Skiing Mt. Sopris & The Fly

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

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

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

Mikey above Thomas Lakes

Mikey above Thomas Lakes

The Thomas Lakes Bowl. Windy up on the ridge!

The Thomas Lakes Bowl. Windy up on the ridge!

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

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

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

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

Mikey boarding the fun Thomas Lakes Bowl

Mikey boarding the fun Thomas Lakes Bowl

All smiles back at the trailhead

All smiles back at the trailhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan & J skinning

Dylan & J skinning

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

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

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

Skinning with Outpost Peak behind to the right

Skinning with Outpost Peak behind to the right

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

Bear track

Bear track

Following the bear tracks to the east ridge

Following the bear tracks to the east ridge

Dylan making his way up to the east ridge

Dylan making his way up to the east ridge

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

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

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

J and the Fly's east ridge

J and the Fly’s east ridge

Dylan making an airy maneuver

Dylan making an airy maneuver

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

J on the final push

J on the final push

Dylan loving his first time in the Gore

Dylan loving his first time in the Gore

Looking over at the southeast face we would ski

Looking over at the southeast face we would ski

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

Looking down the line from the summit

Looking down the line from the summit

Dylan with the Spider behind

Dylan with the Spider behind

The Fly summit (12,550')

The Fly summit (12,550′)

J taking off down the southeast face

J taking off down the southeast face

J way down there

J way down there

Dylan carving some nice turns

Dylan carving some nice turns

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

Hanging out back at Booth Lake

Hanging out back at Booth Lake

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

The Deming Drop

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

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

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

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

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

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

J topping out on Deming

J topping out on Deming

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

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

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

Deming Mountain summit (12,902')

Deming Mountain summit (12,902′)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derek skiing the Drop

Derek skiing the Drop

Close-up of Derek working for those turns

Close-up of Derek working for those turns

J skiing the Deming Drop

J skiing the Deming Drop

J about a third of the way down

J about a third of the way down

Derek

Derek

Looking up at Derek through the couloir's choke

Looking up at Derek through the couloir’s choke

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

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

J finishing out the bottom section of the Drop

J finishing out the bottom section of the Drop

Derek making the last little bit looking pretty powdery

Derek making the last little bit looking pretty powdery

Derek making the snow conditions look smooth

Derek making the snow conditions look smooth

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

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

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

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

J climbing up the slope

J climbing up the slope

Derek making his way up the booter with West Deming behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardman Hut Trip 2017

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

J and Brett on the approach to the Markley Hut

J and Brett on the approach to the Markley Hut

Taco dinner at Markley. Photo by Derek

Taco dinner at Markley. Photo by Derek

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

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

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

The next morning before departing to the Goodwin Greene Hut

The next morning before departing to the Goodwin Greene Hut

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

Joel and crew skinning up the Express Creek drainage

Joel and crew skinning up the Express Creek drainage

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

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

Mikey leading the pack

Mikey leading the pack

The crew at the 12,000' pass

The crew at the 12,000′ pass

Long ways to Aspen via Richmond Ridge

Long ways to Aspen via Richmond Ridge

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

The boys heading across the alpine plateau

The boys heading across the alpine plateau

Jesse, Mikey outside the Goodwin Green hut

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

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

J and Chuck skinning up Gold Hill

J and Chuck skinning up Gold Hill

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

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

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

Chuck skiing the Gold Hill north couloir

Chuck skiing the Gold Hill north couloir

Chuck a bit lower down

Chuck a bit lower down

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

Nico dropping the knee. Photo by Derek

Nico dropping the knee. Photo by Derek

Mr. Gratz testing the snow. Photo by Derek

Mr. Gratz testing the snow. Photo by Derek

Brett slashing as usual. Photo by Derek

Brett slashing as usual. Photo by Derek

Derek stacking turns. Photo by Joel

Derek stacking turns. Photo by Joel

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

Skinning up to the ridge with Gold Hill behind

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

J skling the fun trees back down to Difficult Creek

J skling the fun trees back down to Difficult Creek

Matt & Chuck

Matt & Chuck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14er Capitol Peak in the distance

14er Capitol Peak in the distance

Aspen Highlands and Highland Bowl

Highland Ridge and Highland Bowl on the far right

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

Chuck skiing the northeast face of Gold Hill

Chuck skiing the northeast face of Gold Hill

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

The last supper at Goodwin Greene

The last supper at Goodwin Greene

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to Hardman 2018!

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

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.

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 :)