Posts Tagged ‘ski’

Unnamed (and Mt Antero)

June 10, 2010

May 27, 2000

With Memorial holiday giving us an extra day I was hoping for a bigger than normal adventure…but Brian couldn’t pull off two nights out. We had to make do with a single day with an early start.

Brian suggested Antero, with the idea that we could get a good ski descent. Since Antero was one of the few unclimbed Northern Colorado 14ers on my list, I loved the idea.

The drive up, which started late due to my tardy arrival, was interrupted by a missed highway turnoff and an accident that closed the highway for an hour. To make use of the time and avoid eating dinner after midnight, we got out the stove and made dinner on the side of the road. And, it still might have turned out okay, except the approach road was very long and slow going. We made it to 11,300′ before stopping to setup camp; we settled in for sleep at 1am. With a 5am wakeup call forthcoming, it would be a short night.

Brian on final approach to Mt Antero summit

We started moving at 5:30am and took 3 hours to ascend from camp at 11,300′ to the Mt Antero summit at 14,269′. We followed the winding road up, but didn’t trust where it led after passing the summit ridge; we followed the ridge to the summit. Unfortunately, we also discovered that there wasn’t any snow left on Antero except for a thin strip about 50 feet wide and 500 feet tall on the southern ridge leading to the summit.

We enjoyed the summit for a short time and discussed our options for the day.

My rapture on the summit of Mt Antero

Since we couldn’t get our ski descent, we decided we’d head over to a tall peak across Baldwin Gulch that had a very nice snow covered eastern slope. But we had to hurry since the snow had been in the sun since dawn.

We descended Antero following the old mining road which turned out to lead to the final stretch of the summit ridge.  Once at the start of the switchbacks, we left the mining road and headed around the cirque toward the unnamed peak.

Where's the snow? On the way to some snow on 'Ol Unnamed (North Carbonate?) from Mt Antero (in background).

The progress was good until we got to the exposed scree & talus on the SE ridge of the unnamed peak.  It was murder for tired legs.

We found the summit to be protected by a weird cornice that required crawling over to get to the top of the peak. I needed a rest, but with the sun burning on the snow, we stopped only momentarily before setting off for the steep descent slope.

As we feared, the snow was soft, and possibly dangerous. After a short pow-wow, we decided we’d proceed…with the extra precaution of staying on opposite sides of the face and only skiing one at a time. The snow turned out to be great, and we had a great time descending 1800′ in only a few minutes.

Our route from Baldwin Gulch to Mt Antero and North Carbonate(?)

The hike out was mercifully short; we made it back to camp at 1:30pm for an 8 hour, 8 mile, and 4000′  day.

And sometimes, one day is enough.

In the years afterward, I came to believe that the peak had an unofficial name, “North Carbonate”.  And, just recently, I discovered that the officially unnamed peak got an official name in 2005…it is now called Cronin Peak.

Formerly known as “North Carbonate”, this mountain now has an official name, approved by the Department of Interior in May 2005. Cronin Peak is named in honor of Mary Cronin (1893-1982) who in 1921 became the first woman to climb all the fourteen-thousand foot peaks in Colorado.  ~summitpost

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Huron, Bloody Huron

May 28, 2010

Our drive, hike & climb to Huron Peak summit

One more time. Brian and I thought we’d back to the Clear Creek Reservoir Road, this time to collect Mt Huron. We knew going in that it would be a 10+ mile hike in the snow with a 4000′ elevation gain due to the winter road closure, but we were on a roll and Huron was next on the list. The only problem would be the inevitable snow storm; the previous week it snowed all the night before. And, it did so again.

It was Brian’s turn to drive; we left his place in Golden @ 7:45pm on Friday (April, 23, 1999) heading toward Leadville.  The Bronco is a slow beast, but it works wonders on poor backcountry roads. Along the way, we were pleasantly surprised to find the roads in better shape than the previous week (when we did Missouri Mountain) despite the heavy new snow in the front range. We figured we’d gotten lucky on the snow distribution.

Brian picked the East Slopes route. At the time I figured it was the worst thing he could find, but in hindsight I suppose it might have been because Dawson wrote that the East Slopes generally have more snow. Well, we did have plenty of snow.

Aiming for the Clohesy Lake trailhead, we pulled off US Highway 24 onto Clear Creek Reservoir (dirt) Road. We immediately knew we had been mistaken about getting lucky with the snow; the accumulation was much worse than the previous week.  We drove past our previous camp at Vicksburg and to the Rockdale townsite where we turned onto the 4×4 road heading toward Clohesy Lake trailhead, but only managed to get 1/3 mile up the 3-mile road before the snow was too deep to drive even for the Bronco.  And, believe me, that means something. A determined Brian forced his way cross Clear Creek before giving up on the drive; that crossing was much more interesting than I like at 11:30pm.

We setup camp as quickly as frozen fingers allowed. And then sleep came quickly, and so did 5am.

The first thing we noticed was the temperature.  It was way too warm.  Crap, it was going to be a hellish, soft snow day.

The initial hiking over the 2.7 miles remaining of the 4×4 road was rather flat; we started at 10,000′ and took 1.5 hours to gain 800′ of elevation. I hoped in vain that it would be a nice downhill glide 10 hours hence. Still, it was an easy start, for me anyway. Brian broke trail; and for a change, he actually made a trail I could use instead of gliding across the surface like a modern day Legolas. It was odd to hear him grumble.

Once we cleared the treeline, we could see heavy snow covering the ridges descending from Huron.  It was still early and already a slide had occurred, nearly reaching our ascent path.  We kept our distance from the snowy slopes as best we could, and we tried to hurry to minimize our exposure.  But it was a long curving path to reach the couloir ascent to the summit ridge.

Detail on the final stretch to the summit

The final couloir was very steep and icy. So, we didn’t have to fear an avalanche, but the skins were only marginally up to the task of ascending such a steep, slick surface. We slowly worked our way up until about 3/4ths of the way up we had to exit into the rocks on the right to make the saddle.  The climb certainly would have been better with crampons and an axe.

The weather had looked bad all day and continued to do so.  We tried to hurry to the summit, but the snow on the ridge was too soft. I literally had to swim across the sections without rocks to step on. This misery was compounded by my agreeing to bring the skis to the summit, where we sat for only as long as it took to eat a quick snack.

I carried the skis up to the summit and then carried them back down to just above the saddle.  When I dared put them back on, the snow stuck to the base like tar.

Fortunately, by the time we reached the top of the couloir, the skiing returned to a normal state for the day…merely terrible. A few turns into the descent, I hit a rough, icy section and lost it. I hit face first and cartwheeled down the slope, bashing my brains in on every flip. My self-arrest ski poles allowed me to stop after a few flips, but not before mutilating my nose. And this only 2 weeks since making a pact with God to take better care of my nose after allowing me to keep most of it after some frostbite on a cold, windy day on Mt Silverheels.

I bled continually and fell frequently as I attempted to escape Huron with my life and the remainder of my health (and nose).

Once we made it past the lake and reached the 4×4 parking area, the snow had softened enough to become impossible. In the last 3 miles, I fell through the snow 6 times. One time I could not get back up; it was a sort of quicksnow. I finally had to resort to rolling to escape the pit I dug for myself.

We made it back to camp at 6pm for an 11.5 hour day covering 4000′ of elevation gain and 10+ miles of soft snow slogging.  And, I was a bloody mess.

Some trips it is hard to remember that I do this because I love it; but it is important that I remember it.

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Last Gasp Mountain

April 19, 2010

The thought of recording the glorious horror of this trip helped to sustain me during the many hours of this largely miserable experience that ended well.

And that is the makings of a great adventure:

Great Adventure (my personal definition)

A dangerous undertaking demanding a higher than expected level of physical, emotional, and intellectual effort that ends well.

A trip like this is an unexpected but secretly hoped for blessing.  In fact, if we dare expect it, then the possibility evaporates.  Such opportunities only come from pushing the envelope of capability by selecting adventures that match our most optimistic opinion of our willingness to suffer. This was such a trip.

It was the first trip of the season; I was not yet in shape, but figured I could pull it off by trying harder.

The trip started bad:  driving in the dark with bad visibility and roads from falling snow, not sure how to find the turnoff to the trailhead in a whiteout, setting up camp in a snow storm.

But we persevered.  And by morning, our day was perfect:  single digit temperature with no wind.

My friend, Joe, had joined us for some prep work for a trip to Bolivia that he and I were taking 30 days hence.  The three of us started off from the Missouri Gulch trailhead at 7am.  We managed a good pace early on — the first 2000′ of elevation fell in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Then our luck turn against us.

The Joes in Missouri Gulch on the way to Mt Missouri

We made a route finding error.  Rather than continue closer to the end of the Gulch, we turned up about 1 mile too soon (position #1 on map) to climb a couloir to reach the ridgeline above us on our right. Dawson’s guidebook said, “crest the ridge at the obvious saddle.”  I guess we should have been more careful than assume anything is obvious once surrounded by peaks on 3 sides. This mistake would cost us by putting us in steeper and looser

Our route up and down Mt Missouri from Missouri Gulch trailhead. The correct route is our descent route.

terrain and force us to traverse a long, rocky ridge instead of a smooth valley floor.  And the snow was loose; it felt like climbing a pile of sugar:  three steps up and two slides back. This more challenging terrain kicked my ass and depleted my main fuel tank; I had not yet gotten into high peak climbing shape since the end of downhill ski season.

About 1/2 way up the to the ridge, Joe yelled up that he was turning back to wait at the truck.  I wasn’t tempted to retreat, but I sure could understand the decision.

I reached the ridge line at 12:20pm. It had taken me nearly 3 hours to climb to the ridge. The spot we reached was a pleasant spot with a wide flat area and a view of the entire Rockies, and we were perfectly happy to enjoy the wonderful views because we didn’t yet know that we had climbed up the wrong place.

It took over an hour of carrying skis while stumbling across thinly snow-covered rocky slopes for over a mile to figure out we had done it wrong; and that conclusion only known for certain after we reached the top of the correct couloir.

We had burned precious time and energy, but now we were close.

From the saddle above the correct couloir (where we left our skis), we climbed up a steep, icy slope. As I struggled up the slope toward the summit gasping for air and resting every 5 steps, I had the dread of a false summit. I willed myself into hoping it was the summit.  I needed it to be the summit.

It wasn’t the summit.  I looked left and three-quarters of a mile down the ridge was a peak apparently 100-200 feet higher.  It was 2pm; Brian said, “let’s hurry, we have a long way to go!”  I was too tired to say what I was thinking.

Cleaned up a bit, my thoughts went along the lines of:  “Hurry?  I don’t know if I can keep going!”

I put one foot in front of the other and slowly made progress.  Time was ticking away, but I could do little more than shorten the length of my frequent rests.

About 300 feet from the summit, a steep cornice blocked the ridge. To continue, we had to descend a short distance and make a technical traverse above a steep slope on Missouri’s SW corner; I made it across by kicking steps and desperately using the self arrest handle on my ski poles to find some purchase on the loose snow.  As I stepped out of danger, I immediately dreaded the return trip.

We reached the summit @ 3pm; it took 8 hours to reach the summit. After taking a few minutes to collect my breath, I remarked to Brian that this was such a terrible climb that it will be remembered fondly. He agreed; always, the glory is in the struggle.

I ate and drank the rest of my supplies and hoped for a second wind; I couldn’t afford to save anything for the trip back.  I had to hope a ski descent would be fast enough to get me back to civilization before running completely out of fuel.

With 4 hours of light left, we started back across the summit ridge, hoping for good luck.

The traverse back to the descent saddle was legal murder, so no one filed a police report.  And then it was time for another change in luck.

Once the skis went on the feet, the trip took on a flavor of wonder which only comes of the best possible backcountry skiing conditions.

The snow was perfect.  We skied down the couloir and on down to within 100 yards of the truck.  It was miraculous: pure joy.  We got back to the car at 6pm.

When asked, Joe said he turned around because he couldn’t stand the slow pace of the climb to the ridge: it was too boring. I said it was true that I suffered for much of the day, but that having reached the summit and returned safely, the day felt like a great day.

Misery Axiom: never turn back because of mental misery.

More mental suffering (e.g., boredom, frustration, irritation) leads to more personal rewards, which can only be harvested through perseverance (corollary to Reward Rule).

Fourteener #20 in the bag.

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