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It was an early morning as Ron Z and one of his other ranch hands (shoot I forgot his name, such a nice guy!) came and let me into the Cielo Vista Ranch property in darkness. Once we filled out the adequate paperwork, I started 5:30am from the Headquarters. Broke trail after the Snowmobile track after 4 miles or so.
The winter track took a southerly path before I was able to head back towards the north to rejoin the summer 4WD road at 4-WAY after several miles. The morning light was awesome and I was greeted by a bright sunrise in the Aspens as I ascended in a completely calm winter’s morning to 4-Way.
Once at 4-Way, I knew that the summer 4WD road would take me to timberline and towards the peak to the summer trailhead. I then broke trail all the way to the large cairn on the ridge. By ascending the southern flanks of the western bowl above the timber.
It was such a gorgeous day in the southern Sangre de Cristos', and other mountains came into view. As I neared the summit ridge Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest peak was visible to the south, and the Blanca Massif and the Crestones were clear to the north. I could even see Pikes peak way far to the north!
I was able to Summit by Noon, and this was my 4th summit of Culebra in my long Mountaineering career (1999, 2005, 2011, 2016). I got ready to ski and proceeded to skied down a thin south facing slope on the ridge where I met up with two guys (Rob and his friend), and it was Rob’s last 14er. I congratulated him an then I skied back down and was at the headquarters by 245pm. The west face/ NW Face powder was good!
I also got to see some huge elk in the trees about 2 miles above the park headquarters, what a treat and fine day on Colorado’s southernmost 14er, where it honestly felt like Spring was coming soon!
Peak #8 : February 12, 2016
Ski Route: West Ridge/ NW Face and Bowl.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 16mi/6000′ from park headquarters and different than the summer 4WD approach!
Ski Partners: Solo Summit
Start Time: 5:30 AM
Reached Summit: Noon (spent a half hour on the Summit)
End Time: 2:45 PM
The winds this winter on the Colorado peaks at times have been absolutely brutal. This was especially true for me last week when I headed out to ski a 14,000′ foot peak in Colorado called Humboldt. Humboldt is located in the Sangre de Cristo range in southern Colorado. On my trip I had a goal to possibly ski two other peaks in the area, so I packed a heavy load of gear into a base camp that was near timberline and settled in. In the morning my friend Scott and I skied up a gorgeous basin and started to climb a steep couloir (snow chute) towards our first goal.
Half way up, the snow became so soft and powdery that I sank up to my waist with every step. Then the winds started blowing, and moments later I heard a “whump’ sound come from across the valley. Somewhere the snow was settling, and the “whump” sound indicates snow instability. Then I noticed to my left and above me that there was a large snow blown crown of powder that had not slid from where it was perched.
Knowing how powdery the snow was, we backed off, and quickly put on skis and skied down an awesome basin back to a frozen lake. Just like in life, as in the mountains, plans can change, and even though I had backed off from the summit of Kit Carson, I felt confident it was the right choice.
But then a new opportunity presented itself: Humboldt Peak. There was still time that morning to go and do one of the peaks, and so I set off to climb the ridge of Humboldt. It might have almost been too late, but I dug deep and went anyway. (Scott had chosen to head back to camp and wait for me there) The wind on the ridge got stronger and stronger, up to 60 mph.
I had my skis on my pack and they almost acted as sailed to blow me away. Talk about chaotic! For 2 hours I battled up the ridge, sometimes crawling, sometimes tripping, and sometimes being blown away. I got tossed a few times like I was in a washing machine. It was so chaotic!
Then when I was just about to quit, when I crested the ridge for the final 500 yards to the top, I got on the opposite side of the ridge and walked in the sun. THE WIND STOPPED! The sun warmed me up. I was amazed how one side shielded me from the sun. I arrived on the summit and it was incredible, views in all directions and the winds started to die off. After a rest and a snack, I looked down the south face and saw my ski line.
Things turned out for the best and that moment felt amazing! Then it was time to ski. In the warming morning sun the ski line was in perfect condition. I was back to my camp by lunch, and with such an accomplishment under my belt for peak #10, and it was brilliant! Although when I got back to camp the winds came back! I packed up and got the heck outta there!
Stay the course and weather the storm.
Peak #10: February 27, 2016
Ski Route: South face couloir
Roundtrip Distance and Elevation Gain: 19mi/6100′
Ski Partners: Solo Summit (Scott Benge Skied in)
Start Time: 7 AM (Upper South Colony Lake)
Reached Summit: 10:30 AM (spent a half hour on the Summit)
End Time: 3:30 PM at Trailhead, noon at camp.
Crestones (left), and Kit Carson (right) from the top of Humboldt
Steep, icy, dangerous, and challenging – Little Bear was ready to offer up a tough winter ascent and ski descent.
Chris Tomer pulled up in his Tacoma to meet us at the bottom of the Blanca Peak / Como Road in the early morning. It hadn’t dropped below freezing and the forecast was for nothing but clear skies. Torrey and Anna had both joined me for the evening and they were both stirring in their vehicles. I gobbled up some mini cinnamon rolls, downed some water and we were all ready to continue up the road around 2am. I jumped in with Anna and Torrey and we drove up the road behind Tomer. 20 minutes later we parked and started hiking up the road as it rose out of the San Luis valley, it definitely felt like spring.
In darkness we ascended in to the Como Valley in moonlight, reached the snowline at 10,000’ and kept climbing. It turned into winter as we got higher. It was a pretty cold early morning, in the teens for sure. Crossing Lake Como around 5am it was cold with an occasional wind gust, but we all knew the challenge looming above us. Above the lake we stashed some gear in the last trees and headed up the first gully to gain the west ridge. The steps were good and making the ridge, Tomer and I chatted as we watched the morning light and allowed Anna and Torrey to catch up to us for a bit.
We continued on. The ridge was awesome as the morning Belt of Venus owned the sky with a light show to the west. Getting on the snow slope and traversing to the hourglass was fun and relatively quick. I let Tomer lead and he made some nice steps up the firm snow of the Hourglass.
Great couloir climbing. The snow was firm and even icy in places – I’ll admit, as I climbed up through the narrowest part of the couloir, I knew skiing down this would be difficult. I always try to envision and plan out where my turns will go in my head, and usually hold to the plan on my descent.
The rest of the climb went by pretty fast. I followed Tomer to the Summit and were there by 830am. The top was blustery with gusts coming from different directions sporadically. Peak #16 of the project was a big one.
As I prepared for the ski descent I had the steepest section in mind. A solo climber named Drew made it to the top behind us and soon after came Anna and Torrey. The views were stellar on a crystal clear day. Clear views to the Crestones and to peaks in the southern Sawatch and San Juans.
I was anxious to descend. Chris headed down further to set up to shoot some photos. After taking a few more summit shots and a summit video I descended. The top of the peak was icy and rocky, but if we don’t get any more snow up there this season this might be my last chance to make some turns.
Above the hourglass I made some turns and side slipped down to right above the steepest part. There was a small choke of ice and snow that would have to be skied in a straight line with a quick right turn to the wider top of the hourglass. Without too much more thought I went for it. The rest of what transpired is something unlike anything I have ever personally experienced in my ski-mountaineering career. I’ve seen a lot of things on my years of expeditions and skiing, but I have never been the victim. My skis wouldn’t bite when I carved my right turn into the slope. I lost my balance and fell backwards. I spun around and plunged down the hill and into the couloir. I immediately accelerated. My mind screamed, “self- arrest, self arrest, stop, stop, stop!” But my friends around me watched and heard nothing but silence. My ice axe got ripped from my hands, my skis popped off and went flying. I accelerated some more. Somehow I first managed to get my head up and face my feet out like I was riding downstream floating in a river or down a slide in the park. I don’t know how but I steered myself away from the walls of the narrow choke point in the hourglass. Realizing I had no tools to stop me, I turned around and dug in with every other part of my body: mainly my knees, hands, elbows, and feet. A hundred and fifty yards later I came to an abrupt stop. I sank into knee deep powder below. “Are you alright?” Tomer shouted. “Ya I think I’m good”, I said. “I was just actually mad at myself for miscalculating the turn!” I told my friends I was sorry for crashing. I did a quick check myself but because I was on such an adrenaline rush, I felt no pain. Chris and Anna brought my skis and pole and ice axe back down to me.
Descending down the rest of the slope I couldn’t believe I was ok. I was so lucky not to have hit anything. That was the wildest craziest ride I’ve ever taken, basically all the way down the Hourglass for about 400 feet. Once on the ridge I took stock of the situation in the morning sun as we waited on Torrey to come down the couloir himself. I had a couple of abrasive cuts on my elbows and knees, but otherwise I was completely unharmed. Descending the rest of the mountain, I felt like I wasn’t ready to try and go up to Ellingwood and Blanca just yet.
We headed back down to the trailhead and eventually into Alamosa. As I skied down the Como road before having to transition to my hiking boots I kept replaying what happened in my head. I was on such an adrenaline rush that I still felt strange that it all happened. Then I actually went to the clinic and got checked out. Nothing broken and nothing but a few stiches in my right elbow. A little sore at the moment for one hell of a tumble, but It wasn’t time to quit on this project now – I would come back for Blanca and Ellingwood soon enough to wrap up these peaks.
Thanks for following along and I promise to stay safe as I move forward.
Peak #16: Saturday March 19, 2016
Ski Route: Hourglass Couloir
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 14mi / 6,000′
Ski Partners: Chris Tomer, Torrey Udall, Anna Migl.
Start Time: 2:30am
Reached Summit: 8:30am (30 mins on the Summit)
End Time: 1pm
The last full day of winter
After the tumble I took on Little Bear, I was down, but not out. I figured since I was all the way down in Alamosa, and these peaks were close by, that I would give them both a go and try to do both in one day. There were tons of incentives on this trip now. The first was that I could wrap up the Blanca Massif after already doing Little Bear on Saturday, and then I wouldn’t have to deal with the Blanca/Lake Como Road again at all! I would be content with not having to come back here again, that’s for sure. Anna Migl was a rock star, willing to stick it out on that day with me after the others had gone home.
We began in full moonlight, just like on Saturday, by bouncing up the road for a bit in a 4WD vehicle and then hiking with our boots and skis on our backs. Up at 10,000’ where the trail heads into the valley, we transitioned to our skis and skins. The morning was calm and even more peaceful than Saturday. I felt awesome about the decision. Also, when I was on the summit of Little bear, I got to see the SW face of Ellingwood to see that it was in great snow condition.
As it got light, we came to Lake Como and Little Bear came into full view. “Just stay over there” I said to the mountain of Little Bear. “We can be friends, and that’s it. Just let me go over to these other peaks safely.” It almost made me feel like I was telling an ex-girlfriend that I was okay with the pain she had caused me and I just needed to get along so that I could move on to some other peaks nearby without any trouble. It kind of made me chuckle.
We headed up the gorgeous basin with Ellingwood in view and eventually to the flat small bowl between Blanca and Ellingwood. It was a chilly morning and the winds picked up a little bit but the day was crystal clear. After transitioning into crampons, with skis on our backs, I led the way up the 35 to 40 degree slope towards Ellingwood. The snow was solid, and I was hoping with the sun hitting it that things would soften up on my descent.
Before long the summit was reached and it was easy to take a break and sit out of the wind. Blanca looked a bit bony, but I was confident we could find a reasonable line down that peak next.
Then it was time to ski. I sent Anna down into a good spot to shoot some photos, and then it was game on. For a moment I hesitated just because of my fall on Little Bear from two days earlier, but once I started my first turn I felt awesome and it was back to my old self. The face and couloir was spectacular, and in minutes I had dropped back down into the bowl. Looking back up at Ellingwood, I felt grateful I was still in the game and safe, ready to climb up and tackle Blanca Next! (Story continues on the Blanca section!)
Blanca – Summit at 1pm, skied back down to the car back by 5:30pm. Was a 12 hour day total for both.
Peak#17: March 21, 2016
Ski Route: Southwest Face and South Couloir.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 18mi / 6,800′ (Includes Ellingwood & Blanca all in the same day)
Ski Partners: Anna Migl
Start Time: 5:30am
Reached Summit: 11am (30 mins on summit)
End Time: noon, then climbed Blanca. (12 hour day for both back to the Trailhead).
Close to the summit on the south face of Ellingwood
After descending Ellingwood safely, I took a short break in the bowl to transition. After a PB & J and some water, I put my skis on my back and started climbing up Blanca. It was pushing 12:30 by the time I got going but the weather was warm in the sun, and the 20-30mph winds weren’t terrible.
We didn’t have far to go, and for me, climbing summits and getting to the top might be the halfway point, but really once I can click in to my skis, I know that it’s time to go home by skiing, and so the pressure is off, and the fun begins! The fun part about Blanca is being able to skirt right along the northeast ridge and you get to peer down the dramatic east face of the peak, which is a full vertical mile above the Huerfano River Valley.
To the east I caught a glimpse of Mt. Lindsey, a peak I have to ski still, but it was pretty devoid of snow…..we need some more spring storms! We were on the summit just a bit after 1pm, and took a nice break on top for almost an hour to eat, hydrate, shoot photos and take in some views.
You can see from the photo above that the very top was rocky with just barely a ribbon of snow to descend. While I was able to ski off the top rock, there were sections lower down that too many rocks made Blanca unskiable. I made due and got down to snow again further below and then was able to ski all the way down to the 9000′ level on Como road. It was fun to see the perspective of Ellingwood’s south face from across the way. Also, it was the best view I’ve had so far of the Crestones further north which are coming into condition. It wont be long now and I can continue to wrap up the other Sangre de Cristo Peaks!
Blanca is Colorado’s 4th highest peak. You have to travel all the way to the Mexican Volcanoes to the south to find a peak higher further south.
Soon I clicked in and made some side slips down the initial face and then into the basin below. As you can see the face was horrible. oh well- a peak is a peak and you have to take what the mountain gives you. Before long we were making awesome turns back towards the bowl between the two peaks.
The next 30 minutes went fast, the turns in the valley were fun, and we were at Lake Como around 3pm. Then before long we were making a couple of miles of turns back down the road, a transition to our hiking shoes and finally back to the car by a bit after 5pm.
12 hour days can be tough, but time goes fast when you have accomplished your goal, have great weather and great friends to share it all with. Best of all, I don’t have to venture up the Como Road towards these peaks again at least until there is better snow!
On to the rest of the project! Thanks for following along!
Peak#18: Monday March 21, 2016.
Ski Route: Northwest slopes / face
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 18mi / 6800′ (Includes Ellingwood and Blanca all in the same day)
Ski Partners: Anna Migl
Start Time: 5:30am
Reached Summit: 1pm (After summit and ski of Ellingwood that morning)
End Time: 5:30pm
Approaching Blanca summit
After skiing Shavano and Tabeguache, I took a break for lunch in the valley and tinkered around Salida a bit that day. We are in a spring pattern of clear mornings, snow up high in the afternoons, and rain in the valleys. With the forecast set for more of the same the next day, I decided I would head over and further south in Colorado to Mt. Lindsey. Getting Lindsey done would be great because it is so far south (nearly a 5 hour drive from my home in Vail area) and would allow me to have less travel time to the majority of the rest of the peaks in the next 6 weeks.
As I drove down to Westcliffe in the Wet Mountain Valley, a huge storm sat over the Sangre de Cristos. “More snow up high” I thought. That would be great. Approaching the Huerfano River Valley that evening from Colorado 69 and Gardner, the southern Sangres began to clear and the mountains were coated with a new blanket of white. “Excellent!” I said to myself in excitement.
Last summer a massive Landslide closed off the Huerfano River Road and the trailhead to Lily Lake and access to Mt. Lindsey. Two ranches, Spring River, and Aspen River Ranch pretty much rule the road before the National Forest Access, and below the ranches is BLM and State Lands. The road is closed at Aspen River Ranch and the only feasible parking is below Spring River Ranch. I of course found this out when I arrived to find a closed road and a gate and large No Parking signs. Abiding by the rules in place thus far, I parked for the night much further down the road. This would make for about a 23 mile round trip day, so I went to bed basically as soon as I parked at 8pm.
Rising at 2, I left promptly at 230 and marched up the road. Passing the ranches, the closure gate and beyond I strolled in the dark with bright stars out to light my way. About 4 miles in at a daytime viewpoint of the Blanca Massif, the road started to get snowy just a bit. Then I came across the Landslide. Since it was dark I wasn’t aware that the bottom end of the landslide was the easiest way to get past the debris and mud and toppled trees, so I ended up wasting almost an hour climbing over trees, under bushes, and around massive mud flows. By 430 just when I was about to give up I made it back down to the other side of the landslide flow and to the road that emerged on the far end. What a relief. I put my skis on. Left my boots behind and skinned up the road.
In another hour I reached the summer trailhead for Lily Lake. It was just barely getting light when I emerged into a meadow a short distance beyond where the road ends. I slogged along the valley floor until almost 6:30, then began my climb to the south up a prominent creek basin and relatively narrow low angle avalanche chute which gained elevation and emerged above the timberline.
By 7:30 I got my first glimpse of Lindsey, poking above a ridge to my southeast. Lots of fresh snow made trailbreaking a task, but I also knew that this meant powder and pretty good coverage on Lindsey, which had been bare most of the winter. (I had seen Lindsey from Blanca’s summit in early March, and at that time it was unskiable, Mother Nature had done its work on the peak now!)
For another hour or so I labored to gain the saddle at about 13,200’ between Huerfano Peak to the north and Lindsey to my south. This was my first up close and personal look at the peak, and from here it looked dangerous.
The north to northwest facing narrow couloir that is the standard route on this peak was filled with fresh snow from the recent storm. Following the ridge towards the face for a short distance before the route got steep I was skinning into 1 to 2 feet of powder. The line was not consolidated what-so-ever.
I pondered my options, and I even thought about turning around. But only for a moment. I had pushed over 10 miles to just get to this point. There was no way I was going back now. It was early and I had some time.
Taking advantage of the snow coverage, I traversed east along the north face of the mountain to easier terrain in the basin. The fresh snow was likely the first major coat of the year in this area, so even when I sank up to a foot, I was hitting rocks.
I carefully made my way to the east and around the peak’s north side until I was staring up to the direct summit up the prominent North/Northeast couloir. I transitioned and began booting up the relatively moderate chute, which has a choke about ¾ of the way to the top. After a hundred yards, red flags: I was sinking and punching unto a layer under the foot of powder that was entirely pea sized “Dipping Dots” Hail. I already knew there was no way I could go up this chute. I would be exposed in there for too long, and I would be in danger of triggering something from above that would come down on me. The couloir didn’t look too steep or dangerous to ski down and manage the risk on descent, but to climb up it was a bad idea.
Instead, at 9:30 I angled left and onto a rock rib, and a bit of a broad buttress that took me for almost 1,000’ to the summit ridge. This was the most difficult part of the climb. This last section took me nearly an hour to complete. I was basically swimming in almost 2 feet of powder that was not even close to consolidated.
At times the rocks underneath would shift on me too, or I couldn’t find a good place to step. This struggle went on forever. In the meantime, the clock was ticking. There was no wind, the sun was out, but clouds, fog and mountain mist was building all around me. The sun’s warmth was really starting to worry me, I needed to get to the summit soon, and in my mind it wasn’t feeling soon enough.
At last I came out onto the summit ridge. It was finally only a simple 75 yard walk to the top, breaking trail in 2 feet of powder to reach the summit victorious. Peak #31 was hard earned, and I still had to get down.
I summited a bit before 11. I hustled and transitioned. I ate, drank, shot some photos, pinged my SPOT beacon, and too some video. I also was happy that the view was clear enough to see some of the peaks, though you almost felt like you shouldn’t be up there. It was getting almost too warm. I only had two options: I could opt to not ski the couloir that I decided not to climb, or I could just jump in and make some ski cuts and manage the risk. I decided on the latter.
After-all, I didn’t come up here to backtrack some nasty powder and rock on my boots. Even if the couloir was a challenge, it would be easy to get down it as long as I skied carefully and used my knowledge in there. I turned on my camera and headed down. The start of the couloir was simple. A couple of turns I cut and actually hit some rocks. But I must say this recent storm really helped a lot to make this skiable. Even the north facing aspect was getting really warm. I sluffed some snow down the chute, would stop in a safe place and the continued down.
I skied the narrow choke safely and stopped at one more rocky overhang, out of the way of anything from above. Catching my breath I paused and saw that the lower reaches of the chute looked excellent, albeit a bit crowned over. I was only about 150 yards above where I had stopped climbing up and had climbed east to get on the broad shoulder of the face on my ascent. No worries, it wasn’t too steep now (maybe 28-30 degrees at the most) and if I skied fast now I could really open it up and get down and out.
I began cutting some turns and on my third turn or so I heard a ‘whumph’ on my turn that I cut and started seeing a fracture in front of me. I immediately made a sharp turn to the left and got out of the way. I stopped below some rocks and watched the rest of the chute below me break and start taking off down the mountain. Wow!
After about a minute, I carefully skied into the area that had slid, I proceeded down to the base where the snow stopped and I took a look at the snow to see what I could learn. The portions that broke were all on top of that hail and the pellets I had discovered earlier. I was so fortunate to have made the right decision when I was climbing up a couple of hours before!
I quickly skied out of the line of fire, over to my tracks that had traversed into the basin. The snow had set up nicely here, so I put skins on and pushed back over to the pass between Lindsey and Huerfano. Once on the pass it started to hail some more, and a rumble of thunder was heard over the peak.
I pulled my skins and dropped very rapidly into the basin and back towards timberline to the safety of lower elevations. The experience was a reminder that as we approach May, if I’m not on a summit by 9am, skiing anything steep, especially south or east facing is going to be problematic.
I cruised down to the treeline, made my way back to the summer trailhead, eventually transitioned into my hiking boots, and prepared myself for the 6 mile slog out to the car.
Peak #31 wasn’t easy by any means, but it felt awesome to put Lindsey to bed and get ready for more peaks as we get into late April and my favorite month of May in Colorado.
Peak #31: Wednesday April 13, 2016
Ski Route: Huerfano River to North Face and Northeast Couloir
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 23mi / 5,500′
Ski Partners: Solo Mission
Start Time: 2:30am
Reached Summit: 10:30am (30 mins on the Summit)
End Time: 4pm
To do both Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak on consecutive days was special. I took advantage of amazing early May weather and put together a back to back for Cinco de Mayo and the 6th as well. My thought process was simple: be ready to change and adapt, but take advantage of putting in your own work to make life easier on the second peak. Specifically meaning: I originally planned on knocking out Needle and Peak on the same day. However, because it is May and because the days are getting warm very quickly, as I left my vehicle at the Wilderness boundary below South Colony at 130am on May 5th, I assumed I probably had a 50-50 shot of getting both peaks on the same day. Warming might put a wrench in my plans to get both done, I will explain all of this as I get to the Needle and Peak.
It was a starry morning as I slogged up into South Colony basin. I reached the lower South Colony Lake at 4am, and was then slowly following the summer trail corridor to traverse to below the couloir leading to the broken hand saddle. For the traverse to below the saddle and up the couloir I had to boot, and since the north facing snow was very punchy, it was time consuming. Breaking your own trail solo is one of the hardest things a mountaineer will have to do, a stark reminder at times to make sure I continue to recruit and link up at times with great partners (which happened on Kit Carson on May 10th.)
It took from 4-6am to go from South Colony lake to the Broken hand saddle: something I have done several times in 45 minutes in the summer months. By contrast, which I will get into details some, because I was able to use my same booter tracks the very next morning, I went from Lower South Colony to the saddle in a mere 60 minutes on the 6th of May when I climbed Crestone Peak and skied it.
So once on the saddle, the sun had come up and I pushed up the ridge to the base of the needle and the Needle’s South couloir. It was in, in fact, it was as in as I have ever seen it in snow conditions over the years. The booting was solid and firm, and even the two water ice falls had snow covering the right (east) side of them as I climbed which allowed me to easily ski them in their entirety on my descent.
As the sun got higher, I knew the clock was ticking, but I had plenty of time. I pushed up the thinnest and steepest part of the couloir then of course it opens up near the top. I climbed it direct and only had to follow the ridge a short distance to reach the summit.
Snow was abundant, firm, and ready for me to ski down. I carefully skied back down the ridge and to just above the point where I could traverse directly into the top of the couloir. Here one turn is all that I needed. In the morning sun the mini-bowl if the upper face had plenty of room to cut some turns.
After 4 or 5 quick turns I turned my skis to the west and side slipped the narrowest portion of the couloir. I had made it though the toughest part now. Turns were possible now right at about the point where the summer route decides to go around to find the more easterly couloir. I cut some careful turns down to the first waterfall of ice, and then bypassed on the east (skier’s left). Had to do this twice but the lower waterfall had excellent snow on the left again. After that the rest of the couloir was an easy ski, just a bit narrow further down, but all the way down to Cottonwood lake minutes later.
That day I stopped over at the base of the Red Couloir for Crestone and I already knew it was too late. Fortunately I did make the right call because the next morning a giant pile of popcorn had come down the day before, and there is a good chance I could have been part of that had I chosen to go up the couloir on the 5th.
Instead I put my skins back on, and skinned back towards broken Hand saddle. Halfway up to the saddle I had to boot it up, but I remembered that this would be helpful for the next day: if I had a booter in then I could come back over the saddle rather quickly the next day.
I took an hour lunch break on the Saddle to admire my line off Crestone Needle and relax, then I dropped in and made my way down the sticky south Colony road to my vehicle. It was a long 13 hour day, but I knew the work I had done would pay off. The sunny afternoon was spent napping, eating and rehydrating. I had more work to do.
The alarm went off at 1am, and I was up and at em again, on the trail by 2. In the darkness I skinned up towards South Colony lake again. By now I had all the features memorized, even in the dark. Although I reached the lake at 5am and was an hour behind the previous day, I knew I would catch up. Having broken trail solo on my last 4 peaks in a row, I was finally ready to already have a trail broken in place.
I reaped the benefits of my boot pack and made it up to Broken Hand Saddle just after 6am, and after a rest and transition, skied down to the base of the south Couloir a little after 7. Relatively fresh and excited to tackle the couloir, I put on crampons, put skis on my back and made my way up. Halfway up the couloir the views to the south were outstanding, and reminded me that I was getting close.
Then looking south I could see it, the storm front that was forecasted to come through that morning. It was just about on time. Mean nasty looking hanging clouds, and they were about to engulf the Blanca Massif to the south. I pushed on. There had been several wet slabs and rolling snow chunks from the day before, but because the approaching storms and wind, the snow was rock solid.
Footing was excellent, and I was able to go really fast. Although I knew I was going to make the top easily, I also knew that the skiing was going to be icy. I’d be on top of the snow all the way down, and there would be no spring corn this morning. Oh well. Soon I was on the Saddle between the true summit and the eastern summit of Crestone. My 6th sense took over, basically the same sense I have developed over the years. It was the same sense I used on Everest 4 years ago. “Get up and get down quickly, put this peak behind you.” So I hustled. The fog began to get thick, it was the calm before the white and gray wall of a storm would engulf me. This was my chance. I carefully traversed to the west and above the red Couloir. The entire face was loaded, but frozen solid, so that gave me confidence I would be able to traverse back off the summit in no time. Climbing in crampons with a lack of any post-holing, which was awesome, 20 minutes later or so I reached the top.
The fog got thicker. I lost the Blanca Massif to the south. I was in the clouds. Fortunately I have been up on the summit 8 or 10 times in my career in all seasons, so it was like muscle memory knowing what I had to do, where I exactly was and where I would ski. I hit my SPOT ping to let my friends and family and my Mom & Dad to know I was fine, a quick drink and I was off!
As soon as I bypassed the small dip and then the rippled portion of the summit cornice, the strong winds of the front hit me with snow and hail. I braced myself for the direct hit.
Cckckcckccc! The icy descent was less than favorable. I traversed and side slipped and traversed some more to get to the cornice of the top of the Red gully/couloir. The visibility sucked and the snow was coming down hard. Oh well, can’t win em all. Goggles are nice to have on days like that.
Lower down in the colouir the visibility improved, and as the upper mountain stay engulfed, I was back down to the vicinity of cottonwood lake in minutes. Compated to the Crestone Needle, the Peak felt much less steep and actually really simple. Concerned the storm front would stick around all day, I quickly transitioned to skins, bid farewell to Crestone, and was skinning then booting up to the saddle again (making use of my boot tracks from the day before) reaching the saddle in no time.
With winds starting to increase for the day, it felt awesome to drop back down to South Colony Lake-, head into the woods and follow my tracks back down to my vehicle by early afternoon.
Looking forward to wrapping up the Sangre’s with Kit Carson next!
Peak #40: Crestone Needle
Peak #41: Crestone Peak
Elevations: 14,197′ Thursday May 5, 2016.
14,294′ Friday May 6, 2016.
Ski Routes: Needle: South Couloir from South Colony basin.
Peak: South “Red Gully” Couloir from South Colony.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 16mi/7,100′ (May 5 for the Needle).
(18mi/7,200′ May 6 for the Peak)
Ski Partners: Solo Days
May 5 Start Time: Wilderness Boundary 130am
Broken Hand Saddle 6am
Summit Needle: 8:20am (30 minutes on the Summit)
Down to Bottom of Crestone Peak to Scout the Line: 9:45am
Broken Hand Saddle to Return 11am
End Time: Ski back to Car at Wilderness Boundary Finish 230pm (13 Hour Day)
May 6 Start Time: Wilderness Boundary 2am
South Colony Lake 5am, Broken Hand Saddle 6am
Skied down to base of Crestone Peak past Cottonwood Lake to transition: 7am
Summit Crestone Peak: 9am (quick 5 minutes on top, storm hit)
Skied back down, climb to Broken Hand Saddle By 1045 or so, short break on Saddle.
Finish: Th 1:15pm (about an 11hour day)
Looking down from the worst was over, time to ski icy snow....hoping for visibility to improve
All I know is that breaking my own trail sucks. I did that for five peaks in a row the week prior and it took a lot out of me. Walking along early and in the dark up the Willow Lake Trail towards willow lake and Kit Carson I was thinking I would probably have to break trail again for myself up high.
I witnessed a stunning sunrise and quickly made my way past the lake and into the upper basin below Kit Carson. There was a storm system forecasted to come in later that day so the winds were already starting to kick up. The peak was already in fog clouds and I honestly thought I would just go over to the base of the OB Couloir and have a look at the couloir.
I had not climbed the peak from this route since I was in high school 20 years ago so I figured it would be good to check it out and then I would make a decision. The day was eerily similar to my summit bivy in 2011. When I reached the couloir bottom around 7:30 I took a break. Things looked good, but the western and northwestern sky was looking ominous. Not long after I was greeted by a nice young kid named Garrett. He was camping in the basin the night before and his buddy Jay chose to sleep in.
We decided to give the couloir and the peak a go, after all, I could always click into my skis and get down super fast. We traded breaking trail in the deep powder of the north facing couloir. The toughest part was the top, sneaking past the cornice on the left but things were stable.
Once on the ridge we stayed on the left side, bypassed some towers and rocks here and there and made our way to the summit by just before 10am. What a great climb with a great partner!
I got a good weather update from Chris, most of the storm was on radar staying to the north and northwest, so we had some time. After some photos I clicked in and skied right off the top- but used caution traversing the ridge back to the top of the OB. I fit a few turns in here and there and made it all work! I was confident on the ridge and the upper face because I had skied from Kit Carson last year in 2015 as well, so it wasn’t my first rodeo up here.
Once off the ridge on the decent, I got to open things up in the couloir- Garrett captured a spectacular shot of me dropping into the fog below from the top of the Couloir. The north facing snow was awesome and I was in the basin in no time.
I visited with Jay as Garrett came back to their camp and then I high tailed it down into the basin and back to the car by 1pm before the afternoon storms rolled in. What a great classic way to ski Kit Carson and more importantly close out the Sangre De Cristo Range of 14ers!
Thanks for folllowing along!
Peak #42: Tuesday May 10, 2016.
Ski Route: Willow Lake Outward Bound Couloir
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 12mi / 5,300′
Ski Partners: Garrett Eggers
Start Time: 8:30am
Reached Summit: 1pm (1 hour on the summit)
End Time: 4:30pm
Garret on the summit of Kit Carson
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