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).
We pretty quickly came to the ridge dividing the basins, which was a welcome sight after the way the first few hours of the day had gone.
The standard route gully to the summit ridge looked well-filled with snow, so we worked our way to it and started up with microspikes on our feet, an unusual decision based on what we expected to find.
The route (and microspikes) worked out pretty well, and we found our way to the summit ridge pretty quickly, which has a less-than-trivial false summit (aka “West Lindsey”).
Fortunately the line was in from the top, through not without a little bit of rockiness between the summit and the main ski line. Weather was calm and pleasant, so we didn’t rush to get ready.
The skiing and snow quality was very good, though wasn’t the sort of conditions that justified us bringing our bigger powder skis…oh well.
And here is the full line.
From there we had to climb close to 1000′ to get back to the drainage we hiked in, which was pretty uneventful aside from the heat of the day getting to us.
After that we had more fun skiing, for a while.
Unfortunately John hit a collapsing section of snow next to a small tree, and injured his ankle. Fortunately it wasn’t worse, as he was still able to ski and then hike out.
Once we got in the trees again the bushwhacking was back, though not quite as bad as on the way in. However, because the valley is so flat here, we had skins on for four miles on the exit, and then the final mile out in shoes.
We’d gone in to this thinking it would be a relatively easy day, and we ended at 16 miles with 5,600′ of climbing in just a bit under 12 hours. Much bigger than we expected, but no one was seriously hurt and we had a fun ski which is always worth celebrating. I think this line is one that, once you can drive to the summer trailhead, is unlikely to still be in condition – so I’m glad to have gotten this done in such good shape.
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.
The obvious solution was to come early – when the creek would still be deeply covered in snow – and while we were at it, just to do the 23 mile, 6000′ day as a daytrip and save the hassle of overnighting it. I’d talked to Andy about daytripping Snowmass and, being the type to do things like the Grand Traverse, was excited to come for the adventure. With that the plan was set, and we all started planning. We settled on sometime around Easter, figuring the snowpack would stabilize in time but still have good snow coverage all the way to the car. John, Terrence, and myself drove out together on Friday afternoon with Andy coming a little later in the evening. It was beautiful, as expected.
The road was plowed to about half a mile from the summer trailhead, with deep snow beyond that. So we set up camp there, with me sleeping in the truck and John and Terrence opting for a tent.
We were all in bed about 8pm. The plan was to start hiking at 1:30am, and because everything always takes longer than expected we set an alarm for 12:45. Andy rolled in sometime around 11:30, I think, and slept an hour or so in his truck.
The night was beautiful, and despite air temps not being that low the skies were crystal clear – alleviating any concern over a solid freeze. Once we passed the logjam – which we’d not have noticed if we didn’t know where it was, thanks to snow coverage – the terrain finally turned upwards. My toes were happy for that but I knew the damage was already done. Up to this point, we were able to follow an existing track, while unnecessary for trailbreaking reasons (the snow was rock solid) it simplified routefinding and saved a lot of mental energy.
Things got a bit bushwhacky once we started up, and we were on our own track-wise. Next came a good reminder that snow in the trees may not always freeze up the same as it does out in the open in Spring.
After struggling to get back on my feet for a few minutes, we were back on our way up to Snowmass Lake. We were there before sunrise, not too late but a bit behind where we expected.
We regrouped above the headwall, a little behind schedule but again, not too bad – especially with the breeze keeping things cool.
We assessed our options for gaining the summit ridge and decided on this direct route. We weren’t comfortable with the NE direct summit line as things warmed up more, and also didn’t trust it’d be fully consolidated anyway.
John and Andy took the lead, setting the steepest switchbacking skintrack I’ve ever been on – in the 50 degree range.
Andy and John did a great job setting the track, but it became unsupportive by the time Terrence and I got there. We had to use our skis as an anchor to aid in booting up the final couple turns to the ridge.
The ridge from here was a mix of snow and class 3 scrambling, with route assessment and selection taking more time than we expected – especially since we were already behind schedule. But the summit came quickly enough.
Unfortunately we were well behind schedule and worried about the snow getting too hot, so we couldn’t take any time to enjoy the views and kick back. We looked around at all our options, having to rule out a lot of choices. The preferred NE direct summit line was nearly vertical (80deg+) and had very thin cover over lots of rocks, so while it looked good from a distance it was unskiable this day. A few other lines were ruled out, and we decided the short downclimb to where we gained the ridge was our only safe option.
We skied off, with John going first. I went next. I was cautious on the first few turns, then opened it up once I got a feel for conditions. I then immediately crashed hard:
Conditions got a little more predictable as we got lower, but thanks to 7″ of snow a few days prior things were generally challenging and inconsistent. Terrence had bigger boots and skis than the rest of us, and it showed in his skiing.
The skiing was fairly fun overall.
We hit the lake and started skating, which was tiring but quick. It was there I finally enjoyed the big cookie made by my family, with over 1/3 a cup of cookie dough.
From here to the lower lake was a bit of a slog. It was difficult/impossible to stay on the summer trail due to the rolling/meandering nature of it, but we eventually picked our way through. Everyone was out or almost out of water at this point, so when we got back to open water we got some from the stream and used iodine tablets that John brought. That’s something going in my kit going forward.
It was almost 2pm at this point, and we’d hoped to be back to the cars and heading home by now. And we still had 8 low-angle miles to go. We put skins back on to get across the lake, and I feared we’d have them on all the way back to the car. Fortunately we only had them on for about a mile, and were able to pole/skate/sidestep the rest of the way to the car – though the flat/rolling terrain was exhausting and took another two and a half hours to get back down to the trailhead.
A full fourteen and a half hours after starting we were done, in more ways than one. I sat and grabbed a beer and got my boots off ASAP. I knew my toenail was coming off (and it did, four days later). Andy had to scramble to get home as he was well behind schedule to get back to his wife and two very small children. Terrence and John and I weren’t in a huge rush though didn’t waste much time as we wanted to get the three hour drive home done before it got too late.
This was too much for a daytrip. I’m glad we did it but I definitely would not make the choice to do it again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The plan to ride Mt. Evans was nothing new – I’d ridden it a couple times before, once from Idaho Springs and once from Echo Lake – but wanting to ride it from home is something I’ve been trying to make happen for a few years. Even though the logistics are simple, the ride statistics are daunting at about 110 miles and over 11,000′ of climbing round-trip. My schedule, weather, and motivation finally aligned on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and I settled on a 4am start to be early-enough to beat any afternoon thunderstorms, but not so early that the drunks would still be driving around.
I started by heading up and over Lookout Mountain, to the Genesee bike path, and on to Evergreen Parkway – a ride I’ve done countless times. Sunrise was just after 5:30, meaning it finally started getting light a bit after 5am. At about six a.m. I stopped to eat a bar, check in at home (where everyone was still asleep), switched my light from “see” to “be seen,” and started up Squaw Pass. Shortly after eight, I was on CO-5, the Mount Evans Highway.
It’s been over a month now, and my knees are largely better. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the race. Things started off very well, and I was running in the top 5-8% through the half-way point. I jogged the flats, downs, and mellow uphills, and hiked anything even remotely steep. I kept the calories, fluids, and salts coming in, and truly felt not just good but great. At the turnaround at Winfield I was joined by my friend Jordan, took on some poles for the hike back over Hope Pass, and my knees completely fell apart. The hike back up the pass was neither blistering nor crawling, but the pain got worse as I went up. I had to stop at the Hope Pass aid station for a while, and an amazing volunteer spent several minutes working on my legs. It helped for a few minutes but the pain came back, and the descent back to Twin Lakes was a painful crawl. By the end my knees were in such bad shape that Jordan could hear them crunching every few steps, and I dropped out as soon as I got back to Twin Lakes, 62.5 miles in, only 38.5 to go. It sounds like a long way to go but had my knees held up, I have no doubts I would’ve finished strongly. I’m hugely appreciative to my friends who came out to help me that day – Jordan, Greg, Meredith, and Nate – and wish I hadn’t dragged them up there for nothing. And I have to thank my wonderful wife for putting up with this whole-summer debacle and supporting me through it.
I’ve run twice since then, a four-mile jog from home and a trail race – the same one I won a couple years ago. Things didn’t go quite so well this time around, as I finished 9th (2nd in AG).
I suppose going out as pack-fodder on a beautiful day is better than doing it with a painful DNF. It was quite a summer, but I’m glad to be done, and I’m glad to be able to focus on my family. Truth be told, I was growing tired of all the running and have been looking forward to new things. There will always be new adventures, and for the foreseeable future they’re going to be enjoyable.