Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sweet Missouri

My buddy Brian said he was going to attempt Missouri Mountain so I decided to join him along with another fellow named Don. Dalton and I had climbed Belford and Oxford last year and I remember it as a very enjoyable hike (photo 1). I wanted to camp, but I was at work Friday until 7:30 PM, so instead I left house at 3:30 AM. As we started up the steep switchbacks at the beginning of the trail the other Don was moving slow, so he sent us on ahead.

We were making good progress, but kept an eye on the approaching weather. Brian decided to turn around at 13,000 due to building clouds. I have many other goals this year, so I wanted to punch this ticket. I pressed on. The snow field just below the ridge caused me to put on the crampons. I was worried about my tiring quads, but it turned out to be quite a fun snow climb. Once on the ridge the trail was an alternate of bare and snow sections (photo 2), so I finally had to remove the crampons. At the crux just before the summit I wishing I had them on again. You must traverse a very steep snow slope below some pinnacles. To elevate the challenge, now there was thunder rolling along the next ridge.

I touched the top (photo 3) and got the hell off there. Oops! I forgot to mark the way point so back up I went. The clouds were rolling in fast. I contemplated a plunge step or glissade down the first couloir. I remembered from the guide book that the couloirs are easier farther down. So I crossed the crux again and found glissade trails down the next couloir. I really wanted off the ridge so I decided to go down (photo 4).

The glissade was by far one of the most fun in my experience. Although I didn't want to risk too much speed I still got up to 10mph according to the GPS. The snow was just soft enough to counteract the steepness. Once down the long couloir, there were two other chances for shorter glissades (last photo).

The walk back down the trail was sublime. It was raining, but I was waterproof. The wetness really brought out the colors of the rocks, shrubs, quakies, and pines. Seeing silouhettes of climbers on Belford was dramatic with the low hanging clouds.

Sweet misery. Brian and I grabbed some lunch at Doc Holiday's in Leadville before heading our separate ways.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Parry Peak Descent

I was trying to decide whether to try Quandary or Parry Peak. The book says that Quandary is in shape until early June, Parry until mid June. After the great descent of Eva last year, Parry was chosen.

This time I made it all the way to the reservoir in my Dodge pickup. The open field to south of the dam is fairly steep, but gives way to a long and slowly ascending meadow deep into the valley. I crossed a couple of snowfields on the way up that required some deliberate stepping.

Three other skiers were making their way to Parry as well. I followed the skiers up the east most couloir as seen in photo 2. They were kicking steps in their AT boots, but I donned my crampons since I was in my mountaineering boots. The snow was good for kicking steps. I decided to leave my board at the saddle because a full descent was getting a bit dicey this late in the year. I did head up unencumbered and bag the peak. At this point I noticed two other skiers making their way up the slope. A final talley for the day was 3 telly, 1 AT, and me the lone splitboard.

The descent from the saddle was fairly steep at about 35 degrees with a narrow neck just below the ridge (photo 3). Once past the narrows, the middle section was superb riding. The bottom got slushy and flat as is the pattern. I made it most of the way across the flats saving me a bit of hike out. The skiers made it all the way across the flats, but I had to hike to the next drop off. This left one last piece of descent down to Fall River Reservoir. This section was steep and sticky with many obstacles (photo 4). I even lost my ice axe somehow and had to hike back up to find it lying in the narrow snow section in the middle of the photo.

I don't think this descent is going to last past next week so do it or don't. You can see most of the line in photo 5. The descent starts right of center in the photo on the prominent snow finger. It continues directly toward you in the photo thru the valley.

The descent ends just above the reservoir. It was a nice hike back along the foot trail next to the Fall River Reservoir shore. I made it back to the truck to find many vehicles where there was only three when I left! An old timer from Wyoming commented that his van and my truck were the only two American vehicles there. All in all it was an awesome day and I was very happy with the performance of my new BCA backpack.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Gray's Anatomy

Or "The Best Laid Plans of Kelso and Grays"

I missed all of May and the season is running out. I was trying to decide between Kelso Mountain and Parry Peak, but chose Kelso because of the short hike. So I set out to make a snowboard descent of Kelso Mountain as described in Front Range Descents. The road to the Gray's parking lot was clear. I was a little unsure about parking in private property, so I continued up. The face of Kelso looked a little barren anyway... it is a May recommendation.

I decided to go ahead and descend Grays. What the heck, my first 14er descent. The hike in was enjoyable despite the added weight of my Viole Mountain Gun snowboard. I forgot my sun glasses and left my ice axe and crampons in the car to save weight. Mistake. I talked with a couple of guys who were coming down with their skis on their back. Apparently the head wall was very hard packed and steep.

I ascended the Gray's trail with a slight shortcut that everyone was taking. I made it to about 13k and decided it was the best chance for the descent. I stashed the board and continued to the summit hoping the snow would soften. At least I would bag Gray's for the second time.

I was worried the snow was too hard packed and that there was no visible turns. I seen another skier making the descent so I decided to give it a try. Even though it was very hard packed you can make turns. The snow conditions made executing jump turns critical. The hike and the hard edge taxed my quads to the max. I fell once and slid for about a 100 yards. It made me kick myself for not bringing the ax.

I would advise descending right in order to follow the entire valley back to the parking lot. I hiked the trail not wanting to push my luck; I don't think it would have worked for my board. My legs cramped after a bit of hiking, but a short break and some cookies allowed a recovery.

I renew my promise not to leave the truck again without my ice axe. I believe crampons should always be in the pack too, be damned the extra weight. I think a glissade would be more fun than a ski or snowboard descent on Gray's for this June.