The plan was to meet Keith K and Nate H at 5:30am at the snow closure on the Blue Lakes Road, jaunt up the couloir to the summit, and have a nice ride back down. Sounds simple, right? Well, let's rewind about 24 hours first..
Saturday, May 9th, 8:30am
Pulling into the Berthoud Pass parking area, I met Justin B for some morning corn laps. Mark E was supposed to be with us, but he was sleeping off a hangover . We skinned up CO Mines Pk and took a jarring ride down hard cement on Mines 1. Water/food/transition and we were skinning up Vortex. A few hundred feet up and I got a call on the radio from Mark. He was managing an emergency corn salvage operation, and had just pulled up to the pass! Like Han Solo crashing the party, he had unsuspecting tie fighters in his sights. He had wanted Mines 1 for a while now, and now was the day to bulls-eye his Womp rat.
Mark above Mines 1:
Around the time Justin and I summitted the 12800' false summit just west of Mt Flora, Mark found his starting point. I directed him onto his line, and we started our 2000' descent by picking thin lines through the rocky tundra. Mark skied out Seven Mile picking up an unbelievable 2600' vert run, and hitched back to the pass before Justin and I finished Vortex. He picked us up at the second switchback, and shortly thereafter victory was celebrated at the pass with beer and rum.
Scott sliding on snow and flying through the air on Vortex:
Sunday, May 10th, 4:30am
Noise. Phone's screaming. Head's pounding. Damn, what's her name? Shit, one hour! Where the hell am I? I jumped out of bed, threw on yesterday's clothes, added some digits to the phone, and stumbled out the door. I wasn't quite sure where I was, but I somehow reasoned that if you're lost in Breckenridge, go downhill. It worked. As I walked down deserted Main Street, I pieced together the previous evening's festivities.
Not my pic - just trying to keep the flow:
There was my phone, the time starting with "2:". There were heroic battles of 9-ball, endless 24 oz cans of PBR, and women. Seems like there were some out of towner's bitching about loosing a basketball game on a bad call. Wow. During mud season in Breck everything is 2-for-1 including dinner entrees, drinks, women, and fun. Ullr's is permanently on my map now. And yes, it was freaking worth it.
How I roll:
I stumbled into my room at the Fireside and grabbed my bag off the unused bed. "Close the door, dude.." Quick change and wash the face. Head still pounding. Drink some water. Wake up driving, halfway to the TH. Keith and Nate. Astonished or amused? Maybe both.
It was much darker than this:
(TH beta: I drove my Accord about 3/4 of a mile past the East Ridge parking turnoff. Keith's truck made it about halfway to the dam. It's probably clear to within 1/4 mile now.)
Four vitamin-I's and a liter of Gatorade later, we're hiking up the road and right past the base of the couloir. Twenty minutes later, we're climbing cross country to get back to the couloir. Finally on-route and it's time to don the sharp and pointies. It's snowing lightly.
Nate and Keith hiking right past the couloir start:
I'm stepping and pushing and the quads start telling me the story of how great last night was in that annoying condescending "I-told-you-so" kind of tone. Shut up. Push. Double-breathe every step, five breaths after five steps. Again. Again. The blood is pounding in my ears and I'm thankful I skipped dinner and breakfast or steak and eggs would be glissading Cristo right about now.
I usually say that I'm the fastest hiker of my friends, but slower than the slowest trail runner. Best of the worst, and worst of the best. As the wind picks up and the snow falls harder I'm smashing my will against the wall. Gasping, I turn back for a moment, and Nate and Keith are there just kind of looking at me. I'm glad I can't quite make out their expressions.
There's another skier hiking above us, about 100 yards away. I make it my goal to catch up to him. Small goals are easier to chase, especially if they're slowing creeping away. Turns out he's a nice older guy named Jim from Durango who's just plodding away. I swallow my pride and follow his steps. At this point, I'm 100% sure I will not see the summit this day.
Old man winter has returned from spring break, and I wasn't expecting the company. Only two things kept me moving up the endless snow - stubbornness, and not enough insulating layers to stop and rest for more than five minutes. At one point, I laid down on my face to rest for two minutes and fell asleep. I was a bit startled to wake up 60 seconds later in crampons on a steep snow slope.
Nate and Keith climbing:
Eventually Jim stopped for a longer break, and when I started going numb five minutes later I pushed on. Kick, kick. Push. Breathe. Breathe. Curse. I pushed on to near the top of the couloir in what was now an intermittent white-out. During my 2395'th five minute break (please don't do the math), Nate passed me and started putting the steps in, and Keith is right behind us. Ah, another motivation - damned if the both of them summit and I don't.
Check the GPS and we're within five hundred feet of the summit. Top of the snow. Scree, false summit, curse. I can't make it. Despondence. Just then a small window opened in the white and there was the summit, 100 feet above us. Now I'm really pissed. Turns out, just pissed enough to stumble up the scree. There was a time when I was really concerned about walking on rocks in my delicate aluminum crampons. Guess I killed that idea with beer.
Summit. Wind shelter. Collapse. Sleep... I fade back in as my unconscious mind somehow keys in on a series of noises. It's Jim. He's talking. No, wait, he's offering Nate some Jack Daniels! I'm up. The curiously strong medicine water does the trick. I'm warming back up and ready to get down to my bed and a proper day and a half of sleep.
Nate on the summit:
As we collect ourselves and prepare to move off, the clouds break for just a moment and we can finally see North Star Mtn and Monte Cristo Creek. There is something about finally getting the view from the summit when you've been blinded for the whole climb that lights my soul on fire. This is what I needed, and I knew I would get down not only safely, but I'd have a blast doing it.
I retrace my steps down a few hundred feet to the top of a nice powder field and strap on my Venture Divide splitty. Hmmm, should have just carried the K2 resort board or my Dynastar's. A few ski cuts breaks off a soft slab of fresh powder about 3" deep. Hmmm, better be careful above the rocks. Turns, butt scooting through rocks, more turns.
Jim working through the rocks:
BLISS OF GLISS
After about 300' of descent, the white-out broke again and now we could see the full couloir down to the dam. What an amazing view. As soon as the sun hit it, the fresh powder started getting heavy. The soft slabs are quickly replaced with mashed potato roller-balls. Nate skis, I ride, and Keith hikes and glissades back into a world of light and warmth. Riding in pitches and picking safe spots to regroup, we do our best to avoid sending a rain of roller-balls onto each other.
Looking down the couloir:
The snow is continuous and good all the way to within a few hundred feet of the dam. Nate and I take extra long breaks to keep Keith within eyeshot. At one point, Keith takes a glissade that gets going a bit too fast, but is able to recover. I'll let him comment on that in more detail.
Looking up the couloir towards Keith:
Back at the base of the coiloir, Jim offers more Jack and we strip off some layers. It's a completely different world than it was six hours prior. We hike back to the vehicles, trade numbers, finish the Jack, start on the Captain, and finally start rolling back to the rest of our lives. A double-shot venti coffee makes a poor effort to keep me awake. I wake up passing a pickup on I-70. Oops.
Nate skiing the couloir:
Three pounds of Beau Jo's pizza and three cups of coffee later, we're back off again. Home, bed, and back at work. Hmmm, wow. What's next?
Google Earth snap of GPS track:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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