Monday, January 18, 2016

Colorado Backcountry Skiing and Climbing

I always take the opportunity to work in the Denver area. I have some friends in the area, there's lots of big mountains, and one of those friends shares my aspiration to get on top of all the big mountains.

So over the past 2-3 weeks, I have been able to get out and do a couple fun trips* on the weekends:
1) Mt. Yale - climb and ski 
2) Backcountry skiing Berthoud Pass
3) Backcountry skiing Banana Bowl, RMNP
4) Mt. Antero - climb and ski 

*Some of these trips weren't quite successful, but it was still nice to get out and start getting back into shape after a 2 month hiatus with a broken scapula.  

1) Mt. Yale - January 3, 2015

We left denver around 5:00 am in order to arrive at the Denny Creek TH and start climbing the southwest slopes of Mt Yale around sunrise. Mt. Yale is seen on the far right, slightly set back and hidden from view.
Michael skinning his way up the lower portion of the southwest slopes route 
Michael takes off his skis and hikes one of the bonier and steeper pitches on the approach
Looking down the southwest slopes of Mt. Yale and across the valley 
Looking up the southwest slopes of Mt. Yale.  The route did not have the amount of snow that we anticipated. We left our skis at this point. Note Michael on center left, making his way up.  
Nice views of the Collegiate Peaks to west  
I stopped about a 1,000 ft from the summit due to lots of pain in my feet from my brand new AT boots. I took the boots off and enjoyed the views while Michael pushed on for the summit.  
Michael returns victorious and doesn't look enthused about it at all. Note the tracks in the snow in the background. 

Elevation gain: 4,300 ft.
Round trip distance: 9.6 miles

2) Berthoud Pass Backcountry Skiing - January 14, 2015

This is one of the most accesible high mountain passes in Colorado and as a result, it is quite popular. This day however, it was rather quiet (other than the howling wind) and we got the mountain to ourselves.  

Michael ready to make some turns. He oozes "climber-gone-skier"
After lap 1, generally pleased. You can see my tracks behind me, just to the left.
Ready for round 2
Me ready to drop in from the continental divide on my second lap
Elevation gain: 1,200 ft.
Round trip distance: 2.3 miles

3) RMNP Backcountry Skiing - January 16, 2015

This time I went to Rocky Mountain National Park to ski. We hiked up from the Bear Lake Trailhead to the East Face of Flattop Mountain and found 50 mph winds and not great snow. But I got to hike around in the woods and re-live the Revenant.

This was the only time I was brave enough to take my gloves off and take a picture. It was also the only time we saw the sun. 

Elevation gain: 1,300 ft
Round trip distance: 5.6 miles

4) Mount Antero - January 17, 2015

Itching to actually get on a summit, Michael and I planned on climbing Antero and taking the west slopes route from Baldwin Gulch trailhead. Because of high winds across the state, this seemed like a doable option. The route follows a snowy road for 5 miles until treeline, where we would have to brave the wind for 2,000 vertical feet to the summit. The wind and wind chill proved too much.  

Michael bypasses an icy section of the route, which proved too icy to walk or skin on.  It wasn't too icy to ski down though :)
Michael leading the way up the first few miles of the road
As the morning progressed, the weather improved and made the long approach more bearable and us more optimistic about our summit chances
Skinning straight up a gully on the west face of Mt Antero
Michael making his way up the hard-packed, sastrugi surface. We knew it was not going to be such an enjoyable ski down.
Looking down the west slopes of Mt Antero as the weather began to deteriorate. 
Michael working on his kick-turn game. We were avoiding the wind slap on the slope to the right
Mount Antero summit from about 12,500 ft. At this point, we left our skis behind and began the grueling ascent though high winds on the variable rocky surface above. 
The wind really picked up and the temperatures dropped dramatically on the ridge. Other than avoiding stepping through the snow between rocks and banging our shins, we were fighting to keep our fingers and face warm in the intense winds - we estimated sub-zero wind chill temperatures. We struggled up the slope about 1,000 vertical ft before me mutually decided to turn around and give our selves a chance of getting out before dark. 
Me dropping into the chute
Making some turns on the variable snow conditions - hard-pack wind crust, sastrugi, wind drift powder
Michael working his way down the gully
Michael shredding the gully

Elevation gain: 4,000 ft. 
Round trip distance: 10.6 miles