving our car and not returning on the tram - and no were weren't crazy, and we weren't going to die by camping out on top of Rendezvous Mt.).

Rendevous Mt. Peak
We boarded the tram with various tourists and skiers.  Some people just ride up the tram to go to the breakfast diner at the top.  It was a cool ride, with plenty of views.  We were rapidly whisked to over 10,000 feet in minutes.  It was definitely cheating, but it also sure beat climbing.      

The snow wasn't terrible deep on top, and hard enough that we forego using our snow shoes for the time being.  We passed several cross country skiers gliding over the snow.  By the end of the day we would all be wishing for some skis ourselves, but the snowshoeing wasn't bad at all.  The first descent was pretty steep as we walked, slid, and and glisaded rapidly to the bottom of the bowl.  The trail of course was no where to be seen but we had a general course to follow.  Once at the bottom we had to climb back up the other side and over into rolling downhill terrain.

We had a slippery and treacherous climb up out of the canyon, the morning sun had melted the top layer just enough to make going tough.  Though naturally now it retreated behind the clouds, and we watched as another storm front approached.  For the moment it was just north of us, no doubt hammering Death Canyon again.

There would be plenty of sliding and falling for the next few miles and we wound our way downhill and around trees.We were completely alone already and had been for a couple of hours.  Without a trail to follow we used a rough bearing and the terrain to navigate, and Peter's GPS to stay somewhere close to our intended path.  We also had plenty of opportunities to practice our glisading techniques as we rocketed down the slope whenever a clear path opened up through the pines.

We took a quick break once reaching the bottom to eat our Great Harvest sandwiches standing up.  Then crossed over the stream and started a gentle climb that felt agonizing for some reason.  I blamed it on the rapid ascent to high altitude without a chance to acclimate to the cold thin air.  Or it could have been all the pizza from the previous night.  Under the fresh few inches of snow there was a semi-hard crust so we still got by without having to use our snowshoes.

At this point we turned north and left the open spaces behind.  As we descended further we were surrounded by trees again.  We followed some rabbit or other small animal tracks deeper into the woods.

We had to contend with several water crossings to hook up with the Granite Canyon trail. After slogging for a while we finally got back on track with the help of the GPS.  We also had a break from the snow and made good time on the trail which was mostly clear of snow.  It was nice to finally be able to just walk to enjoy the scenery without having to pick out a path.

Soon we entered the camping zone of Granite Canyon, with a couple of hours of daylight left.  We refilled our water bottles then found an amazingly clear of snow five star campsite, complete with tree stump tables, seats and a large bear box.  For the first time this trip we setup our tent on clear flat dirt instead of snow.  We also setup the tarp to give us more cover in the almost certain event that is snowed during the night.

It was cold but we were sheltered from the wind, and we set about making chow and hot beverages.  Night fall comes fast in the mountains, and we looked forward to being bunked down before dark. The bear box was a great luxury as well and saved us the time of finding a suitable tree to hang our food from while also keeping everything dry.  This was actually a group site, normally reserved for 6+ people.  Lucky for us there wasn't much competition (except maybe with the bears).

All that was left was to bunk down for our last night in the wilderness as we at last shed our frozen wet boots, gaiters and pants and crawled into our bags.


The next morning the site was transformed.  Before the sun was even up there was a fresh 4 inches of snow to enjoy.  As usual I was the first up with an aching back and bladder, and got some water boiling for breakfast.  Shortly after the light snowfall became a blizzard which would continue throughout the day.  When the guys were up we ate everything we had left and then hastily packed up our bags under the limited protection of the tarp.  Then we were off!

The canyon was a complete white out, and the snow filled air whipped our faces as we marched east and down out of Granite Canyon.  We were quickly becoming soaked and frozen, but the view was amazing.  The trail was fairly easy to follow luckily even as it become more buried by the minute.           

Without the need for snow shoes the hiking was fast and furious.  We had to constantly whack at trees that hung low over the trail, laden down with snow.  A quick slap with a hiking pole and they would spring out of the way as they dumped their load of the white stuff.  We repeated the process, alternating the lead for the next few hours.          

We reached the Granite Canyon Trailhead, but disappointingly still had a couple more hours of uphill slogging in the worsening storm to get back to Teton village.  But eventually we popped out of the woods, soaked and frozen to the bone and made our way back to the van.  Soon we were defiling yet another hotel room with filthy packs and clothes. 
This was definitely one of my favorite western adventures.  The difficulty of going off season made it even more memorable.  It was easily the most remote adventure I had ever been on.  On both halves of the hike, after a couple hours in we never saw another soul.  It was amazing to have the total solitude and quiet of the woods to ourselves for a couple of days.  Learning to deal with travelling in heavy and deep snow was a bonus challenge, and I can't wait to put my new skills to work again on the next frozen adventure.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Yellow Belt Test

This past Sunday I went for my Krav Maga Yellow Belt Test along with 15 other Level 1 students from the Owings Mills and Columbia Krav MD schools.  This was my first attempt at a belt test for any discipline, and from talking with students of multiple martial arts disciplines, it is supposedly the most difficult by comparison.  More than just testing your technique and physical fitness, it is about testing your mental toughness.  In order to test you require approximately 5 months of training or 30+ classes.  You also have to pass a pretest and get instructor permission.

The test was 5 hours long.  Broken down into a one hour warm-up and workshop to loosen up and get rid of the pretest stress followed by 4 hour of nonstop grinding.  There were a lot of fellow Columbia students there.  It was the first time a lot of us had come up to the Owings Mills school.  We killed the few minutes before test time comparing stories about how brutal the testing process was.  I had spent the past 4 days resting up and hydrating, hydrating, hydrating.  I just hoped it would be enough.  I was most worried about being able to maintain the necessary level of intensity and focus throughout the test.  I knew I could push through the pain but was much less sure of keeping the techniques anything close to clean and correct.

Once the testing started, it was game on.  It's hard to compare it to anything.  Maybe a triathlon, but that's not quite right.  Unless you spend the entire race sprinting while people jump you.  Basically the instructors wear you down with a combination of pushups, situps, squats, etc until you can barely move your arms or legs.  THEN you get to demonstrate your combatives, punches and kicks.  Luckily, you get a short break holding a pad for your sparing partner - if getting punched and kicked relentlessly is your idea of a rest. I was glad to at least be paired with a guy I knew from Columbia and had sparred with in the past.  Being of similar heights and builds, it at least made it a little easier.

After going through the various Level One combatives - straight punches, palm strikes, elbows, hammer-fists, front kicks to the groin, front kicks to a vertical target, and round kicks (I struggled most with these) - we moved onto to defense techniques.  This was simple a matter of willing our burned up limbs to deflect or block various upper body blows.  Next up was wrist releases, choke defenses, and headlock defense.  By this point my sparring partner and I were pretty toasted, and had to dig for everything left to get it done.  The windows of the testing room were completely fogged up and it felt like fighting in a sauna.  One student had to take a quick break to throw up in the bathroom before getting right back to it.

Finally we were passed all the standup fighting and just had the last hurdle to complete, ground combat.  In Krav Level One there are three kicks from the ground, the round-house, front kick, and side kick.  We ending up only doing the round kick (the most difficult of the three) and lots of getting up and going right into combatives.  And of course we had the popular drill of being circled by our partner while keeping yourself curled in a ball and foot pointed towards your attacker.  This was actually the hardest part for me, as by this point my traps and levator scapula were locked rigid and I struggled to keep my head up.  When the bell rang I dropped my head, arms and legs gratefully to the ground.  It wasn't quite over yet though.

We had one last challenge to get through, the caterpillar crawl.  We lined up on the mirrors in plank postion (basically the top of doing a pushup) and held it.  The first student all the way to the left dropped down and crawled though the tunnel of bodies all the way to the end, then back to plank.  It seems easy, but the simple task of holding your body upright at this point took a monumental force of will.  We repeated this process person by person until we had circled all the way around the room and got back to were we started.  Finally we heard the magic words "One line!" and the test was over.

We were saved from several days of agony waiting for test results as everyone had passed.  There was much applause and handshaking (with shaking hands).  It was very surreal to have it done and over after all the buildup.  It was also completely awesome.