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Skiing SF conditions -OR- The sun will come out on the summit
TH: Baldwin Gulch 2WD
Elevation Gain: 4,782'
SF Skiers: Zach, Dan & me
Looking at the forecast last week was uninspiring. All winter long I have been enjoying the weekend snowstorms that have cropped up nearly every week. But now that it's spring ski mountaineering season, it can stop. Seriously! So what to do with such crappy conditions? How about knock off another crappy SF ski. Talking with Chris Davenport on the summit of Culebra, he mentioned that there were 50 other great skis on 14ers. So that leaves a list of 8, not so great skis to go through. At this point, I think I have 7/8 completed, with only the Big C to go.
With the main route on Antero being west facing, there has been little beta on a summit ski. Winter trip beta, not in. A trip by friends last month, not in. But since that last shred of beta, there's been new snowfall. Elliot's TR from Shavano showed that possibly the western ridge/south face had snow, so maybe a reclimb would have to do. So without another good idea, and the possibility of a snow storm to ski in, again, why not ski a crappy rocky line? Even more amazingly, I found 2 others willing to head up into the unknown with me. Company in SF conditions is always best, since then the trip is at least amusing!
Confused by what I mean by SF conditions? Here, let me spell it out for you, and start this off with a video:
So at O-dark 4am, we start up the Baldwin Gulch road. Snow starts immediately, and is a bit patchy at first (with a downed tree), but then becomes pretty thick for most of the way. Much of the road is steeply sloping snow too, so we had to work for it on the road. We arrived at the stream crossing for civil twilight, or sunrise - kinda hard to tell with the clouds. Got our first view of the western face of Antero... dry above 13.?K... not good. Hmmm, maybe the SW gully will have more snow. Elliot's photo hinted at such, but I couldn't be certain. So let's keep going up the road. Next gully - Voila! It looked continuous except for a short section around some cliffs. Hmm cliffs, we'll figure that out later. Till then, let's skin up this gully to the ridge!
Skinning up the drainage worked really well for a while, made great time. We took the right fork to get up to the standard route western ridge, so at least we would have the benefit of a trail at times, as well as beta on the south face. But that gully ran out of snow before the ridge. It turned into a rocky icy steep mess. Zach's skins started to slip, so he switched to booting it. My skins were new, since I trashed my other ones on Culebra (and were quite a sticky yucky mess anyway from heavy use). Dan was also on a new rock ski setup with new skins, so we made it a bit farther. But soon enough, the expletives were echoing down valley, and we switched to booting too. I led the way up the remaining gully to the ridge, as I wasn't sinking as much as the guys. Zach has already had experience with my ghost elf self, but it was a first for Dan. I sink 2", they sink a foot. My advantage for carrying a higher % of weight than most guys, is my special snow flotation.
After what felt like hours, we finally reached the ridge. The clouds finally parted, and I was met with a glorious sight, a fully continuous ski descent on the south side. Oh, I was torn! It was already too late in the day to ski the south face and then reclimb back up to the ridge, since it was still a ways to the summit itself. I also got no takers on someone to set the booter back up the south face. So up the snowy ridge we went. Kept near the ridge proper for the better firmer snow conditions. Eventually we made the summit, and the sun came out from the clouds for a bit to illuminate the surroundings. The north face couloirs on Tab looked pretty good. Princeton also is looking fairly filled in on top.
After the summit rituals, we started the SF descent. Dan took it a little too literal at first that we'd be skiing on rocks, by skiing on 100% rocks... n00b There is continuous snow off the summit, but it's rather peppered by rocks. So lots of slide slipping and stepping ensued before we got down a few hundred feet to where we ripped off our skins and managed a few jump turns on decent snow. Zach was the jump turn king, making more than Dan or I. But he also got a lovely core shot for his efforts too. After maneuvering around the upper face for awhile between the rocky zones, we reached the cliff band. Here we had to portage the skis for 100-200'. Lots of down sloping steep rocks before we got to the final cliff band and the class 4 down climb. I went first, and found the route. I spotted the scramble for the others, from a few feet away, taking gloves and poles to make things easier.
Once below the cliffs, we were in the money/corn zone. The ridge starts out mellow, then a nice little drop, followed by the mellow gully out the way we had skinned up. Overall, a quite enjoyable ski! I turned on my GoPro for this section, since I'm not as "speedy" as the above SF skiers, so no one needs to see that torture.
The road out was long but the snow wasn't as horrible as the Lake Como de-proach, so it went easily, except for the stream crossing. It was now a lake. I sank on the other side and got a little bit of water in my boots. Shoulda gone a bit higher, but at least I got through fairly quickly, to minimize the water intake.
Refueled at the Quincy's in Salida, as nothing can beat a giant slab of meat for rebuilding tired muscles! We then had the long deer and elk infested drive to Lake City. Plenty 4 legged beast tried to commit suicide, but I avoided them. Parked at the 2WD lot at Nellie Creek, and we got about 2-3 hours of sleep before starting the whole road slog again.
TH: Nellie Creek 2WD
Elevation Gain: 4,980'
San Juan ski playground skiers: Dan & me
A very rude alarm flashed my eyes and ears at 1:30am. Dang, I don't want to get up! But we have to. It's a long day with a forecast high of 40deg, but plenty of cloud cover and 50% chance of snow after 9am. But after yesterday's lack of snow storm, as forecasted, I'm not going to trust that on such a long approach. Ugg!
The snow starts almost immediately up the road. Someone tried to drive it, and likely saved themselves 20 steps. The first 0.5 miles are very patchy with deep snow in places. The next mile is mostly dry, so we strapped the skis to our backs and continued up in the darkness. After 1.5 miles the snow is 100% continuous. Well almost. It was perfectly continuous until Dan started across the first major stream crossing. There are 3 logs and one tiny one was covered by snow. Dan didn't go quickly enough across, so the snow bridge collapsed, and he plunged into the stream. He wallowed and post holed back to less watery ground, and I quickly snuck across the logs while he suffered. Now I had the loud gurgling of the stream to drown out the cacophony of Dans expletive laced screams and yells. In his post hole hell, he managed to get his foot stuck between 2 logs. Eventually he got the lower half of his body out of the sloppy snow, and crossed the log bridge. In this 20-30 minutes of waiting, I cooled off completely, and had hoped to regain warmth by moving up the rest of the road. It kinda worked, but the clear skies and nice breeze were doing their magic to freeze the snow pack above (yay!). The second stream crossing was a bit more manageable, and even managed to survive us on the way up, and down! It's narrow, so don't expect it to last much longer.
Up in the meadow area below the 4WD trailhead, we mistakenly cross the stream once more, instead of staying on the east side, like the tracks from a skier and splitboarder showed. We soon found ourselves on the other side of the stream, again, with huge snow pillows and questionable snow bridges. Dan was understandably hesitant about the snow bridges, so we continued up drainage, hoping for better. In the trees, we take a break, and I layer up and eat as much as I can handle. The temperatures were pretty cold for the pre-dawn hours, and all the earlier delays had fully chilled me. Great for the snow pack and being able to summit and ski before the slush and wet slide potential gets too high, not so great for me. Eventually our strategy of staying on the west side of the stream was obviously going to fail, so we found a sketchy crossing which I tested out with my poles. It should hold my weight at least, so I went first. Tough exit, but we both made it work. From there it was easy skinning all the way up to 13K or so.
The sunrise occurred as we were making our way above the trees by the 4WD TH, and quickly burned off the clouds that were surrounding Uncompahgre. At least for a little while, before it was swallowed up again. The snow looked clean and plentiful! A summit ski was likely to be in the cards for today, hurray! We kept skinning up as the clouds came and went, keeping the snow cool and solid. Perfect conditions! Nearing the 13K saddle, we take a short break, and contemplate the steep slope above us.
We start up the slope with skis on our feet, but after one switchback, it becomes readily apparent that booting it might be more efficient. We transition, and boot up using the previous days summitters staircase (Huge thank you for the booter!). We stop at the "safer zone" and go up the remainder one at a time. The spring-winter snowpack transition is still early, and just in case the cornice went, we weren't going to put both in danger. So Dan with his airbag pack, goes first, following the powder filled in boot pack. After a short bit I follow. The entire way up, I'm staring at the south and southwest cliff bands, looking for a snowy exit. Most involve some form of huck, so those are out. I've been practicing hucking, but I've only landed in soft cushioning powder, not hardpack. The last slot in the cliff bands is continuous, but there is a huck probable along the way. Hmmmm.
Around the west side, we follow the boot holes up to the first gully on the west side. It's rocky and mostly snow free. There isn't much loose rock, but it's a slightly intimidating downsloping rock with light snow on the surface climb. At this point, hucking looks like the better option on the way down! Thankfully above that first gully, I notice a more established trail going to the second gully..... and wow... it has snow!!! Score!
Above the cliff bands, we get our first view of the summit plateau snow. Not beautifully continuous, but snowier than I have seen it lately, with only a few rock walk/skiing sections. Not too bad for this peak! We amble up to the summit, and have a nice relaxing stay. The clouds tease us flowing up the north face and spilling over us. We only get a brief view of the peaks to our south and southwest. The Matterhorn and Wetterhorn barely peak out from the clouds, being coy and shy about their snowy faces. What a tease!
After a lengthy rest stop, we strap on skis (with skins) for the initial summit descent, rock crossing to higher snowpack on other side, and then the real skiing begins. In retrospect, I could have just reclimbed up to the second snow line that was higher, but oh well. I do enjoy keeping the skis on my feet! The lower snow summit plateau snow gap is quickly crossed by staying far south and I slide the edge to where I have to choose huck or portage to west gully. If I had a stronger skier with me, I likely would have chosen huck, but I figured getting Dan to the "easier" decent and sliding continuous snow after only losing about 10-20' of elevation was adequate. This second gully is horrendously loose and I was thankful to quickly cross it and get back on snow to slide down. I click back in and easily traverse back over to the saddle area, eagerly anticipating the fun descent to come!
Wetterhorn & Matterhorn tease us through the cloud veil.
Unfortunately due to my inexperience with my new GoPro, I miss filming the initial fun drop off the saddle. So just know, it was steep and fun with no rocks! After that, we pieced it through the rocky section to complete the fun drop into the bowl below. From there it was a series of fun little drops and traverses to more fun drops. As we were nearing the last section, the snow finally went slushy grabby, and it's where the video ends, since there's no need to see us stomping in the hot white oven as we get to where we can slide downhill to the 4WD TH and road below. While flat lighting i tough to ski in, it was so bright, it had the same effect. By the end, I couldn't see where I was skiing. As we depart the upper basin, clouds once again reclaim the summit of Uncompahgre and should help to keep the snow around for a little while at least. The dust layer is fairly buried up high, so hurray for that miracle!
After a break at the upper trailhead, we fairly quickly slide down the road. Only obstacle is a couple mud slides which cross the road in the usual spots. We get to the stream crossings and safely/dryly make it across without much ado. The gaps in the snow with 1.5 miles left to go is annoying, and eventually we switch to booting. At 0.5 and the post holes deepening, we return to skiing for the majority of the remaining road. Thankfully the trees have kept this snow cool enough that we stay on top. Another successful weekend in the hills completed! Forecast was horribly wrong, but in our favor for once!
Uncompahgre was the very first day out on my Black Diamond Joule skis back in January 2010. It seems like a fitting retirement party to have the last major ski of them be the same peak, but this time from the true summit. Revenge on a failed attempt from years ago is ever so sweet!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Did you happen to look down that face that is seen from 285? I think its the NE face, looks like it holds good snow most years but you would have to hike back up. Way to get after it despite the consistant weekend storms
Thanks for a great day out Otina and Dan. Remember this pile of choss was my last Sawatch 14er. F*** You Antero, never again. But then again that face on Cronin (oh yes baby), what did Dan call it, ski-licious?
jmanner - Every time I see that vid, I cringe. Does he actually have bases left? Hate? Ouch! Guessing there's a story here
pioletski - Yes, I would love to get out skiing with you. Good thing I have plenty of fun 14ers (and 13ers) to ski.
cjw - I got lucky, that view of Wetterhorn was only there for a few seconds.
Dan - Sound effects are the bonus for skiing with me, they can't be duplicated
Elliot - I have looked at that NE face on occasion, wondering how it would ski. Looks pretty steep with some cliffs. Would be doable with getting a ride up that road. Otherwise that's a lot of elevation gain for a day.
Zach - Long fun day for sure. Antero was my Sawatch finisher as well, at least it's done right? Plenty of fun 14ers and 13ers on the menu from now on! Cronin, Sayers, Grizzly...
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