Gold Dust’s North Couloir Ski

Despite being literally less than 10 miles away as the crow flies south of our home in Lake Creek, the 13er Gold Dust Peak (13,365′) is still fairly remote and reclusive and takes some effort to get back there especially when snow is on the ground. I first summitted Gold Dust back in late November 2009 with several good pals and Rainie and Kona. It was a fun day of snowshoeing and cold temps and another good reminder of the time I so cherished with Rainie & Kona in the mountains.

Gold Dust Peak summit with my furry gals back in late November 2009

The 2nd time I summitted Gold Dust was a warm August day in 2018 with Natalie Moran and we went on to traverse to “Pika” Peak (13,126′) for a fun half day of scrambling and trail running back to the trailhead to get back home to get Kona and head to work (Kristine & Sawyer had gone back to Maine for the week).

Me on Gold Dust’s summit in August 2018 looking north to New York Mountain with New York Lake below

Natalie on top of “Pika” Peak with Gold Dust Peak and the traverse behind

I knew if I wanted to grace its summit for a 3rd time it had to be to ski its awesome-looking north couloir down to New York Lake. This couloir is not easily seen. In fact, you really can’t see it well from many vantage points down in the lower elevations of the Vail Valley and Lake Creek. Actually, the Eagle County Landfill yields a great look at it 🙂 I knew I wanted to climb Gold Dust from the standard Yeoman Park Trailhead and up its southwest face, but the real question came on how to exit from the New York Lake area once down the couloir. We could always reclimb the couloir, but that didn’t sound appealing. I thought of skiing all the way out to the Baryeta Cabins (West Lake Creek) Road and then out the 4 miles to West Lake Creek Trailhead, but that was a LONG out and probably would involve a lot of bushwhacking and route-finding between New York Lake and the Baryeta Cabins Road. In corresponding with my good local pal, Ben Conners, we devised a scheme to regain a saddle to the west and ski out the Nolan Creek Drainage to Forest Service Road 418 at the town of Fulford. Below is the map denoting the route I thought would work and we really stayed pretty true to this route the entire day.

My proposed loop to ski Gold Dust’s north couloir

This adventure is yet another spring 2020 COVID trip I am just now writing up. Trying to catch up on writing up some of my favorite adventures. We gathered a good crew including me, Ben, J, Dylan, & Brett and met at the Yeoman Park Trailhead maybe around 4-5 am in early May 2020. We kept skis and boots on our backs for quite a while and many miles up the Brush Creek drainage to Lake Charles. We were mostly able to stay on top of the spring snow in our trail runners which was nice and made for decent time. We lost the trail when the snow started getting deep so just kept navigating east towards Lake Charles. It was getting warmer after a few hours and we eventually switched to ski boots and skinning instead of postholing in the slushy, deep snow. We eventually veered northeast into the Negro Basin drainage and kept going until tree line and popped out in front of Gold Dust’s south face.

Brett and Gold Dust dead ahead

Booting up the steeper south face to gain the gentle southwest face. Fools Peak’s north ridge behind

Once we hit the mellow southwest face, it was just a slog to the summit.

Chatting and enjoying the mellow climb to the summit. The snow was still pretty firm even on the south facing slopes, so we were indeed in no hurry. Photo by Ben

Gold Dust Peak summit (13,365′)

What a beautiful day – though still chilly at 13,000′. Looking north to New York Lake, New York Mountain (left), & Finnegans Peak (right)

We waited for awhile on the summit and scoped out the traverse east over to the sub-summit from which the north couloir drops away. It didn’t look trivial. And the snow was warming up fast on the traverse so we all decided to at least get over to the sub-summit. I chose to put my skis on my back and traverse by foot. Brett followed my lead. The other boys did a hairy (at least to me and Brett) ski/side-step across. Unlike many of my friends, I am more comfortable on my feet than on skis 🙂

Dylan on the traverse and the heavily corniced ridge hanging over the north face

Brett making a few moves on the traverse

Me coming up to the sub-summit. Photo by Ben

Brett & Dylan on the sub-summit

We scrambled down a bit to the north where the couloir started and found a great looking little cave where we strapped on our skis. The snow still looked pretty darn firm, which did not instill much confidence for me and the tele turn, but J launched forward first and skied it well as always.

J getting ready to drop

J dropping. He confirmed the snow was indeed “firm” and had yet to soften up. Photo by Ben

We all went one at a time and yes it was firm. Ugh. Dylan exclaimed that his “ears hurt” from the noise of the skis chattering on the hardpacked snow of the couloir.

Dylan making the skiing look better than it was. Photo by Ben

Nonetheless, we all made it down lower in the couloir. I think Ben got the best upper couloir turns as he traversed under the north face more which appeared to have better snow:

Ben taking a sit mid-couloir

We then skied the lower couloir and the apron. The snow got softer and softer the lower we got and by the time we were out of the couloir you could open it up a bit and enjoy the nice corn snow.

J and the big north face above

J getting to the corn

Dylan smiling with the goods

And me enjoying my tele turn with the north couloir behind. Photo by Ben

Skiing down to the bench above New York Lake

We regrouped just above New York Lake, drank some water, and donned our skins again and began the skin up to the small saddle we saw just south of Point 12,525′.

Skinning out with the north couloir in full profile behind. Photo by Ben

Heading out with Point 12,525′ behind

We were thinking about booting up Point 12,525′ and skiing its west face down into the Nolan Creek drainage. However, once we got a view of the west face, there was very little snow so we dispatched of that idea. We booted up the final steep gully to the small pass where we were treated with wonderful views.

Gold Dust and its north couloir from the small pass. Photo by Ben

J looking down into the Nolan Creek drainage where we skied out towards FS 418 and the town of Fulford

The lengthy ski out the Nolan Creek drainage was really fun and smooth. That is, until we got to the tight forests much lower down. We passed by the frozen Nolan Lake and Craig Peak and eventually found the Newcomer Spring trail just before running into FS 418. It was hot and a bit slow with the slush but we eventually made it out to Yeoman Park Trailhead and the cars around 4pm. After enjoying a beer sitting around the cars reminiscing on the day, we all took off back home. All in all, it was a phenomenal day and I’m super happy our loop worked out pretty well. Obviously, I wish the couloir had softened up more, but in all honestly it probably didn’t warm up until 4pm the way the sun hits it at that time of year. Beggers can’t be choosers!

Snow Peak’s Southeast Face Ski

Wow, its been forever since I posted something. Its been a COVID world, but I sure hope we are close to righting the ship. I wanted to share another fun spring ski-mountaineering day I enjoyed with good pals Ben Conners & Brian Miller last May 2019. The southeast face of 13er Snow Peak in the Gores was on the docket. Though I had been up Snow numerous times, I had never skied it – none of us had. It looked like a great face full of snow with many lines to be had all the way down to Gore Lake. Meeting maybe around 7am, we made the usual pilgrimage up Gore Creek and then turning due north up the “skier’s route”
towards Deluge Lake. We were thinking to just skin all the way to just east of Deluge Lake and then booting up to Snow Pass to take the normal route to Snow’s summit up the north ridge. However, we were skinning along and just decided to take one of the steeper west-facing couloir which topped out directly on Snow Peak’s spicier south ridge.

Skinning up into beautiful Deluge Lake basin with Grand Traverse Peak at far right

The couloir we ascended

We donned our crampons and began the boot up the couloir. Pretty fun climbing ensued until Ben and I topped out on the south ridge and looked ahead to what we needed to climb. Brian topped out soon after.

Me in the couloir with Grand Traverse Peak behind. Pic by Ben

I remembered climbing Snow’s south ridge in fall with Kristine, J, Brett, Rainie, & Kona and I do remember some class 3/4 scrambling. So, now it was snow covered which I think made it even cooler.

Ben & Brian climbing the south ridge


Such a beautiful day to be on a ridge. Pic by Ben

One final steep section to the summit of Snow

Not sure when we topped out, but maybe it was around 11am. It was a beautiful summit. No real wind to speak of.

Snow Peak summit with Mt. Valhalla in the background

Looking northwest to Valhalla (right) & Grand Traverse (left)

While we could have hung out there for a long time, we did wait an hour or so for the corn to ripen up some. Ben & Brian decided to take the steepest line that dropped right from the summit while I skied down the east ridge some and dropped into this shallower gully that I had previously looked at.

Ben snapped this pic of me in my gully with Hail Peak and the Silverthorne massif behind

Brian off the top into the steep gully! Pic by Ben

Brian slashing lower down on the face. Pic by Ben

We regrouped at the bottom of the face after our respective lines and skied the awesomely corny apron all the way down to Gore Lake.

Corn o’clock down lower! Pic by Ben

Snow’s southeast face. Lots of great lines in here!

We then regrouped and skied the treed terrain below Gore Lake into the small drainage and then south down to the Recen brothers gravesite at Gore Creek. This was followed by the 5 mile ski out Gore Creek, which at times is frustrating, but it was such a beautiful and warm day that it was pleasant. Another fine Gore outing with two of my favorite Gore aficionados. I didn’t want to forget to write up this day even if it is 7 months later! Gets me very excited for spring 2021 ski mountaineering adventures.

Vahalla’s Heavenly Couloir

Having spent a decent amount of time climbing in this little basin I call Asgard Basin on the east side of Mt. Vahalla in the Gores, there was one other goal in this small, secluded basin I had and that was skiing Vahalla’s arcing Heavenly Couloir. The name “Heavenly Couloir” was coined by Stan Wagon and has the shape of a crescent moon extending from Vahalla’s summit east, then north, and finally a bit west/northwest down into Asgard Basin below Asgard Ridge, Loki, & Thor Towers. It doesn’t present a ton of vertical skiing (maybe 1,600′ to Asgard Basin below Asgard Lake), but its proximity to Asgard Basin and remoteness have always been intriguing to me. Its definitely more of an adventure ski as its some effort to make it happen.

During this whole COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a tough to find time for just Kristine and I together. After many ski mountaineering days this year without the other, we were able to top off the spring ski mountaineering season together all thanks to our friend Sarah Sullivan for coming over at 5:30am to do an all day babysit. It really does mean the world to us to do big days together like we did so often for so many years pre-kids. The day before we had driven over to Summit County with the kids and Kona and had left a car at the North Rock Creek TH so we would be able to do an up and over traverse of the Gores from west to east skiing the Heavenly Couloir along the way. We biked on the bike path and attempted to give Sawyer a go at climbing the 1st pitch of the Royal Flush with me belaying her from above. It did not work out so well. It was too daunting for her having me 90′ above her and not below her. Anyway, it was a learning experience. Multi-pitch routes will just have to be something we try way down the road.

Sawyer rolling along the Frisco bike path with a fresh coating of snow on the trees above

Thatcher & Kristine

Up at 4:30am, kids still asleep, we put all the gear in the car, and left Sarah around 5:45am. I think we actually started hiking around 6:30am from the Gore Creek/Deluge Lake TH in our trail runners with skis and boots on our packs. My plan was to take the Gore Creek Trail east to Deluge Creek and take the “winter route” up to Deluge Lake, which I know well by now. It was a lot of miles and effort bushwhacking with heavy packs, but we eventually made it to snow line. We continued to walk up the frozen snow in our trail runners and switched to skinning around maybe 10,600′.

Can you spot Kristine bushwhacking thru the thicket?

We made good progress up past the frozen Deluge Lake to the base of the southwest face of Mt. Vahalla where we traded the skins/skis for crampons.

Skinning towards Vahalla dead ahead!

Kristine and the Deluge Lake basin

Cramponing up! This face is always fun to climb

A little video of Kristine climbing:

Me making my way to the high saddle between Mt. Vahalla & Palomino Point

We took a bit of a snack and water break at the saddle and recharged for the final 400′ to the top up Vahalla’s northwest ridge. This ridge ended up being a pretty fun scramble and I believe we topped out around 11am or shortly after for maybe 4.5-5 hours up.

Kristine and Palomino Point next door to the northwest

Kristine making her way

Final feet to the summit with the southeast face of Grand Traverse Peak in the background – a great ski tour in its own right!

It was great to get back to the summit of Vahalla. It had been several years for me. Probably since J and I climbed Asgard Ridge to Palomino Point and then up to Vahalla from the east in August of 2014. It was fairly chilly so we only stayed on top maybe 20 minutes.

Together on Mt. Vahalla’s summit(13,180′)

We clicked into our skis and set off skiing a few turns down the east face to a point where we crossed over the east ridge onto the northeast face and into the Heavenly Couloir.

Looking down the Heavenly

Ready to drop!

Looking down into Asgard Basin to the east and Asgard Ridge on the left

Looking down on Loki Tower from the Heavenly

Kristine up high on Vahalla

We had gotten a decent amount of rain the day before which equated to at least a few inches of fresh snow up on the high peaks including Vahalla. I knew it wasn’t enough to make it dangerous, but we still needed to manage the fresh snow slough, which would inevitably cave off on top of the firm base underneath. Kristine took a video of me skiing the upper couloir – it was pretty good snow:

I skied down into the couloir proper and stopped above a rock outcrop and caught Kristine skiing down behind me. I think I probably caved off half of the mountain’s top layer of snow over the steep cliff on its east face, but at least the slough didn’t get in my way. Kristine skied it very well and kept on going down from where I was.

Kristine up high

Beautiful scenery

Asgard Ridge in the foreground with Keller Mountain in the background

Kristine in the lower part of the Heavenly with the slough we caused to her left

And, then another video of me skiing the lower Heavenly:

Kristine skiing the apron

Happy to be together skiing a new peak for us

It was a super fun and enjoyable ski, but short-lived, yes. Now, we had to start preparing our exit strategy. One option had always been to reclimb the couloir and downclimb some of our climbing route and ski out Deluge Creek to Gore Creek. But, to me, it always means more to do a traverse, an up and over, to the other side of the range. I knew the approach into Asgard Basin from the east and North Rock Creek TH pretty well from several climbing trips in there. So, that was my plan – to exit via the lower flanks of Asgard Ridge and into the woods to the Gore Range Trail. I knew it would be a lot of bushwhacking, but I didn’t realize how tough it would be with skis on our backs. It made bushwhacking in there with climbing packs a walk in the park. C’est la vie.

A few of the towers along Asgard Ridge I remember well

Thor Tower’s north face

We had to regain a few hundred feet to reach the nice mellow southern flank of lower Asgard Ridge where we continued to just walk with skis on our backs.

Kristine with Vahalla’s steep east face cliff and the Heavenly arcing on the left

A really cool, steep line we spied off of Hail Peak’s northeast face

We were able to ski where Asgard Ridge dove down into the trees for awhile which was nice. However, eventually the snow got so patchy in the thick trees and brush, we decided to switch to trail runners, put the skis and boots on our packs, and just stay on the dry portion of the ridge on its southern side.

One final look of Vahalla’s east face and our tracks down the Heavenly

Fun turns down the lower, southern flank of Asgard Ridge before the real suffering started in the trees

It was some grunting, some routefinding, and some cursing, but we eventually made it to the Gore Creek Trail, turned north, and headed to the North Rock Creel TH and our subaru finally arriving around 4:30pm for a 9 hour day. We raced home to relieve Sarah by 5:30pm and see Sawyer, Thatcher, & Kona. What a terrific day with my wife semi-celebrating our 10th Everest summit anniversary, which was the day before, May 25. We feel so lucky and are so grateful we can still do these kinds of days together. Hopefully, this will be the case for many more years and decades to come including adventures and climbs with Sawyer & Thatcher, of course!

Our up route in red and down route in blue from west to east up and over Mt. Vahalla

Capitol’s Northwest Buttress via Early Times

After last September’s successful climb of the original line up Capitol’s Northwest Buttress with Chris Baldwin, I really wanted to go back and try the harder 5.10 variation called Early Times established by Jeff Jackson & company circa 2010, which ascends climber’s right of the original route’s 5.9 pitch in four awesome pitches up the initial steep headwall. I had promised J I would go with him as he wanted to visit Capitol’s summit again after not having been on the mountain in 15+ years. After weeks of trying to get a perfect fall weather window and shifting schedules within our busy lives, we targeted the same date that Chris and I had climbed the route the previous year, September 14. Now having 2 kids each, the less time away the better and easier on our spouses. So, I picked J up at 2am on a Saturday morning and made the drive over to Capitol with very heavy eyelids. After some coffee, oatmeal, & bananas on the drive to pep us up (well, J doesn’t drink coffee for whatever crazy reason and never has), we left the trailhead around 4:30am making our way up the familiar Capitol Ditch Trail under headlamps. We cruised the 6 miles to Capitol Lake in maybe 2 hours and 20 minutes and got our pre-dawn glimpses of old Capitol Peak’s north face and northwest buttress.

Capitol’s northwest buttress is the right skyline

I was a bit disappointed to see the fresh dusting of snow on the north face and what seemed to go close to the northwest ridge itself as well as the shallow 4th class bowl below Unicorn Spire. However, we were still confident we could mostly avoid the snow. We refilled a bit of water in Capitol Lake and made our way up to Capitol Pass at around 12,000′. It was then a grunt up the final few hundred feet to the top of the talus cone to the base of the initial headwall and our intended route.

The route is sure intimidating from the talus cone here, but excitement was high!

We caught up with another party of two who were attempting the original line to the left of Early Times. I gave them what beta I had on the initial 5.9 pitch and route-finding up the route itself above the headwall. It was pretty chilly no doubt and the wind was whipping a bit. Climbing hard 5.10 in these types of conditions plus being in the shade at over 12,000′ is a far cry from cragging in warm sunshine at 7,000′. We racked up and I led on up the 1st 5.10c crux pitch maybe around 8-8:30am. The cold was tough to deal with, but got better the higher I went. There were several distinct cruxes in my opinion and some tricky moves protected by only a nut in some places, but I made it to the anchors after 100′ of climbing or so and set up to belay J.

The initial crux headwall. The 1st pitch of Early Times goes up the center dihedral

Me on the initial, easier climbing of pitch 1

J in the thick of it on pitch 1

I don’t know how J climbing this pitch wearing gloves

J getting close to the belay approaching the upper crux of pitch 1

The other team of two were heading up the 5.9 pitch on the original route and actually were trying to dislodge the #0.5 purple cam Chris and I had lost exactly a year ago on that route. We could communicate with them and had a good laugh at the fact that it was mine.

The follower on the original 5.9 pitch to our east

A more scenic shot of the climber on the original 5.9 pitch as seen from the top of the 1st pitch on Early Times

We swapped the rack and I belayed J as he led off up the mentally taxing 5.9+ pitch 2. The climbing initially surmounted a small roof protected by a bolt and then angled up and right following discontinuous cracks.

J on lead up pitch 2

The crux came near the anchors at the top of pitch 2 where J was making the moves first and then placing gear below him. A scary way of leading. He really persevered and did so well and made the onsight.

I’m down there somewhere following and cleaning pitch 2 as seen from the pitch 2 belay

Pitch 3 was 5.8ish and after an airy, no-pro traverse west to a small crack, I led on up this short pitch to a decent belay.

Me leading up pitch 3

J back down at the pitch 2 belay

We then did the final swap of the rack and J took us home up the 5.8 pitch 4 to the anchors at the top of the headwall. The moves at the top of pitch 4, or at least the moves we did, were certainly not 5.8 in the least. Maybe we were off route, but they were much harder than 5.8, that is for sure!

J doing the initial traverse east on pitch 4 before heading straight up past an old piton

As J brought me up to him, the other team of two was finishing up their 2nd 5.8 chimney pitch down below us to climber’s left. Another team of two had started up the original 5.9 route as well below them. We stowed the rope and began the really fun class 4 climbing up and right avoid the snow in the easiest terrain which Chris Baldwin and I climbed in last time.

J on the class 4 climbing up and around Unicorn Spire to its west

After climbing the scariest, loosest, & blockiest pitch (in my opinion) below the actual arete from the west, we crested out on the arete itself slightly above Unicorn Spire. We roped up and began the 500′ or so of awesome simul-climbing. The climbing on the arete really ranges anywhere between 5.0 and 5.7.

Me leading up some 5.7 terrain on the arete

J climbing the awesomely exposed arete with Unicorn Spire now seen far below

What made the upper part of the arete a little more sketchy than last time was the fresh snow. The snow was a little more covered and deeper towards the top of the arete bypassing the small tower to its left (east) when the angle eased up a bit. I was essentially tip-toeing on the dry exposed rock, brushing off small ledges, etc on 5.4 terrain. J did not enjoy this part one bit. His feet being blocks of ice didn’t help either. Nonetheless, we topped out at the small saddle above the heart-shaped snowfield and took a sigh of relief. What was next was the 5.7 upper headwall pitch, which I told J he should do since I led it last time.

J managing (or not managing) the rope as we walked the 4th class terrain saddle above the heart-shaped snowfield

J leading over the mini-roof on the 5.7 upper headwall pitch

Me on this same pitch enjoying the sun

At the belay, I told J we were really close – just a few hundred feet below the summit – and that we should just simul-climb from here. I led on away, but belayed J up to me briefly to protect a few exposed moves and not risk them in a simul-climb.

J almost to me on the upper headwall. The heart-shaped snowfield and 4th class saddle can be seen below

I then told J to take us home to the top and he led the final few hundred feet of mid 5th class terrain in the sun to the summit ridge.

Me on the summit ridge with Mt. Sopris in the distance

Capitol Peak summit (14,130′)

What a gorgeous summit it was. We arrived maybe around 2:30pm though I cannot really remember. The weather couldn’t be better – my favorite weather of the year. Warm sunshine with a tint of cool, crisp fall air. We probably spent 30 minutes on top texting Kristine & Megan that we were just fine and may be late getting home.

Looking southeast from Capitol’s summit to Pyramid, the Bells, and the wildfire near Salida

Me on Capitol’s summit – my favorite in Colorado, by far. I think this was my 6th visit to its summit

J and I descended the standard northeast ridge pretty quickly and had fun across the knife-edge ridge one more time. J had not crossed that ridge in over 15 years and really didn’t remember it at all.

J walking the ridge with K2 beyond

Me just taking a sit and enjoying the view from the knife-edge ridge

I always forget how long the descent from K2 back to the Capitol-Daly saddle can be and just hard on the body, especially a torn meniscus (me), with all of the boulder-hopping. No matter though as J and I just took our time and chatted about past climbs, future climbs, and life in general. It was a beautiful sight seeing the sun actually beginning to shine on the lower crux headwall of Capitol’s northwest buttress at around 4:30-5pm. Maybe that’s the time to actually climb the lower headwall!

Cap’s northwest ridge in profile with the sun beginning to shine on the lower crux headwall

The lower crux headwall in the sun as seen from the Capitol Lake area all zoomed-in

Happy to be on the way out and have an easy 6 mile stroll back to the car, but the weather was so unbelievable I sort of wanted to stay out all night!

It was a nice hike out and we just made it back to the car around 8pm having just turned on our phone lights making for about a 15.5 hour RT day. Definitely longer than Chris and I took exactly one year before, but more technical pitches take time! It was a phenomenal day. One for the books. A big burger at the Glenwood Springs brewery was just what the doctor ordered and we finally arrived home about 11pm. I’m so happy my meniscus did well on a long day like this. I guess we’ll just continue to see how it goes and if it gives me further problems. Maybe it will just lie dormant for awhile. The older I get the more physical ailments will come about, but as long as I can continue to enjoy days like this, I’m a happy man.

Reunion on Thunderbolt

Since our good pals Baba and Lizzie has moved to Truckee, California, we have been trying to reunite and climb some California 14ers like the good ole days back in Colorado when they lived in Vail. Finally, after not being able to get a Whitney permit, J and I booked a flight to Reno to see Baba and head down south to the Bishop area and try our hand a California’s hardest 14er, Thunderbolt Peak. In the end, we thought this plan was worlds better anyway than the highly popular Mt. Whitney further south, the tallest peak in the contiguous US. However, our sights are still set on one of Whitney’s classic rock climbs as well as neighboring Mt. Russell for next summer 😀 Our other long lost Colorado pal Mikey Johnson, Kristine and my ex-roommate, and good pal and climbing buddy of all of us, came up from his surf life in San Francisco and joined us as our 4th. A reunion tour indeed this would be and we were all excited. Personally, for J and myself, to get into a new range altogether was amazing in itself. Especially, such a dramatic, jagged range of wonderful alpine rock.

Baba picked J and I up in Reno on a Thursday night and we spent the night at the Aldrich Residence in Truckee catching up with Lizzie and the kids. I even got to cuddle with their golden retriever, Khumbu, who we all like to think Rainie and Kona taught how to climb mountains back in Colorado. One thing drastically different than Colorado in planning for peaks is the whole summer permit system. Mikey had driven to Bishop the night before to be in line at the ranger station first thing in the morning for a camping permit for the North Fork of Big Pine, the more standard way of approaching Thunderbolt and the Palisades. However, somehow those permits were taken but ingenious Mikey somehow got a permit for going in from South Lake and out the North Fork of Big Pine figuring maybe we could play dumb (if caught by a ranger) going into Sam Mack Lake or perhaps say we were on our way out. Anyway, Baba and J and I took the minivan south on 395 to meet Mikey in Bishop. After grabbing street tacos in 100 degree heat and a few more supplies we all drove up about 4,000’ into the hills to Glacier Lodge at about 8,000’, a 20 minute drive west of Big Pine. One thing about the Eastern Sierras is the big vertical relief above the valley of around 10,000’ considering Bishop is around 4,000’ and the tops of these peaks are over 14,000’. Pretty impressive. We get to the Glacier Lodge parking area and begin to pack our backpacks and sort gear. We were hesitant about going in this way but I figured these California guys can handle it and do the talking in case we confronted a ranger. As luck would have it, a ranger had just finished hiking out and asked to see our permit. Mikey did the talking and explained to her we were setting up the shuttle, which clearly it didn’t look like 😀 Whatever. She took the bait and then we asked another hiker who had just finished about possibly seeing rangers and he responded he thought there was one camped way up there. That solidified it – we were going to go in from South Lake, which started at a higher elevation of 9,800’ but was a lengthier and more complicated approach. We thought about daytripping it as well but we had brought all our backpacking gear and were all looking forward to getting remote in the backcountry for 48 hours. So we drove back out to the valley and headed back to Bishop and up to South Lake and the trailhead.

The four of us about to set out from South Lake on Friday afternoon

The mosquitoes were pretty bad, but we tried to move fairly quickly and the higher we got the less present they were. We passed several beautiful lakes including Long Lake and a phenomenal peak called Mt. Goode, a lowly low 13er, with an imposing yet inspiring north face.

Long Lake and the north face of Mt. Goode

Our evening approach was so relaxed and mellow

Baba heading up into the upper basin

Camp with Mt. Agassiz (13,893’) behind

High 13er Mt. Agassiz

We reached Bishop Lake at around 11,200’ after 2-3 hrs and maybe 5 miles and found a nice place to set up camp. This was the last decent place to camp and lake for that matter before the 12,000’ Bishop Pass. We settled in and had a great time reliving old memories and catching up like we never skipped a beat. Up at 4:30am, I started up the jetboil for coffee and oatmeal. The sky was amazing and the weather even better. You don’t get this kind of high pressure systems in Colorado often except maybe in September whereas here in the Eastern Sierra apparently it’s pretty typical for the summer months.We began the hike up to the 12,000′ Bishop Pass and then left the trail veering due south across snow and rock along the west side of Mt. Agassiz, Mt. Winchell, and eventually Thunderbolt Peak. We made our way to Thunderbolt Pass and took a break.

Traversing under the west faces of Mt. Agassiz, Mt. Winchell, and Thunderbolt Peak ahead to the left. Thunderbolt Pass is center of picture

Here we are at Thunderbolt Pass staring down the Southwest Chute 1 route

The Eastern Sierras remind me of the Wind River Range

A cool little ridge out to the west from Thunderbolt Pass

The Southwest Chute 1 begins in the obvious snow apron at left in the picture

We donned our crampons and began the climb up the couloir until we reached a chockstone, but I had read that there was a 3rd class ledge to the right to bypass this obstruction in the steep gully.

Getting on snow

Gaining the 3rd class ledge when the snow ran out at the chockstone

It was then a good 1,200’+ climb up a steep, loose, and dry chute to a small col between the north & south summits of Thunderbolt Peak.

Southwest Chute 1

Fun, easy scrambling, but a bit loose with no snow

Our original intent was to climb the North Couloir up Thunderbolt from Sam Mack Lake, but this Southwest Chute 1 route seemed more remote and more of an adventure than just kicking steps straight up the North Couloir. I think we were all sort of glad the North Fork of Big Pine approach didn’t work out. Once at the little notch, J and I climbed up class 4 (would have been low 5th class in Colorado) slabs for about 60′ to a little ledge and set up a belay for Baba and Mikey. I then set up a belay and brought big Baba up to me. Keep in mind that J and I rock climb all the time…well, as much as two dads ever can. Mikey and Baba rarely ever rock climb, especially Baba, so this whole deal of rock climbing at 14,000′ was a bit of a new deal for them. However, they did fantastic and brought a great sense of accomplishment (I think).

Me belaying Baba up the class 4 pitch in a spectacular setting

me at the belay with the north summit of Thunderbolt behind me dubbed the “Lightning Rod”. And, it was at this point that I saw some webbing at the top. I knew if we didn’t traverse onto Starlight Peak, I’d want to climb this tower 🙂

It was then a short scramble to a nice viewing ledge of the final 5.9 summit block. It was then another 40′ of scrambling up to the summit block. This summit block is the part of the climb I was really looking forward to. Its about a 15-20′ boulder problem of 5.9 moves with no protection. There are, however, anchor bolts at the top to top rope the summit pitch and lower off of. I led off up the block with my 30m/8mm rope tied to my harness and made the super fun moves topping out at the anchors.

Baba took this pic of J belaying (well, not really) me climbing the summit block

Summit of Thunderbolt!

J then wanted a crack at the lead, so he took off. Got several shots of him making the moves.

Getting on the block

Getting the feet set

Right hand on a crimp and left hand up over the lip

Right foot up on small ledge

Mantle over

J on Thunderbolt’s summit!

Now, it was Mikey’s turn. He top roped it clean (as in not hanging on the rope).

Mikey on top of California’s hardest 14er

Last but not least, it was Baba’s turn. He later told us he was concerned all that morning about whether or not he could make the moves to summit Thunderbolt. He stepped up to the plate and gave it 110% of everything he had. After a few attempts and some beta from J and myself, he made it!

Baba on the block

Reaching over the lip, bringing the right foot up

Doing the mantle

Baba on top of Thunderbolt!

J and I then played around a bit and tried a really hard slab, crimp route on the block’s north face.

Me climbing the north side of the summit block

J & I on the summit of Thunderbolt Peak (14,003′)

Once everyone was down back at the large ledge, J and I scrambled south to the edge of the ridge looking down at the downclimb to the Thunderbolt-Starlight saddle. “Not today” we thought. We would need to move fast and unroped and feared we would be belaying a lot and time just didn’t allow. Next time, we may come in from Sam Mack Lake and climb that Underhill Couloir to the Thunderbolt-Starlight saddle and start south from there climbing Starlight, North Palisade, and Polemonium all the way to Mt. Sill at the end of the Palisade Traverse. This was absolutely fine because I wanted him to go with me up Thunderbolt’s north summit since I saw rappel webbing at the top. The primary objective was Thunderbolt, anyway, and everyone was satisfied with that.

Scoping lines and ridges

We backtracked and rappelled the class 4 slab pitch above the notch between Thunderbolt’s two summits.

Baba rappelling

Upon all of us reaching the notch and pulling the ropes, I racked up and J belayed me from the notch on a traversing pitch to the south to get on the Lightning Rod. Mikey and Baba sat back and enjoyed the show.

Looking back at the notch on the traversing pitch

Its hard to know what this north summit is rated (maybe 5.8?), but it was fun nonetheless. A small intermediary pitch was necessary to get in place for the last pitch. I placed two pieces on the last pitch and then ran it out maybe 40′ on much easier 5th class terrain to the webbing.

J on the final of our short little 3 pitches up the Lightning Rod

J with Baba & Mikey seen way below

We then belayed each other up the final 5′ to the actual tippy-top with supreme exposure.

J on the summit of the Lightning Rod with Starlight in the background to the right

Me on top of the Lightning Rod

Looking down Thunderbolt’s North Couloir to Sam Mack Lake and beyond

After a rappel snafu and me reverse rapelling up to get the knot unstuck (I could not be belayed by J due to length of rope issues and where the knot was located), we retrieved both my 30m/8mm ropes and made our way down the chute.

Baba glissading – been a LONG time for him

Regrouping on Thunderbolt Pass, we made our way across the lengthy traverse on the west side of three peaks (upper Dusy Basin) back to Bishop Pass. Crossing deep sun-cupped snow and rocky terrain with a torn meniscus (me) is not the fastest. I had town this guy maybe 5 weeks prior with too much mountain running, especially the downhill. Baba heard a pop in his leg too on this high traverse and was a bit gimpy as well on this terrain. I believe we arrived back at camp around 5pm maybe and all went for a super frigid dip in the icy Bishop Lake. Sure did make the knee feel better, though.

Looking north from Bishop Pass area down to our camp at Bishop Lake and beyond

What great pals…so glad we were all able to make this happen together

Mt. Goode’s mellow backside (south side)

After a great evening and a long night’s sleep, I got up Sunday morning thinking I may wanna go summit Mt. Goode. However, I couldn’t get any takers. Baba wanted too, but his knee was not feeling the best. After lots of coffee and breakfast, we leisurely packed up and made our way back to South Lake and the trailhead by early afternoon. We all just had to take a dip in the frigid South lake and man was it awesome. I tried to walk these logs out into the lake but failed miserably when they started spinning in the water. I made one whole log though. Ninja Warrior-esque 🙂

Goode’s north face and north pillar up close

This thing looks perfect – got to come back for that route

Log walking on South Lake

We drove into Bishop blasting 80s like we used to do a decade or more ago in Colorado and ate enough pizza to feed a small army (primarily, J and Baba). After discussions of what to do next, we decided to go rock climbing near Mammoth on the way home. Granted I had never cragged and led 5.10/5.11 with 8mm ropes, but now I can say it does work. Not ideal, but it does work. Mikey had a full-fledged climbing rope in his car, so we put up a few routes and made pals with the locals. They were great folks and wanted us to stay for some concert, but we had to head out as J and I flew out at 7am the next morning.

Baba climbs crack?

We said our goodbyes to Mikey who got a room in Mammoth before heading back to San Francisco the next day. It was so great seeing Mikey again. As much as I wanted to cuddle and sleep with Khumbu again, J convinced me we should stay in Reno at a casino and that he would pay for it. J really does LOVE casinos. there is no denying it. Obviously, this plan was better for Baba too as he could just drop us off at the airport in the morning. After many drinks and some Mexican food and margs, we turned in around 2am.

Just a phenomenal weekend with all these fellas. Its just what we needed to kickstart an annual California 14er trip. I cannot wait until next summer to head back out.