For months and months I've cursed the summer heat and prayed for the bite of winter... until it came. Now I know a lot of you probably think I'm indestructible. I mean, why wouldn't you? I'm pretty awesome. But alas, I have a confession to make. Despite my intense love for winter, WINTER CLIMBING IS A PAIN IN THE REAR! And it's not even officially winter, is it? I guess it's just another tactic the glorious mountains are using to teach me that I'm not all that hardcore yet
Nevertheless, I am here to share my mistakes, lessons learned, and amazing views with those of you who dare attempt a snowy summit this season! Brace yourselves as the adventures of Lady McClimbsalot continue!
What a drive it was from Denver to Ouray! Hours flew by until we finally exited to CR 361. We had every intention of at least getting close to the 4WD TH... but the snow was unforgiving. We parked at the 2WD TH by the bathroom (awesome) and "made camp" (meaning we threw our sleeping bags in the back of the car). Surprisingly, I slept better in the back of that awesome car than I do at home. I'm naturally hot-blooded, so a teeth-chattering night in the middle of the mountains is something I dream about in between work shifts Can I tell you something about camping in the snow during a full moon? It is daytime all night. And not in a bad way. I woke up twice to use that awesome bathroom and the mountains were even more gorgeous than in the day with a backdrop of sparkling stars. Forgive me for not providing photos, but I was freezing my little behind off and the "good" camera was packed away. But seriously, pictures would only insult its beauty. Camp in the snow at least once. You will never regret it
We woke up "late" as opposed to our sometimes 3-4 am wakeups in summer. We piled on the winter gear - to include said "newbspikes." (Thanks for that, Monster5. Turd) ) Microspikes are a great investment. If you have zero need for them upwards, if there's any snow at all, you'll be grateful for them downwards. So if you were questioning whether traction was needed... I'd say, "... Yeahhhh," like that. Not, "Yes." Honestly after a while the Microspikes just started caking on "snowball" snow. It looked like I had a sexy pair of 90s platform shoes on. Snowshoes would've been prime... but I'll get to that in a bit
Following the 4wheelers' tracks
So much beautiful snow I can't take it!
Who loves postholes? WE LOVE postholes.
It took me all of 30 minutes to shred every bit of it and hike towards the base of Sneff in my tank top
IT'S HOT OUT
We had a tagalong named Cole for the first bit until we reached the 4WD TH. Lucky dude had his skins so he easily gained 4x's as much ground as we did as we sank up to our knees with every step. He graciously waited for us here and there until we had to part ways. His agenda was slightly easier... and WAY more fun than ours as he simply looked around for the snowiest slope, skinned on up it, and had a free run of fresh powder. We were jealous as we sat on the miserable uphill to the gully of Sneffels. It was pretty cool to be able to watch each others' progress and cheer the other on as we chose our routes
The SW ridge we decided against once we sank up to our knees
This is me saying "Sheeeeeit" after making little progress over so long a time period...
Hi! This is what "incline" means!
Now, my friends... I must pinch a bit of honesty into this batter of a story (that is now a cake, apparently)... I was NOT happy halfway into the knee-deep slog to the first pitch that we most definitely needed snowshoes for... but instead of telling you how hard and miserable it was, I'm going to advise you on some things you should do to make your winter climbing more pleasurable! BRING F*CKING SNOW SHOES. Yeah, this should've been a no-brainer, although I guess you don't know what you don't know... in that I don't own snowshoes so I just winged it. We literally post-holed 6 miles roundtrip unless you want to deduct the .023 miles of the notch and the actual summit Yeah, we could've had an easier time, but the stories are what make your adventures worth hearing, right? Right. So up we went in the slush and rock. If I could claim a name for the type of terrain we were on, as I've done with "piss me off gravel" (says GoingUp), then I'd dub this terrain "screw you no snow shoe." I mean... they really would've made all the difference. There were a number of times we both just face-planted and laid there a couple minutes. No words or explanations were needed because the other was accepting any break as a gift from God. After hours, we made it to the point where we break left and head up the gully.
I find this picture hilarious for two reasons. 1, I have absolutely NO IDEA why I'm smiling in it. I was beyond discomfort and fury at this point due to the steepness and deepness. 2, It was taken upside down. SWEET. We ascended to the point where we started searching for "the notch." Ohhhh, dear reader, let me tell you a story about this notch...
You see, there are no photos nor videos to portray the difficulty and fear that was overcome to summit this mountain. I have no idea what this mountain is like in summer conditions... but the notch itself had a good foot of snow lodged in its tight quarters. We cleared a path, if you could even call it that, and then proceeded to jam our axes INTO the rock to hoist our weight up. I was peeing my pants. It was definitely more challenging with my halfaslonglegs. I stood on the nub that was the only comforter of support at my feet, and looked heavenward. There were barely any handholds, and the only "step" I saw was almost out of reach. I pulled upwards and quickly grabbed hold of a nice bit of rock I'd been eyeing. Made it! Honestly, the mental preparation of that move is beyond words. Notch + Snow = Buckle the hell up. These "winter conditions" continually put me in my place, and I am grateful/terrified.
Luckily, very shortly after the death notch we reached the summit! I think it's funny the only other summit we've had to ourselves was Quandary of all places The weather this go-around was significantly better. No wind! But we were the only two souls to summit this beast Sunday. Boy, was it worth every grunt and regret I THOUGHT I had These views.... I'm not sure I can say anything about them. Just look. Wow.
Ah, there be PICKELS ON SNEFFELS! (See what I did there?)
Nick's amazing panorama skills!
Black rock with white snow. So gorgeous.
LOOK AT ME! I HOLD SIGNS!!!
Blue Lakes... though one's frozen
It blows my mind people doubt God exists
Cursed with hot blood!
More mountains in one view than I could ever imagine!
The burning in my calves, the discomfort of "winter boots," the fact it took me 8 attempts to make one step before the notch, ALL disappeared when I saw those snowcapped mountains. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why we climb. Not to post these fantastical pictures on 14ers or Facebook or whatever, but to DO it. I've questioned myself a lot during and after the last few mountains I've climbed because I've had to check myself whether I'm doing them because I have an agenda or because I love this sport. When there are biting winds in your face and tears in your eyes (Yes, that happened. Do NOT tell anyone...), it makes you think. "I would have so much more fun doing this in the summer when my water hasn't frozen and I can hear myself think over the wind..." or you can realize that you are pushing yourself farther than you ever thought possible. I'm not ashamed that I've conquered mountains with frozen tears on my face or a fake regret in the back of my mind. Whenever I get back to the car and am driving home, I take a moment to realize "I did that." Nothing more, nothing less. It's a conquer of self that puts self in perspective. This is why I love this sport. Not because it's "fun" or because I always "win," but because I am ALWAYS surprised at how much more I overcome than I think I can handle. I think that's pretty awesome.
Descending off the summit
Descending the notch was surprisingly easier than ascending, but still no cake walk. Good thing the pickles held up. I scooted, feet-first, and then jumped towards the rock wall to my left. It was a far better alternative than the steep, rocky slope of death to our right.
The best thing about winter climbing is GLISSADING. It took us 4 hours and 40 minutes to summit and I think around 2 hours to get back to the car! (Very rough estimates) But I will say I will take a frozen rear than redoing the postholes we made that morning ANY DAY
My face = Awesome.
We were fortunate enough to get within 1/2 mile of the car when, despite the forecast (imagine that, Colorado), it started SNOWING!!!!!! I love love LOVE the snow. Mostly when I'm not on a summit, but yes, I do love the snow, so I welcomed it excitedly
It started snowing right when we got back down to the 4WD TH
We made it to the car, greeting a passerby here and there, and drove out towards Ouray. To our surprise, we came upon a parked Jeep in an awkward/dangerous spot. We soon were distracted by what had stopped them... and then were thankful that hadn't been our fate. No details on who these people were or what they went through, but they had tumbled off a hairpin turn a day or two before us. Luckily we made it safely out... Even with great photos!
As we left we saw this Bronco. Never underestimate those hairpin turns.
Getting a perspective of the dropoff on the road in/out
Beautiful icicles that almost split my brain in two
Frozen waterfall plus aspens plus mountains. Perfect.
Now, dear readers, I know I make light of so many of our adventures. I mean, I carry a full jar of pickles in my pack to every summit. But in all honesty, this sport is something I never dreamed of... and not only that, but since embarking down the "mountain climbing path" I have been challenged, surprised, and pushed to my limit at every turn. The summits I've bagged started in a frenzy, and now the winter snows have not slapped, but PUNCHED me in the face to know my place and reconsider the amount of respect I hold for these beastly summits. There is NOT such a thing as an easy 14er, 13er, 12er, anything. We all have our own mountains, be them class 1, class 5, snow or no snow, it's not up to any of us to rank such a thing. All I know is that in the short months I've climbed, I've learned more about Colorado and especially myself than I could've ever imagined... and I really thank God for that. Hands down, He's the reason I am physically and mentally able. I am beyond grateful for that. I'd give my life for the beauty I've laid eyes on. Without hesitation. It's a weird, confusing, ununderstandable addiction we have... and I would've ever have it any other way
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