Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Kin Ring Face

The Kin Ring Face, Yellowstone.

Week number two of the Fat-Bike Ski-Mo Sufferfest, and camping conditions take a dive.  -25º Fahrenheit is a brutal temp to be outside camping, and anyone who wasn't ready, went home.

The daytime temperatures hover at -5º,  a cool operating temp for climbing, and skinning through the forrest, but the wind on the ridge tops and the summits, caused gloves to freeze solid, cameras to quite automatically, boots to get stuck in walk mode, and snot to freeze sideways.

I still don't have feeling in the tips of my toes. While at the same time, my face is sunburned and chapped, all the way inside my nose. Feels like fried-icecream.

Week number two I moved camp and joined the scene in the dump. I had my bike locked up in a friends cabin, and was glad to be off the saddle, and closer to town for a while.

One of the most difficult parts of my trip, was carrying a bike and heavy packs through the snow, multiple times, in and out of camp, away from the highway, out of sight. I also love being in the forrest, and deeply value my time there. (Thank you camp-site.)

Some nights were humid, and -7º, freezing everything in my tent together like a pancake. Painful cracks running across my fingers got superglued shut. If it was clear out, it was guaranteed to be below zero at night, even though the forecast never predicted such cold temperatures.

Growing up in Montana, I know Yellowstone can be the coldest, most brutal place in winter. When I'm camping for weeks or months at a time, I don't pay attention to forecasts, because I've learned to pay attention to the weather, it's patterns, and being spontaneous.

With help from friends, and great snow conditions, I skied off three major peaks right out of town; Republic, Abiathar, and Wall. And, I opened up a potential new line on the far side of Amphitheatre.

My second day out, skiing alone below a formation called The Submarine, the left boot froze in walk mode, and a buckle snapped. From then on, I became known as Bootstrap Bangs to my friends. In part to do with the novel of pirates and slave ships I was reading, but also because I had a ski strap cinched down to replace the broken buckle. I skied that way for the next three weeks.

Sitting in the bar one night, I kept looking at pictures of Amphitheatre and the face hiding on the far side of the mountain. Ben, from Beartooth Powder Guides, had pointed it out to me, and I took the photo when we were standing on the summit of Republic together, after chasing his ski-mo friend Tim to the top.

"Never been skied. Not that I know of. You could name it the Bangs Face." Ben said.

Name it or not. I wanted to ski it. And at the same time, she was the best looking thing in the bar.

The face looks like a giant stingray, airborne, flying straight out of the water. I saw steep snow, ice, and rock bands. And I started feeling the initial impulse of the flow state, well up in the back of my spine.

Earlier in the week I skied the east face of Abiathar. Same aspect, similar face, but not as steep. It had snowed twice since then, but only about 3-6 inches at a time, and everything was still bonding very well.

Conditions were right. "Time to sack up Bootstrap."

Nate joined me on the tour out to the far side Amphitheatre for an attempt on the face. Not carrying crampons or an ice axe, Nate wanted nothing to so with climbing the flying stingray, and offered back-up for the day.

It was one of those days where you never know what's going to happen. We walked around the wrong direction on the approach. Stopped to warm Nate's feet for half an hour. And almost vomited butterflies, as if I'd had them for breakfast.

It was a good day. We pressed on. The temp was -5º, and I brought over-pants, hot soup, and toe warmers, so Nate could stand around and take pictures.

Looking up at the top of the face, the snow was stable and almost perfect, only a little wind.

Reaching the face, I scrambled up quickly, excited to be swinging my ice axe overhead into solid ice. On less steep climbs, ice doesn't exist, or it's buried by snow. But on steeper routes, there's ice, and the secure feeling of kicking and swinging the ice axe and crampons into the frozen mountain.

As I neared the top of the face, where the angle is steepest, I continued to gage and read the snow. Was it forming layers, or loading near the edge of the saddle? I climbed higher and looked down between my legs a thousand feet. If the route were to slide, this would be the place.

Skiing into the wave on the face, looked like a tranquil moon, but where it rolled over, and I rolled into it, everything around me started sliding at free fall speeds. As the snow moved faster, I peeled across the face right to left, skiing hard and fast to out-run what I could.

"Stay in control Bootstrap. No mistakes." I told myself.

Half way down the face, my sluff passed me like a runaway freight train. Surreal, angry, and loud. It wanted to be a real avalanche and chased its self like horses trampling each other, gaining volume, searching for me.

As it exploded off the lower cliff band in a cascading visual, I thought about Nate. He's far enough away isn't he? We both knew this thing was coming down, but when you see it for the first time, it's like, "holy shit, dude! Get back."

After I got down, Nate said, "holy shit", and "Bet you're glad…" a dozen times.
"Bet you're glad you didn't ride that one." "Bet you're glad to be alive." "Bet you're glad to be,,, holy shit dude, that was awesome."

Thinking about it, I would like to name it the Kin Ring Face. Named after Kin Ring Sackett, the man in the novel I was reading during my expedition. But first I need to realize this isn't my mountain. Others may have been here before, possibly making this the first recorded descent.

Either way, a face this pretty needs a name. A warrior's name, and something to be remembered by.

The Kin Ring Face, on the climb.

Avalanche on the face.

View of Amphitheater, and the Kin Ring Face, left of center.

Nate on the long tour to the far side of the mountain.

Starting the climb.

Nearing the top of the climb.

Camp life.

Sunny, sunburnt, cold and frost-nipped.
The warm up run. East face Abiathar.

Racing snow down the mountain.

Stoked, and comin' in hot.

Looks steep. Got crampons?

Editors Note:
Ski-mo, is short for ski-mountaineering, and is a popular term amongst people who race up and down mountains in ski gear, or spandex.
It's a growing sport, where the boots cost $5,000, and the spandex is not free.


  1. I love that the ski conditions or should I say snow/stability conditions FINALLY aligned with your big dreams and big balls!!!! Nothing stopping ya now. ;)

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