Posts Tagged ‘snowboard’

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!

Trip Report: Splitboarding Torrey’s Peak ‘Tuning Fork’

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Torrey’s Peak (14,267′)
“Tuning Fork” Couloir

‘Tuning Fork’ is a front-range classic. While it is not overtly steep and doesn’t have scary ‘no-fall’ cliffs to navigate, what makes this climb so challenging is its intense size. With a total elevation gain of almost to 3000′, this couloir provides one of the longest snowboard descents in Colorado. However, only those with the highest levels of endurance can reap the rewards of the descent.

I have snowboarded this line before. I remember a long, sustained slope. So long, in fact, that we encountered just about every different kind of snow condition: powder, crust, corn, and hard-pack. However, I’ve never climbed up this route (instead, we had skinned up the standard hiker’s route to the summit and dropped into ‘Tuning Fork’), so I had no idea if I had the endurance to make the entire climb.

My partner and I pulled off of I-70 at the Bakeville exit around 8:00. Fortunately, the road up to Grizzly Gulch was packed down by vehicles and snowmobiles, so we were able to drive up to the trailhead and save ourselves a few miles of skinning.

At the Grizzly Gulch trailhead, we could see the early morning sun start to light up the summit of Torrey’s Peak.

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Torrey’s Peak in the morning sun. ‘Emperor’ is the craggy face in the center. ‘Tuning Fork’ is on the right, and flows down the diagonal grade along the western shoulder of the mountain.

Although my partner and I had discussed ‘Tuning Fork’, we hadn’t made the ultimate decision on whether or not to attemp the ‘Emperor’ . As we skinned up the gulch trail for a few miles, we could had an up close view of ‘Emperor’, and it looked very good. However, when we reached the base of it, we decided to continue on to ‘Tuning Fork’. (I look forward to coming back for ‘Emperor’).

While ‘Tuning Fork’ is somewhat hidden by the north ridgeline of the mountain, we didn’t see the magnitude of the line until we arrived at its base. There was a short, steep headwall directly at the start, and then a plateau. Beyond that, looming in the distance, the couloir climbed up towards the sky.

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The couloir is named its distinct ‘forked’ shape

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A close-up of the couloir

I thought at first we could skin up the moderate part of the mountain. However, the slope was steeper than I remembered, and shortly I traded my splitboard for my crampons and ice axe. I felt much more confident now, although I was worried as to how much the weight on my back would affect my stamina after a few hours.

At the base of the couloir, we were happy to discover that someone else had climbed it recently, and left us with a staircase already punched into the snow. No doubt that this sped up the first part of our climb.

When the couloir ‘forked’, the boot tracks went up into the right line. I chose to take the left variation, because it would come out closer to the summit and had an aesthetic ‘choke’ in the middle of it.

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Approaching the ‘fork’

After we made it past the ‘choke’, it looked as though we were on the home stretch. My estimates couldn’t have been more wrong. The couloir steepened, and the remaining 1,000 feet of this climb felt like an eternity. After leading the entire climb up to this point, I moved over an allowed my partner to lead the final pitch.

At this point, I was almost completely gassed. I focused my eyes on the step directly above each foot, and counted off each step at a time, forcing myself not to look back up until I had reached twenty steps, and repeated. Every time I looked up, I felt discouraged. It looked as if the couloir would never end!

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The end was in sight, but it never seemed to get any closer

Finally, we reached the end of the snow and I collapsed onto the Talus. Rocks never felt so comfortable! We still had a couple hundred feet to reach the summit, but I was relieved to take the splitboard off my back and scramble up, unburdened.

Although the most direct line to the summit would have been up to the west ridge, and then a short hike from there, I scrambled over to the ‘Kelso Ridge’ on the east side, to scope out the entrances to ‘Emperor’ and ‘Dead Dog’. (which, as I discovered both top out in the same location on each side of ‘Kelso Ridge’) After checking them out, I made the short walk up to the summit and took in the view.

I was all alone on the summit. However, when I hiked back down a few feet to check on my partner, and then returned, I almost fell off the mountain in surprise when four other residents suddenly materialized on the summit!

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Four gendarmes guarding the summit

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The team achieving the summit

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View to the west of the 10-Mile Range and Breckenridge ski area. In the center, far off in the distance, is Pacific Peak

It was nearly 4:00 by the time we left the summit. It had taken us nearly 5 hours just to bootpack the couloir.

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As we scrambled down the steep talus to our ski gear, the locals kept on eye on our safety

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Looking down at the descent

While we encountered a few clouds during the climb, the weather had held for us all the way to the summit. However, it didn’t appear as though the sun had warmed up the snow surface much, so we were forced to descend on some variable conditions (reminicent of my previous descent on this line).

Like before, the middle section of the couloir held the best snow, and the angle was moderate enough to take a few high speed turns with associated ‘whooping’ along with them.

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Making turns down the couloir

Approaching the ‘choke’
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The descent was so long, we had to stop to take a few breaks. Finally, we reached the bottom and returned to the snow-covered road. We reached the car roughly 8 hours after we left it in the morning, totally gassed out. ‘Tuning Fork’ is not a climb for the faint of heart or weak of legs. However, the rewards are worth it on one of the most classic descents in Colorado.

Also worth noting was that I had realized early in the morning that we were climbing this route on March 20: the last day of winter. This gave me a strong boost of motivation, to make my first ever ‘winter ascent’ of a 14er.

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Trip Report: Snowboarding Beaver Creek’s “Bald Spot”

Thursday, March 12th, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
“The Bald Spot” of Beaver Creek (12’161′)
White River National Forest

During my many trips to Beaver Creek ski area in the past four years, I’ve always been interested in hiking to “The Bald Spot” but have never done so. It is a fairly popular “slackcountry” ascent, and I’ve known many people to do it.

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Beaver Creek ski area from I-70. The “Bald Spot” is the obvious treeless knob.

Nevertheless, I decided to stop into the Ski Patrol Headquarters at the top of the chairlift to get some information.

When I walked in, there were three patrollers in the room. One was eating lunch and looked up and asked if he could help me.

“Yes. I’m looking for some information about hiking The Bald Spot.” I said.
“Umm…” he turned to another guy “Hey Johnny, do you know about the Bald Spot?”

“What do you want to know,” he asked me, sounding a little suspicious.
“Best way up, best way down, if there’s anything I should look out for.”

The first patroller was excited to help me and pointed out the window. “You can access the gate right up the hill from our shack, then…” he motioned me over to a trail map, and starting describing the route up the hill. As I already knew, it was a pretty straightforward hike up the ridge.

As he was describing things to me, ‘Johnny’ shouted out “Shawn!”. Both me and ‘Shawn’ looked over. ‘Johnny’ shot ‘Shawn’ a look and went into another room full of boss-looking guys.

‘Shawn’ continued, “This is a popular way down, and if you look across at the photo next to the TV, it shows some of the terrain.”

“So everyone basically skis the north bowl, which should funnel back to the ski area, right?” I asked, getting the picture.

Finally, the third patroller in the room spoke up. “Are you going alone? I wouldn’t recommend going alone, and without gear.”

“Well…I’ve got all my gear, just no partner. Besides, if I wasn’t comfortable, couldn’t I just take the same route back down the ridge that I used to hike up?”

Just then one of the boss-types entered the conversation. “We can’t give recommendations for anything outside of the ski area.”

I realized that ‘Shawn’ may have gotten in trouble for trying to help me out. “Sorry, man.” he said to me.

“Totally understandable,” I replied. “You showed me where the backcountry gate is. If that’s all you can do, I’m still grateful.”

I thanked them all and left. The third patroller still seemed skeptical of me risking the hike alone. After the whole encounter, I started to think maybe this could be something over my head. It was all very strange.

Regardless, I started skinning up the trail. I felt that I was educated enough and smart enough to make the right decisions out there.

As I came out of the trees and got my first view of the face, the tensioned eased. It was a relatively short hike, and I could see a half dozen people up on the ridge and skiing the face. Everything I thought was pretty much correct. I knew that ski patrol was required to react the way they did to me, but I still thought the whole risk was overexaggerated. Oh well.

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Skinning up to “The Bald Spot”. It was much closer than I had always thought for years.

A skin track and boot-track parallelled each other. After about a half hour, I made it near the top of the ridge. However, where everyone else had dropped down into the bowl, I found that there was still a little more elevation to gain. So, I left the skin track and headed due south higher up the mountain.

My extra effort was well worth it. Once I got over the crest of the slope, I was rewarded with incredible views of some craggy mountains of the northern Sawatch Range. I knew that Mt. of the Holy Cross wasn’t far, but I couldn’t see it. I assumed it was just over the summit of the Bald Spot to the south. Looking in that direction, I saw that my route would continue out over a rocky, wind loaded ridge.

The sun was out and I still had a lot of time, so I made the final push to the ridge. Standing before me, just as I thought, was the large hulking mass of Mt. of the Holy Cross. I was looking directly at the north ridge, the standard route. Seeing the mountain from this angle was new to me and very impressive!

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The North Ridge route and summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross. Many summers ago I made the grueling slogg through this never-ending talus field and summited the 3rd 14er of my career.

In addition, I discovered an amazing looking face on a mountain just to the northwest of Holy Cross. It had a huge, horseshoe-shaped northeast bowl, littered with many impressive steep couloirs! My best “guesstimate” puts these couloirs into the cirque of Turquoise Lake, and the summit above the cirque is point 13,202 just north of Mt. Jackson. If anyone has any other information to contribute to this location, please chime in!

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The incredible bonus find!

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The West face of Mt. Democrat, and the infamous scar of the “Climax” Moly mine on Bartlett Mountain.

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The author on the summit of the “Bald Spot”. Mt. of the Holy Cross over my left shoulder.

After taking the requisite photos, I said goodbye to Holy Cross and made my way down. It was slow going at first, as the entire top of the Bald Spot was relatively flat. Eventually, I made my way down to where it got steeper and met a group of 5 skiers and boarders who were just about to drop in. The top section had many exposed rocks, but nothing I couldn’t make my way around. Once I got below them, I made soft turns in about 10″ of fresh snow on the steep pitch just below the Bald Spot. The run funneled into the trees, where I encountered the dreaded “luge-gully” and finally exited back in the ski area.

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A look down my descent line.

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Looking back up at my tracks (and a few others)

After it was all over, I could have had a laugh at the reaction I got from the ski patrol earlier in the day. However, I held back and counted my blessings, because there’s always a chance things could have gone bad, even on such a simple mission as this.

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Oh yeah, the best part about riding The Beav’…fresh cookies!

MORE PHOTOS OF THIS TRIP

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Narrative and photos by Adam L. Reiner


HELL (frozen over) — Splitboarding on Vail Pass, Colorado

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I’ve got an unreal story to tell about yesterday’s adventure, but this dude does such a good job of spinning the yarn…

http://www.52weeksindenver.com/2009/01/091-shrine-mountain-vail-pass.html

(While reading look for the photo with the dog in it.  Compare the height of the trench to the top of his ears!)