| Skiing 6 Peaks in 4 days
Firstly, I would like to thank all of the veterans, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice, this Memorial Day weekend. Because of you, I’m free to be myself and live the life I choose.
Secondly, the life I choose to live has been labeled insane, entertaining, masochistic, or some combination of all three. Abandon all hope of people behaving rationally ye who read on from here.
So 18 months after I had moved from Utah to Colorado and endured two snow starved and work travel obliterated ski seasons, I was starting to become unglued. Luckily, my work situation has improved (less travel), and I was rejoicing as storm after storm rolled through Colorado in April. Granted, I was out working somewhere in Alabama or some equally world class skiing destination at the time, but it meant that soon I’d actually have some time to ski and some snow to facilitate said skiing.
Desperate to get out and make some turns, I had quietly set a goal to ski 6 14ers in 4 days over Memorial Day weekend. Most of my friends already think I’m loony, but skiing 6 peaks in 4 days would have made most of my friends look at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead. I thought something like 1 peak Friday, 2 Saturday, 1 Sunday, and 2 Monday could be possible, and what’s life without ambition anyway?
I decided to take off Friday and get an early start since the walls were starting to close in, and I needed to feel the joyous hypoxia of climbing and skiing at 14,000 ft. Luckily, my good friend Ben who I’ve skied with for 8 years in the Wasatch backcountry is easily talked into ridiculous forays of long duration in the skin track. Ben agreed to meet me for two days in the Sawatch since it sounds like the Wasatch and I told him the snow was just as good.
Ben embraces the fast and light ethos of ski mountaineering more completely than I do, and I knew we would be able to cover some serious ground in the two days he was free. Our plan was to ski the Missouri, Belford, and Oxford group over the course of two days. Since we were unsure of the weather and snow conditions and were concerned about a potentially weak refreeze, we headed up the Missouri Gulch trailhead on Friday May 24 at 4:23AM give or take 23 seconds.
Ben cruising through Missouri Gulch. Climbing with Ben this is the common view. You get to recognize his back really well.
Ben is properly fast and we wasted no time in blitzing the Missouri summit somewhere around 8 AM despite guessing the wrong couloir to climb to the summit and having to make a little bit of a ridge scramble to reach our objective. While on the summit we discussed the fact that the wind was keeping the snow from softening, it was still early, and Mt. Oxford looked really close. (It’s not as close as it looks by the way.)
Rather than wait around for the north facing terrain on Missouri to soften, we decided that it was perfectly skiable and if we were going to pull off a hat trick of skiing Missouri, Oxford, and Belford in one day, then we had better get a move on. So Ben dropped the couloir from the summit and we started down to the basin. It was his first 14er ski descent, and although the snow was firm, the skiing still induced wide grins for each of us.
Ben dropping in.
After reaching the basin, we transitioned back to uphill mode and skinned up above Elk Head pass and then the shoulder of Mt. Belford before skiing down to the saddle that separates Oxford and Belford. At this point in time the wind was turning into a love/hate relationship. We loved it for keeping the snow cool, dry, and stable, but it was punishing us on the exposed ridge on the way to Oxford. Luckily there was a ribbon of snow leading to the Oxford summit that somehow was clinging to the rocks so we made our way up.
The road to Oxford.
A couple of hours after skiing his first 14er, Ben was now on the summit of his second. Since I had jokingly made a point of stepping on the USGS marker for the Missouri summit so that it would be an “official” summit ski, Ben decided he would do the same for Oxford. As it turned out, it was a slightly more of a crux move on Oxford. Naturally with the Utah/Colorado ski rivalry always making for entertaining jabs and trivial one-upmanship, I followed suit and struck a gangly and awkward pose stepping across the marker and then off of the cairn to the snow.
Ben striking the best modified Captain Morgan pose ever.
As it turned out, it was fortunate that we had been acting like a bunch of idiots at the summit, because there were going to be a lot of rocks to hop, traverse around, and accidentally ski over on the northwest face of Oxford, so it was a good thing we practiced before our descent. We knew the skiing was not going to be as spectacular as Missouri, so we just headed down and decided to get it over with and head on to Belford. However, in reality, there were some nice patches of snow and we linked turns the face and then donned skins once again to achieve the saddle and then slog over to the summit of Belford.
If you were ever wondering why you haven't seen a magazine on the news stand entitled, "Rocks mixed with patches of snow," now you know.
What seemed like an eternity later, I finally crested the summit of Belford and noticed that Ben, who had probably been there waiting for me for what likely seemed like an eternity to him, had skied down from the summit to get out of the wind. The body language said it all. We were worked.
Nap time at 14k.
I ripped skins once again, took a few photos, and skied down the ridge to get a shot of Ben completing his third 14er ski descent of the day. I’m not sure how many people have skied 3 14ers on their first attempt at skiing a 14er, but Ben did it with style. All joking aside, that Utah guy can flat out ski and climb.
Last descent for the day.
While Missouri had a nice aesthetic face with supportable snow, skiing 3500 feet direct from the summit of Belford back to the hiking trail was a gem. It would have been nice if I had felt a little less destroyed and had the legs to really open it up on the descent. But, before I called upon my legs made of jelly once more, I took a picture of the face of Oxford and of Missouri.
Our route on Oxford reminded me of Rocky Horror Picture show except for the cross dressing, which probably would have made the skiing more entertaining.
It may not be as shocking as Tim Curry in fishnets, but it's not the most beautiful ski line out there either.
Missouri looks far more majestic with a great line dropping directly from the summit.
Now that's more like it.
Meanwhile, back in the moment, I was trying to coax my legs into enjoying some corn snow in the gully on our way back to the trail and out Missouri Gulch. Based on the fact that I was able to ski it at that point, I can say with high confidence that the snow conditions were superb and could even be described as the elusive hero snow. That’s the only logical explanation I have for not ending the day in spectacular yard sale fashion.
The road to burgers and beer.
So that was day one. Now all I had to do was ski one peak per day for the next three days which was nice, but on the other hand, I did not expect to have skied the entire group of peaks in one day which meant that I had to come up with a new plan.
I called on Jordan for some route information since he is the one responsible for getting me started on skiing 14ers, and after some review it seemed like the most logical route for Saturday would be the north face of Huron. Since it was nearby, had a much shorter approach from the 4x4 trailhead, and would round out the drainage nicely in two days, Ben and I made our plans to head up the trail starting at a leisurely 6:20 AM the next morning and retired at the witching hour of 7PM that night.
We drove the 4x4 road to the Huron trailhead Saturday morning and started up the hiking trail feeling better than anticipated. Our spirits were undoubtedly lifted by the incredible ski terrain in the vicinity. We were there for Huron, but the couloirs on Ice Mountain beckoned like the Sirens’ Song.
So much terrain, so little time.
Regaining focus, we motored towards the north facing ramp which leads to the summit of Huron. As we approached and caught a glimpse of the summit, I heard Tim Curry in my head singing, “Let’s do the time warp again,” as the rocky face caught the morning light. Oh well. I figured I hadn’t developed those hop scotch skills in second grade for nothing, and we’d find a way off of the summit through the rocks somewhere.
It didn't look spectacular, but we figured it would go.
Ben, as usual, was out front and picking a line up through the rocks towards the summit.
Our expectations were not sky high at this point.
Much to my surprise and relief, the summit actually turned out to have a clean line hidden amongst the rocks. Ben made full use of the ribbon of snow and headed off the summit towards the north facing ramp we had ascended.
Enjoying the descent once again.
Once we regained the ramp, we had a wide open full throttle descent. It’s amazing that little ski mountaineering skis can carve that fast if you let them. Ben was making like Ted Ligety and arched down the face with some serious velocity. I soon followed.
Find the speeding speck!
After catching up with Ben at the base of the ramp, we zig zagged out the basin and headed for the trailhead feeling good about skiing 4 peaks in 2 days.
Ben had to drive back to Utah on Saturday afternoon, so I headed back towards the Front Range hoping that I could talk Jordan into skiing something with me on Sunday. He was skiing Cristo Couloir on Quandary, and we had already skied the east face earlier in the spring, so I decided that I would go solo on Sunday and try to knock off another peak. Knowing that the Southern Sawatch is not the snowiest place on earth, and that I had seen that Princeton had an obvious ski route from the summit on the way home, I decided I would get up in the middle of the night and drive back out to Buena Vista and ski Mt. Princeton.
So after a 2:15 AM wake up call, brown pants inducing drive up the Mt. Princeton road in the dark in a crew cab long bed truck, and 5:30 AM walking start, I was on the trail once again and soon had my first look at my objective.
Princeton's east face.
I met up with two other climbers heading for the early morning summit and we were able to make quick work of the climb thanks to a boot ladder that had been trampled into place by heavy traffic earlier in the weekend.
Having recovered somewhat on Saturday during the Huron ski trip, I was able to make good time to the summit in around 3 hours. I waited for another half hour at the summit so that the snow would soften, and then the nice gentlemen from Boulder I had met on the climb snapped a picture for me before I grabbed my pack and headed down.
Didn't even break the camera.
The east facing snow had corned up perfectly, and I was able to relax and making some sweeping turns down to the gully.
From here, the best route is to climb back up and regain the trail where it pops over the ridge into the east facing drainage of Mt. Princeton. It looks like you can cut across one scree slope and return to the road without any climbing but don’t be fooled. That is extremely ill advised.
View toward Buena Vista
So after safely returning to the truck and then my house, I talked to Jordan about day 4. I wanted something closer and easier for number 6 of the weekend. Since the Mt. Evans road had recently opened, we decided we would rendezvous the next morning for sixth 14er of the weekend.
To say that I felt like crap when I woke up Monday morning would be a real disservice to crap and all it stands for, but my goal was within sight, so I somehow staggered out to the truck and met up with Jordan at Bergen Park and headed up to Summit Lake. Fortunately, he took one look at me and, after he quit laughing, offered to drive which was deeply appreciated.
We arrived at Summit Lake and decided that we would head up the face, try to work through whatever narrow band of snow was available to the ridge and then on to the summit.
Evans from Summit Lake
After some particularly leisurely skinning, it was time to get down to business. While Evans has the benefit of a car approach to snow line, there’s nothing easy about the climb. I was able to make use of a boot ladder leftover, but still had to kick some steps in and make a few mixed moves to pull the summit ridge. I was definitely awake at that point since that type of climbing tends to focus one’s attention.
It's not as steep as it looks Mom.
Jordan, meanwhile, decided to take a slightly more direct option which looked like it had more secure climbing. However, I wasn’t sure that our little ribbon of snow that we had seen from the car would facilitate a summit descent, so I decided to climb it and get an up close look.
Once we gained the ridge and started for the summit, the prospect of a ski descent from the summit started to look bleak. Hoping for the best, we trudged along the ridge and made it to the summit. Wonder of wonders, a little patch of snow slithered all the way up and adjacent to the USGS marker. I was all smiles, except even my face muscles were tired at this point and this is all I could muster.
Yes I like sunscreen with zinc in it. I'm Welsh therefore I burn.
Once more, from the top with feeling . . .
Serious skiing meant serious boots.
I was able to ski from the summit. It was skiing because I had skis on my feet. Although, I’m not sure who was having a harder time, me trying to billy-goat down through the boulders from snow patch to snow patch or the folks in tennis shoes trying to climb to the summit from the parking lot. In any event, I’m sure it made for an amusing freak show for the folks that were watching.
It's as rocky hoppingly fantastic as it looks.
Happy to have the summit behind me, it was time to figure out how to get back to Summit Lake. Jordan was scoping the line and had some doubts as far as whether or not it would go. Having climbed it, I was pretty sure we could make it work with some help from the friendly looking rocks in the choke. On the way up, they assured me that they wouldn’t rip out an edge or eat too much P-tex.
Jordan taking a look.
With some careful side stepping over some rocks, I was able to negogiate the little chute and make a few jump turns to get out onto the face. Jordan followed and did an excellent job of working through the rocks.
Once he was through, it was time to take a deep breath and let it rip.
After skiing the face, I was relieved to be down and also pleasantly surprised to have linked up the summit and completed my goal of skiing 6 peaks in 4 days. This four day weekend doubled my total descents from 6 to 12 and had a good mix of some technical chute skiing, long wilderness approaches, mellow corn snow arcing, spectacular scenery, and time with close friends. That’s what skiing 14ers is all about, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.
Route went through the little ribbon at the top in the center of the frame.
I think I'll take tomorrow off and get up at 5 AM and go to work.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):