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After a week of bad weather, I was anxious to get back out on the trail again and to ski off some peaks. I’m really starting to fill in the gaps on these peaks, and with the nice big storm last week, coverage on peaks that earlier this winter were unskiable have now come into condition. If I can keep things rolling into May, I am starting to believe I have a realistic shot at knocking out the remaining peaks.
On Wednesday afternoon I drove down to the southeast through South Park and towards Pikes Peak. Snow was still sitting in the Ten Mile Range, but as I headed further south, Pikes peak stuck out on the horizon. It was nice and white.
Leaving the small town of Divide on Highway 24, I turned south on Colorado 67 and found my way up to the Crags Trailhead. The dirt road heading towards the trailhead had fortunately been plowed. The nearly 4 feet of snow that had fallen in the past week had settled out some, but I was so glad this area got hammered by all the storms!
It was a clear and calm evening when I parked at 730 near the Mennonite Camp, still almost 2 miles from the summer trailhead at Crags. Because of all the new snow, they only had the road plowed to Mennonite Camp. Parking and readying my gear for the morning, It suddenly dawned on me: There was going to be a full moon!
I had already been sitting for a week since I was up on Mt. Lindsey so I was anxious to get going. Also, knowing that the best weather was now through Friday, and I had three peaks I set my sights on, I decided that the best way to get going would be to go now!
Leaving at 8pm, it was just getting dark and the moon was coming up. I headed up towards Crags campground excited about the possibilities. I would try to get Pikes done overnight, then head to Antero to start fresh in the morning, hopefully with a few hours of rest in between.
Pikes and Antero would be excellent training for an 8,000m peak. Starting at 8pm reminded me of what I did on Everest in 2012. I started right as it was getting dark. Pikes would be a long night and then I would have to be capable of going strong on Antero too. I was ready for the challenge.
As I headed up the basin, I followed a skin track from some skiers from the day before. These skiers probably were skiing a bit at the tail end of the storm. But the skin track was a gift. I pushed myself up above timberline and in the Full Moon light I didn’t even need a headlamp. In warm temps and minimal wind, I was up to Devils Playground in the bright lights meeting the buried Pikes peak road by 11pm. Above 12,500’ the winds picked up a little bit so I had to layer up.
Like a lighthouse on a far off shore, the light from the summit house beckoned me to keep climbing. The winds out of the northwest kept getting stronger and stronger. Fortunately they weren’t right in my face.
Before long I crested the summit ridge and made my way to the top. Winds on top were brutal, blowing up to 40 mph. It was chilly, but I had made it. I snapped few photos and got shelter on the leeward side of the summit house. Most of the facilities up top were completely covered in snow from the recent storm and had not been dug out yet. The last several days had shut down all operations up there.
I hustled over to the Army summit hut and got out of the wind to pull skins. Even in the full moon it was tough to see with goggles and my headlamp.
By the time I headed down it was pushing 1:30am. I descended quickly and as I made my way down the slopes to the northwest, the winds died out. It was a stellar night. The lights of Colorado Springs and the Denver metro area made this peak feel pretty interesting.
Before long I was dropping down nice powder into the Crags basin and because my skin track in the woods and down the road was nice and frozen, I cruised with ease back to the road and my vehicle parked 2 miles below Crags Campground. Peak #32 was tons of fun, and done in brilliant Full moon style. It was one of the more exhilarating skis of a peak that I have done given the situation.
It was on to Antero next!
Peak #32: Wednesday to Thursday April 20-21, 2016.
Ski Route: Crags CG, West Bowl to Devils Playground and Northwest Ridge.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 15.4mi / 5,000′ Parked below the Mennonite Camp.
Ski Partners: Solo Full Moon Ascent.
Start Time: 8p
Reached Summit: 1am (1/2 hour on the summit)
End Time: 3am
Pikes Peak Summit in the full moon at 1am on April 21
Winds were forecasted to be strong on the 25th of April – so I approached a chance to get Grays and Torrey’s finished with an open mind but prepared for high winds and a miserable slog versus a spectacular ski.
Rising at 3am from my place in Vail, I was headed east on 70 in time to meet up with my buddy Roger and hit the trail from Bakerville at 430am. Nearly a Full moon was out and there was no wind as we skinned towards the summer trailhead for 3 miles.
We arrived at the summer trailhead just before 6am for the usual break, taking advantage of the toilets there. Then we were on our way. Rising above timberline, winds picked up with an occasional gust, but most of the time it was dead calm. The sun hit us as we rose above 12,000’ and we had an excellent view of both Grays and Torreys. Torreys East face looked Himalayan, caked with the snow of the winter and recent storms. It’s most aesthetic ski line, the Dead Dog colouir looked awesome!
Are we really going to ski that?” Roger asked me. “Heck yeah”! I said to him as we pushed towards Grays. Within a half hour we ascended the east ridge of Grays along some snow loaded slopes.
We topped out just before 9am. It was a relaxing morning so far. Because winds were coming from the south and southwest, we only were blown hard by a Gale on the very top of Grays, but took a rest break to the leeward side of the summit along the upper part of the north ridge. A quick transition and we skied the north ridge of Grays in minutes, reaching the saddle between the two peaks, where we headed up to Torreys in no time.
Along the Saddle I thought about my friends Chris, Paul, Erik, Ryan, and a few other guys that were up on Grays over the weekend. My friend Paul had fallen on skis and broke his Tibia. A helicopter had landed in the saddle to assist him. While I wasn’t there over the weekend, it made me think and consider the risks up here. Also I wish Paul a fast road to recovery. I am grateful to be able to continue this project happy and hope for safety moving forward as well.
By 9:30 we had topped out on Torreys and it was all downhill from here. This was probably my 50th summit of Torreys at least, a peak I love to ski multiple times each winter and do trail runs on the peak in the spring. We transitioned quickly, as we were a bit concerned the east facing and southeast facing portions of the Dead Dog would be heating up in the sunshine.
A short and careful 150 foot ski got us down into the entrance of the couloir near the famous shark tooth feature on Kelso ridge. Fortunately the southerly winds and spin drifts and cooler temps on this day had not made the couloir too soft or wet-slide prone just yet….but we had to go now, it was nearly 10am, honestly my cut-off in April for skiing certain aspects due to warmth: 10am can be a pretty good rule, and in May it 9am or earlier. We tossed a few rocks in and the snow still looked soft enough. Roger and I did a little paper-rock- cissors for the honors. I lost, so Roger got to drop in first. He entered the chute, cut a few turns and headed down to the first rest stop behind some rock bands. I followed, then we regrouped and headed down individually for the long sustained nearly 2,000’ ski!
The couloir had some awesome snow in it throughout, up to a foot most of the way. Only the bottom near the apron was a bit choppy from older avalanche debris. Once down in the Apron the skiing was nice GS turns. Roger and I exchanged some high fives and were off and down the basin for some easy turns.
Because it was barely 10:30, the snow was just getting corned and was not sticky at all. We cruised down to where we parked at 1-70 and Bakerville and were finished before 11am.
A stellar day to knock off a pair of peaks. Now it becomes a waiting game as I have some presentations in the Denver area while this weather passes. Hopefully by the weekend I can sneak a few more peaks in before heading for the Sangres and San Juans next week as well as a jaunt to the elks in early May to get some big ones done!
Peaks #35 and #36: April 25, 2016
Elevation: 14,270’ & 14,267′
Ski Route: Stevens Gulch to East ridge to top of Grays, north ridge Grays down to saddle, up south ridge to Torreys summit. On Descent, skied Dead Dog Couloir and east face of Torreys, and back to Bakerville via Stevens Gulch.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 14mi / 5,060′ (Includes Grays & Torreys all in the same day)
Ski Partners: Roger Carter
Start Time: 430am (from Bakerville)
Reached Summit of Grays: 830am (30 mins on summit)
Reached Summit of Torreys: 930am (15 mins on summit)
End Time: 11am.
Heading up as the sun just starts to warm us up
Evans and Bierstadt was kind of a slog that I was looking forward to, but also not looking forward too. I have climbed these Front Range peaks and have skied them many times over the years, so I was happy to have a relatively easy and straightforward day. A few things I hope for out of this day would be good snow and light winds. Well, I was lucky. The storm system for the week had cleared, and the winds came out of the north, so they were cold, keeping the snow nice at all elevations. In the end, the colder conditions made for a spectacular day to ski both peaks and to enjoy crystal clear views.
I parked below Guanella Pass at about 6am and readied my gear, finished off a breakfast burrito and hit the trail at 630. Instead of climbing to the pass on the road, i took a short cut into the Clear Creek Basin and made a beeline for the Scott Gomer basin and the Sawtooth. I wanted to get Evans out of the way since it would be further and higher.
Once in the flat basin below Bierstadt, it was easy to skin to the northern flanks of Evans on easy terrain. I skirted Mount Spaulding to the east, and passed the Sawtooth to my west as I gained the northwest and west ridge of Evans.
Spindrift was strong, and at times blinding out of the east on the ridge to the summit, but once I made the top by around 930am, things calmed down and it was a beautiful sunny and dry day on top. the Mt. Evans road still closed I was all alone and could see down into the Denver Metro area easily.
This was my first time back up on Evans in a couple of years. Its always rewarding to stand on top of Evans, especially when you don’t have to share the summit with the mobs of summer tourists that drive up the road.
After photos and snacks I knew I needed to get down and over to Bierstadt so I clicked in and took the ridge to the west. I retraced my steps and skied easily back to the ridge and to a flat area at about 13,700′ near Spaulding and the Sawtooth. This is the headwaters of Scott Gomer Creek. There is a southwest facing gully I call “Scott Gomer’s Couloir”. It was in excellent condition so I dropped in and skied it to the basin below Bierstadt’s North Face.
After a quick break in the basin at about 11,600′ I put on skins and climbed out of the basin to join the standard northwest ridge and slopes of Bierstadt. Here came something unusual, a guy named Andy was skiing off the summit and greeted me.
This was the first person from a separate party other than my own that I had seen skiing any of these peaks in weeks. We shot some photos of each other skiing and wished each other luck. I headed up, he was headed back towards the 285 side of Guanella Pass.
Winds stayed reasonable out of the East and by 1215 I had reached the summit ridge and the summit minutes later. I also witnessed an Air Force fighter jet that zoomed past me from west to east at about 15,000′ right over the Sawtooth! That was cool! The day was gorgeous and the amount of snow on the Front Range peaks was excellent, but kind of windblown at this point. I was happy to ski off the top of Bierstadt and down to my car in no time!
I headed to the Sangre De Cristos for a date with the Crestones next.
Peaks #38 and #39: May 3, 2016
Elevation: 14,264′ & 14,060′
Ski Route: Guanella Pass Campground to South Clear Creek Drainage, Over Mt. Spalding, Up Evans NW ridge. Ski down Evans NW ridge to the Scott Gomer’s Couloir, up Bierstadt NW ridge and face to Summit. Ski Descent of NW Couloir and Slopes.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 14mi/ 5,500′
Ski Partners: Solo Summit of both.
Start Time: 6:30am (From Guanella Pass Campground, 2 miles below the Pass).
Reached Summit: Evans at 930am, 30 mins on Summit, Bierstadt at 12:30pm.
End Time: 2pm
Summit of Evans (14,264'), skied right off the top
Keeping the momentum rolling and taking advantage of early June with excellent coverage, I tackled Longs on Friday June 3. We skied Keplingers from the Homestretch right off the Summit
Peaks #54: June 3, 2016
Ski Route: Up the Loft, down Keplinger’s Couloir..
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 16mi / 6,000′
Ski Partners: Scott Benge
Start Time: 3a Longs Peak Trailhead.
Reached Summit: 8am (1 hour on the summit)
End Time: 1pm Wild Basin exit
Heading to Keplingers on Longs
Summit of Longs Peak
Dropping into the Homestretch on Longs
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