Red Diamond Ridge

After a little hiatus from Gore ridge traversing (primarily due to two little lovely ladies entering our respective worlds in the past 9 months), J and I finally got back out together and completed another solid ridge run in our favorite range. Honestly, I think my last Gore ridge run was before Sawyer was born on Rockinghorse Ridge with Brian Miller and Dillon Sarnelli, so I was excited to get back out, especially with J. We make a good tandem on these gnarlier ridge runs. We both love the route-finding, the exposed scrambling and alpine climbing feel, and the unknown – well, as unknown as you can realistically get this day and age. I had been corresponding with Stan Wagon on other Gore outings and adventures when I remembered he said he had traversed Red Diamond Ridge on the Red Peak massif and recalled it as one of his favorites and has done it three times since he and Bill Briggs’ likely first traverse of the ridge in 1994. I inquired as to the best approach for Red Diamond from Stan and the other beta I received was that he did use a rope. It was good enough for J and myself. The full Red Diamond Ridge stretches from the East East Red summit (12,885′) west over fairly mellow terrain to East Red (12,945′) and then west again through the “meat and potatoes” of the traverse to the main Red Peak summit (13,189′). I’ve seen Red Diamond up close a few times from Buffalo Mountain’s summit as well as from the north on Rain Peak’s east ridge and indeed it looked to be challenging. Even though the gnarliest section of Red Diamond between East Red and Red Peak is not even three-quarters of a mile, it is chock-full of spiciness.

Red Diamond Ridge on the Red Peak massif as seen from Rain Peak's east ridge in early May 2014

Red Diamond Ridge on the Red Peak massif as seen from Rain Peak’s east ridge in early May 2014. The far left peak is East East Red with What Big Eyes You Have Couloir dropping below its north face and the far right peak is the main Red Peak summit. East Red is the highest bump in the ridge’s center. Click to enlarge

After a not so great few hours of sleep the night before (like very little to none at all), I had trouble getting out of bed at 4:15am. However, I was determined to make this happen as J and I had not gotten out much together in the last while. And, with babies in our lives now, you have to make the most of what you got when you can. I felt sort of haggered most of the day from a lack of sleep, but still thoroughly enjoyed our outing. I mean what’s not to be excited about when adventuring in the Gores, right? I was completely gutted when I realized driving over Vail Pass that I left one of my most precious items in my car when we transferred to J’s car at 5:30am – my big Canon SLR camera. I was kicking myself as its always with me on my adventures. However heavy it is, its always worth carrying for the high resolution pics. Unfortunately on this day, we would be without it and rely on iphone pictures as our documentation. C’est la vie. I still have yet to be a phone picture convert – maybe I never will. I hope not.

We left the standard Buffalo Mountain Trailhead (Ryan Gulch Trailhead) around 6:30am and made good time up to the four-way intersection, stayed straight on the trail, and started descending down another mile to South Willow Creek and the intersection with the Gore Range Trail.  Per Stan’s recommendations, we left any signs of trail at this intersection (until Red Buffalo Pass 6.5 hours later) and continued due north through dense woods and began the off-trail bushwhacking. It actually wasn’t bad bushwhacking at all. Just a nice walk up through the woods albeit steep at that. We pretty much ascended Eat Red’s east ridge proper the entire time at times walking atop the steep southern cliffs above the South Willow Creek drainage all the while staring down Buffalo Mountain’s Silver Couloir.

J on East Red's east ridge looking down into the South Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain's north shoulder to the left and Deming Mountain in the distance

J on East Red’s east ridge looking down into the South Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain’s north shoulder to the left and Deming Mountain in the distance

We eventually broke through treeline and were able to view our options. We could have just remained on East Red’s east ridge over a few more bumps and another 1,500′, but we decided to descend a hundred vertical feet or so and cross the Middle Willow Creek basin to gain East East Red’s summit as a first objective. This was a beautiful basin with wildflowers galore. It cannot see much traffic.

Me crossing Middle Willow Creek drainage with East East Red's summit far above at top center. Photo by J

Me crossing Middle Willow Creek drainage with East East Red’s summit far above at top center. Photo by J

Looking down into the Middle Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain to the left from East East Red's south slopes

Looking down into the Middle Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain to the left from East East Red’s south slopes

We then made a 1,500′ climb up steep grass to east East Red’s summit topping out about 2 hours and 30 minutes after we began around 9am. I felt like we were making pretty good time. I wanted to be home my mid-afternoon so Kristine could go on a bike ride earlier than later in the day, but it turned out it needed to be an evening ride due to my lateness and ability to never seem to realize that things, especially traverses, take longer than they look like they will on a map :) Very sorry about that, babe.

View of the Silverthorne massif as seen from the East East Red summit (12,885')

View of the Silverthorne massif (center), Snow Peak (left), and Rain Peak (right) as seen from the East East Red summit (12,885′)

J down to the left and Red Diamond Ridge stretched out in front of us from East East Red's summit

J down to the left and Red Diamond Ridge stretched out in front of us from East East Red’s summit

Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous morning and we made our way over the mellow bumps for approximately 3/4 of a mile to East Red’s summit arriving around 9:30am.

Easy cruising between East East Red and East Red. Photo by J

Easy cruising between East East Red and East Red. Photo by J

There were log poles sticking up from every little point along this section of ridge

There were log poles sticking up from every little point along this section of ridge. Photo by J

East Red summit (12,945')

East Red summit (12,945′)

Looking at the "meat and potatoes" of Red Diamond Ridge from East Red's summit over to Red Peak

Looking at the “meat and potatoes” of Red Diamond Ridge from East Red’s summit over to Red Peak

We didn’t stay long on East Red’s summit as we knew we had the bulk of the day ahead of us. Some minor class 3 scrambling led us down and up to the top of a large tower and a cliff edge. This was not downclimable at all. We could have rappelled and saw a few large solid blocks in which to anchor too, but we didn’t feel the need. We backtracked a hundred feet and found a class 4 downclimb to the south to reach the tower’s western base.

Initial scrambling. Photo by J

Initial scrambling. Photo by J

J at the top of the tower with Red Diamond Ridge laid out in front of us

J at the top of the tower with Red Diamond Ridge laid out in front of us

J on the class 4 downclimb on the tower's south side

J on the class 4 downclimb on the tower’s south side

J making a few airy moves to get back on the ridge proper from the ledge on the tower's south side

J making a few airy moves to get back on the ridge proper from the ledge on the tower’s south side

Looking east at the tower from below and our downclimb

Looking east at the tower from below and our downclimb shown in red. Click to enlarge

A relatively walkable section ensued until we came to some knife blade looking spires which were mighty enticing to try and climb, but for time’s sake and the fact that they looked extremely unstable as well as not gaining us anything (vertical-wise) because we needed to drop down anyway, we skirted just below them to the ridge’s north side on some class 3/4 rock.

J staring down these spires

J staring down these spires

Our approximate route just to the north of the spires

Our approximate route just to the north of the spires as seen from across the low point saddle of the traverse. Click to enlarge

It was then maybe two hundred feet of class 3/4 downclimbing to the low point saddle between East Red and Red Peak.

Me starting the descent down to the low point saddle of the traverse

Me starting the descent down to the low point saddle of the traverse. Photo by J

J almost to the low point of the traverse with the class 3/4 headwall that we downclimbed behind

J almost to the low point of the traverse with the class 3/4 headwall that we downclimbed behind

Me at the shady saddle. Photo by J

Me at the shady saddle. Photo by J

We then discussed our options as the direct route west of the low point looked to be extremely hard trad climbing and we only had a light alpine rack. Nevertheless, we spotted a steep gully feature about 10′ down to the saddle’s north that provided a weakness – the only weakness it seemed. To avoid a large boulder in the gully, which completely blocked upward progress, we strayed to the right and climbing a hundred feet of exposed 4th class/low 5th up a dihedral back to the ridge proper.

Me climbing the dihedral. Photo by J

Me climbing the dihedral. Photo by J

Looking down the dihedral and J on a ledge

Looking down the dihedral and J on a ledge

After a restful grass ledge, we glanced up at our next objective. A large 5th class looking tower with serious exposure on all sides. We searched for a viable route and I found a good looking 50′ dihedral on the tower’s northeast side in the shade. We scrambled to a very small ledge and roped up. The dihedral was probably no more than 5.4-5.5, but the exposure was very serious – thus the rope and rack. J and I were asking ourselves if we were getting a bit “conservative” in our old age, but then realized that we weren’t at all. I don’t believe we would have ever thought of free soling that especially not knowing if the holds were secure. I mean we’re family men now! A few good placements and we were up on the tower’s summit.

Me leading the 5.4-5.5 dihedral halfway through the traverse

Me leading the 5.4-5.5 dihedral halfway through the traverse. Photo by J

What came next looked to be simple enough until we realized the downward sloping nature of the ramp with very little holds on rock laden with lichen and big time exposure and drop offs on either side. Yes, we wanted the rope again. J belayed me from the tower’s summit and I placed a cam halfway down, set up an anchor where suitable at the end of the ramp, and brought J down to me.

J coming down the sloping ramp. There were some very awkward moves in here including a butt scoot with horrible holds

J coming down the sloping ramp. There were some very awkward moves in here including a butt scoot with horrible holds

We then downclimbed some class 4 rock to a small notch and made our way up to some nice grass ledges once again. What followed was a westward traverse over class 3/4 rock on the ridge’s north side as going to the ridge proper would not have gained us anything (vertical-wise). Plus, again, the ridge proper looked completely unstable with teetering blocks. This westward traverse on the ridge’s north side eventually led us down to another small saddle.

J coming out of the notch with the end of the downward sloping ramp behind

J coming out of the notch with the end of the downward sloping ramp behind him

The class 3/4 westward traverse

The class 3/4 westward traverse

J making headway

J making headway

The large headwall in front of us had a leftward-trending steep grass ramp that we took hoping it would lead somewhere. The ramp was downclimbale if we got completely stuck, but easier ground above it gave way to some exposed but doable low 5th class climbing on the ridge’s north side to the summit of this headwall tower.

The large headwall with the leftward-trending grass ramp we climbed

The large headwall with the leftward-trending grass ramp we climbed

Me on the ramp. Photo by J

Me on the ramp. Photo by J

J and the exposed north side of this large headwall tower

J and the exposed north side of this large headwall tower

From this point on the ridge proper, delightful class 3/4 scrambling continued pretty much the rest of the way up to the summit ridge plateau of Red Peak. There were many lines to choose from, but in general we stayed on the ridge crest or slightly on the north side.

J on the class 3/4 scrambling that ensued

J on the class 3/4 scrambling that ensued

Sort of a "Where's Waldo?" picture. Can you spot me? Photo by J

Sort of a “Where’s Waldo?” picture. Can you spot me? Photo by J

We were both saying to each other at this point that we felt pretty beat and just plain exhausted. We both believed we were a bit more tense (mentally) on this traverse than others. Obviously, being tense leads to expending extra energy. I chock it up to being just out of scrambling practice. It had been awhile. Nevertheless, we topped out on Red Peak’s summit ridge and traversed a few more ups and down before cresting the main Red Peak summit.

J and Red Diamond Ridge behind

J and Red Diamond Ridge behind

Red Peak summit (13,189') comes into view

Red Peak summit (13,189′) comes into view

A bit more scrambling

A bit more scrambling

Red Peak summit (13,189'). Our second summit of this peak. The first time was when we traversed the Zodiac Spires 2 years prior

Red Peak summit (13,189′) with the complete Red Diamond Ridge behind us. Our second summit of this peak. The first time was when we traversed the Zodiac Spires 2 years prior

It was a fine summit. However, it was a bit breezy and thus chilly. We had our sandwiches and some Gatorade and water and then continued west to descend the south ridge down to the beautiful Red Buffalo Pass where we took a much needed rest.

Descending Red Peak's south ridge to Red Buffalo Pass (left) with Deming Mountain and West Deming in the distance

Descending Red Peak’s south ridge to Red Buffalo Pass (left) with Deming Mountain (center) and West Deming (right) in the distance

It was such a gorgeous day and there wasn’t hardly a chance of any storms on the horizon. At this point, I got a text from good buddy Dillon Sarnelli who was on the Tenmile Traverse just on the other side of Buffalo Mountain and I70. What a day to do that traverse as well. Congrats to Dillon and Zambo. I had much more energy now and we cruised out the Gore Range Trail into the South Willow Creek drainage.

Red Diamond Ridge as seen from the meadows  east of Red Buffalo Pass

Red Diamond Ridge as seen from the meadows east of Red Buffalo Pass

It was a beautiful deproach until we made the right turn onto the South Willow Creek trail split (where we had left the confines of any trail 6.5 hours earlier) and started the few hundred feet of vertical gain back up to the four-way intersection. We just decided to book it and broke a good sweat and cruised back to J’s Volvo arriving at around 3:30pm for a 9 hour day.

I have no idea on the roudtrip mileage and vertical. Its probably somewhere in the 12-13 mile day with maybe 4,500′-5,000′ of vertical gain with all of the ups and downs, but who knows. I really don’t keep track all that much anymore. Its not what’s important. What’s important is that J and I got out again together in our favorite range and tackled a ridge we had long wanted to do and did it safely. We still felt like we were the only ones out there all day despite the few parties we encountered closer down in the valley on the Gore Range Trail and Buffalo Mountain Trail. Its special to us that we can still feel that sense of solitude. It may not always be the case. The mountains are indeed getting crowded. But, hopefully the Gore will continue to inspire and challenge those that seek adventure, relative solitude, lofty summits, and gnarly ridges. Many thanks to Stan for pioneering this ridge 2 decades ago. We both agreed it is one of the finest of Gore ridge traverses.

Our Red Peak massif loop shown in red

Our Red Peak massif loop via Red Diamond Ridge shown in red

Skiing Finnegans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me heading up the dry trail. Photo by Joel

Me heading up the dry trail. Photo by Joel

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

Joel  in some deep post-holes

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

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

Finally, we're on skis!

Finally, we’re on skis!

Joel

Joel

Tamra

Tamra

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

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

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

J and the Gore Range

J and the Gore Range

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

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

Tamra and our favorite Gore Peaks towering in the distance

Tamra and our favorite Gore Peaks towering in the distance

The mellow north ridge/face of Finnegans

The mellow north ridge/face of Finnegans

Cornices on the north ridge

Cornices on the north ridge

The crew skinning along

The crew skinning along

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

J doing some steep skinning

J doing some steep skinning

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

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

Tamra booting up the final pitch

Tamra booting up the final pitch

Joel topping out on Finnegans

Joel topping out on Finnegans

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

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

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

Tamra & Gus

Tamra & Gus

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

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

Summit panorama by Joel

Summit panorama by Joel

Gus

Gus

Looking down the north ridge/face of Finnegans

Looking down the north ridge/face of Finnegans

As compared to this photo in October of 2011

As compared to this photo in October of 2011

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

Joel getting ready to depart the summit

Joel getting ready to depart the summit

Joel skiing the steep headwall pitch

Joel skiing the steep headwall pitch

Panorama by Joel

Panorama of me below the summit headwall pitch by Joel

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

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

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

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

Joel

Joel

Joel again

Joel again

And, Joel again

And, Joel again

J & myself. Photo by Joel

J & myself. Photo by Joel

Tamra

Tamra

Tamra again

Tamra again

J & Gus

J & Gus

Jowl skiing the north ridge/face

Joel skiing the north ridge/face

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

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

A plug for Mr. Gratz

A plug for Mr. Gratz. Photo by Joel

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

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

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

J, Gus, Tamra, & the abandoned cabin

J, Gus, Tamra, & the abandoned cabin

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

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

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

On the road again. Photo by Joel

On the road again. Photo by Joel

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

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

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

Photo by Joel

Photo by Joel

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

West Deming

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

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

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

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

Kristine early on in the trees

Kristine early on in the trees

Kristine & Kona hanging tough over the steep, dry ground

Kristine & Kona hanging tough over the steep, dry ground

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

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

Good to be out with this guy again

Good to be out with this guy again

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

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

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

Kristine heading out to the top with the dogs

Kristine heading out to the top with the dogs

Kristine & Kona

Kristine & Kona

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

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

Joel charging ahead to the summit

Joel charging ahead to the summit

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

Kristine, Joel, & the dogs up top West Deming

Kristine, Joel, & the dogs up top West Deming

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

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

Mr. Gratz & myself

Mr. Gratz & myself

Summit view west to the Vail Valley

Summit view west to the Vail Valley

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

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

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

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

Looking east to Deming Mountain & Buffalo Mountain (left)

Looking east to Deming Mountain & Buffalo Mountain (left)

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

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

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

Kristine

Kristine

Joel

Joel

The skies were just awesome

The skies were just awesome

Joel taking us home

Joel taking us home

And, one of me

And, one of me

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

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

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

Outpost Peak

A climbing trip can sure take a 180 pretty fast due to the ever-changing weather forecast. With Kristine & Sawyer back in Minneapolis visiting her sister & family, the dogs & I were planning on heading to the desert for some crack climbing. However, a planned  trip to Indian Creek quickly turned to a local skin/ski of a nearby 12er called Outpost Peak in the Gores due to a wet forecast for the Moab area. It was all good & dandy though and good buddies Shawn Wright & Sylvan Ellefson joined me for a nice ski tour of Outpost Peak, which turns out to be a relatively accessible Gore peak from the Pitkin Lake trailhead even in winter conditions. I had circumvented and passed by Outpost Peak more than a half dozen times on several Gore outings, but had yet to crest its summit. Plus, I wanted to peer down its northeast face/bowl and scope it out for a potential spring time ski descent. A larger snow storm was to move in starting Saturday afternoon, but the morning was forecasted to be nice and sunny. After swapping Rainier for The Gus Dog with our good friends who just welcomed their baby boy into this world a week ago and running into buddy Elliot Halverson at the Pitkin Lake trailhead who I had not seen since last spring, we all set out booting up the Pitkin Lake trail at around 8:30am. Shawn & Sylvan’s good friend Zac joined us as well plus Shawn’s pup, Fitzy. About 400 vertical feet up the trail where it starts to flatten out, you leave the trail heading initially west and then northwest and bushwhack your way up Outpost’s broad south ridge through Aspen forests and shrubs. The morning was superb, and while the lower forested terrain was thin on snowpack in spots, which made for interesting skinning, above 10,000′ the snow was much more plentiful allowing for more efficient travel.

Skinning up through the lower Aspens on Outpost's broad south slopes

Skinning up through the lower Aspens on Outpost’s broad south slopes

Grand Traverse Peak

Grand Traverse Peak

Its always a treat for me to head into the Gores. I love this range. You can be all alone with your little crew on a peak in the Gores yet look over at Vail Mountain where 20,000 folks are gracing its slopes. It was a fun and mellow skin up through the forested south slopes of Outpost Peak, which eventually narrows into a well-defined ridge. At around 11,000′ the heavily forested terrain gave way to open fields and glades, which afforded us our first real views of the day.

The boys skinning in one of the large open fields along Outpost's south ridge

The boys skinning in one of the large open fields along Outpost’s south ridge

We crested over Point 11,637′ along the south ridge and then made our through more beautiful glades along the ridge towards Outpost.

Sylvan & the Solitude massif to the east

Sylvan & the Solitude massif to the east

The dogs follow suit

The dogs follow suit

Shawn offers Fitzy to Lord Gore

Shawn offers Fitzy to Lord Gore

Nice skinning along the south ridge

Nice skinning along the south ridge

Shawn & Fitzy approaching Outpost's summit pyramid

Shawn & Fitzy approaching Outpost’s summit pyramid

I was having some serious skin adhesiveness issues (or lack thereof) the entire day. My skins are at the end of their life expectancy and honestly I didn’t think I would be skinning peaks this early in the season. Nevertheless, after my duct tape failed and they just fell off for the last time 200′ below Outpost’s summit, I just left my skis & skins in the snow and booted the rest of the way.

The final few hundred feet to Outpost's summit

The final few hundred feet to Outpost’s summit

Sylvan reaching the summit of Outpost Peak

Sylvan reaching the summit of Outpost Peak

I believe we reached Outpost’s summit about 12:45pm and you could definitely feel the wind picking up, high clouds building, and a storm brewing in the distance to the west. Our bright sun and bluebird skies had given way to those pre-storm skies. Nevertheless, it was a nice summit and wonderful views. I think all of us enjoyed the perch.

Outpost Peak summit (12,362')

Outpost Peak summit (12,362′)

All of us enjoying this Gore summit - maybe except for Kona giving me the "I'm cold and let's get out of here" look :)

All of us enjoying this Gore summit – maybe except for Kona giving me the “I’m cold and let’s get out of here” look :)

Shawn & Fitzy with West Partner Peak behind

Shawn & Fitzy with the Partner Traverse behind

Sylvan doing the "Lyndon"

Sylvan doing the “Lyndon”

Peering down the northeast face of Outpost. Looks like a very steep entrance, but an awesome bowl down to the Pitkin Creek drainage below. Hopefully, this spring

Peering down the northeast face of Outpost. Looks like a very steep entrance, but an awesome bowl down to the Pitkin Creek drainage below. Hopefully, this spring

We then descended after maybe 20 minutes on top, strapped into our ski setups, and made our way down the south ridge sticking close to our skin track for the dogs’ sake so they could use it. I loved the views of Bald Mountain and its northeast facing bowl as well as Vail Mountain.

Bald Mountain & the Vail Valley

Bald Mountain & the Vail Valley

Sylvan skiing Outpost's south face

Sylvan skiing Outpost’s south face

Shawn & Sylvan

Shawn & Sylvan

Shawn in the fun open glades along Outpost's south ridge

Shawn in the fun open glades along Outpost’s south ridge

Mt. of the Holy Cross made for a scenic backdrop here for Sylvan

Mt. of the Holy Cross made for a scenic backdrop here for Sylvan

Shawn & Fitzy

Shawn & Fitzy

And, Zac

And, Zac

We eventually made it back down to the cars around 3pm for a RT time of about 6-1/2 hours. I believe the RT mileage is maybe 6-7 miles with close to 4,000′ of vertical gain. Outpost’s south ridge made a for a very nice ski tour in very safe terrain. Thanks to all the boys and dogs for making it a memorable day. Of course I missed Rainier on this outing, but post-holing in deep snow and uneven terrain for close to 4,000′ is just not for a 12 year old golden retriever. I think she understands, but probably not. I am already looking forward to going back in the spring to ski Outpost’s northeast face/bowl.

Hail Peak

Well, I guess it was a fitting morning in terms of the name of this high 12er in the Gores. It certainly hailed on Reid & myself on Hail Peak. However, hail was not what was forecasted, which was a bit of a bummer.

The night before, Kristine & I had a great car camp dinner up at one of our favorite camping spots on Red & White Mountain. Hot dogs, burgers, and corn were our dinner items cooked over an open flame campfire. It was delicious. Then, Kristine, made us some awesome s’mores for dessert. She really needs to enter a s’mores-off contest.

Me and our dinner roasting over the campfire

Me and our dinner roasting over the campfire

A tasty dinner

A tasty dinner

Now, that's a s'more!

Now, that’s a s’more!

A gorgeous sunset topping off a great evening

A gorgeous sunset topping off a great evening

One of the many great things about this campsite is we just packed up when we couldn’t see anymore and drove down the 4WD road to Wildridge and back to Edwards and were home 20 minutes later around 9 pm.

I had yet to summit this reclusive Gore peak called Hail Peak, so the next morning my buddy Reid Jennings from Denver met me around 8:30 am last Sunday morning to go out for a nice trail run up Gore Creek. The first 4.5 miles to the Recen brothers grave site is a superb trail run. Fairly mellow and flat, it only gains around 1,500′ in 4.5 miles. Reid’s knee was acting up, so we hiked it from the grave site north up the steeper trail towards Gore Lake. Our first wave of wind and hail came on this steeper trail and it was only 10am. Interesting when the forecast was for mostly sunny and 20% chance of storms. After turning north off the Gore Lake trail on an extremely faint climber’s trail and enjoying some bushwhacking through moist meadows, we reached the high basin containing Snow Lake and chose our steep ascent gully full of talus. We actually got on some nice class 3 rock to the gully’s west side to reach Hail’s southeast ridge/face.

The ascent gully/slabs to reach hail's southeast ridge/face

The ascent gully/slabs to reach Hail’s southeast ridge/face

It actually cleared up and got sunny for the remaining class 3ish boulder field scramble up the final 600′ to Hail’s 12,904′ summit, which was pleasant and pretty fun.

Reid on Hail's summit ridge with Mt. Silverthorne behind

Reid on Hail’s summit ridge with Mt. Silverthorne behind

The views were great from the summit after topping out around 11:15 am (2 hours & 45 minutes after we started).

Snow Peak & Snow Lake below from Hail's summit

Snow Peak & Snow Lake below from Hail’s summit

Grand Traverse Peak basking in what sun there was

Grand Traverse Peak basking in what sun there was

The weather over the northern Gores looked really nasty ...Asgard Ridge and its tower can be seen leading up to Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla in the foreground

The weather over the northern Gores looked really nasty …Asgard Ridge and its towers (in the darker shadows) can be seen leading up to Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla (far left) in the foreground

Reid & myself on the summit of Hail Peak (12,904'). It was nice to go super light for this peak (as in a bottle of water, a few snacks, and a rain jacket)

Reid & myself on the summit of Hail Peak (12,904′). It was nice to go super light for this peak (as in a bottle of water, a few snacks, and a rain jacket)

Weather was definitely moving in from the west and so we boogied after only maybe 10 minutes on top. We got hailed on descending Hail’s boulder-strewn southeast face and by the time we reached the creek draining from Snow Lake it was a full on hail storm. I had wanted to continue a trail run up past Snow Lake, over Snow Pass, down to Deluge Lake, and back to the Gore Creek trailhead to make a nice loop out of it, but the weather dictated our descent path. We beelined for treeline and descended the way we came in. Reid’s knee was still acting up so we just hiked fast the entire way back to the trailhead. All in all, a memorable 13 mile run/hike up Hail Peak with about 4,500′ of vertical gain. It took us about 5 1/2 hours roundtrip, so back in time to watch some football and the Broncos. I’ll have to go back to trail run that loop with Kristine at some point.

Chalk Mountain

The day after J & I climbed up Asgard Ridge to the summit of Mt. Valhalla and descended to East Vail, Kristine, Rainie, Kona, & I headed over to the Fremont Pass area between Copper Mtn and Leadville in Summit County to check out a hike up the 12,017′ Chalk Mountain.

Chalk Mountain below as seen from the summit ridge of Mt. Arkansas (13,795') on May 10, 2013

Chalk Mountain below as seen from the summit ridge of Mt. Arkansas (13,795′) on May 10, 2013

We had been wanting to scope this little mountain out solely because of its name, but it actually turned out to be a nice 4-5 mile hike roundtrip and really good for a 32 week pregnant Kristine. Rainie & Kona had a great time as well. Despite being surrounded by the lands of the notorious Climax Mine on all north, east, & west sides, the south side has a nice forest service road open to the public directly up to the summit plateau of Chalk Mountain. We parked just a few hundred yards off Highway 91 and began the nice stroll up Forest Service Road 134. We actually didn’t get going until maybe after 10am, but the weather was partly cloudy, nice, and cool. Kristine did wonderful and soon we were above treeline staring at the Jackal Hut in the distance.

Can you spot the Jackal Hut?

Can you spot the Jackal Hut?

Chalk Mountain’s summit plateau was quite large extending for probably a half mile east to west. The views south to the Sawatch, west to Mt. of the Holy Cross, north to the Gores, and east to Mt. Arkansas were pretty spectacular.

Rainie taking a stroll across the Chalk Mountain summit plateau with Mt. Arkansas towering above

Rainie taking a stroll across the Chalk Mountain summit plateau with Mt. Arkansas towering above

Rainie & Kona heading to the nondistinct summit of Chalk Mountain. I had to use the GPS to find its exact summit of 12,017'

Rainie & Kona heading to the nondistinct summit of Chalk Mountain. I had to use the GPS to find its exact summit of 12,017′

It was very enjoyable being up on the summit of Chalk Mountain with just the Chalks.

Chalk Mountain summit (12,017')

Chalk Mountain summit (12,017′)

Kristine, the dogs, & our upcoming new addition

Kristine, the dogs, & our upcoming new addition

I like this one

I like this one

Rainie & I on the summit of Chalk Mountain with Jacque Peak behind

Rainie & I on the summit of Chalk Mountain with Jacque Peak behind

We ate a sandwich, spent 30 minutes on top,and then strolled down the road back to the car getting a little rain/hail on the way down. We then headed to Silverthorne, did a few errands, and picked up J’s truck at the North Rock Creek TH, which we had left in order to climb Asgard Ridge and do our traverse over the Gores. A great day with all my ladies!

A rainbow in the clouds as seen walking down the forest service road on Chalk Mountain

A rainbow cloud as seen walking down the forest service road on Chalk Mountain