The Ellingwood Arete

I was finally able to make a climb happen last weekend that I had been longing to do for so many years since I first visited the Crestone Group of 14ers down in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Range: the Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle. And, not only was it on my wish list, but also on the lists of my good climbing friends J Weingast & Steve Cizik. The three of us were determined to make it happen this summer and with Steve’s 33rd birthday last week, it was perfect timing to do just that. Good friend Mikey Santoro joined us to round out two teams of two for this classic alpine rock climb. In fact, the Ellingwood Arete (sometimes called the Ellingwood Ledges) is noted as one of the fifty classic climbs of North America as described in Steck & Roper’s book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. The Ellingwood Arete was first climbed by Albert Ellingwood, a true pioneer of Colorado alpine climbing, and Eleanor Davis in August of 1925.

Rainier on Humboldt Peak's west ridge in July 2009 with the Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle in profile in center of picture. Photo by Joel Gratz and was featured as the cover photo in the 2011 Vail Daily Pet Calender

Rainier on Humboldt Peak’s west ridge in July 2009 with the Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle in profile in center of picture. Photo by Joel Gratz and was featured as the cover photo in the 2011 Vail Daily Pet Calender

Below is a rough outline of our route up Crestone Needle’s Ellingwood Arete with the “direct start” variation (from a picture I took in July 2009 from Humboldt Peak):

Ellingwood Arete with the "direct start" variation

Ellingwood Arete with the “direct start” variation. Click to enlarge

There is so much information to be found on this route, I really won’t get into the details of the climb, but just share our experience up this wonderful route. This was my 6th time up into the South Colony Lakes basin and 4th time up the Needle, but I have to say this is one of the most striking and fantastic 14ers in our state. I am always in awe of this peak that just seems to jut out of the earth like a knife blade.

Crestone Needle's Ellingwood Arete at sunset from our campsite

Crestone Needle’s Ellingwood Arete at sunset from our campsite

J, Mikey, and I drove the 4+ hours from Vail down to the South Colony Lakes trailhead this past Saturday and picked up Steve hiking the lower portion of the South Colony Lakes Road since his 2WD car wouldn’t make it too far up. We packed the 3.5 miles or so into South Colony Lakes basin early that evening and found a nice campsite between Lower & Upper South Colony Lakes. There was a stiff breeze with the clouds and front moving out that evening, but we were still able to get a fire going despite the fact that I singed my hair doing so.

I singed my hair trying to start the campfire

I singed my hair trying to start the campfire. Photo by J

A nice setting with Broken Hand Peak as a backdrop to the south

A nice setting with Broken Hand Peak as a backdrop to the south

It was a great evening of Qdoba burritos, scotch, stories, and a pretty decent campfire despite the breeze. Steve slept in his bivy while J, Mikey, and I crashed in my 3-man tent. Up at 3:45am to coffee and oatmeal, we set off around 5am under some moonlight but mostly headlamp. We boogied up to Upper South Colony Lake, filled up our water bottles and bladders, and made our way east skirting the lake’s edge. After making our way up the lower steep scree field, we found ourselves at the base of the “direct start” to the route right at dawn. It was perfect timing to start the technical climbing as we could put away our headlamps and climb in the twilight before sunrise. We did two teams of two on two ropes with my full alpine rack and set of nuts: J and Mikey and then Steve and myself. The first team would leave in the gear for the second team’s leader to just clip during his lead. This method worked fairly well and we were able to be pretty efficient.

Beginning of the "direct start" to the Ellingwood Arete

Beginning of the “direct start” to the Ellingwood Arete

The 1st pitch’s traverse was pretty fun and likely goes at 5.6 leading into more of a 4th class/low 5th class dihedral to a decent belay ledge almost a full 60m rope length up. J led away up pitch 1 for the J/Mike team and I led this 1st pitch for the Steve/Brandon team.

J leading away on the 1st 5.6 traverse pitch

J leading away on the 1st 5.6 traverse pitch

J in the open book

J in the dihedral on the 1st pitch after the exposed initial 5.6 traverse

The 2nd pitch proved to be more difficult than the mid-5th class rating we have seen. The issue with the 2nd pitch is that the crack in the center of the dihedral was fully wet with water running all down it. J led around this problem area to looker’s left just beautifully and then coordinated a delicate, exposed traverse back right into the dihedral above the wet rock. Steve did a solid lead for our team after Mike followed J up again to a great belay ledge with webbing almost a full 60m rope length up.

Mike following the 2nd 5.7 pitch

Mike following the 2nd 5.7 pitch

Steve leading the 2nd 5.7 pitch

Steve leading the 2nd 5.7 pitch

Steve figuring out the traverse to get around the wet center crack of the 2nd pitch

Steve figuring out the traverse to get around the wet center crack of the 2nd pitch

The sun had now risen and its warmth on the rock was rejuvenating. The 3rd pitch up the “direct start” was likely low 5th class and for some may not warrant a rope at all, but we were roped up nonetheless and climbed the final ledges up to much easier terrain. Now, a note on the “direct start”. While I always welcome the possibility of getting in more technical pitches, if I were to climb this route again, I may just consider climbing the class 3 “ledges” variation in lieu of the “direct start”. The rockfall is quite abundant in this several hundred foot dihedral with all of the small pebbles and rocks and it is almost impossible for the rope or one’s self not to knock down loose rocks. However, it was fun to get some more technical climbing with the “direct start”. Though, if I were behind a group already on the “direct start”, I would definitely wait until they finished climbing the lengthy dihedral to the ledges above.

Mike on the nice grass ledges above the "direct start"

Mike on the nice grass ledges above the “direct start”

J and the Ellingwood Arete (Ledges) route above

J and the Ellingwood Arete (Ledges) route above

Once on the grassy ledges above the “direct start”, we stowed the ropes, switched our rock shoes for trail runners, and made our way up the class 3/4 ledges bypassing a party of two to looker’s left who had ascended the “ledges” variation.

Steve having fun on the "ledges" of the Ellingwood Arete (Ledges) route

Steve having fun on the “ledges” of the Ellingwood Arete (Ledges) route

Steve on a class 3/4 section

Steve on a class 3/4 section

J and I on the ledges

J and I on the “ledges”. Photo by Steve

The boys scrambling up the Arete proper

The boys scrambling up the Ellingwood Arete proper

Me climbing the Ellingwood Arete proper. Photo by Steve

Me climbing the Ellingwood Arete proper. Photo by Steve

One of the highlights of this route for us was the absolutely amazing scrambling up these ledges. Even 4th class and low 5th class terrain could be found and we all had so much fun ascending this wonderful Crestone Conglomerate rock.

Mikey & Steve on some low 5th class nearing the base of the 5.9 crack system

Mikey & Steve on some low 5th class nearing the base of the 5.9 crack system

Mantling a big step

Mantling a big step

J on a nice perch this beautiful morning

J on a nice perch this beautiful morning

The 5.9 & 5.7 pitches up ahead getting closer

The 5.9 & 5.7 pitches up ahead getting closer

Looking south to Broken Hand Peak and beyond

Looking south to Broken Hand Peak and beyond

Really fun scrambling

Really fun scrambling

J and the 5.9 crack with the moon above

J and the 5.9 crack with the moon above

Scrambling doesn't get much better than this

Scrambling doesn’t get much better than this

Mikey & Steve

Mikey & Steve

Steve styling high above Upper South Colony Lake

Steve styling high above Upper South Colony Lake

After some low 5th class scrambling up a mini-headwall, we reached the base of the 5.9 crack system. The 5.9 crack looked like so much fun and I was excited to lead this pitch. There is a mellower variation, which may be the more “standard” route, to looker’s right of the direct 5.9 crack. This arcing “standard” crack goes at about 5.6, I believe.

The 5.9 crack variation dead center of picture with the arcing standard 5.6 crack system to looker's right

The 5.9 crack variation dead center of picture with the arcing standard 5.6 crack system to looker’s right

We donned our rock shoes once again, racked up, and Steve put me on belay. The climbing was absolutely awesome with great gear placements and really fun movements. I guess one piece of advice for this pitch is to bring plenty of slings. I had five slings on me and used them completely up. I could have used another few slings. Also, a #3 and #4 cam was helpful in the upper portion of the pitch.

Me leading the really fun 5.9 crack. Photo by Steve

Me leading the really fun 5.9 crack. Photo by Steve

Me leading the fun 5.9 pitch

Me leading the fun 5.9 pitch. Photo by J

It was a lengthy pitch as I only had about 5m left of my 60m rope when I topped out on the belay ledge. I knew the boys would have so much fun climbing this pitch. I would say the pitch is easy 5.9 (5.9-) at most, though at 14,000′ any technical climbing is not exactly “easy”. Steve had our pack and cruised the pitch as I belayed him up to me. J was right on Steve’s heels clipping my gear as he climbed and led the pitch beautifully.

J is below me here at the belay ledge for the 5.9 crack system

J is below me here at the belay ledge for the 5.9 crack system

J then belayed Mikey up the pitch who was hauling the backpack for J and Mikey.

J belaying Mikey up the long lengthy 5.9 pitch

J belaying Mikey up the long lengthy 5.9 pitch

Me looking down on J belaying Mikey up the 5.9 crack

Me looking down on J belaying Mikey up the 5.9 crack

Mikey finishing up the 5.9 pitch

Mikey finishing up the 5.9 pitch

The belay ledge was more than spacious and we climbed up another 10′ to the base of the final 5.7 pitch. The 5.7 pitch above looked amazing. Steve grabbed the rack, I put him on belay, and he was off on what we dubbed his “birthday pitch”.

Steve set to lead the final pitch up the awesome 5.7 crack

Steve set to lead the final pitch up the awesome 5.7 crack

Steve sewing it up

Steve sewing it up

Steve spread-eagle on the final pitch

Steve spread-eagle on the final pitch

Steve on his "birthday pitch"

Steve on his “birthday pitch”

Me belaying Steve up the final 5.7 pitch with a  beautiful backdrop to the north. Photo by J

Me belaying Steve up the final 5.7 pitch with a beautiful backdrop to the north. Photo by J

It was a great lead for Steve and soon I was following the pitch with the always burdensome backpack on my back. I was able to snap some pics of J leading the final pitch as I climbed ahead of him.

J on the final 5.7 pitch with Mikey belaying him below

J on the final 5.7 pitch with Mikey belaying him below. The other party of two can be seen below Mike belaying up the standard 5.6 arcing crack pitch

J loving life

J loving life

J finishing the final pitch off

J finishing the final pitch off

Another spacious belay ledge was at the top of the final 5.7 pitch and we all re-grouped there, stowed the ropes, and prepared for the final class 3 scramble to the Needle’s summit.

Steve & J at the top of the final 5.7 pitch

Steve & J at the top of the final 5.7 pitch

Crestone Needle's version of the "Great Roof"

Crestone Needle’s version of the “Great Roof”

Mikey topping out

Mikey topping out

The boys at the top of the final 5.7 pitch

The boys at the top of the final 5.7 pitch

Mike & Steve on the fun scramble to Crestone Needle's summit

Mike & Steve on the fun scramble to Crestone Needle’s summit

A few minutes later around 10:30am we were standing on the Needle’s summit enjoying the views and basking in the warmth of the sun. There was so little wind that the shirts came off to get a little sun on our pale torsos.

Crestone Needle summit (14,197')

Crestone Needle summit (14,197′)

J, myself, & Steve on the Needle's summit with Crestone Peak in the distance

J, myself, & Steve on the Needle’s summit with Crestone Peak in the distance

My 4th summit of Crestone Needle and the best yet!

My 4th summit of Crestone Needle and the best yet!

We met two fellows from Gunnison drinking beer on top who are trying to hike all of the 14ers in their Chaco sandals. Really funny guys and we enjoyed conversing with them. We then swapped out our rock shoes for trail runners, stowed our harnesses, rack, and ropes, and descended Crestone needle’s standard east gully. Ever since I first climbed Crestone Needle via its standard south face route, I have always ascended/descended the east gully all the way to the summit ridge. I have never done the crossover to the west gully for whatever reason. There is just too good of scrambling to be had in the east gully directly to the summit ridge. The down-scrambling ceased all too fast and we soon found ourselves back at the top of Broken Hand Pass around noon. I had been wanting to hike the 13er Broken Hand Peak (13,573′) and so J joined me for the 700′ from the pass up the mellow northwest slopes to its summit.

J ascending Broken Hand Peak with Cottonwood Lake and Crestolita (13,270') behind

J ascending Broken Hand Peak with Cottonwood Lake and Crestolita (13,270′) behind

J hiking up Broken Hand Peak's north slopes with Crestone Needle behind

J hiking up Broken Hand Peak’s north slopes with Crestone Needle behind

I really wanted to get a close-up view of the Needle and the Ellingwood Arete’s profile and the views sure didn’t disappoint.

The Needle is such a stunning peak, especially from this angle on top of Broken Hand Peak

The Needle is such a stunning peak, especially from this angle on top of Broken Hand Peak

Crestone Needle

Crestone Needle

Profile of the Ellingwood Arete up the Needle

Profile of the Ellingwood Arete up the Needle

We descended back to Broken Hand Pass, picked up our gear and rope, and headed on down to Lower South Colony Lake to find Steve fishing and Mikey napping. After a quick dunk in the lake, which always feels rejuvenating, we packed up camp and backpacked back to my truck. Arriving back in Westcliffe around 5pm, we had a long drive ahead of us. But, as always we stopped at my favorite dinner restaurant in Buena Vista, Casa del Sol, for awesome authentic Mexican cuisine. Yum. We arrived back home around 10pm, but great adventures in the mountains are always so worth it the late night arrival. Thanks to J, Steve, & Mikey for a very memorable day on a classic route.

Mt. Jackson

Due to a less than ideal weather forecast for a long ridge run in the Gores, J and I decided to go on an even longer hike in our backyard. No scrambling, no technical climbing, just a good ole lengthy day hike. Despite being more mileage than the ridge run we had planned in the Gores, many of the miles were below treeline, so if weather did move in as expected we could descend to cover pretty fast. The big 13er in our backyard that we have been meaning to hike the last decade we have lived here, but just never have: Mt. Jackson. We’ve looked at it a thousand times from other peaks and Highway 6 en route from Wolcott back to Edwards after rock climbing. Perhaps the best view is from the summit of our favorite Red & White Mountain (11,200′) to Jackson’s north.

Mt. Jackson (center of picture) with Beaver Creek ski mountain below as seen from the summit of Red & White Mountain.

Mt. Jackson (center of picture) with Beaver Creek ski mountain below as seen from the summit of Red & White Mountain. Click to enlarge

J, Rainier, & I on the summit of Red & White Mountain with Mt. Jackson behind us at left

J, Rainier, & I on the summit of Red & White Mountain with Grouse Mountain (far left) and Mt. Jackson (right of Grouse) behind us

It was time go for a hike. We parked at the Beaver Creek parking garage and began hiking up the road around 5:15am this past Saturday morning. We walked past all of the familiar chair lifts and buildings and cruised the 3 miles to Beaver Lake. We were the only ones on the trail this early, but suspected there would be many tourists at beaver lake upon our return. It was then another 4 miles from Beaver Lake to Lower Turqoise Lake on a good trail for the most part, though definitely a bit damp and muddy in places. We hiked the first 7 miles in about 2.5 hours, which we were pleased about since we were worried with building thunderstorms after noon. We took a left onto the Grouse Creek trail and climbed to treeline and then left the trail for the saddle between Grouse Mountain and Mt. Jackson in order to access Mt. Jackson’s northeast ridge.

J reaching Jackson's northeast ridge with the Beaver Creek valley approach at left and Beaver Creek ski mountain's "Bald Spot" above J's head

J reaching Jackson’s northeast ridge with the Beaver Creek valley approach at lower left and Beaver Creek ski mountain’s “Bald Spot” center of picture

Despite being relatively close to the Vail Valley and a ski resort, Jackson is deep. Deep back in the northern Sawatch Range with remote ridges and basins all around that we have long wanted to view from above. We moved pretty fast all morning always cognizant of when the storms may start building strength. However, the weather remained very nice and the mellow slopes of Jackson’s north east ridge allowed for some pretty speedy progress not to mention we were moving with ski and/or climbing gear, which was a welcome reprieve from the several previous outings.

J hiking on Jackson's northeast ridge with Turqoise Lakes below

J hiking on Jackson’s northeast ridge with Turqoise Lakes below

Finally, Jackson's remaining northeast ridge rears up in earnest

Finally, Jackson’s remaining northeast ridge rears up in earnest

Mt. of the Holy Cross’ west face came into view towering above the Cross Creek valley. We had never seen this view of Holy Cross up close before. Not as dramatic as the Cross Couloir and its east face, but impressive all the same. Familiar peaks we have climbed to the west came into view as well such as Fools Peak, Finnegans, and Gold Dust Peak. The final, narrowing ridge up to Jackson’s summit was pretty spectacular with gorgeous views all around.

J on Jackson's narrowing northeast ridge

J on Jackson’s narrowing northeast ridge

Me heading to Jackson's summit

Me heading to Jackson’s summit

Left to right: Fools Peak, Point 13,126', and Gold Dust Peak with Mt. Sopris in distance

Left to right: Fools Peak, Point 13,126′, and Gold Dust Peak with Mt. Sopris in distance

Fools Peak and its north ridge, which Kristine and I climbed in the fall of 2010, with Capitol Peak in distance at left

Fools Peak and its north ridge, which Kristine and I climbed in the fall of 2010, with Capitol Peak in distance at left

Point 13,126' and its cool looking north couloir with Mt. Sopris in the distance

Point 13,126′ and its cool looking north couloir with Mt. Sopris in the distance

We topped out on Jackson’s might summit at 9:45am about 4.5 hours after we left the parking garage. Clouds were definitely forming all around, but we believed the weather to hold for at least another few hours (fingers crossed). Pictures were taken all around and the views savored in every direction.

J taking in the views to the south

J taking in the views to the south

Upper Camp Lake at the head of very long East Lake Creek basin, which we hope to explore in the future

Upper Camp Lake at the head of very long East Lake Creek basin, which we hope to explore in the future

Grizzly's north couloir in center of picture

Grizzly’s north couloir, which we skied 2 weeks prior, in center of picture

Savage Peak and Mt. Massive in distance

Savage Peak and Mt. Massive in distance

Mt. of the Holy Cross (left) & Holy Cross Ridge (right)

Mt. of the Holy Cross (left) & Holy Cross Ridge (right)

Gold Dust Peak (far left) to Finnegans (far right), a traverse that has peaked our interest

Gold Dust Peak (far left) to Finnegans (far right), a traverse that has “peaked” our interest

Backside of Finnegans

Backside of Finnegans

Looking back down Jackson's northeast ridge to Grouse Mountain and Beaver Creek ski mountain's "Bald Spot"

Looking back down Jackson’s northeast ridge to Grouse Mountain (center) and Beaver Creek ski mountain’s “Bald Spot” (far left)

Jackson's USGS summit marker

Jackson’s USGS summit marker

Summit of Mt. Jackson (13,670')

Summit of Mt. Jackson (13,670′)

Panoramic of J on the summit of Mt. Jackson

Panoramic of J on the summit of Mt. Jackson

We only probably stayed 15 minutes up top and then began our descent. We quickly made progress chatting and telling stories (yes, even after so many years together in the mountains, we still have plenty to talk about) back down to the saddle with Grouse Mountain and considered our options. It was now 11am and the last thing we wanted to do was to take a chance with the weather, but we believed it would hold long enough for us to go check out the 12er Grouse Mountain as well. So, we motored up the 800′ to Grouse Mountain’s summit ridge and beelined for its summit.

On our way up Grouse Mtn with Mt. Jackson behind

On our way up Grouse Mtn with Mt. Jackson behind

I thought this rock looked like an alien's head

I thought this rock looked like an alien’s head

Grouse Lake came into view far away down to the northeast and Beaver Creek ski mountain’s “Bald Spot” was much closer now. Jackson seemed far away. We saw a herd of elk on the saddle below, which was an awesome sight my dad would have truly appreciated.

J topping out on Grouse Mountain

J topping out on Grouse Mountain

Looking northeast to Vail ski mountain and the Gores

Looking northeast to Vail ski mountain and the Gores

Grouse Mtn summit (12,799')

Grouse Mtn summit (12,799′)

Grouse USGS summit marker

Grouse’s USGS summit marker

Herd of elk from Grouse's summit

Herd of elk from Grouse’s summit

We then began our second descent of the day back to treeline and the Grouse Creek trail. We timed it just about perfect as it began to rain once we were in the trees. The rain didn’t last long and suprisingly we never heard thunder or saw lightning all day. Maybe we could have done the long Gore traverse we had planned. Nevertheless, this long high up behind Beaver Creek was a great way to spend a day.

Heading back down to treeline

Heading back down to treeline

We finally reached my truck in the Beaver Creek parking garage at 3:15pm after 10 hours on our feet. Other than some sore pads on my feet (I need some Hokas for these 20+ mile days), I felt great as J did even after a 22 mile day with around 6,600′ of vertical gain. All in all, a solid day in our backyard.

Dallas Peak

This past weekend Kristine, Rainier, Kona, and I jetted on down to one of our favorite places for the July 4th festivities: Telluride. A few weeks prior, a climbing acquaintance who had hiked Culebra with J and I in the winter of 2013, Jed Flint, had noted he was wanting to climb the high centennial 13er Dallas Peak at 13,809′, which is actually 100th on the centennial list by elevation, on that Saturday, July 5th. Wanting to climb something that same Saturday and as I had never climbed Dallas, we joined forces to make it happen. Over the past 16 years I had climbed many of the 12ers, 13ers, and 14ers surrounding Telluride, but Dallas had always remained that elusive peak that I had just never given much thought to climbing. However, realizing that it is one of the tougher centennial peaks, has a 5.3 summit pitch, and a rappel, it all sounded like a lot of fun. Also, I have sort of been getting into the centennials this past year whether skiing, hiking, or climbing them and Dallas seemed interesting and a nice fit for the weekend.

At 26 weeks pregnant with out little gal, Kristine is still doing so well and getting outdoors a bunch. We slept in Friday morning, enjoyed the fantastic Telluride 4th of July parade on Main Street, and then took the dogs hiking up the familiar Bear Creek trail to Bear Creek Falls. Our good friends, Betsy & Lee Hoffman, and their boys came over to watch the awesome firework spectacle that evening from the in-town deck of my aunt Evon’s condo.

Bear Creek Falls

Bear Creek Falls

Telluride fireworks lighting up the box canyon

Telluride fireworks lighting up the box canyon

It was a spectacle

It was a spectacle…

...and very loud, which scared the dogs quite a bit

…and very loud, which scared the dogs quite a bit

Up at 3am, I got my gear together and headed to the Mill Creek trailhead to meet up with Jed as well as two other climbers, Kelly & Jim, who had joined our little crew. We got on the trail under headlamp around 4:15am or thereabouts. As the weather forecast called for thunderstorms starting to build at 9am, we thought it prudent for a very early start.

It was fun meeting new folks and hiking with a different crew. Its quite a lengthy approach to treeline, but all on the great Deep Creek and Sneffels Highline trails. After first light and breaking out of treeline, Dallas’s intimidating fortress-like south face came into view.

Dallas's south face

Dallas’s south face

Dawn on the Wilsons & Lizard Head to the south

Dawn on the Wilsons & Lizard Head to the south

The tops of the Telluride ski mountain and surrounding peaks waking up

The tops of the Telluride ski mountain and surrounding peaks waking up

We took a variation to attaining the south face slopes via a grassy rib, which worked out pretty well in lieu of the loose talus that leads up to the cliffs.

Jim & Kelly making their way up the grassy rib after leaving the Sneffels Highline trail

Jim & Kelly making their way up the grassy rib after leaving the Sneffels Highline trail

From the top of the grassy rib we traversed onto steep loose scree-covered slabs and then up to the base of the class 3 weakness through the lower cliff band.

The steep, loose, scree-covered slabs up to the lower cliff band on Dallas' south face

The steep, loose, scree-covered slabs up to the lower cliff band on Dallas’ south face

A hundred or so feet of class 3 scrambling dumped us out on a climber’s trail up through the steep talus leading northeast around to Dallas’ east face. Route-finding was fairly straightforward switching from the south to east faces and we made our way up via ledges to the first fun class 4 section.

Jed on the climber's trail above the lower cliff band

Jed on the climber’s trail above the lower cliff band

Dallas's upper east slopes and the summit tower

Dallas’s upper east slopes and the summit tower

Kelly & Jed on a nice perch

Kelly & Jed on a nice perch

Sand-castle looking towers on Dallas' east ridge with Sneffels looking large in the distance

Sand-castle looking towers on Dallas’ east ridge with Sneffels looking large in the distance

The summit tower of Dallas now came into view. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and it was still very early in the morning. The rock was fairly solid for this short section of class 4 and we all made quick work of this fun pitch.

Jed all smiles starting the class 4 pitch

Jed all smiles starting the class 4 pitch

Kelly & Jim making their way up the class 4 section

Kelly & Jim making their way up the class 4 section

This first class 4 section is fairly exposed yet very solid

This first class 4 section is fairly exposed yet very solid

Easier class 2 terrain remained up to the base of the second class 4 chimney to gain the ledges of the north face.

Mellow terrain up to the base of the class 4 chimney (first gully to the right of the one with snow)

Mellow terrain up to the base of the class 4 chimney, which is the dry gully leading to the 2nd notch to the right of the summit tower in the center of the picture

I believe we all thought the moves up this next class 4 chimney were low 5th class and the crux of the entire route in terms of technical maneuvering. Nevertheless, it was all in good fun and we reached the notch at the top of the chimney where there were slings in place in case climbers needed to rappel the chimney. The position at this notch was spectacular.

The class 4 chimney was mostly snow-free

The class 4 chimney was mostly snow-free

Jed, Kelly, & Jim working the chimney

Jed, Kelly, & Jim working the chimney

Kelly & Jim in the class 4 chimney

Kelly & Jim in the class 4 chimney

Jim at the notch before the ledge traverse on the north face

Jim at the notch before the ledge traverse on the north face with Teakettle behind and Uncompahgre & Wetterhorn even further in the distance

A short traverse on the steep north-facing ledges led to the base of the 90′ 5.3 summit pitch. We all geared up, I donned my microspikes and my rack, and Jim put me on belay. The first 10′ or so of the summit pitch was steep snow so thanks to Kelly’s snow picket, I was able to place this as a first piece of protection. I then was able to get on the rock, take my spikes off, and place a 0.75 cam to protect the 5.3 crux. Above the crux was mostly 4th class and I didn’t feel the need to place another piece of gear until I reached the nice, large black sling slung around a summit rock.

Me starting up the summit pitch. Photo by Kelly

Me starting up the summit pitch. Photo by Kelly

Me getting to the dry rock on the summit pitch

Me getting to the dry rock on the summit pitch. Photo by Kelly

The crux section of the summit pitch

The crux section of the summit pitch. Photo by Kelly

I had brought my two 8mm/30m ropes and these worked perfectly for all four of us. Jed, Kelly, and Jim tied into the ropes and essentially simul-climbed on my belay up the final pitch.

Jed coming up the top portion of the summit pitch

Jed coming up the top portion of the summit pitch

Jed

Jed

Everyone made short-work of the final pitch and soon we were all on the summit of Dallas Peak around 9:15am under a blue-bird, sunny morning sky. I texted Kristine that we were on top as she was going to hike up the trails to meet us on the way down.

Dallas Peak summit (13,809')

Dallas Peak summit (13,809′)

Me on top of Dallas

Me on top of Dallas

Telluride ski area and surrounding Bear Creek Canyon peaks from the summit of Dallas Peak

Telluride ski area and surrounding Bear Creek Canyon peaks from the summit of Dallas Peak

Mill Creek Basin and Mt. Emma (13,581') from the summit of Dallas Peak

Mill Creek Basin and Mt. Emma (13,581′) from the summit of Dallas Peak

After a good 25 minutes of lounging, snacking, and taking pictures, Jim readied the ropes and set up the rappel down the summit tower’s east face.

Jim setting up the rappel

Jim setting up the rappel

Jim guinea pigs the rappel

Jim guinea pigs the rappel

Kelly set to rap

Kelly set to rap

Jed relaxing a bit after the initial drop

Jed relaxing a bit after the initial drop

Jed rappelling. Photo by Kelly

Jed rappelling with me up top. Photo by Kelly

Jed lower down on the rappel

Jed lower down on the rappel

Me trying to peer over at Jed rappelling

Me trying to peer over at Jed rappelling. Photo by Kelly

Me on rappel with Jed downclimbing the snow

Me on rappel with Jed downclimbing the snow. Photo by Kelly

The rappel was a lot of fun and we soon found ourselves scrambling down the first class 4 section, the east face ledges, the climber’s trail, and then the lower south face cliff band all the way back down to the Sneffels Highline trail.

The hike out was nice and we met up with Kristine, Rainier, & Kona at the intersection of the Sneffels Highline and Deep Creek trails. After a snack and some good ole pets for Rainier & Kona, we were all off down the remaining 2 miles or so to the trailhead arriving back at the cars a little after 1pm. After arriving at the cars, Kona came out of the woods and we noticed needle-like thistles coming out of her snout – yep, porcupine quills. Fortunately, they were not embedded at all and with Jed’s help they basically just fell off her face. The weather had held beautifully for our Dallas climb and we all felt fortunate to have a nice morning with a great crew. I’m also glad the crew got to meet Kristine and the pups as well and vice versa. It was a fun coincidence that Kelly was in a group of three in the 16,000′ hut on Cotopaxi in December 2010 at the same time our large and rambunctious crew was staying in the same hut climbing the mountain the next morning. One of their crew (Shawn Keil) was a neighbor of one of our crew (Jesse Hill) in Denver. Small world. After saying our goodbyes, we left for Evon’s condo, took a nap, and had a relaxing evening in Telluride before packing up, cleaning, and heading home the next day. It was a memorable July 4th weekend for Kristine & myself in our favorite place in Colorado with Rainier, Kona, new, and old friends.

Spring Ski Finale on Grizzly

Grizzly Peak A, Colorado’s highest ranked 13er at 13,988′, and its aesthetic north couloir have always remained on my list for the spring ski season. The standard route up Grizzly meanders up its east ridge at class 2+, but climbing and skiing its north couloir seemed like the way to go for the Grizz. The 4WD Lincoln Creek Road finally opened up around June 21 thus allowing access to the Grizzly Reservoir and Grizzly Creek trailhead. Access to Grizzly’s northern basin and Grizzly Lake can be had from Highway 82 and Independence Pass via a few adventurous routes for earlier season jaunts, but we just decided to wait until the Lincoln Creek Road opened. I gazed upon Grizzly’s north couloir from up high on the Geissler Mountains north of Independence Pass back on June 1 and thought it was such a cool line yet it looked pretty darn steep.

Shawn, Mike, and Jenn about to drop in on West Geissler Mountain on June 1 with the stunning north couloir of Grizzly Peak A at far left

Shawn, Mike, and Jenn about to drop in on West Geissler Mountain on June 1 with the stunning north couloir of Grizzly Peak A at far left

J, Derek, and I made our way over to the Grizzly Reservoir campground late last Friday evening and set up camp on a cot and in the back of my truck. It actually rained a bit during the night forcing J from outside on his mini-cot into the back of my truck with Derek and myself, but that was OK – just like being in a tight 3-man tent. We set the alarm to 5am and actually woke up to low clouds and no morning sunlight. A bit disappointing and contrary to the sunny weather forecast since good and safe spring skiing is pretty much totally dependent on the sun softening the snow. Nevertheless, we figured it would clear at some point and got walking up the Grizzly Creek trail at around 6am.

Socked in mountains to start the day

Socked in mountains to start the day

Now, I knew I had forgotten something at home and upon rolling up the 4WD Lincoln Creek Road, I realized what it was – my trail runners. After a second of shock, I realized I could just wear my sandals (better yet Derek’s sandals since they were not Chacos circa 1990 and his had more cushion). All was well and they worked fine. The trail was mostly dry up to a few hundred feet below Grizzly Lake (12,500′) where I switched to my ski boots since my socks in the sandals were starting to get damp. It was still only about 8am and the basin was still very socked in with a stiff breeze and fairly cold. Two other ski-mountaineers  were camped high in the basin below the lake whom we would later meet on the summit. J and Derek switched to ski boots at the lake and we geared up for the climb up the north couloir though the upper half of the couloir was still very socked in with clouds.

J and Derek switching gears at Grizzly Lake with a socked-in Grizzly Peak looming above

J and Derek switching gears at Grizzly Lake with a socked in Grizzly Peak looming above

Upon beginning the climb up the couloir, the weather fortunately started breaking up and the sun would shine through for longer and longer periods of time. The snow was softening somewhat, thank goodness.

Starting the boot up the north couloir with Grizzly Lake behind

Starting the boot up the north couloir with Grizzly Lake behind

The north couloir climb was really a lot of fun and nothing too steep – just good snow for kicking steps and climbing nature’s stair master for 1,300′ to the summit ridge.

J and Derek climbing Grizzly's north couloir

J and Derek climbing Grizzly’s north couloir

Good snow climbing

Good snow climbing

The weather really started to break up and allow the sun to shine through for brief periods

The weather really started to break up and allow the sun to shine through for brief periods

The upper portion of Grizzly's awesome north couloir

The upper portion of Grizzly’s awesome north couloir

Derek

Derek

The steepness probably reached 40 degrees or slightly over with room for steeper slopes on the couloir’s right (west) side where the potential for rockfall is a bit higher. We topped out about an hour and 15 minutes after cramponing up at the couloir’s base. The top 100′ of the couloir was the steepest, though it was very short-lived.

Nearing the top of the couloir

Nearing the top of the couloir

The couloir exit

The couloir exit

We left our ski gear and just took our packs to hike the last bit along Grizzly’s summit ridge and up to the summit itself.

Hiking the summit ridge to Grizzly's true summit

Hiking the summit ridge to Grizzly’s true summit

We topped out at around 10am and the clouds were still blocking the sun somewhat, though the weather was still improving with every passing minute. So, we just found a nice perch on Grizzly’s summit and had a snack and something to drink and just hung out for awhile. It was very relaxing. I think J even fell asleep.

Our nice little, exposed perch on Grizzly's summit for over an hour hoping the sun comes out to soften the snow up

Our nice little, exposed perch on Grizzly’s summit for over an hour hoping the sun comes out to soften the snow up

J lounging

J lounging

Left to right: Huron, Princeton, Three Apostles, Antero

Left to right: Huron, Princeton, Three Apostles, Antero

The folks from Durango making their way across the summit ridge

The folks from Durango making their way across the summit ridge

11:15am rolled around and we figured we may want to get on a move since Kristine was planning my birthday camp up on our local Red & White Mountain that evening with good friends (us included). At that time, the two climbers we had seen earlier topped out and we all introduced ourselves. Two very nice folks from Durango were up in the Aspen area for a few days just skiing peaks. They were nice to take our summit pics.

Grizzly Peak A summit (13,988')

Grizzly Peak A summit (13,988′)

Me on top of ole Grizz. Photo by Derek

Me on top of ole Grizz. Photo by Derek

We soon headed back to our skis only to find three climbers climbing up the couloir. So, we waited another 30 minutes for them to top out in order to not cause a raucous in the couloir and make things more dangerous for everyone than they needed to be.

Three other climbers ascending the north couloir

Three other climbers ascending the north couloir

We then dropped in around noon to an audience of climbers gazing upon our turns. I was a bit nervous. I’ve never had an audience skiing a steep line on a high peak before. I am glad we waited another 30 minutes because the sun really heated things up in that time and made the snow soft and just about perfect. J dropped in first on the 50+ degree slopes on the skier’s left side of the couloir. Derek went second and I went third. Its hard to follow those two as they can consistently ski anything and everything very well. After the top 100′, I got into my tele rythym and started cruising tele turns down to J and Derek. It was so much fun.

J off the top with a scenic backdrop

J off the top with a scenic backdrop

J making steep skiing look pretty easy

J making steep skiing look pretty easy

J skiing with Grizzly Resevoir (our trailhead) in the distance center of picture

J skiing with Grizzly Reservoir (our trailhead) in the distance center of picture

Derek about to ski

Derek about to ski

Derek

Derek

Derek skiing a great late spring/early summer ski line

Derek skiing a great late spring/early summer ski line

Derek lower down

Derek lower down

Me off the top with an audience

Me off the top with an audience. Photo by Derek

Me mid-couloir

Me telemarking mid-couloir. Photo by Derek

The lower half of the couloir was not so much fun with the runnels and debris here and there, but skier’s right side of the couloir was fairly smooth and we all made nice turns back down to Grizzly lake.

Derek & J about halfway down the north couloir

Derek & J about halfway down the north couloir

J

J

Derek

Derek

Me skiing the lower portion of the north couloir

Me skiing the lower portion of the north couloir. Photo by Derek

We were able to ski another 500′ down from the lake linking some interesting slots and snowfields and were able to still ski about 2,000′ vertical on June 28! Not too bad. Its been a great snow year for sure.

J and I back on the trail

J and I back on the trail. Photo by Derek

The top 3/4 of Grizzly Peak A's north couloir shown in red as seen on the hike out the Grizzly Creek trail

The top 3/4 of Grizzly Peak A’s north couloir shown in red as seen on the hike out the Grizzly Creek trail

We switched modes of transportation once we hit the Grizzly Creek trail (that is, ski boots and skis for trail runners and sandals) and made our way back to the trailhead arriving at around 2:15pm. We loaded up my truck and boogied out of there to get back to Edwards but still got one last view of Grizzly on the drive out the Lincoln Creek Road.

Grizzly Peak and the top of its north couloir as seen from Lincoln Creek Road

Grizzly Peak and the top of its north couloir as seen from Lincoln Creek Road

Grizzly’s north couloir sure was a phenomenal way to end a great spring ski season up high in our beloved mountains. I think it goes down as one of my most memorable ski-mountaineering trips with my good buds.

Later that evening we all celebrated me getting yet another year older (jeesh) up at our favorite car camping spot on Red & White Mountain. Kristine was so sweet to organize everything and all out good friends for a night of campfires, good food, cornhole, some booze, a small handgun, and awesome camaraderie. Some of us woke up early (thanks to Mr. Gratz’s motivation to hike before driving back to Boulder) and hiked the 3 miles and 1,800′ up to Red & White’s true summit for a gorgeous early morning view of our neighborhood. I think I am now ready to pack the skis away and fully embrace summer!

Red & White Mountain summit (11,192') on a beautiful Sunday morning with great friends after camping Saturday night for my birthday

Red & White Mountain summit (11,192′) on a beautiful Sunday morning with great friends after camping Saturday night for my birthday

24 weeks

Well, Kristine is still going strong even at 24 weeks pregnant with our little girl! As I had never actually driven over Loveland Pass before and there were some easier hikes accessible from the pass itself, we decided to make a pit stop at Loveland Pass for some en route to Denver for our good friend Jesse Hill’s 13th annual summer solstice extravaganza this past Saturday. We joined the tourist trap by parking on the pass and hiking up the mellow east/northeast ridge to 13er Mt. Sniktau’s summit.

Kristine topping out on Mt. Sniktau (13,234')

Kristine topping out on Mt. Sniktau

We didn’t get hiking until maybe 11:30am and returned to our car at around 1:30pm.

The Tuning Fork Couloir on 14er Torreys Peak looking pretty good for late June. Our friend Brian Miller actually skied this line this same morning

The Tuning Fork Couloir on 14er Torreys Peak looking pretty good for late June. Our friend Brian Miller actually skied this line this same morning

The mellow rigge over to Grizzly Peak D and eventually Torreys Peak from Sniktau's summit

The mellow rigde over to Grizzly Peak D and eventually Torreys Peak from Sniktau’s summit

Left to right: Hagar Mtn, The Citadel, and Pettingell Peak to the north from Sniktau's summit

Left to right: Hagar Mtn, The Citadel, and Pettingell Peak to the north from Sniktau’s summit

Eisenhower Tunnel and Interstate 70 from Sniktau's summit

Eisenhower Tunnel and Interstate 70 from Sniktau’s summit

Rainie and Kristine

Rainie and Kristine

Mt. Sniktau's summit (13,234')

Mt. Sniktau summit (13,234′)

Kristine did excellent and it was a fun little Chalk family outing before an afternoon and evening filled with beer, brisket, 87 lbs of pork straight from a whole pig, and late night taco bar all courtesy of Jesse’s extraordinary generosity.

24 weeks!

24 weeks!

Buffalo Mountain’s Silver Couloir

Buffalo Mountain is that big behemoth of a hill most of us have viewed a hundred times when driving west bound on Interstate 70 down from the Eisenhower Tunnel. Located in the southern end of the Gore Range and though only 12,777′ in elevation, Buffalo has one of the most spectacular ski lines called the Silver Couloir on its steep northeast face. This 3,000′ couloir tops out at around 40 degrees in steepness with most sections in the mid-30 degree range. It is even featured in the big coffee-table book Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America by Chris Davenport, Art Burrows, and Penn Newhard and in the new guidebook Climbing and Skiing Colorado’s Mountains: Fifty Select Ski Descents by our friends Brian Miller and Ben Conners. Its easy access, mellow approach to its summit, and great skiing make this a classic and I don’t know of too many other ski lines where you can get as much “bang for your buck” in terms of effort involved for great skiing.

I’ve been fortunate to climb and ski Buffalo now three times and each has been a great outing. My first experience was by myself with Rainier & Kona on a very late season July 3, 2008. I had just heard about this line and decided to go check it out with the pups and being July 3 I think it was relatively safe in terms of avalanche hazard :) We had a great day and most of the Silver Couloir was amazingly skiable!

The Silver Couloir on July 3, 2008 as viewed from Highway 9 north of Silverthorne

The Silver Couloir on July 3, 2008 as viewed from Highway 9 north of Silverthorne

A younger me, Rainier, & Kona on Buffalo Mountain's summit (12,777')

A younger me, Rainier, & Kona on Buffalo Mountain’s summit (12,777′)

The dogs halfway down the Silver Couloir that hot July day back in 2008

The dogs halfway down the Silver Couloir that hot July day back in 2008

My second outing up and down Buffalo was on March 21, 2009 was with a large crew of great friends, my girlfriend at the time (yes, Kristine), and Rainier & Kona, once again. This trip had more of a winter feel to it considering the colder temperatures and larger snowpack up Buffalo’s standard route and down the couloir.

Buffalo Mountain and its much more filled-in Silver Couloir on March 21, 2009

Buffalo Mountain and its much more filled-in Silver Couloir on March 21, 2009

The conditions in the couloir, however, were not so much fun powder as they were harder recycled powder with a breakable crust in certain sections. I learned a valuable lesson this day and that was to not charge down a couloir, especially not knowing the conditions. During this particular time of day half of the couloir was in the sun and half was in the shade. I charged in the steepest section and laid out a tele turn skidding into the shaded part and hit some icy hardpack and took a tumble. I slid head first for maybe 200 ft before grabbing a rock in the middle of the couloir thereby flipping myself around and stopping myself. I broke a tele leash in the process and my sunglasses slid another 1,500′ down the couloir to the apron below. Quite a rush and nerve-wracking for sure, but I learned so many valuable lessons – another of which was to always ski steeper slopes/couloirs with an ice axe or whippet (ski pole/axe combination). I was definitely much younger, naive, and inexperienced back then and have since learned a lot and gained valuable knowledge with regards to this whole ski-mountaineering activity. And, yes, I ski with a whippet these days.

Baba, me, Andy climbing Buffalo that late March day back in 2009

Ryan “Baba” Aldrich, me, Andy Dionne climbing Buffalo that late March day back in 2009

Caleb & Jennie Wray on Buffalo's summit

Caleb & Jennie Wray on Buffalo’s summit

Chris Carlsen dropping a knee in the upper portion of the Silver Couloir

Chris Carlsen dropping a knee in the upper portion of the Silver Couloir

Kristine telemarking down the Silver

Kristine telemarking down the Silver

Kona and Derek Drechsel in the lower portion of the Silver

Kona and Derek Drechsel in the lower portion of the Silver

Jennie Wray

Jennie Wray

My third time on Buffalo was just yesterday with great friend J Weingast. As he had yet to climb and ski this mountain, the Silver was towards the top of his hit list for the spring and so we went and got it in what may be one of the last weekends of the season it could really be in or for that matter skiable at all. After a cold night and a 7:30am start at the Ryan Gulch trailhead, we took a leisurely pace up the standard Buffalo Cabin trail until we hit snowline at about 10,700′. After my last fumble in the Silver, I definitely wanted to make sure the couloir was properly warmed up enough to allow for soft spring snow conditions and not hardpack ice. We put the skis on our back and booted the rest of the way to Buffalo’s summit up the broad east face.

J on the way up Buffalo's standard route

J on the way up Buffalo’s standard route

After topping out around 10am, the clouds really started to move in over the Gores yet the Tenmile and Sawatch ranges remained sunny to our south. Go figure. Still wanting to wait a bit for the Silver to soften up even more now that the sun was behind whispy clouds, J and I decided to take a fun jaunt over to Buffalo’s southern subsummit dubbed “Sacred Buffalo”. Twenty minutes and a fun little class 3 scramble later we were on Sacred Buffalo. There were definitely snow showers pelting Red Peak to our north and the wind had picked up. This was not the weather I had anticipated nor had been forecasted.

J on his way to Sacred Buffalo

J on his way to Sacred Buffalo

Hmmm....why is there sun over the Sawatch and clouds and snow flurries over us in the Gores :)

Hmmm….why is there sun over the Sawatch and clouds and snow flurries over us in the Gores :)

Clouds to the west with Red Buffalo Pass (center) and Red Peak (right) visible

Clouds to the west with Red Buffalo Pass (center) and Red Peak (right) visible

The connecting ridge between Buffalo's true northern summit and the southern Sacred Buffalo subsummit as seen from Sacred Buffalo

The connecting ridge between Buffalo’s true northern summit and the southern Sacred Buffalo subsummit as seen from Sacred Buffalo

Looking down into the Salt Lick Cirque with Silverthorne below

Looking down into the Salt Lick Cirque with Silverthorne and Lake Dillon below

Buffalo Mountain summit (12,777')

Buffalo Mountain summit (12,777′)

Nevertheless, we scrambled back to Buffalo’s true northern summit and decided to go ahead and ski the couloir. Not really wanting to wait around all day for sunny weather, we just decided to go for it and hoped those few hours of early morning direct sunshine warmed the snow up enough for our liking and to make things safe. The top hundred feet of the couloir were pretty firm and I was thinking if the rest of the couloir was like this I would be in trouble. J would be fine because like many of my friends, this guy can ski anything, anytime, anywhere. As if our wish was granted, the snow softened up soon after and good turns ensued for approximately 1,500′ down the couloir.

J beginning the descent of the Silver Couloir

J beginning the descent of the Silver Couloir

And, he is off to the races...

And, he is off to the races…

J in soft snow

J in soft snow

Always having a good time

Always having a good time

Me in the upper portion of the Silver Couloir

Me in the upper portion of the Silver Couloir

Me having fun in the Silver Couloir amidst a scenic backdrop

Me having fun in the Silver Couloir amid a scenic backdrop

The bottom 1,000′ weren’t the best snow conditions – bumpy, dirty, sun-affected, and a few rocks thrown in the mix to dodge around. And, then the couloir’s apron itself was just plain horrible. However, the apron didn’t last long and soon enough we swapped skis and boots for our trail shoes and made our way back to the South Willow Creek trail and then eventually back to my truck at the trailhead around 12:30pm. A fun 5 hours up on Buffalo with J. Its been a fun ride up and down this mountain over the years learning important lessons along the way. If I’m lucky and my timing is right, I do hope to ski the Silver Couloir in powder conditions at some point.

End of the 2014 Spring Ski Season?

Well, both Kristine and myself as well as most of our ski-mountaineering buddies have learned by now to never say “never” when it comes to hanging up the planks for good signaling the end of our spring ski season. Just when you think you are done with ski season, you end up going out again just as Kristine did today on Quandary Peak’s Cristo Couloir with J and the Active Energies group after saying she was done after our ski of Mt. Oklahoma this past Saturday.

The last few days have treated us well with regards to wonderful ski-mountaineering adventures in our hills. A line I try to do every year is 14er Quandary Peak’s South Gully, aka the Cristo Couloir. Its a fantastic 2,500′ line in only a mile topping out at around 40 degrees in steepness. My good friend Mikey was leaving our engineering firm here in the mountains and moving to Denver and wanted to do the Cristo again before he moved to the big city. J joined us as well and in a short and sweet 2 hours we were on top of Quandary basking in the sun and waiting for the sun to soften the Cristo to perfect corn. We waited over an hour on the summit and then dropped in about 10:30am and had an exhilarating ride back down to the Blue Lakes dam hiking back out about 1/4 mile to our cars. Pics of the morning are as follows:

Mikey climbing the Cristo in his new crampon compatible snowboard boots

Mikey climbing the Cristo in his new crampon compatible snowboard boots

Mikey high in the Cristo

Mikey high in the Cristo

Mikey, J, and I on the summit of Quandary enjoying the nice morning

Mikey, J, and I on the summit of Quandary enjoying the nice morning

Mikey ripping the upper couloir

Mikey ripping the upper couloir

J high in the Cristo

J high in the Cristo

No matter how many times we go up and down Quandary, its always a pleasure

No matter how many times we go up and down Quandary, its always a pleasure

J halfway down the gully not really looking at where he is going

J halfway down the gully not really looking at where he is going

Me enjoying my turns

Me enjoying my tele turns. Photo by J

J lower down with Wheeler Peak in the distance

J lower down with Wheeler Mountain in the distance

Mikey

Mikey

Next up Kristine & I left Edwards around 5:30am this past Saturday for the North Halfmoon Creek trailhead behind 14er Mt. Massive arriving at 7am and hiking up the trail to the high centennial 13er Mt. Oklahoma by 7:30am. Despite being a relatively short 7.5 mile roundtrip jaunt up the 3,400′ to Oklahoma’s summit, routefinding and navigational skills were put to the test a bit. Kristine did so well now being 22 weeks pregnant and I am so proud of her. The carrying of ski gear on our backs, river crossings, and bushwhacking definitely got her a bit tired but she persevered on to about 13,100′ until she thought she should go no further not pushing the envelope too much with fatigue and her pregnancy. Despite a 40% chance of thunderstorms in the weather forecast, we had a beautiful morning. I skied down from the summit at about 11am and the snow was just perfect. Kristine was at a rock outcrop at about 13,100′ above the snow-covered headwall and we skied down together from there. It was a great day out together and we were back at the car at about 2pm for a 6 1/2 hour day. Pics of the day are below:

Ski line down the centennial 13er Mt. Oklahoma from the North Halfmoon Creek trail on the way in

Ski line down the centennial 13er Mt. Oklahoma from the North Halfmoon Creek trail on the way in

Summit view to the west

Summit view to the west

Close-up of Grizzly's North Couloir from Oklahoma's summit, which we hope to climb/ski in 2 weeks or so

Close-up of Grizzly’s North Couloir from Oklahoma’s summit, which we hope to climb/ski in 2 weeks or so

Our beloved Gores in the distance

Our beloved Gores in the distance

Mt. Oklahoma summit (13,845')

Mt. Oklahoma summit (13,845′)

Time to ski

Time to ski

My tracks down the awesome low-angle upper 800' of Oklahoma from the summit

My tracks down the awesome low-angle upper 800′ of Oklahoma from the summit

Kristine in great form on the steeper headwall

Kristine in great form on the steeper headwall

Kristine enjoying the turns

Kristine enjoying the turns

Skiing into the high basin

Skiing into the high basin

Our turns down from 13,100' to the high basin

Our turns down from 13,100′ to the high basin

About 7 hours after Kristine and I returned home to Edwards, J and I left for the Leadville area again not really certain on which peak we wanted to hit. We were thinking about Grizzly Peak’s North Couloir, but the Lincoln Creek road was not open yet making for a 12 mile RT day with 5,200′ of elevation gain all above treeline from Independence Pass. With the imposing 50% chance of thunderstorms and snow showers all day, this was probably not a smart idea nor would be all that much fun. Also, my friend Natalie was now going for Oklahoma as they had had a big day up on Castle Peak and wanted something a bit shorter. We were trying to think of a car-camping place on the east side of Independence Pass along Highway 82 when I suggested the Willis Gulch trailhead which leads to the high centennial 13er Mt. Hope. Voila! We will go for the classic Hopeful Couloir on Mt. Hope. This sounded like a better plan as it allowed us to much more easily escape to the cover of treeline should weather roll in. Nevertheless, it was still almost the same stats as Grizzly from Independence Pass at about 11.5 miles RT with 4,700′ of elevation gain. After one of the best night’s sleep I have had in the back of my truck with the tailgate down and the roaring waters of Lake Creek 15 yards away, J and I were off trucking up the Willis Gulch trail around 5:45am in our trail shoes with all our ski gear on our packs. Not knowing where snowline may occur in this north facing gulch, we were prepared to be carrying our gear for a long ways.

On the approach up Willis Gulch to Mt. Hope. J loves old mining cabins

On the approach up Willis Gulch to Mt. Hope. J loves old mining cabins

The miles and vertical went fast though and we were at the base of the Hopeful Couloir at about 11,800′ in about 2.5 hours.The Willis Gulch and then Little Willis Gulch trails are good trails and easy to follow until we got into upper Little Willis Gulch where a few snow drifts prompted some route-finding.

The Hopeful Couloir on Mt. Hope in the morning fog

The Hopeful Couloir on Mt. Hope in the morning fog

The Hopeful Couloir from 11,800' at its base

The Hopeful Couloir from 11,800′ at its base

Never donning our skins on our skis, at the base of the couloir we switched trail shoes for ski boots and crampons and away we went booting straight up the Hopeful Couloir. It was a fun climb, a little mushy here and there, but overall good kick-stepping in decent snow. The 2,000′ couloir angle averages around 36 degrees but tops out closer to 50 degrees near the top.

J showing some leg :)

J showing some leg :)

In the middle of the Hopeful

In the middle of the Hopeful

J climbing the Hopeful

J climbing the Hopeful

Steepening a bit

Steepening a bit

Fun climbing and the weather was holding for the time being

Fun climbing and the weather was holding for the time being

Me climbing up and up

Me climbing up and up

J in the upper section of the couloir

J in the upper section of the couloir

From about 13,800′ at the top of the couloir, we stayed in our crampons and hiked the remaining vertical and distance to Hope’s true summit arriving around 10am.

J on Mt. Hope's summit ridge with some nasty looking weather behind over Twin Lakes to the north

J on Mt. Hope’s summit ridge with some nasty looking weather behind over Twin Lakes to the north

Mt. Elbert to the north from Hope's summit

Mt. Elbert to the north from Hope’s summit

Summit of Mt. Hope (13,933')

Summit of Mt. Hope (13,933′)

Storms over the Belford Group to the south

Storms over the Belford Group to the south

Weather was really building all around us, but Hope’s summit remained clear, sunny, and nice. We only stayed up on the summit for 15 minutes or so and man I am sure glad we did. If we had stayed up there 10 or even 5 minutes longer, we would have gotten thundered and graupeled on while skiing the couloir. We skied down the summit ridge to the steeper Hopeful Couloir descent option (skier’s left) and dropped in on 50 degree terrain only for 100 ft or so (thank goodness!).

Skiing down the summit ridge to the top of the Hopeful Couloir

Skiing down the summit ridge to the top of the Hopeful Couloir

J dropping in

J dropping in

J ripping turns

J ripping turns…

With a gorgeous backdrop

…with a gorgeous backdrop

The ski down really was fun on mostly creamy corn snow

The ski down really was fun on mostly creamy corn snow

I like this one of J

I like this one of J

The couloir’s slope angle mellowed out to the 40s and then eventually higher 30s further down. J ripped every turn as usual while I did my best of my teles – I think I did alright. I felt pretty good about it. The snow got a little chunkier towards the bottom from the avalanche debris but overall we timed this ski descent pretty spot on as the snow was nice and soft the entire way down.

J skiing Hopeful with Twin Lakes beyond

J skiing Hopeful with Twin Lakes beyond

So scenic

So scenic

Looking down on J skiing

Looking down on J skiing

A nice perch, buddy

A nice perch, buddy

J lower down in the couloir

J lower down in the couloir

And out...

And out…

Thanks to J’s GoPro footage on his descent of the Hopeful, I put together a fun little video to the tune of my favorite song called Promentory from the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans (be sure to turn the 1080p HD on):

Just as we skied down below Hope Lake and beyond to treeline, the god of thunder let us know just how insignificant we all are and graupel fell from the heavens at an alarming rate. It actually felt pretty good as long as it didn’t hail and we felt safer now that we were not so high on the mountain and at treeline. Again, the skis and boots went on our packs and we cruised on out of there down Little Willis Gulch in our trail runners.

Mt. Hope and the Hopeful Couloir on the way out

Mt. Hope and the Hopeful Couloir on the way out

We got a little wet on the hike out, but arrived safe and sound back at my truck around 1:45pm for a wonderful 7 hour day up on Hope.

The Hopeful Couloir  shown here in red from Twin Lakes. Mt. Hope's summit is clouded over

The Hopeful Couloir shown here in red from Twin Lakes. Mt. Hope’s summit is clouded over

This spring ski-mountaineering thing sure does allow for some awesome days in the hills. I will be sad when the snow recedes to the point of it not being worthwhile at all to bring ski gear anymore. But, that just means the transition to full-on summer with scrambling in our Gores, rock climbing, and trail running. Not bad at all. However, I just have a hunch that the 2014 spring ski-mountaineering season isn’t quite over. But, that’s just me.

Skiing the Geisslers

I just love spring skiing. Even with the amount of snow we have had this season up to about two weeks ago, the warm temps all last week have put a serious hurting on our snowpack. However, I still think we have a few weekends left yet for some decent lines and spring ski tours.The temps this past weekend were very warm as well not even allowing the snowpack to freeze at night. This typical nightly freeze allows for a safer spring freeze-thaw corn cycle during the morning hours when one would want to ski steeper lines and couloirs.

Having been under the weather all week, I still felt like getting out for a shorter ski tour. So, on Saturday my good bud Mikey and I went and checked out the snowpack on the familiar terrain up on Uneva Peak north of Vail Pass. Any time we can skin from the car is worth it in my eyes. We ended up skiing a steeper gully off Uneva’s south side into the western of the two Uneva bowls, one we rarely venture to during the winter because of the steeper slopes and greater chance for avalanche activity.

Looking down our little gully line into Uneva's western bowl

Looking down our little gully line into Uneva’s western bowl

Mikey in the gully

Mikey starting down the gully

Skiing the gully

Skiing the gully

It was a fun albeit short gully down to the dirt-ridden bowl from which we skinned back up to the ridge and skied down the mellower eastern Uneva bowl, which we typically ski several times a year.

Our tracks down the gully

Our tracks down the gully

Our line shown in red down the gully to the western Uneva bowl

Our line shown in red down the gully to the western Uneva bowl

Mikey skinning back to the ridge

Mikey skinning back to the ridge

Storm over the Tenmile Range

Storm over the Tenmile Range

View west to Mt. of the Holy Cross and its Cross Couloir, which good friends J, Derek, & Brett were skiing the next day. Wish I could have joined them, but being sick all week definitely didn't put me in prime form for a 30 mile roundtrip expedition. Hopefully, I can get it in a  few weeks when Tigiwon Road opens

View west to Mt. of the Holy Cross and its Cross Couloir, which good friends J, Derek, & Brett were skiing the next day. Wish I could have joined them, but being sick all week definitely didn’t put me in prime form for a 30 mile roundtrip expedition. Hopefully, I can get it in a few weeks when Tigiwon Road opens

And, the very mellow eastern Uneva bowl we skied out

And, the very mellow eastern Uneva bowl we skied out

We were initially thinking of skiing down the north side of the peak, but there was so much avalanche debris and fairly significant cornices, it didn’t look all that safe nor all that fun. A nice 3 hour roundtrip tour up on Uneva was just what the doctor ordered and I felt a lot better afterwards.

A few hour later Kristine, Mikey, and I headed down south of Leadville to camp along County Road 390 at a 14ers.com spring gathering in hopes of skiing the Hopeful Couloir on the high centennial 13er Mt. Hope on Sunday. We found our friends Shawn, Jenn, & canine Fitzy in the dark and met up with friend Natalie who wanted to ski Hope with us the next day. However, after learning of the recent  Hopeful Couloir beta (runnels and avalanche debris) and the non-freezing nature of the snowpack at night, we decided to turn our efforts to Independence Pass and the two 13ers, East & West Geissler Peaks, were at the top of the list. This ski tour of the Geisslers is a local Aspen favorite and is featured in my friends’ Ben & Brian’s new book Climbing and Skiing Colorado’s Mountains: 50 Select Ski Descents. Upon leaving camp around 6am the next morning, we drove up to the top of Indy Pass and down to the Highway 82 pull-off 1.8 miles west of the top of the pass. The weather was really not what was forecasted (sunny and bluebird). It was lightly snowing, the wind was blowing, and extremely overcast. There was even the occasional group that was coming back to the cars after having skinned up the valley for 20 minutes who said they were going for a bike ride instead. Nevertheless, we’ve hardly ever experienced a day in Colorado that is forecasted to be beautiful but never turns bluebird and sunny. As fortune would have it, the sun came out and the clouds parted about 45 minutes later much to all of our relief.

Skinning up the gulch towards Independence Lake. East Geissler's south face looms above

Skinning up the gulch towards Independence Lake. East Geissler’s south face looms above

Shawn, Jenn, & Mike with East Geissler

Shawn, Jenn, & Mike with East Geissler

These peaks really are “skier” peaks. So very accessible (when Independence Pass is open) and plenty of skiing can be had from steeper lines to more manageable 35 degree terrain. We decided to go for West Geissler first as the line we would ski is more east facing and would likely soften up first with the morning rays of sun. Kristine, being about 5 months pregnant now, did absolutely amazing and is such a trooper. Everyone was in awe that she was able to climb and ski two 13ers this day. Kudos to her for still wanting to get out and do these kinds of trips all the while growing another human being inside her belly. Amazing, really.

Kristine skinning along with Grizzly Peak A's north couloir in the distance

Kristine skinning along with Grizzly Peak A’s north couloir in the distance

Kristine climbing West Geissler's east ridge with East Geissler, our next objective, behind

Kristine climbing West Geissler’s east ridge with East Geissler, our next objective, behind

Kristine

Kristine

Kristine & I booting up West Geissler. Photo by Natalie

Kristine & I booting up West Geissler. Photo by Natalie

West Geissler summit ridge

West Geissler summit ridge

It was a nice morning skin to the saddle between the two Geisslers and then a straightforward bootpack up West Geissler’s east ridge to its summit. It really turned out to be a gorgeous day.

Kristine & I on the summit of West Geissler Peak (13,301')

Kristine & I on the summit of West Geissler Peak (13,301′)

Mt. Sopris

Mt. Sopris

The Elk Range

The Elk Range

Lookin' good!

Lookin’ good!

Natalie and new acquaintance Otina decided to ski the much steeper 50+ degree line directly off the summit while the rest of us (having not brought helmets or whippets and my wife being 5 months pregnant) elected to ski the mellower sub 40 degree east-facing slopes after a short ski traverse. It was a fun ski line and the snow was pretty good and soft after a few turns down.

Shawn, Jenn, Mike, & Fitzy at the top of our ski line

Shawn, Jenn, Mike, & Fitzy at the top of our ski line

Shawn & Fitzy skiing West Geissler's east face

Shawn & Fitzy skiing West Geissler’s east face

Kristine enjoying the fun day

Kristine enjoying the fun day

We quickly skied over to the base of East Geissler and began laying down a skin track up its mid 30 degree south face. By this time, the crowds certainly started showing up and I bet at one time there was 20-30 people climbing & skiing East Geissler.

Shawn & Jenn traversing over from West Giessler (behind) to begin the skin up East Geissler

Shawn & Jenn traversing over from West Geissler (behind) to begin the skin up East Geissler

The crew skinning up the south face of East Geissler

The crew skinning up the south face of East Geissler

We topped out maybe around 11am and enjoyed the sunshine and views despite a semi-stiff breeze.

View to West Geissler from East Geissler's summit

View to West Geissler from East Geissler’s summit

Summit of East Geissler Peak (13,380')

Summit of East Geissler Peak (13,380′)

Chalks on East Geissler

Chalks on East Geissler

After a few photos we strapped in and skied far skier’s left down the south face of East Geissler where there were no previous ski tracks that day.

Looking down our line off East Geissler. Photo by Natalie

Looking down our line off East Geissler. Photo by Natalie

Me skiing down the face. Thanks to Kristine for the pics

Me skiing down the face. Thanks to Kristine for the pics

So fun

So fun

Loving life!

Loving life!

Sorry, one more of me :)

Sorry, one more of me :)

Natalie

Natalie

Jenn

Jenn

Shawn & Fitzy

Shawn & Fitzy

Otina

Otina

East Geissler's south face

East Geissler’s south face

On the ski out the gulch our ascent line shown in red and ski descent in blue could be seen on West Geissler

On the ski out the gulch our ascent line shown in red and ski descent in blue could be seen on West Geissler

This was really just plain fun skiing and we all skied about 1,200′ down to Independence Lake from where we skied out the gulch back to the cars. The dirt layer was pretty significant in the basin and on several aspects, but we were able to avoid it for the most part on the actual skis themselves.

Kristine on the ski out with the Geisslers behind

Kristine on the ski out with the Geisslers behind

Back at the cars around 12:30pm, we packed up and headed back home to grab the dogs from our friend Kathryn. A great morning out for us on some new terrain with a good crew. I, for one, am so proud of Kristine and feel so fortunate to be able to do what we love together even while pregnant. Here’s a to a few more weeks of spring ski-mountaineering season!

Spring on Pettingell Peak

Well, it seemed like spring was never going to arrive, especially on the weekends as snow and rain storms seem to come in about every weekend. But, last Sunday was more like the spring-type conditions for corn skiing we are used to seeing this time of year. It was hot and sunny most of the day (I think Denver even reached into the 80s) and so we probably should have been skiing earlier than we did. Nonetheless it was a super fun day with Kristine, Shawn, Mike, and the dogs (Kona, Fitzy, & our adopted dog for the day, Gus) on some new terrain for all of us. I rarely venture east of Eisenhower Tunnel (except to go to DIA or some special event), but the ski of the 13er Pettingell Peak was worth the short drive east of the Continental Divide.

Mike, Shawn, & Kristine skinning up Herman Gulch. Pettingell Peak looms in the distance

Mike, Shawn, & Kristine skinning up Herman Gulch. Pettingell Peak looms in the distance

Our plan was to park at the very accessible Herman Gulch trailhead and skin the 3.5 miles or so up Herman Gulch and see what we see. There was the prominent peak dubbed The Citadel (13,294′) with its steeper east-facing chute known as Snoopy’s Backside Chute rocketing down between its two summits. We saw several parties trying to climb this chute, but all made the smart decision of aborting the climb due to wet-slide activity from the snow that fell the previous few days.

The Citadel (13,294') as seen from upper Herman Gulch. Two parties can be seen - one down lower in the center of the photo and another traversing towards Snoppy's Backside Chute

The Citadel (13,294′) as seen from upper Herman Gulch. Two parties can be seen – one down lower in the center of the photo and another traversing towards Snoopy’s Backside Chute

Then there was also the mellower southeast slopes of the highest 13er in the area, Pettingell Peak, that looked pretty fun and safe from any wet-slide activity. It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be up high and because of all the noticeable wet-slide activity on the steeper slopes over maybe 35 degrees, we chose to continue on up Pettingell. We left the Herman Gulch trailhead around 8:15am, shouldered our skis for only a half mile, and then started skinning up the beautiful Herman Gulch on a well-groomed skin track.

It was a special day not only because it finally felt like spring skiing, but also because Kristine and I were so very pleased and proud of her performance up to 13,553′ being 19 weeks pregnant! Yep, as we’re not ones to send out mass emails announcing our pregnancy and I’m not even on facebook to post everything that goes on in our lives, but we’ve just told people over the past few weeks as we’d normally strike up conversations with friends. However, I guess its about time we put it in writing at least. Baby Chalk is a boy and is due October 12 and we couldn’t be more excited! Despite being a bit more tired and winded than normal and the fact that she is carrying another human being, Kristine has been doing superb in the hills. We’ve figured out a good night’s sleep the night before is more key to a better day in the mountains than anything for her during this pregnancy. So, Kristine would want me to say that when you see her in these pictures please do not think she is just getting fat. She is pregnant.

Kristine skinning up to Herman lake with Herman Gulch behind her

Kristine skinning up to Herman Lake with Herman Gulch behind her

Kona and the southeast face of Pettingell

Kona and the southeast face of Pettingell

The crew skinning up to Herman Lake, which drops a few hundred feet beyond the next rise

The crew skinning up to Herman Lake, which drops a few hundred feet beyond the next rise

Anyway, we made our way up to the frozen and snow-covered Herman Lake at around 12,000′ and put together our remaining route up the southeast flanks of Pettingell. We were able to lay a zig-zag skin track up a steeper chute right above the lake and then it was mellow skinning up and up to about 300′ below the summit ridge. We then again set a zig-zag skin track to the ridge from where it was only 50 yards to the summit.

Gus observing Shawn, Mike, & Kristine below skinning up to the ridge

Gus observing Shawn, Mike, & Kristine below skinning up to the ridge

Shawn & Fitzy on the summit ridge

Shawn & Fitzy on the summit ridge

The Gus Dog

The Gus Dog

Kristine on the summit ridge

Kristine on the summit ridge

A nice fellow named Rob from Boulder was on the summit when we reached it as he had taken the more normal path to the summit via the west ridge. It was a bit windy on the summit but overall very nice.

Kona peering down Pettingell's north side

Kona peering down Pettingell’s north side

The Silverthorne Massif in the Gores with (left to right) East Thorn, Mt. Silverthorne, & Rain Peak, which we skied the weekend before

The Silverthorne Massif in the Gores (center of photo). Left to right: East Thorn, Mt. Silverthorne, & Rain Peak, which we skied the weekend before. Zodiac Ridge can be seen to looker’s left of East Thorn as well as Mt. Valhalla’s two awesome east ridges to looker’s right of Rain Peak

Buffalo Mountain and its northern Silver Couloir looking very "in". Mt. of the Holy Cross in the far distance

Buffalo Mountain and its northern Silver Couloir looking very “in”. Mt. of the Holy Cross in the far distance

Pettingell Peak summit (13,553')

Pettingell Peak summit (13,553′)

Kristine & Kona on top

Kristine & Kona on top

The Chalks (minus a Rainier) on Pettingell's summit

The Chalks (minus a Rainier) on Pettingell’s summit

As the southeast face was baking, we swapped into ski mode fast and began our descent. I believe we started skiing down at around noon, which was a bit late for this hot and sunny day as the snow was pretty soft and grabby. Yet, it was still a very fun ski.

Shawn and Fitzy dropping off the summit

Shawn and Fitzy dropping off the summit

Shawn & Fitzy and a gorgeous backdrop

Shawn & Fitzy and a gorgeous backdrop

IMG_1538

Even though still a young pup, Fitzy will be a great ski-mountaineering dog

Shawn & Fitzy lower down on the southeast face

Shawn & Fitzy lower down on the southeast face

Mikey and his tele turn

Mikey and his tele turn

Kristine in great form

Kristine in great form

Kristine & Kona almost back down to Herman Lake

Kristine & Kona almost back down to Herman Lake

The dogs were pretty hot and panting pretty good, so we stopped a lot on the descent for them to catch their breath and cool down. We observed a few larger wet slides come down on the surrounding steeper terrain on our descent, but they stayed clear of us. We skated across Herman Lake and down to the valley to pick up the well-trodden skin track.

Kristine skinning across Herman Lake. A few wet-slides came down on the steeper faces behind her as we skied down the southeast face

Kristine skinning across Herman Lake. A few wet-slides came down on the steeper faces behind her as we skied down the southeast face

Shawn & Fitzy

Shawn & Fitzy

After a bit of lunch and a good rest for the dogs, we took our time skinning and skiing out the 3.5 miles to the trailhead.

Kristine, Mike, & Shawn on the ski out Herman Gulch with our route up/down Pettingell's southeast face in red behind

Kristine, Mike, & Shawn on the ski out Herman Gulch with our route up/down Pettingell’s southeast face shown in red behind

We arrived back at the cars at about 1:45pm and were soon on our way since we left Rainier at home. Total stats for Pettingell from Herman Gulch trailhead is about 9 miles roundtrip with 3,300′ of vertical gain. It was a great day on some new terrain for us. We will definitely be visiting the peaks of Herman Gulch for years to come.

Rain Peak & The Graupel Gully

It was fitting that we climbed Rain Peak on a rainy weekend around the state and skied its Graupel Gully while being pelted with graupel from the stormy skies above.

Rain is an elusive 13er in the Gores that is actually more difficult to see from roads/highways as well as from other Gore summits. Its shape doesn’t stand out as say Mt. Valhalla, Peak Q, or even Mt. Powell. Rain sort of blends into the connecting ridge with the Silverthorne massif and Mt. Silverthorne. Nevertheless, Rain has all the makings of a classic Gore peak – a lengthy approach, a class 3/4 west ridge to its summit, a near vertical west face, a very steep north face, and some interesting ski lines on its southeast face with the prominent couloir from the summit dubbed the Graupel Gully. The weakness in attaining Rain’s summit is its east ridge and while mellow, it sure is indeed lengthy. I think we estimated the total stats for the day were about 15 miles and 4,500′ roundtrip from the Willowbrook trailhead in Silverthorne. Brian Miller was already planning on Rain for Saturday with his buddy Marc Barella as the weather window for the entire weekend looked to be Saturday morning up until about mid-day. Then, the snow squalls would start with hopefully nothing heavy until Saturday evening. I had never met Marc before (though we traded a few emails about he and Carl’s trip to Mont Blanc), but it was great to spend the day with him in the Gores and I would think this day would be great training for his upcoming trip to Denali. Plus, Marc had just finished snowboarding all the the 14ers, which is a heck of an accomplishment, but it was about time he get on some 13ers. Ben Conners & Rick Thompson switched their plans for skiing Cathedral Peak near Aspen to Rain (weather in the Elks looked to be even worse than the Gores) and J and I jumped on board to round out the team of six. Even in less than ideal weather, I’d rather be in the Gores than anywhere else and with all of us having never climbed Rain Peak before (except for Brian), we were excited to see what adventure we could get ourselves into.

We all got to the Willowbrook trailhead at around 6:45am and were booting up the North Willow Creek trail, which had a few fresh inches of snow, at around 7am. After about 30 minutes, we slapped the skins and skin on as the snow appeared to be consistent enough to warrant not carrying our skis anymore. Now the skinning wasn’t exactly easy. We were taking turns breaking trail in very heavy, sloppy snow that globbed onto the bottom of our skins every chance it got. The heavy snow was definitely taxing on my quads. Add to that we lost the trail for a long while and some interesting skinning ensued around, over, and through deadfall, side hilling over rocks and tree trunks, and about every other kind of obstacle you can imagine in the woods. It took awhile. We finally found a trail of sorts that led up to the east ridge and took it. From the east ridge (though still in the trees), we knew if we stayed on the ridge crest we would eventually break out of treeline and be on Rain Peak’s east ridge proper. We could actually make out Rain Peak in the distance through the trees, which definitely helped to keep us motivated.

Rain Peak finally shows its face through the trees

Rain Peak finally shows its face through the trees

It was hours upon hours of breaking trail in the freshly fallen wet snow below treeline, but we finally got the views we came for as we crested treeline. Across the valley to the south was the absolutely stunning What Big Eyes You Have Couloir off of East East Red Peak which Ben & Brian had skied a year prior and was featured as one of their fifty class ski lines in their awesome book Climbing and Skiing Colorado’s Mountain: 50 Select Ski Descents.

The absolutely stunning What Big Eyes You Have Couloir on East East Red Peak to the south

The absolutely stunning What Big Eyes You Have Couloir on East East Red Peak to the south

East East Red Peak and What Big Eyes You Have Couloir. Photo by Brian

East East Red Peak and What Big Eyes You Have Couloir. Photo by Brian

It was great to see such a stellar line up close and personal, though it was a bit intimidating. It looked steep, but then again everything does head-on. The weather was really holding for us and the sun was out. We continued the long skin up, up, and away.

J and Marc above treeline looking back to the east

J and Marc above treeline looking back to the east

J and I skinning along with What Big Eyes You Have Couloir looking on. Photo by Brian

J and I skinning along with What Big Eyes You Have Couloir looking on. Photo by Brian

Me plugging away up Rain's east ridge

Me plugging away up Rain’s east ridge

We could feel Rain getting closer and closer though we still had maybe 1,500′ and 2 miles to go to its summit.

Ben & Rick breaking trail up Rain's east ridge

Ben & Rick breaking trail up Rain’s east ridge

Skinning up Rain's east ridge

Skinning up Rain’s east ridge

The mighty East Thorn was always standing guard to the south (by the way, a great looking couloir there)

The mighty East Thorn was always standing guard to the south (by the way, a great looking couloir there)

Rick motoring ahead

Rick motoring ahead

It was getting closer to noon and the good weather window was starting to collapse.

The remaining route up to Rain's summit

The remaining route up to Rain’s summit

Ben and crew full steam ahead

Ben and crew full steam ahead

We finally crested Rain’s summit ridge and made a beeline for its summit trying to beat the incoming snow squalls and wind.

Left to right: Rick, Ben, & J making their way up to the summit

Left to right: Rick, Ben, & J making their way up to the summit

Deteriorating weather

Deteriorating weather

Brian still loving life in the Gores

Even after all of these years of Gore adventuring, Brian still is lovin’ life in this range

We topped out around 1pm in cold and windy weather with a bit of snow. Thankfully, the visibility was still decent and the actual air temperature wasn’t too cold. Rain Peak seemed to have two distinct high points and the southern point seemed to be higher. Everyone then proceeded to scramble over to the southern summit except for Brian. He seemed to know better.

Scrambling to Rain's southern summit

Scrambling to Rain’s southern summit

J on Rain's southern summit with Mt. Silverthorne (right) & East Thorn (left) behind

J on Rain’s southern summit with Mt. Silverthorne (right) & East Thorn (left) behind

The five of us on Rain's southern summit. Photo by Brian

The five of us on Rain’s southern summit. Photo by Brian

The five of us up close on Rain's southern summit

The five of us up close on Rain’s southern summit

When we arrived at the southern summit and looked back at Brian he definitely seemed higher than us on the north summit. Yep, he definitely knew better. I’m sure he was saying in his head, “Bunch of silly gapers I’m with here”. So, we scrambled back to the north summit, enjoyed the views in deteriorating weather, and shot some pics.

The six of us on Rain Peak's true northern summit (13,130'). Marc (far left) looks like a ninja

The six of us on Rain Peak’s true northern summit (13,130′). Marc (far left) looks like a ninja

J and I on a new Gore summit for us

J and I on a new Gore summit for us

Mt. Valhalla in low visibility from Rain's summit with its two east ridges trending down and right in the picture. Asgard Ridge is the right (northern) of the two east ridges

Mt. Valhalla in low visibility from Rain’s summit with its two east ridges trending down and right in the picture. Asgard Ridge is the right (northern) of the two east ridges

Time to roll

Time to roll

We then stripped the skins, stepped into our respective ski/board setups, and got out of there. There were a few gullies to choose from, and while the easternmost gully looked mighty fine for a ski, we all descended the steepest gully right off the summit cap. This gully was probably the Graupel Gully anyway, so I’m glad we skied the steeper line. Brian & I skied down a bit to take pics of the others.

The boys ready to drop off Rain's summit

The boys ready to drop off Rain’s summit

J off the top

J off the top

Ben slashing his way through the variable snow

Ben slashing his way through the variable snow

As far as the snow was concerned, well it could have been worse and it could have been better. There was probably close to a foot of fresh powder in the gully and the sun all morning had warmed up the top inch or so. With the incoming weather and clouds, that same top layer had solidified making for some interesting slab skiing. It would have almost been better had the sun not come out at all the entire morning. Then, at least maybe there would have not been that top slab above 6-8″ of powder. The rest of the fellas seemed to blow through this slab seemingly effortlessly, while me and my teles got pushed around quite a bit. It was tough skiing for me. I hate having to resort to alpine turns, but I certainly had to in order to not fall on the relatively steep terrain much less break my leg. We also had to be a bit careful with regards to avalanche conditions as that top slab was moving a bit. Nevertheless, it was an awesome setting and the weather got better as we descended. Because we were skiing the Graupel Gully, we almost didn’t mind that it was graupelling on us the entire way down. Some ski shots:

Brian shooting me shooting J skiing the Graupel Gully with East Thorn rising in the distance

Brian shooting me shooting J skiing the Graupel Gully with East Thorn rising in the distance

J skiing The Graupel Gully

J skiing The Graupel Gully

Marc

Marc

Rick

Rick

The Graupel Gully is definitely an aesthetic line

The Graupel Gully is definitely an aesthetic line

Brian

Brian

Ben

Ben

Halfway down the Graupel Gully and all smiles

J, Marc, & Rick (Ben is much further down) about halfway down the Graupel Gully and all smiles. We went skier’s left of this snow ridge from here on down to Salmon Lake

We eventually made it down to the frozen Salmon Lake at the base of East Thorn, had something to eat and drink, and regrouped.

Ben at Salmon Lake on the way out with Rain Peak's southeast face behind

Ben at Salmon Lake on the way out with Rain Peak’s southeast face behind

Our ascent up the east ridge in purple and ski down the Graupel Gully in red as seen from Salmon Lake

Our ascent up the east ridge in purple and ski down the Graupel Gully in red as seen from Salmon Lake

Our plan was to essentially ski out North Willow Creek down from Salmon Lake back to the trailhead. Ben & Brian had essentially done this from maybe a mile down from Salmon Lake after skiing Big Eyes Couloir last year and said it worked out pretty well with only a few sections of uphill. Brian certainly made it easy for the rest of us plowing the way in the wet sticky snow. I can say now I trust Mr. Miller’s navigational expertise in the woods. J and I were dreading the ski out in the North Willow Creek drainage, but it actually ended up being more downhill than we thought. Brian did a stellar job of getting us back to the North Willow Creek trail from which we began to hike down in our ski boots once again for the last 45 minutes finally arriving back at the Willowbrook trailhead around 4:15pm.

Despite the not so awesome weather and snow conditions for skiing, it was a great day out in the Gores with a truly solid group of guys. I think we were all a bit beat after this one and sleeping in Sunday and drinking coffee until noon definitely felt good.