Pyramidal Traverse

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

Pyramid's north face

Pyramid’s north face

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid's NW ridge

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid’s NW ridge

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

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

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

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

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

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

The Keyhole Couloir

The Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

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

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

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

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

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

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

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

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

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

Natalie climbing the "JP Sneak"

Natalie climbing the “JP Sneak”

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

Natalie almost to Pyramid's summiut

Natalie almost to Pyramid’s summit

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018')

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018′)

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

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

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

Descending Pyramid's south ridge

Descending Pyramid’s south ridge

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

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

Natalie on the same dihedral

Natalie on the same dihedral

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

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

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

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

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

Me beginning the downclimb

Me beginning the downclimb. Photo by Natalie

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

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

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

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

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

The last bit down to the lowpoint

The last bit down to the lowpoint

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

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

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

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

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

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

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

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

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

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932')

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932′)

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

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

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

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

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

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

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

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

Almost there

Almost there

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722')

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722′)

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

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

More steep nastiness

More steep nastiness

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Light at the end of the tunnel - the apron

Light at the end of the tunnel – the apron

Natalie coming out of the gully

Natalie coming out of the gully

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

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

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final 2016 Spring Ski: Pauite Peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J towards the top of the Curvacous Couloir

J towards the top of the Curvacous Couloir

Natalie

Natalie

Mikey still in his snowshoes on 40 degree snow

Mikey still in his snowshoes on 40 degree snow

Derek & Russell with Mt. Toll behind

Derek & Russell with Mt. Toll behind

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

J on top of the summit block of Pauite

J on top of the summit block of Pauite

Mike on top of Pauite

Mike on top of Pauite

Me with Longs Peak in the far distance on the left

Me with Longs Peak in the far distance on the left

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

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

Close-up of Longs

Close-up of Longs

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

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

Me & Kona

Me & Kona

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

Me & Kona making our way out onto the face

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

Me & Kona on the upper face

Me & Kona on the upper face. Photo by Natalie

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

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

Natalie

Natalie

Natalie in good form with Mt. Audobahn behind

Natalie in good form with Mt. Audobahn behind

Me lower down with Kona a bit behind me

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

The lower face afforded much more fun turns for me

The lower face afforded much more fun turns for me

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

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

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

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

One last look for Mikey of Mt. Toll

One last look for Mikey of Mt. Toll

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

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

Skiing Horseshoe Mountain’s Boudoir Couloir

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

HorseshoweMountain's amphitheater with the obvious Boudoir couloir at left

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

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

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

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

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

Kristine booting up the lower Boudoir Couloir

Kristine booting up the lower Boudoir Couloir

Kona taking a break this hot day

Kona taking a break this hot day

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

Kristine through the first choke point

Kristine through the first choke point

Kristine above the 2nd narrow choke point

Kristine above the 2nd narrow choke point

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

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

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

A mining shack with a view

A mining shack with a view

Horseshoe Mountain summit (13,898')

Horseshoe Mountain summit (13,898′)

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

Kristine & Kona in the upper Boudoir

Kristine & Kona in the upper Boudoir

Kristine pondering the choke

Kristine pondering the choke

And through!

And through!

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

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

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

Jacque Peak with Kristine

Kristine has spring break this week and I took a little 5 hour hiatus from work so we could go spend a nice morning together up on a peak. The weather forecast this week didn’t look great all over the state, but Monday morning looked to be promising with clouds and showers coming in after 2pm. Kristine had yet to climb the prominent 13er Jacque Peak behind Copper Mountain. Copper Mountain had closed for skiing the day before and so the ski runs were empty. After leaving Rainier at home (she cannot do these climbs anymore) and dropping Sawyer off at daycare in Vail, we drove separate cars over to Copper and parked. On the snow at 9:30am, we skinned up the ski run called Roundabout under beautiful blue skies with Kona and our K9 friend for a few days, Molly. We ended up eventually skinning the steeper black diamond bump run called Colman’s Restreat up towards Union Mountain.

Kristine

Kristine

After about 2,200′ and a few miles, we topped out on the broad northeast ridge of Jacque after slightly bypassing the summit of Union Mountain. The wind picked up in a hurry, but the air temps were still reasonably warm. The wind abated here and there, but overall was pretty consistent all the way to the summit.

Molly on the ridge with the Tenmile Range behind. Left to right: Pacific Peak, Atlantic Peak, Fletcher Mountain, & Drift Peak

Molly on the ridge with the Tenmile Range behind. Left to right: Pacific Peak, Atlantic Peak, Fletcher Mountain, & Drift Peak

Happy to be up high again

Happy to be up high again

Me and the dogs on the ridge

Me and the dogs on the ridge

Jacque's northeast ridge

Jacque’s northeast ridge

Kona & Molly following the ridge

Kona & Molly following the ridge

Kristine skinning up a steeper section

Kristine skinning up a steeper section

Kristine higher up with the Gore and Tenmile Ranges behind

Kristine higher up with the Gore and Tenmile Ranges behind

Kristine summitting!

Kristine summitting!

The northeast ridge of Jacque is entirely skinnable and makes for a nice ski tour. We all arrived on Jacque’s summit a few minutes after noon and a stiff and ferocious wind greeted us. We surely didn’t dilly-dally as the dogs were pretty cold. We de-skinned, took a few pics, and were set to ski in 10 minutes.

Kristine & I on the summit of Jacque Peak (13,205')

Kristine & I on the summit of Jacque Peak (13,205′)

Kona saying "Let's get down from here. I'm freezing"

Kona saying “Let’s get down from here. I’m freezing”

While it would have been fun to ski the east face of Jacque, the winds simply wouldn’t allow it. Yes, the sun was out, but the winds were too sustained and strong all morning to let the sun do its job of heating up the snow to make it soft, safe, and fun for skiing. Oh well. We simply skied the northeast ridge back down the same way we ascended.

Kona & Kristine on the ski down

Kona & Kristine on the ski down

Kristine skating across the broad ridge back to Union Mountain with Jacque behind

Kristine skating across the broad ridge back to Union Mountain with Jacque behind

We took a good break right at treeline for some water and candy before we skied down the resort back to the cars.

Its always great being the only ones skiing in a ski resort

Its always great being the only ones skiing in a ski resort

Back at the cars just a few minutes after 1pm, Kristine, Kona, & Molly went to Silverthorne to do some shopping while I went back home to take Rainier swimming in the river and head to work before picking Sawyer up from daycare. All in all, just a wonderful Monday morning with my wife and the dogs. I wish every Monday morning could be like this one :)

Oh yeah, and Sawyer likes coloring now:IMG_0098

Mt. Arkansas’ North Ridge

Kristine & I wanted to get another peak in together before the holidays and we’d always had ole Arkansas on our minds as a fairly quick outing especially since Kristine had not summitted this mountain before. I climbed this route a few years back in some fairly deep spring snow (report here) staying to the ridge proper adding some nice class 3/4 scrambling in mountain boots. Nevertheless, I was pretty excited to go back with Kristine. Good buddy Dillon Sarnelli joined us as well and it was awesome for the three of us to spend 6 hrs together up high in the alpine on a decently sunny December day. Our friend and my co-worker Chelsey Lange was gracious enough to come over at 8:30am and babysit Sawyer and look after Rainier while we went and did our thing. Dillon did a fun recap of the day over on his site at http://basecampcolorado.com/2015/12/22/mount-arkansas/, which I am sure you will enjoy. A few of my favorite pics of the day are as follows:

mount-arkansas_23797493371_o (1)

Me battling the wind. Fortunately, the air temperature wasn’t all that cold. Photo by Dillon

Me, Kristine, Kona, & Dillon on the summit of Mt. Arkansas (13,795')

Me, Kristine, Kona, & Dillon on the summit of Mt. Arkansas (13,795′)

Looking down at the north ridge from the summit. Photo by Dillon

Looking down at the north ridge from the summit. Photo by Dillon

Happy holidays from all of us Chalks!

A Pair of Cs

Over the years, the initially intimidating Peak C in the Gore Range has become like an old friend. I seem to know it pretty well by now and thus feel comfortable on and around its flanks. Its one of those peaks many folks see from the first time from Piney Lake and let out a “whoa, is this what the Gore Range is about?” Well, in a word “yes”.

Peak C from Piney Lake. Photo by Caleb Wray in September 2011

Peak C from Piney Lake. Photo by Caleb Wray in September 2011

Peak C is special. It has steep snow climbing routes, a solid couloir for a ski descent, scrambling routes, and technical alpine routes. It has it all. Peak C really can be viewed from anywhere in Eagle County, but is especially visible from Vail Mountain with its prominent southwest couloir. The view of its technical north face and northwest ridge from Mt. Powell are always awe-inspiring. Its not easily discernible from other Gore summits to the south.

Rainier and Peak C (center of picture) from the summit of Red & White Mountain one February many years ago

Rainier and Peak C (center of picture) from the summit of Red & White Mountain one February many years ago

Peak C's north face and northwest ridge (right skyline) as seen from Mt. Powell's south slopes after completing the Eagle's Nest to Powell traverse in September 2014

Peak C’s north face and northwest ridge (right skyline) as seen from Mt. Powell’s south slopes after completing the Eagle’s Nest to Powell traverse in September 2014

My first climb up Peak C was via its southwest couloir in November of 2007 with Rainier, Ryan Aldrich, & Mikey Johnson. It was a great snow climb and had some great ridge scrambling including a class 4 headwall right out of the notch between Peak C and Peak C-Prime to start its south ridge.

Me & Rainier on the summit of Peak C on November 3, 2007 with Mt. Powell behind

Me & Rainier on the summit of Peak C on November 3, 2007 with Mt. Powell behind

Me downclimbing the class 4 headwall to the notch below where Mikey & Rainier wait

Me downclimbing the class 4 headwall to the notch below where Mikey & Rainier wait

Fast forward 2 years and Kristine, myself, J, Chris Carlsen, Rainier, & Kona climbed and skied the southwest couloir in May of 2009. Despite being sloppy heavy mashed potatoes in which Rainier set off a wet slide herself and ended up riding it down the couloir into the apron below chasing snow balls (think very slow moving) and an ominous thunderstorm forcing us to speed up our climb and ski descent, it was a great day.

J, Rainier, & Kona approaching the southwest couloir of Peak C in May 2009

J, Rainier, & Kona approaching the southwest couloir of Peak C in May 2009

J beginning the descent down the southwest couloir as a storm engulfed us

J beginning the descent down the southwest couloir as a storm engulfed us

Chris in great form dropping the knee

Chris in great form dropping the knee

Our crew back at Piney Lake

Our crew back at Piney Lake

Again, fast forward 2 more years to September 2011 and you have me, J, and Caleb Wray scrambling the Ripsaw Ridge traverse from Peak C to Peak G. This was the first time I had climbed the southwest couloir without snow and it is a bit tedious and dangerous with rockfall. However, once on the ridge proper, it was a solid day out with those boys.

J and myself climbing the class 4 headwall up Peak C's south ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

J and myself climbing the class 4 headwall up Peak C’s south ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

Me on the summit of Peak C before traversing Ripsaw Ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

Me on the summit of Peak C before traversing Ripsaw Ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

I had looked at the northwest ridge of Peak C for years wondering if there was a way up it. Then, that wonderment sort of faded away with all of the other adventures we had going on between 2007 and 2014 until my buddy Ryan Marsters and his partner Derek climbed the northwest ridge as an exciting start to their day of traversing Ripsaw Ridge. I remember reading their report and seeing the topo of the route and my interest was piqued once again.

Peak C Northwest Ridge Route courtesy of Ryan & Derek

Peak C northwest ridge route courtesy of Ryan & Derek. Click to enlarge

I thought it would be a great moderate alpine climb for Kristine & myself as it had been awhile since the two of us got out all day together. Fortunately, our friend Sabrina was willing to come over at 5am to start watching Sawyer. That’s the problem with what we like to do and having a baby. Rarely do babysitters like to come over during the wee hours of the morning. It was just so nice of her. Anyway, I had planned this for a week or two thinking the Sunday was going to be this bluebird sunny day of weather per the forecast. Well, it couldn’t have been more wrong. Let’s just say I was a bit frustrated with the weather gods. My good buddy Brian Miller calls NOAA “No Obligation to Anything Accurate”. He couldn’t be more right in that statement. I think its more frustrating for obvious reasons when you really can’t do this stuff together like in the good ole days anytime we please. And, when things don’t go according to plan, the frustration is amplified because you know we can’t just come out again the next day together because of our responsibilities at home.

A friend, John Danese, said this would make a good intro for the movie "Rocky Horror Picture Show at Piney Ranch"

A friend, John Danese, said this would make a good intro for the movie “Rocky Horror Picture Show at Piney Ranch”

Peak C from Piney lake engulfed in clouds at sunrise

Peak C from Piney Lake engulfed in clouds at sunrise

Kristine in Kneeknocker Basin below Peak C (in clouds) and Kneeknocker Pass (above her head in the picture)

Kristine in Kneeknocker Basin below Peak C (in clouds) and Kneeknocker Pass (above her head in the picture)

We got on the Upper Piney Lake trail by 6:30am and were at Kneeknocker Pass (almost 5 miles later and 3,000′ of vertical gain) at 9am. I was hoofing it just to keep up with Kristine. It was a fine pace we had going. Peak C had been engulfed in clouds all morning and the wind was whipping at the pass and it was fairly frigid. Based on the forecast, we really only had a lightweight layer each under our mini-down jackets. This was not nearly enough. We had one pair of gloves between us. We found some boulders at the pass to take shelter from the west wind, which helped a lot. However, we were both still shivering. Kristine was shivering quite a bit and so cold. I felt like when the forecast calls for sun and blue sky this stuff usually burns off. So, we waited for 30 minutes and then traversed south over the small hump to the upper saddle and found the base of the route and the 5.2 chimney pitch, which was fortunately on the eastern (leeward) side of the ridge proper. We still couldn’t see the upper portion of Peak C as it was still engulfed in clouds and the wind was whipping, but we had to give it a go. We broke out our alpine rack, harnesses, helmets, and my 30m/8mm rope and I began my lead up the pitch. After placing two cams at the small 5.2 crux sections, I set up a belay when Kristine called out that I had 5 ft of rope remaining. I then belayed Kristine up.

Kristine climbing the 1st 5.2 pitch on Peak C's Northwest Ridge

Kristine climbing the 1st 5.2 pitch on Peak C’s northwest ridge

She was still shivering uncontrollably and we both think the cold was sapping some of her mental strength and drive not to mention her physical strength. She belayed me up to the ledge another 40′ up placing one cam along the way and I looked around, but decided not to belay her up as we agreed it was time to turn around. Conditions were not good and neither of us wanted Kristine scrambling on 4th class terrain shivering and not being totally focused.  As hard as it was to turn back, it was the right thing to do. I downclimbed back to Kristine, lowered her down from the belay, and then I downclimbed/rappelled back to the base of the route. As defeated as we were for a bit, we soon realized we were lucky to get out together for 9 hours alone and enjoy each other and the Gore Range whether we tagged a summit or not.

Happy us back at Kneeknocker Pass with Peak C's northwest ridge rising behind us

Happy us back at Kneeknocker Pass with Peak C’s northwest ridge rising behind us

Kristine, being the wonderful and loving wife that she is, wanted me to go back for this route. J and I were contemplating going back for Capitol’s northwest buttress the following weekend, but Peak C was fresh in my mind so I convinced J to come with me. Plus, I wanted to check out a route up the north face of Peak C-Prime (the next summit south of Peak C along Ripsaw Ridge). The weather forecast again looked stellar. Fortunately, NOAA got it right this day. Just bluebird skies and sun all day long. Fall weather had certainly arrived. I picked J up at 6am and we were hiking along the Upper Piney Trail by 6:45am. I wish fall weather like last Saturday would last a few months – its the best. We cruised up to Kneeknocker Pass in about 2-1/2 hours as Kristine and I had done 5 days prior. The weather was a complete 180 from what it had been with Kristine the past Sunday. We ran into John & Jennifer Danese of Silverthorne right on top of the pass. We had never met, but had corresponded quite a bit and we both knew each other would be on the trail that day as they were gunning for Mt. Powell. They had inquired with me a year or two ago about “the next big thing to do” with regards to their hiking and mountaineering outside of Colorado. So, I connected them with my great friend Rob Casserley who runs Trek8848 for Everest basecamp treks and trekking peaks and they went with Rob last fall and had the time of their lives summitting both Lobuche East and Island Peak (20,000’+ peaks in the Khumbu Valley). It was great to finally meet them. So, after 30 minutes of chit-chat, J and I traversed south over to the start of the northwest ridge of Peak C and the Daneses went for Mt. Powell.

Profile of the Northwest Ridge up Peak C

Profile of the northwest ridge up Peak C

Most of our climb was in the shade and was quite chilly. Fortunately, there wasn’t a cold stiff wind like there was with Kristine. On the traverse to the start of the route we noticed a good looking Rocky Mountain Goat eyeing us intently as if saying “hey, why are you guys coming onto my mountain?” Little did we know he would follow us the entire climb and over to Peak C-Prime.

Mr. Goat

Mr. Goat

I won’t go into the route description here as Ryan & Derek do an excellent job with that on their climb here. J took the 1st 5.2 pitch, placed a cam, set up an anchor, and belayed me up. Normally, on solid rock, J and I would have no problem free-soloing this pitch, but the loose rock really makes this a scary proposition. The rope and a few pieces of protection are good insurance. Plus, we’re both dads now :)

Mr. Goat (take 2) near the base of the route

Mr. Goat (take 2) near the base of the route

We then swapped leads, I placed another cam on a sling and then set up an anchor on a ledge to belay J up to me. We only had a 30m rope, but with a 60m rope, you could do this entire pitch in one fell swoop.

J climbing the 2nd half of the 1st 5.2 pitch

J climbing the 2nd half of the 1st 5.2 pitch

J in action

J in action

We needed to get left into the class 3 gully somehow. We decided to stay roped up and swapped leads again and J took the headwall straight on placing a cam on a sling at the crux. There may be an easier way to get in the gully, but this was a fun little move. J belayed me up and we coiled the rope and climbed the easy gully for a few hundred feet before finding the grass ledge to the left which took us out into this really cool low-angled dihedral below a vertical headwall.

J leading into the gully

J leading into the gully

Maybe a low 5th move here

Maybe a low 5th move here

The low-angled dihedral

The low-angled dihedral

Instead of getting into the corner of the dihedral, we found the solid 4th class slabs just to the corner’s right side super fun. So, we didn’t break out the rope and just cruised these slabs for a hundred or two-hundred feet up to another ledge.

J climbing the 4th class slabs

J climbing the 4th class slabs

Fun scrambling here

Fun scrambling here

J on the slabs. The corner dihedral Ryan & Derek desribe can be seen on the left

J on the slabs. The corner dihedral Ryan & Derek describe can be seen on the left

Me on the slabs. Photo by J

Me on the slabs. Photo by J

At the top of the corner dihedral and slabs was a small little grass basin followed by awesome class 4 block climbing up to the 5.4 crux move at the top of the headwall. This was really fun scrambling on super solid rock. I just loved it. We didn’t feel the need to break out the rope on the 5.4 crux as the rock was super solid. We both topped out and took in the views.

J and the headwall with the 5.4 crux at top

J and the headwall with the 5.4 crux at top

Class 4 block scrambling

Class 4 block scrambling

J making the 5.4 crux move

J making the 5.4 crux move

Me climbing up to the 5.4 crux. Photo by J

Me climbing up to the 5.4 crux. Photo by J

Me in the sun after the 5.4 crux move. Photo by J

Me in the sun after the 5.4 crux move. Photo by J

Looking down the headwall

Looking down the headwall

Me on the Northwest Ridge with Piney Lake in the distance

Me on the Northwest Ridge with Piney Lake in the distance. Photo by J

Mr. Goat (take 3)

Mr. Goat (take 3)

It was then a few hundred feet of class 3 scrambling to the summit of Peak C. I believe we topped out about 11am.

3rd class upper portion of Peak C's northwest ridge

3rd class upper portion of Peak C’s northwest ridge

Peak C summit (13,220')

Peak C summit (13,220′)

Good to be on top of Peak C again

Good to be on top of Peak C again

Zoomed-in shot of John & Jennifer Danese atop Mt. Powell from the summit of Peak C

Zoomed-in shot of John & Jennifer Danese atop Mt. Powell from the summit of Peak C

We relaxed on top for a bit and then started descending Peak C’s south ridge to the notch between Peak C and Peak C-Prime. Peak C-Prime’s awesome north ridge/face was in view the entire descent.

On the Peak C descent. Photo by J

On the Peak C descent. Photo by J

J on Peak C's south ridge with Peak C-Prime behind

J on Peak C’s south ridge with Peak C-Prime behind

We hit the notch after the class 4 downclimb and I spotted a traverse on the ridge’s left (east) side that led to some fun looking north face cracks. After 30′ of class 4 climbing, we entered the center crack and the terrain got steeper.

Class 4 below the north face cracks above on Peak C-Prime

Class 4 below the north face cracks above on Peak C-Prime

J was eyeing the corner dihedral to the right (west) and not the center crack as he thought it looked more fun. He tried an airy move to get to the ledge below the dihedral only to realize he wanted the comfort of a rope. We roped up, he set two cams to protect the funky move, and soon enough he was on the ledge.

J just before the move right to the ledge

J just before the move right to the ledge

Trying without a rope

Trying without a rope

On second thought, I'll take that belay

On second thought, I’ll take that belay

I followed and am certainly glad J asked for a belay. Its a committing move without great feet and sloping handholds, especially in approach shoes. Maybe a 5.8 move. The dihedral above looked fun. But, so did the center crack. Choices choices. I led on up the far western crack/dihedral combo placing a #2 cam in the crack and then a smaller piece on a sling in the dihedral itself on the right. Maybe 5.7 climbing with a few fun hand jams and face features.

Peak C-Prime north face cracks. We climbed the crack right of center

Peak C-Prime north face cracks. We climbed the crack right of center

Our crack

Our crack

Me on lead up this fun little route. Photo by J

Me on lead up this fun little route. Photo by J

I slung a solid boulder and looked down to J only noticing behind him that Mr. Goat was downclimbing the class 4 headwall on Peak C’s south ridge! It was a sight to behold.

Looking down the 5.7 pitch to J on the ledge. Can you spot Mr. Goat?

Looking down the 5.7 pitch to J on the ledge. Can you spot Mr. Goat?

Impressive

A close-up

Impressive to say the least

Impressive to say the least

J cleaning the 5.7 pitch

J cleaning the 5.7 pitch

Once J reached me we stowed the rope and de-harnessed and scrambled easy class 2/3 to the summit of Peak C-Prime.

The remaining easy ramp to C-Prime's summit

The remaining easy ramp to C-Prime’s summit

Peak C-Prime summit (13,100')

Peak C-Prime summit (13,100′)

Our route up the north face/ridge of Peak C-Prime

Our route up the north face/ridge of Peak C-Prime

Mr. Goat had climbed down Peak C’s southwest couloir a few hundred feet and climbed up Peak C-Prime’s normal class 3/4 route to meet up with us. I guess he wanted to hang out with us because he climbed the class 3 slabs up C-Prime’s southeast face to within 20 yards of us.

There he is on the ridge

There he is on the ridge

Mr. Goat on Peak C-Prime with Peak G to the right

Mr. Goat on Peak C-Prime with Peak G to the right and Peak Q at far left above the goat

IMG_8079

J descending Peak C-Prime with the goat back on the ridge. Maybe he went onto Peak D

J descending Peak C-Prime with the goat back on the ridge. Maybe he went onto Peak D

We took the standard descent couloir down from Peak C-Prime, which feeds into Peak C’s southwest couloir.  The descent down the southwest couloir is obviously much better on skis.

J descending Peak C's southwest couloir

J descending Peak C’s southwest couloir

We then traversed northwest on the couloir’s apron to reach a small notch at the top of one of two northern couloirs leading back down into Kneeknocker Basin. It was a quick descent and before we knew it we were back on the Kneeknocker Pass trail. We saw the Daneses descending Kneeknocker Pass and decided to hang and wait for them to walk out together. They had spent an hour on Powell’s summit lounging and just talking in this gorgeous fall weather. It was fun hiking out together trading mountain stories back and forth with each other.

Kneeknocker Basin and Peak C's northwest ridge standing tall

Kneeknocker Basin and Peak C’s northwest ridge standing tall

Taking a break along Piney River with John & Jennifer and soaking the feet

Taking a break along Piney River with John & Jennifer and soaking the feet

We arrived back at the trailhead around 4pm and promptly headed on out back to Vail. A great day out in the northern Gore on some familiar peaks yet up some new routes. Just perfect. I told Kristine now that I know the details of the northwest ridge route up Peak C, she and I will go back for sure. She will totally enjoy it as we found it to be a very moderate and fun technical alpine route in our favorite range.