Kristine & I will be giving a 7 Summits slideshow presentation this coming Tuesday night, September 2 @ 6pm, at the Edwards campus of CMC (Colorado Mountain College). So, if you don’t have much going on that evening or need a break from whatever it is you are doing, come on out and join us. We’ll probably talk about the 7 Summits quest for an hour or so leaving plenty of time for questions. Apparently, the presentation will take place in the Lecture Hall, Room 118. This is a free event and open to the public. Should be a fun evening!
The day after J & I climbed up Asgard Ridge to the summit of Mt. Valhalla and descended to East Vail, Kristine, Rainie, Kona, & I headed over to the Fremont Pass area between Copper Mtn and Leadville in Summit County to check out a hike up the 12,017′ Chalk Mountain.
We had been wanting to scope this little mountain out solely because of its name, but it actually turned out to be a nice 4-5 mile hike roundtrip and really good for a 32 week pregnant Kristine. Rainie & Kona had a great time as well. Despite being surrounded by the lands of the notorious Climax Mine on all north, east, & west sides, the south side has a nice forest service road open to the public directly up to the summit plateau of Chalk Mountain. We parked just a few hundred yards off Highway 91 and began the nice stroll up Forest Service Road 134. We actually didn’t get going until maybe after 10am, but the weather was partly cloudy, nice, and cool. Kristine did wonderful and soon we were above treeline staring at the Jackal Hut in the distance.
Chalk Mountain’s summit plateau was quite large extending for probably a half mile east to west. The views south to the Sawatch, west to Mt. of the Holy Cross, north to the Gores, and east to Mt. Arkansas were pretty spectacular.
It was very enjoyable being up on the summit of Chalk Mountain with just the Chalks.
We ate a sandwich, spent 30 minutes on top,and then strolled down the road back to the car getting a little rain/hail on the way down. We then headed to Silverthorne, did a few errands, and picked up J’s truck at the North Rock Creek TH, which we had left in order to climb Asgard Ridge and do our traverse over the Gores. A great day with all my ladies!
I’m a big fan of Norse mythology and an even bigger fan of the Gores, so when I found out a few years ago there was a ridge dubbed Asgard Ridge that led to the summit of one of the Gore’s prominent 13ers, Mt. Valhalla, I was hooked. What got me actually addicted to this ridge was the view from the summit of its western terminus, Palomino Point (13,060′), in late October 2013 when Kristine, myself, and a wonderful 14ers.com crew climbed Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla from East Vail and Deluge Lake.
J had not actually climbed Valhalla and I thought this would be a great route to climb to the summit from the east and descend the class 2 normal route to Deluge Lake and out to East Vail. I also read that Stan Wagon & Joe Kramarsic had climbed Asgard Ridge to Valhalla’s summit and descended back to East Vail in July of 1997 per Stan Wagon’s website. The only beta those legendary Gore enthusiasts had written about (that I could find on Stan’s site) was that they used a rope. I am honestly not sure if there was an ascent prior to theirs or after, but perhaps at some point Joe’s encyclopedic knowledge of everything Gore can enlighten us all. Looking down on Asgard from Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla the year before, it became evident that there were probably a few mandatory rappels. Maybe even a roped pitch or two, which would be wonderfully fun. So, J & I packed my two 30m/8mm alpine ropes, our harnesses & helmets, a light rack including 6-7 cams, a full set of nuts, and of course plenty of slings, biners, & webbing. We didn’t bother with our actual climbing shoes as we both feel pretty good up to 5.7/8 with our La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoes. I think the biggest attribute of gear we had when we traversed the Zodiac Spires in the Gores the year before was plenty of slings and webbing to set up the multiple rappels.
Friday night we dropped off my truck at the Deluge Lake/Gore Creek TH in East Vail and rallied over to the North Rock Creek TH north of Silverthorne arriving around 11pm. J had brought his cots and it was nice sleeping under a large moon albeit for only 4 hours. Up at 4am and after some oatmeal and coffee, we departed for the Boss Mine under clear and dark skies with semi-loaded packs. This is the standard trail, which leads to Keller Mountains’s very fun east ridge, which Kristine, friend Reid Jennings, and myself had climbed the year before as well. An hour later around 6am, we arrived at the old Boss Mine area, took a break and consulted our map. It was getting light out and we could turn off the headlamps. It looked like the cleanest route to attain the lower portion of Asgard Ridge was to cut across the marshy clearing, ford North Rock Creek, and make our way to a prominent boulder field from which it appeared we could climb steep slopes and hit the treed ridge crest. So, we dropped maybe 200′ down to the basin from the trail and literally about 100 yards away from North Rock Creek, J yelled at me “Stop! Back-up!”. A big bull moose was grazing and had J not said something I would have likely walked right into him. I was just minding my own business and watching my steps and not looking up. It definitely woke me up.
We were able to make our way around him and ford the creek a bit to the west by taking our shoes and socks off and braving the cold water. The routefinding really went about as smooth as we could have imagined and soon we were on the boulder field and scrambling up the lower flanks of Asgard Ridge to the ridge crest. This was where we gained a lot of our elevation – about 2,000′ from North Rock Creek to the first point along Asgard Ridge, Point 12,207′. However, the terrain was easy bushwhacking and nice hiking through forests after some initial class 3 scrambling to get up on the ridge crest.
We could both definitely feel the heavier than normal weight of our daypacks – a necessary evil most definitely, especially on a ridge we knew very little about. We soon made it up easy terrain to Point 12,207′ with Asgard Ridge laid out before us. It was a wonderful sight. Asgard Meadows was down to our left and Valhalla’s other, southern east ridge reared up in earnest displaying its awesome Freya, Thor, & Loki Towers. Another day, I’d love to camp in Asgard Meadows and climb these awesome looking towers.
The view of Asgard was a bit intimidating, but looked manageable from this vantage point. But, as we would later find out, that’s only because the difficulties hid themselves well. We then made the easy ridge run across beautiful meadows to Point 12,226′ and got a better vantage point of Asgard. It sure looked fun and interesting and we were very excited. The views of Freya & Thor Towers across the basin were just plain awesome.
Some minor class 3 scrambling soon ensued and the fun we came for began.
It was fairly mellow, smooth sailing class 3 (some class 4) scrambling for awhile on the ridge proper until we came to a deep notch and drop-off in which it got a bit spicy though very exciting downclimbing to the notch.
We made it down to the notch which had a cool reclimb of the same vertical lost up to a mellow, walkable ridge. This walkable ridge constricted down into a narrow knife-edge for hundreds of yards. This was the snake-like, S-shaped ridge I had seen that October day from the summit of Palomino Point. It looked amazing at the time and surely didn’t disappoint this day. J took the camera and got a few of me walking this line.
I came to the end of the knife-edge ridge to a serious drop-off: one that I remember seeing from my pictures and thinking we would need to rappel. I waited for J to join me and we agreed that this was downclimable. We took separate lines down to avoid kicking rocks on one another and joined up on a singular downclimable dihedral.
100′ later we were down in another notch. There was a striking tower that wasn’t exactly on the ridge proper. It was offset to the south a bit, but it looked like it had a cool climb up to its summit on its north side. So, we dropped the packs and climbed for maybe 200′ up to its summit.
Actually, it ended up being a nice preview of things to come. We discussed the route over the next bit and up to Point Odin, but because we looked at the ridge almost head-on, it was hard to see the difficulties.
J made a cairn on the tower’s summit and we were off scrambling down the tower to our bags. It was a relief to have the backpacks off, however brief it was. We gathered our packs and traversed a notch and over a small saddle.
We then began the fun class 3/4 upclimb of what we thought was Point Odin.
After some fun low 5th class moves up a block, we came not to the summit of Point Odin, but a measily false summit.
We had to descend to a notch over very exposed terrain only to climb back up on steep, angling slabs with big air on both sides.
We then came to an unexpected deep gap in the ridge about 3′ wide. The only reasonable means of getting across was to jump across the gap, which turned out to be fairly adrenaline pumping move.
J took a quick video of me jumping the gap:
From the deep notch after the jump, it was a really fun class 4 arete with super exposure and a lot of air.
We then seemed to come at an impasse, but soon realized there was a 10′ hand crack weakness on the right (north) side of the arete proper. I climbed this using a few hand-jams and was soon on top of this crux. It was then a mantle-type move to top out on the summit of Point Odin.
I took a video of J on the hand-jam crux section as well:
Ahhh, was good to be on this summit. We were now pretty close to Palomino Point, a whole lot closer than we were 2 hours ago.
We could see the remaining climb up Palomino Point’s east face, but first we had to deal with getting down off Point Odin and some more knife-edge ridge. Again, this is where I envisioned us rappelling off Odin’s west ridge, but again we found a downclimable route. It was indeed exposed and very airy, but was downclimable for us. J went first and led us home.
The slabs leading off Odin’s west ridge weren’t nearly as steep as they looked from above over a year ago, but definite care & caution had to be taken on this descent, as with any descent. Again, a knife-edge ridge ensued to an interesting crab walk below the ridge proper over big air to the north.
Finally, we were on easier yet looser terrain. We had noticed a grassy ledge system to access this deep slot angling up Palomino Point’s east face and so we went with that.
The grass ledge system was indeed exposed, but the holds were good and we were home free once we entered the deep slot leading towards Palomino’s summit. Once in the deeply inset slot, J found something very interesting – a 35mm camera film canister. He opened it up and what do ya know! It was a Palomino Point summit register by Joe Kramarsic himself. It must have blown/fallen off Palomino Point’s summit.
So, we carried it with us to the summit and left it where it belongs. The views from Palomino Point’s summit were indeed incredible especially looking at from where we had come.
Our good friends Joel Gratz, Lauren Alweis, Andrew Annunzio, Devon Scott, & K9 friend Maude had hiked to Deluge Lake this same day and spotted us from the lake on Palomino Point’s summit. We quickly descended to the notch between Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla and booked it up Valhalla’s north ridge to enjoy our breakfast burritos (courtesy of Kristine) on Valhalla’s summit around 11:15am.
We lounged up top for a good 25 minutes and soon descended down Valhalla”s standard slopes back to Deluge Lake to meet up with Joel and crew. We arrived at Deluge Lake around 12:30pm and ate, drank, and relaxed with good friends for an hour at least. I just love Deluge Lake. The best lake on the west side of the Gores, in my opinion. It seems high enough in the alpine tundra where you don’t have the overgrown marshy plants & bugs that seem to go hand-in-hand with Pitkin Lake, Booth Lake, etc. Deluge Lake just seems cleaner and more pristine to me.
We then took off down the well-groomed Deluge Lake trail trading stories and having a good ole time with those guys finally arriving back at the Deluge Lake/Gore Creek TH around 4pm. Our route is outlined below:
This was a very fun and enjoyable traverse of the Gore range in the latitudinal direction. We got to climb the amazing Asgard Ridge and descend the mellow west side of Mt. Valhalla. Asgard was everything I hoped it would be – long, exciting, fun, quality-scrambling, knife-edge ridges, towers, exposure, and big air. I love it all. Asgard seemed to be a mix of the Little Bear-Blanca Ridge with some of the gnarlier Gore traverses such as Zodiac Ridge, Ripsaw, and the crux sections of the Partners Traverse. Even though we never broke out our gear for any climbing or rappelling on Asgard, that’s not to say some may prefer the comfort of a rope on certain sections. Its always good insurance to have the gear and not need it rather than need it and not have it. Stan & Joe certainly knew how to pick the good lines and adventures back in 1997 (and continue to do so) and it is truly an honor to follow in their footsteps.
It was so nice to spend a weekend deep in my favorite range in Colorado – the Gore Range. And, not only is it my favorite, its the favorite of several others in our little Gore group this past weekend. You are just bound to have a good time with a bunch of “Gore heads” coming together for some remote peaks deep in the Gores. I do say “Gore” a lot – I just like that word. Maybe a good baby name? Maybe for a dude. We’re having a gal, so we’re out of luck much to Kristine’s disappointment, I am sure
J and I teamed up with Brian Miller, David Yarian, Jason Blyth, Rick Thompson, Kevin Pustulka, & Sarah Behnke to lay seige to the awesome peaks surrounding the very remote and deep Upper Slate Lake in the Slate Creek Basin. This was Brian’s 3rd trip into Upper Slate Lake, but then again he is probably the biggest “Gore head” of them all. However, I learned he had not climbed Peaks R & S, so that made me feel better about him going back. I had longed to climb the peaks surrounding Upper Slate Lake but had never done so as they don’t exactly lend themselves to an easy outing from the Vail side. The approach to Upper Slate Lake is extremely lengthy and there is really no easy way to access these peaks as they lay deep the heart of the Gore Range with the dominating Peak Q being quite close to the geographic center of the Gores.
We decided to take the bit longer North Rock Creek TH approach rather than the shorter Brush Creek TH approach as it was just easier to coordinate and not everyone had 4WD vehicles for the Brush Creek 4WD road. Our approach ended up being almost 10 miles and 2,700′ in vertical gain. Not trivial. We did get to view Slate Lake on the approach, for which the basin and creek are named, and this lake alone is a worthy destination.
J and I packed in later Friday afternoon than the rest of the crew and arrived at camp around 7:15pm taking about 5 hours for the approach with our trimmed down backpacks. I started chatting with David and Jason in their tent and was sort of wondering why they were in their tent on a gorgeous evening and then it hit me. Well, they hit me – physically hit me. Mosquitos! They were some of the worst I’ve experienced with close seconds being other Gore lakes, King’s Peak in Utah, and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. However, how can you complain too much with views of these awesome remote peaks from Upper Slate Lake. There was a reason Brian kept coming back here.
I made it my mission to keep the already lit campfire going until bedtime and it helped somewhat to make it tolerable to be outside the tent. Nevertheless, it was a great night outside catching up with old friends and meeting Kevin & Sarah for the first time. J and I roasted and toasted our Qdoba burritos over the fire to perfection. Up at 5:30am on Saturday morning, we left camp around 7am to make the semi-bushwhack around the southern edge of Upper Slate Lake and then beyond into the upper portion of the Slate Creek Basin. We eventually crested the 11,500′ small lake dubbed “South American Lake” because it closely resembles the shape of South America.
Navigating this basin definitely eats up time whether you are off the climber’s trail, stuck in a boggy marsh, cursing your way through willows, or climbing up slabs of rock. We made our way into the north basin between Peaks Q & R and picked our respective lines up Q’s east/northeast faces.
J, Brian, and I took a more direct line on some steep ledges while the rest of the crew took more or less the east face route outlined in David Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles. We all met up at around 12,500′, took a cool looking line up a mellow dihedral, and then found a cairn which led us to a small ledge and then a gully spitting us out at the base of the airy summit ridge.
It was all really fun scrambling and Peak Q surely didn’t disappoint. Peak Q’s summit ridge looked exciting enough and after some airy scrambling on a narrow ridge and a short, exposed 8′ chimney climb, we were all on the summit of Peak Q deep in the heart of the Gore Range.
We actually met a nice fellow named Laars who was leading a month long Outward Bound group in the Gores. He had the morning to get away from camp as the students were out on their solo mission and decided to head up Q. It was fun meeting another person outside of our own party on this remote peak.
At around 10:30am, we boogied down the “standard” east face of Peak Q and made our way to the Peak Q/R saddle.
We said our goodbyes to Laars and he headed south from the saddle into the next drainage over back down to his Outward Bound camp. Jason & I scoped out the ledge system and found a pretty nifty ledge route with steep, blocky scrambling to gain the grassy, upward trending gullies to Peak R’s summit.
We topped out on Peak R right at about noon and the weather was indeed building. We scampered down the boulder fields of Peak R’s east face and had two choices. Continue on the ridge proper, which would have been pretty spicy and fun if the weather had not been building and we didn’t have such a large group, or drop down to bout 12,400′ on the ridge’s south side via class 3/4 scrambling to a grass ledge system that led over to the low point between Peaks R & S. At this point in seeing the downclimb to the 12,400′ grass ledge system, I think Kevin & Sarah had had enough and decided to return back to the summit of Peak R and head down the way we had all come up from the Peak Q/R saddle.The skies were getting dark but no audible thunder yet, so we kept pushing. We all finally reached the low point between Peaks R & S and realized we still had some climbing to do. We reached another saddle after a few hundred feet of scrambling further east and made a the “go/no-go call”. The skies were getting angry. We only had a few hundred feet of easy terrain to the summit of Peak S and so we all went for it. We left the packs just below the saddle in the easternmost north-facing couloir on the Peak R/S ridge and scrambled fast up to Peak S’s summit. It was borderline trail running. As soon as I stepped on the summit of Peak S, a crack of thunder let loose above me. I motioned for Rick, who was only 10 seconds behind me, to get next to me while I snapped a picture.
We got a picture and were off passing Zambo & J, then Jason, and Brian on the descent as they were on their way up. I was literally on the summit for 12 seconds – my shortest amount of time on a summit ever.
It was fairly terrifying, though we descended fast back to our packs within the confines of the couloir. We spread out a bit and descended fast down this couloir.
At one point, Brian knocked a refrigerator-size boulder loose, which Rick and I saw heading straight towards us. We sprung to the sides of the couloir walls with our “cat-like” reflexes and hid in small dihedrals. Fortunately, the boulder came to a stop, but would have had to take a hard left turn to get us in our positions. Without any more incidents, we all made it to the valley floor 2,000′ below with the crackling of thunder continuously overhead, but fortunately no lightning. We made it to treeline just before the heavens unleashed a monster hail storm on us. We were able to remain dry, though our thoughts lay with Kevin & Sarah descending Peak R. We sure hoped they were both OK and were able to take shelter somewhere. We made it back to camp around 3:45pm for almost a 9 hour day. We tried to go relax out on the peninsula in the breeze to get away from the mosquitos, but the rain soon started again and we retired to our tents and snoozed for a few hours. However, our concern was always on the whereabouts of Kevin & Sarah up on Peak R. Once 6pm rolled around and they had yet to return to camp, we started discussing our options and sending a few of us back up Peak R was definitely in the cards. Thankfully, Zambo & Jason spotted them descending the valley and they arrived back at camp around 6:45pm. I think we all could rest a lot easier knowing they were safe. Kevin & Sarah relayed their story of descending Peak R’s ledges covered in graupel, much of which sounded very spicy to say the least. Nevertheless, they are experienced folks and returned to camp just fine.
Sunday dawned a new day and Peak L was to be a peak remembered for a long time.
I can now see why Peak L is the favorite among Gore peaks for many Gore enthusiasts. The route starts out the same as for accessing South American Lake and Peak Q by hugging the southern shoreline of Upper Slate Lake. Once you hit the waterfall area where the terrain steepens, make a hard right and cross Slate Creek where feasible. Its then a routefinding maze on the path of least resistance through meadows, over rock slabs, and up steep grass gullies to treeline. The grass gullies give way to boulder fields, which lead up to the ridge, 500′ below the summit of Peak L.
The views of the Peak Q/R/S massif to the south were unreal. Once we all regrouped at the small saddle, we had a nice food and water break taking in the views to the north of the Black Lake drainage, Ripsaw Ridge, and east-facing ski lines off Mt. Powell and Eagle’s Nest. We made our way around a small tower and scrambled up the ridge to Peak L’s knife-edge ridge.
This knife-edge ridge was a highlight of the scramble – airy and fun, though almost to short for my liking. Beggers can’t be choosers, though.
I actually took a video of everyone crossing this knife-edge ridge, which can be viewed below (be sure to turn on the 1080 HD in the settings):
Everyone did fantastic and we soon descended into the notch between the knife-edge ridge and the 250′ summit headwall.
J and I enjoyed our little perch at the end of the knife-edge ridge and watched the 6 others ascend the class 3/4/5 headwall depending upon your route. It was a treat to watch everybody do their thing. J then started up and I got some pics of all 7 of them with Brian on the summit block. Cool stuff.
I then followed Rick and J and we all took perhaps more of a low 5th class route towards the western edge of the headwall.
We soon were all on the summit area of Peak L. The actual summit is a 6′ tall boulder that can really only accommodate two folks standing.
We all lounged for a bit as it was still only maybe 9:30am and ate, drank, and told stories. We then descended safely all the way back to our camp at Upper Slate Lake reflecting on a wonderful weekend deep in the heart of the Gores. Upon arriving back at camp just before noon, we hurried to pack up camp as the mosquitos were, yet again, out in full force. Zambo & Jason left just before J and I did around 12:30pm. Brian, Rick, Kevin, & Sarah left a bit after us. We were all just ready to get out of the mosquitos. I had enough bites on me for sure. J and I took a long break and ate our sandwiches once we were a few miles down the trail below Slate Lake and out of mosquito territory. The backpack out was beautiful, but there definitely seemed like more up then down especially once you turned south on the Gore Range Trail from the Slate Creek Trail. The body was a bit sore once we arrived at the North Rock Creek TH around 5:45pm. As Brian, Rick, Kevin, & Sarah had not arrived yet, J and I said our goodbyes to Zambo and Jason and headed out as we had a bachelor party that evening at Jay’s Hut on Vail Pass. The fun never ends it seems. That’s a good thing, right?
After some reflection, I feel privileged to have spent 2-1/2 days with this crew on the deepest of Gore peaks. It was a wonderful outing and very special to share similar interests with fellow Gore enthusiasts. Now, to go back in there in a few years for Peak T and Guyselman Mountain The view of Peak Q will always be embedded in my memory forever
Kristine & I recently returned from a wonderful 6 days on the coast of Maine and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the Oelbergers and good friends. We try and do an annual trip to New England every summer and each time it seems this trip gets better and better. This time around we took a 1 hour, 10 seat puddle jumper on Cape Air from Boston to Rockland, Maine, which is only 10 minutes from the Oelbergers house on the coast. This flight sure beat a 4+ hour drive from Boston, a bus to Portland with an additional 1-1/2 hour drive, or some combination of the two as we have done in the past. Its always so much fun and so relaxing to be at Ken & Dianne’s home on the water of the St. George River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.
On our first full day in Maine, we took a 4 mile hike on some new trails that Ken & Dianne worked on and were recently completed. Despite the mosquitos, it was great to stretch the legs with the family.
The next day, we road-tripped to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Ken & Dianne via back roads and towns as there is no direct east-west interstates in that part of the country. We rolled into the White Mountain School near Littleton 5+ hours later to visit our great friends Ryan “Baba” & Lizzie Aldrich, their two youngins, Avery & Colden, and golden retriever, Khumbu. They live in a old farmhouse right off campus and Ryan built a fire pit out back. I had never been to the White Mountains, but I was truly blown away by what this area has to offer. Its like a smaller version of what we have available here in Colorado: the small town country feel, trail running, mountain biking, skiing (inbounds and backcountry) and rock climbing all within a stone’s throw of their house. We spent two wonderful nights with the Aldriches and had a jam-packed full day of fun and adventure with everyone. While Baba & Kristine had been up Mt. Washington, New Hampshire’s highest peak at 6,288′, a few times, the rest of us had not, and so hiking up this state highpoint was on the agenda for all of us. After summitting Mt. Katahdin in Maine last year, the Oelbergers and Chalks are on a conquest of New England’s state highpoints together. Up at 6am at the Aldrich homestead and out the door around 7:30am, we all met at the base station for the Cog railway at 2,700′ on the mountain’s west side. Kristine & the Oelbergers started up the Jewell Trail as I waiting just a bit for Baba & Lizzie as they had to take Avery & Colden to daycare. There are numerous trails up and down Mt. Washington, but we all agreed upon the Jewell Trail, as it was reported the least rockiest. Yes, the mountains in Colorado are much steeper and higher, but I have to say that the trails in New England are much more hardcore. Tree roots combined with the boulders and rocks that seem to have a density of at last two large rocks for every square foot of trail make these trails tough and slower going. Trail running on these trails doesn’t come as easy as it does on the nice smooth dirt trails of Colorado. I can’t imagine being a trail runner in New Hampshire and never spraining/breaking your ankle. Nevertheless, Baba, Lizzie, Khumbu, and I caught up with Kristine, Ken, and Dianne, and enjoyed hiking all together up the nice Jewell Trail.
Kristine, despite being now 30 weeks pregnant with our little lady, did so extremely well. We eventually broke through treeline and the valleys opened up around us.
The Jewell Trail climbs maybe 2,700′ in 3.7 miles before it intersects the Gulfside Trail above treeline below Mt. Clay and then heads south to the summit of Mt. Washington. Having Khumbu with us made Kristine and I feel much better about not having Rainie & Kona with us. Khumbu is the best golden retriever I have ever spent time with (except for Rainie of course), a well-trained and wonderfully tempered dog, and not to mention such a lover.
We picked our way up the Gulfside Trail and the views just got better and better of the surrounding Presidential Range and valleys.
Lizzie scooted ahead to try and buy a ticket and make the 1:30pm Cog railway down the mountain in order to pick the kids up by 3pm or so. We were able to see her off on the Cog and shortly afterwards Ken & Dianne arrived on the top of New Hampshire. We were all so proud of Ken & Dianne for their second New England state highpoint in as many years. The crowds on top of Washington were quite extensive due to the fact most folks take the Cog up or just drive up to the summit. We even had to wait in line to take a picture at the true summit with the Mt. Washington sign. Baba had brought up some “Baba Beer”, which we all enjoyed. Its the best black lager I’ve ever had. Dianne took a liking to it as well.
We spent a good hour on the summit before Baba, Khumbu and I started our trail run descent down a different route – the Gulfside Trail to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, which leads back to the base of the Cog railway. Ken, Dianne, and Kristine would hang around the summit for a bit and catch the 3:30pm Cog down the mountain hopefully giving Baba, Khumbu & I enough time to get down. Baba & Khumbu relaxed at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut while I did a short run up to the summit of Mt. Monroe (5,372′), which afforded more spectacular views.
After some steeper scrambling down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail for 3 miles, we arrived back at the base of the Cog around 4pm. It was some solid trail time with Baba after a good year hiatus from hiking together.
We arrived at the base only to learn that the 3:30pm trail was delayed due to mechanical issues. It was soon fixed and Kristine, Ken, & Dianne arrived at the base around 4:45pm. Apparently, Kristine overheard a group on Washington’s summit talking about some pregnant lady hiking up Washington. We all thought that was funny. Baba then took us to an awesome river spot for some cliff jumping. The cliff itself was likely only 25′ high, but boy was the water cold. I don’t think Baba had done this jump before so I was glad to do it with him.
The next day (Saturday) Lizzie competed in and placed 2nd in her age division in the local Top Notch Triathalon! She really did extremely well and was very impressive. As I cannot bike or swim well at all, I asked her if she wanted me to run along with her up Cannon Ski Mountain as the third and final leg of the triathalon. Lizzie thought that would be a great idea and that she would love for me to be alongside her for support and motivation. So, that’s what I did. I held her water bottle and some energy gels and ran with her up the 2,000′ of vertical gain to the finish line at the ski mountain’s summit. It was an honor to be with her and was very fun. I hope me being there beside her helped her to go a bit faster. She didn’t need me at all. It was just fun to be with her. As we didn’t really know if a “pacer” was legit with the triathalon’s rules, I ditched out before the finish line and met her up top. Baba, Kristine, and the kids took the tram up to the summit and we all congratulated Lizzie. We even ran into the really good friends of the Oelbergers, the Muchards, at the race as their daughter and son-in-law were competing as well.
After saying our goodbyes to our really good friends, we left for Maine and the Oelberger Residence arriving at around 8pm that Saturday evening. Sunday was a relaxation day and we had a great cornhole tournament with Ken, Dianne, and three of their good friends in the afternoon. On our last day in Maine, Kristine & I got up early and drove an hour to Booth Bay Harbor to catch a ferry to Squirrel Island and visit our great friends Chris & Kate Danforth. Chris & Kate spend their summers at the Danforth house with their kids Harper & Afton. Harper is now 8 years old and is a climbing monkey. I had never been to Squirrel and visiting this fairly private and secluded island was a special treat. Kristine had visited Kate here before. There are only about 100 homes on the island, a small post office, ice cream store, a library, a few tennis courts, and a church. That’s about it. The island is pretty small with a perimeter of about 2.5 miles around the shoreline that resembles the body shape of a squirrel facing west. Pretty much everyone walks everywhere and everyone seems to know everyone. It was the kind of small community I just love. Houses rarely come on the market and they are passed down generation to generation. I believe there is only one lot for sale too. Chris’s parents actually met on Squirrel Island as both of their families had homes on the island. It is really a special place.
Chris took me on his daily ritual – his island “rock hop” run around the rocky/slabby coastline of Squirrel. It was so much fun following Chris on this awesome run. Its basically a combo of trail running and scrambling over rocks for 2.5 miles. I think we did it just shy of 30 minutes, which was a decent time considering we were moving pretty fast yet still chatting and he showed me a few cool spots including a cliff jump along the way. After building a good sweat, we met Kate, Kristine, Harper, and Afton on the beach area and went for a much needed swim. Its too bad Chris and I live across the country from each other. I think we all feel like the two of us are like peas and carrots. Its great. Chris & Kate cooked us an awesome lunch of BBQ chicken and caprese salad. Yum. We then went on a boat ride with Captain Kate at the helm and then walked over to the cliff jump.
Apparently there was a dead seal near the cliff jump, but we didn’t see it. Anyway, Chris and I jumped while the ladies and Afton watched. It was a great jump into the ocean. Two videos of Chris and I jumping below:
Later on that day, Chris and Afton took the boat around the island to the cliff and saw the seal carcass. It was literally 10 ft from where we jumped in. Glad we didn’t see it at the time! After some more beach time, we showered up and caught the 5:40pm ferry back to Booth Bay harbor. Again, it was sad to leave our good friends and such an amazing place, but feel fortunate we were all able to spend a great day together. We look forward to future adventures and time together with Chris & Kate and their awesome kids.
All in all, one of the best trips back to New England we have done. Seeing family, reuniting with great friends, and experiencing great places all helped to make this a special trip.
The much anticipated video of our December 2013 Vinson climb, filmed and edited by Ed Horne, was finally released a few days ago. Ed was hired by our logistical guide service, Antarctic Network International or ANI, to be a part of our “V3″ expedition to climb Mt. Vinson. Ed is an extraordinary photographer, videographer, and all-around super guy. We all felt honored to have him along on our climb and as a result all became good friends. In a nutshell, our 11 day climb up and down Mt. Vinson was documented by Ed and this awesome video is the result. Its a lengthy video at over 17 minutes, but brings back so many happy memories for all of us that I hope you enjoy as well. Hopefully, this will give folks a great snapshot of what it is like to climb to the top of the bottom of the world with the phenomenal services provided by ANI. The logistics, guides, food, and support of ANI are really first class and unmatched in the mountain guiding industry. Several of us “client” climbers are featured in this video including myself, Kristine, Chase Lochmiller, Kevin Vann, Dan Healy, Luis Alvarez, and Vilborg Arna Gissurardottir. Guides featured are Scott Woolums, David Hamilton, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, Namyga Sherpa, and Josh Hoeschen. Unfortunately for Kristine, Kevin, David, and myself, there is no footage of us on summit day (except for leaving high camp) because we ascended the north bowl/west ridge and descended the standard east ridge. We passed Ed and the rest of the ANI crew on the east ridge on our descent as they were all heading for the summit. I so wish we had been up there with them all, but its great seeing all of the happiness, elation, and excitement of Chase, Villa, Harry, Halla, Dan, Luis, Lhakpa, Andy, and Namyga on Vinson’s summit. We all feel very fortunate to have had Ed with us on our Vinson climb and for this video to relive those days in Antarctica for the rest of our lives. Enjoy!
Lastly, Ed shot and edited this little 1 minute promotional video for ANI based on footage from our Vinson climb if you would like to check it out:
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 then belayed Mikey up the pitch who was hauling the backpack for J and Mikey.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Easier class 2 terrain remained up to the base of the second class 4 chimney to gain the ledges of the north face.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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!