The Weekly Stoke: Sherpa evolution, protein for runners, avalanche season, a BASE jumping tragedy and Alex Honnold on video

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Some of us are starting to come out of the thaw. Unfortunately, many of you are not. Cabin fever is setting in. You need an escape. So let me give you a little reading material to help you get through it. Let’s do the Weekly Stoke!

Scientists say new research shows that the Sherpa people of Nepal have evolved over the years to become the stout high-altitude climbers and hikers that we’ve all come to know and appreciate.

Are you getting enough protein? Everyone knows people trying to gain muscle mass need to up their protein intake. But even leaner athletes like runners need to seriously increase how much protein they take in per day. I can vouch for that personally.

This link takes you to some photos and a video about a guy’s project to build a wooden camper top on his truck. Seriously cool overland travel stuff here.

It’s been a rough winter in terms of avalanche deaths, and several have happened in recent days.

Another tragic note: A couple did a BASE jump together, but the woman’s chute didn’t open properly, causing her to fall to her death.

And finally, this amazing video of Alex Honnold doing what he does: Scaling ridiculously big walls with highly technical lines, and doing it free solo.

5 killed in Colorado avalanche identified

The sites of Saturday's avalanche near Loveland Pass, Colo. Reports indicate that some blocks of snow were the size of golf carts, and that the avalanche was up to 8 feet deep. (denver.cbslocal.com image)

The site of Saturday’s avalanche near Loveland Pass, Colo. Reports indicate that some blocks of snow were the size of golf carts, and that the avalanche was up to 8 feet deep. (denver.cbslocal.com image)

Some truly horrible news out of Colorado Saturday night, where an avalanche near Loveland Pass killed four snowboarders and one skier.

A report from CBS News says the slide was 200 yards wide and 8 feet deep. CBS identified those killed as 32-year-old Christopher Peters, of Lakewood; 32-year-old Joseph Timlin, of Gypsum; 33-year-old Ryan Novack, of Boulder; 36-year-old Ian Lanphere, of Crested Butte; and 33-year-old Rick Gaukel, of Estes Park. One person survived and was able to dig out to report the incident to authorities.

The Adventure Journal reports that Timlin was the sales manager for a number of snowboard industry brands. Lamphere, a skier, was the owner of Gecko Climbing Skins and the co-founder of Backcountry TV and the Stowe Mountain Film Festival.

A lot of snow had fallen in the area, and the report says the Colorado Avalanche Information Center had warned of risky avalanche conditions.

The avalanche occurred in a backcountry area near the Loveland Ski Area, but was not inside the boundaries of the resort.

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding has become increasingly popular in recent years, mostly because of the promise of no crowds, fresh snow and the added challenge. Not to mention, the appeal of not having to buy increasingly pricey lift tickets.

The Adventure Journal posted this graphic of increasing avalanche deaths from the CAIC:

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Improved technology in terms of safety equipment has also given more people the drive to try their hand at backcountry skiing and boarding.

The CBS report notes that all members of the group were wearing avalanche beacons. Other reports note that the group was experienced in the backcountry.

The site of Saturday's avalanche at Loveland Pass. (denver.cbslocal.com image)

The site of Saturday’s avalanche at Loveland Pass. (denver.cbslocal.com image)

The Denver Post has done some thorough reporting on this, noting that it’s the deadliest avalanche to hit Colorado since a 1962 slide killed seven people. The Post also quotes one expert as saying that current conditions — recent snowfall, snowpack instability and high winds — makes it much less like April (when the snowpack tends to consolidate and stabilize) and more like February, when conditions are normally more unstable and dangerous.

The following video gives additional reporting, though they do not ID the victims.

Weekly Stoke: Surviving in a snow cave, avalanche tragedy, lost hikers found and a different kind of bike ride

Something I’ve thought about doing for some time is posting some things in the news that I’ve seen that might interest folks like you and me. So I’m going to set aside a weekly space for some of the stories that caught my attention, and might also stoke yours. Thus is born the Weekly Stoke!

Here goes…

Mount Hood. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Mount Hood. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

A hiker in Oregon got herself in a bit of trouble on Mount Hood, slipping and falling and injuring her leg. She was able to dig out a snow cave where she rode it out six days before being rescued. Check out the full story and a video here.

A less uplifting story out of Colorado. Some backcountry skiers got caught in a large avalanche, and not all of them survived to tell the tale. An excellent write-up from the Denver Post can be found here.

A day hike in Southern California turned out to be a much more serious ordeal for a group of young hikers this week. This story ends well, however.

And finally, a final tip of the hat to winter on one of the more interesting bike rides you will ever see. Watch the video:

New York Times goes deep on the Tunnel Creek avalanche at Stevens Pass

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Usually I don’t plug an article or a series of articles in this space. I save that for Twitter. But this one deserves a little extra mention.

On Feb. 18, a group of expert backcountry skiers and snowboarders went to an out-of-bounds area near the Stevens Pass ski area in Washington state, setting out to take advantage of mounds of fresh powder that had fallen there.

The group had 16 people in it. Some time after noon that day, they headed down the back side of Cowboy Mountain, known to locals as Tunnel Creek.

An avalanche broke free during their descent, killing three.

The New York Times interviewed many members of the group who were there as well as loved ones of those who died. This is a multi-part story and it’s pretty long, but worth the read. The website also includes video interviews of the subjects, audio files of emergency calls made to first responders and multimedia presentations illustrating the avalanche and how it swept three top-notch skiers to their deaths. It’s also available in an e-book called “Snow Fall.”

Take some time to read it — it’s worth it. With apologies to Outside magazine, this is some of the best outdoors reporting and writing you will see. It’s also an excellent lesson to anyone who wants to take part in wintertime backcountry adventures.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Four Japanese climbers feared dead on Denali after avalanche

Alaska’s Denali, North America’s highest peak. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Some bad news from Alaska after authorities with the National Park Service said that four Japanese climbers are feared dead after an avalanche on Denali, also known as Mount McKinley.

Search and recovery efforts are under way near 11,800 feet, according to news reports.

Denali, at 20,327 feet, is North America’s highest mountain.

Here is a few details about the accident from CNN:

Hitoshi Ogi, 69, was unable to locate his fellow climbers and descended solo to the Kahiltna base camp and reported the event late Thursday afternoon.

The missing were identified as male climbers Yoshiaki Kato, 64, and Tamao Suzuki, 63, and female climbers Masako Suda, 50, and Michiko Suzuki, 56. All are from Miyagi Prefecture and are affiliated with the Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation.

You can read the full report from CNN here.

Search and rescue personnel work on recovery efforts for four Japanese climbers feared dead after an avalanche on Denali. (National Parks System photo)

Four skiers killed in Washington avalanches

In what has been a tricky avalanche season across the west, the worst possible news came Sunday when an avalanche broke loose, killing three skiers in a backcountry area in Washington state. A fourth was killed in a separate, unrelated incident.

According to an Associated Press report, there were about a dozen people skiing in deep powder on the back side of Stevens Pass when the avalanche struck. All 12 were caught up in it, but most were able to dig themselves out.

The three who were killed were swept about 1,500 feet down a chute in Tunnel Creek Canyon, the AP reported.

The skiers were all described as experienced and well-equipped, the report said. CNN reported that all the skiers were wearing avalanche beacons.

CNN identified those killed in that slide as Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph and John Brenan. Jack was a ski tour judge for the Freeskiing World Tour, an event for high-level extreme skiers in the U.S., Canada and South America, CNN reported.

A fourth skier who was caught in the slide was saved by an avalanche safety device she was wearing, the report said, though it didn’t make clear what device that was. CNN reported that it was an airbag-type system that helped the skier stay above the surface of the avalanche.

Those who survived tried CPR on the three victims, but to no avail.

The report said authorities had issued a high avalanche danger in areas over 5,000 feet because of warmer weather and heavy weekend snowfall — up to two feet in some places.

The report cited the Colorado Avalanche Information Center as saying there had been  13 avalanche deaths this season across the West as of Thursday.

Other media reports say that a snowboarder was killed an another avalanche in a different area. No identification was made in that incident.

Avalanches kill 2 skiers in Canadian backcountry

Reports of out western Canada show that warmer conditions have led to some fairly dangerous avalanche conditions for backcountry skiers.

The Associated Press reported that four heli-skiers were caught in an avalanche near Revelstoke, B.C., on Friday. One of the skiers was killed after being completely buried in the slide. The others were rescued, The AP reported. The four were part of a group of 11 skiers and one guide, according to a report from the Revelstoke Times Review.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Patrol said the avalanche was human-triggered.

This is the second avalanche fatality in British Columbia in a two-day span. On Thursday, ski patroller Duncan MacKenzie, 30, was killed in an avalanche near Pemberton, B.C., The AP reported.

The Canadian Broadcasting Company reports that avalanche conditions in British Columbia have been higher than normal because of unseasonably mild conditions.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Video: Testing for avalanche conditions

I know people who have sworn off ski resorts and do their skiing and boarding strictly in the backcountry. Still others enjoy climbing in winter conditions or ski mountaineering.

But any trip into the wintertime backcountry requires knowledge of avalanche conditions. Harmless slopes in non-winter conditions can be superhighways of big avalanches that can be deadly.

Here’s a video that can show you a way to look for avalanche conditions:

Wolf Creek Pass from trentmeisenheimer on Vimeo.

Bob Doucette
On Twitter @RMHigh7088