My 40th on Gannett Peak

When asked by Kristine 8 months ago what we should do for my 40th birthday, I had an idea in the back of my mind to again attempt the one mountain I’ve been turned back on in my life: Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s state high point at 13,804. Gannett is literally only about 30′ higher than the more famous Grand Teton in Jackson Hole, but in my opinion Gannett is a different beast altogether given how far it is to just get to the base of the mountain to make a summit attempt. For my birthday when I was in 10th grade while my family was out in Jackson Hole, WY for 2 weeks one summer in the 90s, I was given a guided climb with Exum Mountain Guides to Gannett by my parents. While I was the youngest in the group of 5 clients by far, it was a wonderful mountaineering experience, especially since I shared a tent with a 69 year old man named Reinhold for a week. And, no he wasn’t Reinhold Messner :) Reinhold Ulrich was a doctor from LA. Unfortunately, on summit day, we turned around at Dinwoody Pass, commonly referred to now as Bonney Pass, at around 13,000′ due to deteriorating weather. It was a bit heartbreaking to turn around, but we all understood why. Our guide, Susie, made a good decision. For this guided trip, what was super nice was that we had pack horses and a wrangler shuttle all of our heavy gear the 18 miles into and out of Upper Titcomb Basin. This was a monster help to us and really made the trip very enjoyable and non-stressful except for summit day.

Nonetheless, I’ve always wanted to go back for another attempt. So, what better way than to bring in my 40th birthday than to try Gannett again 25 years later from my first attempt. Its hard to believe for me that so many years have passed between attempts. My idea was to have a nice leisurely stroll into Upper Titcomb B asin with the use of pack horses for our heavy gear, but it became apparent that because of the 400% of average annual snowfall that occurred in the Wind River Range this winter this was to become more of an adventure than any of us anticipated. With access to the Elkhart trailhead just opening up in early-mid June and given we were scheduled to drive up to Pinedale on my birthday, June 24, we were looking at a lot of snow left in the Winds and on the lengthy and convoluted approach. I had originally planned this birthday week so we could avoid the brunt of the hoards of mosquitoes that inhabit the Winds yet still take advantage of a dry approach with pack horses, which is usually the case at the end of June in typical snowfall years. Well, not this year. We had a lot of work cut out for us with heavy packs and route-finding from the trailhead to our high camp. I had planned to bring some rock gear as well for some alpine rock if we were to have horses, but we left it all at home given everything would be on our backs. Sure, it would have been ideal to postpone this a month, but with Rob and Kevin’s flights already booked and Kristine’s folks already set up to come out for a week to stay with Sawyer and the dogs, it was just not practical nor considerate to move the trip. We were all still in and wanted to give it a shot. Our crew consisted of me, Kristine, J Weingast, Rob Casserley, Kevin Vann, Billy Larson, Mike Santoro, and last but not smallest, Ryan Marsters. Despite having summitted Everest 10 times and a few other 8000ers, Rob had never gotten in the good ole Rocky Mountain wilderness. And, despite having only done the 7 Summits (Kevin climbed Vinson in Antarctica with Kristine and myself for all of our final of the 7 Summits), Kevin was more than excited and decided to postponed his Carstenz Pyramid trip this fall to come join us in the Wind River Range. And, we got to celebrate Kevin’s 58th birthday on the trip as well. All the rest of the crew are just shameless peak baggers and climbers, but they are good pals of mine and us Chalks and we’ve all done many adventures together. It was a wonderful crew of eight. Kristine’s parents, Ken & Dianne, were so wonderful to come out and stay at our home in Edwards for a week to be with Sawyer, Rainie, & Kona. It was so extremely hard for me to leave Rainie as she has seemingly been on the decline for awhile now and I didn’t want it to get worse with me leaving her. But, it was the best thing to do. She would want me to go and have fun for my 40th. I think she was trying to get me to understand that she would be alright until I got back. Yes, I worried extensively about her, but was able to shut it off for a majority of the trip except when we were in communication with Ken & Dianne via our satellite phone.

So, Marsters picked up Rob & Kev at DIA while Kristine, Billy, J, & myself drove up from Edwards. Mikey had a wedding and would end up driving up solo late that Saturday night and meet us at the Elkhart trailhead in the morning. That Saturday evening we visited the Wind River Brewing Company for some dinner and some birthday cupcakes and a giant cupcake for me made by my wonderful wife. It was a great birthday dinner with all of these awesome folks.

The Wind River Brewing folks even let me wear their cowboy hat

The Wind River Brewing folks even let me wear their cowboy hat

We all then caravanned to the trailhead and slept out under the stars in the very empty parking lot. Mikey showed up promptly at 9:30am and we packed and prepped for what seemed like a long time. Nonetheless, we were in no hurry. Our first day was to just make progress for as long as we felt like it. Here is a pretty nice route map of the entire approach and climb of Gannett from the west:

Click to enlarge. I think the whole route is maybe 42 miles RT

Click to enlarge. I think the whole route is maybe 42 miles RT

J, Billy, Kristine, & Mikey at the trailhead

J, Billy, Kristine, & Mikey at the trailhead

Me and Wild Bill

Me and Wild Bill

Kev & J. The mosquitos were actually pretty bad at the trailhead which motivated us to hit the trail and keep moving

Kev & J. The mosquitoes were actually pretty bad at the trailhead which motivated us to hit the trail and keep moving

The crew minus Kristine who was taking the pic

The crew minus Kristine who was taking the pic

A grizzled, older Pinedale resident showed up with his son and daughter-in law, I believe, and asked where we were from and what the heck we were doing here. We replied that we were from Colorado and going for Gannett. He said “we’ll glad to see ya come and we’ll be glad to see ya go. I hope you brought your snowshoes!” But, as soon as he found out that Billy was a Wyoming boy from Rawlins, he really took a liking to our crew. Thanks, Billy. We finally geared up and started hiking the dry trail before hitting snow patches only 1/2 mile up. Let the slow, tedious process of dealing with off and on snow patches begin.

Kristine & Rob traversing around downed trees on the Pole Creek trail

Kristine & Rob traversing around downed trees on the Pole Creek trail

A nice dry section of trail out of the trees

A nice dry section of trail out of the trees

Because of the snow covering the trail we took a slight detour down to Miller Lake, but realized we had made a mistake so Marsters got us back on course pretty fast. The scenic view area of Photographer’s point came around early afternoon and we decided to eat some lunch at this point 4.5 miles into the approach.

Approaching Photographer's Point

Approaching Photographer’s Point

Fremont Peak (Wyoming's 3rd highest and right of center) and the Winds as seen from Photographer's Point. Still, a long way to get in there

Fremont Peak (Wyoming’s 3rd highest and right of center) and the Winds as seen from Photographer’s Point. Still, a long way to get in there

We eventually hit more consistent snow but remained in our trail runners as they were sort of already wet and it was super warm out. It was getting sloppy, however, but the snowshoes and skis remained on our packs.

Crossing the clearing en route to Eklund Lake

Crossing the clearing en route to Eklund Lake

On the descent down to Barbara Lake, some of us decided to don the snowshoes to help with flotation.

Kristine & I

Kristine & I

Barbara Lake

Barbara Lake

We were able to hit sections of dry trail from Barbara Lake to Hobbs Lake, which was a nice reprieve from the sloppy snow. Marsters and I were talking about how it would be nice to reach the north side of Hobbs Lake for a camp. We wouldn’t make Seneca Lake until after dark, which was fine, but would be nice to get on the other side of Hobbs Lake. He found a really cool campsite atop a 10′ high relatively flat rock that we dubbed “The Castle”. It was  a perfect site and a bit elevated which made us feel better about  a bear not zipping open our tents at night and saying hello.

Crossing the northern drainage creek from Hobbs Lake

Crossing the northern drainage creek from Hobbs Lake

"The Castle"

“The Castle”

The Chalks happy to be in the Winds together

The Chalks happy to be in the Winds together

J brought his saw and we were able to cut some nice, dry, dead trees and have an awesome fire most of the night. It was much needed as we dried out most of our socks and trail runners. We hung our bear bags after some funny rock throwing antics to get the ropes up into the trees and got some good sleep. Rob & Kev slept out on the rock under the stars while J and Billy pitched their tent 10′ lower down on the ground. So, if anyone were to be eaten by a bear, it would be Billy & J.

Kristine, me, & Rob and the jelly beans Rob's wife, Marie-Kristelle, sent all of us. Thanks, MK!

Kristine, me, & Rob and the jelly beans Rob’s wife, Marie-Kristelle, sent all of us. Thanks, MK!

Kev & Kristine having coffee the next morning

Kev & Kristine having coffee the next morning

The crux of the entire approach seemed to be crossing the drainage river from Seneca Lake only a 1/2 mile after leaving camp on day 2. Ice axes and crampons came out to traverse the steep snow sloping down to the raging river. After heading upstream for 10 minutes on the steep snow, J & I found a snow bridge that was hearty enough in these early morning hours to take the weight of us. So, we all stepped across it one by one.

J and the crew traversing the snow on the south side of the drainage river from Seneca Lake

J and the crew traversing the snow on the south side of the drainage river from Seneca Lake

Thanks to Marsters’ excellent navigational skills, we made our way another 2 miles through ravines and around ponds up to the beautiful overlook of Seneca Lake.

Ryan and I looking out over a frozen Seneca lake and Fremont Peak beyond

Ryan and I looking out over a frozen Seneca Lake and Fremont Peak beyond

Ryan and Seneca Lake. What a spectacular location

Ryan and Seneca Lake. What a spectacular location

Fremont Peak

Fremont Peak

We then found remnants of the trail traversing the west side of Seneca’s steep shoreline and made it around to the north side. The sun cupped snow was in full force now as was the heat of the sun. It was hot.

Kristine & Billy catching a water break on the north shore of Seneca Lake

Kristine & Billy catching a water break on the north shore of Seneca Lake

We made our way up to Little Seneca Lake and traversed its southern shores and then climbed up to a small saddle where we could see a much closer Fremont Peak now and even Bonney Pass, which was exciting! We would go up and over Bonney Pass on our summit day.

Me traversing snow along LIttle Seneca's southern shore

Me traversing snow along Little Seneca’s southern shore

Bonney Pass is visible in the center of the pic

Bonney Pass is visible in the center of the pic above Upper Titcomb Basin

It was blazing out and we all needed some shade. At Indian Pass I found a great boulder which provided shade and water, so we all did a lunch break here.

"Lunch Rock". I think Kristine is playing an air guitar

“Lunch Rock”. I think Kristine is playing an air guitar

"Lunch Rock"

Kristine, Mikey, and Rob ready to depart “Lunch Rock”

After a good break and some food, we descended Indian Pass down to the beautiful Island Lake and traversed its northeastern shores.

Heading down to Island Lake

Heading down to Island Lake

The heat was really getting to me and Kristine as well, but finally some clouds rolled in and provided some relief. We snowshoed into Titcomb Basin and made our way north to Lower Titcomb Lake. Around 4pm, it looked as if dark clouds were likely to threaten us, so we found a nice flat rock to pitch our tents and set up high camp. It wasn’t as far into Titcomb Basin as we would have liked, but the consensus was to just stop now and not carry the large backpacks anymore than we have to. It would just lengthen our summit day by a bit of mileage. Plus, selfishly I wanted to set up camp in case the storm hit us. However, it never did.

Ryan, Billy, & J at our 10,500' high camp in Titcomb Basin

Ryan, Billy, & J at our 10,500′ high camp in Titcomb Basin

High camp

High camp

High camp as seen from the top of our high camp boulder

High camp as seen from the top of our high camp boulder

I had to scramble up our designated camp boulder in my long johns of course

I had to scramble up our designated camp boulder in my long johns, of course

J lounging at high camp that Monday evening

J lounging at high camp that Monday evening

It was good to get our high camp set up before 5pm so we could relax and get some rest before our summit day. Joel texted our satellite phone saying Tuesday should be clear with possible afternoon thunderstorms. We had also checked the weather forecast before we left and Tuesday looked pretty good. Up at 1:30am, we left camp by 2pm or shortly afterwards. The weather seemed a bit strange to start off with. A freak little wind and rain storm swept across our camp at about 1:15am and then cleared out and we could see stars. As we made headway north up Titcomb Basin past Fremont Peak and past Middle and Upper Titcomb Lakes, it rained on us ever so slightly a few times and then cleared out again. It was strange weather. It was maybe 5 miles one way to Bonney Pass, but once we started gaining some vertical up Bonney Pass I know I at least felt better about the distance we had to cover. We donned crampons around when the gully steepened and J put his skis on his pack. It was fun climbing to the top of the pass.

Looking down at Marsters, Mikey, Kristine, Billy, & J coming up to Bonney Pass

Looking down at Marsters, Mikey, Kristine, Billy, & J coming up to Bonney Pass

Kristine swapping leads puts the booter into the top of the pass

Kristine swapping leads puts the booter in to the top of the pass

Marsters

Marsters

Billy topping out on Bonney Pass with Mount Helen behind to the south

Billy topping out on Bonney Pass with Mount Helen behind to the south

Titcomb lakes & basin from the top of Bonney Pass

Titcomb Lakes & Basin and Elephant Head (on the left) from the top of Bonney Pass

The views were tremendous from the top of the pass to the north & south. I remembered this view of Gannett from 25 years earlier from the top of Bonney Pass. We had a 1,200′ descent down the other side of Bonney Pass before the 2,000′ climb up Gannett itself.

Gannett Peak from Bonney Pass

Gannett Peak from Bonney Pass

Me & Gannett

Me & Gannett

Kristine & Mikey descending down the north side of Bonney Pass

Kristine & Mikey descending down the north side of Bonney Pass

J had a nice descent as he skied all the way down to where we started the ascent. The rest of us cruised down enjoying the views and the awesome spires. At this point we were a bit ahead of Rob & Kev, but they Kev kept plugging away and Rob stayed with him. Kev may not be the fastest mountaineer on the planet, but he sure can go on and on and on. Kev did so well.

Me walking down the Dinwoody Glacier

Me walking down the Dinwoody Glacier

The Dinwoody Glacier and cool spires

The Dinwoody Glacier and some cool spires

At our low point with Bonney Pass behind before our ascent up Gannett

At our low point with Bonney Pass behind before our ascent up Gannett

We regrouped at our low point and started the climb up to the Gooseneck Glacier via a slick little snow ramp/ridge. Billy was on fire and led the way.

Good morning Winds

Good morning Winds

Me heading out to catch Billy

Me heading out to catch Billy

Billy on high speed

Billy on high speed

Ryan & Billy on the snow ramp to the Gooseneck Glacier

Ryan & Billy on the snow ramp to the Gooseneck Glacier

Marsters was admiring my red jacket here. Gooseneck Pinnacle can be seen above me in the clouds

Marsters was admiring my red jacket and 2006 Koflach plastic boots here. Gooseneck Pinnacle can be seen above me in the clouds

Kristine took this of J silhouetted against the morning clouds and sun

Kristine took this of J silhouetted against the morning clouds and sun

Billy stoked to be climbing Gannett

Billy stoked to be climbing Gannett

We met a team of four climbers coming up from their high camp on the east side of the peak. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our way up the steep snow.

Our two teams climbing steeper snow to attain the Gooseneck Glacier and bergshrund

Our two teams climbing steeper snow to attain the Gooseneck Glacier and bergschrund

After another 30 minutes or so of more mellow snow climbing, we wrapped around to even steeper snow on the left and located the bergschrund or at least what we could see of it. We didn’t feel the need to break out ropes or anything. I just used my ski poles.

Making our way up to the bergschrund. The skies were definitely darkening by now and the summit was enshrouded in clouds

Making our way up to the bergschrund. The skies were definitely darkening by now and the summit was enshrouded in clouds

Marsters climbing above the bergschrund

Marsters climbing above the bergschrund

Me climbing above the bergschrund

Me climbing above the bergschrund

Kristine & Billy climbing steep snow above the bergschrund

Kristine & Billy climbing steep snow above the bergschrund

Now, it was definitely getting dark and the clouds had enveloped the upper mountain. We were climbing in a cloud and it graupeled every so often. We kept chatting with each other about how it was only 8:30am and that these clouds would burn off because the forecast was for a clear morning. Also, the clouds allowed for nice, cool temperatures for climbing. It was great. We did switch to ice axes once on the ridge since we were traversing snow slopes above a 400′ cliff.

Marsters shot this of me climbing with Gooseneck Pinnacle behind

Marsters shot this of me climbing with Gooseneck Pinnacle behind

J, Kristine, Billy, & Mikey climbing the steep snow into the clouds

J, Kristine, Billy, & Mikey climbing the steep snow into the clouds

Ryan climbing ahead of me into the abyss

Ryan climbing ahead of me into the abyss

The wind seemed to be picking up as was evident when we passed the notch in the ridge, but it quickly subsided on the snow slope.

Me passing the notch on the ridge to my left

Me passing the notch on the ridge to my left

Our team making our way in the cool, seemingly nice climbing conditions

Our team making our way in the cool, seemingly nice climbing conditions

At this point it was maybe near 9am. Rob & Kev were behind us maybe an hour or so having descended the north side of Bonney Pass. The other team of four was behind our crew of six. I remember Marsters and I chatting about how this is such pleasant climbing and how we only have about 150′ vertical to go and a 5 minute easy stroll across the summit ridge. When, all of the sudden, there was a mega flash in the ski (which somehow I didn’t see – maybe I blinked) and a huge crack of thunder enveloping us almost instantaneously after the flash. Marsters saw the flash. We were “in” the lightning cloud. It was absolutely terrifying. I was thinking to myself “how is this happening to me again!” Nonetheless, our fight or flight instincts took over and we were running down in our crampons with our ice axes in hand alerting J, Kristine, Billy, & Mikey to turn as they were preparing to do anyway. Mikey asked me if he thought his snow picket was buzzing and I replied “yes, buddy, its buzzing. Get going”. What I didn’t realize at the time was that J had to transition to ski mode, so he obviously took longer to start going down. But, once he got going, he was gone. To ski 40 degree snow above a 400′ cliff in a lightning storm, ummmm no thank you. But, J did it without a hesitation. The other group of four climbers obviously turned as well and we passed them on the way down above the bergschrund. They had asked if we had summitted only to reluctantly say “no, but oh so close”.

The other team descending down to the bergschrund

The other team descending down to the bergschrund now out of the cloud

We descended as fast yet as safe as we could trying to get to lower ground. We eventually made it back to our low point and took a much needed break. It was so super scary to be up on the summit ridge in a lightning storm, but we all felt better now. Rob recalled that as soon as he and Kev saw and heard that lightning and thunder almost 2,000′ above, they got down and threw their packs and everything metal 20′ away. This was Rob and Kev’s view of the summit ridge while we were climbing it (though I don’t think being in it was as bad as this pic makes it look):

Gannett summit ridge while we were climbing it

Gannett summit ridge while we were climbing it

A close-up. We all agreed it looks like the typical Everest plume of snow

A close-up. We all agreed it looks like the typical Everest plume of snow

After regrouping, collecting our thoughts and, settling down a bit, we started the long 1,200′ ascent back up to Bonney Pass. The clouds were definitely still present and it was scary to have to reascend back up to 1,200′ just to get out of here back to our tents. Kristine led the way setting up a nice booter and she was off. Marsters and I couldn’t catch her. She was on cruise control. Once back on Bonney Pass the southern skies looked equally as nasty.

Looking south from Bonney Pass for the 2nd time this day

Looking south from Bonney Pass for the 2nd time this day

Billy, J, & Mikey were behind me, Kristine, & Marsters as we descended Bonney Pass pretty fast to Kevin and Rob down lower. The threatening weather had abated for the time being and we all felt better. J skied down Bonney Pass again and was gone down Titcomb Basin back to camp pretty quickly. Ahhh….the advantages of skis. Still, I do not regret not bringing my skis due to that awfully long approach. Marsters and Rob made it back to camp fairly quickly on foot as well, but me, Kristine, Mikey, Billy, & Kev took our time. My old Koflachs were really digging into my calves and ankles and blistering the heck out of them, which hindered my speed for sure. Time for new mountaineering boots!

Me & Kev in Upper Titcomb Basin on the way out

Me & Kev in Upper Titcomb Basin on the way out

Enjoying a break in the weather on dry ground en route back to camp

Enjoying a break in the weather on dry ground en route back to camp

Passing by Upper Titcomb Lake on our descent

Passing by Middle Titcomb Lake on our descent

Unfortunately, wave after wave of thunder/lightning storm came in from the west and hammered us every hour. We waited until we heard a crack of thunder preceded by a flash and we immediately threw our packs and metal away from us and crouched down on our helmets. It was terrifying and brought me back to being in that lightning storm on the Tahoma Glacier on Rainier in 2009. We eventually made it to with a few hundred yards of camp when another wave filtered into Titcomb Basin. We left our gear and ran as best we could in the 6-8″ sun cups to camp and into our tents for shelter. I knew that we weren’t completely safe but felt mentally safer than being out on a glacier with nowhere to hide. Finally, we were able to relax a bit and let the anxiety leave our bodies. It was around 12:30pm-1pm for a summit day RT time of 10-11 hours. However, starting around 2pm, the next wave of storms started to roll in and these were even worse than the mornings and magnified tenfold. These were the biggest hail/thunder/lightning storms any of us had experienced. They were definitely terrifying – maybe more for me as I am terrified of lightning. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with lightning. At one point I had gone over to Rob and Kev’s tent to chat and got caught in a storm in their tent leaving Kristine alone in the Bibler. Poor Kristine thought the boulder was going to get struck, split in half, and fall on the Bibler and her leaving Sawyer without a mother. I never left her and the Bibler again until the evening when things really quieted down. We all finally emerged from our tents to enjoy the evening.

Kev emerging from his tent that evening happy to be alive :)

Kev emerging from his tent that evening happy to be alive :)

Well, so much for weather forecasts. I don’t think they could have been more wrong. C’est la vie. The Winds really do seem to create their own weather. Joel had told us that snow showers were expected the following morning, so a summit attempt was likely out. Kristine went back to retrieve all of our flung gear later that evening with Billy’s help completely filling her pack with snowshoes, axes, etc. I never cease to be amazed by her strength. And, the next morning, we all awoke at 6am to nasty clouds and weather rolling in. Time to get the heck out of dodge. Marsters, me, Kristine, & Mikey sat out a storm consisting of thundersnow behind a rock almost at Island Lake hoping lightning would not be involved. Fortunately, we didn’t see any flashes. We had all had our fill of lightning to last a long time. As we rounded the southeast corner of Island Lake the sun came out and our fears were lifted. It was glorious. We ascended back to Indian Pass to see the rest of the crew rounding Island Lake and making their way just fine.

Marsters' view of us ascending up to Indian Pass after the storm cleared

Marsters’ view of us ascending up to Indian Pass after the storm cleared

We really made good headway this day 4 and we made it all the way back to Barbara Lake for a nice camp on our final night. I think we were all motivated to get out and definitely get below treeline.

Kristine & I with Fremont Peak behind

Kristine & I in our Sawyer hats with Fremont Peak behind. Sawyer is never far away from us :)

Rob and the team crossing the raging drainage from Seneca Lake again this time across big boulders

Rob and the team crossing the raging drainage from Seneca Lake again this time across big boulders

Reascending terrain back up to Barbara Lake

Reascending terrain back up to Barbara Lake

The storms left us alone for a good few hours during the middle of the day, but reared their intense heads yet again as we were rounding Hobbs Lake. Barbara Lake couldn’t have come soon enough as we had a severe hail, thunder, and lightning storm as soon as we got our tents up and I had built a small fire. Waiting this storm out for about an hour in damp clothes and socks and shoes was not too pleasant. But, it cleared and we resumed the fire building and my fire had survived the storm.

After the storm at Barbara Lake

After the storm at Barbara Lake

The sun came out and we had a roaring fire and started to dry our shoes and socks out again. Man, it was so good to see the sun. J and Billy hiked up to this small highpoint behind Barbara Lake and our camp and immediately came down to tell all of us to come up. Kev was still napping in his tent, so he didn’t join us, but the views were outstanding in the alpenglow.

Fremont Peak to the right and Upper Titcomb Basin at left

Fremont Peak to the right and Upper Titcomb Basin at left. Bonney Pass can be seen on the far left

Me and my wonderful wife

Me and my wonderful wife

Great pals for a decade now with Rob ever since that fateful day on Denali

Great pals for a decade now with Rob ever since that fateful day on Denali in June 2007

Rob, Mikey, and myself

Rob, Mikey, and myself

Group shot minus a Kev

Group shot minus a Kev

Barbara Lake had sure melted out a lot in 4 days

Barbara Lake had sure melted out a lot in 4 days

Morning came and the sun dried us out as we packed up for the few hours out back to Elkhart Trailhead.

Morning at Barbara Lake drying out our tents

Morning at Barbara Lake drying out our tents

It was a nice deproach in great weather until the mosquitoes joined us once the snow stopped. We fortunately had no encounters with bears on this adventure, but we did see evidence of bears in the area. However, Billy was always ready with his bear spray canister holstered tight on his belt ready for a duel.

Bear track

Bear track

Goodbye Winds, until next time

Goodbye, Winds, until next time

We reached the trailhead by noon and relaxed and unpacked for a bit. Mosquitoes were present so we didn’t dilly-dally for too long. We decided to all head back to the Wind River Brewing Company for a hearty lunch. It was great to cap off such a great trip with an amazing crew and tell stories and laugh. We then decided to stop at this mercantile store in Farson, Wyoming, which Billy knew to have the largest ice cream scoops we had ever seen. OK, Billy, let’s do it. These ice cream scoops were ginormous. Most of us got the single scoop and my gosh, it was way way too much for me. Billy finished his single scoop off quickly as did Kristine. Billy had to help me with mine. Rob didn’t get any as I think he was just too intimidated. One young kid got a double scoop cone and it was about a foot tall. It probably weighed more than his head.

Our single scoops

Our single scoops

After gorging ourselves, Mikey left to go back to Denver while Marsters decided to come to Vail and give Rob & Kev a ride to our neck of the woods. We got back around 9pm that Thursday evening only to miss seeing Sawyer to bed, but absolutely loved seeing Ken, Dianne, Rainie, & Kona. Rainie held on for me and I think perked up quite a bit upon my return. Marsters, Kev, & Rob slept at J’s house. We took them rock climbing Friday afternoon and Marsters, me, Mikey, and Rob wanted to give Rob another taste of Colorado so we all climbed the Cross Couloir on Saturday morning for a fun 7 hour outing. Rob had a blast. We had to get him at least one summit while out in the Rockies! Meanwhile, Sawyer and the Oelbergers had so much fun in our 5 day absence:

Lunch with Nana

Lunch with Nana

Pool time

Pool time

Horse riding at the Beaver Creek Stables

Horse riding at the Beaver Creek Stables

Sawyer loves her neigh-neighs

Sawyer loves her neigh-neighs

Swinging with Papa

Swinging with Papa

My Rainie

My 14.5 year old Rainie

It was an unbelievable 40th birthday week for myself with my wife and close friends. Special thanks to Ken & Dianne for again shouldering our responsibilities at home so Kristine and I could get out together. Even though we fell short of the actual summit of Gannett, we climbed 98% of the mountain in tough travel conditions. So, I’m 0-2 on Gannett now :) Gannett is the only mountain I have tried to climb and been unsuccessful still. So, I will just have to go back. We’ve done it the hardman way. Next time, we’ll go in August/September, get some pack horses for a leisurely cruise into Upper Titcomb Basin, bring skis, alpine racks and ropes, and have a blast. Maybe for my 41st birthday. We’ll see.

Top of the Rockies with the Horvaths

After 6 months of planning, our good family friends from Charlotte, the Horvaths, came to the valley. Their main objective was to climb their very first 14er. I chose Mt. Elbert because why not! Its the highest in Colorado and the 2nd tallest mountain in the contiguous USA. This trip was initially a surprise from Steve & Kathy Horvath to their sons, Stephen & Charlie, for their birthdays. Steve, Stephen, & Charlie rented a cool little home in Minturn for the weekend. They hiked up to Lionshead Rock for their first acclimitization hike and I took Stephen & Charlie climbing at Homestake that afternoon while Steve went and got a massage and hit the Westin spa.

Stephen climbing the awesome 5.9+ at Homestake

Stephen climbing the awesome 5.9+ at Homestake

And, Charlie. These guys did so well having not climbed outside for a long time

And, Charlie. These guys did so well having not climbed outside for a long time

Then, I picked them up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning and we headed south to the North Halfmoon Creek trailhead for Mt. Elbert’s standard northeast ridge route. I brought my skis along on my pack hoping to ski the Box Creek Chutes on the descent while the boys hiked down the trail. We had a great hike and it was exciting watching Steve, Stephen, & Charlie hike to the highest elevation to which they had ever been.

The Horvaths

The Horvaths

Steve motoring long below treeline

Steve motoring long below tree line

Steve getting above tree line and the views opening up

Steve getting above tree line and the views opening up

Mt. Massive (14,421'), Colorado's 2nd highest, to the north

Mt. Massive (14,421′), Colorado’s 2nd highest, to the north

Steve & Charlie around 13,000'

Steve & Charlie around 13,000′

Steve making great time up Elbert on the final couple hundred vertical feet

Steve making great time up Elbert on the final couple hundred vertical feet

We probably reached the summit only 3 1/2 hours after we left the trailhead, which is incredible for these lowlanders. A brisk west wind greeted us at the top, so we didn’t dilly-dally too long. However, it was an absolutely gorgeous day.

The boys relaxing below the summit on the leeward side of the mountain

The boys relaxing below the summit on the leeward side of the mountain

Steve reaching Mt. Elbert's summit!

Steve reaching Mt. Elbert’s summit!

All four of us on the summit of Mt. Elbert (14,433')

All four of us on the summit of Mt. Elbert (14,433′)

The Horvaths on top of the Rockies

The Horvaths on top of the Rockies

Steve & I

Steve & I

Looking west to the Elk Range

Looking west to the Elk Range

And, one more summit pic

And, one more summit pic

We then headed down and Stephen wanted to follow me down the Box Creek Cirque. He had an extra pole to help him control his glissade down the roughly 40 degree bowl. He did well and had a blast.

Looking down the upper east slopes, which was a stellar ski, leading into the steeper Box Creek Chutes

Looking down the upper east slopes, which was a stellar ski, leading into the steeper Box Creek Chutes

Reaching the rollover point where it gets steep

Reaching the rollover point where it gets steep

Stephen glissading the Box Creek Chutes

Stephen glissading the Box Creek Chutes

Looking back at our tracks down the Box Creek Chutes

Looking back at our tracks down the Box Creek Chutes

Stephen and I visited the small lake at the bottom of the Cirque and then hiked back up to the trail, took a small nap, and waited for Steve & Charlie to reach us. The rest of the descent was uneventful yet very hot. We reached the trailhead around maybe 1:30-2pm and headed into Leadville to eat some good lunch at the Tennessee Pass Cafe.

Our crew back at the trailhead

Our crew back at the trailhead

Celebratory lunch

Celebratory lunch

This fitting canvas was on the wall above our table

This fitting canvas was on the wall above our table

And, we had a nice view out the door

And, we had a nice view out the door

Steve and the boys took Kristine & I out to dinner that evening to cap off a great weekend. Congratulations on your 1st 14er, Horvaths. Hopefully, we can do it again!

No Name Canyon & Mudflap Girl

Over the last month or two we have been visiting the fun, little No Name Canyon for some nice, granite crack climbing. No Name Canyon is a spur canyon at the No Name exit off of the larger Glenwood Canyon. Its accessibility (can bring the dogs and Rainie in her wagon on the nice dirt/gravel road) and quality granite cracks make for a nice place to spend some time.

Kristine climbing Sumac (5.9) on the Poison Ivy Wall

Kristine climbing Sumac (5.9) on the Poison Ivy Wall

Me & Sawyer gearing up for her climb

Me & Sawyer gearing up for her climb

Sawyer on Beginner Slab (5.1)

Sawyer on Beginner Slab (5.1)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Lone Pine Tree Direct (5.10c). I led this clean and was super happy to do so

J climbing Lone Pine Tree Direct (5.10c). I led this clean and was super happy to do so

Kristine on Railroad Cracks (5.8)

Kristine on Railroad Cracks (5.8)

Kristine & I having a date at No Name Canyon one afternoon - just the two of us

Kristine & I having a date at No Name Canyon one afternoon – just the two of us

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J leading one of our favorite cracks in the area called The Ironing Board (5.10a), a 110' route

J leading one of our favorite cracks in the area called The Ironing Board (5.10a), a 110′ route

I had my eye on a bigger route in the Grizzly Creek Canyon (one canyon east of No Name) called Mudflap Girl on the Mudwall. Mudflap Girl was the one route that went to the top of the Mudwall and was 9-10 pitches in all and over 700′ of technical climbing. Our own big wall rock climb right in Glenwood Canyon! Though Mudflap Girl is the easiest route on the Mudwall, it is no walk in the park climb. It goes at 5.10+ and 4 pitches of 5.10 climbing. We left Edwards at 4am and were hiking by 5am up the Grizzle Creek trail. It was warm out – supposed to get into the 80s in Glenwood Springs. There was an interesting Tyrolean traverse across the absolutely raging Grizzle Creek that made for a fun and exciting start to the day.

J on the traverse

J on the traverse

Me making my way across trying to not let my heavy pack turn me upside down

Me making my way across trying to not let my heavy pack turn me upside down

It was then roughly a 1,000′ boulder hop up to the base of the Mudwall following cairns. We found the base of the route by its namesake sign and racked up. We were climbing by 6:15 – 6:30am or so. J led off up the awesome 110′ 5.8 1st pitch placing 4 cams.

J leading the 1st pitch of Mudflap Girl with the namesake sign to denote the start of the route

J leading the 1st pitch of Mudflap Girl with the namesake sign to denote the start of the route

Looking down the 1st pitch from the belay

Looking down the 1st pitch from the belay

J then led the next pitch combining pitches 2 & 3. J did awesome pulling the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch.

J getting positioned for the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch

J getting positioned for the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch

Me coming up the easier 5.8 pitch 3

Me coming up the easier 5.8 pitch 3

The top of pitch 3 was a nice ledge and we swapped gear so that I could lead the next few pitches. Pitch 4 was a really fun and long 5.9+.

Me beginning up pitch 4

Me beginning up pitch 4

Me leading the awesome pitch 4

Me leading the awesome pitch 4

J topping out pitch 4

J topping out pitch 4

Pitch 5 (5.9) was our least favorite as it was over looser rock and broken terrain and a bit wandering.

Me leading pitch 5 with most all of the upper pitches visible

Me leading pitch 5 with most all of the upper pitches visible

We came to a big ledge at the top of pitch 5 and now the sun was out in full force and heating us up.

Big ledge at the top of pitch 5 looking down Grizzly Creek Canyon

Big ledge at the top of pitch 5 looking down Grizzly Creek Canyon

I took the lead up pitch 6 (5.10) on what was my favorite pitch. It was long and continually interesting with solid 5.10 crack moves. I eventually came to a single bolt belay below the roof and backed the bolt up with a solid #0.5 cam.

Me leading up pitch 6 (5.10)

Me leading up pitch 6 (5.10)

Top of pitch 6

Top of pitch 6

Pitch 7 (5.10+) was the crux pitch of the entire route consisting of a tough sequence of moves over a roof with no feet. I think the last few pitches of climbing caught up with me in making the few tough moves over the roof. I had to rest and hang – between the heat of the sun and being tired from leading the previous 3 pitches, I just didn’t have the strength in my fingers :) Oh well. I eventually made the necessary moves and topped out on pitch 7’s large ledge.

Me under the pitch 7 roof

Me under the pitch 7 roof

J made the roof moves no problem and joined me on the ledge. The heat was really getting to me now by this point.

Top of pitch 7

Top of pitch 7

J then took the lead up the last 5.10 pitch 8. This was a long pitch as well – maybe 100′. He led it beautifully and belayed me up.

J leading pitch 8 (5.10) on the upper headwall of Mudflap Gorl

J leading pitch 8 (5.10) on the upper headwall of Mudflap Gorl

My strength was failing me and I grunted up this pitch even on top rope. I made it to J and then wanted to get back on the horse and decided to lead pitch 9. I led the tricky 5.9 pitch 9 clean and soon belayed J to me. I felt better in the shade a bit climbing pitch 9. J then led the final easy 5.7 pitch 10 to the top and belayed from a tree.

J setting off on the final pitch

J setting off on the final pitch

J leading pitch 10 (5.7)

J leading pitch 10 (5.7)

When I finally reached the top with J, we were in the shade. I felt much better in the shade and started to get my energy back.

Happy to be on top of Mudflap Girl

Happy to be on top of Mudflap Girl

Now, we didn’t bring a second rope to double rope rappel the route in hopes of finding the north gully descent. Through a few published descriptions online and from my Western Sloper guidebook, we found the inconspicuous black webbing around a tree about 100 yards east of the head of the steep north gully. From then on, it was 4-5 fun single rope rappels over cliff bands and steep talus downclimbing between.

First rappel

First rappel

Second rappel

Second rappel

J looking up at me at the bottom of the first rappel

J looking up at me standing at the bottom of the first rappel

Me on the second rappel

Me on the second rappel

The steep and loose north gully

The steep and loose north gully

J on the final rappel. Almost looks like a lush jungle

J on the final rappel. Almost looks like a lush jungle

Then, we hung a right at the base of the gully and within 5 minutes we were back at our packs at the bottom of Mudflap Girl. We saw a climber on a harder single to two pitch route on the Mudwall on the hot descent out.

I think this gal is climbing the two pitch route called White Dads on Rope (5.11b)

I think this gal is climbing the two pitch route called White Dads on Rope (5.11b)

Looking back at me and the Mudflap Girl route up the Mudwall

Looking back at me and the Mudflap Girl route up the Mudwall

We scrambled back to the river and dunked our faces, which felt oh so good and refreshing. We then reversed he Tyrolean traverse and surprised a few hikers on the Grizzly Creek trail. Back at the car shortly after 2pm, it was about a 9 hour day car-to-car. J had two beers in the car and we toasted each other to a good adventure climbing day on the Mudwall. Maybe not soon, but I would like to go back and climb this route again now that we know it as well as the descent down the North Gully.

Escalante Canyon 2017

A little behind in our blog entries, but the whole Chalk family made our annual trip down to Escalante Canyon, CO on Friday, May 19 for some camping and crack climbing with friends. Always fun to get down there in the Spring and Fall as the Summer is just too darn hot. Sawyer slept most of the 3 hr drive, which was great, and we arrived finding a nice campsite around 5pm. All of our friends trickled in over the evening and next morning hours.

Sawyer & Kristine in our big tent

Sawyer & Kristine in our big tent

The next morning in the tent vestibule

The next morning in the tent vestibule

I think this little gal likes camping in the high desert

I think this little gal likes camping in the high desert

It was chilly at night, but once that sun hit Saturday morning, things really warmed up nicely.

Rainie on point

Rainie on point

Sawyer displayed her desert energy by jumping off rocks

Sawyer displayed her desert energy by jumping off rocks

Most of us then went off to the Cabin Wall and likely our favorite route, Willy’s Hand Jive (5.10+). I led up Willy’s and set up the top rope for folks.

Grayson climbing Willy's with the gals in the foreground

Grayson climbing Willy’s with the gals in the foreground

Grayson again on the amazing Willy's

Grayson again on the amazing Willy’s

Kristine on Willy's

Kristine on Willy’s

Me and the Sawyer

Me and the Sawyer

Happy Sawyer at the wall

Happy Sawyer at the wall

Sawyer getting harnessed up for some 5.10s :)

Sawyer getting harnessed up for some 5.10s :)

Jesse & Natalie each took a turn to lead up the imposing Rusty’s Cave route (5.10-) next door to Willy’s. They did awesome, but the crux is the cave at the top where it got wide. Its a bit weird for sure. I finished it off for them and set up the top rope for everyone.

Me leading the last part of Rusty's Cave

Me leading the last part of Rusty’s Cave

Jesse on the Cave route

Jesse on the Cave route

Me taking a lap on Willy's

Me taking a lap on Willy’s

Me higher up on Willy's

Me higher up on Willy’s

At the funky offwidth pod crux on Willy's

At the funky offwidth pod crux on Willy’s

Dylan on Willy's

Dylan on Willy’s

I then took my camera and climbed up Willy’s again and anchored myself to take pictures of Jesse and Natalie climbing.

Jesse digging hard

Jesse digging hard

Natalie hand jamming

Natalie hand jamming

Natalie at the crux pod

Natalie at the crux pod

Cranking hard

Cranking hard

We wrapped it up and headed back to camp around 4pm. Sawyer was able to nap for an hour on Kristine’s back as she walked up and down the road. I then took Rainie and Kona down to the creek to let them swim since it was pretty hot outside. I drove them down to the Cabin Wall and parked on an incline. The automatic rear door lifted up so slowly that before I could grab Rainie to lift her down she had jumped out and went down hard on her right front leg and laid sprawled out in the dirt. I was terrified and grabbed her and felt around…It seemed that nothing was broken, but she was in pain and could put zero weight on it. I carried her to Escalante Creek and soaked her legs hoping it may help. I then carried her back to the Tahoe and we drove back to camp. Everyone was worried and gave their medical opinions on what to do and if it were broken or not. Eventually, I just made the decision I wanted to drive back to Edwards and see our vet later that night. So, we packed up everything and loaded it all into the Tahoe. However, before we left, good buddy Steve Cizik had set up this awesome zip line for his kids and Sawyer gave it a good crack. I think the video speaks for itself:

We hated to leave Escalante and the whole gang, but I had to get Rainie looked at. Its all I would think about until I could do so. We arrived back in Edwards around 9:30pm and saw our vet at 10pm. After some x-rays and an examination, nothing was broken. She had likely sprained her ankle. They gave her some morphine for the night and sent us home. It took a few weeks to really heal (or close to heal), but she is doing much better now. Always scary when a really old loved one hurts him or herself. Fortunately, she was able to bounce back for the most part.

Dune Acres Reunion

The Chalks ventured to Dune Acres, Indiana on Lake Michigan for a fun-filled weekend at the spectacular home of the Spences. The last time I was here was for Kelly & Paul’s wedding in September 2009, so it was pretty cool to be back. This weekend was organized by the four Batesies Kristine, Kelly, Carrie, & Glynnie. Only this time all of the husbands came along with the kids. I have to be honest, I don’t think of much when I think of Indiana, but Dune Acres is pretty amazing and very scenic. Kristine, Sawyer, & I flew to Chicago and rented a car for the hour and a half drive east to Dune Acres. Between 8 adults and 7 kids under the age of 5 (2 newborns included), it was busy at times though so much fun.

All the kiddos eating dinner

All the kiddos eating dinner

Walking down to the beach on Lake Michigan in front of the Spence home

Walking down to the beach on Lake Michigan in front of the Spence home

Sawyer loving the feel of sand on her toes

Sawyer loving the feel of sand on her toes

Beach time!

Beach time!

Liv, Liam, & Sawyer gathering rocks to skip on the lake

Liv, Liam, & Sawyer gathering rocks to skip on the lake

The Spence home

The Spence home

I love the spiral staircase

I love the spiral staircase

Sawyer out cold :)

Sawyer out cold :)

Sawyer & Olivia at this awesome, old-school playground in Dune Acres

Sawyer & Olivia at this awesome, old-school playground in Dune Acres

Kristine & I each went on our own respective trail runs around the awesome hilly trails of Dune Acres of which Kelly’s dad hiked and recorded and with Paul’s help created nice little maps of the trail systems complete with approximate mileages. On Saturday, Kelly laid the foundation for an adventure to the local state park to attempt the 3 Dune Challenge! While the course summits the 3 highest dunes above Lake Michigan in only 1.5 miles, it would be a challenge for all the kids. We had a lot of fun and after summitting the last dune, we had a nice lunch and then descended.

And go! Sawyer is off to the races

And go! Sawyer is off to the races

Me, Liam, & Sawyer

Me, Liam, & Sawyer

Up the first dune

Up the first dune

Sawyer finding a walking stick

Sawyer finding a walking stick

Sawyer wanted a lift for the final vertical up to the first dune

Sawyer wanted a lift for the final vertical up to the first dune

Mt. Jackson summit!

Mt. Jackson summit! Sawyer is ecstatic!

The kiddos

The kiddos

The summit of the 2nd dune, Mt. Tom

Sawyer, Kristine, & Paul on the summit of the 2nd dune, Mt. Holden

En route to the 3rd and final dune

En route to the 3rd and final dune

Sawyer on a mission

Sawyer on a mission

The summit headwall :)

The summit headwall :)

And, we're here! Summit of Mt. Tom

And, we’re here! Summit of Mt. Tom

Dune information

Mt. Tom historical information on its formation

View west

View west

Lunch time

Lunch time

And, a final group shot on Mt. Tom

And, a final group shot on Mt. Tom

Saturday evening we all grilled out and enjoyed a spectacular sunset on the front deck overlooking Lake Michigan and Chicago skyline in the distance. What a great weekend with everyone (Paul, Kelly, Glynnie, Rob, Carrie, Brett, & of course Kristine) and all the kids as well. We are so looking forward to the next Bates reunion.

Cooking out with a view

Cooking out with a view

Sunset with the Chicago skyline to the west

Sunset with the Chicago skyline to the west

Skiing Mt. Sopris & The Fly

Spring ski-mountaineering for the Chalks & friends continues to be a favorite springtime hobby. Kristine and Mikey Santoro drove over to the Mt. Sopris trailhead on a Saturday evening, camped out under the stars, and skinned and skied this classic 12,953′ behometh outside of Carbondale on Sunday, April 30. Kristine, myself, and numerous friends over the years (really since 2004) used to climb and ski this awesome ski-mountaineering mountain every spring. I still remember Rainie and my first time up Sopris in the spring of 2004. However, we hadn’t skied the peak for a few years now and Kristine wanted to go back. Mikey hadn’t done it and wanted to go so their plan was set. It was a beautiful, albeit windy, day up in the hills. I thought they made good time up the approximate 12 mile roundtrip with 4,400′ vertical gain route as they were back mid-afternoon.

Mt. Sopris. The Thomas Lakes Bowl is left of center

Mt. Sopris. Our usual ascent/descent route, the Thomas Lakes Bowl, is left of center

Mikey above Thomas Lakes

Mikey above Thomas Lakes

The Thomas Lakes Bowl. Windy up on the ridge!

The Thomas Lakes Bowl. Windy up on the ridge!

Mikey making his way up the summit ridge with Capitol Peak behind

Mikey making his way up the summit ridge with Capitol Peak behind

Mikey & Kristine on top of Sopris (12,953')

Mikey & Kristine on top of Sopris (12,953′)

Mikey boarding the fun Thomas Lakes Bowl

Mikey boarding the fun Thomas Lakes Bowl

All smiles back at the trailhead

All smiles back at the trailhead

The next weekend on Saturday, May 6, Dylan, J, and I ventured back into the Gores up the familiar Booth Creek drainage. Our goal was to ski The Fly’s southeast face. A few of us had climbed The Fly several times in past years (linking it with The Spider to the north), but never skied it.

Kristine & I on the summit of The Fly in October 2011

Kristine & I on the summit of The Fly in October 2011 with West Partner Peak behind

Me, Rainie, Kona, & Khumbu at Booth Lake (July 2012)

Me, Rainie, Kona, & Khumbu at Booth Lake (July 2012)

Rainie, Kona, & Khumbu on The Fly's summit

Rainie, Kona, & Khumbu on The Fly’s summit

Baba, Khumbu, Rainie, & Kona on the summit of The Fly (12,550')

Baba, Khumbu, Rainie, & Kona on the summit of The Fly (12,550′) with The Spider (far left) and Peak H (center) behind

I couldn’t get J to start any earlier than 6am (I wanted to get going pretty early because it was gonna be a super warm day), but we made decent time up into the upper Booth Creek drainage trying to make up some time.

Mt. of the Holy Cross from the upper Booth Creek drainage

Mt. of the Holy Cross and Vail from the upper Booth Creek drainage

Dylan & J skinning

Dylan & J skinning

After maybe 3 hours in, we rounded the corner and approached Booth Lake and The Fly.

The Fly's southeast face with the east ridge on the right

The Fly’s southeast face with the east ridge on the right

Skinning with Outpost Peak behind to the right

Skinning with Outpost Peak behind to the right

We then came upon some strange tracks that at first we thought were human. They went all the way up to about 12,000′ on the east ridge of The Fly. Well, we decided to follow them as a broken booter was better than breaking it ourselves. However, they just weren’t normal steps at all. I found myself breaking trail anyway as I could not figure out the pattern of the footsteps. Eventually, we learned that these were bear tracks! We were wondering what in the world the bear was doing going all the way up steep snow to The Fly’s east ridge.

Bear track

Bear track

Following the bear tracks to the east ridge

Following the bear tracks to the east ridge

Dylan making his way up to the east ridge

Dylan making his way up to the east ridge

Once on the east ridge, the climbing and views were really fantastic, though the snow was getting way too warm for my taste. It was stifling hot out!

Dylan on the east ridge with Rockinghorse Ridge and Peak Q behind

Dylan on the east ridge with Rockinghorse Ridge and Peak Q behind

J and the Fly's east ridge

J and the Fly’s east ridge

Dylan making an airy maneuver

Dylan making an airy maneuver

After a knife-edge of snow and a downclimb around a small tower, we pushed onto the summit.

J on the final push

J on the final push

Dylan loving his first time in the Gore

Dylan loving his first time in the Gore

Looking over at the southeast face we would ski

Looking over at the southeast face we would ski

We topped out maybe around 10:45am and started to ski pretty immediately. It was pretty warm and expectedly J knocked off a few minor wet slides and let them roll below him before he skied down.

Looking down the line from the summit

Looking down the line from the summit

Dylan with the Spider behind

Dylan with the Spider behind

The Fly summit (12,550')

The Fly summit (12,550′)

J taking off down the southeast face

J taking off down the southeast face

J way down there

J way down there

Dylan carving some nice turns

Dylan carving some nice turns

It was pretty darn heavy, wet snowy from my perspective, but fun nonetheless. Would have been certainly nice to hit it 2 hour earlier. We managed all our slough just fine and regrouped and hung out for a bit back at Booth Lake.

Hanging out back at Booth Lake

Hanging out back at Booth Lake

The ski out was pretty fun yet sloppy. We put our skis back on our packs around the top of Booth Falls and hiked the remaining 2 miles back to the car on the dry trail. It was only about a 7 hr RT day, so really not all that long. The Fly was a fun climb & ski and I look forward to hopefully doing it again next spring.

The Straight Arrow Couloir on Peak H

More of a picture journey of our ski tour deep in the Gore Range to ski the elusive Straight Arrow Couloir on Peak H than anything, but in many ways pictures are worth a thousand words :) For those interested, good bud Brian Miller did his typical humorous trip report over at Exploring The Rockies in a writing style that is uniquely his and his alone. All told, it was almost a 12 hour day and approximately 13.9 miles roundtrip with 7,150′ of vertical gain. Not too shabby of a day.

The day started around 4:15am with a 3,500′ vertical gain approach from the Booth Creek Trailhead in Vail to the 12,100′ East Booth Pass. Typically, that kind of gain will already get you to a summit, but we had a long way to go this day. However, we skied powder down from East Booth Pass to Upper Piney Lake at 11,000′.

Brian & J approaching West Booth Pass

Brian & J approaching East Booth Pass

Ben shot this awesome pic of Mt. of the Holy Cross with the top of Chair 3 at Vail visible lower right from West Booth Pass

Ben shot this awesome pic of Mt. of the Holy Cross with the top of Chair 3 at Vail visible lower right from East Booth Pass

J and Ben skiing down to Upper Piney Lake with our destination, Peak H, in the distance

J and Ben skiing down to Upper Piney Lake with our destination, Peak H, in the distance

I was able to drop a knee as it was awesome powder off the north side of West Booth Pass! Photo by Ben

I was able to drop a knee as it was awesome powder off the north side of East Booth Pass! Photo by Ben

Ben capturing Brian ripping turns down the north side of West Booth Pass with The Spider and The Fly as a backdrop

Ben capturing Brian ripping turns down the north side of East Booth Pass with The Spider and The Fly as a backdrop

Then, we began the long 2,000’+ ascent up Peak H’s south slopes. The scenery was astounding. I hadn’t been back this deep in the Gore in the snowy months before and it was breathtaking.

J and I skinning up Peak H's south slopes as far as our skins would allow. Photo by Ben

J and I skinning up Peak H’s south slopes as far as our skins would allow. Photo by Ben

Me putting the skis on my back. At some point, it became much more efficient to just boot it. Photo by Ben

Me putting the skis on my back. At some point, it became much more efficient to just boot it. Photo by Ben

The Spider's skiable northeast face. Wow

The Spider’s skiable northeast face. Wow

Ben booting up Peak H's south slopes

Ben booting up Peak H’s south slopes with Rockinghorse Ridge and West Partner Peak visible in the background

Finally, around 10:45am, we reached the summit of Peak H about 6.5 hours after starting out.

J and I on the summit of Peak H (13,080'). We had only been here once before when we traversed The Saw way back in 2012.

J and I on the summit of Peak H (13,080′). We had only been here once before when we traversed The Saw way back in 2012.

Looking down at Brian at the top of the Straight Arrow Couloir from Peak H's summit

Looking down at Brian at the top of the Straight Arrow Couloir from Peak H’s summit

Ben about to go head first into the Straight Arrow Couloir. Photo by Ben

Ben about to drop into the Straight Arrow Couloir with Peak Q in the distance. Photo by Ben

Ben's first turn

Ben’s first turn

So, while traversing The Saw so many years ago, I honestly couldn’t remember if there was a viable exit from the bottom of Straight Arrow back to The Saw’s ridge proper to get back into the Upper Piney Lake basin. I usually have a good memory of things in the mountains, but this topography escaped me. Nevertheless, Ben decided to ski down about 1,000′ and look at a seemingly viable exit skier’s right. He gave an “all systems go” signal and we skied this great couloir in awesome corn snow.

Brian ripping turns as he always does

Brian ripping turns as he always does

Brian much further down with quite the backdrop

Brian much further down with quite the backdrop

Brian. Photo by Ben

Brian. Photo by Ben

Me loving this couloir while J waits patiently at the top. Photo by Ben

Me loving this couloir while J waits patiently at the top. Photo by Ben

I think this pic makes the couloir appear steeper than it actually is. Photo by Ben

I think this pic makes the couloir appear steeper than it actually is. Photo by Ben

Me loving the tele turns. Photo by Ben.

Me loving the tele turns. Photo by Ben

Here comes J

Here comes J

J getting into the business. Photo by Ben

J getting into the business. Photo by Ben

The point where we packed up our skis and booted out to the exit Ben spotted

The point where we packed up our skis and booted out to the exit Ben spotted

J and Ben booting

J and Ben booting

A good look at Peak L's north face behind me

A good look at Peak L’s north face above the Black Creek drainage behind me

We reached the ridge and after a snack and some fluids we transitioned to ski mode to ski the remainder of Peak H’s south face. I did go over to the low point of The Saw after a few hundred feet of skiing down H’s south face and scoped out the climb up to the saddle from the apron of the Straight Arrow Couloir. Definitely climable. In hindsight, we could have skied a few more hundred vertical down the Straight Arrow and had a decent climb up and out to the saddle. Oh well. Definitely next time :)

Brian skiing down Peak H's south face. Photo by Ben

Brian skiing down Peak H’s south face. Photo by Ben

Ben shot me skiing down H with such a gorgeous backdrop here including The Spider.

Ben shot me skiing down H with such a gorgeous backdrop here including The Spider and Holy Cross.

And, me skiing down H with the Spider behind. Photo by Ben

And, another one of me skiing down H with the Spider behind. Photo by Ben

We skied as far as we could due south, but really dropped all the way down to Upper Piney Lake yet again. We had over a 1,000′ re-climb back up to East Booth Pass, which definitely caused us to put on the afterburners.

J and Brian topping out on West Booth Pass for the second time this day

J and Brian topping out on East Booth Pass for the second time this day

Ben and J at West Booth Pass with the Spider and The Fly behind

Ben and J at East Booth Pass with the Spider and The Fly behind’

After some lounging, we packed up and skied down the Booth Creek drainage where we still got almost 3,000′ of skiing to well below Booth Falls. Yes, it took some gymnastics lower down but we kept the skis on our feet to where it got unruly and Brian and I called it quits.

Me skiing down the south side of West Booth Pass on perfect corn. Photo by Ben

Me skiing down the south side of East Booth Pass on perfect corn. Photo by Ben

A very fun out....

A very fun out….

...until this

…until this

But, Ben, as always, managed to make the turn

But, Ben, as always, managed to make the turn

Great day out in my favorite range with the biggest Gore snobs I know. Until next time fellas.

The Deming Drop

Well, after an unsuccessful attempt to ski the so-called “Deming Drop” on Deming Mountain (12,902′) in the southern Gore last June, we decided to give it another go this April despite a not so ideal forecast for a Saturday. It looked sunny in the morning, but the winds were forecasted to be pretty gusty and a storm was a brewing that afternoon and evening. Last June 2016, Derek, Mikey, and I (along with K9 companions Kona and Maude) waited almost an hour and a half for the north couloir of Deming Mountain, aka the “Deming Drop”, to soften up, but it really wouldn’t have till high noon or after. Plus, we decided it wasn’t a good line for the dogs either. So, we decided to play it safe and ski the fun east slopes.

Leaving Kona and Maude at home this time, J and I met Derek at the Meadowcreek Trailhead in Frisco around 5am. He kept our trail shoes on for maybe a mile before we switched to skinning mode and had an enjoyable skin up through treeline to the beautiful, mellow basin below Eccles Pass. However, the wind was gusting pretty substantially when we got into the open blowing us back a bit. J and I were sort of thinking if it were this windy down here, we may not be making the summit today :) Nonetheless, we skinned our way up Deming’s familiar east slopes and the wind seemed to settle down a bit the higher we ascended. We topped out around 4 hours after leaving the trailhead at 9:15am.

J and Derek starting the steeper skin up Deming's east slopes

J and Derek starting the steeper skin up Deming’s east slopes

Looking over at the Red Peak massif and Red Diamond Ridge from Deming's east slopes

Looking over at the Silvrthorne massif (left) and Red Peak massif with Red Diamond Ridge (right) from Deming’s east slopes

J topping out on Deming

J topping out on Deming

We couldn’t believe the wind allowed us fairly easy passage to the summit. After maybe 15min on top, the wind, however, picked up and we decided to move.

Looking over at West Deming and the Vail Valley beyond from Deming's summit

Looking over at West Deming and the Vail Valley beyond from Deming’s summit

Deming Mountain summit (12,902')

Deming Mountain summit (12,902′)

We skied north over the flat summit plateau to the couloir’s steep 50 degree entrance. The steep entrance was definitely bulging out convexly indicating some definite wind loading. This was surely intimidating and gave us pause.

J and I scoping out the couloir's entrance. photo by Derek

J and I scoping out the couloir’s entrance. photo by Derek

However, J noticed we could avoid this convex entrance to the couloir by skiing down the small ridge to skier’s left and then traverse under the loaded slope very fast to the couloir’s much safer right side. Yes, we would be under the bulging, upper slope, but only for a brief second and individually.

J and I making our way down the ridge to avoid skiing over the steep, bulging slope

J and I making our way down the ridge to avoid skiing over the steep, bulging slope. Photo by Derek

Then, J crossed the couloir over to the right side, followed by me, and then Derek. With no signs of any snow instability, we continued to ski the now mellower 40 degree couloir in very variable wind-affected snow.

Derek traversing the steep, upper slope over to J and I on the couloir's right side

Derek traversing the steep, upper slope over to J and I on the couloir’s right side

Well, I guess I can say I skied the Deming Drop, but it sure wasn’t pretty :) This was some of the hardest skiing I’ve ever done in terms of physical exertion. Of course, I made zero telemark turns because of how so variable the snow in the couloir was. It was all I could do to make a normal alpine turn! And, I had a hunch it would be spring north-facing, creamy powder. Haha…yeah right! J and Derek were patient with me. So, to show how variable the snow was, J lost one of his skis in the upper portion of the couloir (though he obviously recovered it) and J can ski anything, anywhere with anyone. The snow basically just ripped the ski off his boot. Nonetheless, we made it down the belly of the beast to the apron about an hour after leaving the summit.

Derek skiing the Drop

Derek skiing the Drop

Close-up of Derek working for those turns

Close-up of Derek working for those turns

J skiing the Deming Drop

J skiing the Deming Drop

J about a third of the way down

J about a third of the way down

Derek

Derek

Looking up at Derek through the couloir's choke

Looking up at Derek through the couloir’s choke

Me doing my best in the tough snow. Photo by J

Me doing my best in the tough snow. Photo by J

J finishing out the bottom section of the Drop

J finishing out the bottom section of the Drop

Derek making the last little bit looking pretty powdery

Derek making the last little bit looking pretty powdery

Derek making the snow conditions look smooth

Derek making the snow conditions look smooth

Upon reaching the apron, we traversed northeast towards Red Buffalo Pass and found the steep slope we were to climb up to reach Deming’s northeast ridge.

J traversing on out to where we would climb up around 700' to Deming's northeast ridge as our escape from this basin

J traversing on out to where we would climb up around 700′ to Deming’s northeast ridge as our preferred escape from this basin

We packed our skis on our backs and J and I broke trail straight up through some really deep and tiring snow. We leapfrogged setting the booter and an hour later when we reached the ridge, we were pretty exhausted.

J climbing up the slope

J climbing up the slope

Derek making his way up the booter with West Deming behind

Derek making his way up the booter with West Deming behind on the left

J and Derek near the ridge where we could ski back down into the Meadowcreek drainage from where we came

J and Derek near the ridge where we could ski back down into the Meadowcreek drainage from where we came

A look at our route from the summit of Red Peak to the north in July 2015 after J and I traversed Red Diamond Ridge. Green indicates the skin up Deming's east sopes, red indicates the ski down the Deming Drop, and blue indicates our climb back up to Deming's northeast risde after the ski

A look at our route from the summit of Red Peak to the north in July 2015 after J and I traversed Red Diamond Ridge. Green indicates the skin up Deming’s east slopes, red indicates the ski down the Deming Drop, and blue indicates our climb back up to Deming’s northeast ridge after the ski

After a snack and some hydration in the ever-increasing wind on the exposed ridge, we decided to ski down the utterly horrific breakable crust into the Meadowcreek drainage. This was the worst part of the day for me. The snow was just plain “break your leg” snow as the sun had since went away behind the increasing clouds and what corn snow was trying to surface froze up quickly. We saw a huge 17 person crew skinning up to Eccles Pass and beyond up the west ridge of the small bump that eventually leads towards Buffalo Mountain. We were all curious if this was a backcountry ski course or what. Who knows – maybe just a large gathering of friends. All said and done, we finally reached corn snow lower down in the drainage and skied it out to within a half mile of the car making for a 7.5 hour RT day. I believe this route is around 12 miles RT with between 4,500 – 5,000′ vertical gain. Definitely a fun adventure and happy to have skied the Deming Drop, but boy those snow conditions – I do not miss that. However, that’s spring skiing for ya. You never know what you are gonna get. You can guess and have a good hunch, but until you feel it out and experience the snow conditions in real time, you don’t know for sure.

Hardman Hut Trip 2017

Our 2017 Hardman Hut trip wasn’t as “hard” as the previous year’s Hardman 2016 (maybe more of a “Softman” hut trip), but was loads of fun all the same. Jesse Hill booked and organized the huts and meals as  he did last year and yet again outdid himself. This year’s Hardman was in the beautiful Elk Range. Most of the gents skinned in the short 2.5 miles to the Markley Hut from Ashcroft Thursday afternoon. J, Brett, and I skinned in around 6pm arriving just in time for taco dinner at 7pm after a few inches of fresh snow had fell.

J and Brett on the approach to the Markley Hut

J and Brett on the approach to the Markley Hut

Taco dinner at Markley. Photo by Derek

Taco dinner at Markley. Photo by Derek

Joel, Derek, Jesse, & Mikey made some early morning runs on the other side of Express Creek in about 9″ of fresh powder while the rest of us made breakfast and drank coffee.

Early morning powder harvested by Mr. Gratz. Photo by Derek

Early morning powder harvested by Mr. Gratz. Photo by Derek

The next morning before departing to the Goodwin Greene Hut

The next morning before departing to the Goodwin Greene Hut

On Friday around noon we departed for the Goodwin Greene Hut. It was a nice skin up the road breaking trail a few miles before heading north of a drainage and over the Richmond Ridge plateau.

Joel and crew skinning up the Express Creek drainage

Joel and crew skinning up the Express Creek drainage

Nico plowing ahead in front of me here in this pic. Photo by Joel

Nico plowing ahead in front of me here in this pic. Photo by Joel

Mikey leading the pack

Mikey leading the pack

The crew at the 12,000' pass

The crew at the 12,000′ pass

Long ways to Aspen via Richmond Ridge

Long ways to Aspen via Richmond Ridge

A little bit of navigating over the broad, treeless plateau was necessary until we dropped a few hundred vertical down into the Difficult Creek drainage on the northeast side of Gold Hill to the hut.

The boys heading across the alpine plateau

The boys heading across the alpine plateau

Jesse, Mikey outside the Goodwin Green hut

Jesse, Mikey, Chuck, & Derek  outside the Goodwin Greene hut

It took us about 3 hours from the Markley to the Goodwin Greene hut, so not too bad. We had two nights at the Goodwin Greene hut, which was extra nice since we could ski tour all around the hut the following day (Saturday). I slept right next to the wood stove and with Mikey stoking it all night, it was an oven in there :) J and I were sweating going to sleep. Anyway, a crew (Nico, Mikey, Brett, Derek, & Joel) went out around 8am to ski the northeast facing glades at the head of the Difficult Creek drainage. The rest of us drank coffee and made breakfast and then we set out to summit Gold Hill and ski down to meet the early crew. The 700′ skin up Gold Hill was fun and we could see the Grand Traverse racers on Richmond Ridge going from Crested Butte to Aspen.

J and Chuck skinning up Gold Hill

J and Chuck skinning up Gold Hill

Gold Hill summit (12,361'). Left to Right: Me, Jesse, Matt, J, & Chuck

Gold Hill summit (12,361′). Left to Right: Me, Jesse, Matt, J, & Chuck

Chuck, J, & I skied a pretty cool north-facing couloir line off the summit ridge down to the early crew while Matt and Jesse skied around.

Chuck skiing the Gold Hill north couloir

Chuck skiing the Gold Hill north couloir

Chuck a bit lower down

Chuck a bit lower down

We all skied down to the earlier group learning that after 3 laps they were heading back to the hut. Nonetheless, they beat us to the untracked powder on these lower glades.

Nico dropping the knee. Photo by Derek

Nico dropping the knee. Photo by Derek

Mr. Gratz testing the snow. Photo by Derek

Mr. Gratz testing the snow. Photo by Derek

Brett slashing as usual. Photo by Derek

Brett slashing as usual. Photo by Derek

Derek stacking turns. Photo by Joel

Derek stacking turns. Photo by Joel

Matt, J, Chuck, and I decided to skin up to another ridge to ski a steeper line through the trees that Chuck spied from Gold Hill.

Skinning up to the ridge with Gold Hill behind

Skinning up to the ridge with Gold Hill behind. The hut can also be seen in the lower center portion of the photo.

J skling the fun trees back down to Difficult Creek

J skling the fun trees back down to Difficult Creek

Matt & Chuck

Matt & Chuck

Once back down at Difficult Creek, Matt decided to head back to the hut while J, Chuck, & I decided to skin up another 1,000′ to the summit of  Gold Hill again and ski back to the hut.

Back at the bottom of the Difficult Creek drainage with Gold Hill in front of us

Back at the bottom of the Difficult Creek drainage with Gold Hill in front of us

J and Chuck reaching Gold Hill's summit for the 2nd time

J and Chuck reaching Gold Hill’s summit for the 2nd time

Looking over to 14ers Catle & Conundrum Peaks on the left and high 13er cathedral Peak on the ridge from the summit of Gold Hill. Racers can be seen below on Richmond Ridge

Looking over to 14ers Castle & Conundrum Peaks on the left and high 13er Cathedral Peak on the right from the summit of Gold Hill. Racers can be seen below on Richmond Ridge

14er Capitol Peak in the distance

14er Capitol Peak in the distance

Aspen Highlands and Highland Bowl

Highland Ridge and Highland Bowl on the far right

In order to ski to the hut, we had to ski the extremely steep & firm northeast face. “Oh well, I will just follow J and Chuck”, I thought. There was one short section of 50 degree snow, but eased to the 40s soon after. Even though the snow was very firm and a bit icy, I’m glad we did it.

Chuck skiing the northeast face of Gold Hill

Chuck skiing the northeast face of Gold Hill

Once back at the hut, we relaxed, I took a snooze, some played cards, etc. I went out later on that afternoon and did one more loop with Derek, Mikey, and Joel of the ridge/tree run to Difficult Creek to cap off the day.

The last supper at Goodwin Greene

The last supper at Goodwin Greene

A storm came in Saturday late afternoon/evening and visibility was to a minimum on Sunday morning when we were to depart. It was windy and low visibility for sure, but navigation was pretty easy especially since a few of us surveyed the terrain from the Gold Hill summit the previous day. Back to the car in just over 2 hours, we made our way on home.

Chuck and I making our way across the Richmond Ridge plateau on Sunday morning. Photo by Joel

Chuck and I making our way across the Richmond Ridge plateau on Sunday morning. Photo by Joel

Our crew one year older and wiser, but just as giddy to all be together on another Hardman in the mountains

Our crew one year older and wiser, but just as giddy to all be together on another Hardman in the mountains

Looking forward to Hardman 2018!

Old Man Pyramid

Natalie and I had been planning a climb of Pyramid at some point this winter if weather and conditions would allow for relatively safe passage. We had climbed Pyramid’s NW ridge back in the fall in order to get a feel for the route finding challenges. We went on to traverse to Thunder Pyramid and then Lightning Pyramid, which raised the excitement level a bit. I’m always wanting to get back to Pyramid in whatever condition – definitely one of my most favorite 14ers. Even though I have many more responsibilities these days (a young wonderful daughter, a 14+ year old golden retriever), I still love to get a few 14ers in the winter each year. Its sort of the only season I still like getting on the 14ers unless its some technical route in the summer. Kristine and I still regularly do our trail running, skinning, and rock climbing these days, but just much closer to home. We certainly are not the weekend warriors climbing and skiing all over the state like we were a decade ago. But, that’s quite ok with us. Natalie has certainly been getting after it all winter with summits of Wilson Peak, Holy Cross, Snowmass Mountain, just to name a few. She is narrowing in on the winter 14er list. Pretty impressive.

Now, to the trip report, a plan was set for the last weekend of winter especially given the amazing spring-like weather that was forecasted. I recruited J to come with Natalie and myself as well as our young buck, Dylan. J has serious FOMO (fear of missing out) so there was no way he was going to miss this climb even if he said he was out of shape. Kristine had a plan to drive to Aspen Saturday night to ski a peak with Christy Mahon that Sunday, so my goal was to be back home by 8pm that evening. Natalie backpacked in the Maroon Creek Road from the T-Lazy-7 Ranch all the way to the other side of Crater Lake that Friday evening. J, Dylan, and I drove over late Friday night arriving around 11pm for a quick 2+ hour sleep in our sleeping bags on the pavement. After some coffee and oatmeal, we started skinning up the road at 2:15am for the 6 mile slog to Maroon Lake. I would typically use my telemark setup for this climb, but sort of wanted to climb in my older Koflach plastic boots and thus used my really old Silvretta 404 binding/ski setup I used on Denali in 2007. This was a mistake as the boots gave me some mega blisters in the skinning mode with these bindings/skis. Oh well. Live and learn. We ran into Mad (Dad) Mike Silvestro fat biking in on the road to climb Thunder Pyramid and Lightning Pyramid. Good to briefly chat with that guy for sure. We reached Natalie’s tent just before 6am, which was around 8 miles and 2,000′ vertical gain into the day. Natalie gave me the 30m/8mm rope she hauled in to her camp to pack and after some snacks and water, we skinned the rest of the way to the apron of the west couloir leading up Pyramid’s west face. Dylan was not feeling very well (unusually nauseous), so elected to stay behind and return to Natalie’s tent for some shuteye. J and Natalie and I then began the 2,600′ boot up the awesome west couloir to the saddle on the northwest ridge. I left my ski setup at the base of the couloir because there was no way I was skiing a 40-45 degree couloir on those skis! J and Natalie, however, packed the skis on their packs.

First light on the Bells to our west

First light on the Bells to our west

Beginning the long ascent up the west couloir. Photo by Natalie

Beginning the long ascent up the west couloir. Photo by Natalie

A steep section. Photo by Natalie

A steeper section. Photo by Natalie

Middle of the couloir. Photo by Natalie

Middle of the couloir. Photo by Natalie

J & Natalie

J & Natalie

Me in the upper couloir. Photo by Natalie

Me in the upper couloir. Photo by Natalie

I think it maybe took us 2-1/2 to 3 hours or so to climb the 2,600′ from the valley floor to 12,900′ on the NW ridge. I am not quite totally sure. Nevertheless, the top out where the snow ended had a great view of the Bells.

J in the foreground and Natalie behind topping out at the end of the snow

J in the foreground and Natalie behind topping out at the end of the snow

J and Natalie left their skis, we stowed the crampons, and we started up familiar terrain to the Keyhole Couloir.

The Keyhole Couloir was dry and loose

The Keyhole Couloir was dry and loose

J climbing the loose couloir

J climbing the loose couloir

Then, we abruptly arrived at the edge of the north face and took a right to take on the class 4 headwall. J and I climbed it and I trailed a rope to belay Natalie up.

J having fun on the short headwall

J having fun on the short headwall

Me trailing the rope. Photo by Natalie

Me trailing the rope. Photo by Natalie

After some fun scrambling and route finding, we came upon the final crux bowl to access the summit cliff. By the way, the weather was spectacular. A little wind, but jeez I was scrambling in just glove liners. It was so nice. The upper bowl looked to be in great condition with safe and stable snow.

Rounding a corner...it looks as if we are both having to relieve ourselves, but of course we are not :) Photo by Natalie

Rounding a corner…it looks as if we are both having to relieve ourselves, but of course we are not :) Photo by Natalie

Natalie and J on a nice perch

Natalie and J on a nice perch

The upper bowl and summit cliff

The upper bowl and summit cliff

I led off and went up some previous tracks to the steep horizontal traverse, which leads over to the familiar JP Sneak gully. It was really fun and steep snow climbing with decent exposure.

J and Natalie

J and Natalie

Up close in the upper bowl

Up close in the upper bowl

Traversing towards the JP Sneak was a very steep snow bulge in solid snow. This was the steepest snow of the day though only maybe 10′ in height.

J and I on the steep part to the JP Sneak. Photo by Natalie

J and I on the steep part to access the JP Sneak. Photo by Natalie

J climbing the steep snow pitch with good exposure

J climbing the steep snow pitch with good exposure

The snow really went pretty high up into the JP Sneak gully making for fairly smooth climbing.

J and Natalie climbing the JP Sneak gully

J and Natalie climbing the JP Sneak gully

The summit ridge was a mix of snow and dry rock, but was gorgeous all around. What a day we had to top out on ole man Pyramid. I believe we all summitted around noon or shortly after. Warm temperatures, endless views to all the ranges, and zero wind greeted us.

Pyramid winter summit (14,018'). Photo by Natalie

Pyramid winter summit (14,018′). Photo by Natalie

J coming back to the summit from checking out the Landry Line down the east face

J coming back to the summit from checking out the Landry Line down the east face

J and myself

J and myself

The three of us on top of Pyramid

The three of us on top of Pyramid

I hated to leave the summit, but I had a long way to go to be back in Edwards by 8pm. I think we started down by 12:45pm.

J and Natalie downclimbing the summit ridge

J and Natalie downclimbing the summit ridge.

Once we got down to the bottom of the JP Sneak, the 10′ section of steep snow gave us a brief pause. I then just decided to throw the rope down for a handle as we downclimbed this section. It worked well. I joked with Natalie that this is grade A typical fixed rope Himalayan stuff here.

The rope over the steep snow section

The rope over the steep snow section

Me lowering myself

Me lowering myself. Photo by Natalie

Natalie lowering herself over the steep part

Natalie lowering herself over the steep part

Descending the horizontal traverse in the upper bowl

Descending the horizontal traverse in the upper bowl

Careful stepping

Careful stepping

And then some facing in downclimbing

And then some downclimbing to the dry ledge

Back on dry rock, we de-cramponed and made our way back down to the short class 4 headwall and had a nice rappel.

Leaving the upper bowl

Leaving the upper bowl

At a nice perch looking at the awesome north face of Pyramid

At a nice perch looking at the awesome north face of Pyramid

And, that's a rap

And, that’s a rap

The Keyhole Couloir went fast and loose and we were back down at the top of the west couloir in no time. Much to our surprise, Dylan had showed up and was relaxing in the sun! I was so glad he rested and felt good enough to climb the 2,600′ couloir and brought his skis to boot! Now, he would get to enjoy the fantastic ski down. Since my awful silvretta/ski setup was down in the valley, I left to try and plunge step/couloir run down the couloir as fast as I could and stopped lower down to get some pics of the skiers.

J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

Dylan and J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

Dylan and J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

J slashing with Len Shoemaker Peak behind

J slashing with Len Shoemaker Peak behind

Dylan

Dylan

Dylan felt better at this point

Dylan felt better at this point

And, of course, Natalie

And, of course, Natalie

Me doing my best to keep up on foot

Me doing my best to keep up on foot

I clicked into my ski setup and hobbled my way thru the trees back to Natalie’s camp. A tree well ate me for 5 minutes, but I managed to right myself and ski out. Back at the tent, we delayered, ate, drank, chatted for maybe 30 minute, and said our goodbyes to Natalie as she would stay another night and climb South Maroon Peak the next morning. It was now close to 4pm and we had 8 miles out. The descent to Maroon Lake was rough for me on my ancient setup, but once we got to Maroon Creek Road, things went faster and easier. We met up with three ski mountaineering dudes who we had seen off and on all day near Crater Lake and chatted. They had climbed South Maroon’s Y-couloir, skied South Maroon’s east face into the Bell Cord Couloir and wrapped around to climb North Maroon’s north face and ski it. They finished up as we were crossing Crater Lake. Nothing really surprises me anymore with folks in Colorado. Anything in the mountains seems possible. Super nice fellas and we chatted back at the cars for awhile as well.

J slowly skiing out the Maroon Creek Road with Pyramid in the distance

J slowly skiing out the Maroon Creek Road with Pyramid in the distance

We packed up and actually got on the road a bit after 6pm for the drive back to Edwards. After a stop at Whole Foods and Starbucks, we  cruised home rehashing the memories of the 15.5 hour day finally arriving at the house a few minutes after 8pm. Not bad timing. Sawyer had just gone to bed, Kristine and I saw each other for 15 minutes, and then she was off to Aspen to stay with the Mahons. We hated we saw each other so little all weekend, but hey its the last weekend of winter and the weather was unbelievably spectacular. We had to make the most of it. Kristine and Christy had a nice 6-7 hour day skinning and skiing the 13er Pearl Mountain at the head of Pearl Basin on Sunday.

Views of Castle's east face and Cathedral from Pearl Mountain

Views of Castle’s east face and Cathedral from Pearl Mountain

Kristine booting

Kristine booting

The gals on top

The gals on top

Kristine on top of Pearl Mountain

Kristine on top of Pearl Mountain

Kristine skiing

Kristine skiing

Sawyer, Rainie, & Kona, and myself relaxed most of the day watching March Madness off and on and going to the park. It was much needed for my almost 40 year old body after Pyramid on Saturday. A great way to cap off a nice winter for both Kristine and myself. We’re now so looking forward to spring ski-mountaineering and rock climbing. Bring on the warm weather!

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