May 16, 2010

Systems Check

With only a few days left before we leave for Denali, Dane and I thought it would be a good idea to do an overnight trip to check out the various systems we plan to bring on Denali (stoves, tent, camp shoes, clothing layers, etc.).  We chose to do this trip in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, an area where I have been many times, but entered from the west (something I've never done) with the ultimate destination of Lone Eagle Peak.

Lone Eagle Peak

The weather apparently did not understand what we were trying to accomplish as it snained (a combination of snow and rain) on us pretty much the whole time.  This warm and wet weather couldn't have been more opposite from what we expect to encounter on Denali.  Nonetheless, we had fun and accomplished what we wanted to.  The system I am most excited about: camp shoes/booties.  From inside to outside this system consists of: warm socks, down booties, 1/3 inch foam footbed, and overboots.  I think my feet will be warm and happy when I'm not in my ski boots.

Cherokee Peak

As for the trip itself, we hiked about 4 miles with skies on our backs due to lack of snow, then skied another 5ish miles before setting up camp near the base of Cherokee Peak.  The next day we hiked up a little further to the base of Lone Eagle Peak where we got some amazing views for a few minutes before the mountain disappeared in heavy snow.  The return trip to the car was uneventful and good practice for skiing with a heavy pack.

Dane crossing one of the several bridges on the way up the trail

I was super impressed with the ruggedness of the west side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, which I found dramatically different than the east side.  The rock formations are reminiscent of those I've seen in the Winds and Tetons of Wyoming; rising abruptly and seeming to hover directly above you.

May 14, 2010

Dane and I have both been up Quandary Peak many times.  Most or all of these trips have been with skis in the springtime, but we've always ridden the same line (northeast bowls) down.  Yesterday we finally got to ski  the Cristo Couloir off the south side of the summit.  With 4 inches of fresh snow and a nonexistent wind, we thought we'd have perfect conditions for a safe powder descent of this famous line.

As it turned out, the surface which all the snow fell on was hard and crusty.  This made both the layer of fresh snow prone to sliding on the old surface and the skiing less enjoyable.  I suppose we should have expected this, but we were trying to be optimistic.  We skied the upper part very cautiously as we were concerned that our sluff would accumulate and become difficult to manage - which ultimately never happened.  There were a few sections in the middle where things felt more stable and we were able to let 'em rip.

Because it was snowing and a partial white out, none of the pictures turned out (see exhibit 1).  However, we took a few videos that aren't half bad.

Exhibit 1

Me skiing the middle section of the Cristo Couloir

Dane Boarding lower down in the Cristo

We're heading out for a 3-day trip to the Indian Peaks Wilderness today to test out some of our gear and systems for Denali.  We anticipate this will go well, and hope that it does, because we fly up to Anchorage in 5 days.

May 11, 2010

Buffalo Mountain and The Citadel

Yesterday Dane, Ava and I skied the North Couloir on Buffalo Mountain.  This peak lies at the southern edge of the Gore Range and only a few miles from Dane's place.  The North Couloir is sustained at 35 to 40 degrees for about 2500 vertical feet.  The snow surface didn't warm up and soften quite like we had hoped, but it was great fun on a big line anyway.

Dane digging a snow pit at the top of the North Couloir on Buffalo Mountain

Dane midway down the North Couloir

This should have been a reasonably quick 3000 feet up and 3000 feet back down to the car, but we had some navigational difficulties on the way down, which added an extra few miles of bushwhacking.

Today Dane and I skied the Northeast Couloir off of The Citadel.  The Citadel is a unique peak in the Summit County region of Colorado because it miraculously escaped the scour of the glaciers during the more recent ice ages.  Consequently, it is much steeper and more jagged than most other mountains in the area.  We had a great tour where we went up the valley (Dry Gulch) on one side of the mountain and skied down the valley (Herman Gulch) on the other side where we had stashed a car.  We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we were able to ski from the top as the guidebook we consulted made this seem unreasonable.

North Face of the Citadel (we skied the only continuous snow line from the summit)

Lower down we discovered this confined gully which held great snow!

Once again, conditions were a bit on the icy side up high but improved as we descended.  The leading edge of a big forecasted storm hit shortly after we got back to the car, so skiing in the near future might be more wintry than we've had for the past several days.

May 09, 2010

Colorado Update III

Ava and I skied the Northwest Couloir on Kelso Mountain on Friday while Dane stayed home to try and kick a cold (basically he called in sick for our training program).  We skied up the road to the summer trailhead for Grays and Torreys Peaks, then followed the trail to Grays Peak for a while before turning and skinning up the ridge of Kelso Mountain.  This was Ava's first day in CO, and she managed to ski up and down a peak that is over 13,000 feet tall.

Ava feeling the altitude near the top of Mt. Kelso "I did it! Let's take a rest."

On the way up we got a great view of Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak.  This is on my list, and I hope I get a chance to ski it before Dane and I head to Denali.

Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak (it's the obvious line coming down from just right of the summit)

The ski down was long (2,200 vertical feet) with a sustained pitch.  It was close to 40 degrees for one stretch near the top, then mellowed out for the remainder of the run.  There was a bit of wind slab near the top, but that quickly went away, yielding a bit of powder over spring corn for the majority of the ride down.  Overall, this was the nicest day we've had so far in both terms of weather and snowpack!

Northeast Couloir on Mt. Kelso

The next day Dane, Ava and I met up with Keith, Edyn, Graham, and Mark to attempt skiing Dragon Tail Couloir on Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This is a fairly famous line amongst backcountry skiers in Colorado due to its steepness and level of commitment.  The three of us arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot about 10 minutes early, and the other four were about 30 minutes late, so we had plenty of time to play hacky sack with ski boots on.

Ski Boot Hacky Sack

We eventually got our cumbersome group going and skinned our way up Flattop Mountain to the top of the couloir.  There were two people already there, deciding weather the conditions warranted a safe descent.  Keith hiked down into the couloir a ways and dug a pit, ultimately concluding that the top three inches might sluff off, but the snowpack below that was plenty solid.  After much deliberation amongst all potential participants, our entire group decided to drop in to the skier's left side of Dragon Tail (there's a right side that's apparently less steep but narrower).

Keith getting ready to drop in to Dragon Tail

Keith loves being the guinea pig, so we all let him drop in first.  The start of the line involved traversing the steepest part of the slope to the center of the couloir, directly below a looming cornice.  The steepness of this first part, combined with the fact that it happens to be above a 40 foot cliff makes it the most committing part of the descent.

Keith committing to the first turn after the initial entry traverse

After the initial traverse, it mellows out to a nice 45-50 degree slope for several hundred vertical feet, the meat of the line.  The end of this stretch culminates with a choke, which is about 100 feet long and 1.5 ski lengths wide.  After the choke, you transition into the final half of the couloir which is a little flatter and much wider.

Ava and Keith below me in the bottom half of the couloir

Dragon Tail Couloir, with Keith skiing out the apron at the bottom

As if our group of seven wasn't enough, there was another group of five and a group of two (perhaps even more) all skiing Dragon Tail on this fine Saturday.  Some of them climbed part way up the couloir from the bottom, and some of them dropped into the right hand side from the top, while our group was the only one to drop into the left side from the top.  This is surely one of the neatest lines I've ever skied.

May 04, 2010

Wildlife Photography

Nothing of particular interest to note on the skiing scene, but yesterday we did make friends with a fox while skiing at the closed-for-the-season Breckenridge.  No, we did not feed the little beggar.

May 01, 2010

Colorado Update II

On Friday, Sean and I skied some most excellent powder on Woodland Mountain in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  The pits we dug showed the depth of fresh snow to be between 1.5 and 2 feet deep, but for all practical purposes, it was bottomless.

Face shots on Woodland Mountain

Dane got back into town Friday night, so I "moved" up to Frisco where I'll be based for the next 2.5 weeks while we acclimate and condition for Denali.  Getting off on the right foot, we skied Quandary Peak (14,265') today.

Andy skiing the lower bowl on Quandary

The weather is still being quite funky.  It was cold and windy (good Denali training) on Quandary, and on the descent it changed from snowing to sunny and back about three times.