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When the East Ridge gets hairy - Winter has arrived!
Mt Yale and Mascot Peak
Trailhead: Avalanche Gulch Route: East Ridge, with Descent off of Mascot Peak SE ridge Elevation Gain: 5,242' Mileage: 8.6 Time: 16+ hours Snowshoe Telemarkers: Caroline, Keifer and I Guest appearances by: Korean team - Jason, Jim & Shawn
The winter 14er list is not exactly one of my high priority lists at present. The joys of breaking trail, long approaches, cold, wind, navigation, all lead me to want to do this sort of masochistic activity only sparingly. It's not as if post-holing to ones nether regions with snow shoes on is fun, no? I much prefer to be on skis anyway. But this winter is a weird one. The snowpack is primed for incredibly large and dangerous avalanches. The snow feels incredibly stable on the surface, but below lurks the danger. So while it may be difficult to trigger, once it does, it will go big. Last year I skied 3 14ers in calendar winter, this year - 0. Better safe, than sorry!
But, it's March, and I still haven't attempted a 14er this winter... So when Caroline asked if I wanted to join her and Kiefer on Yale, I thought, why not. Winter is almost over. Somehow I need to get into shape for 14er ski season (if the snowpack ever stabilizes with enough snow left!).
None of us had summited Mascot Peak yet, and as such, we ran through the ways to tag that on to the route. Choices: Denny Creek and car shuttle, or Avy Gulch and a loop. We went with the latter, so that Caroline could also get another goal of hers: second route on all 14ers. We had hoped that someone had attempted this route on Saturday, but nope. So for those trench poachers - there is one - but buyer beware!
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!
After having a grand ol time at Pink Vail on Saturday, Caroline and I head down to BV to meet Kiefer. At o-dark, umm light 6am-ish we arrive at the trailhead. As we get ready to go, another car pulls up with 3 guys. Sweet! More trail breakers! We started off first, but 0.3mi in, Caroline realizes that her camera is sitting on top of the Jeep. She quickly ran back and got it, but the team of 3 passes us.
Up the initial switchbacks on the first slope, we begin to wonder why we are wearing snowshoes. So we take them off. Of course, a short time later the snow gets deeper, but we plod on without. Turning the corner and getting into the trees, we put them back on. From there, we needed them until we reached the ridge.
At 10,600', the jog to the west on the trail, was missed by the first group, and as we just followed tracks, we all ended up doing some annoying side hilling and tree climbing. So utilizing my GPS, we take a bearing and just head for the ridge ahead. Looking at our tracks on the map, we ended up where we needed to go, and that's all that really matters.
Since we caught up with the other group, the 4 guys took turns breaking trail. I am the ghost elf, and float easily on my tiny feet uphill, and Caroline packed the wrong snowshoes and was sinking, even after 5 set of feet packed down the trail. Getting to that ridge took longer and was more effort intensive than the remaining 2.4K vert to the summit and on to Mascot. But that's winter conditions for ya! As we neared the ridge, the sun and snow started to get friendly, and our snowshoes got heavier and more snow encrusted with each and every step. Kiefer ended up breaking one of his carbon fiber poles in his futile attempt to keep the snow from balling up under his feet.
The East Ridge: The gift that keeps on giving
Finally up on the ridge, we take a break for food and take off the snowshoes for the remainder of the climb up. The views are amazing, as there is nary a cloud in the sky. We know the time, we know we are late, we know a summit push will therefore be a very very late affair. But there is a ¾ moon on this eve that will assist us on our descent. We have headlamps, I have a GPS, we've done this before. So we make the command decision to go for it. We feel strong, and are capable of the task at hand. When the other group catches up, and after already talking about the possibility of teaming up on the night descent, they also agree to go for it.
The ascent on the east ridge goes smoothly and reasonably quickly. With the snow, there are some more interesting (ie hairy) sections navigating some of the rocky prominences, but we steadily make upward progress. We keep our sights on the mini-diamond feature up on the ridge. In my mind I know it's a false summit, but the heart wants to believe its not as false as it turned out to be. Topping out on that rocky false summit, the exclamations of disappointment are hard to ignore, and as I reach the view of how much farther we have to go, my heart sank a notch or two.
The closer we get to the summit, the more bulletproof the snow becomes, and I decide to strap on my yak tracks. As we kick steps and carefully cross the snowfields, we are jealous of the micro spikes of the other group. They were already on my REI dividend list for this year, but now, I think they are on everyone's. Since while the yak tracks did well, it would have been nice to have some more grip.
After what feels like an eternity, we reach the summit. It's going to be a short break, so I eat some bacon, drink some fluids, snap some pics, tighten the boots, and we're off for Mascot Peak.
We back-track the ridge until we find a good descent path to the saddle. The rock/scree was loose, but at least it was dry. The west side of the ridge was fairly wind blasted, and we made it to the summit of Mascot Peak for sunset. Snap some pics, keep going...
I wanted to make it down from the summit as quickly as possible so that we could get a visual bearing of our descent ridge. There are 3 ridges that branch off on the descent, and we made it to the first branch where I make sure we stop as a group to discuss and look at our maps and GPS. I didn't want haste in our tired and slightly dehydrated states to take us down the wrong path. Thankfully civil twilight lasted just long enough to see our way down to treeline on the ridge of our choosing.
Telemark Snowshoeing - Or someone wants a GPS for Christmas
Once we got down to treeline, the winter snowpack was there to greet us. The ridge felt steep, so we stuck to the axis of the ridge whenever possible. Funny, across the way the ridge looked so mellow. Maybe it was just exhaustion setting in that made it feel steeper. Post holing shortly followed the arrival to the trees. For a while we suffered, as none of us felt we could control our snowshoes on that steep of a slope. But once the slope mellowed, we put them on. Didn't really stop the post holing, but it was slightly easier. Soft powder was followed by breakable crust and of course some bullet proof snow in random variations along the ridge. Plenty of falling and shin busting was occurring by all. At least at times we could "telemark snowshoe", to make the descent easier. Unfortunately my snowshoe tips kept plunging into the snowpack, so some rather funny falls were had!
During our descent Caroline's gaiter broke, and Kiefer had to break out some webbing and his knife to jerry-rig a replacement strap. Meanwhile my not quite so collapsible ski poles were creating havoc on my pack (we were using ice axes on the steep section), and the baskets by the end of the night, were rather shredded as they caught on the tree branches above and below the snow surface.
Part way down, I took over the lead for a while, as Kiefer was postholing like mad and cursing each time. I also was one of the few with a GPS and a burning desire to get off the mountain with as straight a line as possible, and no accidental left turns or weaving around. While I don't rely on a GPS, in situations like walking in the woods at night without a trail, they are so very handy!
Wow, downhill trench breaking is tough work! Float, float, float, sink, fall, get up, sink, swim, float, float, slip n slide, fall.... I'm not sure how I was getting ahead of the group leading, but maybe it was my desire to get off the darn mountain! Eventually I was exhausted. I had post holed and fell one too many times, that I just stayed down and waited for the group. Here Kiefer took over again and got us down to the last obstacle, the headwall to the valley below. Choice: steep wind loaded snow slope or steep dry icy rocky slope. Went with the latter, as finally we could take off the snowshoes for the remainder of the trip. We bee-lined for the road below, and after a short flat road walk, we were back at the cars. 16+ hours on a mountain... but we were successful and safe.
What a fabulous recollection of our Ironman day Otina! The TR made me laugh! And awesome photos too.
Some of the more notables from the trip:
-Word of the day: ”hairs”
-Kiefer's trekking pole, my gaiter, and your baskets breaking
-Me breaking my own trail up and down courtesy of the wrong snowshoes
-Sunset from a 13er
-Teaming up with our new friends
-The amazing post-holing which I know we all just couldn't get enough of.
To Kiefer - thank you so much for my rigged gaiter, I don't know how I would have gotten down without it!
To Otina - for your super awesome navigation in the dark; I wish I could have helped more but, alas, found myself breaking my own trail again.
I really enjoyed hiking with both of you again - good times with good friends during a long winter ascent.
Let's start taking donations to buy Kiefer his own GPS for his birthday!
Who would have thought ~3.3 miles could take SO long to hash through!? That the south side slopes would contain vastly more snow than the north?! That simple class-2 ridge hiking would take as long as it did? That one could find the best of friends in total strangers (Jason, Jim & Shawn) and that some motels have absolutely no scruples in the housekeeping dept!?
Awesome write-up, Otina. This made me laugh more than a few times. The pictures came out swimmingly! Especially that fishbowl look of Caroline's shots.
I'm still absolutelty thrilled that we had a safe descent.
Sunday was definitely a solid example of what good freinds and company can do to improve everyone's spirits and make a good day, fantastic! The humour and exuberance of the day was palpable.
It was awesome to see you guys (Caroline, Otina) again.
Otina, that summit shot of the three of us on Yale, you have ”that look” that belongs in a fashion magazine! Everytime I look at it, I start smiling & chuckling!
Egogo (Jason), Jim and Shawn hopefully we can all do this again. We need to stay in touch, Jason.
Lucky, awesome, fantastic day to be with Otina, Caroline, and Kiefer.
With you folks' leading, it was most comfortable, enjoyable and memorable experience on mountain.
Our group wouln't even think about summiting on Yale if we were by oursleves.
Special thanks to Otina's vivid report, Caroline's awesome pictures, and Keifer....Hey~ you the man~
No kidding! After skiing all day at Vail, the only thing I was doing on Sunday was puttering around the house. Sounds like you guys had an excellent day and some fun hiking in the dark. Great job Otina, Caroline and Kiefer! And, Kiefer, nice pontoons.
Very impressive accomplishment taking the long way in winter. I tried a winter assent a couple of years ago and it damn near killed me. I will post the video of that debacle soon.
I found your photo's remarkable as well. The ”halo” is a postcard. First rate report!
Thank you so much for posting this. I am scouting for a trip for some visitors and this was on my list. Operative word - was. I'm glad you made it, but I think I'll subject them to something a little less grueling!
I think I've finally recovered from the sleep deprivation and muscle exhaustion... All that is left are the two lovely contusions on each cheek. A reminder for months of Ironman Yale!
Caroline - How did we keep smiling and laughing through 16+ hours of slogging... we must be a rare pair eh? There's always next time and hopefully less post-holing! What a weekend of fun and excitement!
Kiefer - That mountain seemed to throw everything it had at us! Good thing the weather was on our side! I still can't believe how long that descent took... I think sheer frustration and will propelled me down that slope - It truly was 'the longest mile' I've ever experienced! Not sure how you managed to take lead for so long, plowing through all that snow... brutal post-holing
Monster5 - Those are the largest snowshoes made, according to Kiefer, so I can only imagine that nothing other than the fattest skis would float!
Eric - Yale looks like it needs some spring sticky snow to be skiable. Way too many rocks showing still! Yes - we do need to ski something this year.
wooderson - Yeah, I'm kinda jealous of that fisheye effect! It was certainly a smorgasbord of a mountaineering day!
Papillon - Yes, Mascot added a certain - ”seriously, more?” to the day. None of us wanted to go back again to get this 13er alone. At least it was kind of a ”short cut”
geojed - I checked out your TR while I was researching routes. I know we would have a lot more snow than you experienced - hence the different route down Mascot.
Egogo - Glad you and your group had such a great time. It certainly makes all the hard work worth it when everyone's spirits and auras are so high and energetic!
Couloirman - Yep #14 is Harvard. I've skied it twice in 2 seasons, some spring sticky and it should be good to go. Still a bit rocky near the top and within the south couloir, but it would go.
Bill & Greg - Nope, no problem skiing the day before. Had a good paleo meal and was good to go!
Good job guys...sounds like it was a long day from talking to you, Kiefer, way to bag another winter 14er buddy!
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