Archive for March, 2008

Hoosier Pass

Sunday was originally planned as a ski day at the Breckenridge resort. Unfortunately, my youngest brother injured his rotator cuff while Helen was still feeling low in energy. I decided against skiing by myself and hoped to summit a fairly easy peak. I drove south of Breckenridge to the continental divide at Hoosier Pass. I strapped on my snowshoes and headed east under cloudy skies.  I hoped to make Mount Silverheels, a 13,822 foot tall mountain just south of the divide.

The wind was slightly to my back and the temperatures much warmer than last week when I was above tree line on Bald Mountain. The ridge was wind swept and the snowshoes were only needed for floatation in a few spots but were useful for the built-in crampons. The rocks had rime coatings from the recent light snow.

I got to a bump on the ridge around 12,700 feet and visibility had decreased to about 50 feet. The GPS batteries weren’t doing well in the cold and I decided I wasn’t comfortable continuing on in these conditions. If the ridge had been more defined (ie, narrow) following it probably wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately, it was a broad, rounded ridge and difficult to determine where the ridge really ran.

Turning back I faced more directly into the wind and deployed the face mask I’d bought in the last week after my experience on Bald Mountain. Using the GPS sparingly, I mostly navigated back via a small compass on my watch until I reached tree line again.

The hike back through the trees was beautiful with all the new light snow that had just fallen. Shortly I was back at Hoosier Pass and heading back to Breckenridge for lunch.

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French Gulch Road

Helen and I were disappointed to see that the French Gulch Road had been plowed past the trailhead so we found ourselves shouldering our skis and hiking.

Before long we had views of Mount Guyot and the north face which was our skiing goal for the day. Last week I’d spotted the northwest ridge of Mount Guyot from Bald Mountain and thought it looked like an avalanche safe route. A little internet research showed that the north face was moderately angled and should be a nice ski.

We initially hiked past the turn off that accessed the north side of the mountain and by the time we doubled back Helen was willing to admit that she wasn’t feeling well. She’d suffered all through last month with a flu-like sickness and since Thursday night she’d started to feel a resurgence. Deciding to make the best of a low-energy day we practiced searching for avalanche beacons. I took off my beacon and buried it in the snow out of Helen’s sight. Helen then turned her beacon to search mode and tracked it down, probed for it then dug it out.

Then we switched and I searched for her beacon. I decided my old probe was too flimsy for real rescue use and determined to buy a new one. We both ran through a second search and bettered our search times.

Feeling we at least accomplished something useful, we packed up our skis and headed back to town.

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Friday night the Backcountry Film Festival had a stop at Golden’s American Mountaineering Center. I stopped by early and chatted with some of the staff and volunteers for the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance – a group which fights for non-motorized areas for the backcountry recreationists. I noticed a lot of parallels with their policy battles and the Hoosier Hikers Council’s efforts in Indiana for hiking-only trails.

The first film was “Winter in the Woods” a 10 minute black and white film of mostly atmospheric shots taken by a couple who spent 3 winters living in a backcountry cabin. I spent most of the film wondering how the couple lived, how they afforded to take the winter off, whether they ever hiked out to civilization, etc. The lack of details detracted from the film and kept me from enjoying the scenery.

The second film, “Cross Country with the Snakes” had a more narrative structure. It followed a blues band on a western trip who would cross country ski during the day and play bars at night. The focus was one of the drummers who had attempted to qualify for the ’94 Olympics. He bought used skis for the other band members and their beginner antics were reminiscent of the Beatles movie “Help”.

At intermission there was a prize drawing (I won nothing) where a couple people had bought extra tickets and mostly monopolized the winnings.

“Alsek” followed a foursome doing a combined float, ski and glacier crossing trip in Alaska. After rafting down a river they portaged over a glacier that most parties used helicopters to avoid, then climbed a mountain and skied down. Beautiful scenery, fun group dynamics. Looked like a good time.

“Skiing in the Shadow of Ghengis Khan” was too short at 5 minutes. Featuring Chinese skiers in the Altai mountains with homemade wooden long skis we were mostly shown a few action shots. I wish the beginning shots of ski construction was expanded to explain how the skis were made and how long they’d been in use. Once again I felt a film could have been improved with more details and background information.

The night finished with the feature “Weather We Change” a 43 minute backcountry version of “An Inconvenient Truth”. Following a handful of Tahoe area skiers and their effort to reduce their greenhouse emissions and a low-snow year. Strangely, this film had the most “ski porn” of any shown tonight, but suffered from too many trite expressions of alternating environmental worry and optimism.

The Backcountry Film Festival is a project of the Winter Wildlands Alliance – a national group devoted to preserving winter wildlands for human-powered access. The content of the festival varies at each location and reading the film list before hand I’d been looking forward to seeing the film “Sublimation Experiment”.

More about the Backcountry Film Festival.

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Matthews/Winters Park

Needing a vitamin D fix, the pack headed to Matthews/Winters Park just outside of Denver in the foothills. Bordering the north side of Red Rocks, the park had a view of Mount Morrison which we’d hiked up the day before. Our hike today was both lower in elevation and sunnier than the day before. We also saw quite a few more people and bikers on the trails as we completed our 4.5 mile loop.

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Mount Morrison, Red Rocks

With the longer spring days and sunny weather, Helen and I planned an evening hike at Red Rocks.

Always looking for summits, I found Mount Morrison (7,881 feet) just outside the park boundary. From the lower parking lot on the south side of the amphitheatre we headed straight up to reach the south ridge around 7,100 feet. Along the way we saw a few mule deer.

The south ridge was a well developed path and much nicer than the animal trails we’d followed to gain the ridge. Torrey did well scrambling over the rocks, but pushed herself very hard. Hopefully she’ll learn to pace herself as she gets out of the puppy phase.

Minus the antennas, the view from the top was quite rewarding. The faulting of the front range was very obvious, and numerous red rocks formations were visible below. Looking west we could see many taller peaks dotted with snow cover. Pikes Peak stuck out to the south.

For our descent route we took followed the old cable car grade that ran directly up to the summit from the upper amphitheatre parking lot. Much like Pikes Peak, visitors used to be able to ride to the summit.

Once back down we strolled through the amphitheatre and talked of seeing a concert here this summer. The whole loop took us less than a hour and a half and we got in a nice 1,600+ feet of vertical to help prepare us for some future adventures.

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The pack (Helen, Torrey and I) left Denver under a full moon before 6am to beat the ski traffic up to Summit county. The forecast was for a beautiful and sunny day while the avalanche conditions were rated moderate. Around 8am we were skinning up from the trailhead on Mt Baldy road and trying to warm up in the single digit temperatures.

Once we hit the mill site at 11,250 feet, we headed straight up the well established track to around 12,160 feet, just below the main ridge and all the antennas. Helen and Torrey proceeded to ski a few laps from here to the mill and back. I headed up to the ridge crest and cached my skis.

Above this point the ridge was very wind blown, with plenty of bare rock and only a few places to posthole. In summer this would be a nice class 2 hike. In ski boots with snow and a 20+ mph wind, “nice” wouldn’t be the first adjective to come to mind. Still, the views were outstanding in all directions without a cloud in the sky.

A little below the summit I found a safe place to duck out of the wind on the east side of the ridge and warm up in the sun. Then I pushed quickly for the summit and snapped a few photos before returning to the sheltered spot. I’d reached the summit at 11:25a and hadn’t communicated a good plan with Helen for how we’d meet up again or how long I’d be gone for. So I didn’t stop for a longer break but hurried back to my skis.

I found Helen and Torrey enjoying the sun and out of the wind at the mill. My thighs were exhausted from the climbing and I just collapsed when I arrived. After skiing back down to the car we headed into Breckenridge and had lunch at the Columbine Cafe. We were keeping with the restaurant name theme after eating at Evergreen’s Wildflower Cafe the day before. From town we could look up at Bald Mountain’s 13,684 foot summit.

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Helen, Torrey and I spent Saturday morning hiking at Elk Meadow Park. Clouds quickly moved in but we still had views to the west of the 14’er Evans. Plenty of snow on the north and tree-shaded slopes to travel through. Our route was about 9 miles with at least 2,000 feet of gain.

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