Starting off the season right – Little Bear Peak Ski Descent – 2014-03-21

I’ve been itching for ski mountaineering season to roll back around, and we’re finally getting there. Much of the state isn’t ready yet, but with its thinner snowpack and warm, sunny weather, the Sangres are rapidly coming in to condition. The timing on this climb was a bit unusual, with Eric and I heading straight down for the climb after a full day of work on Thursday and skipping the couple hours of poor sleep that these days typically start with.

We made it up to 9,800′ on the Lake Como road before being stopped by snow, and were moving at 1am. Despite a relaxed-feeling pace, we made quick work of the road and hit the base of a north-facing couloir at 2:30am. This was our one point of concern in regards to snowpack stability, and we spent a full 90 minutes digging pits, poking around, discussing, and slowly working our way in to the line before making the call to continue upwards.

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Belford and Oxford Ski

After skiing the Needle on Friday, Marc was down to only four peaks left to finish his 14er project. Thanks to some photos posted a week prior, we were fairly confident that Belford and Oxford would be in shape for a descent. Early Saturday afternoon Marc sent a text to let me know he was going for it, and I agreed to join him despite still being fatigued from Friday.

It was an early drive down to Winfield, and we were moving along the trail by 5:30am. Worried that the trail would be dry for a few miles, we carried flip flops until we hit mostly-continuous snow and stashed them in a tree.

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Crestone Needle Ski Descent – Carl’s Finisher

Carl put together an outstanding video from the day, and it’s highly recommended viewing: Carl’s Crestone Needle video
He also posted a trip report over on 14ers.com: Carl’s 14ers.com TR
 

A few weeks later, more snow, and a fair amount of melting later and we were back, slogging up the snow-covered road to South Colony Lake at four in the morning. We came armed with ropes, slings, and plenty of gear this time, doing everything we could to ensure success.

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Crestone Needle Ski Attempt

Going in to this climb, the five of us (Carl, Eric, Marc, Matt, and myself) were aware of a not-too-pleasant weather forecast. Winds were expected to be bad, and we only had a few hour window when it would be less-than-terrible up high. The flip side of this is that NOAA’s wind forecasts often turn out to be entirely wrong, so staying home because of a wind forecast is often a good way to miss a beautiful day in the mountains. This was not such a day.

Friday night, we drove up the road towards South Colony Lake as far as the snow would allow. What does a 4Runner look like with climbing, skiing, and car camping gear for four look like, you may ask? Like a tick about to pop.

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Uncompahgre Peak Ski Descent

Marc killing it split-skiing

After last month’s unsuccessful attempt, Carl, Marc, Eric, Rob, and myself again made the painfully long drive to Lake City to give Uncompahgre another go; a photo posted by climbers who were up the weekend before showed that our one point of concern was no longer an issue. After much deliberation on the drive down, we got started up the road at 2:30am. Unfortunately, our nice smooth skintrack had been wrecked by snowshoers, requiring a bit more effort on the approach. A little over two hours later, we were back at the summer trailhead and took a break to regroup and eat. Before 6am we gained the climber’s-right side of the gully, climbing up the (now bare) spot we dropped in to it last time. This was the first indication of how much had melted since we were here last. I saw some runnels adjacent to our trail, but it was hard to tell the extent of them – later in the day, we saw that it was quite significant. We stopped here briefly before pushing on.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

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