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Author Topic: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking  (Read 70017 times)
hypermartyr
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November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« on: 11/23/09, 03:31 PM »

Headed up to do some backcountry around Cement Basin, near Crystal Resort. Following a 4am wake up time, we hit the trail at sun-up... and climbed for several hours, getting horribly off-route several times, and falling into deep tree wells a couple of times. Skin troubles hampered the effort. Eventually finding the trail to what we assumed was the ridge line of Cement Basin (it was hard to tell in near white-out conditions), we made our way to the top... then back down in the probably the deepest powder I have ever experienced.

On the way down, we ran into several slabby slides... maybe 10 meters feet across. Only one managed to knock me off my feet... made our to a more tree protected area, but both agreed caution was the order of day. Luckily, we were both ok enough to continue down further, getting horribly off-route once again and stuck in an area of un-ski-able small saplings and underbrush. Boot packing was almost impossible as you would sink up to your waist with each step in the quicksand-esque snow. Opting to start skinning again (only to be taken down by two more small slides) we limped our way back to the car, completely frozen, exhausted, and covered in foliage... narrowly avoiding the rapidly approaching darkness.

Took us about 2 hours of heat and 2 plates of nachos to stop shivering. Maybe next time we should head up with a local who can point the way to less tangled routes!!!

Forgot the camera in the car... so no pics to contribute.
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Scotsman
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #1 on: 11/23/09, 04:08 PM »

That was an " ambitious" choice for a day like yesterday.
Going into a new area in bad visibilty on a high avy danger day may have been pushing the envelope and trust me I'm trying really hard not to judge. Wink
I am sincerely glad you are OK. Grin
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PNWBrit
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #2 on: 11/23/09, 04:49 PM »

both agreed caution was the order of day.

Better late than never I guess?

(FYI I don't mind if you think I'm judging)
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Marcus
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #3 on: 11/23/09, 05:49 PM »

Good job staying alive, please don't live up to your username.
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hypermartyr
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #4 on: 11/24/09, 01:35 PM »

No worries... judging is completely acceptable in this case.

I learned quite a few lessons that day.
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Marcus
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #5 on: 11/24/09, 01:56 PM »

Good deal -- what stands out?  Lay it out here so others can learn too.
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PNWBrit
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #6 on: 11/24/09, 02:20 PM »

Good deal -- what stands out? Lay it out here so others can learn too.

For me that'd be a prerequisite before agreeing to have you...

Maybe next time we should head up with a local

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Joedabaker
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #7 on: 11/24/09, 02:50 PM »

Good deal -- what stands out? Lay it out here so others can learn too.

Oh, Oh, Oh pick me, pick me teacher, I know, I know, I know!!!!!
OK..... I won't spoil the answer and let them think it out.
Glad this is getting some conversation, I was all ready to post a thread that's titled, "What the hell are you thinking?" Not picking on anyone in person in particular, since there were several reports from the same local, including some experienced guys who should know better. I won't mention any names since I think Kyle Miller is a cool guy. But I laid off, had some lunch and thought about a better way to post and not create defense. I have had my share of near burials in my days, so judging you is not in the cards.
I had a laundry list of red flags and signs that I was going to post in that thread, but this is a good opportunity to work it out...Thanks Marcus for the voice of reason.
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Kyle Miller
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #8 on: 11/24/09, 02:57 PM »

There was no way you could have payed me to head into cement basin that day. That area is infamous for wind loading and huge slides that have taken a few lifes within the recent past. Even the evacuation path through east peaks rollers would have scared the crap out of me.

Im really glad you made it out as the last thing the backcountry community needs is one of our own being another statistic. ( I would be lying to say I have never done anything like this in the past though)
While slides and burials scare the crap out of me, my real fear is tramatic force caused by slamming into trees.
I won't mention any names since I think Kyle Miller is a cool guy.
Your just bitter about me putting a skin track up the shoulder. Wink
We knew it was bad and quickly made the call to turn around early in the day.
Yesterday when I saw you, I meant to tell you about the time I did a afternoon jaunt solo in a small snow storm, but enough to have snow that was moving. I skinned up that steep face that you put in between Cannonball and JBAS. It was the one I skied the other day and bitched about your skin track being in the middle of the run. Well right on that face where you had put in a double switchback is about where I was standing when the whole face slid right and left of me leaving me on a patch of snow as wide as my skis. I almost crapped my paas this slide hurled down the hill. I pulled off my skins and skied home. I will never skin up that area again, there's always a better route.
Things seemed to rather stable on friday as we kicked hopped and attempted to get the slope to move with no avail but in no way does that mean it couldn't have slid. As you could imagine we felt really uneasy about skinning up the gut of Gunbarrel and the steep ridge next to it and felt that was the safer terrain choice. Looking back though I wonder if it was our skin track as it would have been buried under a foot of pow friday night?
While I admit it can be a pain to sign in with ski patrol I had noticed there were only TWO groups signed out including our own that day. Huh
« Last Edit: 11/24/09, 11:25 PM by Kyle Miller » Logged

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Joedabaker
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #9 on: 11/24/09, 03:20 PM »

nts
Your just bitter about me putting a skin track up the shoulder. Wink
We knew it was bad and quickly made the call to turn around early in the day.
Your right!!! Table for one Mister Bitterman, your beef is prepared. Cheesy

Yesterday when I saw you, I meant to tell you about the time years ago, I did a afternoon jaunt solo in a small snow storm, enough to have snow that was moving. I skinned up that steep face that you put in between Cannonball and JBAS the other day. It was the one I skied the other day and bitched about your skin track being in the middle of the run. Well right on that face where you had put in a double switchback is about where I was standing when the whole face slid right and left of me leaving me on a patch of snow as wide as my skis. I almost crapped my pants as this slide hurled down the hill. I pulled off my skins and skied home. I will never skin up that area again, there's always a better route.
« Last Edit: 11/24/09, 03:58 PM by Joedabaker » Logged
Jim Oker
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #10 on: 11/24/09, 03:52 PM »

It is nice to see this discussion and this very non-defensive response from the original poster:
No worries... judging is completely acceptable in this case.

I learned quite a few lessons that day.

I'm glad this didn't immediately turn to a "hey, don't bum people out so they won't post TRs..." kind of thing.

For my part, the upside-down snowpack, and all the new snow falling with plenty of wind were enough to push me toward riding the lifts before even seeing the hills up close. If I'd gone backcountry touring, I'd likely have opted for a really safe climbing line (and I have to admit that I don't know Bullion well enough to choose one there on a storm day, so that's not where I'd have gone...), and from what we found in-bounds, I'm pretty sure we'd have been doing figure-11s back down alongside our uptrack (and/or doing the bobsled thing in the uptrack) rather than finding joyous turns on the steep-and-deep. I was spooked enough just skiing some steep untracked pitches in-bounds at Crystal on this day. But then trend at least moderately toward the conservative side...

One of my infrequent ski partners, who seems to match my sensibilities reasonably well, and who was fully buried quite a number of years ago on the far side of one of those ridges above Bullion, made it partway up Bullion on Sunday and convinced her party to back off before they started up a steep bit near the ridge.
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silaswild
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #11 on: 11/24/09, 04:41 PM »

For my part, the upside-down snowpack, and all the new snow falling with plenty of wind were enough to push me toward riding the lifts before even seeing the hills up close.
Or checking the telemetry before leaving home, and deciding to go to Stevens/Yodelin instead, where the wind made no effect until late afternoon on Sunday!  Smiley   

Once again, big thanks and kudos to Charles for organizing so much helpful information into one concise location, and keeping the links up to date.  Viva TAY!!
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CookieMonster
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #12 on: 11/24/09, 04:51 PM »

The terrain in Cement Basin is deceptively simple.

Quantitatively speaking, the terrain in Cement Basin has a similar statistical signature to terrain that many people would look at and think "no way, not today". This includes slope angle measurements, cumulative slope angle measurements, fairly precise measurements of convex/concave areas, precise measurements of surface area, and highly analytical assessment of terrain traps.

In human terms, the terrain is steep, fairly intricate, has a large surface area that favours accumulation, has numerous areas suitable for deep accumulations as a result of avalanches, has numerous limitations to line of sight even in good conditions, and is studded with trees.

With knowing the avalanche history of the area, I think it's really easy to look at Cement Basin and think it's a pretty reasonable piece of terrain. But actually, at least statistically speaking, it's not a moderate choice at all.


* cement_basin_02.jpg (61.31 KB, 812x362 - viewed 1748 times.)
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kneel turner
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #13 on: 11/24/09, 04:53 PM »

Hyper,

I'll be honest, when I read the title to this report I thought "WTF?...Over". Then, when I read the report (taking into consideration the location, its history, and weather) I was wondering if it was a hoax. (eg. Flailing, knocked over by slides, falling in tree wells, skin troubles, lost, whiteout, frozen, exhausted... Seriously, its all there). Then I read a previous post where you inquired as to where C-Basin was. A brilliant set up? Who knows? I'll bite...

First of all, High five! You went into the mountains, had fun (hopefully), returned safely, and would like to do it again (?, assuming).

We all take our own approach to risk benefit scenarios, and although yours may be different than mine, that certainly doesn't make it wrong. I've read many reports that come from a more conservative approach than mine, and try to learn something from them. In the same way, I'd like to learn from your experience. It's not so common that someone posts with what I'm interpreting as a much more liberal approach. So I'm sincerely interested...

Who, how many, were in your group? Was there discussion of previous, current, and forecasted weather, snowpack, and route prior to departure? What was the experience level and education of members? Was there a leader? Did you investigate the snowpack? I'm no expert, so it helps me to get an idea of what went into the decision making process.

Also, I'm assuming from the report that your group descended the west facing slopes back to the car, never having dropped into Cement Basin. Did you make a purposeful decision to do this? If a local had been there and pointed down the NE aspect into Cement Basin from the ridge proclaiming "There it is!", would you have dropped in? And trust me, if you could have seen through the whiteout, it would have looked VERY tempting!

I'm not a local, but I kinda know my way around back there. I'd be willing to go along with you next time and try to show you a better way out, but we may make different route and line choices while we're there. Wink

Thanks for the perspective.

Have fun.
(Be safe.)
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PNWBrit
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #14 on: 11/24/09, 05:22 PM »

Hey now!

No prompting from the peanut gallery!
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Marcus
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #15 on: 11/24/09, 05:45 PM »

Hey now!

No prompting from the peanut gallery!

Heh -- my thoughts exactly Smiley
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blitz
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #16 on: 11/24/09, 06:55 PM »

HYpermartyr -

You are lucky, there are lots of good avi classes around this town.  My favorites were with the Mountaineers. They are pretty cheep and accesible and the old salts that teach the class are pretty cool and nice. If they like you, they might even invite you to tour with them. Alot of them post here.

Check out this link:
http://www.nwac.us/accidents/
It is grim but very important and has tons of useful information. The people who compiled this data wanted to share it with YOU especially.  It is an excellent prod to get you started on your lifetime of avi education (which I hope lasts for many decades with lots of good turns).

Good luck and be safe...
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alisa
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #17 on: 11/24/09, 08:21 PM »

hypermartyr, et al: I've done similarly bone-headed things, and one stands out in particular. During a period of "Extreme" avalanche danger, I went with two others to the Snow Lake saddle and camped, while 3 feet of new turned into who-knows-how-many feet of new, including layers of graupple, buried layers of hoar frost if i remember correctly, and slightly warming temps (ie heavier snow piling on lighter snow, or "upside down"). We heard whoomphing that night, and I had to have my comrades dig me out of my snowcave in the morning. Despite the incredibly difficult skinning conditions, the OBVIOUSLY dangerous avalanche conditions (we did use TAY before heading out...), we STILL decided to try to skin a run above camp (towards Chair Peak). The person breaking trail triggered a 200' wide slab (i've forgotten how deep it was now). He was unable to back up because of his skins and the deep snow, and was lucky that only the tips of his skis hung over the slide path... especially since he was just out of sight. No one would have seen where he was buried... a Seattle Mountain Rescue volunteer summed up our experience as we emerged from the cat track by telling us we were stupid and that no one would have looked for us for days.

I'm relating this tale because we were blinded by "heuristics", aka "rules of thumb", "thinking errors", or just plain denial. We knew the terrain, could find safer routes through the obvious avy paths, and were swept away (pun intended) by the excitement of the astounding amount of new snow. In short, we were NOT thinking objectively, and ignored the alarming indicators of impending doom. We got lucky. The lesson is about how we think about risk, how we choose objectives and then ignore evidence that would dissuade us from our goal. It's always good to have options (like skiing in bounds, heading to Stevens, etc), and to be wary of one's own thinking process. I'm curious to know what your thought (and emotional) process(es) looked like as you made the initial decision to go into Cement Basin, and how you assimilated evidence about the conditions as you proceeded. Regardless, I'm glad you're ok!
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haggis
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #18 on: 11/24/09, 11:19 PM »

Not that I had to make the call as I went touring at the pass, but some others came along with me after initially planning on Crystal.  Reasoning was 9 inches overnight at 7am with Southeast winds averaging 40-50mph gusting to max 95mph!!  Sorry for formatting below, obviously available on the NWAC Crystal 10 day telemetry site.  http://www.nwac.us/weatherdata/crystalskiarea/10day/

With 20/20 hindsight, they made an excellent call to have a safe enjoyable tour with me at the pass up out of the Commonwealth basin.  Hope I can make calls like that, it's so much easier to call a trip location off from home rather than the parking lot with the telemetry story.  After a small but potentially fatal incident last year I'm resolving not to tour in open / below ridgeline or avalanche prone areas immediately after periods of high winds if there has been snowfall or snow transportation likely during that time.  That was my lesson.
http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=12142.0

MM/DD  Hour  Temp  Temp    RH  Wind  Wind  Wind  Wind  Hour Total 24 Hr Total
         PST     F     F     %   Min   Avg   Max   Dir Prec. Prec.  Snow  Snow
             6870' 4480' 4480' 6870' 6870' 6870' 6870' 4480' 4480' 4480' 4480'
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 11 22  1700    19    28    98    12    29    48   274     0   .99    13    44
 11 22  1600    19    28    99    12    31    56   268   .03   .99    13    44
 11 22  1500    20    28    98    19    45    69   272     0   .96    13    44
 11 22  1400    20    28    99     4    34    68   270   .02   .96    13    44
 11 22  1300    21    28    99     3    13    23   271   .06   .94    11   239
 11 22  1200    21    28    99     0    13    28   268   .11   .88    10    43
 11 22  1100    23    29   100     2     8    16   265   .16   .77    10   239
 11 22  1000    21    29    99     7    16    32   270   .13   .61     7    38
 11 22   900    21    28    99     5    20    51   268   .14   .48     4   239
 11 22   800    21    29    99     5    21    46   238   .02   .34     2   239
 11 22   700    21    28    98    11    27    56   223   .07   .32     2   239
 11 22   600    21    28    99    13    31    73   171   .14   .25     1    34
 11 22   500    21    28    99    18    39    66   119   .11   .11     7   239
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 11 22   400    21    28    99    20    40    68   111   .05   .56     6   239
 11 22   300    22    29    99    21    46    70   116   .08   .51     6    31
 11 22   200    22    29   100    30    54    85   116   .16   .43     5   239
 11 22   100    23    29   100    23    55    95   121   .12   .27     4    30
 11 22     0    23    29    98    25    53    90   119     0   .15     2   239
 11 21  2300    22    28    99    18    37    66   110   .03   .15     2   239
 11 21  2200    22    28    98    22    43    62   144   .04   .12     2   239
 11 21  2100    21    28    98    25    43    66   164   .01   .08     1    27
 11 21  2000    21    28    97    21    46    66   174   .04   .07     1    29
 11 21  1900    20    29    97    18    44    66   182   .03   .03     0    28
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hypermartyr
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #19 on: 11/24/09, 11:40 PM »

Wow... thanks to everyone for all the great posts.  Yes, it does sound like a bit of setup, but I had really only heard of Cement Basin days earlier... then was called away to business in Seattle (I am from Portland).  Being out of my element perhaps gave me a bit more confidence than I needed that day.  I was skiing with an old buddy who was also in Washington... and we were both happy to be skiing together again after a 2.5 year hiatus. 

We are both well trained in avalanche safety, and I think the biggest issue on Sunday was not our lack of knowledge, but the fact that we got off route sapped most of our energy reserves in the early part of the day.  Mix this with getting a tad too cold from too many tree well submersions, and it is possible maybe we weren't making the best decisions.  Also, the snow accumulated so quickly as we climbed, that the danger was probably significantly greater with each passing step.  Add to that the rapidly building wind loads... and well, you get sketchiness.  Being off route had wasted most of our day, so I think we were both a bit too eager to get to the top and 'get the goods'.

We actually made some good decisions coming down after encountering the first slides, and made our way to the trees... but the trees were so dense, that it lessened the avalanche danger, but greatly increased our time back to the truck.  All in all, it was mostly frustration that got the best of us... and maybe got a bit too cold as well. 

We are both old enough to recognize when things are getting hairy, and both agreed later that it was probably a tad dangerous in spots... so if I could change any factors of the outing, it would be: better route finding.  This one thing would have lessened our exhaustion, and removed some of the hastiness to get our turns in.

I have learned a ton from this web site over the years, and hope to continue learning more each year... so thanks again for the posts... and for the support. 

Long Live 'Turns All Year'!







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PNWBrit
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #20 on: 11/25/09, 12:05 AM »

Having knowledge is pointless unless you use it.

Honestly your posts read like a lesson in how not to to go Into the mountains.

You have nothing to congratulate yourself about.

« Last Edit: 11/25/09, 08:28 AM by PNWBrit » Logged
Keith_Henson
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #21 on: 11/25/09, 06:56 AM »

For what it is worth, for me I consider this the most important quote in mountaineering, my prime heuristic, and a virtual mantra when I find myself in a sticky situation:

"There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell, and with these in mind I say, climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end." Edward Whymper
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Keith A Henson, Puyallup
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ron j
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #22 on: 11/25/09, 07:13 AM »

That's a great quote, Keith.
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"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston
blitz
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #23 on: 11/25/09, 07:36 AM »

We are both old enough to recognize when things are getting hairy
Huh

Things were hairy BEFORE you left the house, any teenaged upstart avi student coulda told you that. People have died in those trees, they are not as safe as you think, recheck your maps, read the accident reports, go back to school...
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alisa
kneel turner
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Re: November 22, 2009 - Cement Basin Bushwhacking
« Reply #24 on: 11/25/09, 09:45 AM »

My observations and questions were not intended to be flipant. I really wanted to know what went into (or was left out of) the decision making process.

That's a great quote, Keith.

One thing that I hope will stick w/me as long as I'm able to "get out there" is a Gary Brill presentation that pointed out the revolving cycle of avy education, confidence, accident, and back to education, so on, and so on...
Where this cycle starts depends on the individual and their experiences and circumstances.
It really pointed out the human aspect of playing in the mountains, and motivates me to continually educate myself in order to attain dependable confidence, which will hopefully help me avoid accidents.
To me, the real value of this is awareness. Aware that I want to be in the mountains and ski in fresh snow on moderately steep slopes. Aware that there is risk in doing so. And aware that its up to me and my partners to figure out where, when, how.

On a lighter note, there's some sweet A/T boots on Tramdock right now!
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No, I'm not a telephone solicitor. I ski with my heels free.
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