Crestone Peak ski descent

This was, unquestionably, the most miserable day I’ve ever spent in the mountains. Nothing was fun, everything was awful (except the company), and the entire time was spent either bushwhacking or punching through breakable crust – or both. I’d never taken a shot at Crestone Peak before, and I have no plans to go back. I’d texted with Mark about getting out for a peak or few this spring in March after camping in the Sangres. Conditions up high looked good – at least as best as I could see from Zapata Falls and Grand Sand Dunes NP – so we decided to give Crestone Peak a shot. There was some debate about which direction to go after it from – starting on the east side of the range would be a little longer by the numbers, but much more direct. The west side – via Cottonwood Creek – would be an easier drive for Mark, and a little less distance and vert. I’d been warned about the bushwhacking coming from Cottonwood Creek but Frank Konsella told Mark that it wasn’t that bad, and provided a GPX track for us to follow. I asked Mark how unreasonably early we could start, and decided to shoot for 1am.

And so a very very long day was set. I had to go to work Thursday, got home and packed, made dinner for the family, put the kids to bed, and got on the road about 8:30pm. I pulled up to the trailhead about 12:30am and realized I’d forgotten to pack hiking shoes. All I had were flip flops to hike the unknown amount of dry trail. I figured I’d make it work rather than hike in ski boots for an hour+, which was the right call as it was almost two and a half miles before I put my boots on heading up.

Mark, still in shoes

Following the “trail” was challenging once the snow set in. It’s lightly-traveled and maintained in the summer, so once it’s buried there’s almost nothing there. The GPX was not helpful and led us to climbing up steep rock slab sections, bashing through trees, falling on trees and poking a hole in my long-beloved Atom LT, and just all around suffering. Ultimately it took us five hours to bushwhack to the base of the line proper.

Finally out of the trees, 3,000′ to go

Actually getting to the couloir through this section was simpler than the photo makes it looks. Regardless, I was exhausted and demoralized after bashing through trees and feeling half-lost all night. But I also knew we would get to the top, and get it done.

That it was very cold – single digit temps – didn’t help, nor did knowing we’d have to get all the way back out the mess we just suffered through. But we pushed on.

First light hits the upper reaches of the mountain

Based on the consistency of the snow (i.e. punchy and slabby) I had a bad feeling about how the rest of the way would go. It’s less than 2,000’ from the base of the couloir to the summit, which would ordinarily take less than an hour and a half. Unfortunately the snow was not well-consolidated (partially thanks to a foot+ dump less than a week prior). I led the climb up the Red Gully, spending three hours wallowing up the mountain. It was awful, slow, painstaking progress. And, of course, we’d have to ski back down it as well.

Making our way up the Red Gully

Finally at 9am – 8 hours after we started – I was on the summit. I was not enjoying myself, knowing what was still to come but having no idea how long it would take.

On the summit of Crestone Peak

After spending about half an hour at the top eating, resting, and recomposing we were on our way down.

Tentatively skiing the upper stretches

I was slow and tentative and busted through the crust many times, in part due to having my small mountaineering skis. Mark managed to make it look good, and looked happy to have brought a bigger pair of skis.

Mark shredding

We were unable to ski through the choke at the bottom of the red gully, and had to downclimb. It wasn’t so bad.

Mark downclimbing the choke

And then we got a few more – and actually enjoyable – turns at the base of the line.

Mark taking advantage of the few fun turns of the day

There are no more photographs from here out. Typically the ski getting down to treeline is enjoyable, but it was not this day. The snow was nothing but breakable crust. Once back in the trees we wallowed more, picked our way through trees, tried to follow our track on the way up, and got cliffed out repeatedly. Finally, at long last, we made it back to the hiking trail and I got my flip flops on. After the boots came off I found that I somehow managed to cut up my shin through socks/boots/pants, but didn’t care and was just happy to be almost done with the day. And a couple miles later I was, except for the drive.

Happy to just be done and with post-14ering beer

I was so tired I laid down in the rocks for a few minutes waiting for Mark (he swapped shoes a bit before I did, so we hiked the last bit out on our own – but were only a couple minutes apart). It took five hard hours after we started the descent to get to the trailhead. I knew better than to swear off any more 14ering, but I wasn’t far off. Mark was camping at the trailhead so was in no rush to leave. I had a 3-hour drive to cover still, had been up since 6am the previous day, and really wanted to get home before dark – so I wished Mark a good nap and hit the road, getting home shortly before sunset.

Sunshine, Redcloud, and Handies peak skis

I’ve been wanting to do these in one trip to save drive time, so when I saw Mark was looking for partners I was all over it. He added Wetterhorn the day prior, but I couldn’t swing that – so I’ll have an extra few hours of driving and a quick peak while on the way to another San Juan peak at some point. I’d hoped to be on the road earlier but didn’t get in to the trailhead until almost midnight. Mark was awake when I got in and came to chat before I climbed in to the back of the truck with a 2:30am alarm.

Continue reading

Mt. Lindsey North Face ski – 4/30/2021

With ski season solidly in to “playoff season” I’ve been finally getting back at it regularly. The Sangres have been above normal in snowpack, so a couple weeks ago John and I drove down as close to the Mt. Lindsey trailhead as we could. A little after 11pm we hit a solitary snowdrift. It looked like if we could get through it we’d be able to drive quite a bit further, so we spent at least half an hour trying to get through it, without luck. The next morning we’d discover more (and deeper) drifts scattered along the road ahead, so ultimately it didn’t matter. About midnight we climbed in to the back of the truck for a couple hours of shuteye and were walking in shoes before 3am.

About a mile in we hit consistent-enough snow that we decided to put on ski boots and start skinning. A couple miles later we hit the summer trailhead, at which point the great bushwhack began. The summer trail was impossible to follow, so we just went where looked best. This resulted in a slow and unpleasant time, along with several creek crossings. Eventually we broke treeline (though a couple hundred yards off-route, which was not-ideal but at least let us go in the right direction).

Continue reading

Snowmass Mountain

There always seems to be a backstory to these big days, and this one is no different. Last May, John, Terrence, and myself all drove out with the intent to camp at Snowmass Lake to do Snowmass Mountain as an overnighter. We hiked in six and a half miles carrying our skis and overnight gear, made it to the snowmelt-swollen “logjam” creek crossing (which had been successfully crossed by other parties a few days prior), spent 45 minutes failing to find a safe way across (after getting 80% of the way through it), and then spent the next few hours on our six and a half mile out discussing how to do this peak without getting shut down by the logjam.

Continue reading

San Luis Peak – Yawner Gullies

Last season on our high peaks was so good that I’ve been champing at the bit to get back to it this season. I’ve had a few decent days to get ready, a quick Grays and Torreys outing with John at the end of January being the biggest. When condition reports for San Luis started coming in a couple weeks ago with good-for-March-looking coverage, we started planning to get out – and this past Tuesday/Wednesday was our shot. The plan was to drive down Tuesday after work, sleep for a few hours, and get to it. Family obligations ultimately changed that to daytripping the peak in one long push – and so I packed all my gear, and set the alarm for 11:30pm.

I got to bed at 8:30, and was wide awake at 11. Great. I unsuccessfully tried to go back to sleep, then got up and had a cup of coffee and got dressed while the breakfast burritos I made the night before reheated. At midnight sharp I was on the road for John’s, and we left from his place about 12:40. We drove in reasonable conformance with posted speed limits, and at 4:30am were on our way up the 503 road leaving Creede and…it was covered in a few inches of snow/ice 5+ miles from where we expected.

Continue reading

North Maroon Peak ski descent – 2019-06-12

This has been the season that just keeps on going. A couple weeks prior we saw a report from someone else who’d been up on North Maroon, and figured it’d still be in acceptable shape when we were able to make it. And so John, Terrence, and myself drove up after getting the kids down for the evening on a Tuesday night. We were able to get a few hours of sleep – all of us sleeping remarkably well for being at a trailhead – and were hiking at 2:45am.

We made quick progress the first couple of miles, until we hit the first debris path left behind by March’s historic avalanche cycle. We got around/through it, continued on, and…had to cross another one. Between the snow and avalanche debris, we found ourselves off-trail for a while and lost a little time – and energy. At 4:45 we were finally at treeline and switched from hiking shoes to ski boots and crampons, and before we knew it the sun was up.

Continue reading

Shavano + Tabeguache Ski

This season is truly one that just won’t quit. Storms keep bringing in more snow every week, and this week was no exception. A couple days prior, several inches of new snow blanketed the Sawatch. I’ve been wanting to ski Shavano this year, since even in decent years it often isn’t in from the top and reports suggested it was good to go. Despite having a newborn at home, leading to chronic sleep deprivation, I planned for a 1am alarm to go ski this pair of peaks with John. Getting to bed at 9:30 meant I had a solid 3.5 hours of sleep in store before another big day in the mountains – less than I’d like but entirely doable.

Of course, infants have their own schedule. James decided he was hungry at 11:30, and so I was out of bed with a rock-solid two hours of sleep. Since John and I weren’t meeting until 2 to head out, I had plenty of time for a midnight feeding, and watched some cooking videos on youtube with James to pass the time. 2 eventually came around, and we got on the road.

We were on-trail at 5:30, hiking in shoes for the first mile and a half or so. When we reached the bottom of the Angel of Shavano, we switched over to ski gear and got on our way up.

Continue reading

Mt. Columbia Ski

Life – as it tends to do – has thrown some curve balls my way. A lot of times, that means any plans for fun and adventure go out the window. That’s happened a little these past few weeks, but I’m trying to balance that with some time in the mountains to burn off stress and keep sane. John kept trying to convince me to take off Thursday and go ski a peak. Things were semi-busy and I had a couple things I’d have to move around, but I decided I wouldn’t regret going for a good day in the mountains. The Sawatch – along with most of the state – so we settled on Columbia figuring it would be a big day but straightforward and uncomplicated.

The day started with the typical 2am alarm, forcing myself to eat breakfast, and all the usual pre-Spring 14er preparation. Less-ordinary was John getting pulled over in Leadville for accelerating past a cop to 10-over at 4:30 in the morning; fortunately the officer seemed more concerned in making sure we weren’t drunk idiots and sent us on our way with a warning.

Eventually we made it as far up the road to the trailhead as snow allowed, and were hiking at about ten after six in the morning – much later than I’m used to for this time of year.

Continue reading

Mt. Princeton Ski Descent – 2019-04-06

It’s hard to believe, but when I look back I see that I haven’t skied any new 14ers in a while. Harvard was two years ago now, and before that was prior to Denali – a full five years ago. There are a lot of reasons why – time has been tight, along with poor snowpacks and stability, capped off with a lack of motivation to wake up entirely too early to drive and climb all day. This season’s incredible snowpack, combined with an impending deadline that will likely cut off my season mid-May, have me excited to get out again. This was the first weekend that held a pleasant forecast after the snowpack stabilized to my liking, so I had to take advantage of it with a big day out.

Saturday’s outing started like most do – packing up Friday afternoon, setting the alarm for 2am, and going to bed early. Lucky for me, I was wide awake at 1am and didn’t need the alarm. I tried to go back to sleep but gave up about 1:30, got out of bed, and fired up the coffee maker. Several cups later, John arrived and we got on the road.

We pulled up to the lower Princeton trailhead just after 5am and decided to see how the road went. Half a mile in we encountered enough snow to make the road impassable, saving us a mile of walking on a dirt road in ski boots. No complaints here.

We made our way up the road for a while, until we came to a switchback around 10,500′ that butted up against a SE-facing slidepath on Tigger Peak, the 13er you have to traverse to get over to Princeton. It seemed solid and supportive, so we started going straight up.

Continue reading

Winter Grays and Torreys

Quick trips up Grays in the winter are nothing new for me, and that’s what I intended for Friday. I’d never gone up Torreys in the winter, not because it’s difficult but because I’ve just never cared to head over after topping out on Grays. John and I had discussed the option, figuring we’d see how we felt when we topped out and make a decision at the time. Weather was forecast to be as perfect as it gets for mid-winter, so I was optimistic for a good day out and a good workout, whatever the decision was.

Continue reading