The Deming Drop

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

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

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

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

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

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

J topping out on Deming

J topping out on Deming

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

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

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

Deming Mountain summit (12,902')

Deming Mountain summit (12,902′)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derek skiing the Drop

Derek skiing the Drop

Close-up of Derek working for those turns

Close-up of Derek working for those turns

J skiing the Deming Drop

J skiing the Deming Drop

J about a third of the way down

J about a third of the way down

Derek

Derek

Looking up at Derek through the couloir's choke

Looking up at Derek through the couloir’s choke

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

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

J finishing out the bottom section of the Drop

J finishing out the bottom section of the Drop

Derek making the last little bit looking pretty powdery

Derek making the last little bit looking pretty powdery

Derek making the snow conditions look smooth

Derek making the snow conditions look smooth

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

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

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

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

J climbing up the slope

J climbing up the slope

Derek making his way up the booter with West Deming behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardman Hut Trip 2017

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

J and Brett on the approach to the Markley Hut

J and Brett on the approach to the Markley Hut

Taco dinner at Markley. Photo by Derek

Taco dinner at Markley. Photo by Derek

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

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

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

The next morning before departing to the Goodwin Greene Hut

The next morning before departing to the Goodwin Greene Hut

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

Joel and crew skinning up the Express Creek drainage

Joel and crew skinning up the Express Creek drainage

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

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

Mikey leading the pack

Mikey leading the pack

The crew at the 12,000' pass

The crew at the 12,000′ pass

Long ways to Aspen via Richmond Ridge

Long ways to Aspen via Richmond Ridge

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

The boys heading across the alpine plateau

The boys heading across the alpine plateau

Jesse, Mikey outside the Goodwin Green hut

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

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

J and Chuck skinning up Gold Hill

J and Chuck skinning up Gold Hill

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

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

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

Chuck skiing the Gold Hill north couloir

Chuck skiing the Gold Hill north couloir

Chuck a bit lower down

Chuck a bit lower down

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

Nico dropping the knee. Photo by Derek

Nico dropping the knee. Photo by Derek

Mr. Gratz testing the snow. Photo by Derek

Mr. Gratz testing the snow. Photo by Derek

Brett slashing as usual. Photo by Derek

Brett slashing as usual. Photo by Derek

Derek stacking turns. Photo by Joel

Derek stacking turns. Photo by Joel

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

Skinning up to the ridge with Gold Hill behind

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

J skling the fun trees back down to Difficult Creek

J skling the fun trees back down to Difficult Creek

Matt & Chuck

Matt & Chuck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14er Capitol Peak in the distance

14er Capitol Peak in the distance

Aspen Highlands and Highland Bowl

Highland Ridge and Highland Bowl on the far right

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

Chuck skiing the northeast face of Gold Hill

Chuck skiing the northeast face of Gold Hill

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

The last supper at Goodwin Greene

The last supper at Goodwin Greene

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to Hardman 2018!

Old Man Pyramid

Natalie and I had been planning a climb of Pyramid at some point this winter if weather and conditions would allow for relatively safe passage. We had climbed Pyramid’s NW ridge back in the fall in order to get a feel for the route finding challenges. We went on to traverse to Thunder Pyramid and then Lightning Pyramid, which raised the excitement level a bit. I’m always wanting to get back to Pyramid in whatever condition – definitely one of my most favorite 14ers. Even though I have many more responsibilities these days (a young wonderful daughter, a 14+ year old golden retriever), I still love to get a few 14ers in the winter each year. Its sort of the only season I still like getting on the 14ers unless its some technical route in the summer. Kristine and I still regularly do our trail running, skinning, and rock climbing these days, but just much closer to home. We certainly are not the weekend warriors climbing and skiing all over the state like we were a decade ago. But, that’s quite ok with us. Natalie has certainly been getting after it all winter with summits of Wilson Peak, Holy Cross, Snowmass Mountain, just to name a few. She is narrowing in on the winter 14er list. Pretty impressive.

Now, to the trip report, a plan was set for the last weekend of winter especially given the amazing spring-like weather that was forecasted. I recruited J to come with Natalie and myself as well as our young buck, Dylan. J has serious FOMO (fear of missing out) so there was no way he was going to miss this climb even if he said he was out of shape. Kristine had a plan to drive to Aspen Saturday night to ski a peak with Christy Mahon that Sunday, so my goal was to be back home by 8pm that evening. Natalie backpacked in the Maroon Creek Road from the T-Lazy-7 Ranch all the way to the other side of Crater Lake that Friday evening. J, Dylan, and I drove over late Friday night arriving around 11pm for a quick 2+ hour sleep in our sleeping bags on the pavement. After some coffee and oatmeal, we started skinning up the road at 2:15am for the 6 mile slog to Maroon Lake. I would typically use my telemark setup for this climb, but sort of wanted to climb in my older Koflach plastic boots and thus used my really old Silvretta 404 binding/ski setup I used on Denali in 2007. This was a mistake as the boots gave me some mega blisters in the skinning mode with these bindings/skis. Oh well. Live and learn. We ran into Mad (Dad) Mike Silvestro fat biking in on the road to climb Thunder Pyramid and Lightning Pyramid. Good to briefly chat with that guy for sure. We reached Natalie’s tent just before 6am, which was around 8 miles and 2,000′ vertical gain into the day. Natalie gave me the 30m/8mm rope she hauled in to her camp to pack and after some snacks and water, we skinned the rest of the way to the apron of the west couloir leading up Pyramid’s west face. Dylan was not feeling very well (unusually nauseous), so elected to stay behind and return to Natalie’s tent for some shuteye. J and Natalie and I then began the 2,600′ boot up the awesome west couloir to the saddle on the northwest ridge. I left my ski setup at the base of the couloir because there was no way I was skiing a 40-45 degree couloir on those skis! J and Natalie, however, packed the skis on their packs.

First light on the Bells to our west

First light on the Bells to our west

Beginning the long ascent up the west couloir. Photo by Natalie

Beginning the long ascent up the west couloir. Photo by Natalie

A steep section. Photo by Natalie

A steeper section. Photo by Natalie

Middle of the couloir. Photo by Natalie

Middle of the couloir. Photo by Natalie

J & Natalie

J & Natalie

Me in the upper couloir. Photo by Natalie

Me in the upper couloir. Photo by Natalie

I think it maybe took us 2-1/2 to 3 hours or so to climb the 2,600′ from the valley floor to 12,900′ on the NW ridge. I am not quite totally sure. Nevertheless, the top out where the snow ended had a great view of the Bells.

J in the foreground and Natalie behind topping out at the end of the snow

J in the foreground and Natalie behind topping out at the end of the snow

J and Natalie left their skis, we stowed the crampons, and we started up familiar terrain to the Keyhole Couloir.

The Keyhole Couloir was dry and loose

The Keyhole Couloir was dry and loose

J climbing the loose couloir

J climbing the loose couloir

Then, we abruptly arrived at the edge of the north face and took a right to take on the class 4 headwall. J and I climbed it and I trailed a rope to belay Natalie up.

J having fun on the short headwall

J having fun on the short headwall

Me trailing the rope. Photo by Natalie

Me trailing the rope. Photo by Natalie

After some fun scrambling and route finding, we came upon the final crux bowl to access the summit cliff. By the way, the weather was spectacular. A little wind, but jeez I was scrambling in just glove liners. It was so nice. The upper bowl looked to be in great condition with safe and stable snow.

Rounding a corner...it looks as if we are both having to relieve ourselves, but of course we are not :) Photo by Natalie

Rounding a corner…it looks as if we are both having to relieve ourselves, but of course we are not :) Photo by Natalie

Natalie and J on a nice perch

Natalie and J on a nice perch

The upper bowl and summit cliff

The upper bowl and summit cliff

I led off and went up some previous tracks to the steep horizontal traverse, which leads over to the familiar JP Sneak gully. It was really fun and steep snow climbing with decent exposure.

J and Natalie

J and Natalie

Up close in the upper bowl

Up close in the upper bowl

Traversing towards the JP Sneak was a very steep snow bulge in solid snow. This was the steepest snow of the day though only maybe 10′ in height.

J and I on the steep part to the JP Sneak. Photo by Natalie

J and I on the steep part to access the JP Sneak. Photo by Natalie

J climbing the steep snow pitch with good exposure

J climbing the steep snow pitch with good exposure

The snow really went pretty high up into the JP Sneak gully making for fairly smooth climbing.

J and Natalie climbing the JP Sneak gully

J and Natalie climbing the JP Sneak gully

The summit ridge was a mix of snow and dry rock, but was gorgeous all around. What a day we had to top out on ole man Pyramid. I believe we all summitted around noon or shortly after. Warm temperatures, endless views to all the ranges, and zero wind greeted us.

Pyramid winter summit (14,018'). Photo by Natalie

Pyramid winter summit (14,018′). Photo by Natalie

J coming back to the summit from checking out the Landry Line down the east face

J coming back to the summit from checking out the Landry Line down the east face

J and myself

J and myself

The three of us on top of Pyramid

The three of us on top of Pyramid

I hated to leave the summit, but I had a long way to go to be back in Edwards by 8pm. I think we started down by 12:45pm.

J and Natalie downclimbing the summit ridge

J and Natalie downclimbing the summit ridge.

Once we got down to the bottom of the JP Sneak, the 10′ section of steep snow gave us a brief pause. I then just decided to throw the rope down for a handle as we downclimbed this section. It worked well. I joked with Natalie that this is grade A typical fixed rope Himalayan stuff here.

The rope over the steep snow section

The rope over the steep snow section

Me lowering myself

Me lowering myself. Photo by Natalie

Natalie lowering herself over the steep part

Natalie lowering herself over the steep part

Descending the horizontal traverse in the upper bowl

Descending the horizontal traverse in the upper bowl

Careful stepping

Careful stepping

And then some facing in downclimbing

And then some downclimbing to the dry ledge

Back on dry rock, we de-cramponed and made our way back down to the short class 4 headwall and had a nice rappel.

Leaving the upper bowl

Leaving the upper bowl

At a nice perch looking at the awesome north face of Pyramid

At a nice perch looking at the awesome north face of Pyramid

And, that's a rap

And, that’s a rap

The Keyhole Couloir went fast and loose and we were back down at the top of the west couloir in no time. Much to our surprise, Dylan had showed up and was relaxing in the sun! I was so glad he rested and felt good enough to climb the 2,600′ couloir and brought his skis to boot! Now, he would get to enjoy the fantastic ski down. Since my awful silvretta/ski setup was down in the valley, I left to try and plunge step/couloir run down the couloir as fast as I could and stopped lower down to get some pics of the skiers.

J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

Dylan and J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

Dylan and J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie

J slashing with Len Shoemaker Peak behind

J slashing with Len Shoemaker Peak behind

Dylan

Dylan

Dylan felt better at this point

Dylan felt better at this point

And, of course, Natalie

And, of course, Natalie

Me doing my best to keep up on foot

Me doing my best to keep up on foot

I clicked into my ski setup and hobbled my way thru the trees back to Natalie’s camp. A tree well ate me for 5 minutes, but I managed to right myself and ski out. Back at the tent, we delayered, ate, drank, chatted for maybe 30 minute, and said our goodbyes to Natalie as she would stay another night and climb South Maroon Peak the next morning. It was now close to 4pm and we had 8 miles out. The descent to Maroon Lake was rough for me on my ancient setup, but once we got to Maroon Creek Road, things went faster and easier. We met up with three ski mountaineering dudes who we had seen off and on all day near Crater Lake and chatted. They had climbed South Maroon’s Y-couloir, skied South Maroon’s east face into the Bell Cord Couloir and wrapped around to climb North Maroon’s north face and ski it. They finished up as we were crossing Crater Lake. Nothing really surprises me anymore with folks in Colorado. Anything in the mountains seems possible. Super nice fellas and we chatted back at the cars for awhile as well.

J slowly skiing out the Maroon Creek Road with Pyramid in the distance

J slowly skiing out the Maroon Creek Road with Pyramid in the distance

We packed up and actually got on the road a bit after 6pm for the drive back to Edwards. After a stop at Whole Foods and Starbucks, we  cruised home rehashing the memories of the 15.5 hour day finally arriving at the house a few minutes after 8pm. Not bad timing. Sawyer had just gone to bed, Kristine and I saw each other for 15 minutes, and then she was off to Aspen to stay with the Mahons. We hated we saw each other so little all weekend, but hey its the last weekend of winter and the weather was unbelievably spectacular. We had to make the most of it. Kristine and Christy had a nice 6-7 hour day skinning and skiing the 13er Pearl Mountain at the head of Pearl Basin on Sunday.

Views of Castle's east face and Cathedral from Pearl Mountain

Views of Castle’s east face and Cathedral from Pearl Mountain

Kristine booting

Kristine booting

The gals on top

The gals on top

Kristine on top of Pearl Mountain

Kristine on top of Pearl Mountain

Kristine skiing

Kristine skiing

Sawyer, Rainie, & Kona, and myself relaxed most of the day watching March Madness off and on and going to the park. It was much needed for my almost 40 year old body after Pyramid on Saturday. A great way to cap off a nice winter for both Kristine and myself. We’re now so looking forward to spring ski-mountaineering and rock climbing. Bring on the warm weather!

Mt. Massive in Winter

I at least wanted to get one winter 14er in this year and always had my eye on our 2nd tallest peak in Colorado, Mt. Massive (14,421′). It has a nice winter route up the east ridge at about 15 miles roundtrip and 5,000′ of vertical gain that has little avalanche danger. I had always thought the broad east face would be a nice ski descent after a climb of the east ridge, but honestly the chance of having skiable snow that is fun in the middle of winter on a 14er above treeline is not usually very high. The snow high up on 14ers in winter is typically hard, windblasted sastrugi to the point of being “break your leg” snow. I recruited Reid and J to go for an attempt on Superbowl Sunday, February 5. J and I met Reid at the Leadville Fish Hatchery trailhead around 7am and we were skinning by 7:30am. We had a great broken trail to follow really all the way to the Highline Trail / CO Trail intersection and then we followed a lone snowhshoer’s tracks for another 2 miles to the east ridge at treeline. The weather forecast had not called for much wind, but it sure was whipping by the time we reached treeline. We could tell it was getting stronger and more sustained as the day progressed. We skinned across the large plateau east of the significant false summit (13,500′) along the prominent east ridge. Reid and I left our skis at around 13,200′ as we felt it was pointless (at least for us) to carry them any further since the skiing would be pretty horrific on the way down. We all topped out on the false summit with still the east ridge to traverse and 900′ of elevation gain to the summit and we were almost literally getting blown over. It was not very pleasant especially with us trying to climb into the sustained west wind. We called it, turned around, and tried to somewhat enjoy a horrible ski back down to treeline.

Near our highpoint that Superbowl Sunday around 13,500' along Massive's east ridge

Near our highpoint that Superbowl Sunday around 13,500′ along Massive’s east ridge

Reid on the descent into treeline. The wind can be seen blowing snow all around and above

Reid on the descent into treeline. The wind can be seen blowing snow all around and above

Once we hit the trail system below, it was a “luge-type” ski out a few miles back to the trailhead. I was definitely a bit disappointed mainly because it was such a sunny day otherwise! But, a day in the hills beats just about anything else and it was good to get out. We were back in Edwards by 2:30pm.

I bugged J to go back with me the following week (unfortunately, Reid, could not go) and with a bluebird spectacular day forecasted for February 15, I picked J up at 5am at the Active Energies office in Minturn and we beelined for the Fish Hatchery trailhead.  Moving around 6:30am in about -5 F air temperature, we skinned along a snowshoe track for 3 miles to the Highline Trail / CO Trail intersection as before. From then on, we’d be breaking trail and navigating another few miles to treeline at the start of the east ridge because of the big storm the previous weekend. J and I moved pretty fast with me breaking trail to treeline and doing the best navigating I could do and we took more of a direct line off the Highline Trail straight to the east ridge proper. It was so nice to hear absolutely no wind and feel the sun’s radiance. It warmed up pretty fast and we were getting hot by the time we were skinning across the open plateau, which this time around was a pleasant skin in nice powder above all of the wind blown tundra below.

J skinning up above treeline

J skinning up above treeline

We skinned as far as we could to about 13,400′ and then put the skis on our packs and started booting up in the new snow. I broke trail up to a notch in the larger rock formation along the east ridge and then J took over.

J booting with our skin track visible on the large plateau below

J booting with our skin track visible on the large plateau below

J making progress up to the top of the 13,500' false summit

J making progress up to the top of the 13,500′ false summit

Once we hit the now well-defined east ridge, we made our way up and over some minor bumps and then up the final 600′ headwall to the summit.

J along the well-defined east ridge with the summit ahead

J along the well-defined east ridge with the summit ahead

J making the final steps to the summit

J making the final steps to the summit

We topped out 10 minutes to noon and enjoyed a completely windless Colorado 14er winter summit. It was wonderful. We were now certainly glad we came back to do this peak this day for sure and not the previous week.

Mt. Massive summit (14,421')

Mt. Massive summit (14,421′)

View east to the Elks (Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak visible)

View east to the Elks (Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak visible)

We stayed up top for 20 minutes or so and then decided to ski the east face directly from the summit as it looked pretty darn good. From a week and a half earlier, we knew it was a good 8″ of fun snow on top of hard, wind compacted glacier ice. After unthawing my NTN tele bindings on my skis so they would accept my boots, J took off and then me after him. They were some awesome turns. Best I’ve had on a 14er outside of spring ski season, but this time in powder!

J carving his first few turns

J carving his first few turns

Me carving some tele turns on the wide open face

Me carving some tele turns on the wide open face. Photo by J

Our turns on the upper face from the summit

Our turns on the upper face from the summit

We traversed back over to the top of the false summit on the east ridge itself at 13,500′ and skied what J had skied a week and a half prior. Only then, what he skied was awful wind-affected ice. Now, it was powder.

J

J

J lower down on the east face heading onto the large pleateau

J lower down on the east face heading onto the large plateau

Our tracks down from the 13,500' false summit

Our tracks down from the 13,500′ false summit

Our turns lower down heading into treeline. Such great snow

Our turns lower down heading into treeline. Such great snow

We skied great snow back into treeline and then because of the warm snow down low combined with our very cold skis, the snow was sticking to the bottoms of our skis and we couldn’t move. J had wax and after we waxed the bottom of our skis, we glided along just fine. We were back at my car by 2pm for less than 2 hours down. What a great 7.5 hrs up on Massive it was.

J took a short video of me skiing the upper east face of Massive:

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