| Eolus Group - Weather and Rodents
After the Columbia/Harvard trip on Tuesday and Wednesday, I cleaned and repacked my gear for an early departure to the Eolus group Thursday morning. Our original plan was to go down last weekend, but the weather forecast was so dire we pushed it back a week. Though this week's forecast was only marginally better, it was Ryan's only available window, so we decided to give it a shot.
If successful this would leave him with only one more CO 14er to climb in order to complete his list. A little added pressure. I really wanted to ski the trio, but I knew the prospects were unfavorable this late in the year. The main goal of the trip was to get Ryan up these three summits. I went back and forth in my head on whether to tow a heavy pack, plus skis, all the way up to Chicago Basin. I finally sold myself that it would be good training for skiing Rainier the next week and threw them in.
We met in the Copper Mtn parking lot early Thursday and began the long drive to Durango. The drive was smooth in good weather. Our early arrival allowed us to shop for provisions and grab a good meal and better beers at Carver's.
We showed up at the train station at 8:30am with tickets in hand. Prices have apparently gone up again, $83 a head for a Needleton roundtrip. Ryan tried the trip last year and got weathered out, he was a little miffed at dropping even more money on the ticket this year. I must say though, it sure is a great way to get to a trailhead. The views were incredible as the train crept up the Animas River Canyon toward Silverton.
On the train ride up I could not help but consider Andy Dimmen's epic exploratory ski trip on these tracks earlier this spring.
With heavy packs riding high, we muscled the 6 miles up the Needle Creek Trail to 11,000ft in Chicago Basin. It took about 3 hours as we were slowed by a plethora of trees downed across the trail and of course the views.
We arrived at camp just before the storm and hurriedly erected the tent and organized camp. We were soon going through the familiar routine of tent-bound. The thunder, lightning, wind and precipitation danced it's tango outside the tent wall.
We ate, told stories and tried to ignore the possibility of not getting to climb the following day.
I hear Memorial Day is a circus in the Basin, but we were two of four total up there that night. A true gem in Colorado.
I sunk the earplugs deep into my ears and tried to get some rest. Around 2am the tent shook with something other than wind, it was Ryan (6'4" 210lbs) fighting a mouse that had found it's way into his hair. The animals are quite friendly up there.
Needless to say, it was a rough night's sleep for us. 5:30am came early and I was reluctant to crawl out of the bag given the still unsettled weather. We were finally moving by 7am, later than ideal, but the wind and cold temps would buy us time.
We moved well up to Twin Lakes as I continued to contemplate the wisdom of carrying my ski gear. I still had not gotten a clear view of any of the objectives and had a futile feeling toward the extra weight. Ryan, a fine skier, had opted to leave his boards behind.
As we entered the high basin between Sunlight and Windom, my attitude was refreshed. There was snow. But was there snow on the summits?
Sunlight on the left and Windom on the right:
Ryan laid a solid boot pack up the Red Couloir on Sunlight. A size 14 Koflach is good for that sort of thing. He was warming them up for his Tahoma Glacier attempt on Rainier the following week. Opposite side of the mountain as my trip but we may see each other on the summit.
I kept preparing myself to drop the skis as soon as the snow ran out, but it didn't. In fact it was surprisingly filled in. I had speculated that all the precip the last week was snow above 12,000ft, but I filed that thought under "over-optimism" in my head.
We climbed the last few hundred feet on snow and rock. I was totally surprised to see snow on the summit stretch.
We snapped pics on the summit in cloudy morning light.
Ryan headed down as he knew my descent would be faster. The skis went on and across the ledge I went. A little sketchy.
I negotiated down through the keyhole and then it was on.
Good continuous snow, save one 5 foot drop over some rocks. The snow needed a while to warm before the corn was ready to harvest, but given that we wanted to get Windom as well, I grinded the frozen snow down to the basin. Ryan said it sounded like an aircraft engine.
As I made my way down I took several looks at Windom's NW face. I really wanted to ski the Widowmaker Couloir, but wasn't sure if the snow was going to be in shape. I could also see a few rocks sticking out in center, other than that it looked well filled in.
I skied over to the west ridge and met Ryan for the mellow ascent to the summit.
The west ridge was a mellow and scenic climb to the summit. The weather cleared a little for us and the temps started to rise.
We topped out around 10am and after a few summit pics I started the descent.
The snow on the rollover down the face had a wintery appearance so I took a closer look at the internals before proceeding down the route. It seemed consistent and consolidated beneath, but I still turned cautiously before cutting across to the top of the Widowmaker. I peered down and it looked like a recycled powder paradise.
I noticed a little wind loading, so I moved slowly, yet deliberately into the line.
Wow was it good. A June highlight. I was extra alert, if not hesitant, about the ski since I was alone on the descent. However once I performed my due diligence I gained enough confidence to open it up a bit. It is June and it "should" be a spring snow pack but in CO you just can't take that for granted.
The damage, my line in the center and Ryan's glissade track far right:
The snow was excellent and I straight lined the apron back up onto the slopes of Sunlight to enjoy a little of the corn I missed earlier in the day.
Ryan tried to match my vert spending speed with some high powered glissading. I made it back to camp to enjoy lunch with the marmots.
The evening brought thinning clouds, plenty of scenery, some friendly wildlife, and the anticipation of tomorrow's weather.
I have to mention that the rogue mouse returned, to Ryan's distaste. At around 1:30am, I was awakened by Ryan trying to scoop it out of the tent. I removed my hat to see it running under my sleeping mat. We finally released the beast back to the great outdoors and milked a few more hours of rest from the night.
We were very pleased to see the moonlight shining through the tent walls as night turned to dawn. A quick check out of the vestibule revealed a flawless mountain sky above.
For most 14ers in CO, bad weather simply means another excuse to get out again. However with the time, money, and effort that goes into the Eolus group there is a little more on the line. Not to mention that these were 3 of the last 4 peaks for Ryan and there is a pretty serious party pre-planned on Humboldt this summer. The kind of pressure that can start to affect decision making.
Luckily he did not kill that mouse, so the Eolus Gods decided to let him pass. We were on the trail by 6am in chilly but benign weather. I once again took a leap of faith lugging my skis up to Eolus. I could see the peak well the previous day and the East Couloir was certainly in, but I had no idea what the west face looked like. Without good snow on the west face the summit link up to the couloir would not be possible. But, we didn't kill the mouse, so I packed the skis.
An early look at Mt. Eolus:
The morning was a real treat. We sported light footwear to 12,500ft and then threw on the heavier boots and crampons.
We met the base of the East Couloir at 13,600ft and topped out 20 minutes later.
I could tell that Ryan could taste the summit. The snow was starting to soften up and I was excited for the descent, whether it was in from the summit or not.
A quick traverse across the western slopes revealed decent snow coverage all the way up. I couldn't believe it. I would have bet 20 to 1 that all 3 wouldn't not be in.
Summit pics were taken.
The weather was starting to build just slightly, so we vacated the summit of Ryan's 2nd to last official 14er. I was able to hop a few turn down the west face and then pick my way over to the top of the East Couloir. Ryan was still descending, so I waited until I could see him give me the thumbs up at the bottom before beginning my ski.
The one let down of the day, corn turns back to ice when exposed to wind and shade. I was surprised that the snow had changed so fast, but it did. I jump turned down the narrow entrance in guarded form. As I moved lower it got better, but still below earlier expectations.
The apron below the couloir skied much better.
We relaxed lower down in the basin and enjoyed a mild day before returning to camp.
While packing up we realized that the locals had eaten Ryans new pole handles, my boot laces, and a hole in the bottom of the tent. Eolus ain't cheap.
We were soon trucking down the 6 miles toward the train stop.
I had stashed a little refreshment in Needle Creek, which topped off a fine trip.
Congrats Ryan, one more buddy. Lookng forward to it.