Columbia was one of those wait and see kind of peaks. I was anxious to get it skied because the weather was forecasted to be marginal, but also the peak gets pretty bare and has been bare most of the winter. Maybe the new powder would help for a reasonable descent.
I met my friend Roger about a mile from the Horn Fork Basin/ North Cottonwood Summer trailhead and we were up and moving at about 5am. It’s always easier to have a willing partner to get things rolling on the early morning. Lately on the project it’s been great to have awesome friends to come and help out!
The road was melted out some, but the new snow allowed us to skin to the summer trailhead. Once we were on the trail we traded off breaking trail and eventually found ourselves in the basin to the southeast of the southwest face of Columbia.
We were basically in and out of snow all morning and the winds were brutal up high. Roger and I brought plenty of gear with us in terms of extra layers, so as we headed up the southwest face and ridgeline of the face, we just put our heads down and went for the ridge.
By 10am, the reasonable weather window closed on us, and by the time we reached the summit ridge at 10:30 or so it was a pretty nasty windstorm with snow blowing sideways. Near the summit it was tough to see where we were at, but I’d been up there enough to know we were above 14K. “Good enough!” I shouted to Roger in the wind, we topped out, now it was time to ski!s.
As we descended the snow storm cleared a bit and once we dropped into the face and the southwest couloir, the powder was perfect. Roger made some nice smoky turns among the rocky and scenic clearing backdrop, and we enjoyed the skiing in the warmth of the sun.
It felt great to ski another peak, and the tree slog wasn’t too bad, we were back to the vehicles at the trailhead by 1:30pm. Grateful that the project is moving right along, and spring on on the way, should have plenty of more adventures coming soon!
Peak #19: Friday, March 25, 2016.
Ski Route: Horn Fork Basin, West Chutes.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 14.5mi / 4,700′
Ski Partners: Roger Carter
Start Time: 5:30am
Reached Summit: 11am
End Time: 1:30pm
I parlayed a twofer to get to my 30th peak of the project by skiing Shavano and Tabeguache together on the southern end of the Sawatch Range. With the weather being a great concern- I got a 6:30am start from the east slopes/Blank cabin trailhead and started in Blue skies and morning sunshine.
The climb through the woods was pretty straightforward and I opted first follow some tracks up the standard trail. Instead of climbing towards the Angel of Shavano, I climbed the southeast aspect of the east ridge to gain the ridge above timberline.
Scaring off some bighorn sheep from a distance, I slogged up the bare east ridge. I certainly hoped there would be better snow near the summit, and I was right. Topping out at 9:30am on Shavano the clouds were already building and snow flurries began to fly. Fortunately there was no wind. I knew I could move fast so I hustled over the ridge and climbed the east ridge of Tabeguache.
Making that summit by 10:30am I was running out of time. Snow was closing in fast from the north and by the time I clicked on my skis I was getting snowed on. The easy east ridge and southeast slopes of Tab were loaded and I was back to the saddle between the two peaks in like 2 minutes.
A 25 minute climb back to the top of Shavano was the only way to get back down to my trailhead and to ski the angel. When the hail fell- I was worried that some lighting might follow- so I didn’t waste any time. It snowed hard for 30 minutes and only let up when I came back up to Shavano’s summit for the second time in less than 2 hours. I looked at the clock- 11:11. Snow was pelting the peak to my south- and Antero to the north was getting hit hard. Fortunately I was in the clear.
I clicked in and made some turns right off the top- only a small section below 13,900′ was a bit bare- otherwise I was lucky to find a small ribbon over to the Angel of Shavano- the prominent feature on the southeast face of the peak.
I was home free- I made turns down the awesome classic Angel to timberline and around noon I escaped into the trees to the sound of thunder and a flash of lightning way above me. Back to the trailhead by 1pm it was an awesome six and a half hour tour covering 12 miles and 5,500′ elevation climbed and skied.
On to Lindsey in the Sangre de Cristos’s for an early start to beat the weather again tomorrow!
Peaks #29 and #30: April 12, 2016
Elevation: 14,229’ & 14,155′
Ski Route: East ridge to top of Shavano, north ridge down to saddle, up East ridge to Tabaguache summit. On Descent, skied east ridge and southeast face of Tab, back to top of Shavano, and descent of East ridge to Angel of Shavano on descent of Shavano.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 12mi / 5,600′ (Includes Tabeguache & Shavano all in the same day)
Ski Partners: Solo Mission
Start Time: 6:30am
Reached Summit of Shavano: 9:30am (20 mins on summit)
Reached Summit of Tabaguache: 10:30am (15 mins on summit)
Reached Summit of Shavano 2nd time on way back: 11:15am
End Time: 1pm.
Part way down the Angel of Shavano
Then it was on to Antero. I hustled over to the Baldwin Gulch Trailhead for Antero from basically pulling the all-nighter on Pikes Peak. Parking at about 6am, I had my gear readied and bottles refilled in a few minutes and laid down to take a 2 hour nap. It was a gorgeous morning as the sun came up showing off bright blue brilliant skies. Even though I was pretty tired, I knew that effort like today would likely mean the difference between getting every peak finished or not come June.
Rejuvenated and rehydrated by Red-bull, strawberries, some energy bars, and a pb&j for breakfast, I clicked into my skis a few minutes after 8am and began the long skin towards Antero up the Baldwin Gulch Road. I actually had to be home that evening for an event for my new book, so I needed to move efficiently.
In an hour and a half I came to the creek crossing, took a short break and carried on. It was definitely more mind over matter. But with no wind and amazing weather, the summit pushed me to give it my best. I had skied Antero several times in the past, in fact, last spring I had taken my now ex-girlfriend up the peak for her first 14er ski ever.
I remember trying to convince her to ski down the 35-degree face of the west chutes and she eventually came down the face beautifully, fighting back tears and fears but overcoming an obstacle and coming away better off for it. I smiled as I skinned up past that spot where she had been so afraid. It kind of reminded me to let all my fear go, especially as I move forward towards the home stretch.
Ironic how these same mountains teach amazing lessons and they are the very same lessons that actually made me so stubborn to push me away from someone I really truly cared about so much. At least I’ve learned from my mistakes, whether relationship related or mountain related. Although the true difference is that the mountains don’t care and rarely give second chances. I’ve been very fortunate to walk away from mistakes and accidents in the mountains, and it always makes me appreciate life more and realize the true value of humility in life. When I am ready to be lucky enough to find someone who cares about me again, I know for sure I’ll take all my lessons from these summits and let my new relationships with friends, family, a girlfriend, and hopefully someday a wife etc. be things that I never take for granted.
I pushed on. Coming to the final sharper ridge was somewhat sketchy, but so snow loaded that I skinned most of the snow and up the final pitch to the top relatively quickly. In calm conditions, I walked to the top the final 20 yards and enjoyed the view all to myself.
On the summit I had another flashback again. I was on a corniced snowdrift on the summit that was probably 15 feet high and deep. In 2011 I had spent the night right on this very summit when I had camped on all of the 14ers. Antero is famous for its big Gems and not as much for its skiing, but usually in April and May enough snow covers the peak to get some nice turns in.
Today was peak #33 and I was rolling. Clicking in, I knew I could get down fast and I enjoyed the soft and sticky snow all the way back to my vehicle. I hustled home to make my event and get some rest. With one more good day in the forecast, I had big plans for Holy Cross the next day.
Peak #33: Thursday April 21, 2016.
Ski Route: Baldwin Gulch to West Gullies and South Ridge.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 16.0mi / 5,000′
Ski Partners: Solo Ascent and Descent.
Start Time: 8am
Reached Summit: 1p (1/2 hour on the summit)
End Time: 3:30pm
Starting yet another 16 mile day
Mount of the Holy Cross was like a home game for me. I got to sleep in my own bed, and was ready to enjoy the short 10 minute commute to the Tigiwon Trailhead to start the climb of the peak on Friday. With my monumental effort to get Pikes and Antero, I was pretty beat, but the mark of a true champion is having even more left in the tank.
There was more motivation that morning: the weather was turning worse for the weekend, so getting this peak done would give me a chance to rest up again. Also, the Tigiwon road is closed for 8 miles in the winter, so I had a plan. My friend Roger met me at the bottom, and my brother Jared was generous enough to pull us up the road on his Timber Sled to the summer trailhead. Wow, that saved us like 3 hours worth of slogging. After Jared got us to the summer trailhead we were cruising! By 8:30am we were able to make our way over Halfmoon Pass and then drop down into the East Cross Creek Basin.
The day was gorgeous but very warm. While I have probably summitted Holy Cross over 20 times in my career, I don’t remember it being this warm in April. The snow by 9am was mush. Our concern was that the Cross Couloir would be too soft and dangerous with the fresh snow from only a week ago.
I’ve climbed that couloir many times before, but this time it just felt better to go around and take the regular route. I still have a fond memory of when I first climbed and skied the cross in hiking shoes in early June back in the late 90’s – having to transition into my heavy Nordica’s and Rossignol skis. The way I see it for now is making it to the summit and back down safely is a win. I still skied the entire peak from top to bottom. Maybe in June since I live down the road I’ll come back for an encore and ski the cross again, who knows.
Soon we were on the broad shoulder of the North ridge and skinning up towards the top. So much white on all the ranges all around! What a great week it has been. By around 12:30 we topped out and high fived each other, summit again all to ourselves.
Looking down the Cross Couloir was fun, but usually if I don’t climb the line I’m gonna ski, I won’t ski it. I’ll come back sometime and ski that line again, no worries, I have climbed it half a dozen times in my career and it’s not going anywhere! So we clicked in and headed back.
The snow was getting soft so turns were pretty inconsistent until closer to timberline, but it was great to be back down to East Cross Creek within an hour, take a nice lunch break of Pizza, and start the hour slog back out to the top of Halfmoon Pass. Then it was back to the summer trailhead and the 8 mile ski out on the road to the bottom of Tigiwon by 5pm or so. Besides the sticky snow at the end of the day, it was awesome up there!
A few days of rest are well earned and I’ll head back out next week to get some more peaks done before May!
Peak #34: Friday April 22, 2016.
Ski Route: Tigiwon to Halfmoon Pass to North Ridge and back down.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 28mi / 5,600′ plus 2,000′ with Timber sled to Summer Trailhead. From Summer TH it is 12mi RT.
Ski Partners: Roger Carter
Start Time: 6am
Reached Summit: 12:30pm (1/2 hour on the summit)
End Time: 5pm
Heading back down the road. Thankfully it was mostly downhill!
The weather on the first day of May wasn’t supposed to be good at all. But there was going to be a weather window in the morning – something we have been seeing a lot in-between storms, and especially in early morning hours because the sun’s energy fuels storms after 10 or 11 am this time of year in these patterns.
Mount Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado, and the second closest 14er to my home in the Vail Valley, so I have probably skied the peak a half-dozen times in the last several years. I can generally get to the trailhead in a little less than an hour, so in my mind this peak was kind of like a home game. Its high, and has lots of excellent ski terrain. Knowing that I could sleep in my own bed and leave my house around 5am I figured I would just go give it a shot, I could always turn around.
As I drove through the dark and the oncoming morning light – the stars were out and the skies were clear, that was a great sign.
Heading up North Halfmoon road the fresh snow from over a foot the past several days kept the road nice and covered. Fortunately tracks from a few cars from the day before allowed me to get an extra mile or so before I safely turned my car around near a USGS gauge station on the creek and parked along the abandoned road at about 9700′. I was still almost 6 miles from the summer trailhead for North Halfmoon creek which is the way you climb Massive in the summer. I would need to slog up the road first and then up the Southwest route to have a chance.
I began my journey up the road making fresh tracks in a little bit of powder- playing songs in my head and enjoying the sunrise light show with a sky that was already starting to cloud up. In an hour I passed the North Mount Elbert Trailhead, the Massive Trailhead on the Colorado Trail, and I made my way into north Halfmoon drainage.
So many awesome memories of all of these different areas from this approach that I have explored over the years- including Elbert, Massive, the Colorado Trail, Casco, Lackawanna, Oklahoma, and of course Mount Massive. I recalled so many adventures with close friends, and some even all alone. This solitude was the main reason I’ve been climbing and skiing peaks, leading expeditions, pursuing projects with my sponsors and supporters and doing what I love for so many years. I am so very fortunate I get to do this for a living -I’m not merely a weekend warrior, but I get to make my living as a professional outdoor adventure athlete, writer, skier, keynote speaker, and reap the benefits of everything that comes with it. Nobody can take that away from me. I’ve been paying my dues for well over 2 decades now- hundreds and even thousands of days in the mountains and working hard on my crafts. I love Inspiring others to also pursue their passions in life, no matter what those are, anything is possible. I don’t have to work a 9 to 5 job, and I certainly don’t have to worry about many things that a lot of us might take for granted. I am so humbled by this and yet so grateful. I climb mountains because they truly make me feel very insignificant. They remind me not to sweat the small stuff in life, not to get caught up in things that at the end of the day do not matter.
By 8:30 I was getting close to the summer trailhead for North Halfmoon creek. Then I got to the trailhead, passing the signs I knew I still had a long way to go, but the real fun was about to begin. I payed my respects to the memorial to the helicopter crash from years ago.
I still remember that day- I was actually up on Mount Elbert when it happened, but was unaware of the full extent of it. In the next hour I was already at the base of the southwest face. I found my way up the summer trail corridor and skinned to timberline. The powder was deep and stable but I still stayed on the safest places to mitigate the risk.
Route selection is always the most important part of skiing these peaks, preventative decision making is aways good. 12″-15″ in places allowed me to make nice skin tracks and get excited to ski! Another hour and a half passed quickly. Elbert to my south clouded up and was now out of view.
I made it to the ridge line a bit after 11am, and could see darker thicker clouds to the southeast in the valley of highway 24. From studying weather charts and models I knew this storm system would stay south but come over the peak after noon- so I needed to hustle and make the top before I was fully engulfed by clouds.
As I approached the top I climbed above the clouds. The sun was warm, a reminder that May was here and that starting even earlier would need to happen in the coming days. The snow on the ridge was deep and unconsolidated- but flat enough to be safe. Just before noon I reached the top.
What a thrill- the sun was out, but clouds were all around me. I was so excited to ski! I sent a ping out from my SPOT beacon, transitioned, ate and drank and snapped a few photos and a video. All the usual stuff I have been doing for 37 summits now. I was getting there. More importantly it was my final peak to close out the Sawatch range. It felt like game 7 of a basketball series that I was winning. I love the feeling of finishing off a major portion of a project. I was into May now, the homestretch, and through all the hard work, sweat and challenges of the past four months – I was starting to feel like I might have a chance to ski every 14er in Colorado by early June.
Time to descend- it started snowing a bit, yet the sun was out. I had great visibility as I skied off the ridge, back to the col and down the amazing southwest face and slopes for 3,000′ all the way to timberline. The fresh snow was exhilarating! In minutes I made timberline and the sky opened up above with snow and white-out. But I was safely in the woods and skiing or slogging (I should say) back the 6 miles to my vehicle; what a great day.
The Massive peak delivered Massive powder and Massive smiles. The Sawatch range complete, it was time to focus on other peaks and other ranges.
Peak #37: May 1, 2016 (MAY DAY)
Ski Route: Buried far down the Halfmoon Creek Road, slog to North Halfmoon Trailhead, up and down the Southwest Face and south ridge of Massive.
Roundtrip Mileage and Vertical: 17.5miles / 4,750′
Ski Partners: Solo Summit
Start Time: 6:30am
Reached Summit: Noon
End Time: 2:30pm
Base of the Southwest Face looking towards Elbert
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