Moran (Skillet Glacier ski)

Base of the snow


Mount Moran rises 6000′ directly from Jackson Lake, and the Skillet Glacier and its snowfield cover most of the slope, offering up to 5000′ of continuous snow well into June. Unlike on my previous outing, snow conditions were wretched — loose and slushy up high, dirty and sun-cupped down low — but it is an iconic line, and I was glad to tick it off the list. The whole thing took 10 hours car-to-car, including 3-4 hours trail hiking, 3.5 hours boot-packing, 25 minutes skiing, and some time fighting brush with skis on my back.

Climb from the pan

I woke at the stupid hour of 3:15, made myself a hot Cup of Sadness, and drank it on the drive up to String Lake. I started hiking by headlamp at 4:00, stashing the light at 5:00 near the north end of Leigh Lake. The commute to Bearpaw Bay normally takes me about an hour, but the skis on my back limited me to a fast walk. I had no trouble following the use trail to where it crosses the Skillet’s outlet stream, but foolishly decided to ascend the south side instead of crossing. After most of a frustrating hour of deadfall, pines, brush, and aspens, I finally emerged at the foot of the snow.

Airborne avalanche

I tried skinning a bit, but soon lost traction on the hard, sun-cupped snow, and put my skis on my pack to boot the rest of the way. Someone had installed a boot-pack in the prior few days, saving me a bit of energy, but the Skillet is still an interminable climb. It was also intolerably hot. The Skillet is not just east-facing, but also sheltered from wind by ridges on both sides, so I was dripping sweat in a t-shirt nearly the whole way up. The snow also softened alarmingly fast, and I was treated to regular wet sloughs coming down the skillet handle’s central runnel, and even small projectile avalanches off the ridge to the north.

Time to drop in

Much wallowing later, I emerged on the summit ridge, where I dropped my pack to tag the summit, then put on my skis for the descent. The first few hundred yards are steep and narrow, but the slope quickly opens up. However, every turn kicked off a small wet slide, so I had to make a few turns, then traverse to one side to allow them to pass. I stayed left to the base of the handle, sending my sloughs into the convenient runnel, then crossed it to get around the bergschrund on steeper snow on the far right.

From the pan onward, I was out of sloughing territory, but skiing over sun-cups and around small rocks was still tiring, and my legs were shot from the hike up, so I still had to stop frequently. After taking off my skis, I easily found the faint trail on the valley’s north side, and only lost it a couple of times on the descent to the creek. From there, it was just a hot, thirsty walk to the car. Passing the tourists along Leigh Lake with their boats and swimsuits, I felt out of place and a bit foolish with skis on my back.

Buck (East Face, 2900′ ski)

East face from below lake


Clear skies finally returned to the Tetons, bringing with them cold nights, pleasant days, and a fleeting opportunity to ski the fast-melting snow on what turned out to be my best Teton ski day. I had climbed Buck Mountain too many times by various routes, but never descended it on skis. Its broad, moderate east face seemed more my level than the upper Middle Teton Glacier, so I set my alarm for 4:15 to beat the morning sun. Gus, one of the interns, lacked skis but had the day off, so he joined me for the climb.

Balsamroot field

We got started from the Death Canyon trailhead just after 5:00 and, after walking a few minutes past the Stewart Draw “trail,” were soon on the correct path. The trail starts off overgrown, then turns into a bog, then becomes a real trail as it crosses an open meadow of sage and balsam-root. The two “warm-up” creek crossings were larger than I remembered, and with skis on my back, one of them involved wet feet. The main creek crossing would have been Serious Business, but fortunately there was a healthy snow bridge a few hundred yards up.

Slope angle

The snow was no longer continuous from the stream crossing, so I continued hiking in running shoes to the next flat section, a summer bog where Static Peak comes into view. After a bit of skinning, I put the skis back on my pack to boot up the steep, shaded slope, then left them there for the lower-angled walk to Timberline Lake. The snow was still hard in the shaded couloir leading to the face, but softened quickly as I traversed up and left onto the east face proper. Gus turned around here, not comfortable on the steeper snow, while I continued to the summit, following bits of an old boot-pack. The snow was soft enough to plunge nearly boot-deep by the end, but I did not see any slides. The rock band dividing the face was still conveniently covered in snow.

Looking down the ski

After a short break on the windy summit (the clouds were too low for a view of the Grand) I mostly transitioned (I forgot to flip the “walk mode” tabs), then had an excellent ski back to the lake. The face is 38 degrees near the top, but broad and soft enough to make me comfortable linking turns, albeit carefully in the final couloir to the lake. After talking to Gus, I bombed on down toward the bog, getting some serious speed before talking to some hikers and descending more carefully through the rocks lower down. I did another short lap of a few hundred feet while Gus caught up, then switched back to shoes for the hike out. Ironically, the first part of this “hike” involved much boot-skiing with both boots and skis strapped to my back. Though I do not normally condone the use of “cripple poles,” I found them helpful in this strange situation.

Middle Teton Glacier ski

Dike Pinnacle panorama


I had done only cross-country skiing for over four years, but I needed to get out and try some new-to-me AT skis. With a decent forecast and a more experienced skier (Jack) around, I decided to remember how to turn by skiing the Middle Teton Glacier. This was perhaps not the best terrain on which to remember and practice, but my fun-to-fear ratio was at least as high as on a typical mountain bike ride.

Way too much stuff

In previous years, I have laughed at the people toting skis up into Garnet Canyon in mid-June, but today I found myself one of them, leaving the Ranch at 5:00 with skis and boots strapped to my pack in an awkward A-frame. This meant not only that I was taller and wider than usual, but that I had to stride carefully to avoid bashing my calves against the skis’ tails. Fortunately the trail up to Garnet is relatively wide and smooth, so I made it to the snow without getting caught on too many obstacles. However, I quickly felt the unaccustomed weight of the tool-shed on my back.

Middle Teton from meadows

Once on solid snow at the boulder-field, Jack and I put on skis and skinned up through the meadows toward the winter route to the Lower Saddle. I much preferred having the extra weight on my feet instead of on my back, and didn’t mind the unavoidably slow pace. Someone had installed a convenient boot-pack the day before, so we could turn off our brains and plod on the climb to the moraine.

Starting up glacier

The boot-pack disappeared a bit below the glacier, and I began installing my own through the upper moraine and up the glacier. The snowpack was about what I had expected — 6-8″ powder over a rock-hard crust — but the powder was heavy and, perhaps thanks to the cloud cover, not yet prone to slide. The route up the glacier was a careful slog, meandering slightly to find snow deep enough to kick supportive steps without unnecessary wallowing.

Grand poking out

We took a break where the glacier turns west, then continued up steeper and more tiring terrain to the col between Dike Pinnacle and the Middle Teton. The sun came out near the col, revealing an impressive view of the Nez Perce to South Teton ridge to one side, and occasional glimpses of the Grand to the other. A helicopter which had ferried two loads of people to the Lower Saddle returned twice hauling supplies while we took pictures and switched to downhill mode.

I suck on steep things

The upper glacier was definitely not a beginner run. Jack made it look doable, though not easy, making a series of traverses and jump-turns toward the bend. I was shamefully unmanned, making a turn or two and side-slipping most of the top part. Skiing is all about one’s confidence, and when faced with a rock wall on one side, a snow runnel on the other, and a small crevasse below, I found mine lacking. Below, however, I was in my comfort zone, linking turns down the broad glacier and snow-slope to the moraine.

… but I can sort of ski some stuff

The snow below had softened alarmingly quickly in the sun, so our skis began to stick as we cruised across the flat and down the headwall to the Meadows. We took our skis off at one point in the boulder-field, then put them back on to glide a bit more and minimize the miles spent carrying them on our backs. I never enjoy the descent to the Ranch unless running, and it was far worse carrying skis. I resolved to avoid Burnt Wagon Gulch and Garnet Canyon for the rest of my visit.

Thanks

My thanks to long-time (and sole) sponsor Scott, who provided the AT gear that made this possible. I doubt I will ever get into “extreme” skiing or randonée racing, but the new tools will give me more freedom in the hills. Plus, skiing is fun.

Middle Teton (Ellingwood Couloir)

Middle Teton now in sun


After bluebird skies and 80s in the valley for Work Week, the weather turned hostile, with rain in the valley and snow down below 9000′ on the peaks. With Sunday having the least-bad forecast for a few days, I decided to get out and try something in the hills instead of going insane in the Jackson library. I was somewhat at a loss for a suitable outing until Tim suggested the Chouinard Ridge on Middle Teton, a broken, south-facing 5.4 route. I had done nothing on that part of the mountain, so it would be somewhat new, and the rock would be mostly dry if the weather behaved itself.

Entering the couloir

I put crampons and boots in my big pack and left the ranch in running shoes around 5:15, ignoring the clouds. Temperatures remained moderate as I climbed into Garnet Canyon, and I wore just a t-shirt until I stopped in the Meadows to switch to boots next to the army encampment. As I continued up the south fork, a combination of clouds and snow left me seeing very little, and considering other route options. Fortunately the clouds were patchy, so I managed to find my intended route without much difficulty.

Runnels

Dike Pinnacle and Nez Perce

Seeing that the rocks were covered in icicles and a dusting of fresh snow, I decided that it might be wise to choose another route. The neighboring Ellingwood Couloir seemed perfect: it appeared to have already slid and consolidated, and the cloudcover was keeping the snow well-frozen. I put on my crampons, took out my one ice tool, and got to work.

Dike Pinnacle and Nez Perce

The couloir starts out flat enough to French-step, but soon becomes steep enough to require front-pointing. The old snow had formed multiple runnels, into which the fresh powder had drifted several inches deep. The old surface was mostly névé: perfect for daggering a tool, but requiring several kicks to create a step to rest my burning calves. Partway up, I looked back to see two people descending the south fork, and wondered what they had done to be coming down so early.

Nez Perce, Cloudveil, and Gros Ventres

Though I was fairly certain I was in the correct couloir, it was still a relief to climb around the cornice and find myself looking at the familiar view of Dike Pinnacle and the Middle Teton Glacier. I also found myself between cloud layers, able to see between them and through the saddle between Nez Perce and Cloudveil Dome all the way to Jackson Peak and the Gros Ventres. I could have descended the glacier, but the day was young, and it seemed lame not to summit.

Climb from Dike Pinnacle

The final climb up the east side of Middle Teton can be a bit dicey, with snow falling away from slabs as spring turns to summer. After traversing right on snow under some rocks, I followed a runnel to the notch between the two summits on a messy mixture of snow types. A bit of clumsy mixed climbing got me out of the notch and onto the easy snowfield leading to the summit.

There wasn’t much to see, so I hardly paused before heading down the standard southwest couloir, where I passed 5-6 army guys belaying each other down. Unfortunately it was still cloudy, so the snow had not softened up enough to allow much plunge-stepping or boot-skiing. Back at the Meadows, I switched back into trail runners and talked to Eric, the Army instructor with whom I had climbed the previous summer. Then it was a tedious but sunny walk back to the Ranch, to eat glop on tortillas and catch up on my neglected chores.

Sopris

Sopris from approach


Though short of 13,000 feet, Mount Sopris is striking thanks to its position as the far western corner of the Elk Range. It is also a convenient quick outing for a driving day, and after a pointless screw-up the previous day, I wanted to do something straightforward. (Notes: Snowmass Creek is hard to cross; there is a faint trail up Bear Creek; the Pierre Lakes Basin looks like the Sierra, though I gather the ridges are rotten.)

Sopris east bowl

I got a lazy start from the Sopris trailhead around 6:00, slightly behind a skier. The trail was dry to within 1/2 mile of the lakes, and well-trod until the base of the first lake. Beyond that point, each person had chosen his own path through the woods to the east bowl. I saw several old ski and boot tracks, but somehow managed to pass the skier I was following without seeing him.

Summit cornice and Capitol

The snow lower down was nicely consolidated, but the east-facing bowl higher up was already getting annoyingly soft, and my running shoe crampons were only semi-useful. I tried to follow the old boot-tracks on the way up, which offered a bit more solidity, but even they were starting to decay. Looking back, I saw the skier skinning up with frightening speed, and I pushed myself to stay ahead to the ridge, where the snow solidified and Capitol Peak appeared to the southeast.

Down east bowl

Despite a false summit or two, it was an easy walk to the east summit, where the tracks stopped. I looked over at the west summit, then thought “meh,” admired the steep couloirs on the north side, and headed back before the snow got even softer. I talked to the skier for a bit, a young guy who had moved to the tiny town of Sawatch a couple years ago for unknown reasons. After jogging down the ridge, I dealt with the soft snow via a couple of long glissades (with free slurpee enema), then jogged and boot-skied the better snow lower down. The skier caught me near the bottom, but I ditched him again on the trail, where I could jog and he probably could not.

Okay, that’s enough Colorado for awhile.

North Maroon (Y couloir)

North face of North Maroon


I had intended to do this the day before, but the weather was not cooperative. More significantly, I found a dead man. With ominous clouds overhead, I was the first person on the trail south toward Maroon Peak around 5:00. The tourists had beaten in a good path to Crater Lake the day before, but things were somewhat more confused beyond there, as several paths made their way through the willows. Re-emerging from the woods in the open area south of the lake, I saw a man lying on his back on the snow near the trail and creek. At first I thought he was some weird stoner meditating at 6:00 AM, but he seemed unnaturally still. Getting closer, I saw that he had tied a stick to one leg, there was blood and frost on his face, and one shoe was missing. He was dressed for a dayhike, with a low-top shoes and just an overshirt. I have no idea where or when he fell (I came down the same trail a bit before 5:00 PM the day before and saw nothing), but he seemed to have frozen overnight, perhaps after falling into the creek.

If this were Everest, I would just keep going, but the rules of civilization apply in the Bells, so I turned around to contact someone. I warned the few backpackers I passed on the way back, then had to drive all the way into Aspen to get a cell signal. (For future reference, the ranger camped in the overnight lot has a satellite phone.) It was raining in town by the time I explained the location to the mountain rescue people, and I didn’t feel much like climbing anyways, so I headed up to Basalt to wile away the day.

Looking up from apron

Back down on the Maroon Creek Road that evening, I got rousted from the overnight lot and found a semi-legal camping spot in the lowest campground (the ones above were full) for some mediocre sleep. The next morning, I was up and at the day use lot just before 5:00. There were already a dozen cars there, mostly people photographing the Bells and Maroon Lake, currently home to some Canada geese. I started off with two men from Carbondale who were headed for the standard route on North Maroon; I silently questioned their choice, but said nothing.

I left them when they stopped to shed a layer, continuing to the base of the Bell Cord, where I met a group of three skiers (Logan and two others whose names I missed) planning to ski the couloir. I am a bit slow now, and they were shockingly fast, keeping up with me on skins as I booted up the apron toward the first cliff band. Here they had to transition to crampons, though, and I stayed ahead for the rest of the day.

Bell Cord and Y to the right

As is often the case, the couloirs are not at all obvious from below. After passing through a break in the cliff band, South Maroon’s east face looks like it could be the Bell Cord. However, you actually need to traverse right, at which point the true Bell Cord becomes obvious. Fortunately I remembered the views from the Pyramid Traverse, and the angle at which the couloir should be visible. Several inches of fresh snow had fallen at this elevation, so I meandered back and forth some as I made my way up to the split between the Bell Cord, which leads to the saddle near South Maroon, and the Y, which leads to a point just below North Maroon’s summit.

Up from base of Y

I was glad that the Y, much narrower and somewhat steeper than the Bell Cord, was still in the shade, as the day was already becoming uncomfortably hot on the east-facing slope. Normally I would climb the deep runnel in the couloir’s center, but 4-6″ of fresh snow had collected there, so I stayed mostly on one side or the other. The underlying snow was pleasantly crunchy, perfect for cramponing and daggering my axe. Had it been much steeper or icier, I would have wanted a second tool, but fortunately there were only a couple of short stretches steep and hard enough to merit an actual swing. The views across the Bells’ east face were impressively steep, with icicles hanging off overhangs in the stepped, rotten rock.

Snowmass and Capitol from ridge

Topping out, I got an impressive view of Snowmass and Capitol to the west, and saw that North Maroon’s summit was only a short distance away. The route stayed on the shaded west side of the ridge, where the snow was unpleasantly sugary until near the summit. With a couple 4th class moves and a bit of step-kicking, I reached the summit snow ridge, which I had to myself.

South Maroon from North Maroon

I looked at the traverse to South Maroon, which I had planned to do, but despite the perfect weather, I found no enthusiasm for wallowing through sugar on the shady side of the ridge. After snacking and vacillating, I started down the northeast ridge, expecting to run into my companions from the morning. I soon realized why they were so far behind: the face was covered in 6″ of heavy powder, fine for descending, but a misery to climb.

Booting down north face

As the ridge started to become unpleasant, I looked west and saw some people booting up lower on the other side of the north face. They had made it that far, and hopefully knew what they were doing, so I began a long traverse toward them on a snow bench. The entire north face is a maze of small cliff bands, and I recognized nothing from when I descended it in summer 2010. After a couple short backtracks, I made it within hailing distance of the first climber, a skier stymied by the small cliff band between us. After a false start, I managed to stem down a short corner to the snow apron below, relying on snow and rock instead of the warming, rotten ice.

I finally met my companions from the morning below the cliff band. They were having a long day, being defeated by a line directly up the face before retreating to follow the skier’s path. I downclimbed and glissaded to the base of the face, then stripped down to a t-shirt for the toasty hike back to the parking lot. There were a few dozen people at Crater Lake, which had a thick enough skim of wet ice to bowl snowballs well toward the other side. After that diversion, I passed through an endless horde on my way to the trailhead.

There were cars circling the lot waiting to park, but I took my time cooking lunch, washed my dishes, talked to the skiers I had met that morning, then escaped the craziness. There were probably a hundred cars lined up at the entry station, with their bored passengers wandering up and down the road and wandering obliviously into the downhill lane. Ugh. As I read somewhere recently, “I went to the mountains to find solitude. Then I came to Colorado.”

Pyramid traverse

Traverse from 13,361


I was tired of getting spanked by Front Range weather, so I looked around for some more agreeable weather, and saw that western Colorado was at least passable. This would involve some backtracking, but would not be that far out of the way. “Thunder Pyramid,” a high 13er south of Pyramid Peak near Aspen, was one of my few remaining Centennial peaks. I had hoped to tag it when I did Cathedral, but the (dry) road was gated an infuriating 6+ miles from the normal trailhead, and I lacked the will. With the road now open, Thunder Pyramid would be almost too easy, so I upped the difficulty by climbing it as part of a long traverse from an unnamed 13er to Pyramid.

Bells and west-side choss

With snow, this turned out to be Serious Business, taking nearly 12 hours car-to-car with quite a bit of that spent managing rotten snow and rock above 13,000′. It was good Canadian Rockies practice: the rock around Aspen is similar to what I found up there in 2014, rotten and surprisingly steep, with angled layering that makes one face easier to climb than the other. I have climbed chossier rock, but this was some of the worst rock in the area, significantly more rotten than the Bells.

Crater Lake sunrise

I had planned to get up at 4:30, but it sounded like it might be raining a bit, so I was up at 5:00 and off by 5:30. Given the conditions, I chose to do this the heavy way, with boots, crampons (unused), ice axe, and snowshoes. There were a couple sets of helpful bootprints to follow on the West Maroon trail, which was snow-packed and obscure before the holiday weekend. After bashing through some willows, I saw the print-makers working their way up the Bell Cord couloir between the Maroon Bells. I continued a short distance past their starting point, then crossed the creek on a snow bridge to make my way east into Len Shoemaker Basin.

Nearing ridge and sun

The snow remained supportive yet soft enough to kick steps as I made my way straight up the basin’s outflow, and I was regretting bringing the snowshoes. However, as soon as the basin flattened, I started postholing, and gratefully put on my snowshoes to hike the flats toward the saddle north of Peak 13,631′. I finally got my first taste of sun just below the saddle, where I put the snowshoes away for the day and made my way south — away from my main objective — to tag this nothing-peak. Though I had been watching spindrift off the surrounding peaks all morning, the fresh snow made it look windier than it actually was, and conditions were pleasant on the ridge all day.

Traverse and cornices

I was instantly made aware that the day would involve considerable suffering, as the ridge to 13,631′ was crust over sugar over movable Elk Range choss. Cursing ensued. It also featured some impressive cornices, which I gave a wide berth. I found a couple of awkward rock steps, which would probably have been easier when dry, but met no serious difficulties on the way to the summit. I briefly took in the view, then began the traverse in earnest, over 4 hours after leaving the car.

Snow traversing along ridge

I returned to the saddle, then began the traverse with some easy but frustrating postholing toward the first of many bumps on the ridge. The traverse from 13,631′ to Pyramid took about 4.5 hours, and I was focused too much on immediate problems to give a detailed account. The detailed route description I linked above describes one 5.2 headwall and lots of 4th class scrambling, but I found quite a few sections of what felt like 5th class. This was probably because the snow obscured some ledge bypasses, forcing me along the ridge crest more than when the route is dry. Also, later in the day the east side, which had been baking in the sun all morning, was quite prone to wet avalanches, making it largely unusable.

First headwall

I surmounted the first notable headwall before “Lightning Pyramid” via a sort of chimney just west of the ridge crest, then continued along a snow crest. In general, I found it best to leave the ridge to the west, as the joints are more favorable for climbing on that side. I had hoped to take advantage of the snow to traverse the east side, but by noon or so it had become slushy and prone to avalanche. Making my way along the crest, I kicked off a couple of small wet slabs that expanded to full-on wet avalanches as they made their way well down the face. Dealing with the ridge crest was often the best course, despite multiple small bumps and intermittent cornices. At one point I even did a small section of narrow snow crest à cheval, an unusual thing to do.

Don’t slip; note east-side sloughing

While Pyramid looks close from Thunder Pyramid, the final leg of the traverse seems interminable, with multiple steep subpeaks along the way and few opportunities to bypass them. I finally intersected the semi-standard northwest ridge route just below a 4th class chimney, and followed it to the summit. The current standard route, the northeast ridge, looked way too avalanche-y to try, so I retraced my steps a bit to follow the northwest ridge.

Steep snow traverse on descent

I had done this route in 2010, but did not recognize it with snow. I started down via a steep, descending snow traverse that is probably a ledge in summer, following the occasional cairn. Judging by the cairns I saw, the route follows a series of gullies on and off the northwest ridge. I dutifully did so as well, then headed straight down as soon as I reached a gully that I could see did not cliff out. After some obnoxious knee-deep plunge-stepping, I glissaded part, scrambled around a constriction, then reached the stream at the valley bottom via a combination of hiking, glissades, and boot-skiing.

I rejoined the trail south of the Bell Cord couloir, then stomped through slush back to the car. It was the Friday before a holiday weekend, and the once-faint trail had been beaten to a slushy trench by the tourist hordes. Reaching the car around 5:30, I had some food and debated going into town. However, I wanted to climb an east-facing couloir the next day, which meant waking up extra-early, so I watched some downloaded TV and tried to go to sleep by 9:00 instead.

Why I am a summer “mountaineer”

Ain’t nobody got time for that


After a resupply and some maintenance, including an oil change by a possible neo-Nazi, I looked around and realized I was relatively close to Mount Bancroft. I had put its east ridge, a class 4-5 affair supposedly best with some snow, but it seemed like a perfect objective for a day forecast to be “mostly sunny with a 20% chance of snow.” So I drove up to the first of two locked gates and watched some saved up TV as it started snowing. There was an inch or so on the ground by the time I went to sleep, and about 2 when I woke up: not great, but still manageable.

I clomped up the road with boots, snowshoes, crampons, and axe, eyeing the partly-cloudy skies. Below Loch Lomond (a man-made reservoir, not a lake), the snow got punchy enough for snowshoes, and the wind picked up enough for goggles. The wind picked up as I continued past the dam and up the slope to the west, adding spindrift to complement the persistent clouds. It wasn’t particularly cold, and I could see the headwall at the base at the ridge, so I knew where to start. But my chances of success seemed low given the fresh snow and lack of visibility. Screw that.

I had plenty of day left after getting back to the car, so I headed up to Boulder to do some laps in the Flatirons. Boulder is even more obnoxious than I remember, and I had to park well down the street from Chautauqua Park, but carrying only rock shoes, water, and snacks, I didn’t mind the extra walk. Boulder is also home to a university, so I got to inhale the pheromones of beautiful people half my age as I hiked and jogged around.

Flatirons climbing is unlike anything I have done recently: the rock is very sticky with few cracks, so climbing it relies on dishes, crystals, and thin edges. This sort of slabby climbing is unnerving until you get your mind in the right place, since no single appendage will hold you if something goes wrong. I hadn’t done this style of climbing in awhile, so I warmed up on the easy 2nd Flatiron. I tried to do Dodge Block, but couldn’t find the upper part of the route, so I finished on something else to the right. Next, I headed over to the significantly harder 1st. Starting up was a bit scary, especially since the hardest part is near the start. I had the hang of it by the time I got to the top, and knew I had to return for another lap.

To break up the repetition, I headed out to Royal Arch. I hadn’t climbed on top of that, so I did it from the downhill side, which I found pretty easy. Then it was back to the 1st for another go. This time went much smoother, though I took a slightly different line. I passed a party I had seen on my first lap near the top, then repeated the awkward downclimb off the back. This is completely different than the face, following several downward-sloping ledges covered with jugs on a near-vertical face. It feels secure if you take your time, but I’m still slow at it.

Sometimes I wonder why I subject myself to winter.

Edwards

Argentine Peak and Pass


Ah, where were we?

For your humor, I respect you

Edwards, one of CO’s 100 highest, is just east of popular Grays and Torreys, just south of I-70. I probably should have used Stevens Gulch, the standard approach for the latter, but I instead approached from the other side, via Horseshoe Basin near Keystone. Camping is limited while all the neighboring forest roads are gated, so after a noisy night at the one pullout on Loveland pass where you’re allowed to park (there was a crowd of a half-dozen cars and RVs, and a trailer probably housing an A-Basin employee), I headed back down and around to the gate, then started walking the road.

Cabin remains

The snow was firm enough in the morning not to require snowshoes, and I enjoyed the scenery, including power lines and an utterly obliterated vacation home. Apparently the avalanches grow big here, and I’m surprised the builder didn’t look at the terrain a bit more carefully before breaking ground. Once above vacation home territory, the valley opened up and flattened, providing a snowy version of a marsh for a few ducks.

Ducks

Despite some clouds, the snow was softening up, so I put on snowshoes as I finally neared the summer trailhead. I passed more mining ruins as the valley turns north, toward the saddle between Edwards and the fourteeners. The normal route takes the trail to Argentine Pass and follows the ridge, but I saw a chute just west of the summit that looked easier than side-hilling along a snow-filled trail. I could also follow a partially-scoured rise below it, which would be faster than snowshoes.

4-foot pinwheel

The chute was a little steeper than I prefer to climb in snowshoes, with some huge frozen pinwheels suggesting that wet slides were a possibility once it warmed up. “Fortunately” the day showed no signs of doing that, with strengthening winds bringing clouds and perhaps a few showers from the south and west. I reached the ridge, then followed bits of trail to the summit, watching the spindrift fly off north to Stevens Gulch.

Not wanting to descend my chute, I continued on the standard route toward Argentine Pass, following a few cairns along the mostly snow-free ridge, then descended a likely-looking chute and rib before reaching the trail. This was more tedious than expected, with the snow alternatingly hard and punchy, perfectly unsuitable for a glissade or boot-ski, and the rib covered in loose rock and scree. It was still faster than the trail, though, and I was soon snowshoe-plodding back down the gulch and through the house debris.

“Lackawanna”

South to La Plata from summit


“Lackawanna” is a nondescript, unofficially-named centennial peak in the Mount Elbert area, just south of the road to Independence Pass. Unlike Oklahoma, which involves a long slog, Lackawanna is a quick couloir climb from the road. Its name, a Ute word for indifference or a shortage of enthusiasm, was bestowed by Chief Ouray when he passed through the area with a raiding party, and one of his braves dared him to climb the peak. He looked at the unexceptional hill surrounded by higher neighbors, then rode on, muttering “meh, lack a’ wanna.”

Looking down wrong couloir

I woke up a bit before 6:00 in a pullout west of the La Plata trailhead, and started off across the road around 6:30. It is hard to get a good view of the mountains from the road, so I somewhat randomly bushwhacked to the base of what turned out to be the couloir east of the correct one. It worked out fine, but for future reference, the correct “Lackawanna Couloir” is the one you can see from the road where the valley broadens and flattens in a willow-choked flat.

Upper wrong couloir

After an easy climb through open woods, I cramponed up a bit of snow, then hopped up some boulders to reach the continuous snow tongue leading to the summit ridge. The snow was pleasantly firm, and I had almost no postholing trouble as I cramponed up into a bowl, then up what turned out to be Lackawanna’s southeast face. The final climb was steep enough that I was glad to have an axe to supplement my worn-down running shoe crampons.

Looking down correct couloir

Topping out, I figured out the wrong-couloir situation, then made a quick jaunt to the summit before descending the correct chute. The initial drop was steep, and the snow was still very hard, so it was a bit of a desperate effort in my worn-out crampons, downclimbing with several kicks for each step. Once the angle eased a bit, I was able to walk down facing outward, and even began postholing occasionally lower down. Though I did not see any wildlife, I saw mountain goat tracks and spoor surprisingly low down.

At the base of the snow, I turned into the woods east of the couloir instead of bashing through the willows. For some reason, the woods here were much less pleasant than those I encountered on the way up, with more deadfall and underbrush, but the road was not too far, and I reached the car by late morning. After a random meal, I headed down to Buena Vista for a shower. The shower was dirtier than I remembered, and despite the “very hot water!” warning signs, the actual water was never warmer than not-freezing, but I managed to make myself a bit cleaner for $2, and I was on the road again before noon.

I hoped to tag Buckskin Mountain, a formless mound across from Democrat, but the weather deteriorated rapidly. I gamely headed out anyways, only to turn around when the lighting started — Buckskin just wasn’t worth risking electrocution. This turned out to be a fortunate choice, as I happened to meet a random Canadian with whom I had interacted online on the way back. It’s a small world of people who get out into the hills in the awkward season.