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.
It’s hard to believe, but Boston is coming up quick. Harder to believe is that Boston, formerly my A-race – and probably only race of the season – is essentially a warm up for what’s to come. Training is going well, hitting 50mpw consistently (if you count the miles from climbing and skiing Grays Peak a week ago) including a weekly 19+ mile run, along with a decent road ride each week and some light weights.
Last Saturday (Feb 18) I went up to Grays Peak for some exercise, and ran in to Chris Tomer on the summit. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years and have been trying to connect, so that was a fun surprise. Despite gigantic sastrugi, the skiing was very pleasant and even went continuous from summit to car.
Weather and life have made it difficult to keep consistent, and this coming week will probably be tougher.
I’ve settled on a couple gear decisions, the main one being bike choice – I’m going to stick with my FS trail bike, make a couple upgrades, and get some race tires. A new race bike would be nice but just isn’t in the budget. I’m still figuring out shoes, both run and bike. Beyond that, trying to schedule my spring/summer training around family, work, skiing, and races is my current focus on the Leadman front.
La Plata is a peak I’ve been wanting to ski for years, but one thing or another always got in the way. This time the stars aligned though, and I got to enjoy one of my most enjoyable 14er ski days ever. Though the roads were dry, the drive was made interesting by a couple people who clearly should not have been driving at 4:00 in the morning. Matt and I met at the trailhead and were skinning at 5:30 sharp.
There are days when everything goes right; this was not one such day. Tuesday was remarkable in that almost everything unpleasant about Colorado ski mountaineering wrapped itself up in a single day. I set my alarm before going to bed for 2:45am; my eyes opened at 1:55am and I was pleased to see that I had another hour to sleep. Next thing I know, it’s 3:50am. Fortunatley I’d completely packed up the night before, and was able to be on the road in record time with wheels rolling at 4am sharp. I made good time and met Matt at the trailhead just prior to 7am, only half an hour late.
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.
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.
Marc had some trouble with a pole, but was able to retrieve it thanks to his incredibly useful whippet. Continue reading →