For Whom the Bell Tolls

…Time Marches On.

A winter link-up of the Bell Cord on Maroon Peak and the Stammberger Face on North Maroon

Da Bells
A few years ago I found myself reading a TR from Jordan White et al on trying to link the Maroon Bells in a day trip. He proposed a sneaky link up between the S/SW couloir on Maroon Peak, exiting to a notch that allows access along the west side of the Bells, then ascending to another notch in the NW ridge of N Maroon and finally up the W face and down the Stammberger (North) Face. They made it close, but ultimately felt it was too warm. The hook was set.

For the past few seasons, linking up the Bells has ranked near the top of my to-do list. Early spring is clearly the optimal time for such an adventure, but that brings with it uncertainty about stability, weather and an extra 6 miles of snowy approach. The approach was workable, but how often do we get early stability that gives enough confidence to venture into a mostly-unknown-to-us range. Enter March 2017, bone dry weather, improving stability, and a trickle of reports of bigger lines being skied in the Elks. And it’s still winter.

Partners bounced various ambitious lines around, but my mind was stubbornly set. I had to convince CB to cut his San Juans trip short and TH to spend another day away from his wife. Luckily my persuasion succeeded cause as TH said in paraphrase: “kinda have to go the elks”. Just to guarantee failure, I said we’d ski Pyramid too (spoiler, we didn’t). To maximize home time, TH decided we should do it all as a day trip from Summit. Ugh. Midnight alarm set…

An hour or two of half-sleep and I was out of bed. Felt decently awake, facilitated by a few frappucinos. Having left breakfast on the counter (so not really that awake), we stopped at the 7-11 in Glenwood or Basalt (I frankly can’t remember which it was). The cashier seemed relatively pleased to have what I imagine were his first sober customers in hours.

We rolled into the trailhead a bit before 3, and as often happens at that time, gearing up took about 3x longer than usual. Skins went on and we hit the road. Then TH said we had to rip and start skating; fuck. Nothing like a little aerobic work to kick off a long day. We skated for a couple miles, then thought better of continuing to burn calories at such a rate. Skins back on.

At Crater lake we ran into a group that were just gearing up to head out. We went over to say hello and found out they were headed to the NW ridge on Pyramid. Another party looked to have had an early start up the west face of Thunder pyramid. Pretty busy for a winter day, but everybody still gets to have their own mountains.

We kept our routes flexible for the day. It seemed like the garbage chute to right-Y would be the easiest ascent option. Approach was beautiful, travel mostly easy (a bit of slabby snow above garbage chute), sunrise spectacular, and weather phenomenal.

We topped out sometime around 9 with a plethora of ski choices. Direct east face and east face to Bell Cord looked to both go clean from summit. S couloir was looking firm and not connected at the top, but it would keep the day a little shorter. There was concern that the Cord would be a big nasty runnel, but it also seemed like a classic that shouldn’t be missed. And besides, when would it ever be better than early march? The snow was excellent for skiing, but not quite the consolidated spring snowpack we anticipated. Down on-sighting the ledge traverse kept the stress up a bit. Then we entered the Cord and were pleasantly surprised to find that the runnel could be completely avoided for NE facing chalky untracked pow. At one point I tried to mention how good the skiing was, but I was told to zip it, lest we jinx our good fortune. Eventually the chalk gave way to corn, which gave way to ripper mellow slopes all the way back to crater lake.

Back at crater lake, the best case scenario was holding up. No ski pen, plenty of stoke. We set our sights on N Maroon.

As we skinned the lower pitch, my skins decided they hated me and would rather glop up every step from hot to cold. A fair amount of cursing while trying to keep up, finally got me to the upper valley and our first full view of the face. Looked cold; actually getting shadier instead of warming. One section looked questionably thin, but we figured something must be there. We reached the access couloir and I asked if we could boot early to avoid more glopping. Thankfully the team was okay with that.

The snow felt great. Cold and soft. Nonetheless, with the opening traverse exponentially increasing the consequences of a mistake, we dug a pit. (Some layers, low quality shear, no propagation). Still felt heady, but what else could we ask for? The whole climb felt fairly stressful. Compounded by finding that the thin section we saw from below really was that thin and thin meant faceted sugar over rocks. This section would weigh over us for the rest of the climb until we passed it again on skis. Above the thinness we were back on track, eventually catching some day old tracks at the NE ridge. Up through punk rock and we were soon on top.

The general feeling was tired, dehydrated and a bit scared of the coming descent (at least that’s how I felt). We could have waited for hours, but it wouldn’t have created any water, nor made the descent seem any mellower. The skiing wouldnt be particularly steep, but the consequence was just so puckering. Luckily, the route gave up just enough to ski clean. Punk rock was pretty easy, but still managed to sacrifice CB’s pole. The lower thin crux had navigable spice with good dry-ski beta from TH. Everything else was great skiing. Getting through the thin crux dropped my stress level massively, completing the final traverse even more so. At the base of the face, stoke was all time.

From there it was just a bit of isothermal mank back to crater where we heard from the folks on Pyramid about their equally enjoyable climb and ski. Then, just a long slog-to-skate back to the car for beers.

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Is it pronounced Ray-near or Ray-gnar?

Skiing Liberty Ridge and the Kautz Glacier on Tahoma with Teague – Memorial Day 2017

We can go to incredible lengths to talk ourselves out of great sounding plans. Despite declaring months earlier that we had to be on the lookout for the confluence of opening roads and high pressure for a PNW volcano shred session after the solid snow-year and recent beta, we still did our best to blow the trip before it started.

I got home from Japan on Tuesday and immediately noticed the fantastic, if not a bit warm, forecast for Rainier. Teague and I bounced a few messages while I was gone, but we hadnt moved at all towards a plan. I’d be in WA in 1.5 weeks, so maybe we can just wait? But that forecast… We should make this happen! Then we looked at tickets and prices for good flights were pushing $500 RT. What’s the threshold? Clearly the best thing to do was talk ourselves out of the plan: The route would be too busy with dozens of climbers and multiple skiers on this perfect weather weekend; The skiing probably wouldn’t be great; We could just ski another route; Or maybe just stay in CO since we already know LR will be a shit-show. By Thursday, prices had hit $600 and required flights that conflicted with work schedules. When Friday morning before the long weekend rolled around we still didn’t have tickets in hand. I figured our odds of flying out were < 10 %. Nonetheless, I packed my gear in the car, just in case. Around noon I made a last ditch effort, and low and behold, nearly perfect flights leaving Denver at 7:45 PM that night and flying back 6:45PM on Monday for ~$350 RT including bags. Guess we are going to Rainier. TH and I met up at the Elbert lot and sorted various knick-knacks and do-dads into take and leave piles. Weighed our bags and we were good to go.

Still without a plan, we flipped through the guidebook on the plane. Our prediction was that LR crowds would be bad on Saturday, worse on Sunday, and the route too big to bite off Monday before our flight. Ski south side on Saturday? Kautz/Fuhrer/Headwalls?? LR on sunday? Sounds like a pain. Drive straight to Adams? Baker? All we really want to do is ski LR. Let’s take a nap and decide when we wake up. About 40 min before landing – “fuck it, let’s just ski LR tomorrow”.

We land, grab a car and are on the road around 10:30 PM. A quick stop at the Des Moines Safeway yields a plethora of caffeinated beverages and items that will pass for breakfast in the middle of the night. I think we rolled into the White River trailhead around 1 AM. Lots of folks bivying in or next to their cars. Clearly, we are screwed. We park and try our best not to wake the crowds. A mix of getting dressed, consuming breakfast and drinking beverages has us leaving the TH around 1:45. We made decent time up to tree line and were greeted to a spectacular sunrise that lasted from St Elmo most of the way to the toe of the Carbon glacier. Along the way we noted one human size hole in a snowbridge and vowed to rope up on the way back through that afternoon.

We also passed multiple parties at the various low camps along the way. Not looking good. As we turned up the Carbon, we saw skiers ahead of us, presumably looking to ski our line. 30 min or so later we caught up with them and I realized one of them was a friend from the facebook who I’d stayed in touch with over the years, but never met in person. Turns out they were skiing down the Emmons. After chatting, we moved on, finding great travel through the large crevasses of the Carbon, up to a wet slide that was providing easy access over the schrund that gains the ridge. Snow was firm on the west side of the ridge and we made good time up to Thumb rock. There we met another party of two that we’re on a more typical multi-day itinerary for the route. They were stopping to brew up. I asked if they had any extra wag bags, which they did, and I immediately put it to use. Just like that, our fears of crowds were alleviated and we had the rest of LR empty above us on Memorial day weekend with the best weather of an outstanding snow year. Touche expectations.

Above Thumb, we moved to the east and the snow was immediately hot and wet. Rockfall was starting up, and we didnt linger long. Probably should have stayed on the cold side. If the upper east aspects – the only clean skiable line – had this warm snow, we’d be doomed. We climbed higher and the snow got colder. We dodged blue ice via 1-2” of seasonal snow over that same blue ice. Luckily it felt well bonded. At some point the lack of sleep and 10+k of vert became noticeable. The schrund provided a few body lengths of vertical neve, which we’d have to rap on the way back down. Then just a stroll to the top of liberty cap. Summit conditions were exceptional. Barefeet. Shirts off. Could stay all day, but that might not be prudent.

The skiing starts out mellow, but ramps up as soon as you drop back in toward the upper schrund. Perfect chalky, steep skiing down to the schrund rap.

Clear that and the exposure gets even better. We tread lightly around the alpine ice, but find the lingering seasonal snow to provide excellent skiing. We run back into the 2 parties from earlier and do our best not to knock anything else down on them. It’s rather fun to be skiing next to folks climbing with two tools out.

As we descend lower, we start to fear the warming slopes that we left hours prior. Luckily, those slopes have now started to cool as the sun has passed across them, and the skiing is fun, and easy with just a bit of mandatory wet slough management to not get raked over the 3000’ of cliffs and crevasses below. As soon as we can, we cut back the west side of the ridge where conditions fluctuate between pre-corn and something firmer, but always enjoyable. The skiing is spectacular.

All too soon, we are crossing over the bottom schrund and ripping ripe corn through crevasses on the carbon down to 7k.

7000’ of one of the best fall lines I know of in the lower 48 above us. We eat and drink most of what we have left and start the slog back to St. Elmos. A bit of skiing mixes in, but it’s mostly a traverse. The east side of Elmos is overripe and stick;, oh well. Eventually the snow runs out and I find myself cursing the painful down-hike in my too-small boots. The hike goes slow in pain, but eventually we wander back into the parking lot thoroughly satisfied with one of the best days of skiing of our lives.

After LR, we stopped to visit with some friends who we thought we might see on-route, but ended up with a gear malfunction. We realized we should have grabbed another permit if we wanted to ski the next day, but now all the ranger stations would be closed. As we drove around to Ashford on the south side of Rainier, the wear and tear from the day set in a bit, and we realized skiing the next day probably wasn’t in the cards. A better plan was lots of sleep and a monster breakfast. Then we rolled up to Paradise to scope conditions. So much skiing to be done, it was hard to decide. Finger/Thumb/Wilson all looked a bit dirty and already had some tracks. Kautz glacier was gleaming pristine whiteness, so that had to be the call. We snagged a permit and headed back down the hill, bed time at 7:30 PM, alarm set for 12:15 AM. Seemed damn civilized compared to Fri-Sat’s shenanigans.

Temps at 2:30 AM were warm. Freeze down low was non-existant. We headed up a beaten path in the dark and just started moving. Eventually, we decided we’d gone too high to split down to the Nisqually, so we did some rather dark tree skiing down to a lower bench. No tracks anywhere. Oh well, maybe we screwed up. We started moving uphill again, eventually finding some tracks at the moraine. Travel on the nisqually was easy and we made good time up towards the Wilson. Like Saturday, we kept the pace casual, but sleep sure makes casual feel casual.

One of the best treats of the trip was experiencing sunrise from both sides of the mountain on the same weekend. The northside starts the day with a wide spread glow eventually rendering the city lights in the distance useless. The southside is a lot slower to get things lit. As we gained the upper turtle, we noticed the low lands were in a cloud and Tahoma had cast its shadow across the valley and clouds.

We gained the Kautz glacier and found what looked to be a great set of ski pitches with excellent snow coverage. Above the 2nd “ice pitch” we started the traverse to Columbia Crest, gaining the top a bit under 6 hours after we started.

Once again, we were all alone on a summit of Rainier, this time the main one. We had some time to kill before the Kautz ripened. Teague was upset that there werent any steam vents around, but quickly found some to remedy that problem. Geothermal heating makes the corn-nap much easier. Teague commenced with some high-altitude-vulcan-glacial-free-caving exercises. I mostly just shifted around looking for the hottest rocks I could find. Eventually other folks from the Emmons or DC started showing up and with a couple hours rest under our belts, skiing seemed prudent. Not before I dropped my phone in a vent…

On the way up, it was clear that the best way to ski the Kautz was from point success, so we made the easy ski over to our final Tahoma-summit of the weekend. The upper pitch was a bit steep and firm, but still great skiing.

We werent in much of a hurry, so before the lower pitches, we sat down to burn another 30 min or so. The result was perfect steep corn. Just dreamy.

The Kautz often ends with a counter ascent back to the Turtle. Not this year. A firm snow traverse and 6’ of horizontal dirt was the only mandatory un-snow we’d contend with that day. Turtle skied warm but well, with better conditions as we turned things slightly SW. Unfortunately, with Paradise to our east, an aspect change at some point was mandatory. Oh well. Schmooooooo it is. Even the counter ascent to paradise was easy. 50’ or so of booting, then skiing the footprints back to the parking lot.

Such an incredible weekend that we almost let get away from us due to warranted or unwarranted concerns. Sometimes you just gotta go for it and see where the cards land.

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Tetons Roadtrip: Skiing the Grand Teton and Middle Teton

I’ve wanted to make this trip for the last few years, but it has been consistently difficult to get the weather forecast to line up with a free weekend. Things finally fell into place last weekend. On Friday afternoon, we left Boulder and drove to Rock Springs, WY. On Saturday, we finished the drive to Jackson, stopped to grab groceries, navigated our way to the backcountry permitting office, and started the hike up to Garnet Canyon. We were incredibly fortunate that the JHMG high camp had been installed the weekend prior, but was sitting empty for this entire weekend. This meant we didnt need to carry sleeping bags, pads, stove or fuel. Instead, we brought better food.

We went to bed early saturday evening, but sometime in the middle of the night we heard the ominous sound of rain on the tent walls. When we woke at 3:30 AM, the rain had turned to snow and was coming down quite hard. We went back to bed for 1 hr blocks, but each time we woke up, the weather was still grim. Finally around 6 AM, we figured we may as well make the best of our situation so we set out to ski the Middle Teton. We ascended the Middle Teton glacier, but decided the runneled 55-60 deg slope wasnt the best choice for a ski run in the absence of any sunlight to soften it up. We decided to seek out the SW couloir, which we eventually sniffed out after a bit of wandering. Things were thoroughly socked in at this point, with only occasional clearings blowing through. We had to down climb the top 200′ of the couloir, which had melted out. There, we dug in and waited in hopes that the sun would come and soften the snow. After 1.5 hrs, we grew tired of waiting and decided to just ski the ice. The skiing was fun, although a bit thin in places. Eventually, we dropped down far enough that we found good corn, and then too soon over ripened muck. We had to pay a bit of a price hiking back up to the high camp, but it was still a fine day out with beautiful unsettled weather. The forecast said that high pressure would move back in Sunday evening into Monday, so we spent the afternoon napping and eating and preparing for Monday.

When 3:30 AM rolled around, we all got out of bed surprisingly quickly, although we proceeded to move pretty slowly making breakfast and gearing up. We stepped outside to beautiful clear skies everywhere, except the Grand Teton which was fully socked-in. The cool temps on sunday and overnight meant a very hard freeze and outstanding climbing conditions. Perfect neve, water ice, and alpine ice spread from the base of the Teepee Glacier all the way to the summit. We broke out the single 7.8 mm rope for the Chevy couloir, which seemed like a prudent decision. The summit was quite cold, with clear skies making up only about 5 % of the time, and clouds the remainder. We downlimbed from the summit and started the waiting game. None of us was eager to ski the Ford Couloir in bullet proof ice, so we’d either wait for sun, or have to down climb the Owen-Spalding. We had strong cell service at the summit, and the realtime weather forecast decided to taunt us with statements such as “100 % clear”, “0 % chance of precip for next 20 hrs”,and “strong high pressure”. We didnt find it very funny. I was even able to bring up the AAC web cam, which showed beautiful blue skies throughout GTNP. If one didn’t know better, they wouldn’t have even noticed the small cloud in the photo that just barely obstructed the summit of the Grand. Unfortunately, we did know better. We passed the next 3+ hours with a combination of shivering, telling jokes, and watching Dave perform dance moves from Thriller. Finally, a window of sunshine came that lasted longer than 10 seconds. We walked up to the summit ridge and saw that clear skies dominated the horizon. 20 more minutes in the late morning sun and the snow surface had quickly softened to edgeable corn. With some anxiousness, we set about transitioning to ski mode and getting ready to drop in. Our leg muscles are cold from shivering and the previous day’s climb. Committing to the opening turns is rather intimidating, with the convex nature allowing your imagination to run wild with the exposure just out of view. The terrain turns out to be quite manageable though. Eventually we transition to the Ford proper, which provides fantastic steep skiing at the top, before forcing us to skiers right to avoid a deep runnel. The steep double fall line into the runnel causes us to side slip one section more than we’d like, but we still manage a few very intense turns. From there we ski to the 1 st rap station and work with another party of two to tag team the rappels through what will quickly become a shooting gallery in the afternoon sun. We move efficiently on the rappels until we stick one rope on the Chevy couloir. I am already 200′ below at the next station, but I try to yell up to leave the ropes behind. Nobody hears me. Eventually they free the other ropes. The final rappel was possibly optional, although the skiing would have been rather unpleasant. At the end of the rappels, we remove our harnesses, coil the ropes, and breathe a sigh of relief. From there the skiing across the traverse to the teepee is quite fun. The teepee itself didnt benefit from any cloud cover in the morning, and is now too soft in the sun and too hard in the shade. It is still a fantastic ski to cap the run above. We quickly pack up camp and thoroughly clean the tent, then continue the last 1000′ of skiing to snowline. At this point our legs are a tired, but occasional patches of perfect corn elicit a bit more hard skiing. We walk the trail and are quite pleased to arrive at the car and find the beers in the cooler are still cold.

Specific gear notes in addition to touring gear:
2 technical ice tools and steel technical crampons
Harness, belay device, carabiners, etc
2 ice screws, 1 set of stoppers, 5 slings
1 7.8 mm 60 m long half rope (the 2 seconds climbed 10 meters apart on the one belayed pitch. this required about 20′ of simuling for the 1st second before the leader reached the anchor above the steeper ice step)
1 6 mm 60 m long aramid tag line

Our Sunday tour on the Middle Teton:

The approximate line on the Grand Teton

Photos:

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The finest ski tour in RMNP? Keplinger’s Couloir to Flying Dutchman

A bold claim, but one that I’ll stand by for the various tours that I’ve done in the front range.

For whatever reason, I tend to obsess with how ski tours look on a map. For that reason, loops and logical link-ups tend to get me way more excited than simple out and backs. In spite of all the skiing we’ve done in RMNP the last few years, I hadn’t yet skied from the summit of Longs Peak. For clean ski descents there are generally only two viable options from the summit: the North Face and Keplinger’s couloir. Both are very appealing. The North Face wins for position and exposure, but is very short when it can’t be linked past the camel or the boulder field. It is also rare for the NF to go clean.  Keplinger’s isn’t quite as steep, but is around 3x as long and in a remarkable location. Both runs are fickle, sometimes coming in for only a few days, and other years not at all. Both runs also have fairly long standard approaches, so it makes sense to ski something else when you’re in the area. That brings one to the question of what link-up looks the best on a map, and provides the correct aspects for a solid day of good skiing. Ideally the day should start with S or E facing runs and end with N or W facing. After some thinking, I decided that a link of Keplingers and the Flying Dutchman would be the best choice, possibly including a run on the North Face if time and conditions allowed. In the end, there wasn’t time for the N Face, but the rest of the tour was awesome.

Our approximate route is below:

At around 7000′ of vert, it isnt much more than the standard wild basin approach to Keplinger’s (6kish), but it has the added benefit of mixing in the awesome run down Flying Dutchman and a bit of proper climbing on the NF.  The only other consideration is that it is probably prudent to bring a rope, harness, and super light rack on this tour, both for climbing the NF of longs, and for rapping the crux on Flying Dutchman.  There’s also the risk that Keps will be out, but there is plenty of other snow sliding to do in the area if you look past the desire for a summit descent (Trough, Notch, Lamb Slide, etc).

Gear notes in addition to the standard ski kit:
1x whippet
1x lightweight ice axe
1x Al crampons
2x 30m x 7.8mm ropes
1x 0.5 Camalot
1x set of nuts
1x ultralight harness/belay device/carabiners
and most importantly, carry over your approach shoes for the hike back to the loft. That kind of talus is no fun in ski boots.

Keplingers-Dutchman - 1Keplingers-Dutchman - 2Keplingers-Dutchman - 3Keplingers-Dutchman - 4Keplingers-Dutchman - 30Keplingers-Dutchman - 5Keplingers-Dutchman - 6Keplingers-Dutchman - 31Keplingers-Dutchman - 7Keplingers-Dutchman - 32Keplingers-Dutchman - 33Keplingers-Dutchman - 34Keplingers-Dutchman - 8Keplingers-Dutchman - 9Keplingers-Dutchman - 10Keplingers-Dutchman - 11Keplingers-Dutchman - 12Keplingers-Dutchman - 14Keplingers-Dutchman - 15Keplingers-Dutchman - 16Keplingers-Dutchman - 35Keplingers-Dutchman - 36Keplingers-Dutchman - 17Keplingers-Dutchman - 18Keplingers-Dutchman - 37Keplingers-Dutchman - 19Keplingers-Dutchman - 38Keplingers-Dutchman - 39Keplingers-Dutchman - 40Keplingers-Dutchman - 20Keplingers-Dutchman - 21Keplingers-Dutchman - 22Keplingers-Dutchman - 23Keplingers-Dutchman - 24Keplingers-Dutchman - 41Keplingers-Dutchman - 42Keplingers-Dutchman - 25Keplingers-Dutchman - 43Keplingers-Dutchman - 44Keplingers-Dutchman - 26Keplingers-Dutchman - 27Keplingers-Dutchman - 45Keplingers-Dutchman - 28Keplingers-Dutchman - 29

 

As the last pictures below might allude, you can no longer get gas 24-7 in Lyons, so plan accordingly or face a very stressful drive home.

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Front range ski alpinism

If skiing is fun and climbing is fun, doesn’t it make sense that climbing to ski will be even more fun? It would probably be pretty hard to beat the alps in this regard.   Likewise, the Cascades or Tetons  have excellent options.  Despite the numerous mountains in view from the front range (or even throughout CO), surprisingly few provide logical combinations of great climbing and great skiing.  Too much wind, inconsistent ice conditions, early warming, poor rock quality, or the even more common complete lack of technical climbing on a mountain.  With that said, a little creativity goes a long way towards making the best of what we have.

I have little interest in carrying skis on my back up multiple pitches of 5.10 rock or difficult mixed.  The ideal ascent routes can be done with minimal gear or rope work.  If skiing on a spring snowpack, one will have limited time to reach the summit and be on the descent before wet slide danger increases.  I’d tend to look for routes with 4th class to low-5th class rock, or moderate (WI3/M3) ice and mixed.  For rock routes, ridges provide good options, whereas ice routes are likely to be in gullies. Remember, you’ll be climbing in ski boots, and skis on your back are fairly obstructive.  The idea is for the skis to make the day more fun and interesting, not the other way around. Below are two highly recommended combos from past seasons.

Mount Bancroft – East Ridge to Various Descent Options

Route Overview
Route Overview

Climbing description

Due to weather, it took us two attempts during different seasons to make this itinerary work. First attempt was on a knowingly unsettled day in April 2011. We made fast time to the route and up the snow covered solid talus that starts the ridge.  By the time we reached the notch, weather was looking pretty grim.

We continued up the short crux, taking a slightly off route chimney instead of the usual face pitch. A few hundred feet above, it became clear the weather wasn’t going to improve, so we bailed back  the notch and rapped into a narrow S facing couloir.  The east ridge of Bancroft actually has a bunch of cool descent options on the way to the summit. 0

The next attempt went much better, with perfect weather. Again we scrambled to the notch, rapped in, climbed out through the correct line (which is excellent low fifth class with good gear and large boot and glove friendly holds. Above we scrambled upwards, occasionally setting impromptu belay for the less frequent climbers. Upon reaching the top, two of us skied the direct SE face from the false summit, while the other two skied the standard moderate east ridge route. The SE face makes a fine descent with a steep entrance and moderate exposure. There were a few narrow passages that typically cleared on skiers left.

Mount Meeker – Dreamweaver to Dragon’s Egg

Climbing description

In spite of icy ski conditions, this was one of the most fun days I’ve had in the mountains. Dreamweaver is an excellent beginner ice and snow climb, with short cruxes separated by moderate snow. Although Dreamweaver itself makes an admirable ski option, the traverse over Meeker and down the Dragon’s Egg provides much more skiing and a beautiful tour. I recommend a car shuttle for this tour, dropping one car at Wild Basin, then taking the other to Long’s Peak trailhead. Depending on conditions on Dreamweaver, one could find a mix of soft snow, hard snow, ice, or rock. Some folks will prefer a rope for the short cruxes, while others will feel comfortable without. Being such a windy aspect, Dragon’s Egg wont come in every year, and the top will only stay in for a short amount of time. A few sticky windless spring storms are required for optimum conditions. The good news is you can see the line from all over the front range and peak to peak highway, so there wont be much of a secret.

I also made a short movie about the day:

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Ski Movies

I’ve decided to post to the blog again. I’ve made a few short ski movies the last few ski seasons.  The most recent here is from a day skiing around Guanella Pass with Ben.  We went out on our race gear, which is incredible for the touring, but always takes a bit of adjustment for the down.  We started out at the winter closure, then headed up past Naylor Lake to the northface of Squaretop.  We climbed and skied the face, then continued up to Argentine Pass, and eventually the summit of Argentine.  The NE face of Argentine has a bunch of short and relatively steep options, but most are guarded by large cornices.  On the NW side of the face, we found a break and dropped in.  The surface was a bit reactive, but nothing deep.  Fun skiing down to the basin below, then we ascended again to the NW shoulder of Mount Wilcox where we proceeded to ski the lower NE face back to the car.  I think this is an excellent little outing for anybody looking to link a few peaks close to Denver.

our approximate route

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More flatiron Ice

Although the climb is easy, catching it in condition is not. I probably made 5+ actual attempts to climb this thing over the last few years. Not to mention all the numerous winter days I speculated whether it was in…
So cool to have this kind of climbing less than a mile from your office!

change to full screen 720p for best results

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The Hookah Smoking Caterpillar – Mt Alice Massif


(note: I asked around and nobody seemed to know any history for this line.  It might be the first ascent/descent, but it might not.  It is still a rad couloir, so I slapped a name on it)

For the past 10 or so years I have been a climber much more than a snow slider. With the amazing ski conditions in the rockies this year, it was time to swing the pendulum back.

Now, while I’m not usually one to complain about endless days of powder skiing.  It seems pretty obvious that the real reason to be a skier in the front range is the spring skiing.  True spring was quite reluctant to come this year, but in the last few weeks, the bigger lines have finally opened up.

This brings me to the point of classic ski lines; Unlike most climbing lines that really must be seen and attempted to appreciate their status, quite a lot about a ski line can be appreciated from a simple topo map. Nowhere is this more evident than couloir skiing. The recipe is very simple:

1) Look for U-shaped contours on map. The deeper the “U”s, the more classic the line
2) Evaluate length of the couloir. The longer the couloir, the more classic the line
3) Evaluate the angle of the couloir. Generally steeper is better, to the extent you can still ski it.

With this mindset, I passed a few hours of our never ending winter staring at maps of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The fruit of my labor looked something like this:
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deep “U”s – check

couloir length = 1600′ + 1000′ of bonus ripping – check

~45 degrees – perfect fun steepness

The next question was whether the line might be continuously skiable, or even held snow. This line turns out to be in a fairly remote region of RMNP; The west aspect of Mount Alice has surprsingly few pictures. Extensive google sleuthing revealed exactly one image:


But, the image revealed what I hoped for. A line choked with snow, even in the middle of summer.

Now, the next challenge was how exactly to reach this line.  It is in a fairly remote region of the national park. There are no trails to the base, or even near it for that matter. Thus, the options included:
1) Skiing to the divide from Bear Lake, then descending to the base (~20 miles RT, ~9000′ vert)
2) Skiing to the summit of Mount Alice from Wild Basin, then dropping in blind (~20 miles RT, ~8000′ vert)
3) Skiing up the North Inlet from Grand Lake (~19 miles RT, 5000′ vert)
4) Skiing up the East Inlet from Grand Lake then dropping in to North Inlet drainage (~18 miles RT, 6000′ vert)

We chose #4, although in retrospect, #3 may have been easier, and would have certainly been a safer exit in the warming afternoon.

The final two ingredients were a stable weather forecast, and a willing partner. I floated the idea to most of my ski partners. Everybody was tentatively interested, but they also had various summer activities getting in the way.

Finally, a free weekend with a good forecast showed up.  I floated out the plan to previously-interested parties, but Joe was the only possible taker.  It took some convincing to talk Joe out of climbing ice in 90 degree temps, and instead having a nice suffer fest on skis.  Joe hasn’t skied much this year, and probably never on a line like this, but he was still game for the adventure and a chance to scope out a less-visited area of the park.  So, we left Boulder on Friday night at 9:30 PM and drove the long way round to Grand Lake.  We arrived at the trailhead around 11:30, then packed our bags and turned in for a whopping 2 hrs of sleep.

2AM – the alarm goes off and we get stirring.  A few minutes later an officer does his rounds through the parking lot.  Luckily we are already awake, so our short nap goes unpunished.  Around 2:30 we set off.

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It was awesome getting to see so much new beautiful terrain.  All sorts of ideas for ice climbing, rock climbing and skiing were inspired.

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The approach is long, but mostly flat (+2k/8miles) to spirit lake.  From there we followed a minor drainage up to the saddle between Mount Alice and Pt 12,241.  The views opened up even more!
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From the saddle, we made a descending traverse to the west aspect of Alice.
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We passed more skiable lines along the way, but these were not what we came for.
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I misjudged the map a bit, so we ended up doing a bit more booting on the traverse than I expected.  Still this saved us dropping down further and having more vert to regain.
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Finally, we got our first view of the line.  The lower half looked great, but it quickly split and disappeared.  Hopefully the lines were continuous and we were in the correct spot.
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Soon we were starting up.  There was some wet slide debris that I though might ruin the descent a bit.  Mostly the couloir provided easy and aesthetic climbing, with a few sections of 45 degree or so snow.
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At the top, I threw down my pack and took a nice break.  Joe followed came along shortly.  Joe was pretty exhausted at the top, and he decided he wasnt up for skiing the couloir.  We discussed alternate descents, but I didnt really want to descend the couloir and ascend the saddle alone in the afternoon warmth.  Thankfully, Joe decided to down climb the couloir while I skied.  The snow stayed perfect the entire run.  The skiing is extremely classic, with steep rollovers and turns revealing more and more beautiful skiing.  Because of the aspect and deep walls, the skiers left side softens more than the right, allowing you to choose whatever snow consistency your prefer.
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After clearing the mouth of the couloir, Joe decided to rejoin the fun for the bottom 1000′.
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At the bottom, we got a nice partial view of the line, and found a great watering hole to hang out for a few hours.
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The final crux of the day was navigating the wet slide prone slopes back up to the saddle and down to spirit lake.  This wasnt fun, but it all worked out ok.
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The long ski and hike out was a bit painful.
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However, an 18 hr day does have its perks.
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We also saw a moose and my first CO bear, which helped seal the deal.  Thanks to Joe for coming along for the suffering.  Hopefully you will forget the pain soon, and be up for another adventure.
The full gallery

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Red Rocks vacation

Chris and I made a last minute 5 day trip to Vegas. We did things in fine style, staying in a hotel, and climbing every day. The result was a great trip filled with super-classic routes.

Day 1 was shortened by the flight and a need for supplied. Still, it was a great chance to test the waters for future shady climbs. We headed to Whiskey Peak in Black Velvet Canyon, where we climbed the short, but super classic Triassic Sands.

Day 2 was the big day for the trip, climbing Levitation 29 (IV, 5.11c). One of the the all time Red Rock classics. I thought this route was a great challenge, with numerous difficult (for me) pitches. While the quality of the rock varies a bit over the route, the steep, well-protected climbing made the climbing awesome. Chris and I both climbed the route with no falls, which I am pretty happy about. This was the most technically challenging long climb I’ve done, and I had to fight pretty hard for the crux.

Day 3 – “Rest Day” We climbed the classic 5.7 Olive Oil. I was pretty blown away by the quality of this one. It is really a beautiful climb, and a great way to spend a mellow day. The downside came when I ripped a gear loop off my harness while leading the 2nd pitch, dropping a significant amount of our already spartan rack. We still made it through, and some surly Austrians returned our slightly banged up gear to us.

Day 4 – We climbed Dream of Wild Turkey’s on Black Velvet Wall. 10 pitches of awesome crack and face climbing up a remarkably steep and moderate wall. Considered one of the world/country’s great climbs for the grade, I’d be hard pressed to disagree. On the 4th pitch we bootied 2 cams and a pretty new 60m climbing rope. Unfortunately, our luck would run out on the 2nd rappel, when our own rope became hopelessly stuck. Chris had the honor of ascending our 7.8mm ropes and fixing the problem.

Day 5 – Another late start day, with a climb of Unimpeachable Groping on Ginger Buttress. We thought the climb would be in the sun, but that isnt true if you arent there first thing in the morning. Nonetheless, we stayed warm enough. After the somewhat hollow and low-quality first pitch, the climb delivered a lot of enjoyable and varied 5.10 sport climbing, with a great 5.8 slab finish to a pretty cool mini-summit.

Pictures

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A nice early season mini-epic

It has been a while since I had a really long day in the mountains. Luckily that was remedied last weekend in RMNP with Doug and Kevin. Kevin has the whole story on his website (Alpine Ambition), but the short story is: change of plans + unknown route + difficult terrain + deteriorating weather + short days = bail

Anyhow, here are some of my favorite pictures. Notice the rapid change in weather.

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