Posts Tagged ‘skiing’

I was happy to be back home, even if it was raining and washing out plans to go rock climbing on sun-warmed granite. As Jeremy later said: “You have to do enough sports that you can pick the one that’s right for the day.” Today definitely wasn’t a rock day. It may be May, but it might just be a skiing day.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be just a skiing day, and so we were going for the trifecta: donuts at Donut Haus, skiing at Hidden Valley and lunch at Oskar Blues.

That always seems like a good idea, and that’s because it is a good idea.

Maybe a less-than-good idea was dragging my un-acclimated self up over 11,500 feet.

I was feeling okay, at least until we crossed a recently plowed segment of Trail Ridge Road. All those nights at 900 feet weren’t helping me out right now.

Past experience has taught me that I feel the worst around 11,500 feet when doing stupid things like this. Jeremy hadn’t left the state and of course was cruising uphill.

Our climbing for the ridge had the benefit of taking us above the clouds and into t-shirt weather. A pretty as the clear blue skies were, I could now hook up the “too warm” car to my growing train of excuses.

Before we reached the ridge I kept extending this train of thought with a growing line of excuses: “a thermos of hot tea that was obviously slowing me down”, “a new backpack I wasn’t used to”, etc.

Not that I wasn’t enjoying myself of course.

The excuse caboose (my last justification) left the train yard just as we reached the ridge crest. A break and the stripping of skins anticipated our descent down corn snow in the making.

A few turns brought us back to the road and into the clouds and the rime covered trees.

More turns deposited us back at the parking lot where we rushed on to finish our trifeca at Oskar Blues. We were back in the gloom, but smiling that we were some of the few that got to see the sun today.


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Icy roads and the warning sign of a pickup laying on its drivers side kept us moving slow up to Estes Park and then on into Rocky Mountain National Park. Stopping at the old Hidden Valley ski area (more history here) we took shelter at the warming hut from the winds and finished suiting up.

We were one of the first groups out this morning, but not the first. A snowboarder zoomed by just as we started, probably getting his one lap before work.

The mild uphill route kept us moving and warming up until we breached treeline and the snow conditions got a little choppier. No need to head all the way towards the ridge.

We largely followed our uphill tracks down the moderate angles (20-30 degrees) passing a few more groups on their way up.

When the terrain flattened out we stopped and re-applied the skins for another bout of climbing. Not continuing as high as our first lap, we stopped well under treeline for a final run back to the parking lot.

Like yesterday, our day was done in time for lunch at a nearby brewery (I can highly recommend the Winter Spice Pale Ale from Oskar Blues).

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Started a very frontcountry weekend in Breckenridge with a walk through the annual snow sculpture competition. The international field was spending their last night finalizing their art work for judging.

I hadn’t ridden a chair lift all last winter, but that’s mostly what I spent Saturday doing. That, and enjoying spending some time in the warm winter sunlight with friends and relatives.

A couple of Saturday’s large meals needed to be worked off, so Erick, Jeremy and I departed at 7:15 am to skin up from the base of Peak 9 to the top of the Mercury Chair lift before the lifts opened.

Tired legs appreciated the forgiving freshly groomed runs as we headed down just as the first chairs of people began their ascent. A large breakfast followed with most of the rest of the crew. Then we were back out the door for more runs with the crowds followed by a delay-tactic of dinner out to let the traffic thin before making our own return back home.

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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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Skinning Breckenridge

After a lazy Saturday – for which I blame a friend and the Banff book awards for recommending a good book, and the weather (single digit highs, windy, cloudy), I decided to redeem myself with a pre-dawn start to my Sunday.

At 6am I walked to the base of Breckenridge’s Peak 9 lifts and started skinning up a few different ski routes. A line of snow cats were out grooming the green terrain at the base requiring me to keep my headlamp on so I’d been seen and not ground into the fresh corduroy.

I moved off to an ungroomed run and cut under some chair lifts and through a few trees for more peace while studying the crescent moon to the south. The air temperature was about -1 F but I was pushing myself too hard and had to strip a layer or two.

As the morning lightened up I continued my upward progress on the Upper Lehman trail and found a little more wind. I stopped to put on my face mask and continued up, eventually cutting right to end at the top of the Mercury chairlift – about 2,000 feet above the Peak 9 base area and the highest lift on this mountain.

After stripping off my skins, tightening my ski boots and watching some snowcat drivers chitchat I prepared to head back down.

I took a few extra seconds to enjoy of the views, most of the dawn color had already drained from the sky, but the views of Bald Mountain and the 14ers: Grays and Torreys were impressive this morning.

I skied down the Cashier run, one of my father’s favorites. Now it is well known throughout the midwest that the old man is a connoisseur of long, groomed cruiser runs, and Cashier seemed like a good descent option. The few patches of steeper terrain would have ended quickly and finished up with a long and slow flatter run back to the base.

I concentrated on linking my turns, carving throughout the whole turn and letting my skis do the work – all the pointers I’d gotten recently at the training clinics for the adaptive ski program. Without muscling my skis I felt much smoother and actually enjoyed the descent. For the first time I might have enjoyed the ski down more than the skin up. I wonder if I’m actually becoming a skier, or this was a momentary lapse?

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Mud Season

I’d never been in Colorado during the mud season and didn’t know what to expect. Helen and I had originally planned an extra-long Memorial Weekend around summiting some more 14’ers. Unfortunately, she came down with a really bad allergic reaction and the weather didn’t look very promising. So we ended up in Breckenridge and I took off each day with Torrey to see what was available during the mud season.

My first hike was a snowshoe up McCullough Gulch on the north side of Mount Quandary. I was signed up for another CMC trip planned for next week to ascend a couloir out of McCullough Gulch and I hoped to get a glimpse of the route and check out the snow conditions. We had to park at the winter trailhead and hike the McCullough Gulch road a couple miles to the summer trailhead. Unfortunately, we’d gotten a late start (after noon) and the snow was soft and rotten. Even with snowshoes I was sinking several inches to knee-deep with most steps. Torrey and I then made it a little way up the normal trail before the wind picked up and dark clouds started descending toward us. Remembering the chance of afternoon thunderstorms, I turned us around and headed home.

I figured most of the summer trailheads would be inaccessible right now and the trails covered with snow. For our second day, I drove up to Boreas Pass road and hoped that the road was still snow covered. I brought along my nordic backcountry skis but ended up walking in the mud and dirt for the first mile or so with only occasional patches of snow.

Once we came to snow patches that I couldn’t see the end of I decided to clip into the skis. On-again, off-again went the pattern as I skied where possible and hiked the bare dirt. Thankfully, the nordic skis were quick to clip into and out of, much easier than either my snowshoes or my AT-style backcountry skis.

Just before we arrived at the Baker Tank (a restored watering tank for the trains that used to use this road) the snow was persistent enough that I didn’t have to remove the skis until we’d turned around and come back this way. I was getting into a nice rhythm with the skiing and enjoying these lightweight skis. The constant motion was more like hiking and the short glide was definitely enjoyable.

Still the weather wasn’t great, clouds dominated and we were snowed on most of the time. The wind was also strong as we discovered once we reached tree line. Torrey didn’t seem excited to go on, so we turned back again for a nice 8-10 mile trip. Sliding back was fun until we ran out of snow. On the way back to Breckenridge, I made a detour to check out how far up the Blue Lakes road we could drive. Maybe later this weekend I’d be able to do a hike or climb up that drainage.

I was feeling like I’d learned something about mud season, and found ways to work with it’s challenges and still find an enjoyable outing.

I enjoyed the nordic skis so much I looked for something similar for Friday’s outing with Torrey. We drove up Spruce Creek Road and were stopped about a 1/4 mile from the trailhead by a downed tree. Luckily, from the trailhead up the snow was still resident, so we only had to hike the little bit of the road. I skied up the unplowed road and then across the aqueduct road into the Crystal Creek valley. We’d come this same way on our Avalanche course back in January to Francies Cabin.

Above the cabin I followed the route of the summer trail as best I could. My goal was some old cabin ruins near the Lower Crystal Lake. Once again the weather was less than ideal – snowing, cloudy and windy. I was plenty warm switchbacking up the slopes toward the lake, but Torrey was getting cold by the time we reached the cabin.

The views from this spot are of steep-sided peaks in all directions – Peak 10, Crystal Peak, Father Dyer Peak and Mount Helen. After a short stop to eat and admire the view (somewhat indistinct from all the clouds) I decided to get back down so Torrey could warm up.

I went to clip into my skis and my boots popped right back out of the bindings. I struggled with them for several minutes, all while Torrey jumped on me (her way of letting me know she was cold and needed to get moving). Eventually, I discovered the bindings had iced up and dug out a key to scrap the ice away. Repeated scrapings (punctuated by being knocked down by Torrey) finally produced a satisfying click announcing that my boots were securely attached.

Torrey doesn’t behave well around downhill skiers – and today was no exception as she jumped on my, ran to close to my skis (we’d already had one incident of cutting her on the metal edges) or ran between my legs while I tried to turn. On an icy slope she knocked me down repeatedly as I struggled to learn to control these nordic skis on downhill terrain. In frustration, I took off my skis and was lucky that the snow was packed enough that I could walk down to lower-angled terrain where Torrey would be less of a menace.

Once past the cabin, I put on my skis again and kept my speed low enough that Torrey didn’t run too close to me. A few times I had to prod her way with my poles, but the worst was when she’d run between my legs and skis and then jump up hitting me in the crotch with her head.

When we finally made it back to Breckenridge, I asked Helen if she was recovered enough to take Torrey to the dog park tomorrow while I signed up for a CMC hike.

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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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