Crystal Pk A - 13,852 feet
Crystal Pk A - 13,852 feet
|Plan B for the Win|
Total time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Time to summit: 4 hours
Distance: 9 miles
Uphill elevation gain: 4,200
Over the week prior to President Day, Ben and I had talked about climbing Mount Massive's East Ridge and skiing its Southeast face. Watching Joel Gratz's forecast and the NWS, we concluded that Monday, the actual holiday, would be the best opportunity to both ski some great snow and save our leave time at work. With that in mind, I planned to meet him at his house near Dillion at 3:45 In the hopes of hitting the trail at 5.
Upon meeting at Ben's house at 4:00, I was late, and seeing Copper and beaver creek's snow staking showing 8" and the forecasted winds of 25 mph gusting to 35 we concluded that Massive had a high risk of failure, due to fears of wind slabs on Massive face. After discussing it, we settled on Crystal Peak as an appropriate plan B since we could ski Mount Helen, if the Crystal's headwall was loaded and testy.
We were parked at the trailhead at 6 am and were moving by 6:30. Ben set a steady pace and we chatted as we made short work of the well covered road up to tree line. As sunrise approached, we were treated to an amazing red predawn glow on the windblown snow coming off of Bald Mountain.
Moving relatively quickly for how casual our pace and conversation were, we reached tree line at around 7 am and were able to get a glimpse of the route ahead. It was clear the coverage was available for a ski of Crystal and, if we desired, Peak 10 the question would be how loaded the steeper slopes would be by the overnight winds.
Using a track on my watch, from a run of Crystal we did in July, we quickly covered the distance to the headwall between the upper and lower lakes. After a short debate about whether to tour up the summer trail, which was visible and apparently filled, or go up the headwall itself, we concluded that putting in a switchback up the side of the headwall would be the most direct route and would allow us to assess the snow.
Since, I was busy dicking with my kit, Ben took the honors of putting in a track up the slope and I was delegated with the job of cutting the track and then jumping on the snow, to see if it would break. Apparently, since I have an avy-pack now, I get to be the jackass that jumps up and down on the edge of the skin track from now on...
It took us about 45 minutes to get up the 600 feet of the head wall with its soft wind deposited 9 inches of snow on hard midwinter snow underneath. It was hard enough underneath that I finally found a reason to use my ski crampons. This definitely was the most time consuming section of the day.
Once we ascended the headwall, we happily concluded we likely could tour all the way to the summit. At this point Ben, tired of breaking trail, was kind enough to allow me to take the lead for the rest of the climb. He was also nice enough to critique my effective technique of skinning too fast and then stopping every few minutes to catch my breath. These back seat drivers... We made our way below Peak 10's ridgeline until we came to the saddle between Crystal and Peak 10, at which point we toured up the ridge and continued on the ridge proper for the majority of the skin to the summit.
About five hundred feet below the summit we found a track from a few days before, where a fellow climber skinned part of the way to the summit, so we pouched the sections of the track which were uncovered. About four hundred feet below the summit the track became too narrow for two skis, which made for an interesting work around. A few feet above this the track became boot tracks, but Ben and I were able to find two separate routes over a small cornice which allowed us to keep our skis on. From here it was only a few minutes of touring and we were on the summit and greeted by the forecasted 25 mph winds gusting to 40. We spent about 20 minutes taking pictures and snacking, then transitioned, on the summit, to ski down.
We took turns skiing the first 100 feet off the summit and then met up to discuss where to meet below the summit. I saw a flat spot 600 or 700 feet below, where some talus was visible and we agreed that was a good spot. Ben then suggested I go first since I had the pack on, which I generally agreed with, but I was hesitant to dive in since I generally don't ski first for confidence reasons. We stood there for a minute or two discussing the wind loading and the stability of the snowpack until I started to freak out and which point I just "I've got to go I am starting to freak out."
The skiing wasn't particularly step low to mid-30s, WOW! was it amazing! It felt like skiing in May, the new snow was on top of a carveable layer underneath made for absolutely perfect skiing. I took a weird line, though, that had my left turns perpendicular to the fall line and right turns going straight down, but whatever, when the snow is great, who cares?
I skied this amazingness until I saw the transition point and pulled off and waved for Ben to come down. The wind was starting to howl so it was hard to get a good view of him on the summit. So, I just stood there waving my hands like a jackass for a minute or so. At some point Ben got a view of me and skied down and before I knew it he was skiable up to me grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
First thing out of his mouth is "Fill it up again". After he said it again, I asked him what he meant. "Let's do it again!" I replied that would end a Peak 10 ski and upon further review we both agreed that we knew another lap on Crystal's face was going to be amazing, but had no real knowledge of the quality of snow on Peak 10.
With the decision made for another lap, Ben transitioned relatively quickly and was breaking trail back towards the ridgeline, while I hammered my ski crampons back on my skis. Once I got my skis, with skins on, on I realized that Ben had already covered the couple hundred yards to the ridge and was again on our uphill track. Not wanting to get too far behind I tried to hurry up to catch up. At some point I got below Ben and noticed him standing in front a small rock ledge and it occurred to be how surreal our recreational activity is. Here we are, eight miles from a road, three thousand feet above treeline, in blowing 30 mph winds, the only people around (not including the mass of crazies a few miles away at Breck) and we are headed up for another lap. I occasional notice, particularly when I ski mountaineering, how stark the world is in the high alpine, everything is white, dark blue or various shades of grey. Particularly, in the wind, even when climbing or touring with friends, you are pretty isolated in that environment.
Forgive my digression; as you might recall there was a tight section which was only one ski wide, which made for tricky skinning.
Well, Ben got it in his head to pop a single ski off and walk one leg around using the removed ski as a pole, of sorts. Well, this didn't work very well, mostly because the leash between his boot and his bindings prevented him from separating them adequately enough. This lead to an awkward few tens of feet of him stumbling up the snow slope, trying to find a place to clip back into his skis. Aside from that, the tour back up to the flat section just below the summit was an uneventful 30 minutes or so.
From around 13,750 feet, we transitioned and I again took the honors of going first, this time though I picked a better line which was straight down the fall line. The skiing was again amazing with the only issues being not getting caught up in your own slough, which is never a really a bad feeling, makes you feel like a tough guy skiing something real. I skied another hundred feet further down this time before stopping and from here I could barely see Ben, due to the windblown snow blocking my view. Eventually, he saw my frantic waving and he again tore down the mountain, putting those east coast turn in.
From our meet up point, we had a little bit of a traverse between the upper lake to the headwall. Luckily, the sastrugi was firm and the wind was directly behind us, proving a substantial boast, otherwise we would have had to do some serious poling. I have never been happier to ski on some hard snow.
Once we got above the couloir, which is the traditional descent route down the headwall, we decided it would be best to traverse over to the route we skinned up, since it was much softer when touring up and the snow we were on was terribly hard and looked wind loaded further down. Between us and the eastern area of the head wall we skinned up were three small rock fields and instead of skiing around them from below, Ben had the great idea of popping the skis off and hiking across, to prevent any elevation loss. Getting the skis off and hiking over there was pretty standard, but getting our skis on in the wind scoured snow was quite the bear. It probably took five minutes to get our skis with Ben having to hold my skis in place with his poles.
Once that ordeal was over we skied over to the top of the headwall and got ready to ski down. It was a little disconcerting looking down the headwall, because every so often the wind would pick up and you couldn't see the bottom. So, you had to plan the drop right when the wind subsided. So, as soon as the wind subsided, I dropped into the ski and found a great line right down the fall and aimed for a boulder that looked rather small when I started, but kept growing bigger without getting closer. Between marveling at the amazing snow quality, I kept thinking, 'when am I going to get to this thing'? Eventually, I closed on, what turned out to be quite a large, boulder and skied skiers right around it and another couple hundred feet and then stopped on a flat runout.
Turning around I waited on Ben to get an opening in the wind and then he tore down the line, in usual fashion, and closed the circle on my track to cap it all off.
From here it was a quick wind assisted ski across some sastrugi to treeline, where we took off our jackets and sidestep up a short incline.
Once we were moving again we were treated to some powder turns in the trees and finished off with two miles of fun road skiing back to the car. Nothing better than two laps above 13,000 and a car to summit to car ski! In February no less!
What a day! Can't ask for a better ski day or better partner to spend 6 hours with. I can only hope the spring skiing season is just as good.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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