April 30, 2009

Snowmass Mountain

I felt obligated to do something 'cool' with my week off between engineering and NOLSing besides getting ready, packing, etc. However, I faced a bit of a dilemma as all my friends who I usually do cool things with were working. I ended up using my fall-back method of posting a partner-wanted add on 14ers.com, resulting in Jeff. Jeff is a recent graduate from the Colorado School of Mines. He worked for 6 months after graduating prior to being laid off. Sounds like he's got a good deal going there. Anyway . . .

After checking the weather, we opted for a Tuesday approach, Wednesday summit of Snowmass Mountain near Aspen. There are seven 14ers in the Elk Range, and Snowmass was the only one I hadn't climbed. Combine that with the notion that I wanted to ski the largest continuous snowfield in Colorado, and you have a recipe for a spring ski trip.

We left the Denver area at about 0730 on Tuesday and were near the trailhead by 1100. In attempt to drive the final half mile of the road to where the trailhead is, I succeeded in getting my 4-Runner stuck in the partially snow-covered road. By 1200, we were hiking/skiing towards our intended destination for the night, Snowmass Lake.

The first 6 miles of the approach were brutally variable. We would literally ski for a few minutes, hike over bare trail for a few minutes, and repeat. The inefficiency inherent in doing this was very slow and frustrating, but it was better than postholing.

Jeff in the process of adventure skinning

We decided to camp near some lakes at 10,200 feet in order to set up camp and filter water before dark.

Campsite at about 10,200 feet

An early start the next morning put us at Snowmass Lake (3000 feet below the summit) just as the sun was beginning to light up Snowmass Mountain and the surrounding peaks.

Snowmass Peak (left), Hagerman Peak (kinda hidden behind Snowmass Peak), and Snowmass Mountain (center, distant)

From the lake, we pretty much took a straight line (due west) toward Snowmass Mountain. We were able to skin all the way to about 200 feet below the summit, at which point we cramponed up some steep snow and ended up on the summit ridge just north of the summit. As it was getting late in the day, I took off to make sure I could summit in time to safely ski down. Jeff ended up summitting a little over an hour after me.

Jeff nearing the summit ridge

Immediately after gaining the ridge, the wind that had been blowing all day on the other (west) side of the mountain made itself apparent. As usual when in the wind, the skis on my back went immediately into sailboat mode. I found myself crawling at a couple points along the ridge in hopes that my descent would be less rapid and with my skis on my feet instead of my back.

I reached the summit a little before 1100. Up to this point, I had anticipated a ski descent from the summit proper. Turns out this would have been possible, but I opted for a flatter, 50ish degree line with a safer run-out that started just south of the true summit. The crux of skiing this line was getting the skis on. The knife edge ridge left little room for such activities.

Me on the tiny little starting 'platform'

Finishing the steep upper section

Ideally, we would have summitted earlier and descended earlier when the snow wasn‘t quite so soft. As it was, the fresh snow from a day or two earlier was in the process of rapidly consolidating and made for some super fun turns in a suspect snow pack with a safe run-out.

Jeff at the starting gate (and me in the background)

Granted, skiing this mountain involves a fairly rigorous approach, but I still couldn‘t believe that there were no other ski tracks on the mountain. The just over 3,000 vertical foot descent from the top to Snowmass Lake took us only a few minutes. After the initial steep section near the top, the rest of the ski was mellow, fun, and as fast as you wanted it to be. At one point on the decent I got a little overconfident, which resulted in a d-dunk-d-dunk (this is where you leave a discontinuous crash track, where each successive crater symbolizes alternate head-foot-head-foot contact points).

Back at camp we filtered some more water, packed up, and prepared for the deproach. Prior to the trip, I had envisioned a quick ski back down the trail to the car. This was not to be. As it turned out, the most efficient method of travel was to put the skis on the back and posthole. I never thought I‘d say that in a million years. I made it back to the car at 8:45. Jeff rolled in an hour later, making it 18 hours since we left camp, headed for the summit.

As usual, the views in the Elks were spectacular. We didn‘t see another person the entire time we were out.

The Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak (amongst many others :-)

April 12, 2009

Peak 1 - Breckenridge

Peak 1 dominates the view to the south from Dane's place in Frisco. Until this weekend, Dane had been forced to look up at Peak 1 and wonder what it would be like to ski it. No more.

On Saturday, Dane and I left from a trailhead in the town of Frisco. We ascended the north ridge of Peak 1, which was fun and exciting in itself. Overall, I think we climbed up and skied down 3,500 vertical feet.

Dane on top of Peak 1

We skied off the summit proper but were forced to take the east ridge for a short distance before dropping off the north side to avoid the hanging snowfield barring a direct descent from the summit towards Dane's house. We had a general idea of where we would go down, but found a pleasant surprise after rounding the edge of the hanging snowfield.

Looking down the upper chute

We found ourselves looking down a much tighter chute than we had been able to spot from his house, which must have been barely hidden by any of a number of rock bands. We found this chute irresistible and began the main stretch of our descent.

Dane dropping in to the upper chute

We found the chute to be steep and sustained for about 1,500 vertical feet before emptying out into the large bowl on the northeast side of Peak 1.

Dane making turns in the upper chute

Lower down, we found the obvious and super aesthetic chute that we had seen from Dane's house. This chute was much shorter, but begged to be skied nonetheless. So we put our skins back on, skied back up to the top of the ridge, and looked down the somewhat intimidating constructing chute.

Looking down the lower chute - the walls on either side make the line obvious, even though you can't see most of the chute

I made slow, controlled turns down the chute until it became too narrow to do so, at which point I just pointed my skis downhill. At the narrowest point, I believe I could have reached out and touched both walls with my 6-foot wingspan. Dane followed in a similar fashion.

Looking back at the lower chute

Shortly after descending through the thickly wooded forest smothering the lower slopes of Peak 1, we found ourselves relaxing in the hot tub. Once again, we were looking up at the awe inspiring Peak 1, but this time we didn't wonder what it would be like to ski it.

Peak 1 from Dane's hot tub

This zoomed in view of the peak from the hot tub provides a more global perspective of the lines we skied.

April 10, 2009

Outdoor Educator / Engineer

I've been planning to take a 35-day instructor course from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) for quite some time now, ideally working courses for them afterward. I broke the news to my office a few weeks ago, so I guess it's safe to mention in the public forum of blog space now.

For the majority of May and part of June, I will be backpacking and climbing out of Lander, Wyoming while learning how to become a NOLS instructor. The typical NOLS course takes high school- and college-aged students into the wilderness for a month, and focuses on teaching wilderness/technical skills (cooking, camping, hiking, climbing, etc.), leadership skills, and life skills. Courses are predicated around a backpacking expedition, some focus on rock climbing, some focus on mountaineering, some fishing . . . you get the gist. With additional training beyond the instructor course, I could potentially teach 2-week backcountry skiing trips, rafting/canoeing trips, or pretty much any combination of everything mentioned above.

My passion for this type of work far exceeds that of my current engineering position. So far, my current company has been highly accommodating after the initial shock wore off. They have agreed to try to be flexible and work with my schedule. Hopefully, I'll end up spending about half the year as an engineer and half the year as an outdoor educator for the next couple of years. I have great hopes that this will open doors to a world with which I have much more in common than here in the land of cubicles.

I have 2 more weeks of work before taking several weeks off for the course as well as some personal time!

April 06, 2009

Berthoud Pass

. . . and one more shot from Berthoud Pass on Sunday.

April 04, 2009

Snowy Colorado

It's been snowy here (more typical of spring than winter in this state). I've had some epic backcountry days this weekend and last, and the flatirons are decorated in ice cycles.