Excitement & Disappointment in the Capitol Creek Valley

My good buddy Jesse Hill and myself spent an evening, night, and a half day or so this past weekend up in the beautiful Capitol Creek Valley. We were both so excited and a bit anxious about attempting to climb the spectacular Northwest Buttress on the 14er Capitol Peak. Its a route I had long wanted to try and climb. Climbers say its one of the better mountaineering routes on a 14er in the state. Having seen it now up close and personal, I would have to agree. The first pitch is 5.9 albeit at 12,500′ up a traversing crack system for a good 120′. The 2nd pitch is a long 5.8 chimney leading to easier (4th class) ground. 500′ or so of solid 4th class scrambling leads to the right (west) of Unicorn Spire from where low 5th class simul climbing typically ensues for several hundred feet up to a saddle. A final 5.7 pitch leads to 4th class scrambling to the summit. Descent is via the standard northeast “knife-edge” ridge route. Here is an overview of the route drawn by Stich on MountainProject:

Capitol's Northwest Buttress route

Capitol’s Northwest Buttress route. Click to enlarge

I had been up Capitol three times all via the standard route, which in itself is a classic route very worthy of all the hype. Jesse had climbed Capitol maybe 11 years ago and was excited to go back. We departed Edwards around 3pm on Friday afternoon and were hiking by 5pm on the Capitol Ditch Trail into the Capitol Creek Valley. Unfortunately, it was lightly raining on us the entire 6.5 mile backpack into Capitol Lake (11,500′).

Jesse hiking into Capitol Lake on a dreary Friday evening

Jesse hiking into Capitol Lake on a dreary Friday evening

It never even approached to crossing our minds that this rain was doing much more damage up high on our intended route, i.e. drenching the route and making the 5.8 chimney a small stream. What we didn’t know at the time didn’t bring us down, so we enjoyed the pack into the valley with good conversation despite the rain. We arrived at the lake 3 hours later right at 8pm and quickly found a site to set up the tent to get out of the rain. However, as soon as we put down our packs, the rain stopped and the skies cleared. Jesse went to filter water while I took pictures of Capitol’s north face in the alpenglow. That site never gets old.

Alpenglow on capitol's north face. The Northwest Buttress route is the right skyline

Alpenglow on Capitol’s north face. The Northwest Buttress route is the right skyline

I ate my burrito while Jesse cooked some Mountain House and we got in our sleeping bags around 9:30pm. I was still chilled a bit though warmed up within the warm confines of my zero degree bag. I slept horrible that night. I think it was a combination of using the climbing rope for my pillow, which in turn gave me a headache and hurt my neck, and a big root right under my pad. Anyway, I was a zombie at 4am, but after some coffee I was fired up to go. We left the tent with harnesses on and geared up around 5am. It was a nice hike up to Capitol Pass at just over 12,000′ and took us about 40 minutes. We then began the talus scramble up the steeper ground to the base of the technical pitches up the Northwest Buttress just as it began to get light enough out to see our surroundings.

Jesse on the talus cone with Capitol Lake behind

Jesse on the talus cone with Capitol Lake behind

We were excited. However, upon seeing the large black streaks drenching over the 5.9 crack originating from the 5.8 chimney, we paused for a moment. We thought it may just be a stain from previous water and the rock still dry. As we got right up on the face, we could see it was running water and the pitches were wet. Not ideal and very disappointing.

The upper half of the 1st 5.9 pitch was drenched from the previous day's rain

The upper half of the 1st 5.9 pitch was drenched from the previous day’s rain

We discussed things a bit and decided to give the 1st pitch a go primarily get a good look at the 5.8 chimney 2nd pitch. We traversed east out the small ledge to the base of the 5.9 crack. I racked up and Jesse belayed me on lead of the awesome finger crack start.

My finger crack start to the 1st pitch

My finger crack start to the 1st pitch

The views were great from the small ledge

The views were great from the small ledge

I believe there is an easier start located about 10′ left (east) of the finger crack I climbed. I worked my way up crack system traversing left placing a few cams, clipping an old stuck hex and a piton, and pulled the roof to a good stance about 60′ up from Jesse where an old bolt was located on the face above.

Me pulling the roof on the 5.9 1st pitch

Me pulling the roof on the 5.9 1st pitch. Photo by Jesse

A leftward trending off width crack leading to the final vertical finger crack to the anchors was the 2nd half of the 1st pitch and yet to come from where I stood above the roof. This is where the water was drenching the route. Instead of continuing on to the anchors, I decided to lower off the piton and hex below me. I could see the 5.8 chimney well from my position and there was a small waterfall pouring over the crux bulge to get into the 5.8 chimney above the anchors for the 1st pitch. If I had continued onto the anchors, I don’t believe I could have rapped back down to Jesse with a single rope, i.e. the pitch was too long. Ugh, I was gutted lowering back down collecting my gear. Honestly, the water issue and potential wetness of the pitches after a rainstorm was something I hadn’t remotely considered. There was a couple from Carbondale who had dayhiked in from the trailhead that morning arriving at the base of the technical pitches as I lowered down. They seemed deflated as they looked at the water on the route. They were gunning for the 5.10 start called Early Times, which seemed to be very wet and slick as well. We started down the talus cone back to Capitol Pass occasionally glancing back at the duo trying to figure out the drenched 5.10 dihedral start to Early Times. The fellow was on a ledge trying to figure out how to get into the wet dihedral for probably 30 minutes. I am not sure if they ever figured it out. We lost sight of them soon enough.

Jesse and Capitol's Northwest Buttress

Jesse and Capitol’s Northwest Buttress

I labelled the 1st two pitches of Northwest Buttress route

I labelled the 1st two pitches of Northwest Buttress route

The fellow can be seen just right of center trying to figure out the black stained (wet) entrance to the dihedral on the 5.10 start

The fellow can be seen just slightly down and right of center trying to figure out the black stained (wet) entrance to the dihedral on the 5.10 start

The Northwest Buttress from Capitol Pass

The Northwest Buttress from Capitol Pass

One more of the Northwest Buttress on the descent

One more of the Northwest Buttress on the descent

We arrived back at our tent by 8:15am and I was itching to do something else. I didn’t really care to go up the standard knife-edge route on Capitol again, but I had never been up the adjacent 13er Mt. Daly and so that was a plan. Jesse decided to nake a nap in the tent and chill at camp while I went solo up Mt. Daly. I was especially looking forward to the views of Capitol from the Daly summit. 1000′ of nice trail brought me to the Capitol/Daly saddle and I turned left and started up the south ridge of Daly initially bypassing some 5th class looking towers on the left (east) side via steep grassy ramps. I then scrambled to the ridge proper and went over a few loose towers to a small saddle and then continued on easy 3rd class scrambling to the mellow upper slopes.

Capitol from Mt. Daly's south ridge

Capitol from Mt. Daly’s south ridge

Mt. Daly's fun little south ridge

Mt. Daly’s fun little south ridge

Mt. Daly's

Mt. Daly’s summit comes into view

I arrived on Daly’s 13,300′ summit about an hour and 15 minutes after leaving camp and the views were wonderful. Capitol’s Northwest Buttress looked so amazing from this vantage point.

The backside of Mt. Sopris from Daly's summit

The backside of Mt. Sopris from Daly’s summit

Moon Lake and the Elk Range

Moon Lake and the Elk Range

Capitol Peak and its Northwest Buttress forming its right skyline

Capitol Peak and its Northwest Buttress forming its right skyline

Mt. Daly is a nice destination in itself

Mt. Daly is a nice destination in itself

After chatting with my dad and a good 15-20 minutes up top, I descended Daly’s south ridge back to the Capitol/Daly saddle and then down the switchbacks and was back at camp just shy of 11am. Jesse had taken down the tent and we departed camp by about noon to make the pack out. We arrived back at the trailhead around 2:30pm and boogied on home after stopping for a coffee in Basalt. We reflected on the decision to bail and considered it the safe thing to do. There is a reason we try and not rock climb in the rain :) Climbing 4th class or even low 5th class on wet rock is one thing. But, when you are trying to climb upper 5th class pitches on wet rock, things are a bit different and things become incredibly slick, tough, and unsafe. Chalk the trip up to some good recon and seeing the Northwest Buttress up close and personal. One thing this trip did was amplify my desire to climb this route. Maybe we’ll give it another go come early fall when the weather tends to be much drier.

We shall be back!

We shall be back!

And, of course a few Sawyer pictures to end on:

Two teeth

Two teeth

That's some mighty fine hair there, little lady!

That’s some mighty fine hair there, little lady!

Sawyer and I bouldering in Wolcott on Sunday while Kristine was with good friends hiking from East Vail to Frisco via the Gore Range and then road biking back via I70 and Vail Pass

Sawyer and I bouldering in Wolcott on Sunday while Kristine was with good friends hiking from East Vail to Frisco via the Gore Range and then road biking back via I70 and Vail Pass

Sawyer’s 1st 14er Summit

Well, you definitely never know how things will turn out with a 9 month old on just about any outdoor adventure much less taking her to over 14,000′. You just got to be very flexible as parents and go with the flow. Sometimes we do have to turn around on a hike or leave the climbing crag because she is over tired or because of any one of a number of other reasons. Sometimes she is very happy and can stretch her awake time without getting too fussy. One thing we do know is that there is no predictability :) Nevertheless, we wanted to give a 14er a go with Sawyer. Make it a nice family outing on a shorter 14er so even Rainie could go. We thought of the easy and very accessible 14ers above Kite Lake in the Mosquito Range south of Breckenridge & Quandary Peak and figured Mt. Democrat would fit the bill nicely. In addition to only being 4 miles roundtrip and 2,250′ of elevation gain, there was Kite Lake at the trailhead so Rainie could go swimming before/after to stay cool. I had never seen so many cars (even a tour bus!) at a trailhead (well, except for Longs Peak, I guess) and we had to park 1/4 mile down the Kite Lake road at about 11,800′.

Kristine carrying Sawyer in the Ergo carrier on her front side with Kite Lake behind. Fortuantely, Sawyer was asleep at this moment

Kristine carrying Sawyer in the Ergo carrier on her front side with Kite Lake behind. Fortuantely, Sawyer was asleep at this moment

Sawyer didn’t nap much on the way to the Kite Lake trailhead, so she was a little unhappy at the beginning of the hike. But, she fell asleep on the gradual hike maybe 20-30 minutes from the trailhead. This was a BIG relief to Kristine & myself.

Making our way up to the Democrat/Cameron saddle at 13,400'

Making our way up to the Democrat/Cameron saddle at 13,400′

Sawyer's K9 protectors

Sawyer’s K9 protectors

Sawyer slept for 45 minutes or so and woke up right as we crested the 13,400′ saddle between Democrat and Cameron. Hikers kept commenting to us upon seeing Sawyer in Kristine’s Ergo carrier, “Wow, there is a baby in there?” Funny stuff. We all took a break and snacked for 15-20 minutes at the saddle.

At the 13,400' Democrat/Cameron saddle

At the 13,400′ Democrat/Cameron saddle

Rainie standing guard as Sawyer gets a snack

Rainie standing guard as Sawyer gets a snack

Having had a good nap, we transitioned Sawyer to the backpack and loaded it up on my back. We love this Kelty backpack – it fits Sawyer very well. One observation that we had were the number of folks on these 14ers. Even on a Friday, the masses were astounding. I mean I know these 14ers are some of the easiest and most accessible and thus most popular 14ers in the state, but all I could think was just “wow”. I honestly haven’t been on of these popular 14ers in the summer in over a decade and the crowds these days are sure different than they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Sawyer and I making our way up Democrat's class 2 east ridge with Mt. Cameron behind us

Sawyer and I making our way up Democrat’s class 2 east ridge with Mt. Cameron behind us

The weather (cloud building) was a little intimidating and obviously we didn’t want to be caught out in a storm with a baby, but the weather held off just fine as we made our way to the summit. We sort of got off the trail and climbed the east ridge direct in order to avoid the crowds coming down the main trail consisting of loose scree/boulders. Rainie did wonderful on the off-trail boulder hopping and I believe people were equally impressed with 12-1/2 year old Rainie making her way up another 14er as they were with us having a 9 month old in the backpack.

Almost to the summit

Almost to the summit

We crested the summit maybe an hour and 45 minutes after leaving the trailhead. Not bad at all. The weather was holding and we got a few pics. Sawyer was really a trooper and not very much did I even hear a fuss from her – mainly just her squeals and laughs. She seems the happiest in the outdoors just like the rest of her family.

Sawyer on top of her 1st 14er!

Sawyer on top of her 1st 14er!

Mt. Democrat summit (14,148')...Sawyer did so extremely well.

Mt. Democrat summit (14,148′)…Sawyer did so extremely well.

Me, Rainie, & Sawyer on top of Democrat

Me, Rainie, & Sawyer on top of Democrat

Being on the summit reminded me of the last time I was on Democrat with Rainier and Kristine in the winter of 2004.

A younger Kristine, Rainier, & myself on top of Democrat 11 years ago

A younger Kristine, Rainier, & myself on top of Democrat 11 years ago

We then motored down the summit ridge and back onto the standard east ridge trail and back down to the saddle.

Happy that it all worked out this day

Happy that it all worked out this day

Sawyer again had a snack as I gave the dogs some food once we got well below the saddle and then she really did well in the backpack all the way back down to Kite Lake. She was a happy camper back down in the meadows on the shores of Kite lake while Rainie swam again.

A girl and her dog

A girl and her dog

Happy Sawyer

Happy Sawyer

I think I did something funny here

I think I did something funny here

It was a very memorable day for Kristine and myself and we were/are so proud of Sawyer for being a trooper up a 14er. Not that we’d want to attempt a 14er every weekend with her, but maybe another one is in the cards before the snows come. Not that Sawyer will remember anything about this day, but we are hopeful she’ll look back at these pictures and say “wow, my parents carried me up a 14er when I was 9 months old”.

The three of us with Mt. Democrat behind

The three of us with Mt. Democrat behind

Back on the Maine Coast

We always look forward to our week back in Maine. The Oelberger Residence is located on the St. George River about 20 minutes from the city of Rockland. Its so relaxing and we always enjoy our time with Ken & Dianne in their element on the coast of Maine. They are officially true “Mainers” now. Its always a full travel day (14 hours or so) from our house to the Oelberger’s house, but I feel its always fun taking the hour long flight from Boston to Owl’s Head on the 8-seater Cape Air Cessna.

About to board the Cessna in Boston

About to board the Cessna in Boston

Kristine’s sister, Carrie, was also there with her family (Thomas, Teo, & Kai) visiting  from Minneapolis. It was essentially one big Oelberger reunion. Our good friends Kate & Chris Danforth (with kids Harper & Afton in tow) from Burlington, VT (who vacation on the coast of Maine at Squirrel Island all summer) even came and stayed with us for 24 hours overnight. It was a houseful, but so fun. My sister, Logan, and her husband Ransome came up to visit for a few hours from Booth Bay Harbor as they were in-state for a wedding in Portland. It was a treat to have them visit us at the Oelberger Residence. Lots of activities were abundant each day including getting out on the boat(s), a few good trail runs (one great one with Chris Danforth on the local hiking trails), setting up a rope in a tree in the front yard (to show Thomas how to ascend a rope to trim/take down a large Mulberry Tree in Minneapolis yard), an afternoon of rock climbing for Kristine & myself at Barrett’s Cove Cliff, and numerous other fun events.

Left to Right: Kate, Harper, Kristine, Afton, me, Chris, & Thomas

Left to right: Kate, Harper, Kristine, Afton, me, Chris, & Thomas

Teo & Carrie helping Thomas with the ropework in the Oelberger's front yard

Teo & Carrie helping Thomas with the ropework in the Oelberger’s front yard

My sister, Logan, brother-in-law, Ransome, and us

My sister, Logan, brother-in-law, Ransome, and us

Logan & Sawyer

Logan & Sawyer

Thomas practicing his jumaring

Thomas practicing his jumaring

The view from the Oelberger's front deck of Thomas dangling from the oak tree above the St. George River

The view from the Oelberger’s front deck of Thomas dangling from the oak tree above the St. George River

Who needs baby toys when you have climbing gear?

Who needs baby toys when you have climbing gear?

S

S

Sawyer did not like the life vest

Sawyer did not like the life vest

Down by the water

Down by the water

Chris & Sawyer

Chris & Sawyer

There was a lot of stimulation for Sawyer all week with all of the kiddos

There was a lot of stimulation for Sawyer all week with all of the kiddos

Kristine & I had coordinated borrowing a full rack of climbing gear and rope(s) from the nicest gentleman, Bruce Gerard, who lives in Appleton (40 minutes away from Ken & Dianne) and had done landscape work for the Oelbergers in the past. Bruce had done a lot of climbing around the US and in New England. He is a veteran of the local climbing scene especially around Rockland, Camden, & Rockport and is essentially a “guidebook” himself. He was so generous to lend us his gear and we so enjoyed visiting he and his wife at his home on 20 acres for a good hour or so. I hope we can climb with Bruce on a future visit. All Kristine & I had to bring from Colorado were our harnesses, shoes, a helmet, and a few slings/biners/quickdraws. Bruce indeed saved us a lot of hastle with transporting a lot of gear across the county. So, the Oelbergers with Carrie & Thomas were so nice to watch Sawyer for 5+ hours while Kristine & I went and had some time to ourselves scoping out a new climbing area (to us) at Barrett’s Cove Cliff about 40 minutes away. It was a great afternoon just the two of us. We climbed a 260′ two-pitch route called Charlotte’s Crack (5.7 R), which was apparently one of the classic climbs of the area. It was a lot of fun. I couldn’t have led it without Bruce’s “Camden Rack” – lots of small TCUs, micro-nuts, and “east coast” gear. Very different from our splitter cracks out here where you maybe need 8-10 cams of the same size.

Me leading away on the 1st pitch of Charlotte's Crack

Me leading away on the 1st pitch of Charlotte’s Crack

Fun face climbing with decent protection

Fun face climbing with decent protection

I tagged a 2nd (blue) rope for our rappels

I tagged a 2nd (blue) rope for our rappels

Me on the 2nd portion of the 1st pitch

Me on the 2nd portion of the 1st pitch

140' up you reach  a large ledge called "Broadway" and a 2-bolt anchor

140′ up you reach a large ledge called “Broadway” and a 2-bolt anchor

me on Broadway with Barrett's Cove behind

me on Broadway with Barrett’s Cove behind

At Broadway ledge

At Broadway ledge

We then transitioned to another 2-bolt anchor 15′ to our left on Broadway and I saddled up and began climbing up the enjoyable 2nd pitch of Charlotte’s Crack. The 2nd pitch was 120′ of 5.7 climbing up to two large trees which provided a suitable anchor from which I belayed Kristine up.

Me beginning the lead of the upper pitch of Charlotte's Crack

Me beginning the lead of the upper pitch of Charlotte’s Crack

There was a nice little off-width section, which was fun

There was a nice little off-width section, which was fun

Upper pitch of Charlotte's Crack

Upper pitch of Charlotte’s Crack

Kristine topping out

Kristine topping out

Really pretty views from the top of the cliff

Really pretty views from the top of the cliff

We then moved 15′ back to the left to find the rappel anchors and set up the double rope rap.

Setting up the 1st double rope rappel

Setting up the 1st double rope rappel

Happy to be out just the two of us

Happy to be out just the two of us

Rapping down to Broadway

Rapping down to Broadway

Upon reaching the ground after two double rope raps, we decided to hike around and find this other climbing area called The Verticals where several fun 5.9-5.10 sport routes existed. After scrambling up a gully and a stream bed we found two climbs on our right and just decided to climb these. I have no idea what they are, but the challenging climb was all good fun and gave me a bit of a pump. We felt like we needed to get back to Sawyer and while Kristine packed up the gear and coiled the ropes, I ran up the stream bed and found the top anchors for the climbs on The Verticals. They looked very cool. Next time for sure.

Kristine hiking out. A climber (in a pink shirt) can be seen way up on the 2nd pitch of Charlotte's Crack

Kristine hiking out. A climber (in a pink shirt) can be seen way up on the 2nd pitch of Charlotte’s Crack

Route outline of Charlotte's Crack as seen from Barrett's Cove: red is 1st pitch, blue is Broadway, & green is 2nd pitch

Route outline of Charlotte’s Crack as seen from Barrett’s Cove: red is 1st pitch, blue is Broadway, & green is 2nd pitch

Barrett's Cove Cliff from Barrett's Cove parking area

Barrett’s Cove Cliff from Barrett’s Cove parking area

We met a nice climbing guide and owner of Northern Vertical named Ryan Howes at the base of Charlotte’s Crack with a client and he recommended we check our the Ocean Lookout crag with its variety of crack climbs. Looking forward to that hopefully on our next visit! A few more of our favorite pics throughout the week are as follows:

Me and S down by the water in front of the Oelbergers home

Me and S down by the water in front of the Oelberger’s home

The Chalks

The Chalks

Sawyer, Teo, me, & Carrie

Sawyer, Teo, me, & Carrie

Kristine took these gorgeous sunset pics looking over Ken & Dianne's motorboat and the St. George River

Kristine took these gorgeous sunset pics looking over Ken & Dianne’s motorboat and the St. George River

Very peaceful

Very peaceful

Cousins (Left to right: Teo, Kai, Sawyer)

Cousins (Left to right: Teo, Kai, Sawyer)

Laughing babies

Laughing babies

Sawyer's 4th of July attire

Sawyer’s 4th of July attire

Taking the Oelberger motorboat out for a spin

Taking the Oelberger motorboat out for a spin

Seals sunbathing on the rocks

Seals sunbathing on the rocks

And, Sawyer tried her 1st Maine lobster! The first of many...

And, Sawyer tried her 1st Maine lobster! The first of many…

Until next time, Maine!

2015 Spring Ski Finale & My 1st Father’s Day

There is still a lot of snow up high (above 12,000′), but it is melting extremely fast given these 90 degree days in our mountain towns. It just makes me glad we were able to do what we did as far as spring skis this spring even though it didn’t compare to the frequency and quantity of spring ski descents from previous years. A few days ago, Kristine & I dropped off Sawyer at daycare at 8am (since we are paying for it anyway) and boogied on down to the Mosquito Creek drainage one basin west of the Kite Lake trailhead where J and I skied Mt. Buckskin 6 days prior. I remember seeing these peaks from the summit of Mt. Buckskin and put them to memory in case we could get out again since the driving access gets you high to almost snow line (around 11,500′) thus minimizing the time of hiking with skis and boots on your back. Now, I would never recommend starting a spring ski climb/descent at 9:30am, but we could only do what we could do with regards to dropping Sawyer off. We would just have to see how warm and sloppy the snow would get and plan our ascent and descent routes accordingly. We parked right at about 11,600′ and left the car with skis/boots on our packs walking in our trail runners around 9:30am. We casually hiked up the rough road towards the abandoned London Mine and left the road heading due west over tundra avoiding the snow where we could.

Kristine tundra hiking with the west face of Mt. Buckskin behind

Kristine tundra hiking with the west face of Mt. Buckskin behind

We reached a point where we felt the snow was continuous and donned our ski boots and skis. We contemplated heading up the ridge to Kuss Peak (13,548′) and then over to Mosquito Peak, but there looked to be a skinnable route up the east ridge of Mosquito and fully snow covered. It looked to be a good ski descent as well. So, well on our way to Kuss, we changed directions and headed due north to this east ridge.

Kristine heading to the base of the east ridge of Mosquito Peak

Kristine heading to the base of the east ridge of Mosquito Peak

It was late – maybe 11am – as well as very hot. We were very conscious of snow conditions and any potential wet slab activity. We picked a good line and up and up we went topping out on the 13,781′ summit around 11:45am.

Kristine skinning up the east ridge

Kristine skinning up the east ridge

The steeper portion of the east ridge - maybe 30-35 degrees

The steeper portion of the east ridge – maybe 30-35 degrees

Mellower ground to the summit ridge

Mellower ground to the summit ridge

Summit ridge

Summit ridge

Mosquito Peak summit (13,781')

Mosquito Peak summit (13,781′)

Looking south to Kuss Peak and beyond to the 14er Mt. Sherman

Looking south to Kuss Peak and beyond to the 14er Mt. Sherman

We didn’t stay long on top and after a few pics and packing our skins away we were off down the creamed corn summit ridge to the east ridge. Despite dropping down the line at noon, the snow held up fairly well. Let me tell you I expected worse, that’s for sure. It was special to get a ski descent in with Kristine. I think she had a great time and she looked good carving those turns.

Kristine carving turns on the upper summit ridge

Kristine carving turns on the upper summit ridge

Having fun

Having fun

Kristine on the steeper portion of the east ridge

Kristine on the steeper portion of the east ridge

Decent snow conditions for mid-day skiing

Decent snow conditions for mid-day skiing

Kristine way down on the bench of the east ridge

Kristine way down on the bench of the east ridge

We reached the base of the east ridge and found a little chute down to the lower basin in order to avoid the long way around from which we came.

Kristine skiing the exit chute to the lower basin

Kristine skiing the exit chute to the lower basin

We skied down until we couldn’t ski anymore and hoisted our skis/boots once again on our backs and hiked the rest of the way back down to the truck arriving around 1:15pm or so.

Kristine & Mosquito Peak on the hike out

Kristine & Mosquito Peak on the hike out

Eating our PB&Js on the 6 mile Mosquito Creek dirt road back out to Alma, we made it just in time to go home and get the dogs and go pick up Sawyer at 4pm from daycare. It was a great day to be out just the two of us.

The next day a bunch of my buds (Ben Conners, Brian Miller, Marc Barella, etc) were planning their annual 14er Torreys Peak climb/ski and I was wanting to join them, especially since it was on the way down to Denver for our good buddy Jesse Hill’s 14th annual Summer Solstice extravaganza as well. All of these ski mountaineering rockstars typically climb and ski the northwest face of Torreys, aka the Tuning Fork Couloir, and hearing its a great spring ski on one of the longest snow climbs in Colorado (3,000′ couloir) I wanted to try my best to join these guys. I had climbed Torreys a few times previously via the standard route and Kelso Ridge, but never on the Northwest Face.

The Tuning Fork Couloir on the northwest face of Torreys Peak as viewed from the summit of Mt. Sniktau exactly one year ago when Kristine, the dogs, and I hiked Sniktau en route to Jesse's Summer Solstice party in Denver

The Tuning Fork Couloir on the northwest face of Torreys Peak as viewed from the summit of Mt. Sniktau exactly one year ago when Kristine, the dogs, and I hiked Sniktau en route to Jesse’s Summer Solstice party in Denver. This day we ascended and skied the right branch of the Tuning Fork

Kona and I left the house around 5:15am and met the other 9 fellas at the Bakerville Exit at around 6:45am. We jumped in with Carl leaving my truck right off I-70 at the base of Forest Service Road 189. I usually drive my truck everywhere, especially on dirt 4WD roads, but I figured why not give it a rest for once. We took the right onto the Grizzly Gulch 4WD road a mile and a half up, crossed a few streams, and parked in the meadow before the road really gets bad maybe at about 10,800′. Packing the skis on our packs, we made our way up the 4WD road and then crossed (jumped!) Grizzly Gulch Creek, which made for some entertainment.

Me jumping the creek. Photo by Rick

Me jumping the creek. Photo by Rick

Shortly after the creek, we hit snow line and it was 3,000′ of nature’s stairmaster to the summit ridge. Fortunately, there was already a “booter”, i.e. previous boot steps in the snow, so it was simply one foot after another. The snow was pretty firm and made for good progress. Kona stayed in the booter most of the time because out on the face was fairly slick.  It was a fun climb and despite carrying both my skins and crampons, I used neither.

The boys beginning the booter

The boys beginning the booter

Marc, Rick, & Ben in the Tuning Fork Couloir

Marc, Rick, & Ben in the Tuning Fork Couloir

The booter

The booter

Ben making progress

Ben making progress with Marc & Rick below him

Carl

Carl

A few of us topped out around 10am for about 2 hours and 15 minutes to the summit. We all probably lounged on the summit for 30 to 45 minutes and enjoyed the views. It was a great time to be on a summit again with all these guys. Folks were impressed with Kona’s climbing and I gave her the 1/2 pound of food I had carried up the mountain as she definitely earned her breakfast this morning.

Lounging on the summit of Torreys

Lounging on the summit of Torreys

Looking down Kelso Ridge

Looking down Kelso Ridge, the northeast ridge of Torreys

Kona & myself on top of Torreys Peak (14,267') with Grays Peak behind

Kona & myself on top of Torreys Peak (14,267′) with Grays Peak behind

Another of us

Another of us

The crew on top

The crew on top

We then all clicked into our skis maybe 10′ below the summit and skied down the west ridge to the top of the Tuning Fork. The snow had warmed up nicely by 11am and we skied nice corn all the way down the couloir for 3,000′.

Some of the boys at the entrance to the Tuning Fork

Some of the boys at the entrance to the Tuning Fork

Ben

Ben

Ben slashing the corn

Ben slashing the corn

Carl spraying corn

Carl spraying corn

Carl

Carl

Telemark master Josh

Telemark master Josh

Josh

Josh

Rick

Rick

Rick again

Rick again

Josh & the Tuning Fork

Josh & the Tuning Fork

Kona was having some difficulty with how soft the snow was in the lower half of the couloir, so obviously I stayed with her and we took our time. She did great, though pretty exhausted. She was excited to get back to Grizzly Gulch Creek and get some water and cool off. We jumped our way over the creek once again. Only this time their was a casualty – my ski pole. Fortunately, it wasn’t my much more expensive whippet. I think I was so focused on not falling because of my camera, I completely lost focus on my poles. This is the second time a creek has eaten my ski pole and both creeks had the word “Grizzly” in their name. Maybe I should not try to jump any Grizzly Creeks anymore :)

Brian making the creek jump look easy

Brian making the creek jump look easy

We got back to the trucks at around noon and I realized all the boys were going to cook out and drink some beer in the gorgeous meadow by the trucks. However, Kona and I needed to get back to I-70 and my truck so we could meet up with Kristine, Sawyer, & Rainie in Silverthorne. No matter. We just hiked the 2.5 miles down the 4WD road to my truck. It was fine, as it was mostly downhill, just hot. The few creek crossings felt great on my feet and legs. I should have just driven my truck up to the 4WD parking, but c’est la vie. Kona & I met up with the rest of the Chalk gals, left my truck in Silverthorne, and we all headed to Jesse’s 14th annual Summer Solstice party in Denver arriving around 2:30pm. Jesse outdoes himself every time with this party. Its simply amazing. He is such a good guy to put this on year after year for all of us. He has adapted this party over the years from our single days with no responsibility to all of us now having families an kiddos to the tune of having a large bouncy castle this year. Sawyer loved it and its almost like a mini-reunion for all of us. Rainier stayed near the pig the entire time getting droppings of pork while Kona was passed out on the lawn. We ended up leaving to head back to the mountains around 8:30pm and both dogs and Sawyer were racked out for the entire drive back to Vail.

The next day was my 1st Father’s Day. Now, I know what it felt for my dad for these 37 (almost 38) years. Its’s wonderful. Between a great brunch at the Wolcott yacht Club, a much needed nap, and a little bouldering down at Wolcott, we all had a great and relaxing day. I just love my little Sawyer to the moon and back. She makes me the luckiest father on earth.

Father's Day brunch

Father’s Day brunch

At the Wolcott Boulders

At the Wolcott Boulders

Happy to be together

Happy to be together!

Mt. Buckskin Birthday Ski

On J’s 36th birthday, we went skiing. Yes, it was June 13, but the skiing up high was just most excellent. Kona and I picked up J at 6:30am and we all rocketed down to the Kite Lake Trailhead (well, maybe 3/4 mile short of Kite Lake) and made a beeline for the centennial peak Mt. Buckskin at 13,865′. We began skinning just after 8am from where we parked (approximately 11,800′) and it was already warming up pretty fast with the sun’s rays.

J & Kona beginning the skin

J & Kona beginning the skin

J skinning higher & higher. Kite Lake can barely be seen frozen far below

J skinning higher & higher. Kite Lake can barely be seen frozen far below

J approaching the summit ridge. 14ers Mt. Democrat, Quandary Peak, & Mt. Lincoln (left to right) can be seen behind

J approaching the summit ridge. 14ers Mt. Democrat, Quandary Peak, & Mt. Lincoln (left to right) can be seen behind

The northeast face of Buckskin is a great skin with a few pitches of maybe 30-35 degrees, but all still totally skinnable.

J & Kona skinning Buckskin's summit ridge

J & Kona skinning Buckskin’s summit ridge

After a fairly casual pace for 2,200′ up in probably 2 miles or so, we topped out on Buckskin’s summit after an hour and 35 minutes. There is still plenty of snow up high above 12,000′, that’s for sure. If you can find access that gets you close to this elevation such as the Kite Lake area, you should be good to go for the next week and have minimal carting your skis on your pack.

Mt. Buckskin summit (13,865')

Mt. Buckskin summit (13,865′)

After 20 minutes on top at around 10am, we were off down the wonderful northeast face of Buckskin. Creamed corn turns ensued for 2,000′.

J off the summit

J off the summit

A little further down

A little further down

Our turns

Our turns on the upper northeast face

J & Kona on a steeper pitch down lower

J & Kona on a steeper pitch down lower

Happy birthday, J

Happy birthday, J

It was tough for Kona down low as she was definitely punching through, but she persevered. We contemplated heading up Democrat for some turns on its south face, but the snow was just getting too soft. Back at my truck by 11am, we noticed a Denver family in their SUV driving right by us heading for the snowdrift that blocked the road. This wouldn’t end up working out for them. You could’ve seen this coming from a mile away. Trying to plow through the 12″ of snow/ice, they slid partially off the road and were stuck.  J and I ended up using our avalanche shovels to help dig them out and after 30 minutes they were able to back up and out of the snowdrift. Having done our good deed for the day, we headed back home for a pool party all afternoon with Kristine, Sawyer, Megan, Rainier, & Kona. It was a nice birthday for J who continued his fun activities into Sunday where he, Kristine, and several other friends rafted from Avon to Eagle. Sawyer, the dogs, & myself met them at Wolcott for their lunch stop and said hello. A little quick video of J carving some birthday turns on Mt. Buckskin:

Skiing Finnegans

Despite having basically lived in Edwards for the better part of 12 years (except for a few year stint in Eagle-Vail with the fabulous friend & roomie Megan Gilman), I always glanced up at this nice peak looming far above the Lake Creek Valley and the town of Edwards dubbed “Finnegans” by locals. The official 13er Finnegan Peak (13,346′) is south of Finnegans along the same ridge a few summits over. It has a mellow north-facing slope from its 12,765′ summit down to treeline at around 11,400′. This tree-less alpine slope always looked like it would be a superbly fun ski. Well, it took 12 years to finally go ski it, but it was a great adventure with my good friends and the skiing down the north face yesterday (June 7) was just awesome creamed corn goodness. We all felt the patchy post-holing effort along the Middle Lake trail was well worth the skiing on the upper face.

I had hiked up Finnegans twice in the last decade. The first was with my friend Mike Johnson when we thought we could actually ridge-run from Finnegans all the way to 13er Gold Dust Peak with Rainier & Kona in an afternoon after arriving on Finnegans’ summit at an early ridge traverse alpine start of 10am. Yeah right. Oh how my mind/body’s appetite has caught up with my eyes over the years, i.e my eyes can’t write checks anymore my mind/body can’t cash. Then in fall of 2011, Kristine, Rainier, Kona, & myself did a nice hike up a dry Finnegans and had wonderful view of the fall colors and turning leaves in the valleys below.

All Chalks on the summit of Finnegans (12,765') in October of 2011

All Chalks on the summit of Finnegans (12,765′) in October of 2011

Fast forward to yesterday and good pals Joel Gratz, Tamra Malczyk, J Weingast, Gus (Tamra’s 11 year old wonder dog), & myself all piled into my Tahoe and bounced our way up the West Lake Creek Road (Baryeta Cabins Road as J and I call it) around 7:30am.

Finnegans as seen from a mile and a half in on the West Lake Creek Road. Photo by Joel

Finnegans as seen from a mile and a half in on the West Lake Creek Road. Photo by Joel

As compared to my photo of Finnegans in October of 2011 along this same stretch of road

As compared to my photo of Finnegans in October of 2011 along this same stretch of road

About a mile and a quarter before the end of the road (where we had hoped to drive to) a snow bank blocked easy passage. Yes, we maybe could have plowed through the 18″ high drift, but we played it safe and parked off the 4WD road. Skis/boots on our packs and trail running shoes on our feet, we boogied up the road to the Middle Lake trailhead.

Me heading up the dry trail. Photo by Joel

Me heading up the dry trail. Photo by Joel

I had a hunch it would be off and on snow drifts along the mostly north-facing trail, but we perhaps did a little more post-holing than I anticipated. Putting the skis/skins on your feet really isn’t justified when the snowdrift is followed by 30 yards of dry trail. The snowdrifts were sloppy and deep. Our feet were soaked. J was smart to bring his gaiters. However, it was warm out and wet feet didn’t really matter all that much – it actually felt slightly refreshing.

Joel  in some deep post-holes

Joel in some of my deep post-holes along the Middle Lake trail

After negotiating some steep drifts on the trail that essentially hugs a cliff, we ventured into the mellow west-facing bowl and found continuous snow up through the trees. YES! We then donned our skins/skis and skinned our way up the remaining 1,000′ to treeline at around 11,400′.

Finally, we're on skis!

Finally, we’re on skis!

Joel

Joel

Tamra

Tamra

J heading up and out of the woods onto Finnegans' broad north face

J heading up and out of the woods onto Finnegans’ broad north face

After being in the woods for a few hours, it was extraordinary to get above treeline and see the views really open up around us of all the familiar peaks and valleys.

J and the Gore Range

J and the Gore Range

I guess the snow is still this deep up higher on north-facing aspects - likely 6' or so

I guess the snow is still this deep up higher on north-facing aspects – likely 6′ or so

Tamra and our favorite Gore Peaks towering in the distance

Tamra and our favorite Gore Peaks towering in the distance

The mellow north ridge/face of Finnegans

The mellow north ridge/face of Finnegans

Cornices on the north ridge

Cornices on the north ridge

The crew skinning along

The crew skinning along

After an hour of mellow skinning we reached the final little headwall to Finnegans’ summit, which maybe reached 45 degrees but only for 30 feet or so. There were significant cornices on the north ridge’s east side, which made things a bit more dramatic (and made for cool pictures). J and I were able to skin the final headwall pitch while Tamra and Joel booted up. Gus, of course, booted up.

J doing some steep skinning

J doing some steep skinning

Tamra booting up the final pitch with me looking on from above. Photo by Joel

Tamra booting up the final pitch with me looking on from above. Photo by Joel

Tamra booting up the final pitch

Tamra booting up the final pitch

Joel topping out on Finnegans

Joel topping out on Finnegans

It was a great summit from the views and the crew to the warm air temperatures(short sleeves were acceptable). We probably hung around for 30 minutes up top taking pictures and giving Joel and Tamra a peak tour of the northern Sawatch. The Elk Range looked amazing as well from this perch as did Mt. Sopris. So fun to see this much snow above 10,000′ in June.

All of us on the summit of Finnegans (12,765') on a beautiful June 7, 2015

All of us on the summit of Finnegans (12,765′) on a beautiful June 7, 2015

Tamra & Gus

Tamra & Gus

Looking south to Finnegan Peak (left, closer summit) & Gold Dust Peak (right, far back summit from the summit of Finnegans

Looking south to Finnegan Peak (left, closer summit) & Gold Dust Peak (right, far back summit) from the summit of Finnegans

Summit panorama by Joel

Summit panorama by Joel

Gus

Gus

Looking down the north ridge/face of Finnegans

Looking down the north ridge/face of Finnegans

As compared to this photo in October of 2011

As compared to this photo in October of 2011

We then descended maybe around 12:45pm and the turns down the 1,400′ north ridge/face were just plain awesome. So enjoyable.

Joel getting ready to depart the summit

Joel getting ready to depart the summit

Joel skiing the steep headwall pitch

Joel skiing the steep headwall pitch

Panorama by Joel

Panorama of me below the summit headwall pitch by Joel

Me, J, & Tamra way below. Photo by Joel

Me, J, & Tamra way below. Photo by Joel

Joel took these videos of J and I skiing off the summit and then J and Tamra a bit lower down:

Most of the slope was only probably in the 20-25 degree range and was so much better than I imagined. With all of the warm temperatures as of late, I was expecting super sloppy deep snow. There was actually a firm base and creamy corn on the surface good enough to slice through like butter. A majority of the steeper lines all around the state have seemed to wet slide in the last week or so (from what I gather) and still remain a hazard with the warm temperatures and very little overnight freezing. So, it was nice to get on a moderate slope that would take an earthquake to avalanche.

Joel

Joel

Joel again

Joel again

And, Joel again

And, Joel again

J & myself. Photo by Joel

J & myself. Photo by Joel

Tamra

Tamra

Tamra again

Tamra again

J & Gus

J & Gus

Jowl skiing the north ridge/face

Joel skiing the north ridge/face

Doesn't look like this guy is having fun at all :)

Doesn’t look like this guy is having fun at all :)

A plug for Mr. Gratz

A plug for Mr. Gratz. Photo by Joel

The last bit to treeline. Snowslide Park is the summit in the distance with the snowy top

The last bit to treeline. Snowslide Park is the summit in the distance with the snowy top

Once we returned to treeline, the skiing got a bit worse and punchier, but still definitely skiable all the way down to about 10,500′ where we started the snowdrift post-holing along the steep north-facing Middle Lake trail. J noticed something in the woods and I should have remembered he’d go nuts at the small little disheveled cabin near where we put our skis/skins on our feet that I had seen a few years ago. He always goes “kookoo” for abandoned backwoods cabins.

J, Gus, Tamra, & the abandoned cabin

J, Gus, Tamra, & the abandoned cabin

Tamra actually skied the hiking trail’s drifts a lot of the way down. Of course Tamra did. We then arrived back at the Middle Lake trailhead and started the 1.25 mile back up the West Lake Creek Road to my truck finally arriving around 3pm.

Looking up at New York Mountain from the Middle Lake trailhead. Photo by Joel

Looking up at New York Mountain from the Middle Lake trailhead. Photo by Joel

On the road again. Photo by Joel

On the road again. Photo by Joel

A look at our route for the day from where we parked on the West Lake Creek (Baryeta Cabin) Road

A look at our route for the day from where we parked on the West Lake Creek (Baryeta Cabin) Road

Some of the best gems in life you can find in your own backyard. I think we may have found one here in terms of fun adventure and moderate skiing. And, we didn’t even have to get on Interstate 70 to do so. It was a very enjoyable day for all. All told per Joel, it was around a 3,500′ vertical gain day in about 9 miles roundtrip. One thing I did learn – Gus likes Rainie’s front seat view of bumping along on 4WD roads:

Photo by Joel

Photo by Joel

A little link to Joel’s take and his daily weather forecast over on OpenSnow is http://opensnow.com/dailysnow/colorado/post/4105.

Stormy Weather on Jacque

My buddy Ben Conners texted me on a Saturday to see if I wanted to join the following day and skin/ski 13er Jacque Peak to the south of Copper Ski Mountain. Jacque Peak is fairly close to Interstate 70 and Highway 91 yet remains elusive to skiers due to its proximity to the Climax Mine, which flanks the peak’s east and southern slopes. I was itching to get back on the skins and skis and told Ben I’d meet he and his wife Anna-Lisa and their new dog Jax at 7am Sunday morning despite a not so ideal forecast as has been par for the course this spring. J and Derek joined me as well and we all three plus Kona rolled the 25 minutes over to Copper in my truck in a rain/snow downpour. Whatever…we were thinking at least we’d get a nice skin up Copper Ski Mountain and then if the weather was horrendous, just ski down. Plus, I was thinking perhaps I would fare better than my last adventure up Jacque from the east and Highway 91 not in terms of skiing and a gorgeous bluebird corn-filled day, but in terms of the aftermath when we returned to the car. That account can be read here. I believe we all agreed that the best possible method of approaching Jacque with the intent of skiing it is from Copper after the ski mountain closes. Copper doesn’t allow uphill travel during ski operating hours. We learned that in another experience up Copper Creek from Highway 91 and the Climax Mine area attempting Jacque in this report. It was wonderful to finally meet Anna-Lisa (AL) and their new dog Jax in the parking lot at Copper’s base. We then all started leisurely skinning up the resort gaining about 2,200′ to the summit of Union Mountain and the top of the uppermost lift in 2 hours or so. The weather was snowy and socked in somewhat but there were glimpses of sun here and there and the occasional blue sky.

Ben & Jax skinning up Copper Ski Mountain

Ben & Jax skinning up Copper Ski Mountain

However, when we reached the ridge, the stiff west wind battered us pretty hard. It wasn’t cold (air temp was still in the 30s), but the wind was pretty sustained and just plain brutal as it pelted us with hail and snow with the clouds moving across the ridge and Jacque Peak ahead. AL was on snowshoes and looked ahead at the long ridge with the wind whipping and decided to remain at the top of the Union Lift for a bit before descending down Copper’s ski slopes. Probably a good call as the weather was fierce the rest of the way up Jacque’s northeast ridge. Jax followed Ben, Kona followed me, and J and Derek pressed on as well over the bumps along the ridge. Thank goodness it wasn’t cold air temperature-wise as we would have turned around if not for ourselves then definitely for the dogs. We knew skiing the loaded east face was out of the question considering we could hardly see it, so we just all agreed to hit the summit and ski the northeast ridge back down. My only concern was Kona getting cold, but she had her Fido Fleece jacket on and I believed she would be ok considering it wasn’t that cold out. However, I didn’t want her to be miserable on her 8th birthday (yes, that Sunday May 17 was Kona’s birthday), but it was a quick up and down. Part of me just wanted to turn around with Kona as I had summitted Jacque previously, but then again I wanted to be with Ben, J, & Derek as this would be their first time up the peak. We continued upwards.

Ben & Jax motoring ahead where Jacque's northeast ridge  begins to climb

Ben & Jax motoring ahead where Jacque’s northeast ridge begins to climb

Ben & Jax making their way in not so ideal weather

Ben & Jax making their way in not so ideal weather

J & Derek

J & Derek

The entire northeast ridge is very skinnable and you can leave your skis/skins on the entire time. Ben & Jax topped out on Jacque’s 13,205′ summit, followed by me and Kona, and we took some pics and enjoyed what we could of the view.

Ben & myself on Jacque's summit (13,205')

Ben & myself on Jacque’s summit (13,205′)

J approaching the summit in a clearer spell of weather

J approaching the summit in a clearer spell of weather

Happy birthday, Kona! Sorry, we are on top of a cold mountain!

Happy birthday, Kona! Sorry, we are on top of a cold mountain!

Ben & Jax skied down while J and I waited for Derek to join us, took a few pics, and then Kona & I descended.

J, Derek, Kona, & myself on Jacque's summit

J, Derek, Kona, & myself on Jacque’s summit

J & Derek skiing Jacque's northeast ridge

J & Derek skiing Jacque’s northeast ridge

It was a fairly quick descent and soon enough after some skating with skis on and a final boot up to the summit of Union Mountain we were home free for 2,200′ of fun powder down Copper’s ski slopes. The ski down Copper was the most fun portion of the 5-1/2 hours out. 4″ of creamy powder on top of a hard base equates to one fun time.

Derek showing off my Mammut pants and his ski skills en route back down Copper's ski slopes

Derek showing off my Mammut pants and his ski skills en route back down Copper’s ski slopes

Back down at the base we headed to the Healthy Tomato for a sandwich and said our goodbyes. Other than a little wind burn on the cheeks and nose and a tired pooch, we all escaped Jacque fairly unharmed and had a good time to boot. I think Kona enjoyed her 8th birthday. At least, I keep telling myself that.

Kristine Earns her Masters Degree

Well, amidst completing the 7 Summits, have a full time job at Red Sandstone Elementary School in Vail, being pregnant, raising our 7-1/2 month old daughter, and doing countless other climbs and adventures, Kristine managed to close out her multi-year graduate school endeavor and earn her Master’s Degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education. To say it is a relief that the classes and papers is finally over is likely the understatement of the year, but it is just all so very impressive Kristine pulled this off with everything else going on in her life. However, I’m not surprised. Not one bit :) Anyway, Ken & Dianne made the journey out to Colorado to see their granddaughter and watch Kristine walk and receive her diploma on a very rainy graduation Friday in Boulder.

The graduate!

The graduate!

Sawyer catching up on the program itinerary with Dianne

Sawyer catching up on the program itinerary with Dianne

All the Masters and PhD candidates in the auditorium

All the Masters and PhD candidates in the auditorium

Kristien receiving her diploma

Kristine receiving her diploma

Dianne and myself took turns hanging with Sawyer in the lobby during the 2 hour ceremony, but overall Sawyer did extremely well. Had only the weather been better we could have all enjoyed the outdoor reception, but we made the most of it inside with fun pictures of the graduates and family.

In the lobby

In the lobby

The graduate & Sawyer

The graduate & Sawyer

The three of us

The three of us

The Oelbergers

The Oelbergers

So proud of Kristine!

So proud of Kristine!

Sawyer was ready to go and the weather was only getting worse, so we all loaded up the Oelberger’s rental van and headed back up the hill in a torrential downpour for 2 hours. With the Oelbergers in town, obviously they want to spend time with their granddaughter, so the next day Kristine, Kona, Rainier, & myself headed west to Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument to do some climbing just the 4 of us like old times. The weather was horrible all over the state and even all around us in Fruita to the north and Escalante Canyon to the south, but somehow we escaped any precipitation in Monument Canyon all day long though we could see it in every direction. It was a good day.

Kristine on the lengthy 110' 5.10a route called Wide Load

Kristine on the lengthy 110′ 5.10a route called Wide Load

Close-up of Kristine jamming

Close-up of Kristine jamming

Kristine in the offwidth portion of Wide Load

Kristine in the offwidth portion of Wide Load

Me & the dogs

Me & the dogs

Stormy weather all around

Stormy weather all around

Me leading the fun layback 5.8+ route called Left Dihedral

Me leading the fun lieback 5.8+ route called Left Dihedral

Kristine honing her layback skills

Kristine honing her layback skills

Me at the chains after leading long 120' Luhr's Route (Right Dihedral), which goes at 5.9 or so

Me at the chains after leading long 120′ Luhr’s Route (Right Dihedral), which goes at 5.9 or so

Kristine climbing the crux face climbing portion of Luhr's Route in Monument Canyon

Kristine climbing the crux face climbing portion of Luhr’s Route in Monument Canyon

Good to be out together

Good to be out together

The following day (Sunday) was Mother’s Day and we had an amazing brunch at the Wolcott Yacht Club. I had not eaten brunch there in 7-8 years, and boy was it awesome. I think we all wish we could go there every weekend for brunch.

At brunch

At brunch

Outside the Yacht Club

Outside the Yacht Club

One more of the Oelbergers

One more of the Oelbergers

All in all, a great weekend celebrating Kristine both as a graduate and as a mother. A husband can’t be any more proud of his wife than myself!

Crackin’ in Escalante Canyon

I have to say Escalante Canyon in western Colorado is my new favorite desert crack climbing destination. Very minimal crowds (closer to none at all), beautiful landscape and sandstone walls, Escalante Creek running through it, and potholes to swim in all make this canyon a great place to spend some time camping & climbing. So, when I moved my buddy Mike Santoro’s bachelor party from Indian Creek, Utah, to Escalante Canyon, CO, the day before our departure primarily because of a selfish reason to have running water nearby for Rainie & Kona, it surely didn’t disappoint and I think everyone was very satisfied and happy with the change of venue. Plus, it was a good 2 full hours closer to home. Spending almost 3 full days and nights in Escalante Canyon was special and afforded all of us the time to really explore the area whether crack climbing, hiking, or swimming. I think Mikey was more than pleased with the weekend’s fun & success. We had a motley crew most of the weekend with a few folks most of the crew had not yet met. However, we all quickly became pals and enjoyed our time together.

Escalante Canyon with the Elk Range visible in the distance to the east. photo by Dillon on his 4-5 hour dayhike to the canyon rim on Friday

Escalante Canyon with the Elk Range visible in the distance to the east. Photo by Dillon on his 4-5 hour dayhike to the canyon rim on Friday

The San Juan Range and Mt. Sneffels as viewed from the canyon rim by Dillon on his Friday afternoon hike

The San Juan Range and Mt. Sneffels as viewed from the canyon rim by Dillon on his Friday afternoon hike

Our camp way down below. Photo by Dillon

Our camp way down below. Photo by Dillon

Another view of Escalante Canyon from the other side of the rim. Photo by Dillon on Saturday's dayhike with J, Joel, & Lauran

Another view of Escalante Canyon from the other side of the rim. Photo by Dillon on Saturday’s dayhike with J, Joel, & Lauran

We had very spacious and luxurious camp

We had very spacious and luxurious camp. Photo by Dillon

The days generally consisted of climbing between 8:30am and 2pm, swimming in the “Potholes” area of Escalante Creek in the heat of the day, and then climbing again for a few hours in the evening. Gosh, if every day could be lived like these days. I think we maybe saw two other people climbing all weekend. My kind of crag. We had a lot of beginners new to crack climbing as well and they all did wonderful and I think had a good time. Then, a few of us definitely challenged ourselves to some of the more difficult and classic cracks of the area. One note on the relative grades of several (most) of the routes we have experienced at Escalante: the rated grades really seem to be “old school” ratings much like Devil’s Tower. In most cases, they will feel harder than the published grade. A 5.10 at Escalante may be a 5.11 at Indian Creek, which tends to showcase “new school” ratings. Bottom line is one cannot base a climb off the published rating – its all relative and subject to the individual climber. Yet, most of these climbs seemed to feel and climb much harder than they would let on. We climbed at two of the five major walls in the canyon – the Interiors Wall & the Cabin Wall. We climbed a few more routes we don’t have pictures of including the route called Key Hole on the Interiors Wall and an unknown 5.8ish climb next to the unknown offwidth we have pics of below. Pics sorted by the routes at each wall we climbed are as follows:

Interiors Wall

Mike leading the offwidth called Lieback (5.9) on the left while Jesse leads Right of Lieback (5.10a) on the right

Mike leading the offwidth called Lieback (5.9) on the left while Jesse leads Right of Lieback (5.10a) on the right. Photo by Dillon

Dillon climbing  the awesome cave route called Interiors (5.9-)

Dillon climbing the awesome cave route called Interiors (5.9-)

Me beginning the fun lead of The Shaft (5.10a) in the cave

Me beginning the fun lead of The Shaft (5.10a) in the cave

J climbing The Shaft (5.10a)

J climbing The Shaft, which was fingers/thin hands to perfect hands up higher

Looking up at J in the Cave at the top of The Shaft

Looking up at J in the cave at the top of The Shaft

Me leading this pretty tough route involving a little bit of everything - fingers, thin hands, hands, a fist or two, and offwidths. This one tore up my arms. I just saw that it had anchors 100' up and went for it. No idea what it is called or rated

Me leading this pretty tough route involving a little bit of everything – fingers, thin hands, hands, a fist or two, and offwidths. This one tore up my arms. I just saw that it had anchors 100′ up and went for it. No idea what it is called or rated

Me trying to find the gear on this same unknown offwidth

Me trying to find the gear on this same unknown offwidth

Tamra had a good time watching me, Jesse, Mikey, & Gracson on this unknown offwidth crack climb

Tamra had a good time watching me, Jesse, Mikey, & Gracson on this unknown offwidth crack climb

Mikey getting an "assisted" belay by Shawn in attempt to inch Jesse up the crack

Mikey getting an “assisted” belay by Shawn in attempt to inch Jesse up the crack

Gracson on the unknown offwidth. He did great on this route

Gracson on the unknown offwidth. He did great on this route

Cabin Wall

Racking up at the Cabin Wall on Saturday

Racking up at the Cabin Wall on Saturday. Photo by Dillon

Me giving Jesse a spot while beginning his lead of the route dubbed Unknown Flake (5.9)

Me giving Jesse a spot while beginning his lead of the route dubbed Unknown Flake (5.9). Photo by Dillon

Dillon on Unknown Flake

Dillon on Unknown Flake

Joel sending Unknown Flake

Joel sending Unknown Flake. Photo by Dillon

Me pulling the bouldery crux on the route called Unknown Awkward. This route is designated a 5.9+ online, but I would have to tend to disagree on this rating as would everyone in our crew. Feels much more like a 5.10+/5.11a. I don't know what 5.9+ has a bouldery start and a finger crack :)

Me pulling the bouldery crux on the route called Unknown Awkward. This route is designated a 5.9+ online, but I would have to tend to disagree on this rating as would everyone in our crew. Feels much more like a 5.10+/5.11a. I don’t know what 5.9+ has a bouldery start and a finger crack :) Photo by Shawn

Me getting through the bouldery crux on Unknown Awkward. Photo by Shawn

Me getting through the bouldery crux on Unknown Awkward. Photo by Shawn

Joel climbing TH Crack (5.8)

Joel climbing TH Crack (5.8). Photo by Dillon

Rock star Shawn Wright leading Rednekk Justus. This route is published as a 5.10+/5.11, but I think most of us would agree is more like 5.12-

Rock star Shawn Wright leading Rednekk Justus. This route is published as a 5.10+/5.11, but I think most of us would agree is more like 5.12-. Photo by Dillon

Shawn higher on Rednekk Justus

Shawn higher on Rednekk Justus. Photo by Dillon

Mikey cranking hard on Rednekk Justus. Photo by Shawn

Mikey cranking hard on Rednekk Justus. Photo by Shawn

Me leading the intimidating S-Crack (5.10c). However, I would tend to go with a 5.11 rating due to the lower bouldery finger section and 30' of off-width at the top. All I could think about while leading this was how Alex Honnold free soloed up and down this. I felt pretty inadequate, but then again it is Alex Honnold :)

Me leading the intimidating S-Crack (5.10c). However, I would tend to go with a 5.11 rating due to the lower bouldery finger section and 30′ of offwidth at the top. All I could think about while leading this was how Alex Honnold free soloed up and down this. I felt pretty inadequate, but then again it is Alex Honnold :) Photo by Dillon

Me leading S-Crack. Photo by Dillon

Me leading S-Crack. Photo by Dillon

J on S-Crack. Photo by Dillon

J on S-Crack. Photo by Dillon

Mikey giving Willy's Hand Jive (5.10) a solid lead attempt on Friday evening after a day of climbing

Mikey giving Willy’s Hand Jive (5.10) a solid lead attempt on Friday evening after a day of climbing

Shawn leading Willy's Hand Jive on Sunday morning

Shawn leading Willy’s Hand Jive on Sunday morning

Shawn pulling the awkward off-width pod crux on Willy's Hand Jive

Shawn pulling the awkward off-width pod crux on Willy’s Hand Jive

Mikey on Willy's

Mikey on Willy’s. Photo by Shawn

Mikey hand jiving

Mikey hand jiving

Me leading Willy's Hand Jive. This was probably my favorite route we did all weekend. 100' of hand jamming and a tough crux 90' off the deck - wow. Photo by Shawn

Me leading Willy’s Hand Jive. This was probably my favorite route we did all weekend. 100′ of hand jamming and a tough crux 90′ off the deck – wow. Photo by Shawn

I love these pics Shawn took of me on Willy's :)

I love these pics Shawn took of me on Willy’s :)

Hand jammin'! Photo by Shawn

Hand jammin’! Photo by Shawn

In the #3 cam section. Photo by Shawn

In the #3 cam section. Photo by Shawn

Me at the off-width pod crux on Willy's. Photo by Shawn

Me at the offwidth pod crux on Willy’s. Photo by Shawn

Jesse cranking Willy's. Photo by Shawn

Jesse cranking Willy’s. Photo by Shawn

Gracson in good form on Willy's Hand Jive. Photo by Shawn

Gracson in good form on Willy’s Hand Jive. Photo by Shawn

While I didn’t want to leave on Sunday, I was exhausted. Doing these kind of weekends wears me out much more than climbing peaks all weekend. The dogs were all tuckered out as well. Trevor’s birthday was Sunday, May 3, and we stayed up well past midnight on Saturday night to ring in his 27th birthday. Ah, to be 27. Though, he didn’t come into work until noon on Monday. But that could have been the 27 beers he drank for his birthday. All in all, a phenomenal weekend.

Saturday night group shot with a nice moonrise

Saturday night group shot with a nice moonrise

I still feel today like Rainie did on Saturday. Photo by Dillon

I still feel today like Rainie did on Saturday. Photo by Dillon

West Deming

I’m always looking for fun little half-day ski tours that are fairly easy to access. Even better if these ski tours are in the Gores. I’ve looked at the very moderate southwest face of this 12,736′ peak dubbed “West Deming” for well over a decade of living in the Vail Valley yet have never ventured up into the steep woods to access this face. It always looked like it would be a great ski despite its very mellow angle (25 degrees maximum). I noticed there was a runaway truck ramp on I70 West halfway between the top of Vail Pass and East Vail. This looked like the perfect parking spot (just below the runaway truck ramp in a very large shoulder off I70 West at about 9,600′) and it turned out it was pretty perfect. Not many hikes or ski tours you access by walking up a truck ramp – at least not many that I have found. Kristine, Kona, & myself did some recon over a week ago one Friday afternoon and made it to 11,600′ right at treeline before we had to start the ski down in order to pick up Sawyer from daycare at 4pm. However, it was good recon of the lower meadows and trees in finding a fairly efficient route up to treeline and the base of the southwest face.

Our route up West Deming's southwest face from I70 West

Our route up West Deming’s southwest face from I70 West

After dropping the youngest & oldest Chalk (Sawyer & Rainier) off at our good friends’ Sarah & Keith’s house in Edwards and picking up their dog Molly, we boogied up to Vail Pass this past Saturday morning to meet good friend Joel Gratz and give West Deming the good ole college try despite a not so ideal forecast. Joel was calling for decent weather at least for a few hours Saturday morning, which was good enough for us. It was extra special to get out again with Kristine as having a 6 month old doesn’t necessarily allow us to get out together as often as we would like. After hiking up the runaway truck ramp, we donned the skis/skins at the first open meadow down at the end of the bike path and began the route up we remembered from the week prior. The skinning was much easier this time around as Kristine and I were breaking trail through 6″ of heavy spring snow the week before. We skinned the 2,000′ up to exactly the same spot at treeline in about an hour and 45 minutes. There are actually some areas of steep skinning through the woods and one point where Joel & I carried our skis up a steep, bare (of snow) glade while Kristine again showed us up and kept her skis on.

Kristine early on in the trees

Kristine early on in the trees

Kristine & Kona hanging tough over the steep, dry ground

Kristine & Kona hanging tough over the steep, dry ground

Kristine showing Joel & I up by keeping her skins/skis on

Kristine showing Joel & I up by keeping her skins/skis on

Good to be out with this guy again

Good to be out with this guy again

The upper southwest face of West Deming above treeline was a very enjoyable skin with great views. The ominous dark clouds almost made for better light and pictures. It took us just shy of an hour to skin the remaining 1,200′ and 1 mile (as the crow flies) to the summit.

Kona & Molly and the route above treeline to West Deming's summit

Kona & Molly and the route above treeline to West Deming’s summit

Kristine heading out to the top with the dogs

Kristine heading out to the top with the dogs

Kristine & Kona

Kristine & Kona

Joel skinning the upper southwest face with the East Vail Chutes/Benchmark Bowl over his left shoulder

Joel skinning the upper southwest face with the East Vail Chutes/Benchmark Bowl over his left shoulder

Joel charging ahead to the summit

Joel charging ahead to the summit

West Deming’s summit was indeed a fantastic perch to view the southern Gore. In fact, in every direction we could point out past camping spots, such as at the Zodiac Ponds below Zodiac Ridge, and all the familiar peaks and ridges of the Gore Range. We remained on the summit for a good 20-25 minutes and admired our views and the good company.

Kristine, Joel, & the dogs up top West Deming

Kristine, Joel, & the dogs up top West Deming

The Chalks on top of West Deming (12,736')

The Chalks on top of West Deming (12,736′)

Mr. Gratz & myself

Mr. Gratz & myself

Summit view west to the Vail Valley

Summit view west to the Vail Valley

Close-up of our "Top of the World" campsite (right summit of gladed bowl) we frequent in the summer and fall

Close-up of our “Top of the World” campsite (right summit of gladed bowl) we frequent in the summer and fall

East Vail Chutes, aka Benchmark Bowl, off Vail Ski Mountain

East Vail Chutes, aka Benchmark Bowl, off Vail Ski Mountain

Looking east to Deming Mountain & Buffalo Mountain (left)

Looking east to Deming Mountain & Buffalo Mountain (left)

Looking northeast to Red Peak (right), Zodiac Ridge, & the Silverthorne Massif

Looking northeast to Red Peak (right), Zodiac Ridge, & the Silverthorne Massif

The very mellow, low-consequence ski down the upper southwest face was phenomenal. Spring-powder on top of a firm base made for awesome arcing turns. It was a lot of fun. Some ski shots:

Kristine

Kristine

Joel

Joel

The skies were just awesome

The skies were just awesome

Joel taking us home

Joel taking us home

And, one of me

And, one of me

Joel & Kristine relishing in the fun ski of West Deming's upper southwest face

Joel & Kristine relishing in the fun ski of West Deming’s upper southwest face

We made it back to my car at about 12:45pm, exactly about 4 hrs after we began. We dropped Joel off in Vail and boogied to Sarah & Keith’s house to pick up Sawyer & Rainier. Both ladies did very well all morning. This great moderate ski tour is a great addition to our running mental list of fun half-day ski tour outings. Even mid-winter, this would be a great ski tour as it is relatively safe due to the moderate slope angle. It would also be a nice summer half-day hike to get high and some great views. I believe the RT is roughly 3,000′ vertical and maybe 5 miles. Don’t quote me on that mileage, though. We are glad the weather cooperated, but really were we ever in doubt? I mean, c’mon, we had Mr. OpenSnow himself with us! In all seriousness, it was great for Kristine & I to get out with Joel again and especially for Kristine & myself to be together again on a fun little adventure like in our pre-baby days.

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