Freya & Thor Towers

I’ve been a fan of Norse mythology for awhile now and everyone knows I’m a Gore fanatic. When J and I climbed the intimidating northern of the two east ridges called Asgard Ridge up Mt. Valhalla over two years ago, we always gazed upon the lower 12,000′ towers to our left while ascending Asgard. These towers are called Freya and Thor. There is a tower further on up the southern of the two east ridges of Valhalla called Loki, but honestly didn’t look nearly as interesting as Freya & Thor. I figure the next time we are up on Valhalla’s summit, we can go check Loki out. But, Freya & Thor looked like the real prizes in the basin in addition to the obvious Asgard Ridge. The veteran Gore hardman Stan Wagon from Silverthorne details his climb up Thor on his website and pioneered a one pitch 5.6 route up from the west col to Thor’s summit. Stan also details his west ridge climb/traverse up to Freya’s summit on his website as well. Stan gave me some approach beta on the simplest route to these towers via the Rock Creek TH north of Silverthorne. J and I approached Asgard Ridge via Boss Mine and some steep and pretty intense bushwhacking. I think the better approach to Asgard Ridge proper is to leave the Gore Range Trail and bushwhack south-southwest for a few miles outlined in the route marked below:

Approach to Asgard Meadows, Freya, & Thor

Approach to Asgard Meadows, Freya, & Thor

While Ryan, Mike, and I were targeting Capitol’s NW Buttress route on this spectacular fall day, 3 people on such a serious route with potential rockfall just didn’t seem like a good idea. So, I dug around in my mind for an alternate adventure and remembered these towers deep in the Gore at the head of South Rock Creek Basin. I was excited to get back in there for a visit. Mike needed a big day back in the mountains and it was a treat for Ryan and I to get out together in the Gore with a rack and a rope and see what we could do. We all met at the Rock Creek TH late Friday night and left the TH by 6:30am Saturday morning headed south on the Gore Range trail. We had Ryan’s 70m/8.4mm rope, an alpine rack, set of nuts, draws, and plenty of slings and biners. However, we did choose to leave behind the rock shoes in favor for just our approach shoes. I can tell you next time I will definitely be bringing rock shoes. It was not too bad bushwhacking at all for a few miles up to the grassy meadow slopes on the south side of Asgard Ridge. We descended a few hundred feet down loose rock into a small basin at 11,600′ called Asgard Meadows: a beautiful grassy/bouldery meadow-like basin with a creek running through it and granite towers rising above. It was perfect.

Ryan shooting me shooting South Rock Creek Basin and Freya & Thor Towers still a distance away on the far right in the picture

Ryan shooting me shooting South Rock Creek Basin and Freya & Thor Towers still a distance away on the far right in the picture. Photo by Ryan

Freya Tower is down low on the left. Thor Tower is in the center of the picture. Mt. Valhalla is the high summit

Freya Tower is down low on the left. Thor Tower is in the center of the picture. Mt. Valhalla is the high summit

Asgard Meadows with Freya in the center and Thor on the upper right

Asgard Meadows with Freya in the center and Thor on the upper right

Asgard Meadows with Thor at upper left and Asgard Ridge in the distance

Asgard Meadows with Thor at upper left and Asgard Ridge in the distance

Thor's east face is mighty impressive

Thor’s east face is mighty impressive

I do look forward to coming back to Asgard Meadows and setting up a basecamp to do a full day or two of alpine rock climbing. We were debating on what to attempt first as it was only 9:15am. I told Ryan & Mike Freya’s east ridge direct looked mighty tempting and that I’d like to give it a shot. Based on no prior information that I could find on the east ridge itself and in talking with Stan, we were not sure it had been climbed before. But, it looked doable even in approach shoes – we hoped.

Looking up Freya's east ridge from the base

Looking up Freya’s east ridge from the base

Getting set up

Getting set up

It looked like we could scramble up 50′ of 4th/low 5th class rock or so into a southeast facing dihedral, which seemed like it lent feasible passage up to perhaps a small ledge 80′ above.

Ryan on the initial scrambling

Ryan on the initial scrambling

I started up a crack system on south-facing rock east of the dihedral and soon realized I would prefer the comfort of a rope especially with approach shoes. It was getting into mid-5th class with big exposure. I downclimbed 15′ back to a small ledge and we roped up. I took off up our 1st roped pitch. It was indeed a pretty awesome pitch and after a 5.8 move on the face I made my way into the dihedral and definitely pulled a 5.8 move or two up to the small grassy ledge. I placed mostly nuts but a cam at each of the two cruxes. I set up an anchor system at a convenient grass ledge and brought Mikey and Ryan up to me all the while I scoped out how pitch 2 would go above me.

Me into the dihedral on pitch 1. Photo by Ryan

Me into the dihedral on pitch 1. Photo by Ryan

Mikey and Ryan following pitch 1

Mikey and Ryan following pitch 1

Ryan took the lead on pitch 2 up a 5.8 corner to the right. I hoped in the back of my mind that it went somewhere because it looked to be our only option with some protection to be had. He did awesome and found a nice belay ledge at the base of another headwall above to belay us up.

Ryan setting off up pitch 2

Ryan setting off up pitch 2

I thought this was a cool picture: my head, Ryan's feet

I thought this was a cool picture: my head, Ryan’s feet. The grassy meadows on Asgard Ridge’s south side we used on the approach can be seen in the background

Ryan climbing the right-angling crack into the unknown

Ryan climbing the right-angling crack into the unknown

Mikey following

Mikey following

I took the 3rd pitch lead which began with a funky unprotected stemming chimney for 25′ to a small ledge. I then balanced my way onto a very small corner on the right and was able to get a small Alien into a small pocket, but it definitely wasn’t reassuring. However, there were no other options. I then made a committing face climb move or two to the left and got a good jug and stance in order to get a much better #1 cam into a solid crack. It was then fun 5.6 climbing up to the top of the headwall and I built an anchor to bring the fellas up.

Mikey climbing the headwall up to me on pitch 3. Photo by Ryan

Mikey climbing the headwall up to me on pitch 3. Photo by Ryan

Another view by Ryan. The stemming chimney is immediately behind the large slab of rock in the foreground

Another view by Ryan. The stemming chimney is immediately behind the large slab of rock in the foreground

Mikey on pitch 3 with Ryan below

Mikey on pitch 3 with Ryan below

Young Ryan making quick work of pitch 3

Young Ryan making quick work of pitch 3

A wider shot

A wider shot

I belayed Mikey around the small tower I sat upon for the pitch 3 belay to a very small col just west of me. I lowered Ryan down to this same col and then after gathering my anchor gear, I downclimbed the 15′ to the saddle. We all scrambled up another 100′ to the base of our pitch 4. It looked to be a nice angling hand crack and Ryan took the reins.

Ryan coiling the rope after pitch 3

Ryan coiling the rope after pitch 3

The scramble up to pitch 4

The scramble up to pitch 4

Me belaying Ryan on pitch 4

Me belaying Ryan on pitch 4

Ryan getting into the meat of pitch 4

Ryan getting into the meat of pitch 4

I think we agreed there were some 5.8 moves on this hand crack

I think we agreed there were some 5.8 moves on this hand crack

Mikey making his way on the right-angling, slightly overhung hand crack

Mikey making his way on the right-angling, slightly overhung hand crack

From the top of pitch 4, it was easy and fun class 3/4 scrambling to the 12,121′ summit of Freya.

Ryan almost to Freya's summit

Ryan almost to Freya’s summit

Mikey almost there. It had been awhile since Mikey had scrambled, so he was back in the game by this point

Mikey almost there. It had been awhile since Mikey had scrambled, so he was back in the game by this point

Summit of Freya (12,161'). Photo by Ryan

Summit of Freya (12,121′). Photo by Ryan

Looking due west from Freya's summit down its "standard" west ridge to Thor

Looking due west from Freya’s summit down its “standard” west ridge to Thor

Summit of of Freya (12,161'). Man, what a day!

Summit of of Freya (12,161′). Man, what a day!

Looking down Freya's east ridge from the summit

Looking down Freya’s east ridge from the summit

Well, whether someone had climbed the east ridge before or not, just not having any prior beta or even knowledge that it would go was exciting in itself. Plus, it was a solid 4 pitch alpine route on granite in a spectacular setting. Hard to beat. Here is a route overview of our route:

Freya East Ridge route. Red designates our unroped scrambling sections

Freya East Ridge route. Red designates our unroped scrambling sections

What was almost equally as fun and exciting as our east ridge route up Freya was the descent down Freya’s standard “west ridge” to the Freya/Thor col. This is the route Stan Wagon and his partners climbed in 2010 rating the one crux move at 5.6. We didn’t rope up for this ridge, but it sure was some awesomely exposed scrambling. Makes Capitol’s standard knife-edge look like a catwalk and not very exciting. This was the best scrambling of the day by far.

Mikey heading off on Freya's west ridge

Mikey heading off on Freya’s west ridge

Mike and I approaching the knife-edge portion. Photo by Ryan

Mike and I approaching the knife-edge portion. Photo by Ryan

Freya's knife-edge

Freya’s knife-edge. Photo by Ryan

Such a great ridge

Such a great ridge

Mike and Ryan on Freya's west ridge

Mike and Ryan on Freya’s west ridge

Meke on a very exposed downclimb

Mike on a very exposed downclimb

Ryan at the same spot

Ryan at the same spot

Easy walking

Easy walking

One final climb up on the west ridge

One final climb up on the west ridge

Finishing up Freya's west ridge. Photo by Ryan

Finishing up Freya’s west ridge. Photo by Ryan

Looking back

Looking back with Asgard Meadows down to the left

We took a well-earned break at the Freya/Thor col for a PB&J and some Gatorade. I am not sure what time it was, but maybe between 12-1pm. Anyway, we decided to go for Thor Tower as well. We took Stan’s route up the loose southeast-facing couloir to the saddle west of Thor’s summit. What really excited me about coming back to this area were some of the seemingly solid 300′ crack routes on Thor’s south face visible on our approach up the couloir. Rock shoes and a bigger rack are a must on the next trip.

This large dihedral on Thor's south face was especially interesting

This large dihedral on Thor’s south face was especially interesting

Climbing up Thor's southeast couloir. Freya's west ridge can be seen behind

Climbing up Thor’s southeast couloir. Freya’s west ridge can be seen behind

Then, we traversed north along ledges to Stan’s 5.6 crack route. Ryan decided to scope out a different route to the right (south) of Stan’s route and described it as an airy 5.4 pitch. I tagged the rope on my harness and climbed Stan’s 5.6 crack, found his old webbing and rap ring at the top, and belayed Mikey up to me.

Ryan on his airy route

Ryan on his airy route

Me climbing Stan's 5.6 crack

Me climbing Stan’s 5.6 crack. Photo by Ryan

Me belaying Mike up. Photo by Ryan

Me belaying Mike up. Photo by Ryan

Mike climbing Stan's 5.6 crack up Thor Tower

Mike climbing Stan’s 5.6 crack up Thor Tower

Stan's old webbing and rap ring. Ryan added another piece of webbing through the rap ring.

Stan’s old webbing and rap ring. Ryan added another piece of webbing through the rap ring.

It was then easy scrambling to the summit where we saw Stan’s cairn and small glass jar with his card in it.

Stan's card

Stan’s card

Their summit register

Their summit register

As I didn't have a pen, I added a patch off of my pack. Its a made-up "Expedition" just for fun as our mountain cabin in NC is called Chalk Hill :)

As I didn’t have a pen, I added a patch off of my pack. Its a made-up “Expedition” name my dad thought up just for fun as our mountain cabin in NC is called Chalk Hill :)

Looking down Thor's east ridge to Frey'a west ridge below

Looking down Thor’s east ridge to Freya’s west ridge below

The Valhalla amphitheater from Thor's summit

The east amphitheater of Mt. Valhalla from Thor’s summit

The section of ridge between Valhalla & Hail Peak I have yet to scout

The section of ridge between Valhalla & Hail Peak I have yet to scout

Summit of Thor (12,500' or so)

Summit of Thor (12,500′ or so)

We stayed on the summit for a good 20-30 minutes and enjoyed the wonderful views and weather.

Ryan rapping

Ryan rapping

Me rapping

Me rapping

We descended down the other side of Thor’s west col towards the beautiful lake at about 11,900′. While loose in spots, it wasn’t too bad at all. Then, we continued to descend another 300′ of boulders back down into Asgard Meadows.

The small lake at 11,900' between Asgard Ridge and Thor Tower

The small lake at 11,900′ between Asgard Ridge and Thor Tower

Back in Asgard Meadows

Back in Asgard Meadows

I so wish I had these mini-10' walls in my backyard for Sawyer to learn on :)

I so wish I had these mini-10′ walls in my backyard for Sawyer to learn on :)

Ryan spotted this northwest buttress on Rain Peak across the valley. Maybe a future climb

Ryan spotted this northwest buttress on Rain Peak across the valley. Maybe a future climb

We refilled with water and relaxed for a bit. It was 3pm now and we (at least me) should be probably heading on out. We reascended 300′ or so back up the scree/boulder slopes to the grassy meadows along Asgard Ridge’s southern flanks and cruised on home arriving back to the trailhead by 5:30pm for an 11 hour RT day. Thanks to Ryan & Mike for helping to make this day one of my most memorable Gore adventures in a long time.

Cruising beautiful Gore meadows at 12,000'

Cruising beautiful Gore meadows at 12,000′

Soaking it in

Soaking it in

Pyramidal Traverse

I have always had a few of the red, rugged, and rotten traverses in the Elks in the back of my mind to hopefully climb one day (other than the Maroon Bells Traverse, which I have done a few times) and when my friend Natalie suggested she wanted to do the Pyramidal Traverse, I was interested. A huge plus would also be to get into the Elk Range on a gorgeous fall day. But, mainly I just wanted a new ridge traverse. The Pyramidal Traverse traverses the 14er Pyramid Peak (14,018′), the centennial Thunder Pyramid (13,932′), and the bicentennial Lightning Pyramid (13,722′). Natalie wanted to scope out the non-standard northwest ridge route up Pyramid in preparation for a winter ascent. This sounded fun as well as I had never been up the NW ridge route. I had been up and down the standard NE ridge route 4 times in the past, the last one being with Rainier and Caleb & Jennie Wray in August 2009. While the loose rock of the Bells, Pyramid, and surrounding peaks is not my favorite rock to scramble on and doesn’t instill much comfort or confidence, it is still very unique rock and offers challenging scrambling even if only low 5th class, especially on the downclimbing aspects. Several climbing buddies had suggested we traverse south to north as we could climb up most of the low 5th class crux sections, but we wanted to climb Pyramid’s NW ridge route for a recon of the winter route, so it looked like we would be downclimbing all of the cruxes. And, it was a lot of downclimbing. I brought my 30m/8mm rope, webbing, harness, slings, biners, nuts, and a few cams in hopes to set up a rappel if needed, but it turned out everything just stayed in my pack. I always believe its better to have it and not use it than to not have it and need it. So, after Sawyer was in bed and Kristine & I had dinner, I zipped over in the Subaru to the Maroon Lake TH parking lot and got a few hours sleep in the back of the car with the tailgate open. Natalie showed up around 5am and we departed the TH around 5:30am. It was to be just about a perfect fall weather day except for the fairly stiff west wind that was supposed to subside by around 9am, which it fortunately did. We made quick work of the approach up into the amphitheater below Pyramid’s north face and then veered off south west on steep grassy slopes and loose scree to the northwest ridge at around 12,700′.

Pyramid's north face

Pyramid’s north face

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid's NW ridge

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid’s NW ridge

First view of the Maroon Bells from the small saddle at 12,700' on Pyramid's NW ridge

First view of the Maroon Bells from the small col at 12,700′ on Pyramid’s NW ridge

Looking up Pyramid's NW ridge from the small col at 12,700'

Looking up Pyramid’s NW ridge from the small col at 12,700′

We followed the northwest ridge route pretty much “to a T” up through the Keyhole Couloir and then further up the fun class 4 slab/chimney above. It was a gorgeous morning except that we were climbing in the shade and the wind was pretty stiff. I was chilled as I normally get considering my hefty plethora of body fat :)

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

The Keyhole Couloir

The Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

Natalie at the top of the Keyhole Couloir/base of the fun class 4 pitch

Natalie at the top of the Keyhole Couloir/base of the fun class 4 pitch

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

I think I may have taken a stiffer variation up the class 4 pitch, but it was all good low 5th offwidth :)

I think I may have taken a stiffer variation up the class 4 pitch, but it was all good low 5th offwidth :)

We then just sort of traversed ledges and slight aretes until we both found ourselves into the upper bowl/amphitheater below the summit block.

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

We climbed this fun little chimney which Ntalaie said is dubbed the "JP Sneak"

We climbed this fun little chimney which Natalie said was dubbed the “JP Sneak”

Natalie climbing the "JP Sneak"

Natalie climbing the “JP Sneak”

Once on the summit ridge, it was a short scramble to Pyramid’s summit arriving around 9:15am.

Natalie almost to Pyramid's summiut

Natalie almost to Pyramid’s summit

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018')

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018′)

A nice little morning and wonderful to finally be in the sun!

A nice little morning and wonderful to finally be in the sun!

I was a little worried about my timing as I needed to be home by 7pm (back to car by 5pm), nut Natalie convinced me we would be ok with timing. So, we began the traverse south to the centennial Thunder Pyramid in what would be the “meat & potatoes” of the day.  The downclimb of the class 4 pitch on Pyramid’s south ridge was lots of fun and then it was pretty cruiser class 2 walking for several hundred yards until we started doing some pretty mellow class3/4 downclimbing with not much exposure on the ridge crest.

Descending Pyramid's south ridge

Descending Pyramid’s south ridge

Me descending the class 4 dihedral on Pyramid's south ridge. Photo by Natalie

Me descending the class 4 dihedral on Pyramid’s south ridge. Photo by Natalie

Natalie on the same dihedral

Natalie on the same dihedral

Making our way down to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid. Photo by Natalie

Making our way down to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid. Photo by Natalie

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

We tried the west side of the ridge to actually get down to the lowpoint several hundred feet below, but it didn’t go anywhere. We backtracked slightly and headed on the ridge top or just slightly east and found the top of the crux low 5th class downclimb with some big exposure that we had heard about. Well, there was only one way down. I was considering setting up a rappel, but there was just no good place to set up an anchor.

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

Me beginning the downclimb

Me beginning the downclimb. Photo by Natalie

Yep, a bit of exposure on loose rock. Photo by Natalie

Yep, a bit of exposure on loose rock. Photo by Natalie

On the climb down. Definitely, complete focus is a must on this crux section. Photo by Natalie

On the climb down. Definitely, complete focus is a must on this crux section. Photo by Natalie

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

The last bit down to the lowpoint

The last bit down to the lowpoint

I had gotten down to the lowpoint and was scouting the next portion of the traverse when Natalie thought she could just drop her pack the remaining 10 ft down into the top of a steep, loose couloir down the west side. While it looked like the pack would just plop down and not roll from Natalie’s perspective, it indeed took off down the couloir. We both looked and thought it would stop, but just went over a steep crux and into oblivion. Natalie went down after it, but triggered a small rockslide, which didn’t make either of us very comfortable. She searched for a good 20-30min, but to no avail. She came back up to the lowpoint and we would both have to get by with my half nalgene of water and half liter of Gatorade for the rest of the traverse and the descent down to West Maroon Creek. I felt awful for Natalie as she had some valuable gear in there including her Delorme. I mean that pack could have been close to her lowpoint or rolled to the couloir’s bottom. Who knows. She would later get in touch with Delorme and they would track it to be resting at 13,300′ or just below her lowpoint. And, Natalie would go back 2 days later, ascend Thunder Pyamid via the standard White Gully, and traverse over to retrieve her pack. Very admirable and impressive determination, Natalie!

Anyway, we continued along the traverse south from the lowpoint, which was now significantly easier with some class 3/4 and nothing all that exposed.

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

Me on a nice perch with Len Shoemaker Ridge & Basin below

Me on a nice perch with Len Shoemaker Ridge & Basin below. Photo by Natalie

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

Even with the delay for the dropped pack, we still made the traverse in just under 2 hours. It was my first summit of Thunder Pyramid and another centennial for myself. It was a nice summit.

Looking back at the traverse to Pyramid from Thunder Pyramid's summit

Looking back at the traverse to Pyramid from Thunder Pyramid’s summit

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932')

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932′)

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

I believe it was around 12:15pm when we left Thunder Pyramid’s summit for Lightning Pyramid. Easy class 2+/3 downclimbing at first quickly yielded class 4 downclimbing to get down to the lowpoint between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid.

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

We descended the ridge proper until a very airy downclimb when we elected to head east of the ridge proper and downclimb class 4 ledges to where we could get over to the lowpoint saddle

We descended the ridge proper until a very airy downclimb when we elected to head east of the ridge proper and downclimb class 4 ledges to where we could get over to the lowpoint saddle

I dropped my pack with all the gear at the lowpoint saddle between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid and in 15 minutes over easy terrain we were on Lightning Pyramid’s summit at approximately 1pm.

Natalie hiking up Lightning Pyramid's north ridge with Thunder Pyramid behind

Natalie hiking up Lightning Pyramid’s north ridge with Thunder Pyramid behind

Almost there

Almost there

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722')

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722′)

Our descent off this ridge was via the awfully steep and loose west side couloir between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid accessed from the lowpoint saddle. Not looking forward to it, we navigated it pretty well going one at a time for several pitches ensuring we don’t knock rocks down on one another. It could have been the worst couloir I’ve descended. I don’t know. However, I do know I will never touch it again.

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

More steep nastiness

More steep nastiness

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Light at the end of the tunnel - the apron

Light at the end of the tunnel – the apron

Natalie coming out of the gully

Natalie coming out of the gully

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

It was wonderful to get down into the grassy Len Shoemaker Basin and take a break and guzzle our remaining fluids. We then made our way on grassy ledges and rock gullies to get down another 1,200′ to the West Maroon Creek trail.

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

We finally hit the West Maroon Creek trail, filled up with water and iodined our nalgenes, and cruised out the remaining few miles back to the Maroon Lake TH arriving just at 5pm. Natalie’s car keys were in her lost pack, so we hurried quickly down to 82 in the Subaru to get cell service so Natalie could call Geico and get some roadside assistance. After everything was settled, I was drove back to Edwards just in time to see Sawyer before bed, which was my goal all along. I later learned that Natalie’s spare keys were not in her locked car, so someone drove them up from Denver apparently and she finally got into her car later that night. But, my hat is certainly off to her for going back up Thunder and over to the couloir to retrieve her pack 24 hrs later. So happy it all worked out.

A zoomed-in pic from the West Maroon Creek trail of the steep couloir Natalie's pack fell down in the center of the picture trending up and right

A zoomed-in pic from the West Maroon Creek trail of the steep couloir Natalie’s pack fell down in the center of the picture trending up and right to the lowpoint saddle between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

Lastly, thanks to Natalie for a great day and a solid idea for an Elks traverse in the fall. Its exactly what I needed having not been in the area in years. I don’t get on 14ers too often anymore, but Pyramid will always be one of my favorites. I guess total stats are something like 5,500′ vertical gain in 12.5 miles and 11.5 hrs RT. Our little Pyramid loop is shown below:

Pyramidal Traverse via Pyramid's NW Ridge up and the Thunder/Lightning Pyramid west side couloir down

Pyramidal Traverse via Pyramid’s NW Ridge up and the Thunder/Lightning Pyramid west side couloir down

Avalanche Peak North Ridge

I first noticed this cool looking peak with a few towers on its north ridge during our traverse between the Harry Gates hut and the Peter Estin hut this past April. Then, I come to research it a bit and find out it is named Avalanche Peak. However, what intrigued me were the towers along its north ridge.

Avalanche Peak from the Lime Creek plateau area as seen this past April. The two prominent towers on its north ridge are visible

Avalanche Peak from the Lime Creek plateau area as seen this past April. The two prominent towers on its north ridge are visible

I recruited my very young friend and new co-worker, Dylan Friday, who just graduated from Penn State, to come exploring with me. I was also excited to climb at Lime Creek Canyon afterwards. Being young and 22 years old and having not previously scrambled all that much, Dylan was up for anything I had in mind. We left my house at 4:30am and were hiking up the Eagle Lake Trail from Woods Lake maybe by 6:30am. The most wonderful aspect about this area is the remoteness and lack of people. In fact, there was not a single other soul we saw once we left the trailhead. I don’t have too many stats for the day as I really don’t follow that info very closely nor track it, but I always have a mental picture of what distance we traveled and how much vertical gain. The Eagle Lake Trail was good to Eagle Lake and then faded out somewhat. We lost the trail a few times and had to find it again, but the minimal trail certainly made for faster progress than not having any sort of trail at all. After some bushwhacking and maybe 4.5 miles of trail, we made it to Fairview Lake at around 10,700′. I really knew nothing of this ridge as I cannot find any previous beta on it. But, that makes it more intriguing to me and, to put it simply, more fun. Accessing the ridge from Fairview Lake looked to be semi-straightforward up loose gullies, ledges, and class 3/4 rock.

The towers on Avalanche Peak's north ridge come into view from the Lime Creek Valley

The towers on Avalanche Peak’s north ridge come into view from the Lime Creek Valley

The north ridge as seen from a higher plateau above Fairview Lake

The north ridge as seen from a higher plateau above Fairview Lake

It was around 8:30am now when we began bushwhacking up the lower flanks of the north ridge ascending loose gullies and grassy ledges. We ascended around the northeast buttress of the ridge for easier passage than directly up the northern cliff bands. Armed with only helmets, we had to keep the scrambling at low 5th and below, unfortunately. In retrospect, I wish I had brought a small rack and my 30m/8mm rope. Usually I do take some gear for unknown ridges, but I dropped the ball on this one. Oh well. Next time.

Dylan with Fools Peak in the distance

Dylan with Fools Peak in the distance

You gain vertical very quickly. Fairview Lake below

You gain vertical very quickly. Fairview Lake below

Steep gullies with fairly solid granite ensued

Steep gullies with fairly solid granite ensued

Some fun scrambling on mostly solid rock up to the ridge proper

Some fun scrambling on mostly solid rock up to the ridge proper

Dylan on the ridge

Dylan on the ridge with Fools and Eagle Peaks in the distance

We hit the ridge and were welcomed by a chilly west breeze. I always love trying to stay on the ridge proper and we scrambled up to almost the next small tower’s summit until I realized there was no way to get down the other side without a rappel. So, we downclimbed and went around the first small tower to the east.

The view looking at the potential rappel down the south side of the first small tower. I can't imagine how long that large rock has been teetering there on that ledge

The view looking at the potential rappel down the south side of the first small tower. I can’t imagine how long that large rock has been teetering there on that ledge

We scrambled up to a small saddle and viewed the route up the first of the two large towers that can be seen from the trailhead and beyond.

1st large tower

1st large tower

Dylan scrambling up the north ridge of the 1st large tower

Dylan scrambling up the north ridge of the 1st large tower

Really fun, solid stuff

Really fun, solid stuff

Everything was great until we reached a ledge and a 20′ tall headwall that easily went mid-5th class with questionable rock and absolutely no way around either side. Darn! Would have been very doable with an alpine rope, gear, and some sticky rubber approach shoes. But, with only running shoes and a helmet – nope. We downclimbed the north ridge of the 1st large tower and bypassed it on steep ledges to the east and up to the saddle between the 1st & 2nd large towers.

The 2nd large tower comes into view

The 2nd large tower comes into view

The south ridge of the 1st large tower, which appeared to be definitely downclimable

The south ridge of the 1st large tower, which appeared to be definitely downclimable

On the way up the north ridge of the 2nd large tower

On the way up the north ridge of the 2nd large tower

Bypassing a gendarme en route up the 2nd large tower

Bypassing a gendarme en route up the 2nd large tower

Easy but fun scrambling

Easy but fun scrambling

Looking over at Avalanche Peak's true summit from the top of the 2nd large tower

Looking over at Avalanche Peak’s true summit from the top of the 2nd large tower

We descended easy slabs and scrambled up class 2+ terrain to Avalanche Peak’s summit.

Reaching Avalanche Peak's summit

Reaching Avalanche Peak’s summit

Beautiful high alpine lakes and rugged peaks looking east in the Holy Cross Wilderness

Beautiful high alpine lakes and rugged peaks looking east in the Holy Cross Wilderness

Looking down the north ridge from the summit

Looking down the north ridge from the summit

Lime Creek Canyon from Avalanche Peak's summit. I looked forward to a few routes here in a few hours time

Lime Creek Canyon from Avalanche Peak’s summit. I looked forward to a few routes here in a few hours time

Avalanche Peak summit (12,803)

Avalanche Peak summit (12,803)

After maybe 20 minutes, we followed what I believe to be the “standard” route up Avalanche via its mellow west ridge. No trail at all, but easy boulder-hopping and grassy fields.

Looking back at Avalanche Peak from its mellow west ridge

Looking back at Avalanche Peak from its mellow west ridge

The large towers along its north ridge

The large towers along its north ridge

We followed the west ridge below treeline and bushwhacking through heavy timber until we came to a limestone cliff and descended a steep gully for 700′ back to the Eagle Lake Trail. For pretty much the entire descent we were off-trail, but it went fairly quick. We then hiked the remaining mile and a half back to the trailhead on the good Eagle Lake Trail arriving around 1:30pm, just about 7 hours after we began. I do look forward to going back and exploring this ridge more in depth.

Avalanche Peak and the two large towers as seen from the trailhead

Avalanche Peak and the two large towers as seen from the trailhead

Our approximate journey. Maybe 10 miles RT and we probably did 4,000' of vertical gain

Our approximate journey. Maybe 10 miles RT and we probably did 4,000′ of vertical gain. Click to enlarge

After a sandwich, we rolled over to Lime Creek Canyon and climbed a few routes. However, I really didn’t think climbing a peak would wear me out for climbing afterwards. I was wrong. I guess I’m not 22 anymore. I felt better that Dylan was tired climbing as well. I was definitely not on my A-game, but led a 5.10c and then led one of my favorite routes there called Tears on the North Wall (5.11a). Dylan did great to follow both routes.

Me leading Tears (5.11a)

Me leading Tears (5.11a)

Anyway, it was nice to climb a few routes in the afternoon at one of my favorite cragging areas. I guess I never realized how even a 7 hour peak climb tires me out until I try and climb 5.11 immediately following said climb. I’ll chalk it up to gettin’ old :) Back in Edwards by 5pm to go to the playground with Sawyer, Kristine, and the dogs. It was a good day.

BG Massive Hike

Our engineering firm, BG Buildinworks, formerly Beaudin Ganze Consulting Engineers, tries to participate in the Griffith Centers for Children sponsored 14er climb every year we can. Griffith Centers is a great organization that helps troubled children and their families. I have led this fun event for 12 of the 13 years I have been with BG and always enjoy the planning and getting folks to participate. This year I chose Mt. Massive, Colorado’s 2nd highest peak, and only an hour and 15 minute drive from the Vail Valley. The southwest slopes route is a good hike with almost 4,000′ of elevation gain in 4 miles to the summit. I hadn’t been up Massive since the day we returned from climbing Denali in June 2007 and wanted to get back on that mountain.

Mt Massive Summit (6-30-07). Left to right: Derek, Devon, J, Megan, Mikey J, with Rainier & myself kneeling

Mt Massive Summit (6-30-07). Left to right: Derek, Devon, J, Megan, Mikey J, with Rainier & myself kneeling

Kona & I didn’t arrive at our big group campsite along the North Halfmoon Road until almost 10pm, but everyone was gathered around the fire as usual beers in hand and laughing. I was up way too late because of some of the young guns and Kona and I crawled into our sleeping bags around 3am. However, I couldn’t stop laughing at Trevor, Dylan, Billy, & Tim around the fire and its quite possible we never went to sleep. Billy called it quits at 5am. I do know, for a fact, that Trevor & Dylan did not go to sleep. Out of our bags at 5:30am, we all piled in a few 4WD vehicles and motored up the 2 miles to the 4WD trailhead parking. Joel Lauran, & Alec joined us that morning as well as none of them had hiked Massive yet. It was fantastic having them along. The hike went well for everyone and a few folks summitted their 1st 14er ever!

Left to right: Dylan, Joel, Seth, Tim, Lauran, Britta with Mt. Oklahoma behind

Left to right: Dylan, Joel, Seth, Tim, Lauran, Britta with Mt. Oklahoma behind

Lauran, Tim, & Seth heading up the southwest slopes of Massive with the Independence Pass area peaks (Grizzly Peak just right of center) behind

Lauran, Tim, & Seth heading up the southwest slopes of Massive with the Independence Pass area peaks (Grizzly Peak just right of center) behind

Alec making headway

Alec making headway

Goats

Goats

We reached the final summit ridge after maybe 3 hours, but wanted to wait for the rest of the crew. So, Kona & I & Alec took a long break while Joel and folks went up to the summit. I ran back down the trail a few hundred feet to see where everyone was and was delighted to see Billy & Larisa, Eric, & Brent, etc making progress up the mountain. I would guess everyone was on the summit together by noon.

Joel & Lauran and Massive's final summit ridge

Joel & Lauran and Massive’s final summit ridge

Its always wonderful having Kona looking over me

Its always wonderful having Kona looking over me

Billy & Larisa on the summit ridge

Billy & Larisa on the summit ridge

BG on the summit of Mt. Massive (14,421')!

BG on the summit of Mt. Massive (14,421′)!

We probably spent 30 min on the summit of Massive and we certainly were not alone. Many other groups and families were on the mountain, which was great to see. It was a gorgeous day with not much of a chance at all for storms even later in the day (per Joel Gratz, of course).

Everyone was excited

Everyone was excited

Seth, Britta, & Tim

Seth, Britta, & Tim with the Gratzes photobombing this pic as they love to do

Billy & Larisa. This was Larisa's 1st 14er in 8 years well before her 3 young boys. I was very proud of her

Billy & Larisa. This was Larisa’s 1st 14er in 8 years well before they welcomed any of their 3 young boys into this world. I was very proud of her

The two goofballs, Eric & Brent

The two goofballs, Eric & Brent. Massive was Brent’s 1st 14er

The Gratzes

The Gratzes

Alec & the Gratzes

Alec & the Gratzes

And last but not least, Kona & I. This was Kona's 1st summit of Massive

And last but not least, Kona & I. This was Kona’s 1st summit of Massive

My mom also came into town this same weekend and was understanding in my going away for 18 hours for the Mt. Massive hike. However, she had a wonderful time, especially with sweet Sawyer. Here are a few pics of our time together:

Down at the river

Down at the river

Mom & Sawyer

Mom & Sawyer

Me, Kristine, Sawyer, and Rainie at the Scherr's home in Minturn for a Sunday night dinner

Me, Kristine, Sawyer, and Rainie at the Scherr’s home in Minturn for a Sunday night dinner

Mom & I on the same hammock at the Scherr's home in Minturn (before Rainie and I broke it - so sorry Diana & Matt)

Mom & I on the same hammock at the Scherr’s home in Minturn (before Rainie and I broke it – so sorry Diana & Matt)

Kristine & Sawyer enjoying the awesome food

Kristine & Sawyer enjoying the awesome food

Thanks for coming out, Mom. We all love you!

Eiseman Hut & Lime Creek

Well, its been over a month since our family Eiseman Hut trip in early July, but it was a great time and had to share some pics of the fun experience with all of the young babies/kids. Thanks to J for spearheading this hut trip. I had never been up to Eiseman in the summer (always in the winter and a long 9 mile skin in), but it sure is nice to just drive the 4WD road to within 100 yards of the hut in the summer. However, despite only being literally 10 miles north of Vail Village, the feeling of being at Eiseman in the winter is something special and one of remoteness. The skiing is phenomenal in the northwest-facing bowls behind the hut a mile or two. A few pics from way back in April 2008:

 

Eiseman Hut

Eiseman Hut

A motley crew (Joel Mikey J, and J)

A motley crew (Joel, Mikey J, and J)

Kristine & Tim on the ridge

Kristine & Tim on the ridge

Rob Schnare & myself

Rob Schnare & myself

Tim, me, Mikey J

Tim, me, Mikey J

Kristine dropping the knee

Kristine dropping the knee

And, then 4 years later in April 2012:

Me & K

Me & K

Nico and the Gores

Nico and the Gores

Kristine swissbobbing

Kristine swissbobbing

The crew this trip

The crew this trip

The view of Vail Mountain & Mt. of the Holy CRoss

The view of Vail Mountain & Mt. of the Holy Cross

Sawyer just loves 4-wheeling and didn’t mind at all the 45 minute bumpy 4WD road up to Eiseman. We had a blast with all of our friends and their little ones, though lots of babies and adults in the same bunk room doesn’t lend itself to a lot of sleep. Some pics of the fun 18 hours up at Eiseman:

Joel, Kona, Lauran, & Celeste hanging on the deck

Joel, Kona, Lauran, & Celeste hanging on the deck

Chuck & Hudson

Chuck & Hudson

Megan, J, & Raina

Megan, J, & Raina

Sage, Sawyer, & a squinting Rainie

Sage, Sawyer, & a squinting Rainie

Hanging out in the new Cizik tent

Hanging out in the new Cizik tent

Sawyer is already a Bronco fan

Sawyer is already a Bronco fan

The Ciziks

The Ciziks

The Chalks

The Chalks

Rainie getting in on the playtime

Rainie getting in on the playtime

Dinnertime

Dinnertime

Out for a stroll

Out for a stroll

A gorgeous sunset

A gorgeous sunset

Sawyer waking up sporting her "bear hat"

Sawyer waking up sporting her “bear hat”

Breakfast on the deck

Breakfast on the deck

I love this one of Rainie, Kona, Sawyer, & Clara

I love this one of Rainie, Kona, Sawyer, & Clara

I love this little girl :)

I love this little girl :)

A few days later, Kristine & I took a half day and drove out to one of my favorite sport climbing areas called Lime Creek Canyon. Its about an hour and 15 minute drive from Edwards, but man its so worth it. Just wonderful limestone cliffs above the flowing Lime Creek.

Kristine climbing Old School (5.9)

Kristine climbing Old School (5.9)

Kristine leading Crowd Control (5.6)

Kristine leading Crowd Control (5.6)

Kristine climbing Sweat (5.10b)

Kristine climbing Sweat (5.10b)

Kristine climbing Rafting with Rednecks (5.10c)

Kristine climbing Rafting with Rednecks (5.10c)

Me rappelling off of Born on the Fourth (5.10a)

Me rappelling off of Born on the Fourth (5.10a)

Fun day together at Lime Creek

Fun day together at Lime Creek

It was a fun July with a few more trips to Lime Creek, lots of quality time with Sawyer & the dogs, some good trail runs, and enjoying the wonderful summertime that living in Colorado affords.

Quandary’s Inwood Arete

No matter how many times I have climbed the 14er Quandary Peak, there always seems to be new terrain to discover. The remote north face of Quandary harbors a semi-technical route that ascends an arete for 2,000′ to 13,800′ on the broad east face. Kristine & Sawyer were back on the coast of Maine visiting her folks for a week and so my friend Reid Jennings and I made a plan to hit this route as it would be a short half-day climb and not too much time away from Rainie & Kona back at the house. Plus, it would be a nice Independence Day scramble. I had been wanting to check this route out for some time and is even featured in David Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles book. Reid & I met at the main Quandary Peak TH at 7:15am and after driving the 2 miles or so on the dirt access road to the 11,000′ McCullough Gulch TH, we set off hiking up McCullough Gulch around 7:45am. It was very nice to leave the hundreds of folks at the main Quandary Peak TH, who would be hiking the normal standard east ridge, and have the entire north side to ourselves. I brought my 7mm tag line as our lightweight rope and a half rack of nuts and cams for the fun-looking initial 100′ 5.7 crack pitch. We both brought our harnesses, helmets, and rock shoes as well. After about an hour, 1000′ of vertical gain, and a delicate creek crossing, we reached the base of the route at the nice looking 5.7 crack.

Reid and the creek crossing

Reid and the creek crossing

The Inwood Arete. The 5.7 crack is in red and the remaining route denoted in blue is all 3rd, 4th, and low 5th class scrambling

The Inwood Arete. The 5.7 crack is in red and the remaining route denoted in blue is all 3rd, 4th, and low 5th class scrambling

Now there are 4th class and maybe low 5th class ways around this initial 5.7 crack, but what’s the fun in that?

Looking up the initial 5.7 crack

Looking up the initial 5.7 crack

Looking down at Reid at the crack's base

Looking down at Reid at the crack’s base

I placed 4 cams in about 90′, so its pretty easy climbing, but definitely adds a bit of fun to the route. I made an anchor at the top and brought Reid up to me. He enjoyed the pitch as well. We stowed our gear and traded climbing shoes for trail runners and took off up the class 3 scrambling.

Above the initial technical pitch

Above the initial technical pitch

I think the best part of the route and the most fun was the several hundred feet of class 4 and low 5th class scrambling on solid slabs above this initial class 3 scrambling. It was great. Very solid and fun climbing using various crack systems. This took us up to the base of the 1st tower.

Reid on the slabs

Reid on the slabs

Reid on a section of friction climbing with a great view down McCullough Gulch

Reid on a section of friction climbing with a great view down to McCullough Gulch

More scenic climbing shots of Reid on the slabs

More scenic climbing shots of Reid on the slabs

The cracks in the slabs really provided a nice route to the top

The cracks in the slabs really provided a nice route to the top

Reid almost to the top of the slabs

Reid almost to the top of the slabs

The towers would have been fun to hit head-on, but we just found the small gully up between the 1st & 2nd towers from the east and scrambled around just to the west of the 2nd & 3rd towers. These towers aren’t really all that impressive – mere bumps on a not so well-defined arete.

Reid coming up the gully which bisects the 1st & 2nd towers

Reid coming up the gully which bisects the 1st & 2nd towers

More scrambling awaits

More scrambling awaits

While the Inwood Arete is really not a sharp ridge as you’d think an arete should be, the scrambling is still fun and worthwhile, in my opinion. The route does sort-of meander up the remaining arete between steep, loose gullies and small cliff bands to the top at about 13,800′.

Reid up high on the route

Reid up high on the route. The three towers can be seen over his left shoulder down below

We then saw the hundreds of hikers marching up and down the standard east ridge. Another 450 of vertical gain and 20 minutes later we were sharing the summit of Quandary with probably 75 folks of all ages. Definitely not unexpected, but we didn’t stay very long.

Looking down from the top of the Quandary Couloir and Inwood Arete to its right

Looking down from the top of the Quandary Couloir and Inwood Arete to its right

Final push to the top

Final push to the top

Quandry Peak summit (14,265')

Quandary Peak summit (14,265′)

We descended the standard east ridge route until about 12,600′ where we veered northeast along the north edge of the large east-facing bowl in order to make a beeline for the car. While it was some steep off-trail talus hopping, bushwhacking, and grass slope descending, we amazingly popped out literally right at the car. Now, that’s some good navigation! :) It had taken us about 4.5 hrs roundtrip car-to-car and there were now well over a hundred folks at the McCullough Gulch TH. It was quite the scene with people trying to get to and depart from the TH via the narrow dirt road. We sat in some traffic waiting for people to backup their cars, but eventually got out. After all, it was July 4 and Breckenridge was nearby and obviously very busy and crowded. Back home at 2pm to take the dogs to the river, it was a nice half-day adventure with Reid.

Meanwhile back in Maine, my two favorite gals were having a wonderful visit:

Boating

Boating

Dressing up for parties

Dressing up for parties

And driving tractors

And driving tractors

Final 2016 Spring Ski: Pauite Peak

Well, despite some early spring wet weather, which always seem to coincide with just about every April weekend, the month of May turned generally warm and dry we we were able to get a few spring skis on the books. The weather really heated up in June and a few weeks of downright hot weather was quickly melting the snowpack. Derek sent out an invite to come down to his “neck of the woods” in the Indian Peaks west of Boulder and hit the 13er Paiute Peak (13,088′) he had been wanting to climb & ski. This was also to serve as a prelude to our good friend Jesse Hill’s 16th annual summer solstice party in Wheatridge. J, Kona, & I drove down in Megan’s 1999 Volvo late Friday night to the Brainard Lake winter closure parking lot arriving around 10:30pm. Neither of us (nor Kona) had been in the Indian peaks so this was a new adventure for all of us and worth going east through the “tunnel”.

The Indian Peark as seen from Brainard Lake on our way out later in the day

The Indian Peark as seen from Brainard Lake on our way out later in the day. Pauite’s snowy southeast face is on the far right

Derek & his Australian Shepherd, Maude, were already there as was Derek’s friend, Russell, and our friend, Natalie Moran, all in their respective cars. J, Kona, & I slept in our bags next to the Volvo and each had a restless few hours mainly due to the mosquitos nipping at our heads every so often. I think Kona & I maybe got one good hour of sleep before my alarm went off at 3:30am. More good friends Mikey Santoro & Mr. Joel Gratz himself arrived at around 4:15am. Several folks had brought their bikes for the 3 mile ride up the paved road to the Mitchell Lake TH past Brainard Lake, but J, Derek, me, Maude, & Kona walked it. We regrouped with the bikers about an hour later at the Mitchell Lake TH and packed skis and boots on our backs to start up the trail in trail shoes. Natalie, Russell, Mikey, & Joel had locked their bikes at the TH. We hiked maybe a mile before the snow became a bit too much and we all decided to trade our trail shoes for ski boots, skins, & skis. Somehow, we ended up losing the already faint trail among the snowdrifts and ended up doing quite bit of tedious bushwhacking as well as shouldering skis across marshes and small creeks and boulder fields for a few hours. It was inefficient to say the least :) Nevertheless, it was what it was and we persevered. At around 8am, we reached Blue Lake. We briefly considered going to ski nearby Mt. Toll as Pauite was more distance and Derek skied Toll only a few weeks prior, but in the end no one had ventured to Pauite and that was the goal.

Making our way to Pauite (right). Mt. Toll is on the left

Making our way to Pauite (right). Mt. Toll is on the left

Getting closer to Pauite. Its steeper southeast face is dead ahead withe the Curvaceous Couloir on its right (left in pic)

Getting closer to Pauite. Its steeper southeast face is dead ahead with the Curvaceous Couloir on its right (left in pic)

After some more shouldering of skis up boulder fields interspersed by snowfields, we finally reached the 11,800′ high lake below Pauite’s steep southeast face. The intended climbing & ski route called the Curvaceous Couloir was melted out at the bottom and not continuous, but we all decided to climb it anyway and ski either the couloir or the steeper southeast face back to the small lake at 11,800′.

Booting up the lower snowfield above the 11,800' lake

Booting up the lower snowfield above the 11,800′ lake

J towards the top of the Curvacous Couloir

J towards the top of the Curvacous Couloir

Natalie

Natalie

Mikey still in his snowshoes on 40 degree snow

Mikey still in his snowshoes on 40 degree snow

Derek & Russell with Mt. Toll behind

Derek & Russell with Mt. Toll behind

We left our skis at maybe 12,900′ where the snow ran out and a few of us scrambled up to the rocky summit arriving sometime late morning (honestly cannot remember when). The view of the Indian Peaks were spectacular and all new scenery for me, J, Mike, Natalie, & Kona. We saw a familiar friend to the north in Longs Peak.

J on top of the summit block of Pauite

J on top of the summit block of Pauite

Mike on top of Pauite

Mike on top of Pauite

Me with Longs Peak in the far distance on the left

Me with Longs Peak in the far distance on the left

Hotter than heck in Denver, but a nice temp at 13,000'

Hotter than heck in Denver, but a nice temp at 13,000′

Close-up of Longs

Close-up of Longs

Group shot on Pauite's summit (13,088')

Group shot on Pauite’s summit (13,088′)

Me & Kona

Me & Kona

After maybe 20 minutes, we scrambled down the 200′ to our skis and Derek, Maude, Joel, & Russell. A few of us elected to ski the Curvaceous Couloir, but several of us went over to the steeper southeast face to check it out. J guinea-pigged the face and made it safely to the bottom. Russell went next and after Natalie and I saw him safe with J about 1,000 below, I went and Kona followed. It definitely felt steep for me maybe partially because I was nervous for Kona as she kept sliding some and then arresting herself. I was nervous for her as I didn’t want her to get in an uncontrolled slide over a rock band. She did very well, though, and Natalie came down behind us making great turns on what felt like a 45 degree upper face.

Me & Kona making our way out onto the face

Me & Kona making our way out onto the face. Photo by Natalie

Me & Kona on the upper face

Me & Kona on the upper face. Photo by Natalie

Kona on the upper face with the 11,800' frozen lake below. J & Russell can be seen way down on the right as well

Kona on the upper face with the 11,800′ frozen lake below. J & Russell can be seen way down on the right as well

Natalie

Natalie

Natalie in good form with Mt. Audobahn behind

Natalie in good form with Mt. Audobahn behind

Me lower down with Kona a bit behind me

Me lower down with Kona a bit behind me. Photo by Natalie

The lower face afforded much more fun turns for me

The lower face afforded much more fun turns for me

Derek, Maude, Joel, & Mikey all skied the Curvaceous Couloir, which I am sure was super fun. I sort wished I had skied that line instead of the southeast face, but c’est la vie.

Joel took this pic of Derek & Maude skiing the Curvaceous Couloir

Joel took this pic of Derek & Maude skiing the Curvaceous Couloir

We all regrouped at the 11,800′ lake and continued the long, inefficient descent all the way back to Brainard Lake with likely 20 transitions between skiing, shouldering the skis, skis on packs, and skis and boots on our packs in exchange for just trail shoes.

One last look for Mikey of Mt. Toll

One last look for Mikey of Mt. Toll

Back to Brainard Lake around maybe 1:30pm, the bikers left us walkers in the dust, but after only maybe walking 1/3 of the paved road down to the winter closure, Mikey came to pick me, Kona, Derek, Maude, & J up in his pickup. That was a time savior for sure as we needed to get to Jesse’s summer solstice party! A quick bite to eat in Boulder, J, Kona, & I met Kristine, Sawyer, Rainier, Megan, & Raina at Jesse’s house in Denver. Again, Jesse outdid himself and it was all outstanding as usual. Amazing he has done this for 16 years. He really has transitioned the party with the times. 16 years ago it was basically a big frat party at their “Brady Bunch” type house in Lakewood with 150 single and young early 20 somethings. Now, its much more low-key and family-oriented with a bouncy castle for kids, games, the street is blocked off, etc. But, Jesse still does the festival of meats, a whole pig, beverages, etc as he has always done. That has not changed. Rainier has been to 13 of the summer solstice parties. I have been to 12, I believe. Rainie has 1 up on me because we climbed Denali in June 2007 and were just getting off the mountain. But, Rainie sure didn’t miss the party! J flew home immediately after Denali while Kristine & I stayed in Anchorage to make the party. That is dedication.

Anyway, I highly doubt I will ski something else this spring. Just not enough now down low to make it worthwhile (for me) to haul skis that far. Plus, its full-on summer now and time for summer activities. Thanks to Kona, Derek, Maude, Mikey, J, Joel, Natalie, & Russell for a fun and adventurous final spring ski in the Indian Peaks.

Skiing Horseshoe Mountain’s Boudoir Couloir

The centennial Horseshoe Mountain is the 72nd highest peak in Colorado at 13,898′. Its northeast facing amphitheater resembled a large horseshoe and thus the name! Its a striking mountain that I’ve passed by a few times to climb nearby 14er Mt. Sherman. I knew of a fun couloir in the northeast facing amphitheater called the Boudoir Couloir that I would love to climb and ski someday. With a maximum angle of 38 degrees and maybe 1,200′ vertical, this couloir looked to be super fun and enjoyable.

HorseshoweMountain's amphitheater with the obvious Boudoir couloir at left

Horseshoe Mountain’s amphitheater with the obvious Boudoir Couloir at left

Our friend Chelsey graciously agreed to come over at 6:15am on a Saturday morning to Sawyer and Rainie sit for us. Chelsey is the best! And, its a plus that Sawyer and Rainie love Chelsey. Kristine, Kona, & I left around 6:30am and arrived at the Leavick townsite up Fourmile Creek Road around 8am. We drove a bit more to about 11,600′ and parked our new (new for us) 2008 4-door Tahoe. We had no idea that there was to be a marathon endurance run up this dirt road to the Horseshoe Mountain/Peerless Mountain saddle and back to Fairplay this day. It was cool to see and cheer for the runners on our way back to the car around noon time. We left the car around 8:30am with skis and boots on our backs and hiking in our trail shoes up into Horseshoe Gulch via old mining roads and across beautiful tundra. The day was already getting very warm. When we descended a bit to a small half-frozen lake and hit snow line and transitioned to skins and skis in the basin below the amphitheater, it was really hot. There was no breeze at all. Fortunately, as we made progress to the couloir proper, a breeze picked up a bit and cooled us off.

Kristine skinning up to the base of the Boudoir Couloir with Horseshoe Gulch behind

Kristine skinning up to the base of the Boudoir Couloir with Horseshoe Gulch behind

We started skinning up the steeper apron of the Boudoir, but the snow was so rotten and not very deep at all with exposed scree and rock that we decided it would be much more efficient to put the skis on our back and boot up a faint bootpack. We had crampons with us but didn’t break them out due to the soft bootable snow.

Kristine booting up the lower Boudoir Couloir

Kristine booting up the lower Boudoir Couloir

Kona taking a break this hot day

Kona taking a break this hot day

There are two narrower chokes where the angle steepens to the rated 38 degrees towards the upper part of the couloir, but this was some fun climbing. I was glad to see there was plenty of snow to ski through these choke points.

Kristine through the first choke point

Kristine through the first choke point

Kristine above the 2nd narrow choke point

Kristine above the 2nd narrow choke point

Kristine topping out of the Boudoir Couloir around 13,800'

Kristine topping out of the Boudoir Couloir around 13,800′

We took a break at an old mining shack and then skinned the remaining 100′ to the summit of Horseshoe Mountain.

A mining shack with a view

A mining shack with a view

Horseshoe Mountain summit (13,898')

Horseshoe Mountain summit (13,898′)

It was indeed warm out and probably a little late to be skiing the Boudoir (10:45am), but nevertheless we felt it to be safe – just maybe a tad too sloppy. We skied down the summit ridge and dropped into the Boudoir.

Kristine & Kona in the upper Boudoir

Kristine & Kona in the upper Boudoir

Kristine pondering the choke

Kristine pondering the choke

And through!

And through!

I thought the middle portion of the couloir afforded the best turns. Still firm enough for really fun and slushy corn turns. And, the bottom of the couloir? Well, let’s just say it left a lot to be desired with the unsupportive snow and rocks. Nevertheless, it was a fun ski and we skied all the way down to the small lake and again switched back to trail shoes and put of skis and boots on our backs. Kona got some much needed ice cold lake water here. We cheered some of the endurance runners coming down from the Horseshoe Mountain/Peerless Mountain on our hike back to the car. It was fun to see the racers. Back at the car around 12:30-12:45pm, we rolled back to Edwards after grabbing some pizza at Whole Foods in Frisco and were glad to see Rainie, Sawyer, and Chelsey outside playing. Considering Kristine and I both love to do these kinds of trips, its always special and means a lot to us when we can still get out together and do what we love. Obviously, doing these alpine starts, peak bagging, ski-mountaineering together is much tougher with a baby and a 13-1/2 year old golden retriever than say just going to the gym or out for a run during the middle of the day together when a babysitter usually can come over, but when the stars align and a friend like Chelsey is willing to come over pre-dawn, man its just awesomely special.

One last look at Horseshoe Mountain and its Boudoir Couloir on the left side of the amphitheater from Highway 9 outside Fairplay

One last look at Horseshoe Mountain and its Boudoir Couloir on the left side of the amphitheater from Highway 9 outside Fairplay

Skiing Deming Mtn

There is a classic Gore Range ski descent dubbed the “Deming Drop” on the 12,902′ Deming Mountain’s north face. I have alway had this on my tick list and recruited Derek and Mikey to join me to attempt this ski two Saturdays ago on June 4. And, come to think of it, I had actually never summitted Deming so that was task #1. Then, we would evaluate the couloir and see here the day took us. And, as usual, we had our K9 companions Kona and Derek’s dog Maude. Though, in retrospect, at the end of the day, we realized its not a line for dogs as its pretty darn steep and is just a bit too serious of a line to feel comfortable taking dogs down it.

Early morning light from the Meadow Creek trail

Early morning light from the Meadow Creek trail

Derek & Maude slept at the Meadow Creek TH outside of Frisco, Mikey came from Denver that early morning, and Kona & I left my house at 3:15am arriving at the TH around 4am. We were hiking up the dry steep trail by 4:18am in trail shoes and skis and ski boots on our backs. We finally reached snow line around 10,500′ after maybe 2 miles and got the load off our backs by switching to ski boots and skinning. I had heard it took other friends about 4-5 hours to reach Deming’s summit and thus the shortly after 4am start. Fortunately, we were able to stay on top of the semi-frozen snow as it was still very early. We crested into the meadows and got our first glance of the east face of Deming.

Deming Mountain. We ascended up the moderate east slopes on its right flank

Deming Mountain. We ascended up the moderate east slopes on its right flank

We continued skinning up the broad drainage and ascended the east slopes of Deming. Short steeper skinning pitches  broke up the longer mellower slopes.

The sun crests and it really heats up

The sun crests and it really heats up

Derek & Maude

Derek & Maude

Derek, Maude, & Mikey ascending the east face with Buffalo Mtn behind

Derek, Maude, & Mikey ascending the east face with Buffalo Mtn behind

The upper east face of Deming

The upper east face of Deming

Gorgeous view of Red Diamond Ridge. J and I traversed this ridge last summer

Gorgeous view of Red Diamond Ridge. J and I traversed this ridge last summer

Deming Mountain's USGS summit marker

Deming Mountain’s USGS summit marker

Kona and I reached the summit just before 8am, dropped my skis, and went over to check out the Deming Drop. It took us 3 hrs and 45 minutes to reach the summit and actually we all expected the ascent to take us longer. The couloir was steep, especially the first 50-75′ or so. My buddies Ben Conners & Brian Miller estimated this top pitch at around 50 degrees in their book Climbing & Skiing Colorado’s Mountains: 50 Select Ski Descents. This top pitch was in the sun as it faced east and was warming up just nicely. However, most of the couloir was still in the shade at the point of where it mellowed to 40-45 degrees below the steepest pitch to the bottom.

Looking down the Deming Drop

Looking down the Deming Drop

I figured a good hour’s wait would get the entire couloir in the sun and make it nice and soft and much safer than it would be in the shade and hard and icy. Kona and I went back to the summit and welcomed Derek and Maude and then Mikey maybe 5 minutes later. We snacked and took pics and enjoyed a rare windless and warm Gore summit.

A beautiful summit

A beautiful summit

Derek & Maude on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902')

Derek & Maude on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902′)

Me & Kona on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902')

Me & Kona on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902′)

And all of us on Deming's summit

And all of us on Deming’s summit

Looking over at West Deming. Joel, Kristine, Kona, & I skied this peak 's really fun and mellow southwest face last spring

Looking over at West Deming. Joel, Kristine, Kona, & I skied this peak ‘s really fun and mellow southwest face last spring

9am rolled around and we hiked over the summit ridge tundra to the top of the couloir. Much to my surprise the deeply inset north-facing couloir was still in the shade pretty much the same as it had been. The steepest upper pitch was really baking in the sun. I was definitely a bit disappointed and knew better than to ski a 40+ degree couloir which has not been warmed by the sun. We continued to wait until 9:45am and the sun was slowly creeping down the steep rock walls of the couloir, but hadn’t hit the bottom 1,200′ of the couloir yet. Mikey had a deadline of 3pm back in Denver and the longer we waited the more Derek and I admitted it was a bit more of  serious couloir than we thought especially with dogs in tow. But, gosh, I wanted to ski it so bad, but likely would have needed to wait another hour or two. By the time we would have hiked back up to Deming’s northeast ridge and skied down the entire approach would be so very slushy making travel very slow and Kona and Maude would have an epic time through the deep wet snow. Derek and I were thinking about just waiting, but ultimately the dog factor sealed it for us and we all went back to the summit and skied the super fun east face of Deming. The Deming Drop would have to wait for next year!

Derek & Maude

Derek & Maude

Me skiing Deming. Photo by MIke

Me skiing Deming. Photo by Mike

Derek opening up some wide GS turns on the upper east face

Derek opening up some wide GS turns on the upper east face

Derek with Eccles Pass beyond

Derek with Eccles Pass beyond

Mikey with Peak 1 and Peak 2 in the distance

Mikey with Peak 1 and Peak 2 in the distance

Kona finishing up the east face

Kona finishing up the east face

We then put our skins back on and headed up to Eccles pass for some more views and a few more turns.

Reaching Eccles Pass (11,900') with Deming's east face behind

Reaching Eccles Pass (11,900′) with Deming’s east face behind

The snow got really sloppy down in the Meadow Creek basin and the dogs were struggling to stay afloat. Not to mention it was pretty hot as well. Nevertheless, we reached snow line, traded skis and boots for trail shoes, and made it back to the TH at around 1pm. We were bummed not to ski the Deming Drop, but glad we made the right call. Spring skiing is ll about timing. Next time we will get a later start knowing the couloir gets sun late. And, oh yeah, leave the dogs at home :)

Sawyer’s 1st Successful Camp!

After two unsuccessful camping attempts with a much younger Sawyer in 2015, we were finally successful this past Memorial Day Weekend and let’s just say Sawyer passed with flying colors! As parents, Kristine & I were very pleased. And, we did it in one of our favorite car camping/climbing areas: Escalante Canyon, Colorado. One of these unsuccessful camping attempts was in fact in Escalante Canyon over a year ago. Sawyer’s sleep was disrupted by a heard of cattle “mooing” a few feet from our tent at 10:30pm, which forced us to abandon the trip and drive back to Edwards arriving home around 2am. Live & learn, I guess :) We packed up last Saturday morning and made the 3 hour drive to Escalante in our new 2008 4-door Chevy Tahoe, which we recently bought from my parents. Its nice for a change to have a reliable truck that can fit all of us comfortably plus not having to worry if the headlights will go out :) Our friends Keith & Sarah with their daughter Melodie (a month younger than Sawyer) and dog Molly were already down there as were friends Lauren & Steve (with their dog Scout) and our good buddy Mikey. After walking around with Sawyer in the backpack trying to get her to nap while Kristine and Keith set up our mega tent and pack-n-play, we returned having had no nap because of Sawyer’s new surroundings, sights, & sounds. Around 4pm, Lauren, Steve, Mikey, Rainier, Kona, Scout, & myself all went to the Interiors Wall and climbed 5 or so routes I was pretty familiar with including the “cave” routes called Interiors (5.9-) and The Shaft (5.10a). Keith came up to check out the cave as well. Arriving back at camp around 7pm, we all hung out around the campfire, ate dinner, and had a nice evening.

Me & Sawyer back at camp

Me & Sawyer back at camp

The Chalks

The Chalks

Sawyer

Sawyer

She looks like a camping county gal in her jeans and dinosaur sweatshirt

She looks like a camping county gal in her jeans and dinosaur sweatshirt

Our tent in an amazing setting

Our tent in an amazing setting

Sawyer & Mikey

Sawyer & Mikey

Kristine & Sawyer

Kristine & Sawyer

Sawyer stayed up late! I don’t think she went to bed until around 9:30pm. Definitely the latest she has gone to bed. She didn’t even wake up when Kristine, the dogs, and I came into the tent around 11-11:30pm. Gosh, she slept well. Must be that cool and crisp desert air. I slept well, too. I always tend to sleep better in the desert than just about anywhere. We woke up around 8am and Sawyer didn’t stir until 8:30am. Kristine & I looked at each other and we both noticed that “ecstatic” expression in each other’s faces. Maybe we need to do more camping!

Gorgeous Escalante Canyon from our campsite

Gorgeous Escalante Canyon from our campsite

Morning, Sawyer! She has much nicer Patagonia long underwear than I do!

Morning, Sawyer! She has much nicer Patagonia long underwear than I do!

Sawyer & Melodie

Sawyer & Melodie

The little gals and Rainier

The little gals and Rainier

We hung around and had breakfast and took the dogs down to Escalante Creek to swim while Kristine drove out to Highway 50 to get cell service and work on getting her condo under contract. When she got back, I had packed up the Tahoe and we were ready to roll whenever we were to be done climbing. Kristine was so wonderful to hang with Sawyer and the dogs by the creek while I took Lauren, Steve, Scout, & Mikey up to quite possibly my most favorite crack I’ve ever climbed: Willy’s Hand Jive (5.10+). Maybe that doesn’t say a whole lot, but I sure do love it. Keith came up with us as well to check out our crack addiction :)

Me on Willy's

Me on Willy’s

Jam, jam, and jam

Jam, jam, and jam

Placing gear before the crux pod

Placing gear before the crux pod

Negotiating the pod

Negotiating the pod

And....success!

And….success!

Mikey did a lap on Willy’s and then we went over to  setup an adjacent route called Rusty’s Cave (5.9+). Lauren & Steve took a good stab at Willy’s and hopefully learned a few trick of the trade with regard to this thing called “crack climbing”. Its definitely very technique-driven and takes awhile to hone in on the various maneuvers that work or don’t work. We left the rope up on Rusty’s cave for Lauren & Steve as I needed to head out because Sawyer’s nap time was fast approaching. Mikey and I rolled back to the car by 2pm and we joined up with Kristine, Sawyer, & the dogs at the small picnic table in the shade. We met two nice women as well at the picnic table. One had a 14 week old son in the baby bjorn. We chatted for awhile as they were both originally from Austria. The woman with the baby lived in Ridgway and her friend was visiting from Austria to keep her company while her husband was guiding in Alaska. Turns out the woman with the baby’s name was Ava House, wife of Steve House, one of the most accomplished, respected, and skilled alpinists out there. Pretty cool. I had forgotten Steve House lived in Ridgway. Sawyer promptly passed out as soon as we started the 11 mile drive on the dirt road to Highway 50. She was exhausted, but a good exhausted. We arrived back in Edwards around 5pm very happy with how things went for Sawyer’s 1st successful camping trip.

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