| Quandaree, Quandarah
Greetings, fellow Bergvagabunden. This is the first of what I hope will be many happy stories. Allow me a brief explanation before I begin. I spent all of February and March this year pacing my living room with my right arm in a sling due to shoulder surgery. I tried to deal through therapeutic shopping, but in the end the only thing that relieved my frustration was making a decision, after dreaming about it for years, to commit to skiing the Grand Slam. Having lived most of my life in Colorado, I have climbed a few 14ers and skied a couple, but the Quest begins right here.
"Fifty percent of genius is just showing up" - Woody Allen
Having April 27 free, and thinking Quandary is nice and accessible, I set about finding some companions to climb and ski the Cristo Couloir. The weather had been pretty unsettled lately; I drove to the trailhead the day before to check things out, looked up every source of weather information I could find, and eventually decided that it was worth being there on Monday morning, ready to go but prepared to bail right then and there. After some cajoling and bullying, three of my friends agreed to meet me at the trailhead - maybe just to shut me up, or maybe because I promised to buy them breakfast if we called off the climb. Here are the intrepid souls who showed up:
L to R: Kris, Tom, Bonedale Dolly, Pioletski. Note that Tom has thoughtfully brought his raft, just in case.
The weather at this point looked promising: about 28 degrees and breezy, but sunny - certainly not the storm that the Weather Channel predicted. With guarded optimism we hiked the 2 miles from the snow closure to the Blue Lakes...
Hiking the road. Cristo Couloir at the skyline.
At the dam, the wind was howling. We found a sheltered (NOT!) spot to gear up for the ascent:
No place to hide...
Here we dressed, ate, checked avy transceivers, calibrated the altimeter, checked the radar range, got our clearance, Clarence, got the vector, Victor, and roger, Roger, we're off. We were in for one bitter disappointment:
And I schlepped the beach ball all this way!
Starting uphill in earnest, we almost literally stumbled on a brace of ptarmigan:
From the base of the couloir, the task consists of placing one foot above the other. Just like a Stairmaster, only more fun, more scenic, more interesting, more satisfying, more difficult, more dangerous... ok, so actually it's not the same at all. We wuz a-kickin' and a-stompin' and we done stomped our way right up that there mountain:
Pioletski doin' the stomp
Dolly, Kris and Tom doin' the stomp
By this time the wind had mostly abated and we were enjoying a cool but perfect bluebird day. The going was easy enough that the axes and 'pons never came out of our packs. Conversation ranged from our luck with the weather to the timeless dignity of the high mountains. Gradually we watched Mt. Lincoln peep, then rise like the moon, then rear like a horse, above the ridgeline to the south of us, and eventually we arrived at the summit.
As expected, it was cold enough to keep the snow in good shape, but we found pretty pleasant conditions at the summit. The obligatory summit photos:
L to R: Kris, Pioletski, Tom, looking east
Dolly and Pioletski, looking west
Time came to click into the skis. No problem making tracks from the summit today.
Pioletski leaves the summit
We picked our way through a thin spot about a quarter of the way down...
Reef dead ahead, Captain...
...and let 'em run.
Dolly. This picture doesn't really do her justice, but it's the best I got.
Pioletski. Note the tracks below; we exchanged a friendly wave with a solo skier who was making great turns while we were climbing.
Tom, dropping the knee.
And saving the best for last. Kris really seemed to have his game on today.
And so we skied down to the road, picked our way to the car, and repaired to Fatty's for beer and pizza. Thus are the faithful rewarded: we had a glorious day of spring skiing, where we all expected things to be marginal at best and would not have been surprised to have had to abort the entire undertaking.
Notes on snow conditions: Most of the depth of the snow in the couloir is nicely compacted and consolidated. The exposed surface of that part, however, is covered by the red dust that blew down from Mars a few weeks ago, so it will age differently and melt faster than the snow that is concealed by more recent deposition. Last week's storm left some drifts, up to about 10" deep in places, whose surface has developed a brittle crust with sugary snow underneath. This is a pain in the butt going up, and makes life more interesting for the T-mark skiers, but it is limited to fairly small isolated patches so it doesn't look dangerous. In the last 48 hours a bit more snow was deposited by new fall and wind. It seems to have bonded quite well to the snow underneath, but being wind-deposited, it has some internal stratification of its own. It is not deep enough to create anything more than a surface slough, and it made for fabulous skiing.
Thanks to Dolly, Kris and Tom for coming out to play, and thank you for reading this TR. Any and all comments welcome. I look forward to meeting some of you at the Snowmass Creek trailhead on May 1.
All photos by Pioletski, except where someone else (obviously) borrowed the camera.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):