Category Archives: States

Outings by state

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.

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.

Oklahoma, Deer

Oklahoma from plateau


These two high 13ers are buried at the head of Half Moon Creek, west of Mount Massive and northeast of Independence Pass. Deer, the more interesting of the two, is slightly lower, falling short of being among Colorado’s highest 100 by 40′. In the summer, they are normally approached via Half Moon Creek from the east, but with that road impassable far below the summer trailhead, they are best reached from the road to Independence Pass. This plowed and dry road was spitefully gated well short of the trailhead, but the mile or two of road walking in either direction was tolerable.

Road-clearing equipment

I woke up at my campsite at the gate at 5:30, but was slow to get started, not hitting the road until about 6:20. Since the day involved much road and not much difficult terrain, I packed light, with only running shoes and snowshoes. I passed some road-clearing equipment, then left the road at the big bend to continue north up Lake Creek. To my surprise and pleasure, the snow was hard enough that I didn’t even need snowshoes as I made my way toward the Continental Divide.

North from Divide

I finally put the snowshoes on below Lake 12,378′, not because I was sinking in, but because I needed more traction. My 10-year-old MSR Lightnings are starting to fall apart, but they still have enough teeth to act as pseudo-crampons. Lake 12,378′, nestled just below the Divide, was of course completely frozen and covered, but I went around it out of excess caution, then finally got my first view of Oklahoma, on the east side of a clear U-shaped glacial valley, somewhat unusual for Colorado.

Massive from Oklahoma

I dropped partway down the north side of the pass, then did a long, miserable sidehill before climbing to the 12,800′ tundra plateau between Oklahoma and Deer. I briefly harassed a ptarmigan here, then headed north up the long, gradual ridge to Oklahoma. There were enough exposed rocks to keep my snowshoes strapped to my pack with only minimal postholing.

Deer’s summit from false summit

With the higher and aptly-named Massive only a short saddle away, Oklahoma is a thoroughly underwhelming peak. I mentally ticked it off, had a snack, then retraced my route to the tundra plain. Despite being northeast-facing, most of the ridge to Deer was snow-free and almost dry. The final steep pitch to the false summit, however, was covered in unstable slush, and it was a desperate slog. I put on snowshoes for this part, then had to take them off again only a few minutes later to deal with the final class 3 scramble to the summit. I found my first register of the summer here, and it was even dry (!), so I signed in, then plotted my path home. After following the ridge south a bit, I made a careful glissade down Deer’s north face, then plodded back to my outward path near Lake Creek. Then it was just wet slush and dry road to the car.

Traver, McNamee, Clinton

Industrial wasteland


With high valleys (Leadville is just over 10,000′), even higher passes, and lots of crappy rock, the Mosquito/Tenmile range is a great place to go in May. Unfortunately, the easy access has made it one of the most thoroughly land-raped areas of Colorado, with both active and abandoned mining junk lying all over the peaks, even up above 14,000′ in places. Mount Clinton and nearby Fremont Pass are the worst of it, bad enough that I have skipped climbing it more than once over the past few years. This time, however, circumstances conspired to motivate me, and it turned out to be my first type I fun day of the season.

Something’s home

After wasting a few hours in Aspen (at $1.50/hr to park…), I drove up toward the Maroon Bells trailhead, planning to do at least Thunder Pyramid, and possibly the Pyramid traverse. To my dismay, I found the perfectly dry road still gated almost 6 miles from the trailhead. I thought about jogging it by headlamp, but ain’t nobody got time for that. Next on my peak list was Holy Cross ridge; I quickly learned that its 8-mile approach road doesn’t open until June 21. On to the next, then… Clinton.

Good place to start…

After a long drive and a fitful night in the familiar Mayflower Gulch trailhead, I continued past the tailings pond and open pit, just over Fremont Pass to my chosen trailhead. Unlike the climbs so far, this one was west-facing with a relatively short approach, so even with a 6:30 start, the snow remained shaded to the top of the first peak, making for much better conditions.

Democrat, etc. from Traver

After an uneventful hike south up the head of the Arkansas River, I turned east into a couloir I had picked out on Traver’s east face. The face is a complicated mixture of steep snow, rock, and talus, making for interesting route-finding. I had left my crampons at home for this one, and while they would have made a couple sections easier, I was fine using snowshoes lower down, and kicking steps along a carefully-chosen line higher up. The line I chose eventually deposited me on the ridge a couple hundred yards north of the summit, which I belatedly realized is very close to fourteener Mount Democrat.

Building on ridge

The long descent to the saddle with McNamee started off easy past a surprising, lone mining ruin. I didn’t see the expected trail or cable car remnants, or a nearby hole, so I’m not sure of its purpose.

Class 3-4 ridge

The ridge then turned into some fun class 3-4 scrambling through several pinnacles, with a chockstone bridge between a couple of them. Beyond, the ridge was broad and easy, with bare rock on south-facing sections and breakable snow requiring snowshoes on others. Between McNamee and Clinton, you are constantly treated to the sights and sounds of the open pit (the Glory Hole, according to the USGS topo) and its polychromatic tailings ponds. While snow conceals some of the ugliness, it is still a disheartening sight.

After my out-and-back to Clinton — one of Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and my main goal for the day — I returned to (I think) McNamee, then found some nice glissades to speed my return. It was t-shirt weather in the 11,000′ valley, and I baked as I made my leisurely way back to the car. Though it was snowing the last time I was in Leadville, it was a balmy 60 degrees this time. I can’t complain.

Sneffels (Snake Couloir)

Entering Blaine Basin


After a stupid mistake resulting in an unintended day off, I headed around through Ridgway to the north side of Mount Sneffels. I had already done it via the standard summer route, but that was in the pre-dirtbag days, so I didn’t mind visiting again to try a route on the north side, the Snake Couloir. Couloir season doesn’t really start until later this month, so I was expecting difficult conditions, though not quite as bad what I encountered. At least I didn’t get avalanched.

Sneffels from trailhead

The road was blocked by a snowdrift about a mile from the normal trailhead, so I slept on the side of the road there, then got started around 6:20. There was nearly solid snow-cover from the trailhead on, though it was hard enough lower down not to require snowshoes. The trail to Blaine Basin starts as an old road, making it initially easy to follow. I guessed correctly by turning left at an unsigned fork, and soon crossed a creek to join a little-used jeep approach. From there, the trail narrows to a single lane, but it is fortunately well-signed, and has nowhere to go other than upstream.

Slog, slog, slog

The flagging eventually gave out at a signed trail junction, so I took the most direct reasonable path through a headwall. I somehow rejoined the trail, and followed the occasional sawed logs as it side-hilled up into the basin and out of the trees. Finally, the path to Sneffels was clear. The crust was not quite strong enough to support me, so I made my laborious way up toward the base of the couloir, punching through ankle-deep with each step. Fortunately it remained partly cloudy, so it was not too hot, and the snow both stayed solid and did not slide.

Couloir on right

I put away my snowshoes where the couloir began to steepen, assuming I could kick steps from there. Unfortunately the sun had emerged by then, softening the initial northeast-facing section, so after some wallowing, I put snowshoes back on and switchbacked carefully to a choke-point. There the snow remained in the shade, and I was able to boot toward where the couloir turns left.

Looking down choke-point

I reemerged into the sun, and was once more forced to wallow. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I fell here, but didn’t want to find out; it was steep enough that snowshoes were not an option. With some trial-and-error I managed to make my way on top of a cornice at the turn, from which I could admire the view west and scope out the rest of the climb.

Upper couloir

The last-bad way to climb this last part seemed to be to stay on the right side of the couloir. I hoped to make use of the rocks there, but they were all rotten and/or outward sloping. In normal couloir season, you simply follow the center of the couloir to a ridge, then climb a short pitch of low-5th-class rock to the summit. However, frustrated by the soft snow, I ended up cutting right too early, then climbing some scrappy rock on the summit’s northwest side.

Skiers preparing

Reaching the summit, I was surprised to see a rappel in progress, with what I correctly guessed were skier(s) futzing around preparing to ski what I had just climbed, which sounded like much more fun. I enjoyed the views from the sunny and relatively calm summit, then made my way down the skiers’ boot track, hailing them across the way before they started down.

Where the standard route turns right into Yankee Boy Basin, I turned left toward Blaine, taking advantage of a few glissades to catch the skiers as they took a break and transitioned to skin up the way I had descended. I rejoined my tracks from the morning partway down to the basin, then followed them for the slog back to the car for a fairly tough 9-hour day.

Gilpin (N couloir)

Gilpin from couloir base


And so it begins. The start of my season coincided with the largest snowstorm of the year, dumping 6 inches in town and around 2 feet up at the ski hill. This complicated the move-out process somewhat, but it also gave me one final chance to go backcountry sledding before throwing the rest of my belongings in the car and heading north. Since the recent storm had apparently dumped much more snow on the eastern Colorado mountains, I decided to start with a few random peaks in the Ouray area.

Chance it?

Gilpin is a 13er directly across Yankee Boy Basin from Mount Sneffels, with a prominent couloir on its north side. This made it somewhat more interesting than its neighbors, and if I had the energy, I could continue south to Emma. I found something like a campsite on the Camp Bird Road, then continued in the morning, driving to the final “half-tunnel” section, where huge icicles loomed dangerously low. I might have cleared them, but they also might have damaged my car, so I opted to hike the final half-hour of road to where it becomes 4WD-only. Maybe 10 minutes after I left the car, several trucks full of mine workers barreled straight through with no trouble, but I was already far enough up the road that it didn’t seem worth returning.

The road was well-plowed to the active mine, and mostly to where the 4WD road splits, after which it was completely neglected. I put on my snowshoes, then followed the previous day’s skin tracks up the road. They split at the outhouse, and I followed the ones headed southwest toward Emma for awhile, then struck out through untracked powder.

Entering couloir

My pace became pathetically slow as I sunk ankle- to calf-deep with each step, and I was reminded what Colorado is like in May. The day remained warm but overcast, with occasional snowflakes, and it was difficult to read the terrain in the flat light, with very few exposed rocks. I fumbled my way toward the base of Gilpin’s north couloir, keeping open the option of climbing the descent route — the connecting ridge with Sneffels.

Entering couloir

With sun and new snow there could be avalanche problems, but the day remained mostly overcast, so I decided to go for the couloir. It would probably be a slog in the fresh snow, but it would be safe and shorter than the ridge. I climbed the first third in snowshoes, then stashed them in my pack as the terrain steepened. I probably should have put on crampons, but the surface snow under the often knee-deep powder was soft enough that it was easy to continue with boots and ice axe. After some experimenting, I found a path near the right edge of the couloir that involved a manageable amount of postholing.

Couloir from top

As the couloir steepened toward the top, I tried a couple of times to use the rocks to the right, but they were invariably outward-sloping and rotten, and each time I was forced to retreat to the couloir. I was missing my crampons for the final, steep choke-point leading to the ridge, as the old snow was harder here. Climbing became a laborious process of planting my axe, digging a sort of hand-hold, then making a half-dozen kicks with each foot. I eventually beached-whaled over the small cornice, and found myself maybe 50 yards west of the summit.

Emma and Telluride

While gnawing on a partly-frozen bar, I inspected the ridge over to Emma. It looked like way too much work, so I opted for the standard descent down the ridge toward Sneffels. I found bits of use trail and a cairn on the way, but the route down the ridge was not as obvious as I had assumed. I kicked my way down a steep snow-slope just short of the ridge, slowly glissaded for a ways, then wallowed a bit before putting on my snowshoes for the slog back to the road. Though the surrounding peaks peeked out occasionally, the light remained flat, and it was to follow my outbound track until it merged with the larger skin-track. More skiers had apparently passed later the morning, and several more cars’ worth passed me as I clomped down the road to my car for a late lunch.

Turkey tourism 2: Bryce

North to main Bryce from below Bryce Point

North to main Bryce from below Bryce Point


After participating in the time-honored American tradition of eating way too much for Thanksgiving, including no fewer than four species of animal, I decided to go for a long trail run in Bryce while the others did a shorter hike. The obvious Bryce run is the Under-the-Rim Trail, a 23-mile route from Rainbow Point at the south end of the park to Bryce Point near the middle. However, with a late Spanish start from Cannonville, the extra driving time to drop me off at the south end would significantly limit the others’ day, so I instead did a 20-mile, 4900-foot meander starting at Fairyland Point and visiting most of the best parts of the park. This was probably more scenic than Under-the-Rim, and while it was crowded in places, I was rarely unable to run, and the trails were wide, smooth, and well-graded. Somewhat to my surprise, Bryce turns out to be a wonderful place for trail-running, making it a fun one-day park.

More good running

More good running

I hiked the initial descent with the others, crossing occasional stretches of hard-packed snow on shaded northern slopes during the descent from Fairyland Point. The park’s southern end is about 1500′ lower than the north, and the snow had all but disappeared by the time we reached the base of the rock formations around 7200′. I took off jogging after about half an hour, stopping to zip the legs off my pants about 10 minutes later, and stripping down to just a t-shirt after the first hour. I think the temperature stayed around 35-45 degrees, so while I was slightly cold in the shade or wind, I was mostly comfortable in summer clothing for the rest of the run.

Queen's Garden trail

Queen’s Garden trail

I cruised the generally downhill rollers to the Tower Bridge turnoff, took a short side-trip to this underwhelming feature, then ground out the climb back to the rim at 8000′ near Sunset Point. While the Fairyland Loop was uncrowded, the descent to the Queen’s Garden was a bit of human chaos. It wasn’t a solid mass, though, so I had fun dodging and weaving, launching around the banked switchbacks and startling a few tourists. The Queen’s Garden trail was built in Zion style, with tunnels blasted through what seemed like an unnecessary number of mudstone fins. This is probably the most scenery-dense part of the park, and I stopped frequently for photos of various Bryce-y things.

Climb to Bryce Point

Climb to Bryce Point

From Queen’s Garden, I continued along the base of the formations on the gradually-climbing east side of the Peekaboo Loop, then began a more sustained ascent to 8300′ Bryce Point. To my surprise, I was still fresh enough to jog the entire climb. I milled around a bit with the tourists while deciding what to do next: it was around noon, and I had agreed to fetch the car from Fairyland Point and meet the others at the Lodge at 2:30. I figured that I could do the 4-mile out-and-back to the Hat Shop, then return via the other side of Peekaboo Loop and Wall Street, thus visiting all of Bryce’s “good stuff” in one fell swoop.

Hat Shop

Hat Shop

Bombing the 1000-foot descent along the start of the Under-the-Rim Trail, I passed two other runners wearing a disturbing amount of fancy logo-encrusted Lycra (“all Euro-tarded out,” as Mike put it). I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Hat Shop, but I was glad I made the detour. It turned out to be a collect of a couple dozen caprock hoodoos, some with impressively large and overhung boulders on top. After stopping to take some pictures and eat a bit more, I steeled myself for the climb back to the rim. I was definitely slowing down by this point, and had to walk some of the steeper parts of the climb.

Double-arch fin along Peekaboo

Double-arch fin along Peekaboo

I returned almost to Bryce Point, then physically and mentally recovered as I bombed back down the snowy trail to Peekaboo Loop. The western part of the loop is longer than the eastern part, and contains much more up-and-down. I ran what I could, hiked some of the steeper bits, and distracted myself by gawking at the scenery, including a couple of impressive arches.

Wall Street

Wall Street

I felt sluggish as I returned to the Navajo Loop junction, so I walked some perfectly runnable terrain while eating the last of my food, then continued toward Wall Street at a slightly pathetic jog. I passed Mike and the Armada a few minutes from the junction, stopping to chat briefly before turning on the gas so they wouldn’t have to wait too long before I came back with the car. The climb up Wall Street was the only part of the trail where the crowds actually got in my way, but I was feeling worked by this point, so I didn’t mind the delay.

Window along the rim

Window along the rim

Once on the rim, I managed decent speed on the rolling but generally downhill commute back from Sunset to Fairyland Point. I had expected this section to be a dull forest run, but it stayed close enough to the rim to have consistently nice views of the nearby hoodoos and some more distant red cliffs to the northeast. I reached the Lodge at 2:30 as promised, then spent the rest of the day shuffling around like a tourist near Rainbow Point. At over 9000′, the southern end of the mesa offered expansive views of the Escalante plateau 2000′ below. It was also much snowier than the rest of the park, and I was barely warm enough in the shade with all my clothes.

Southern Utah food options are usually grim, but we found what looked like a decent pizza place in Tropic. It was clearly the only choice around, as there was a steady crowd the whole time we waited to have our order taken, waited for the food, and waited still more for the bill. Southern Utah: come for the scenery, lower your expectations for everything else.

Turkey tourism 1: Zion

Down-canyon from Observation

Down-canyon from Observation


Mike was spending Thanksgiving in southern Utah with a small contingent of the Spanish Armada, and had some extra room in the car. I had already seen most of the planned route, but trips with Mike and the Armada are usually good fun, so I found myself fighting sleep across the Big Res Tuesday night, en route to Page, Arizona. There is probably some scenery along the way, including Shiprock, but other than sunset on some familiar terrain during the first hour, we saw almost nothing other than the huge and well-lit smokestacks of the Navajo Generation Station, a glowing symbol of our coal-powered future.

Important information (photo by Lidia)

Important information (photo by Lidia)

As usual, I was awake well before the others, and took a first trip through the hotel’s well-stocked breakfast bar before settling in to read and wait for the others to emerge. After a second, “social” breakfast and a sort-of Spanish lesson, we rolled out late for Zion. The park was filling up in anticipation of the holiday weekend, but the crowds were not yet overwhelming as we parked down the road from the Observation Point trailhead.

Slot below Observation

Slot below Observation

We contemplated the fact that falling off cliffs can result in injury or death, then headed up the switchbacks blasted in the sandstone. Zion was developed in the 1920s and 1930s, when man felt the need to assert his dominion over nature, and its roads and trails were constructed using quantities of dynamite and chain that would be unthinkable today.

Exposed, blasted trail

Exposed, blasted trail

The route from the valley to Observation Point was probably somewhere between difficult and impossible in the 1800s, but is now essentially an exposed sidewalk. While it is easy walking, the exposure does get to some people: Linda was unfortunately overcome just below the rim, so only Lidia and I reached the end of the trail. We hung out with a half-dozen others for awhile, taking pictures and fending off the over-friendly chipmunks, then headed back to meet the others near the end of the short November day. We found our hotel in Hurricane, then found semi-decent and only slightly depressing food at some kind of Mormon Chipotle.

Approaching Kinesava

Approaching Kinesava

After considering several plans for Thanksgiving, the Armada dropped Mike and I off at the start of the Chinle “trail” in Springdale, then drove on to do Angel’s Landing while we headed for Mount Kinesava. There is a large dirt parking lot on Anasazi Way just off the main highway, but the useless trail dumps you right back on the road, and is probably longer. We passed some fancy houses, then found the “trail” continuing as a gated road to a water tank where it disappears. Still, Kinesava is hard to miss, so we headed in the right direction and soon found a faint, intermittently-cairned use trail through the sparse desert brush and junipers.

Kinesava semi-exposed traverse

Kinesava semi-exposed traverse

The route follows a slide through the lower cliff-band, then heads up more steep dirt and rubble to a fairly obvious left-to-right ramp leading to the plain between Kinesava and the higher West Temple. The ramp is mostly steep dirt, but there is one semi-exposed section, some third class, and a short but apparently unavoidable fourth class corner near the top. None of it slowed us down much, and we soon emerged on the grassy plain northeast of the summit.

West Temple from Kinesava

West Temple from Kinesava

Neither of us remembered the route description for this last part, but a line straight up the middle of the summit blob looked doable and mostly brush-free. The final climb turned out to be a mixture of easy steep desert stuff and enjoyable class 3 slabs, similar to North Guardian Angel. I managed not to get dropped by Mike, and we were soon enjoying the impressive 360-degree summit view. To the north, the West Temple looked both intimidating and tempting. We had neither the time nor the information to try it, but it turns out that there is a devious route to the summit with only one pitch of 5.6-5.7; now I know what to scramble the next time I’m in the area.

NW to Guardian Angels

NW to Guardian Angels

There are apparently some petroglyphs on the summit plateau, but this was a Mike hike, so there would be no sight-seeing. We retraced our route nearly to the Park boundary, then headed cross-country for a road closer to the entrance, crossing about 100 feet of private property near the end and jogging a bit of “private road.” Our road spit us out right next to the southernmost Springdale shuttle stop just as a shuttle pulled away. Rather than wait, we jogged a mile or so up the road before catching the next shuttle at another of the closely-spaced stops. Then I had an hour or so to nap and listen to the foreign tourists before the Armada returned (successful), and we were on to the next.