Here are a few photos Carl took from yesterday. First, a steep sidehill on the approach.
Until next time…
Today’s summit attempt, unfortunately, was one of failure. That’s not always a bad thing, though. I usually don’t write anything about failed climbs, but today is a little different. It was just one of those days.
First off, the (small) cast of characters. Carl:
After oversleeping by 40 minutes and incorrectly setting the coffee machine (good thing I cooked the bacon last night!), I scrambled and raced to meet Carl in Golden for the uneventful drive up to Montgomery Reservoir. Continue reading
I took this the other day during this string of beautiful warm weather we’ve been having. Fortunately Winter is making a comeback for the weekend, with plenty of snow forecasted over the next couple days. Plans for a 14er fell apart last weekend due to avalanche concerns, and this week due to an impending powder day or two (and the associated avalanche danger). If things clear up, I’ll be back at it next weekend and the human-powered vert counter will get moving.
Yesterday kicked off this year’s 14er season for me with Mt. Elbert; I’ve set a goal of skiing 10 new-to-me 14ers and after yesterday, I only have to do nine more. Of course, it’s so enjoyable (I wouldn’t say “fun” is the right word for it) that I may go over. Time will tell I suppose. Here’s the track (blue is ascent, red is descent; approximately 6 miles and 5,000′ vertical each way):
Yesterday at 3:59am both Nate and I were sound asleep on the floor in the back of the luxurious Silver Plume Saloon. At 4:00 sharp, the alarms went off and it was time to get moving. A couple hours later we would pull into the parking lot for the South Mt Elbert Trailhead to single-digit temperatures. No time was wasted getting skinned up, and we were moving just before 7am.
It was a tough temperature balance, as I had dressed for the forecast, with a high of nearly 40F and no wind. It was too warm for a shell while blazing through the trees, but a little chilly for just a t-shirt.
After two miles along a snow-covered 4WD road, we reached the summer trailhead. There’s a small bridge here that seems to be in every TR along this trail; I’m not sure why, but here’s the mandatory bridge:
Without any recent reports from this route, I was slightly concerned about snow coverage for the descent. This view made me pretty happy. There’s really nothing technical about this mountain, mostly skinning with a little booting over rock at times.
We were considering that as a descent option; unfortunately some wind and clouds rolled in as we were nearing the top, and I expect the snow would’ve been rock hard and unenjoyable. There’s a good chance I’ll be back later this spring to hit Box Creek. There was a group of four Nebraskans who went up on Thursday and camped at treeline for two nights before going for the summit. I’m not sure when they started yesterday, but here they are coming down from the summit. Nate and I had another half hour or so from this point. The Nebraskan on the right looks rather nonplussed.
It was about this point that things became significantly more challenging; the air was getting thin and the mercury was dropping. I started employing my standard step-counting technique to keep myself moving at a reasonable pace. I would lead off, take 30 or 40 steps, stop, and breathe. Then Nate would cover the same distance, we’d point at the next false summit, say “five more sets, that’s the summit.” When I saw the final false summit I told Nate not to get too dismayed when we hit that point. We got there, saw the real summit 200′ above us, confirmed with the GPS how close we were, and I called one more set of 5 (which actually turned out to be accurate this time). After an hour of high intensity interval training at 14,000′, we reached the top.
We were both pretty tired from the climb, and instead of 40F, clear, and calm, it was probably in the 20s, overcast, and breezy. I asked Nate if he would mind not staying on top very long; turns out he had the same sentiment and was ready to strap in and go.
We had a decent ride down the east ridge, picking our way through the rocks. Coverage was pretty good, as I only had to take off my skis for one short section, although I did do a bit of billygoating through sparser sections. It was a mix of soft sastrugi, rockhard windslab, and difficult (but manageable) breakable crust. Nate would later remark that he’d never turned into snow like that. I shot back, “you still haven’t.” We didn’t stop to take photos on the way down, as it was pretty straight forward and uninteresting. The aspens at the bottom were brutally tight, and I was wishing for the relative openness of the NE ridge’s runout. An hour and fifteen minutes after leaving the top (a mere fifth of the time spent on the ascent) we were back to the parking lot. Exhausted, we threw everything back in the car, had a beer, and were off.
Preface: Some of the pictures are grainy and noisy, a couple are out of focus. Such is what you have to deal with shooting at high ISO with a nifty fifty at night.
This is one of the stranger, more unlikely outings I’ve made. It started out simple enough, go up to Berthoud Pass for a few evening laps to enjoy the ridonkulous amounts of snow that fell on Sunday. Nothing too out of the ordinary, right? We got started upwards on the west side of the pass about 6:45pm, and found a miserable suncrust an inch thick on top of the powder. We were all amazed that a single day of warm weather did that much damage, but decided to go with it and have fun. Carl decided to skin straight up the boot pack, thinking it would be faster.
Lauren and I bailed after about 10 feet of that fiasco and took the proper skintrack, meeting up with Carl a few minutes later. We ripped skins and got ready to go down, laughing about how bad the snow was. Are we crazy? Why, yes! (as a side note, he threw a pretty rad 360 off the booter behind him, no photo of it though thanks to technical difficulties).
The snow was truly horrible. I’ve said it many times (and I’m sure I’ll say it again), but this was possibly the worst snow I’ve ever skied. I was throwing giant slabby 1″ thick bits all over the place. Here’sLauren doing just that, and she was barely moving.
After fighting the snow on the way down to the warming hut on top of the pass, we talked to a couple folks who were waiting around in the hut. It turns out a friend of theirs took off for Mines Peak without a pack, water, headlamp, or anything. We started to get a little concerned and discussed it for a few minutes before dropping off a short (but fun) shot from the top of the pass to see if the snow was any better in the trees (it was AWESOME). Lauren drove a shuttle for us, so we were back up top about 10 minutes later. The guy was still missing, so we decided we’d hike up for about 5 minutes, ski down, catch a ride back up (Lauren driving again), and if he still wasn’t back we’d call a friend of Carl’s who’s on SAR.
It’s at the top of our 5 minute hike that I actually got a semi-decent photograph, of Brian.
When we got back, the guy still wasn’t back, so Carl first called the SAR buddy, then 911 (who didn’t understand when he explained that we were right on the border of two different counties), then explained the situation to the sheriff who buzzed up the pass to check out the situation.
The sheriff called SAR who decided to activate immediately, which meant an hour (at best) until they were moving to try to find him. At this point it was about 11:30pm; the guy had been gone since 6:30. Although it wasn’t terribly cold in relative terms, it was still in the teens and getting colder, and my friends and I decided that we were going to try to find him using the information his friend was able to provide. This meant a peak ascent at nearly midnight.
I hugged Lauren and promised I’d come back safe, and we were off. We flew up, covering about 1200′ of vertical in half an hour, getting on top about midnight. I found his footprints heading to the top, but they got jumbled in ski and snowboard prints; we searched the structures on the summit for half an hour, along with the surrounding area and saw no footprints leading away. Here’s a blurry shot of the microwave dishes on the top of Mines:
I spoke to SAR on my phone from the summit, giving them GPS coords, detailing what I’d seen, etc. It was beautifully calm at first, but the winds started to pick up shortly after midnight. Deciding that we’d done all we could, the three of us set off for the pass, trying to enjoy the ski descent in a foot of pow (until treeline, where it promptly became crusty).
I wasn’t optimistic about the outcome, but this afternoon I got amazing news. He somehow hiked out to the north, and made his way back to the road. I thought he would’ve tried to hunker down for the night, but he was cold so he kept moving to stay warm. He was hitchhiking his way to the top of the pass, and told the people he caught a ride with he was lost; a few minutes later the truck carrying him went by an SAR vehicle, so they pulled over and said “I think we have your guy.” No major injuries, just a little frostbite on one hand and foot.
I got home after 2am, and drank at least a gallon of coffee today at work. I’m exhausted, and I’m sure I’ll sleep well tonight.