Skiing Deming Mtn

There is a classic Gore Range ski descent dubbed the “Deming Drop” on the 12,902′ Deming Mountain’s north face. I have alway had this on my tick list and recruited Derek and Mikey to join me to attempt this ski two Saturdays ago on June 4. And, come to think of it, I had actually never summitted Deming so that was task #1. Then, we would evaluate the couloir and see here the day took us. And, as usual, we had our K9 companions Kona and Derek’s dog Maude. Though, in retrospect, at the end of the day, we realized its not a line for dogs as its pretty darn steep and is just a bit too serious of a line to feel comfortable taking dogs down it.

Early morning light from the Meadow Creek trail

Early morning light from the Meadow Creek trail

Derek & Maude slept at the Meadow Creek TH outside of Frisco, Mikey came from Denver that early morning, and Kona & I left my house at 3:15am arriving at the TH around 4am. We were hiking up the dry steep trail by 4:18am in trail shoes and skis and ski boots on our backs. We finally reached snow line around 10,500′ after maybe 2 miles and got the load off our backs by switching to ski boots and skinning. I had heard it took other friends about 4-5 hours to reach Deming’s summit and thus the shortly after 4am start. Fortunately, we were able to stay on top of the semi-frozen snow as it was still very early. We crested into the meadows and got our first glance of the east face of Deming.

Deming Mountain. We ascended up the moderate east slopes on its right flank

Deming Mountain. We ascended up the moderate east slopes on its right flank

We continued skinning up the broad drainage and ascended the east slopes of Deming. Short steeper skinning pitches  broke up the longer mellower slopes.

The sun crests and it really heats up

The sun crests and it really heats up

Derek & Maude

Derek & Maude

Derek, Maude, & Mikey ascending the east face with Buffalo Mtn behind

Derek, Maude, & Mikey ascending the east face with Buffalo Mtn behind

The upper east face of Deming

The upper east face of Deming

Gorgeous view of Red Diamond Ridge. J and I traversed this ridge last summer

Gorgeous view of Red Diamond Ridge. J and I traversed this ridge last summer

Deming Mountain's USGS summit marker

Deming Mountain’s USGS summit marker

Kona and I reached the summit just before 8am, dropped my skis, and went over to check out the Deming Drop. It took us 3 hrs and 45 minutes to reach the summit and actually we all expected the ascent to take us longer. The couloir was steep, especially the first 50-75′ or so. My buddies Ben Conners & Brian Miller estimated this top pitch at around 50 degrees in their book Climbing & Skiing Colorado’s Mountains: 50 Select Ski Descents. This top pitch was in the sun as it faced east and was warming up just nicely. However, most of the couloir was still in the shade at the point of where it mellowed to 40-45 degrees below the steepest pitch to the bottom.

Looking down the Deming Drop

Looking down the Deming Drop

I figured a good hour’s wait would get the entire couloir in the sun and make it nice and soft and much safer than it would be in the shade and hard and icy. Kona and I went back to the summit and welcomed Derek and Maude and then Mikey maybe 5 minutes later. We snacked and took pics and enjoyed a rare windless and warm Gore summit.

A beautiful summit

A beautiful summit

Derek & Maude on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902')

Derek & Maude on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902′)

Me & Kona on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902')

Me & Kona on the summit of Deming Mtn (12,902′)

And all of us on Deming's summit

And all of us on Deming’s summit

Looking over at West Deming. Joel, Kristine, Kona, & I skied this peak 's really fun and mellow southwest face last spring

Looking over at West Deming. Joel, Kristine, Kona, & I skied this peak ‘s really fun and mellow southwest face last spring

9am rolled around and we hiked over the summit ridge tundra to the top of the couloir. Much to my surprise the deeply inset north-facing couloir was still in the shade pretty much the same as it had been. The steepest upper pitch was really baking in the sun. I was definitely a bit disappointed and knew better than to ski a 40+ degree couloir which has not been warmed by the sun. We continued to wait until 9:45am and the sun was slowly creeping down the steep rock walls of the couloir, but hadn’t hit the bottom 1,200′ of the couloir yet. Mikey had a deadline of 3pm back in Denver and the longer we waited the more Derek and I admitted it was a bit more of  serious couloir than we thought especially with dogs in tow. But, gosh, I wanted to ski it so bad, but likely would have needed to wait another hour or two. By the time we would have hiked back up to Deming’s northeast ridge and skied down the entire approach would be so very slushy making travel very slow and Kona and Maude would have an epic time through the deep wet snow. Derek and I were thinking about just waiting, but ultimately the dog factor sealed it for us and we all went back to the summit and skied the super fun east face of Deming. The Deming Drop would have to wait for next year!

Derek & Maude

Derek & Maude

Me skiing Deming. Photo by MIke

Me skiing Deming. Photo by Mike

Derek opening up some wide GS turns on the upper east face

Derek opening up some wide GS turns on the upper east face

Derek with Eccles Pass beyond

Derek with Eccles Pass beyond

Mikey with Peak 1 and Peak 2 in the distance

Mikey with Peak 1 and Peak 2 in the distance

Kona finishing up the east face

Kona finishing up the east face

We then put our skins back on and headed up to Eccles pass for some more views and a few more turns.

Reaching Eccles Pass (11,900') with Deming's east face behind

Reaching Eccles Pass (11,900′) with Deming’s east face behind

The snow got really sloppy down in the Meadow Creek basin and the dogs were struggling to stay afloat. Not to mention it was pretty hot as well. Nevertheless, we reached snow line, traded skis and boots for trail shoes, and made it back to the TH at around 1pm. We were bummed not to ski the Deming Drop, but glad we made the right call. Spring skiing is ll about timing. Next time we will get a later start knowing the couloir gets sun late. And, oh yeah, leave the dogs at home :)

A Saturday Morning on the Cristo

Despite being one of the easiest 14ers in the state and one we have been up and down countless times, its hard to beat Quandary’s south facing Cristo Couloir in terms of bang (ski descent) for your buck (effort & time involved). Mikey & Kaitlin came up Friday night and stayed with us as Kaitlin would care for Sawyer and Rainie while Kona, Kristine, Mikey, & myself would go climb & ski the Cristo. Its a great route – very direct and a fun ski. One I try and do about every spring. After Sawyer ate a good breakfast and got accustomed to Kaitlin, we departed the house by 8am for the 1 hour and 15 min drive over to Quandary. We had to park at the gate to the Blue Lakes Dam as is typical and got going around 9:30am from my truck for the mile walk up the road to the dam and the base of the couloir. From here its 1 mile and 2,575′ straight up to the summit. Navigationally, it cannot get any easier than this. A great bootpack was established and up we went.

Up and up we go

Up and up we go

Kristine high in the couloir with Northstar Mtn behind

Kristine high in the couloir with Northstar Mtn behind

We topped out right about noon to several folks coming up the standard east ridge and some pretty blustery west wind.

Me, Kristine, & Kona on Quandary's summit (14,265')

Me, Kristine, & Kona on Quandary’s summit (14,265′)

Mikey joins in for a summit pic

Mikey joins in for a summit pic

After maybe 20 minutes on the summit, it was time to roll. We quickly transitioned to ski mode and started down the Cristo. The sun was in and out of the clouds all day, which tended to crust over some of the snow on the upper slopes, but overall it was a pretty decent ski down albeit a bit heavy since we were skiing it after noon this day.

Kristine

Kristine

Kristine skiing the upper  portion of Cristo

Kristine skiing the upper portion of Cristo

There she goes

There she goes

Mikey launching on his snowboard

Mikey launching on his snowboard

Snowboarders...have it easy

Snowboarders…have it easy

Mikey in the sun with the frozen Blue Lakes far below

Mikey in the sun with the frozen Blue Lakes far below

About halfway down the couloir, the sun was really out and it was pretty sloppy, heavy snow especially on my teles. Mikey seemed to carve it up like butter on his snowboard. Kristine skied it very well on her alpines.

Kristine & Kona

Kristine & Kona

Mikey

Mikey

Kristine

Kristine

And, a few of me that Kristine took.

Me trying to last through the heavy snow

Me trying to last through the heavy snow

A full-view of the couloir above

A full-view of the couloir above

And....that's a wrap

And….that’s a wrap

Back at the car around 1pm, we were home by 2:30pm after giving a few fellow skiers a ride back to the standard east ridge trailhead (which they had ascended to ski down the Cristo). Kaitlin & Sawyer had had a great day together and she had just awoken from her afternoon slumber. Many thanks to Kaitlin for shouldering our responsibilities for a few hours so we could go climb/ski something together.

Lastly, happy 9th birthday to Kona! Her birthday is today (May 17). She is the best companion we could have ever asked for. We all love you so much, Kona!

Kona on the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross last summer (14,005')

Kona on the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross last summer (14,005′)

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

Hardman Hut Trip 2016

My good friend, Jesse Hill, can sure plan a hut trip. He can plan most things in life to a “T”, but hut trips in particular are a specialty of his. So, when Jesse called upon our crew to take part in the Hardman Hut Trip in April of 2016 almost a year ago, 12 courageous dudes immediately jumped at the opportunity. Not only was this a hut trip, but it was a hut trip traverse between three huts in the northern Sawatch Range from the Basalt/Ruedi Reservoir area to the Sylvan Lake area south of Eagle. It was a fantastic trip and afforded all of us a great opportunity to just unplug from society and enjoy the outdoors, the wonderful 10th Mtn hut system, and the camaraderie. I mean we’re all close friends who have shared a lifetime of adventures, climbs, raft trips, ski trips, etc, but it was so cool for all of us to get back together as a group. This trip already has us scheming Hardman 2017.

The huts with the various routes marked

The huts with the various routes marked. Photo by Joel

We began by leaving a few cars, including my Tahoe, at the Yeoman Park trailhead south of Eagle. Jesse organized a CME Sprinter van to take us all around to Basalt and then up the Fryingpan River past the Ruedi Resevoir to the Montgomery Flats trailhead.

Our shuttle van - not bad :)

Our shuttle van – not bad :) Photo by Derek

We picked up Brett at his home in Glenwood Springs as well. The van left us at the nondescript Montgomery Flats trailhead with no one else around. The only issue was that the trail was fairly dry so most of us packed our skis and boots on our backs for the first 2 miles or so.

Left to right: J, Jesse, & Chuck en route to the Harry Gates Hut

Left to right: J, Jesse, & Chuck en route to the Harry Gates Hut

Left to right: Joel, Nico, Matt, & Brett upon reaching the Burnt Mtn Road

Left to right: Joel, Nico, Matt, & Brett upon reaching the Burnt Mtn Road

Following the power lines for a bit

Following the power lines for a bit

The crew back on the Burnt Mtn Road

The crew back on the Burnt Mtn Road

We then de-skinned at the summit of the Burnt Mtn Road and were able to ski about 1.75 miles slightly downhill on the same road to the Harry Gates Hut turnoff. After a a few hundred vertical feet of gain and 1/4 mile, we arrived at the hut around 5pm. It was so so nice out and we all relaxed on the deck with cocktails.

At the Harry Gates Hut turnoff

At the Harry Gates Hut turnoff

The Harry Gates Hut with the south face of Fools Peak (12,947') behind

The Harry Gates Hut with the south face of Fools Peak (12,947′) behind

The views of Fools Peak were amazing and the south face isn’t even the “fun” side of the peak. The north ridge of Fools provides awesome class 3/4 scrambling. Kristine & I climbed this route back in September of 2010.

Fools Peak's north ridge from Lake Charles

Fools Peak’s north ridge from Lake Charles

Kristine on the lower portion of the ridge

Kristine on the lower portion of the ridge

K climbing the class 4 headwall from the notch

K climbing the class 4 headwall from the notch

Fools Peak summit (12,947')

Fools Peak summit (12,947′)

Anyway, back to our Hardman 2016, it was a fantastic evening at the Harry Gates Hut. Scotch, beer, and whiskey were consumed by many as were several rounds of hors d’oeuvres. Jesse made a phenomenal dinner that we all helped to carry into the hut, poker games were played, and late night antics and stories ensued.

Mikey chilling in the late afternoon sun on the Harry Gates deck

Mikey chilling in the late afternoon sun on the Harry Gates deck

A great south-facing deck. Photo by Derek

A great south-facing deck. Photo by Derek

Jesse in "suns out guns out" mode with cocktail in hand

Jesse in “suns out guns out” mode with cocktail in hand. Photo by Joel

Me enjoying the warm sun

Me enjoying the warm sun. Photo by Derek

Inside the Harry Gates Hut

Inside the Harry Gates Hut

The first night's pasta dinner

The first night’s pasta dinner. Photo by Derek

I think we were all surprised at how efficiently 12 guys gathered themselves, made breakfast, organized gear, and cleaned up the hut each morning. After a delicious monster burrito made by Mikey, I finished packing and we were all out the door by 9:30am. It was another beautiful and very warm day even at elevations between 9,000′ and 11,000′. Harry Gates is one of the lowest huts in terms of elevation at 9,700′. We skied for maybe a mile and a half down the Burnt Mtn Road to Lime Creek at the head of the distinct Lime Creek Canyon. Lime Creek Canyon is a wonderful limestone sport climbing area. J and I climbed here last fall for a day and just loved it. It was really cool to see it all snow-covered and inaccessible by truck. I’m looking forward to going back to this secluded climbing area this summer and fall.

Leaving the Harry Gates hut

Leaving the Harry Gates Hut

Skiing back down to the Burnt Mtn Road

Skiing back down to the Burnt Mtn Road. The Elk Range 14er Capitol Peak can be seen in the middle of the picture with Mt. Sopris at far right

Almost down to Lime Creek

Almost down to Lime Creek

Lime Creek Canyon and the sport climbing cliffs

Lime Creek Canyon and the sport climbing cliffs

Some of our crew switching to uphill skinning mode with Lime Creek Canyon behind

Some of our crew switching to uphill skinning mode with Lime Creek Canyon behind

Beginning the lengthy 5 mile uphill skin to the Peter Estin Hut

Beginning the lengthy 5 mile uphill skin to the Peter Estin Hut

The skin up to the Peter Estin Hut was really beautiful along ridges and through groves of Aspens. We took periodic breaks to snack up and enjoy the views.

Skinning along with the Elk Range in the far distance

Skinning along with the Elk Range in the far distance

Avalanche Peak

Avalanche Peak

Lime Creek Canyon down at far left in the picture

Lime Creek Canyon down at far left in the picture

Left to right: Pyramid Peak, Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mtn (behind the right Aspen tree), and Capitol Peak. All Elk Range 14ers

Left to right: Pyramid Peak, Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mtn (behind the right Aspen tree), and Capitol Peak. All Elk Range 14ers

Mr. Wamsley

Mr. Wamsley

Scott enjoying the "shorts" weather

Scott enjoying the “shorts” weather

Expedition leader, Doctor Jesse Hill

Expedition leader, Doctor Jesse Hill

Group shot in the Aspens

Group shot in the Aspens. Photo by Derek

Andy showing us the way with Fools Peak behind

Andy showing us the way with Fools Peak behind

Chuck on a steeper section of the broad ridge

Chuck on a steeper section of the broad ridge

Finally, after about 4.5 hours on the go, we hit the turnoff for the Peter Estin Hut at 11,200'

Finally, after about 4.5 hours on the go, we hit the turnoff for the Peter Estin Hut at 11,200′

We arrived to find three other fellas relaxing on the deck whom we would be sharing the hut with that evening. The views south to the Elks and Northern Sawatch were phenomenal. We all unpacked and each broke out a cocktail or two and more hors d’oeuvres of salami, cheese, and Jesse’s canned octopus. It was yet again an awesome evening and J and Andy made the awesome tacos from the elk meat Jesse had organized for all of us. Yum.

Peter Estin Hut views. Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are visible on the right

Peter Estin Hut views. Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are visible on the right

Appetizers and cocktail hour

Appetizers and cocktail hour. Photo by Joel

Relaxing on the Peter Estin deck

Relaxing on the Peter Estin deck. Photo by Joel

Nico's breakfast

Nico’s breakfast. Photo by Joel

Saying goodbye to the peter Estin Hut the next morning

Saying goodbye to the Peter Estin Hut the next morning

The weather on day 3 was very overcast and a bit breezy as expected and forecasted by the OpenSnow gurus. We had a 2,000′ ski down the Iron Edge Trail to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead, which was fun for some and not so much for others. We passed a decent size crew who were all heading up to the Peter Estin Hut on the ski down. We then skied down the East Brush Creek Road about a 1/2 mile to the Newcomer Spring trail turnoff and skinned up for the long uphill. The weather definitely moved in and out all day graupelling on us, then getting some sunshine, and then heavy snow for the last few miles to the Polar Star Inn.

Mikey beginning the descent down to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead on the morning of day 3

Mikey beginning the descent down to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead on the morning of day 3

The crew heading up the Newcomer Spring trail

The crew heading up the Newcomer Spring trail

J and Chuck in some sunshine

J and Chuck in some sunshine

Then, the snow came

Then, the snow came

Scott enjoying the skinning and snow

Scott enjoying the skinning and snow

Chuck and Brett on the final mile push to the Polar Star Inn

Chuck and Brett on the final mile push to the Polar Star Inn

The Polar Star Inn. Photo by Derek

The Polar Star Inn. Photo by Derek

We all arrived by 3pm making for about a 5 hour day of skiing and skinning. I quickly got a fire going in the wood stove to dry things out as we were all pretty drenched from the wet snow. Two more friends, Alec Hall and Sam Collentine, arrived at around 4:30pm from the Yeoman park trailhead as they just came for the final night. It was awesome having these two fine dudes come in and hang for the night with us. Two grad school physicists from CU Boulder were sharing the hut with us. They were very cool to put up with our rowdy crew of 14. Again, Jesse delivered with a phenomenal dinner of bread, salad, and jambalaya.

Dinner on night 3

Day 3’s dinner. Photo by Joel

Joel's day 3 cocktail. Photo by Joel

Joel’s day 3 cocktail. Photo by Joel

The OpenSnow dudes. Photo by Alec

The OpenSnow dudes. Photo by Alec

Late night at the Polar Star Inn. Photo by Joel

Late night at the Polar Star Inn. Photo by Joel

The weather wasn’t supposed to be too stellar on Sunday, but Joel and a few others wanted to give New York Mountain’s summit a shot, so we set the alarm for 5:30am. Mikey and I had slept downstairs by the wood stove and we got a fire going immediately in the morning as we had left the windows open all night and it was pretty cold. Back in March of 2008, Kristine & I had skinned up to New York Mountain’s summit (12,550′) via the Polar Star Inn and it was a nice few hour jaunt in good weather.

New York Mtn summit (12,550') in March 2008

New York Mtn summit (12,550′) in March 2008

The massive cornice along the northeast ridge as seen from the summit

The massive cornice along the northeast ridge as seen from the summit

However, this day was some rough weather. It was decent below treeline, but once we climbed to the northeast ridge the wind was pretty stern and the visibility was not ideal to say the least. Sam, Joel Mikey, J, Chuck, Scott, & myself ventured out for the morning but ended up turning around below the false summit likely at around 12,400′ just a hundred or two hundred feet shy of the summit though we still had some distance along the long ridge to cover. We really couldn’t see much of anything and with a monster cornice to our left, we just decided to save the summit for another day. It wasn’t very enjoyable anymore. However, the turns down from the ridge to the trees were very enjoyable with a few inches of powder over a firm base.

Chuck & J on Sunday morning skinning up through the woods behind the Polar Star Inn

Chuck & J on Sunday morning skinning up through the woods behind the Polar Star Inn

Breaking out of treeline with some cool clouds down low

Breaking out of treeline with some cool clouds down low

Joel high up on the northeast ridge. Nice day, eh buddy?

Joel high up on the northeast ridge. Nice day, eh buddy?

Departing our highpoint

Departing our highpoint

Sam getting some soft turns

Sam getting some soft turns

We regrouped back at the hut around 9:30am and packed up and cleaned the hut. The ski and skate out went pretty quick back to our cars at the Yeoman Park trailhead arriving at around 11:15am. A few dudes had some pretty nasty blisters, but sometimes that’s the price you pay for a good time.

Carnage - Andy's heels

Carnage – Andy’s heels

What a wonderful few days deep in the backcountry with a great crew. I literally cannot wait for Hardman 2017.

Parting shot

Parting shot

For those interested, here are Joel’s stats day by day for the adventure (you know, because he likes maps and technology and all that sort of thing):

Route Day 1 Thursday - To Harry Gates Hut

Route Day 1 Thursday – To Harry Gates Hut

Route Day 2 Friday - Harry Gates Hut to Peter Estin Hut

Route Day 2 Friday – Harry Gates Hut to Peter Estin Hut

Route Day 3 Saturday - Peter Estin Hut to Polar Star Inn

Route Day 3 Saturday – Peter Estin Hut to Polar Star Inn

Route Day 4 Sunday - Morning jaunt toward New York Mountain

Route Day 4 Sunday – Morning jaunt toward New York Mountain

Route Day 4 Sunday - Polar Star Inn to the car

Route Day 4 Sunday – Polar Star Inn to the car

A Weekend in Telluride

A weekend for just Kristine & myself is a rare occasion these days, but when it comes about it is indeed special for us and “rejuvenating” in a way. Ken & Dianne Oelberger came to town two days after my family left and again shouldered our responsibilities (Sawyer, Rainier, & Kona) for the weekend so Kristine & I could get away to our favorite place – Telluride. Through my wonderful Aunt Evon we were able to get a significantly reduced rate on her hotel room at The Peaks in Mountain Village, so this was just icing on the cake for a great weather weekend in Telluride. Even the 4.5 hour drive there and back was enjoyable and relaxing. Kristine’s #1 priority was to not get up at 3am to go climb a peak. No problem at all. We slept in on Saturday, drank our coffee, and relaxed. Packing our skinning gear, we drove down to the end of the Box Canyon and skinned up the road starting around 11am. After an hour, we reached the hydroelectric power plant/residence at the top of Bridal Veil Falls. Our thought was to head up into Ingram Basin and climb up Ajax Peak’s south slopes, which would make for a nice ski. The one-way road up into Ingram Basin was non-existent buried below a lot of snow. We started out with some very steep sidehilling on our skins and skis for a few hundred yards until we felt it was pretty darn steep and hard snow to be traversing without ski crampons and/or whippets. We decided to turn around and find some other activities to do for the remainder of the day.

Kristine switching back the road up to the top of the hydroelectric power plant/residence atop Bridal Veil Falls

Kristine switching back the road up to the top of the hydroelectric power plant/residence atop Bridal Veil Falls

Kristine making her way above the power plant/residence

Kristine making her way above the power plant/residence

Kristine skiing down the steep headwall

Kristine skiing down the steep headwall

Back on the road getting ready to ski down the short, steep sections between switchbacks back to the car

Back on the road getting ready to ski down the short, steep sections between switchbacks back to the car

IMG_9818

The power plant turned residence

A bit of a bummer to turn around, but we’ll be back. Plus, we’ve been up Ajax numerous times just not in the winter. I believe the first time I climbed Ajax was way back in the summer of 2003 with my dad and a 6 month old Rainier. The summit has a stellar view of town.

Mom, Dad, Kristine, me, & Rainier on the summit of Ajax in July of 2007

Mom, Dad, Kristine, me, & Rainier on the summit of Ajax Peak (12,785′) in July of 2007

Left to right: Me, Chris Danforth, Ken Oelberger, Kristine, Kate Danforth, Carrie Oelberger, Thomas Oelberger, Rainier, & Kona on the summit of Ajax Peak on October 1, 2009 - two days before our wedding at Gorrono Ranch on the telluride Ski Mtn

Left to right: Me, Chris Danforth, Ken Oelberger, Kristine, Kate Danforth, Carrie Oelberger, Thomas Oelberger, Rainier, & Kona on the summit of Ajax Peak on October 1, 2009 – two days before our wedding at Gorrono Ranch on the Telluride Ski Mtn

We then decided to go skin up the ski mountain only to be shut down 1/3 of the way up by ski patrol. We were asked nicely to turn around because uphill skinning is not allowed on the mountain during ski operating hours except on the runs below Chair 10 on the other side of the ski mountain. I mean I guess we do understand why “uphilling” is not allowed as the ski runs into town are very steep with only one blue run and during ski hours that blue run is a bottleneck of skiers making for dangerous “uphilling”. And, most folks aren’t skinning up double black bump runs, especially in Telluride where everything is steeper than other resorts. So, we skied back down to the car and drove back up to Mountain Village for some hot tubbing and swimming at the Peaks pool. Not a bad alternative. The weather was just absolutely stellar with temps in the 50s.

As far as we know (as we have gotten caught before) sledding is illegal as well on the ski runs even after ski operating hours. However, Kristine & I aren’t your ordinary sledders. We had thee idea of taking the gondola up to mid-mountain at Allred’s Bar and then swissbobbing down Telluride Trail (blue run) and Lookout (double blue run) to town for our 8pm reservation at the New Sheridan Chop House. Kristine wore her high heels and I had my nice jeans on and boots (to make it look like we were just going out) and our bobs were inconspicuously hidden beneath our jackets attached to the outsides of our backpacks. We got off the gondola at Allred’s and slipped out the door very fast right past the “Do Not Enter” sign. We cruised over to the top (Kristine still in high heels) of Telluride Trail evading Snowcat #1 to a spot where Kristine donned her running shoes and snow pants over her jeans.

Kristine in high heels ready to bob down Telluride

Kristine in high heels ready to bob down Telluride

We then took off down the groomed road until we saw Snowcat #2 coming up the trail. There was nowhere to go. We merely got down off the road on the steep upper slopes of the double back bump run called North Chute and then hopped back on the road and bobbed off before Snowcat #2 knew what we were doing. We came to the intersection of the double blue run and saw that it was groomed corduroy and we got real excited as we knew it would be a stellar swissbob. Lookout would be a black run anywhere else, but its a double blue in Telluride.

Kristine heading off down Lookout with the alpenglow behind on the San Juans

Kristine heading off down Lookout with the alpenglow behind on the San Juans

I held my heavy DSLR Canon camera decently still and caught some of the action on the flatter “catwalk” portions:

We changed into our dinner outfits (and Kristine back into her high heels) at the restroom at the bottom of the gondola and walked up to the Chop House. After checking our backpacks with our down coats and a few strange looks, we enjoyed an awesome dinner together. A successful outing.

The next morning, we slept in yet again and it was amazing. We gathered our skis and skins again and skinned up the “legal” Chair 10 run Double Cabin. It took us about an hour to the top and called into home base to see how the Oelbergers and Sawyer and dogs were doing. Things were going well back home and so we decided to go boot up Bald Mountain or Baldy (11,868′) and ski one of its double black runs we have done so many times in the past. Then, we finished with a long run back down See Forever from the top to make it back to the Peaks for one last hot tub and water slide time in the pool.

Top of Baldy on yet another gorgeous day

Top of Baldy on yet another gorgeous day

A few scenic shots. This one of Campbell Peak's southwest face above Aldasoro Ranch, which is on the ski-mountaineering radar

A few scenic shots. This one of Campbell Peak’s southwest face, which is on the ski-mountaineering radar

Lizard Head & the Wilson massif

Lizard Head & the Wilson massif

The Wilsons, Gladstone Peak, & Sunshine Peak in the foreground

The Wilsons, Gladstone Peak, & Sunshine Peak in the foreground

The drive back together was just as great as the drive down as we were excited to see Sawyer, the dogs, and the Oelbergers. Thanks again to Ken & Dianne for wanting to spend so much time with Sawyer and the dogs that we are able to have a weekend away just the two of us. I know they all had just a good a time in Edwards as Kristine & I did in Telluride.

Castle & Conundrum in Winter

The first time I climbed the Elk Range 14er Castle Peak was for my company’s 2004 Griffith Centers Peak Challenge. I organized it and selfishly chose Castle Peak as I had not hiked it. Griffith Centers for Children sponsors 14er climbs every year we try and participate every year we can. Griffith Centers is a great organization that helps troubled children and their families primarily in Denver. Come to think of it Castle Peak was Rainier and my 1st 14er in the Elks.

BGCE Peak Challenge summit pic on Castle Peak (14,265'). August 7, 2004

BGCE Peak Challenge summit pic on Castle Peak (14,265′). August 7, 2004

I then learned there was another 14er next to Castle Peak called Conundrum Peak (14,060′). However, back in those days Conundrum was not recognized as an official 14er of the list of 54 due to it not rising 300′ above the connecting saddle with its higher neighbor, Castle Peak. These days, I believe Conundrum is generally included in the 14er list. Rainier and I ventured up high into Montenzuma Basin in the spring of 2006 and climbed Conundrum just the two of us.

Brandon & Rainie on Conundrum Pk's summit (14,060')

Brandon & Rainie on Conundrum Peak’s summit (14,060′)

In late June of 2008, Kristine was on her quest to complete the Colorado 14ers and so we all went back up into Montezuma Basin and climbed both 14ers. We took more of a sporty line up Conundrum Peak this time via the steeper Conundrum Couloir. After we summitted Conundrum, we did the fairly mellow traverse over to Castle Peak. Montezuma Basin offers wonderful skiing and we skied from about 13,500′ all the way back down to the truck. It was a great day.

Kristine nearing the top of the Conundrum Couloir

Kristine nearing the top of the Conundrum Couloir

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060')

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060′)

Castle Peak summit (14,265')

Castle Peak summit (14,265′)

I’ve been skiing over in Montezuma Basin a few times since 2008 but never to go climb those two 14ers. My friend Natalie Moran is on her winter 14er quest and asked me if I would like to join her on these two. After our recent fun climb up Mt. Sneffels two weeks prior, I was itching to get back up on some peaks as well. And, the weather has been wonderful from a winter climbing perspective., i.e. not much recent snow at all leaving stable snow conditions. Another friend of Natalie’s, Greg from Crested Butte, joined us as well and turns out that these two 14ers were still left on his winter 14er list. Greg only has 6 or so more winter 14ers to have climbed all the 14ers in winter. Pretty amazing stuff. Plus, Greg is one of the fastest people I have climbed with no doubt. I drove over to Aspen and turned onto the dark Castle Creek Road, went south to Ashcroft and the winter road closure, and parked next to Natalie’s car around 10:30pm. In winter, the route starts much lower with much more distance and vertical gain to climb than in the summer. I believe the roundtrip stats are around 5,500′ and 16 miles in winter for both 14ers. You can cut that in half or more in the summer given how far you can drive up the 4WD mining road in Montezuma Basin. After a rough and very short night’s rest in the back of Kristine’s Subaru Impreza, in which I certainly did not fit, we woke up at 3:15am and got geared up. Greg showed up at our cars and we all began up the road at around 4:15am with Natalie and I on our skis and Greg on foot with his snowshoes on his pack. We made good time the first few miles and eventually reached the point on the road where I had always driven my truck just before the Pearl Pass turnoff. Soon after the morning colors began to light the sky we entered Montezuma Basin.

Dawn breaks

Dawn breaks

Natalie skinning up Montezuma Basin

Natalie skinning up Montezuma Basin

Upper Montezuma Basin from the summer 12,800' 4WD parking

Upper Montezuma Basin from the summer 12,800′ 4WD parking

After another hour of skinning, we reached the 12,800′ 4WD summer parking area and looked up at the final headwall to the small glacier below the peaks. We noticed a skin track up this 600′ headwall and went for it only to find out that is was horribly icy and slick from a skinner’s perspective. At this point, I certainly wished I just had crampons or snowshoes to go straight up instead of slipping and struggling up the switchbacks.

Me skinning up the icy headwall skin track. Photo by Natalie

Me skinning up the icy headwall skin track. Photo by Natalie

We regrouped in the high 13,500′ basin below Castle’s north face and Conundrum’s east face. Our plan was to climb to the saddle between the two peaks, but it looked a bit loaded from a snow accumulation perspective and perhaps a bit dangerous climbing it. I was honestly expecting it to be a bit drier. We then chose to climb the steeper north couloir of Castle leaving the skis and snowshoes at the base. The couloir was safe enough but definitely a bit demoralizing as it was littered with scree. Snow only covered a small portion of the couloir and it was a bit unconsolidated at that. Natalie and I were fighting our own battles in that couloir due to climbing in ski boots on loose, steep scree. We soon topped out to find Greg lounging at the notch. After a quick snack and drink, we left for the summit only a few hundred vertical feet above along the northeast ridge.

Looking down Castle's North Couloir at Natalie with Conundrum Peak behind

Natalie climbing Castle’s North Couloir with Conundrum Peak behind

Looking up the couloir at Greg almost to the notch

Looking up the couloir at Greg almost to the notch

Greg & I going for Castle's summit. Photo by Natalie

Greg & I going for Castle’s summit. Photo by Natalie

Greg climbing Castle's northeast ridge

Greg climbing Castle’s northeast ridge

Natalie climbing Castle's northeast ridge

Natalie climbing Castle’s northeast ridge

Natalie a bit higher

Natalie a bit higher

Greg

Greg

Almost there

Almost there

Conundrum Peak from Castle's northeast ridge

Conundrum Peak & the Conundrum Couloir from Castle’s northeast ridge

We topped out on Castle around 11:15am making for an ascent time of around 6 hours. After maybe 15 minutes, we started making the traverse over to Conundrum.

Castle Peak summit (14,265'). March 5, 2016

Castle Peak summit (14,265′). March 5, 2016

Greg & I on Castle's summit. Photo by Natalie

Greg & I on Castle’s summit. Photo by Natalie

The othhr 5 rugged Elk Range 14ers to the west

The other 5 rugged Elk Range 14ers to the west

Upon reaching the saddle with Conundrum, we scoped out a possible descent back to the high glacier bowl between the peaks. This same route looked more dangerous from below in the basin a few hours earlier in terms of climbing up it, but now looking down it, it looked like a viable route off these peaks instead of reclimbing Castle and downclimbing its north couloir. Plus, when you are descending a steeper snow route, obviously your time in the danger zone of going down it is much much less than climbing up it. We tested the snow and it definitely appeared stable with no deliberate slabs waiting to rip. We left our packs at the saddle and made the short climb up Conundrum’s south ridge.

Natalie climbing up Conundrum with Castle behind

Natalie climbing up Conundrum with Castle behind

Natalie on Conundrum's summit

Natalie on Conundrum’s summit

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060'). March 5, 2016

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060′). March 5, 2016

Greg & Castle

Greg & Castle

I was happy for Natalie as Conundrum had eluded her on her last winter foray up into Montezuma Basin. Though, at least she was able to summit Castle that day in late January of last year. We descended back to the saddle and one by one descended the steep powdery slopes to below the small cliff band. Then, in order to get down the slope quickly, we each had fun glissades for a few hundred feet. A quick traverse led back over to our skis and snowshoes at the base of Castle’s north couloir.

Greg descending the powdery slopes below the saddle to me below the small cliff

Greg descending the powdery slopes below the saddle to me below the small cliff

Greg

Greg

Natalie striking out across the slope below the small cliff band. This would have been a fun ski with good snow :)

Natalie striking out across the slope below the small cliff band. This slope would have been a fun ski as this was good snow :)

Glissade tracks

Glissade tracks

Natalie back at our skis and snowshoes with our descent route from the saddle behind

Natalie back at our skis and snowshoes with our descent route from the saddle behind

After a snack and some Gatorade, we transitioned back to our skis and shoes and descended. Greg motored ahead while Natalie and I picked our way over to the slope we have both skied before. It was pretty tough snow to ski and I ended up alpining instead of telemarking (as much as I hate to resort to alpine turns) for fear of blowing out my knee. We actually got some nice corn turns down lower in the basin, which was much more enjoyable.

Me skiing the skiable headwall. Photo by Natalie

Me skiing the skiable headwall. Photo by Natalie

Me skiing lower down in the basin. Photo by Natalie

Me dropping my knee lower down in the basin on some nice corn snow. Photo by Natalie

Skate-skiing out the final 2 miles to Ashcroft passing horse-drawn sleighs along the way

Skate-skiing out the final 2 miles to Ashcroft passing horse-drawn sleighs along the way. Photo by Natalie

Natalie and I skied on out all the way back to the winter road closure at Ashcroft and our cars arriving by 1:45pm making for about a 9.5 hour day. Even though Greg was on snowshoes, he only arrived an hour after we did. He is fast. I had to take off soon after arriving at the cars in order to make a Costco run for the Chalk family on my way home and to catch the Duke-UNC game, of course. A wonderful day out with a fine crew. Happy that Greg and Natalie added more peaks to their winter list and that I could be a part of it. As for the winter 14er list for myself, I need to go back and count (if I am able to) which ones I have done in winter over the past 18 years. I always swore that I was done with lists. However, I guess never say never.