Peak(s):  Ice Mtn  -  13,951 feet
Date Posted:  05/27/2013
Date Climbed:   05/18/2013
Author:  MtnHigh
 Checking the Fridge for a beer  

The weekend of May 11-12, I took a Wilderness First Aid class at the Keystone Science School - our time outdoors as patients and responders was challenged by the snowy Gore and Tenmile ranges - they were constant reminders and temptations of the great conditions in the high country. I viewed CJW's trip report and decided that a long weekend in Winfield was the plan for the upcoming weekend. The next five days of warm weather baked the peaks and settled the fresh snow. I left Avon on Friday under sunshine and temps in the high sixties. My truck was loaded with all the toys, camping gear and a supply of Crazy Mountain's Old Soul Belgian Ale . The forecast was not exactly promising sunshine, but for once I was ok with cool temps and snow.

Winfield was a true ghost town - not another vehicle or person in sight. I set up camp with a view at the public campground, packed my gear, and got to sleep as quickly as possible. Even with my alarm set for 3:45, I woke up at 3:15 and was on the trail by 4:30. The road to the wilderness boundary was passable only for an ATV, with sizable patches of snow. Traveling at a casual saunter, finding leftover ski tracks on the snow patches, I was engaged in the endless spring debate - "do I keep post holing through this big patch of snow, or should I ski up for the next 200 feet?” After enjoying sunrise on the Apostles, I arrived at the Lake Ann/Apostle Basin trail split around 7:30, where the dirt ended and the snow began.

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Sunrise on the Tree Apostles


Following the ski tracks into the trees, I promptly lost the trail once the post holing started, even with skis on. After crossing the creek coming down from the East basin, I then headed up and right, up and right on the slope towards timberline. The higher I skied, the firmer the snow and the views started popping. I hit timberline around 9:30, and could finally see that I was around 12000 feet, and saw the melted skin track leading into upper Apostle Basin.

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Views at timberline

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closer look at Ice-West Apostle saddle


The snow was billiard-table smooth, and I could ski almost directly uphill, rarely slipping. The previous ski tracks were art drawn on the snow – figure 8’s below the upper rock band, lazy curves on the wide slopes below, all overlaying the graceful zigzags of the skin track that described the rolling slopes. Boy that powder must have been nice a week earlier!

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into the upper basin

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Huron & valley back to Winfield

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West Apostle

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Figure 8's


Arriving at the base of the Refrigerator in an hour, the clouds started to move in from the North. Resting against a convenient snowball once the angle got too steep for skinning; I quickly changed from skis to crampons, and started up the couloir around 10:30.

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Entering the couloir


The snow could not have been better – the baking had cleared the upper slopes of hanging snow, leaving just a crusty surface. I quickly settled into a rhythm of step step pick, step step pick, stop and breathe. The angle quickly increased to 50 degrees once I left the apron and got into the couloir proper.

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North Apostle


Up, up, breathe, look around, up, up, wow this is so much fun! The clouds started to get thicker, but that only kept the snow cooler. Yep, this looked just like that Coors Light commercial where the climber heads into the beer cooler.

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midpoint


Occasionally the sun would peek out, the temperature would increase, but then the occasional wave of snow came through as well. The slope angle increased to 57 degrees at the upper section; it was fun to look down past my heels to see my telemark skis resting far below.

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getting there

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about 57 degrees

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Looking down

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foot perspective

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upper pitch

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not a bad view


Reaching the top, I exited left onto the ridgeline, challenged to find good handholds on the first three feet of rock. I ditched my crampons, took a few deep breaths, and then tried to minimize the pucker factor while ascending the catwalk to the summit at 1:00. The clouds swirled around, giving glimpses of distant ranges, Taylor Reservoir, and nearby peaks.

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Huron in the clouds

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Taylor Park

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Huron & North Apostle


Ski tracks were still visible on North Apostle. Looking over the edge, my stomach leapt 1000 feet to the slopes below. Ok, time to get off this exposed hunk of rock, and start the long trek back. I always forget how challenging down climbing a catwalk can be, especially with only intermittent hand holds. Most times I remembered to just look at where I was putting my feet, and not let my gaze drift over to the steep walls on either side of the Fridge.

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western ridgeline of ice

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I'm feeling puckered

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catwalk from top of the Fridge


I made quick time down in 45 minutes, mostly using plunge steps, but walking toes-in on the steep upper section. Whew, I could finally relax, right?

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Fully-stocked Fridge


Ok, time to ski. The sun had baked that crust into perfect corn – not to sticky and not too mushy. I followed my route back around to timberline, and then into the lower basin below, linking turn after delicious turn. I almost made it across the flats and willows until, the snow collapsed under me and I plunged hands-first into the mush.

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Lurking Willows



This is where the real work on the adventure began. Trail finding, bushwhacking, and climbing straight uphill are easy compared to wading through afternoon rotten mush. Oh to have been a week earlier – the ski trails followed the gorge of the creek, while I opted to stay on the western rim, gingerly making my way through the trees and hidden pits. I descended into the creek after about a quarter mile, hoping for better snow. Bad call – all of the snow bridges had melted, and so I occasionally had to climb up the side of the gulley and hope the snow held long enough for me to traverse over the slope above the edge of the water. Now and then the clouds thickened, lightning flashed and thunder boomed, followed by heavy dump of graupel.

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Snow bridges are gone


I finally reached the snow line and trail split about 5pm, glad to have dirt under my feet again. I loaded up the skis on my pack, and started the four mile hike back to the car, enjoying the flat trail and occasional views whenever the snow broke into faint sunshine. I met three guys about a mile from Winfield that were heading towards the Fridge, so I gave them the beta on the conditions and wished them fun. They asked if I had skied the couloir, but I replied that my skis were mostly for travel, and I knew I was already having enough fun with just crampons and ice axe. We chatted about Vail’s Winter Mountain Games, and then parted. I arrived back at camp just after 7pm after 14.5 hours on the trail, stomping right through the soft snow drifts still on the trail. Ahh, trade my ski boots for Sanuks, and drink a shot of rum, down a pint out of the growler, and make a quick dinner before dark. Yep, another “Henzler Adventure” on the books.

As expected, I was totally whupped the next day, so I slept in, and did all I could to rest. A drive up the road to the South La Plata trailhead served to heat dry my gear, as the weather stayed cool and cloudy with the occasional snow squall. Car camping has its benefits over backpacking, especially when using three heavy sleeping bags to ensure a comfortable rest for an afternoon nap. My mind was going crazy just looking around at the scenery and at the map – so many trails, ridgelines, valleys, and old mining roads to explore. But I’ve heard Little Feat’s Old Folks Boogie in my head many times now – and I’m just lucky that occasionally my beat-up body will fill that promise that the monkey-mind likes to make. I willed my legs into an easy stroll around the campground, picking up trash and cleaning fire pits helped get my muscles loose and moving again. I again packed my gear, hoping the weather would be settled enough for a climb up Huron.

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Home Sweet Truck


Monday morning, how nice to not be at work. I hit the snooze button more than a few times, finally crawling out at 4:30 to light snow and overcast skies. I pulled on my plastic boots and hit the trail at 5:30am. A short walk back up the road led to the road heading up into Lulu Gulch below Brown’s peak. Soon enough the post-holing started, even with an overnight freeze. The rest day had done me good as I made decent time into the upper basin and up a chute to the main ridge, my cell phone pinging connection with the world as I cleared the ridge.
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Lulu Gulch - I went up 2nd chute from right

The cloud ceiling was around 15,000 feet, with tendrils swirling around the occasional high summits of Belford and Harvard. Fantastic cornices draped the ridgeline between Brown and Huron, defying gravity while daring me to peek over the edge. Keeping my crampons on, I encountered a foot of fresh snow above 13000 ft, making each step double the effort to gain the summit.

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Huron from top of Browns Peak


I followed a foot track across the ridge, and met up with a skin track on the summit cone. The last 30 feet of summit ridge was a vertical line of snow, leaving a small catwalk towards the rock shelter. Hmm, though getting up Huron would be easy, did I? But here I could at least relax, breaking out the summit Pringles and enjoying the view towards the Apostles and the Fridge, always amazed at how steep it looked from far away.

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Oh, where those points have been!


Ok, ok, time to quit gawking and head down. An hour of easy plunge steps brought me to the bottom of the basin and timberline, and I followed the foot path around to the north and back to the mining road above the Banker mine.

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One last look at the Fridge


Once again I was post holing through waist-deep drifts, breaking a trail for others to follow. I was back at the truck by 1:40, and polished off the rest of the Old Soul while clawing off my soggy boots and gear. I drove through heavy snow and rain on the way home, thinking happy thoughts about a fun weekend in Winfield, glad to have the time, energy, and cooperation from my body to enjoy the window of spring mountaineering.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):


 Comments or Questions
Jvinro

Thank you.
05/28/2013 01:17
Well Done.


cjw


nice
05/28/2013 02:04
(quote)Boy that powder must have been nice a week earlier!(/quote)



(quote)I loaded up the skis on my pack, and started the four mile hike...(/quote)

I believe I failed to mention that at this point we had to skin out those 3+ miles.

I see you found my broken inclinometer.


lmebel

Three Guys
05/29/2013 19:11
Hey - I was one of those three guys you met that discussed Vail Mountain Games with you and saw you post climb. Great to meet you and nice job on the solo effort!
The three of us leave for Liberty Ridge on Rainier next Wed so that was one of our training climbs. Let me know if you are back in the Colorado area again.

Cheers,
Lee Mebel
lmebel2001@yahoo.com



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