Posts Tagged ‘aspen’

Lindley Hut trip (Central Colorado) – 4/30/10

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
As winter rolls into spring in Colorado, it is time for my annual hut trip in the Elk Mountains. While most people do the huts in the winter time, but I always prefer the longer days, shorter approachs, and safer snowpack of early May. Luckily, I was able to find a couple of other backcountry enthusiasts that have not retired their boards for the mountain bikes just yet.

This year I chose the Lindley hut, which provided a very short hike to get to. Even better, the winter gate at Ashcroft was open, which allowed us to drive an additional two miles to the summer trailhead.  All the way up from Denver to Aspen, we encountered every sort of weather condition imaginable. It was supposed to storm all weekend, so I was prepared for whiteout conditions at the trailhead. However, we were greeted with partly-sunny skies and light snow for our entire approach to the hut.

Ed da’Gnarly getting stoked at the trailhead.
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We skinned up Taylor Pass road through about four inches of fresh powder. This was my first time taking the left branch of Castle Creek road, instead of the usual right branch towards Tagert, Green Wilson, and Friends Hut. As we crept around Greg Mace peak, the rest of the Cooper Creek drainage came into view. We reached the hut in a little over an hour. I was already beginning to like this hut  .

Skinning up the road
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The hut was very large, and quite comfortable for our small group. From the south deck, we were treated with an incredible view of the Cooper Creek Basin

On the left is the north shoulder of Star Peak. On the right is an unnamed peak that separates Cooper Creek Basin from Pearl Basin (towards Pearl Pass)
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On Saturday morning, we decided to head up the basing towards the face on the right. The aesthetic couloir direct center was calling our names.

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We started up the Cooper Creek drainage, but greatly underestimated the steepness and rugged bushwacking required to reach the base of the mountain. Getting up there would have required many ups and down into creeks and ditches, and skirting cliffs. Its no wonder this area doesn’t get skiied much. It was much gnarlier than the standard approach to Pearl Basin from the other side. Regardless, we found some good features to ride back down towards the hut.

Ed riding a steep tree line
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Mike hucking a small cliff
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Rachel making turns below the cliffs
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After regrouping at the hut, we decided to head back towards the mining road that we came in on, and climb the north facing slopes above the hut. The terrain here was variable. There was deep powder in many areas, but really nasty and rotten ‘snirt’ in others. After an exhausting and frustrating climb, we finally made it near treeline, and switched over to drop in.

Mike
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Afterwards, we retired to the hut, opening the whiskey and running through the various board and card games there. (Let it be noted that I kicked Mike’s ass in chess, twice)

A few photos of the Lindley Hut
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The next morning, we awoke to a much more overcast day. It was snowing much harder than the day before. We cooked a hearty breakfast and prepared to leave.

Mike and Rachel out front
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Ed, locking it up. Goodbye, Lindley Hut!
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Just because we were on our way out didn’t mean we were done making turns. We had spied a small chute during our approach that we decided to return to. Mike left to hike up around it to get above the cliffs, while Ed and I ascended the chute proper.

Ed, dropping into the chute. Best powder of the trip right here (not bad for May!)
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‘Huckmaster Mike’ in action
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This hut trip was pretty casual. There were no huge lines descended. However, it was very relaxing for me to get away from the city life, avoid Facebook for three days , and just chill out with some good friends.

Until next year!

Splitboarding Star Peak, ‘June Couloir’

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
5/2/2009

Conditions were less than desirable Saturday Morning. Nevertheless, I had traveled all the way out to Friends Hut with the intention of making an attempt at the June Couloir, so the four of us headed up into a blizzard just to see how far we could get.

We could barely see a hundred yards in front of us, but fortunately there is a prominent North-South ridge that practically leads from the hut to the summit of Star Peak. With the ridge on our right side, we continued to head in a due north direction.

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Visibility was bad

After an hour of skinning, conditions weren’t any better. Two of our party members decided to head back down to the hut. Ross and I continued onward. Eventually I started to visualize dark rocky outcropping dividing the snow chutes on the ridge. More fortunately, actually a Godsend, was that I had torn out a great photo of Star Peak from Lou Dawson’s Book. Together, we would constantly study the photo and imagine what the peak would look like if we could actually see it. For those who haven’t seen it, Star Peak is a triangular mountain face with a long ridge swooping down to the (looker’s) right. From this ridge, multiple chutes drop down like ‘fingers’ to the apron below. As you look from right to left, the chutes get longer as the ridge gets higher. In the exact middle, the longest chute goes directly to the summit. This is the June Couloir, our destination.

When the slope started to increase dramatically, we figured we were on the apron of the south face of Star Peak. However, we did not know how much farther to the west we would have to travel to find the couloir. The only way to know was to climb up the apron until we found the first chute. Then we had to study the photo and count off each chute as we traversed across the apron. Finally, we were certain we had found the June Couloir!

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Entering the June Couloir

Typically, upon arriving at the base of a couloir, I am apprehensive about the challenge ahead. This time, however, I felt as if the challenge of navigating our way to the base of the couloir was the greater challenge. With that task behind us, we raged right into the chute headfirst. I was confident that we would succeed in making the summit in short time.

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About halfway up

Although the snow continued to fall, the visibility was better in the protected couloir. Snow conditions were good for climbing. We did not need crampons as we were able to kick into the few inches of fresh snow that had fallen recently. However, there was a layer of bulletproof melt/freeze below the new snow, and with no sun to warm the surface, the snowboard descent would be hazardous.

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The final pitch

It was a long climb, but I have to thank my partner Ross for leading every pitch. About 3/4 of the way up, we came out to a larger snowfield with a few options. Again I consulted Dawson’s photo. The direct line up appeared to be very rocky, and the line to the left held more snow. Regardless, we kept up the center line, and found our way to the summit.

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The team on the summit!

On the summit, we couldn’t see much of the surrounding mountains. After studying our options, we decided to descend from the line that branched out to the left when we were climbing (hiking down the ridge to our right).

The drop in was very steep and icy. I was pretty rattled after my slide last week on James Peak, so I side-slipped my way down. The snow started to get better after the first hundred feet, although we still made very careful jump turns on the ‘dust on crust’ conditions. After some very careful snowboarding, we found ourselves back on the apron, rejoicing at our accomplishments!

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Ross making the descent

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As we descended down to the hut, the mountain once again disappeared into the white fog, like a mirage. Fortunately, while on the skin out the following day, I was able to finally see the mountain in all its glory.

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Star Peak. Now you can see the distinctive ‘fingers’ leading from right to left, and the ‘June Couloir’ that goes to the summit.

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A close-up of the June Couloir and our climb (red) and descent (green)

Splitboarding from Ashcroft to Friends Hut via Pearl Pass

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
5/1/2009

This past weekend was my second annual spring hut trip. Last year, we had a fun group of couples for three nights in the Green-Wilson Hut, in which I was able to tag a line up and down the Conundrum Couloir as well as an unnamed couloir on the east face of Castle Peak. This year, instead of a couples trip, I recruited a solid group of three other splitboarders for a backcountry ‘bro-fest’.

We camped out in the parking lot of the Ashcroft Ghost Town on Thursday night, just as the town’s inhabitants had over 100 years ago, gaping in awe of the same enormous mountains surrounding us.

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The view from Ashcroft

We awoke at dawn on Friday, still missing one splitboarder. Nevertheless, we left a note and started out on our way. One skier was with us as well, but he would not last through the days journey. We skinned up the entire route on Castle Creek Road, and later Pearl Pass Road. It is because of these ancient mining and transportation routes that makes this area so popular and advantageous for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. The first portion of the trip was a very moderate 3 miles, which gave us plenty of time to gape out at the huge avalanche paths that we crossed along the way. While we were safe from those slides since we had a stable spring snowpack, we couldn’t possibly imagine the fear of crossing these things in the dead of winter!

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Starting up the road, crossing the avy chutes on Greg Mace Peak on the left.

After a few hours, we arrived at the popular Tagert and Green Wilson Huts. Although this wasn’t our destination (as nice as it would have been), we stopped out on the porch for a break. Not ten minutes after we stopped did another splitboarder approach us. It turned out to be our missing teammate, Ross. Happy that the group was united, we pressed onward above treeline for the much more difficult portion of the trip.

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The soldiers march on above tree-line
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The east face of Castle Peak, looking like bad conditions.

Unfortunately, the skier in our group just couldn’t cut the mustard. As much as we tried to convince him that it would be worth the trip to the hut, he eventually decided to ski down. I took a few action shots before continuing on up.

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Making our way across ‘Mace Saddle’

From here, routefinding was very important. We did not want to accidentally descend into Cooper Creek (only to end up back at Ashcoft after a nasty bushwack), and we didn’t want to cross over the Elk Range at a location other than Pearl Pass, which could have deadly consequences. Finally, after rounding the southest buttress of Pearl Mountain, we could see a sign far off on the ridge, which looked like a person standing on top of Pearl Pass.

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Pearl Pass sighted, but it still looks so far away!

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Getting closer…

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The final pitch was the steepest of all. With the low avalanche danger, we stuck to the road and skirted around the headwall.

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Mike nearing the top of the pass, while I scoped out some cool rock crags. I wonder if anyone climbs them in the summer?

I was the first one to reach the top of the pass, and let out the loudest yell my tired lungs could muster. After eight hours of travel, we finally reached the height of our climb, at 12,705 feet! The sign said we were 18 miles from Aspen and 19 miles from Crested Butte. The four of us took in the fresh air and solitude of being so far away from civilization.

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Pearl Pass conquered by splitboarders!

By now, it was nearing five o’clock, and we still had to find the hut. Thankfully, Lou Dawson was nice enough to supply the GPS coordinates in his guidebook, which I had already pre-programmed into my Garmin. From the top of the pass, we would have to take a leftward trend into the bowl, and the hut should be right at tree line. I watched my three teammates descend into the bowl before I brought up the rear.

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Talking over the descent. After eight hours of climbing, we were finally able to snowboard!

Mike dropped in first…
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Ross ollies the drop
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Followed by Ed
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Finally, I spotted the hut, right where it was supposed to be!
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We made a few more turns before taking the boards off for good.

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Up next: The June Couloir of Star Peak in a blizzard!

Flobots in Aspen

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

I have been back up in the Roaring Fork Valley for that past 24 hours.  I did a little riding on Ajax, but discovered that only a few inches of snow had fallen on some very solidly hardpack that had developed from the past two weeks of sunshine.  There was a strange phenomenon on top of the mountain.  It was 38 degrees and foggy.  The snow that was falling had such a wet consistensy that it built up right on the outside lense of my goggles.

I packed it in by noon, but just as I was unstrapping my bindings at the base of the gondola, I was surrounded by a concert crew setting up a stage and railings, with a sign that said “FLOBOTS – 5:30 PM”

I had wanted to see this band since my friend had been so inspired by a grassroots show at the DNC this past August in Denver, so I stuck around town, mingling in and out of various establishments.

Checked out what used to be the Cooper Street Tavern.  Now it is called “Bad Billys”, but surprise-surprise: it looks exactly the same inside.  I even saw X Games Silver Medalist Tanner Hall drinking some beers with his entourage.

Flobots put on a good show on a very small stage.  I had gotten there just before they started their set, and there was less than 100 people there.  By the end of the show, the crowd had built up to a large mass that crawled up the face of the mountain, and enveloped the Gondola plaza.

After the show, I went back to a friends house but was locked out.  So instead of waiting I bought a ticket to see Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.  I’m a huge fan of these movies and love the storyline.  The third installmant was a true prequel to the first too, but much more intense.  Althought it could be considered a love story, the violence and gore was off the charts.  My dad would love it.  My girlfriend probably wouldn’t.

During a preview, I noticed something odd that I’ve never seen before.  The title of an upcoming disaster movie was “2012″.  At the end of the preview, when they usually show some text telling you when the movie will come out, it said Google Search: 2012.  I almost laughed out loud.  The moviemakers have thrown all subtlety out the window by either instructing viewers how to go about finding out more about the movie, using Google.

I plan to hang around up here for a bit more and snowboard.  My original plan was to start heading west through Utah towards the West Coast, but the forecast is calling for a lot of rain.  That type of weather would make for a miserable time when camping in flash flood territory.

Recent Splitboarding Sessions

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Arg!  Enough of the political blogs.  Although I like to publish my opinion on all the crazyness in the world, I was quickly reminded by my estranged heterosexual life partner: “I don’t give a damn about your political beliefs!  I want to see some mountains and powder.”

Well here you go, fans.  I present to you my first turns, all earned without the use of mechanical power and rewarded by the splitboard.

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Sunday, November 23rd — Aspen Mountain

Aspen was not yet open for business at this time, but snowmaking crews crews had been working day and night to build the racecourse for the annual opening event of the Women’s World Cup competition.  Naturally, I just had to get up extra early before the crews started and skinned up the course for some fresh corduroy…my first ride of the year.

Looking past the snowmaking machines towards the upper racecourse.

I started skinning up the course just after dawn, passing many snowmaking machines that had been running all night long.

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View of the jobsite from up on Aspen Mountain

As the sun began to rise, I had a great view of the town below.  In the middle of the photo, with plastic on the roof, is the building that I’ve been working on all year long.  It is almost to completion and looks amazing.

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About to head down

Having climbed nearly 1,000 feet up, I decided to put the snowboard on and make some turns.  Here, right before the descent.  It was an incredibly fast racecourse, and I had a little taste of what the professionals were about to compete on in a few days.
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Sunday, Dec 21, 2008 — Backcountry near Ashcroft, CO

This weekend I took an AIARE Level 1 Certification Course.  On the final day of class, my group of 7 were charged with putting together a short tour, where we evaluated the terrain and snowpack and practice safe decision making.

The avy class crew heading up the skin track

I met some cool people in the class. Here, the whole crew is heading up the mountain.
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Across the valley, we observed the crown of a large avalanche that had occured a few days earlier.  (The crown is visible in the shady area in the middle of the photo)
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Lunch in view of the elk range

After hiking a few miles and a few 1,000 feet up Devaney Creek, we stopped for lunch.  To our south, the Castle Creek valley spreads out across the horizon.
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snow pitcompression testcompression testcompression test compression testcompression test

After lunch, we found a safe spot to dig a pit and analyze the snowpack.  Here, Brian demonstrates a compression test.  It took over 20 taps for the column to fail, but it failed all the way down to the lowest layer of depth hoar.  Not a good sign for avalanche safety in the area.
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Paul\'s first runIanDave

Having made a collective decision on the danger level, we agreed to play it safe and ski in the low-angled trees.  The payoff was some incredible untracked powder, and well worth the work.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009 — Mt. Evans

Today Vanessa and I took a very short trip from Denver to a “secret stash” near the Mt. Evans road.  I’ve had some good conditions in years past, when the front range saw above-average snowfall.  This year, prospects were not as good.

Vanessa heading up

Vanessa hiking up through the trees south of the road.  We could see rocks and deadfall.  This caused us to be discouraged of actually snowboarding down.
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Mt. Evans road

Usually, if conditions in the trees are not ready, we could snowboard down the road.  Unfortunately, too little snow in the front range left us hiking all the way back down.

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looking down the route

I did a little scouting to find a good descent line, but after just having spent $100 on repairs to my splitboard, I didn’t think it was worth it to try to ride down with such little snowcover.

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Sunday, January 4, 2008 — Berthoud Pass

Discouraged but not defeated, V and I paired up with a Josh, a bud from splitboard.com, and headed up to the ever-popular Berthoud Pass.  We had an early start, and it was a sunny, blue-sky day.

a train of skiers heading up Berthoud Pass is easily one of the most popular backcountry ski areas in the state.  An alliance of enthusiasts has done an excellent job in making improvements to the old ski area.  While all the chairlifts are gone, there is an expanded parking lot and hut complete with multiple composting toilets.  Here, a train of skiers heads up the established skin track to the west of Highway 40.

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view from the west side of the pass

From the top of the west side of the pass, we had an excellent view of the surrounding terrain.  Avalanche danger was considerable near treeline today, so we took some very conservative lines.  Still, my mind wandered in awe at the extreme couloirs at the headwall across the valley.

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Vanessa Vanessa Vanessa On the descent, we found a few inches of powder over some hard crust.  Still, we made some good turns.  Here, Vanessa shows how it is done.

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JoshJoshJoshJosh is rocking the custom splitboard.

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Vanessa Another great pic of my stellar girlfriend!

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JoshJosh got some great blasts of front-range pow.

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Vanessa taking a coffee breakAfter a good 2000′ of vertical, we rode right to the highway and stuck our thumbs out.  Hitchiking is the standard practice on Berthoud Pass, and anyone with an empty truck bed would be wise to pick up skiers.  With multiple slide paths the threaten highway travellers here, good karma  is well respected.

It was a cold day up there (my thermometer was reading single digits).  Fortunately, we took a coffee break before heading out for a second run.

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That’s all for now!

The first month of splitboarding has had its ups and downs.  January looks promising, and I have some trips to Vail Pass and Rocky Mountain National Park in the works…. STAY TUNED!