When the East Ridge gets hairy – Winter has arrived!
Mt Yale and Mascot Peak
Trailhead: Avalanche Gulch Route: East Ridge, with Descent off of Mascot Peak SE ridge Elevation Gain: 5,242' Mileage: 8.6 Time: 16+ hours Snowshoe Telemarkers: Caroline, Keifer and I Guest appearances by: Korean team - Jason, Jim & Shawn
The winter 14er list is not exactly one of my high priority lists at present. The joys of breaking trail, long approaches, cold, wind, navigation, all lead me to want to do this sort of masochistic activity only sparingly. It's not as if post-holing to ones nether regions with snow shoes on is fun, no? I much prefer to be on skis anyway. But this winter is a weird one. The snowpack is primed for incredibly large and dangerous avalanches. The snow feels incredibly stable on the surface, but below lurks the danger. So while it may be difficult to trigger, once it does, it will go big. Last year I skied 3 14ers in calendar winter, this year – 0. Better safe, than sorry!
But, it’s March, and I still haven’t attempted a 14er this winter… So when Caroline asked if I wanted to join her and Kiefer on Yale, I thought, why not. Winter is almost over. Somehow I need to get into shape for 14er ski season (if the snowpack ever stabilizes with enough snow left!).
None of us had summited Mascot Peak yet, and as such, we ran through the ways to tag that on to the route. Choices: Denny Creek and car shuttle, or Avy Gulch and a loop. We went with the latter, so that Caroline could also get another goal of hers: second route on all 14ers. We had hoped that someone had attempted this route on Saturday, but nope. So for those trench poachers – there is one – but buyer beware!
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!
After having a grand ol time at Pink Vail on Saturday, Caroline and I head down to BV to meet Kiefer. At o-dark, umm light 6am-ish we arrive at the trailhead. As we get ready to go, another car pulls up with 3 guys. Sweet! More trail breakers! We started off first, but 0.3mi in, Caroline realizes that her camera is sitting on top of the Jeep. She quickly ran back and got it, but the team of 3 passes us.
Up the initial switchbacks on the first slope, we begin to wonder why we are wearing snowshoes. So we take them off. Of course, a short time later the snow gets deeper, but we plod on without. Turning the corner and getting into the trees, we put them back on. From there, we needed them until we reached the ridge.
Mascot Peak in the morning
At 10,600’, the jog to the west on the trail, was missed by the first group, and as we just followed tracks, we all ended up doing some annoying side hilling and tree climbing. So utilizing my GPS, we take a bearing and just head for the ridge ahead. Looking at our tracks on the map, we ended up where we needed to go, and that’s all that really matters.
First view of Mt Yale
Caroline and I - Photo credit: Kiefer
It's just like walking on a balance beam... with snowshoes, yeah - Photo credit: Kiefer
The Korean team - Photo credit: Kiefer
Since we caught up with the other group, the 4 guys took turns breaking trail. I am the ghost elf, and float easily on my tiny feet uphill, and Caroline packed the wrong snowshoes and was sinking, even after 5 set of feet packed down the trail. Getting to that ridge took longer and was more effort intensive than the remaining 2.4K vert to the summit and on to Mascot. But that’s winter conditions for ya! As we neared the ridge, the sun and snow started to get friendly, and our snowshoes got heavier and more snow encrusted with each and every step. Kiefer ended up breaking one of his carbon fiber poles in his futile attempt to keep the snow from balling up under his feet.
The East Ridge: The gift that keeps on giving
Finally up on the ridge, we take a break for food and take off the snowshoes for the remainder of the climb up. The views are amazing, as there is nary a cloud in the sky. We know the time, we know we are late, we know a summit push will therefore be a very very late affair. But there is a ¾ moon on this eve that will assist us on our descent. We have headlamps, I have a GPS, we’ve done this before. So we make the command decision to go for it. We feel strong, and are capable of the task at hand. When the other group catches up, and after already talking about the possibility of teaming up on the night descent, they also agree to go for it.
The East ridge, finally!
The ascent on the east ridge goes smoothly and reasonably quickly. With the snow, there are some more interesting (ie hairy) sections navigating some of the rocky prominences, but we steadily make upward progress. We keep our sights on the mini-diamond feature up on the ridge. In my mind I know it’s a false summit, but the heart wants to believe its not as false as it turned out to be. Topping out on that rocky false summit, the exclamations of disappointment are hard to ignore, and as I reach the view of how much farther we have to go, my heart sank a notch or two.
The Korean team climbing near the mini-Diamond
Kiefer climbing up the more "fun" way
Ok, so I wanted to go the fun way too! - Photo credit: Kiefer
View from the false summit
The closer we get to the summit, the more bulletproof the snow becomes, and I decide to strap on my yak tracks. As we kick steps and carefully cross the snowfields, we are jealous of the micro spikes of the other group. They were already on my REI dividend list for this year, but now, I think they are on everyone’s. Since while the yak tracks did well, it would have been nice to have some more grip.
Nice view of Horn Fork Basin
A snowfield along the way
View down ridge - Photo credit: Kiefer
Caroline learning the American duck walk
Please tell me the summit is up there!
After what feels like an eternity, we reach the summit. It’s going to be a short break, so I eat some bacon, drink some fluids, snap some pics, tighten the boots, and we’re off for Mascot Peak.
Long shadows in Horn Fork
Princeton and Antero
Yale Summit! - Photo Credit: Caroline
We back-track the ridge until we find a good descent path to the saddle. The rock/scree was loose, but at least it was dry. The west side of the ridge was fairly wind blasted, and we made it to the summit of Mascot Peak for sunset. Snap some pics, keep going…
Descending the East Ridge part way
Ridge to Mascot
Sun halo at the saddle - Photo Credit: Caroline
The full Team for the moonlit descent
I wanted to make it down from the summit as quickly as possible so that we could get a visual bearing of our descent ridge. There are 3 ridges that branch off on the descent, and we made it to the first branch where I make sure we stop as a group to discuss and look at our maps and GPS. I didn’t want haste in our tired and slightly dehydrated states to take us down the wrong path. Thankfully civil twilight lasted just long enough to see our way down to treeline on the ridge of our choosing.
Telemark Snowshoeing – Or someone wants a GPS for Christmas
Once we got down to treeline, the winter snowpack was there to greet us. The ridge felt steep, so we stuck to the axis of the ridge whenever possible. Funny, across the way the ridge looked so mellow. Maybe it was just exhaustion setting in that made it feel steeper. Post holing shortly followed the arrival to the trees. For a while we suffered, as none of us felt we could control our snowshoes on that steep of a slope. But once the slope mellowed, we put them on. Didn’t really stop the post holing, but it was slightly easier. Soft powder was followed by breakable crust and of course some bullet proof snow in random variations along the ridge. Plenty of falling and shin busting was occurring by all. At least at times we could “telemark snowshoe”, to make the descent easier. Unfortunately my snowshoe tips kept plunging into the snowpack, so some rather funny falls were had!
During our descent Caroline’s gaiter broke, and Kiefer had to break out some webbing and his knife to jerry-rig a replacement strap. Meanwhile my not quite so collapsible ski poles were creating havoc on my pack (we were using ice axes on the steep section), and the baskets by the end of the night, were rather shredded as they caught on the tree branches above and below the snow surface.
Kiefer using webbing to fix Caroline's gaiter
Part way down, I took over the lead for a while, as Kiefer was postholing like mad and cursing each time. I also was one of the few with a GPS and a burning desire to get off the mountain with as straight a line as possible, and no accidental left turns or weaving around. While I don’t rely on a GPS, in situations like walking in the woods at night without a trail, they are so very handy!
Wow, downhill trench breaking is tough work! Float, float, float, sink, fall, get up, sink, swim, float, float, slip n slide, fall…. I’m not sure how I was getting ahead of the group leading, but maybe it was my desire to get off the darn mountain! Eventually I was exhausted. I had post holed and fell one too many times, that I just stayed down and waited for the group. Here Kiefer took over again and got us down to the last obstacle, the headwall to the valley below. Choice: steep wind loaded snow slope or steep dry icy rocky slope. Went with the latter, as finally we could take off the snowshoes for the remainder of the trip. We bee-lined for the road below, and after a short flat road walk, we were back at the cars. 16+ hours on a mountain… but we were successful and safe.
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