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.

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.

“Morning” came quickly. I fired up the jetboil for coffee, everyone ate some food and got dressed, and as could be reasonably expected, we started even later than planned at 1:50am. The first several miles are pretty flat-to-rolling which led to my toes getting pushed in to the front of my boots more than I like, and I was pretty sure the day was going to result in the loss of a toenail only a couple hours in.
Photo by John

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.

Photo by Andy

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.

It’s a big lake.
Photo by John

From there things pitched upward again.
Photo by John

We regrouped above the headwall, a little behind schedule but again, not too bad – especially with the breeze keeping things cool.

Photo by Terrence

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.

Photo by John

John and Andy took the lead, setting the steepest switchbacking skintrack I’ve ever been on – in the 50 degree range.

Photo by John

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.

Photo by John (I think)

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.

Photo by Terrence (I think)

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:

Photo by John

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.

Photo by John
Photo by Terrence (I think)

The skiing was fairly fun overall.

Photo by Terrence

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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7 Weeks ’til Boston

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.

On the summit of Grays Peak Photo: Chris Tomer

Mike skiing in front of a sun dog Photo: Chris Tomer

Chris skiing on Grays Peak

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.

Horseshoe Mountain – Boudoir Couloir

It’s been a tough spring in Colorado for weekend warriors. It finally started snowing after a dry winter, but weekend storms have been pretty typical. We’re late in to the season and I’ve been trying to convince anyone I could to take advantage of expected weather windows. Fortunately, Jeff is on the same page, and was eager to get out. We agreed there was an early-morning weather window worth taking advantage of, so I packed, set my alarm for 1:30, and got ready for a quick morning in the mountains.

Jeff skinning in the predawn light

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A Last-Minute Week at Sorcerer Lodge, Canada

Less than two weeks ago, Markus found himself in need of a cook with strong backcountry skiing abilities and the ability to cook for a group of 20 day-in and day-out, and who could leave the country and be out of cell and email range for a week on almost no notice. Miraculously, I was able to get out of work and other obligations last-minute and head to Canada. Unfortunately, the late booking meant I had to fly from Denver to Vancouver, spend the night, and fly to Calgary in the morning before shuttling out to Golden, B.C. Even worse, the Vancouver airport seems designed to discourage overnight stays, and this was where I settled in for the evening.

2016-02-19 22.11.03

After a very long travel day (including overloaded minivans, rockslide-induced highway delays, and a very slow dinner) we finally got to Golden, I caught a few hours of sleep, then it was time to pack up from the hotel.
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Haute Route, Spring 2015

Two months ago, today, Hans, Tracy, Markus, Lauren, and myself all gathered in Argentiere, just a short bus ride up the valley from Chamonix near the base of the Grand Montet ski area. Our goal: ski the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, by way of Verbier. It’s a trip we’ve all been thinking about for a long time, and this April it finally became a reality. All said and done, we spent a week in the alps, covering 42 miles and 20-something thousand feet of elevation gain. We came out with several hundred great photos; fortunately, Google just came out with a slick automatic story creator, which put this together:

April 2015 Haute Route