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Archive for January, 2009

For our third and final day of the CMC’s Backcountry Ski Touring School (BSTS) our group went up to the Brainard Lake area. A major gateway to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I’d been up here the previous summer to climb Apache Peak. However, this is the first time I’ve visited the area and its network of winter trails in the snowy season.

We started up the Left Hand Reservoir Road under clearing skies.

Greg deployed his thumb split to try and hitch a ride with another group out skiing.

We branched off to the Little Raven trail which hadn’t yet seen much new traffic since the recent snow. I helped a few others break out the trail down to Brainard Lake itself. From there we cut around the top end of the lake on the snowed-over summer road. For lunch we reached the CMC cabin.

Inside it was toasty warm from a group who’d spent a few nights here. Day guests were welcome and could even pitch in a dollar for water or hot chocolate.

After an hour break we were all ready to fall asleep or head outside into the invigorating cool air. We returned to the Brainard Lake Road and followed it back to the trailhead.

Apr├Ęs ski we hit Southern Sun Pub for warming food and some good beers.

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After six evening lectures in the fall and one classroom/planning meeting a few days ago the first field day in the High Altitude Mountaineering School (HAMS) arrived. However, we’d get broken in slowly to field conditions, since our initial day was held in downtown Golden at the CMC’s headquarters. The first two hours were spent in gear demonstrations (roping up for glacier travel and hauling sleds), plus talks on clothing and gear organization for longer expeditions.

Next we moved to the indoor rock wall where Bob Dawson demonstrated ascending a line with prussik hitches – one possible way to escape from a crevasse.

The instructors then demonstrated how to go about rescuing a fallen rope team member from a crevasse starting with a) arresting the fall, b) building an anchor and c) communicating with the climber dangling below. If the climber couldn’t ascend the ropes themselves, then the team above could setup a z-pulley system to haul them out.

After lunch we moved to the treacherous lawn outside. While not steep or icy, the lawn was dotted with goose poop hazards that were best avoided. Breaking up in teams we alternated positions on a 3 person rope team and went through the above scenario. I first played the victim.

After falling into the deep sidewalk/retaining-wall crevasse my rope mates kept me from falling all the way into the busy intersection with a quick self-arrest.

From inside the concrete crevasse I peered over the rim and watched as an anchor was constructed and the rope sorted out.

Following the script they then came to check on me and see how I was doing amongst all the passing pedestrians and dog walkers.

After verifying that I’d need to be hauled over the 3-foot concrete crevasse they completed the Z-pulley setup and restored me to the glacier, er, lawn surface.

We switched around a few times, each playing a different role on the rope team. To pass the school we’ll need to be able to reliably complete the whole scenario (on snow, building real anchors) in under 15 minutes.

Our final skill of the day was running through a fixed-rope simulation with mechanical ascenders, moving both uphill and downhill. This is another skill we’ll practice in later weeks on more realistic terrain.

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Raleigh Peak

Pete and I arrived at the Colorado Trail parking lot to find it much snowier and colder than we’d expected. Wondering if we’d brought enough clothes, we hurriedly crossed the foot bridge over the South Platte River and warmed up by hiking the switchbacks upwards. Somewhat strangely, the snow decreased the higher we went (cold shaded valleys vs sun exposed ridge crests). Soon we were stopping every 20 minutes to take off another layer. We followed the Colorado Trail a ways, then got fed up with the snow and headed back to the sunny ridge top and found the old forest road. The road was much dryer and afforded quicker passage towards Raleigh Peak, our objective for the day.

As we got closer to Raleigh Peak we looked across the burn area to the snow-free south slopes. Instead of following the route description we had, we left the path and navigated through some barren ground and then up rocky slopes to the base of the east side of Raleigh Peak.

We spotted several bolts and a few slings on the steep rock walls and speculated that someone must bring a group up here to practice top roping. We wondered if we could find a challenging route up these rocks that would avoid true technical difficulties, but after scouting around decided that we’d need ropes and rock gear to get up this way. So we dropped back down around some cliffs and then headed up mellower slopes. We found plenty of loose dirt and numerous thorn bushes to make our choice interesting.

Once we reached the saddle between the two “heads” of Raleigh Peak, we hoped we were done dodging thorn bushes. Here we noticed a few old tracks in the snow and tried following them. After scrambling up snow covered rocks and finding that the horrors of thorn bushes weren’t over, the tracks ran out. Thinking their creator had never made the summit we retreated back to the saddle looking for another option.

I decided that the snow-free south slopes held the answer and then ducked into a narrow slot to see if it led to the summit. I’d only gone about 10 feet when I ran into a large chockstone. While scrambling around it I joked to Pete that I wished to avoid “pulling an Aaron Ralston”. With some luck and solid stones my arm wasn’t pinned and I found myself in a little alcove with a walled-up southern side. Humm, people had definitely been this way. Looking for the next option I followed another narrow slot and thought I saw footprints at the outlet. I let out a laugh once I arrived and realized the prints were our own.

Circling back to Pete I maintained that my excursion was fun, even if it didn’t go anywhere. We decided to stay lower on the north side and look for a route to the summit more from the northwest.

After contouring around we picked up the old tracks again (not ours!) and followed them through a crawl under a large rock.

Once on the other side I started to reach for a hold and with a sense of deja vu, I recalled having done this move already today! We’d circled back to our earlier route. We crawled back under the rock and picked up the other fork of the old tracks which gradually lead us to the final summit block. The actual summit was so narrow that the register was left on a self a good ten feet below the high point.

Neither of us wanted to even look at the summit register before we’d really achieved the top of the peak. I scrambled up first to the one “technical” move of the whole climb – the 5.0 mantle. The hand holds were just about shoulder height and plentiful, but there was nothing solid for the feet and a lot of vertical exposure on your left side as you contemplated the 10-inch wide summit “blade”. After thinking for a minute or so I committed my weight to the push-up I needed to execute and straddled the summit block. Scooting forward I reached out for the highest point.

I initially spun around and thought about hopping back down. But it was hard to focus on the 1 foot by 2 foot landing area with 60+ feet of vertical space on your right and a nasty landing area on your left. So I reversed myself and reverse mantled back down.

Pete then climbed up to examine the mantle move and finally committed to it as well (watch video). Satisfied we opened up the register and found it was soaking wet. Not able to add ourselves to the document, we could at least read of a few ascents over the past year, some by people we knew.

We then backtracked to a sunny ledge walled by granite blocks were we enjoyed lunch with great views of near-by peaks and the distant Pikes Peak. Then we followed our footsteps back down to the saddle between the twin heads of Raleigh. Instead of reversing our entire ascent route, we took off to the north and stomped through drifted snow until we hit the forest road again.

We followed the road east until it ran into the Colorado Trail and much preferred its dryer, southern-aspect than the snow-clad Colorado Trail. We arrived back at the trailhead around 2:30 and decided to forgo a planned trip up Noddlehead South.

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For the second field day of the Backcountry Ski Touring Ski (BSTS) offered by the CMC our group traveled to Loveland Ski Area. On our first field day at the Frisco Nordic Center we’d learned classic nordic skiing techniques. Today we’d spend our time on the area’s beginners slopes learning downhill skills on slightly thicker skis equipped with metal edges.

Starting out with the age-old standby we reviewed the snowplow wedge and turning while in the wedge formation. We worked on narrowing the wedge and transitioning into parallel-style turns. I found I had to unlearn many of my recent improvements with shaped skis to make the straight and skinny planks force a turn.

To improve our turning and add a bit of fun our ski poles were taken to build a slalom course.

Unfortunately, by now the various ski school lessons at Loveland had started up and the lines for the one lift we had access to had greatly increased. Fortunately, we all had skis with waxless scales or grip wax and could provide our own transportation uphill for multiple runs on the slalom course.

After an early lunch we took a few runs through a narrow and bumpy tree route were I felt the odd sensation of having both more maneuverability and less control than my normal AT/randonee skis. Finally, we finished the day with one run focusing on some of the techniques that would lead to telemark turns (a technique not actually covered in this course).

Our final field day will be spent in the backcountry putting all these skills to use.

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Homestake Peak

A gang of 6 of us met northwest of Leadville on a Saturday morning for a trip up Homestake Peak, a 13,209 foot peak on the continental divide. In one of my less well-thought out ideas I decided to do the trip on my skinny backcountry nordic skis. The rest of the group was traveling via snowshoes.

We followed some well defined tracks thanks to the presence of one of the 10th Mountain Division huts nearby. For the most part, I tried to stay ahead of the group and take advantage of the smooth tracks before 10 feet broke up the surface.

Eventually, we had to depart the trails and make our own route to the base of the east ridge of Homestake Peak. The open meadows we passed through were pretty, but tough work to break fresh trail across.

The weather was perfect however, mostly sunny with only a little wind and highs near 30. In general it felt more like a weekend in May than in January.

Kevin took over breaking trail and took a snowshoer’s line upward: steep and direct. The others had fun watching me try to sidestep and herringbone up the trail. In a couple places I detoured and created my own route (lower angle and out of the trees).

Just before breaking out of the treeline we stopped for a break, during which we commented on the weather. We all felt overdressed or over-equipped for the conditions. Comments about the extra weight (“I won’t be needing the down jacket today”, “not sure why I packed a face mask”) were topped by Pete’s admission of carrying two balaclavas.

Once out of the trees the route was obvious and simple – keep heading up on the wide east ridge. The conditions grew a bit windier, and I had to put a layer back on to keep warm as I created a zig-zagging track up the ridge.

As we moved higher the views of the Gore, 10 Mile, Mosquito and other Sawatch peaks improved. I also was stopped in my tracks by a short but impressive looking couloir leading to an unnamed and unranked 13,000 foot bump on the continental divide. I might have to return to this area in the spring to attempt that route.

On the summit we enjoyed the unseasonable conditions and the views of Mount of the Holy Cross and the Elk ranges to our west.

When we started back down the other 5 raced ahead expecting me to zoom past on my skis. Unfortunately, my skills and the skinny skis weren’t up to handling the breakable wind crust over powder conditions and every turn was marked by a body-sized imprint in the snow. I switched to my snowshoes (which I’d also carried along) and raced down hoping to catch the others before too long.

Back down in the lower-angled meadows I caught the group at a break and switch back into my skis for the speedy ski out.

Before reaching the cars I stopped and waited for the group. During the trip planning the in-curable peak baggers in the group noticed a ranked (ie, 300+ foot rise) unnamed peak just off our route. Identified by its elevation, peak 10,904 would be our second goal of the day. Once we had all gathered back together, I returned to snowshoes for what looked like an ascent route thick with trees. Pete, Dominique and Kevin lead the way to the treed summit where Pete broke out the celebratory Peeps.

We returned back the way we came and finally back to the cars.

Complete Photo Album

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North Table Mountain is a major landmark for the Golden area and another summit I can see on a daily basis. I’ve done a little rock climbing on its flanks, but have never made the jaunt to the actual top.

I cashed in a warm, sunny January afternoon with a trip to the top starting from my “trailhead doorway”, like Mt Galbraith two weeks ago.

The trails were still a little muddy due to the six inches of snow from five days ago, but it wasn’t bad. The hike to the top only took about 40 minutes from my doorstep.

To the north I could easily pick out Boulder’s Flatirons, which always look much closer than the drive ends up being. After a brief snack on the summit I took a slightly different way back across the plateau, following a line of artsy two-legged rock cairns.

I spooked a large herd of deer on the plateau but otherwise had the summit to myself. I picked my way back through the broken cliffs and down to the base just as the sun dipped behind the front range foothills.

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I spent much of Sunday at the Frisco Nordic Center in the first of three field days in the CMC’s Backcountry Ski Touring School (BSTS).

I’d spent some days at the Summit county nordic centers over the past few years, but always just figuring things out on my own with no formal instruction.

Five of us and two instructors spent the morning in the open field getting comfortable with the skis. Starting out without poles we worked on balance and form, trying to get more glide out of each step. Slowly we started adding in the poles for extra propulsion.

After a short loop around the trails to warm up we went inside the nordic center’s building to enjoy lunch. We were also joined by an increasing number of skiers who had taken part at the day’s Summit Tour which ended here. Skiers in costumes crowded around enjoying beer and soup and listening to an accordion player.

We headed back outside as the building’s maximum occupancy was exceeded for some lessons on short hills. We practiced stopping and slowing down with snowplows and turning with step turns. With a half-snow plow we worked on speed control while going downhill in the tracks and skiing parallel outside the tracks.

We finished up the day with some final balance drills, trying to glide with only one ski on.

Our next field day will be at the Loveland ski area, learning to negotiate hills on skinny nordic gear. The last field day will be a backcountry ski tour.

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