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It was a cold and clear morning when we departed the Green Wilson Hut deep in the heart of the Elk Mountains on Tuesday Morning. Sunday and Monday were quite stormy, dumping up to a foot of powder in this corner of Colorado. The snow had settled into the stable layer below, so as I broke trail into Montezuma basin, the going was moderately tough, but the stars were spectacular.
Cresting into the upper basin, the morning light came on strong and before I knew it we were skinning up to the notch on the northeast ridge of Castle. It was a chilly morning, and as the sun began to come up, we made it to the ridge. It felt almost Himalayan as I had been climbing in my down jacket throughout the morning darkness but thankfully there was no wind.
The views became even more impressive as we got higher and higher. The ridge was tough and loaded with snow, and at times as we booted up the ridge I sank up to my waist in the fresh powder. Up the final summit pitch was a challenge of powder, and we battled through it so by 8am we had earned the summit. Calm, cold, and clear, but the morning sun warmed us. This was a peak I definitely was enjoying. In fact we stayed for an hour on top. This was my 3rd winter summit of Castle and probably the best one yet. The snow was amazing.
After some food and snacks, I clicked in and skied right of the top of the highest spot in all of the Elk Range. The best way off the summit was by way of the east face.
I took a couple of turns off the steep point on the crest of the face, and then we made our way to the notch on the northeast ridge that we climbed. From here the north couloir was beckoning. No steeper than 35-40 degrees or so, the broad couloir was filled in nicely with up to 3 feet of powder that had blown in during the last storm.
Nearly 1000 feet of fun turns we took in this couloir, and once we made it down in to the basin we really opened things up for an half hour of fun skiing down the basin and back to the Green-Wilson Hut. I was fortunate to spend a few days hut tripping with great friends and got a chance to ski over Pearl Pass as well, exploring some excellent corners of the Elk Range.
Because the snow conditions of powder were so awesome, it was my favorite peak of the project so far and one of my best 14er skis in years. With more awesome weather coming in the next few days I am going to get after some more peaks to keep this project rolling! Thanks for following along!
Peak #12: Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Ski Route: East Face to North Face Couloir
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 7mi / 3,600′
Ski Partners: Anna Migl, John Fielder
Start Time: 3:45am
Reached Summit: 8am (Hour on the Summit)
End Time: 10:15am back to Green Wilson Hut
Dropping directly off the top of Castle
I drove over late on Wednesday night to link up with a couple of skiers that have inspired me to ski and push myself to the next level from the very beginning- Chris Davenport and Ted Mahon.
Knowing that the North Face had some great snow on it, we put together a plan on Wednesday to start Thursday morning from Maroon Lake. We would go fast and light. Chris has skied the North face 6 or 7 times and Ted several times himself, so as I tried to fall asleep once I had driven over to the Trailhead for an early start I couldn’t help but feel like I would be in the company of legendary ski mountaineers and would be able to settle in and really enjoy an awesome ski-mountaineering objective.
We rolled out of the Maroon Lake parking lot and past the lake at about 4:45am. It was one of my latest starts in a long time over the past several weeks because we knew the North Face wouldn’t get as warm as south aspects. Near Crater Lake first light was already upon us in the first half an hour.
In approaching North Maroon, we crossed an avalanche chute on the way past the Lake when first ascending to Buckskin pass. Chris popped off one of his bindings and actually thought he broke it. For the first minute or so, Ted and I were bummed- and we hoped that the binding would still hold. Fortunately a piece was broken off but the binding still functioned….. or at least we would find out up on the peak!
It was a spectacular morning in some nice magical hour colors and we ascended the slopes to the rock glacier (covered in tons of snow) and then to the base of the North face. The face was caked, but definitely a bit intimidating. Essentially there are a bunch of ledges and snowfields that can be skied cleanly all the way to the bottom with a series of traverses as well.
But in order to ski we had to climb up the peak first. Knowing that the face would be pretty exposed and relatively soft, we chose the couloir just to the left of Gunsight Couloir and climbed it to the northwest ridge.
Once we gained the ridge we traversed and series of cliffs to find our way around to the back and up a final steep couloir. The clouds lifted a bit as we traversed for the final 45 minutes and the backdrop was impressive: Fravert Basin far below us, South Maroon popping out as well as Capitol and Snowmass.
The final pitch up to the ridge was a fin snow climb. We easily walked up the final 100 yards to the top and enjoyed a calm summit at 9am.
After the usual high fives, snacks, and photos, we clicked in and get ready to ski. I almost didn’t put my helmet camera on my head but Chris and Ted both insisted I did, so I filmed the entire descent- definitely something that Chris said “you better film this skiing, you’ll want to watch it when you are over 60 someday.”
That moment of film decision on the summit with Chris and Ted actually brings up a very important point, something that has actually taken me a long time to do well on this project: documentation. Just like I hesitated to take the effort to film on North Maroon, there have been several peaks on this project that I have not filmed and have not documented well. As is the case on EVERY peak that I have climbed in my career worldwide, my focus has always been more on getting up and back down safely. Its precisely why I barely even have any photos from my summit day on Everest in 2012. (I realize now as I write this to post now that the project is over, its July Now. this is going to probably cost me any shot at the record and completeness of the project from that standpoint. However, I can describe everything to the best of my ability and just be honest about what has transpired). In the end this project has been about climbing and skiing the peaks the best I can, and for anyone to question what I have done is of course probably going to happen, but all I can do at this point is put up what I have and go from there.
The start of the descent on North Maroon begins easy, with a traverse to the northeast ridge, and a skirting of the “punk rock” cliff band. Once you get past that with some interesting skiing on an awesome exposed spine, then we each took a fun line of powder below the band and skied lean for a few hundred feet.
This was definitely my favorite part of the descent. In fact, a friend of ours, Jordan White Captured us on the face from a nearby peak to the north called Sleeping Sexton.
The maze of cliffs continued, but the snow stayed cold with mixed powder, crust and relatively good ski conditions. We took turns skiing sections and making sure to look out for snow sloughs and rocks, and to be careful. Part way through it it really hit me just how fun it was to be out on that face. It never felt too crazy, but the backdrop kept you on your toes and in awe at the same time.
Near the bottom we had to traverse and hard left and ski back to the base of the original couloir that we had climbed. Then we opened it up at the bottom and were home free! Some fast GS turns down the rock glacier and we paused for high fives and a brief photo and celebration= we had done it!
Getting back down through the woods was pretty easy with good snow coverage and before we knew it we were transitioning and walking back past Maroon lake and into the parking lot for the post climb celebration! Up the peak in about four and down in about 90 minutes after a good half an hour on the summit, its pretty hard to get any more efficient on that peak, and it was a blast.
The day was the equivalent of getting to play horse with Lebron James and Michael Jordan; Chris and Ted are a couple of the world’s best ski- mountaineers. Nevertheless, felt great to ring in the bells of North Maroon with them, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to reach 43 peaks skied so far. The day will certainly propel me into more peaks coming up as Prime time Skiing continues.
Peak #43: Thursday May 19, 2016.
Ski Route: North Face
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 8mi / 4,500′
Ski Partners: Chris Davenport and Ted Mahon
Start Time: 4:45am
Reached Summit: 9am (1/2 hour on the summit)
End Time: 11am
Peak #44: Sunday May 22, 2016. (Skied Bell Chord on May 13th)
Ski Routes: Y-Couloir (SE Couloir) and south ridge, west face, and Bell Chord
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 10mi / 4,600′
Ski Partners: Brad Burgtorf, Jake, Jane, and Garrett
Start Time: 3:30am
Reached Summit: 9am (1/2 hour on the summit)
End Time: 11:15am
Summit of South Maroon with a nice look at Pyramid
Pyramid is a peak that really cost me the ability to get the project finished to the degree it could have been. I visited the peak on so many occasions that I nearly lost count. What the setback on Pyramid honestly comes down to is May 21. I climbed Pyramid on May 21 with Brad and Eric. We started nice and early and were high on the ridge before sunrise. Then it happened- I decided I was done that day.
Right around the time we were about to leave and go up the peak, I had heard about the passing of a dear friend on Everest this season. I was floored. My mind was taken off the climb and as I ascended Pyramid with Brad and Eric- I completely lost my mojo and didn’t feel like going up any higher. It’s really nobody else’s concern as to how I felt that day in my mind, my heart, and my soul. I had watched my friend try on Everest for 5 separate seasons until he died ( he and I climbed together in 2012 and 2015 in Nepal after he finally summited this year), and what had happened to him really shook me. As Eric Brad and I ascended, the conditions on Pyramid on May 21 were near perfect. I’m not sure if it was a combination of a long set of months and a ton of peaks skied in April and May, along with the steepness of the peak that bothered me, but that morning high up at about 13,600’ I lost all desire to continue. In the morning sun I sat and watched my chance to get the peak done properly as my friends reached the summit at about 7am. It was over.
I of course went back on three other occasions (June 1, 2, and 6th – as well as a trip before this on May 14) with only one summit but each of those times it was more about convincing myself that the skiing would be in and the snow would be fine, but much like Capitol peak it was too late to get a complete ski line. The time to ski the peak correctly and continuously had passed.
In the end – so many questioned what happened up there – well, now you know. As a result of the setbacks later on and the repeat returns I didn’t film anything – heck I even barely took any photos. At the end of this I realized I would probably be criticized for not documenting much of anything. At the end it doesn’t matter because I’m not claiming any records.
However- the fact remains- I still skied the peak several times -covering over 10,000′ vertical if you were to add it all up. Since no official records were claimed, I still enjoyed the skiing and yes – I certainly didn’t walk down the entire peak to get back to my vehicle at Maroon Lake.
Peak #53: May 14, May 21, June 1, 2, 6, 2016.
Ski Route: Top of Landry Line via northeast ridge, a climb of northwest ridge as well.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 6mi / 4,600′
Ski Partners: Brad B, Eric S, Andy L, Chris J.
Start Time: 2:30am
Reached Summit: 7a (20 mins on the summit)
End Time: 10am
Summit of Pyramid
Peak #55: Sunday June 5, 2016.
Ski Route: East Snowmass Field, south ridge line and face off top
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 22mi / 5,800′
Ski Partners: Brad Burgtorf, Mackenzie Hoffman, Ryan Belanger, Ashley Lucas, Tara Dactyl, and Grace Kelley
Start Time: 3:30am (from Logjam)
Reached Summit: 9am (30min on the summit)
End Time: noon (at Logjam)
Top of the world on the summit of Snowmass
A couple of visits to Capitol Peak by June 2016 proved to be too late to ski the peak to the standards of the officalites, it was too warm to descend the really dangerous parts, and too rocky on the east face of the peak. The summit on June 12 was snowy enough to traverse to the top of the east face, however, there was nothing left to ski (at least safely) on the ridge and the east/SE face back to the secret chute. Returning on June 14 (below), I at least skied down the chute and was able to film part of it. No records here, but again, being able to climb the peak was still a win for me.
Peak #56:Thursday June 4, 2015 & Sunday June 12, 2016, Tuesday June 14, 2016 (Secret Chute Only).
Ski Routes: East Face to Secret Chute via Wandering Dutchman Couloir and Capitol Lake.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 18mi / 6500′
Ski Partners: Austin Porzak, Jesse Levine, Mike Steinman, Chris Jones (Jordan White and Colter Hincliffe and Riley S up there in 2015 as well)
Start Time: 1am
Reached Summit: 8am
End Time: 4pm
From the summit looking east on June 12, 2016
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