Vahalla’s Heavenly Couloir

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

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

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

Thatcher & Kristine

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

Can you spot Kristine bushwhacking thru the thicket?

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

Skinning towards Vahalla dead ahead!

Kristine and the Deluge Lake basin

Cramponing up! This face is always fun to climb

A little video of Kristine climbing:

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

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

Kristine and Palomino Point next door to the northwest

Kristine making her way

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

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

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

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

Looking down the Heavenly

Ready to drop!

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

Looking down on Loki Tower from the Heavenly

Kristine up high on Vahalla

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

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

Kristine up high

Beautiful scenery

Asgard Ridge in the foreground with Keller Mountain in the background

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

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

Kristine skiing the apron

Happy to be together skiing a new peak for us

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

A few of the towers along Asgard Ridge I remember well

Thor Tower’s north face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top of the Rockies with the Horvaths

After 6 months of planning, our good family friends from Charlotte, the Horvaths, came to the valley. Their main objective was to climb their very first 14er. I chose Mt. Elbert because why not! Its the highest in Colorado and the 2nd tallest mountain in the contiguous USA. This trip was initially a surprise from Steve & Kathy Horvath to their sons, Stephen & Charlie, for their birthdays. Steve, Stephen, & Charlie rented a cool little home in Minturn for the weekend. They hiked up to Lionshead Rock for their first acclimitization hike and I took Stephen & Charlie climbing at Homestake that afternoon while Steve went and got a massage and hit the Westin spa.

Stephen climbing the awesome 5.9+ at Homestake

Stephen climbing the awesome 5.9+ at Homestake

And, Charlie. These guys did so well having not climbed outside for a long time

And, Charlie. These guys did so well having not climbed outside for a long time

Then, I picked them up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning and we headed south to the North Halfmoon Creek trailhead for Mt. Elbert’s standard northeast ridge route. I brought my skis along on my pack hoping to ski the Box Creek Chutes on the descent while the boys hiked down the trail. We had a great hike and it was exciting watching Steve, Stephen, & Charlie hike to the highest elevation to which they had ever been.

The Horvaths

The Horvaths

Steve motoring long below treeline

Steve motoring long below tree line

Steve getting above tree line and the views opening up

Steve getting above tree line and the views opening up

Mt. Massive (14,421'), Colorado's 2nd highest, to the north

Mt. Massive (14,421′), Colorado’s 2nd highest, to the north

Steve & Charlie around 13,000'

Steve & Charlie around 13,000′

Steve making great time up Elbert on the final couple hundred vertical feet

Steve making great time up Elbert on the final couple hundred vertical feet

We probably reached the summit only 3 1/2 hours after we left the trailhead, which is incredible for these lowlanders. A brisk west wind greeted us at the top, so we didn’t dilly-dally too long. However, it was an absolutely gorgeous day.

The boys relaxing below the summit on the leeward side of the mountain

The boys relaxing below the summit on the leeward side of the mountain

Steve reaching Mt. Elbert's summit!

Steve reaching Mt. Elbert’s summit!

All four of us on the summit of Mt. Elbert (14,433')

All four of us on the summit of Mt. Elbert (14,433′)

The Horvaths on top of the Rockies

The Horvaths on top of the Rockies

Steve & I

Steve & I

Looking west to the Elk Range

Looking west to the Elk Range

And, one more summit pic

And, one more summit pic

We then headed down and Stephen wanted to follow me down the Box Creek Cirque. He had an extra pole to help him control his glissade down the roughly 40 degree bowl. He did well and had a blast.

Looking down the upper east slopes, which was a stellar ski, leading into the steeper Box Creek Chutes

Looking down the upper east slopes, which was a stellar ski, leading into the steeper Box Creek Chutes

Reaching the rollover point where it gets steep

Reaching the rollover point where it gets steep

Stephen glissading the Box Creek Chutes

Stephen glissading the Box Creek Chutes

Looking back at our tracks down the Box Creek Chutes

Looking back at our tracks down the Box Creek Chutes

Stephen and I visited the small lake at the bottom of the Cirque and then hiked back up to the trail, took a small nap, and waited for Steve & Charlie to reach us. The rest of the descent was uneventful yet very hot. We reached the trailhead around maybe 1:30-2pm and headed into Leadville to eat some good lunch at the Tennessee Pass Cafe.

Our crew back at the trailhead

Our crew back at the trailhead

Celebratory lunch

Celebratory lunch

This fitting canvas was on the wall above our table

This fitting canvas was on the wall above our table

And, we had a nice view out the door

And, we had a nice view out the door

Steve and the boys took Kristine & I out to dinner that evening to cap off a great weekend. Congratulations on your 1st 14er, Horvaths. Hopefully, we can do it again!

Skiing Mt. Sopris & The Fly

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

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

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

Mikey above Thomas Lakes

Mikey above Thomas Lakes

The Thomas Lakes Bowl. Windy up on the ridge!

The Thomas Lakes Bowl. Windy up on the ridge!

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

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

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

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

Mikey boarding the fun Thomas Lakes Bowl

Mikey boarding the fun Thomas Lakes Bowl

All smiles back at the trailhead

All smiles back at the trailhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan & J skinning

Dylan & J skinning

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

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

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

Skinning with Outpost Peak behind to the right

Skinning with Outpost Peak behind to the right

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

Bear track

Bear track

Following the bear tracks to the east ridge

Following the bear tracks to the east ridge

Dylan making his way up to the east ridge

Dylan making his way up to the east ridge

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

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

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

J and the Fly's east ridge

J and the Fly’s east ridge

Dylan making an airy maneuver

Dylan making an airy maneuver

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

J on the final push

J on the final push

Dylan loving his first time in the Gore

Dylan loving his first time in the Gore

Looking over at the southeast face we would ski

Looking over at the southeast face we would ski

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

Looking down the line from the summit

Looking down the line from the summit

Dylan with the Spider behind

Dylan with the Spider behind

The Fly summit (12,550')

The Fly summit (12,550′)

J taking off down the southeast face

J taking off down the southeast face

J way down there

J way down there

Dylan carving some nice turns

Dylan carving some nice turns

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

Hanging out back at Booth Lake

Hanging out back at Booth Lake

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

The Straight Arrow Couloir on Peak H

More of a picture journey of our ski tour deep in the Gore Range to ski the elusive Straight Arrow Couloir on Peak H than anything, but in many ways pictures are worth a thousand words 🙂 For those interested, good bud Brian Miller did his typical humorous trip report over at Exploring The Rockies in a writing style that is uniquely his and his alone. All told, it was almost a 12 hour day and approximately 13.9 miles roundtrip with 7,150′ of vertical gain. Not too shabby of a day.

The day started around 4:15am with a 3,500′ vertical gain approach from the Booth Creek Trailhead in Vail to the 12,100′ East Booth Pass. Typically, that kind of gain will already get you to a summit, but we had a long way to go this day. However, we skied powder down from East Booth Pass to Upper Piney Lake at 11,000′.

Brian & J approaching West Booth Pass

Brian & J approaching East Booth Pass

Ben shot this awesome pic of Mt. of the Holy Cross with the top of Chair 3 at Vail visible lower right from West Booth Pass

Ben shot this awesome pic of Mt. of the Holy Cross with the top of Chair 3 at Vail visible lower right from East Booth Pass

J and Ben skiing down to Upper Piney Lake with our destination, Peak H, in the distance

J and Ben skiing down to Upper Piney Lake with our destination, Peak H, in the distance

I was able to drop a knee as it was awesome powder off the north side of West Booth Pass! Photo by Ben

I was able to drop a knee as it was awesome powder off the north side of East Booth Pass! Photo by Ben

Ben capturing Brian ripping turns down the north side of West Booth Pass with The Spider and The Fly as a backdrop

Ben capturing Brian ripping turns down the north side of East Booth Pass with The Spider and The Fly as a backdrop

Then, we began the long 2,000’+ ascent up Peak H’s south slopes. The scenery was astounding. I hadn’t been back this deep in the Gore in the snowy months before and it was breathtaking.

J and I skinning up Peak H's south slopes as far as our skins would allow. Photo by Ben

J and I skinning up Peak H’s south slopes as far as our skins would allow. Photo by Ben

Me putting the skis on my back. At some point, it became much more efficient to just boot it. Photo by Ben

Me putting the skis on my back. At some point, it became much more efficient to just boot it. Photo by Ben

The Spider's skiable northeast face. Wow

The Spider’s skiable northeast face. Wow

Ben booting up Peak H's south slopes

Ben booting up Peak H’s south slopes with Rockinghorse Ridge and West Partner Peak visible in the background

Finally, around 10:45am, we reached the summit of Peak H about 6.5 hours after starting out.

J and I on the summit of Peak H (13,080'). We had only been here once before when we traversed The Saw way back in 2012.

J and I on the summit of Peak H (13,080′). We had only been here once before when we traversed The Saw way back in 2012.

Looking down at Brian at the top of the Straight Arrow Couloir from Peak H's summit

Looking down at Brian at the top of the Straight Arrow Couloir from Peak H’s summit

Ben about to go head first into the Straight Arrow Couloir. Photo by Ben

Ben about to drop into the Straight Arrow Couloir with Peak Q in the distance. Photo by Ben

Ben's first turn

Ben’s first turn

So, while traversing The Saw so many years ago, I honestly couldn’t remember if there was a viable exit from the bottom of Straight Arrow back to The Saw’s ridge proper to get back into the Upper Piney Lake basin. I usually have a good memory of things in the mountains, but this topography escaped me. Nevertheless, Ben decided to ski down about 1,000′ and look at a seemingly viable exit skier’s right. He gave an “all systems go” signal and we skied this great couloir in awesome corn snow.

Brian ripping turns as he always does

Brian ripping turns as he always does

Brian much further down with quite the backdrop

Brian much further down with quite the backdrop

Brian. Photo by Ben

Brian. Photo by Ben

Me loving this couloir while J waits patiently at the top. Photo by Ben

Me loving this couloir while J waits patiently at the top. Photo by Ben

I think this pic makes the couloir appear steeper than it actually is. Photo by Ben

I think this pic makes the couloir appear steeper than it actually is. Photo by Ben

Me loving the tele turns. Photo by Ben.

Me loving the tele turns. Photo by Ben

Here comes J

Here comes J

J getting into the business. Photo by Ben

J getting into the business. Photo by Ben

The point where we packed up our skis and booted out to the exit Ben spotted

The point where we packed up our skis and booted out to the exit Ben spotted

J and Ben booting

J and Ben booting

A good look at Peak L's north face behind me

A good look at Peak L’s north face above the Black Creek drainage behind me

We reached the ridge and after a snack and some fluids we transitioned to ski mode to ski the remainder of Peak H’s south face. I did go over to the low point of The Saw after a few hundred feet of skiing down H’s south face and scoped out the climb up to the saddle from the apron of the Straight Arrow Couloir. Definitely climable. In hindsight, we could have skied a few more hundred vertical down the Straight Arrow and had a decent climb up and out to the saddle. Oh well. Definitely next time 🙂

Brian skiing down Peak H's south face. Photo by Ben

Brian skiing down Peak H’s south face. Photo by Ben

Ben shot me skiing down H with such a gorgeous backdrop here including The Spider.

Ben shot me skiing down H with such a gorgeous backdrop here including The Spider and Holy Cross.

And, me skiing down H with the Spider behind. Photo by Ben

And, another one of me skiing down H with the Spider behind. Photo by Ben

We skied as far as we could due south, but really dropped all the way down to Upper Piney Lake yet again. We had over a 1,000′ re-climb back up to East Booth Pass, which definitely caused us to put on the afterburners.

J and Brian topping out on West Booth Pass for the second time this day

J and Brian topping out on East Booth Pass for the second time this day

Ben and J at West Booth Pass with the Spider and The Fly behind

Ben and J at East Booth Pass with the Spider and The Fly behind’

After some lounging, we packed up and skied down the Booth Creek drainage where we still got almost 3,000′ of skiing to well below Booth Falls. Yes, it took some gymnastics lower down but we kept the skis on our feet to where it got unruly and Brian and I called it quits.

Me skiing down the south side of West Booth Pass on perfect corn. Photo by Ben

Me skiing down the south side of East Booth Pass on perfect corn. Photo by Ben

A very fun out....

A very fun out….

...until this

…until this

But, Ben, as always, managed to make the turn

But, Ben, as always, managed to make the turn

Great day out in my favorite range with the biggest Gore snobs I know. Until next time fellas.

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!