Posts Tagged ‘Splitboard’

Splitboarding Mt. Rainier attempt, via Nisqually Glacier

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

5/9/2009

I landed at Seattle-Tacoma airport on Friday, fully loaded with gear and ready to head straight for Mt. Rainier. I took a bus from the airport down to Tacoma, where my partner would pick me up. Much to my surprise (and aggravation), when I asked the bus driver to open up the under-floor cargo space for my gear, she said “No, you have to bring it all on.” So there I was pushing my snowboard bag down the crowded aisle while bumping people with my backpack and duffel bags. Finally I found a bunch of seats at the back of the bus where other travelers had piled up their luggage, golf clubs, etc. We all thought this was the stupidest thing we’ve ever heard of. The driver never gave a reason for not opening the cargo bays.

After a few hours of traffic, I was dropped off at a mall south of Tacoma and waited for my partner to arrive. The weather was gorgeous. Blue skies, sunny, green trees, no wind. It was not at all what I was told to expect of the Pacific Northwest. Finally my friend arrived and he said that this weather was “the exception”. As we drove out of the city and through rural pastures, the scenery reminded me more of the western coast of Michigan than anything I’ve seen in the mountain west. Suddenly, the clouds to the east broke open, and my friend said “there she is!” Mt. Rainier was peeking out of the clouds, and I had my first physical view of the summit.

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The mountain peeking out from the clouds

All the way to the Park, all I could see was endless miles of trees. Huge masses of light and dark greens, all neatly grown in a row. My friend called these “new growth” forests. The forests were so much more lush than anything I’ve seen in Colorado. Driving into the park, it was still miles of trees with no view of the peak. Finally we rounded another bend, and I had a real quick view of it, before it disappeared. The image dominated my frame of view. It was like we were right next to the summit, but in reality we were over 10,000 feet below it.

It was nearly dark when we arrived at ‘Paradise’, the main winter visitor area and trailhead. Being such a popular mountaineering site, there was a bit of paperwork and registering, with payment, that we accomplished in a small A-frame structure at the trailhead. Then we settled in an camped in the van. The air was getting very chilly. I thought about how we had traveled essentially from sea level to 5,400 feet in less than 100 miles by van…the only other time I’ve made that elevation change was from Chicago to Denver, across over 1,000 miles. Strange.

The next morning, we woke, ate a hearty breakfast, and geared up for the initial climb to high camp. Our intended route to the summit was the ‘Fuhrer Finger’ route. According to the guidebook we had, there were two ways to get there, both via the Nisqually Glacier. The standard route was to cross the glacier down low, and climb up to the left of the glacier via a snowfield called ‘The Fan’. However, the guidebook mentioned an ‘early season variation’ directly up the Nisqually Glacier. Apparently the route is not good late in the summer because of crevasse navigation, but the snowcover was very deep this time of year, so we went for the direct route up the Glacier.

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Starting our adventure from Paradise

As we skinned up from Paradise, we met another splitboarder, and a group of four mountaineers, all heading up the ridge toward Camp Muir. The splitboarder seemed obligated to give us a report “two feet of snow up high in the past few days; a lot of sun yesterday; watch yer-selves!” and with that he was on his way. We were the only group splitting off from the main route and dropping off from the high point above paradise down to the Nisqually Glacier. Once we dropped over that edge, we were alone in the wilderness.

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About to drop down off of the Paradise trails onto the glacier. The summit looks so close!

We roped up at the base of the glacier and headed onward on skins. The skies were clear, and it was getting very hot. The average angle of the climb was about 20 to 25 degrees, and as we moved along at a good pace, we were both sweating profusely. Still, I felt really good about my conditioning and our pace, and possibly even making the summit the following day. First things were first, and we had to make it to a high camp. We encountered about a half dozen crevasses along the way, all of them had very good snow bridges which allowed us to cross without incident. It was the first time I had ever been on glaciated terrain, and staring into the mouth of the first crevasse (which we nicknamed ‘Jaws’) was very intimidating.

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The first of many crevasses. Snow bridges were excellent this time of year.

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Breaking for lunch, just below the final push to the Nisqually Ice Fall.

By mid-afternoon, we had made it to the part where the Nisqually Glacier transitions into the Nisqually Ice Fall. From there, we would leave Nisqually and move left onto the Wilson Glacier towards the base of the Fuhrer finger. After about 3,000 feet of climbing (a typical Colorado summit!) we were still some 6,000 feet below the summit of Rainier. I suggested we continue climbing for at least another 1,000, to lessen the next day’s efforts. However, the terrain above us was much steeper than we had been on, and dominated by a rocky headwall that was shedding volcanic projectiles down the slope from the hot sun. The guidebook mentioned a camp across the Wilson Glacier at a high ridge labeled as ‘point 9,200′ which would have made the best camp. However, that would mean crossing the Wilson once to get to camp, and again the next morning to get to the couloir. Instead, we made camp on a high plateau at the base of the Nisqually Ice Fall, safely out of the way from falling rocks, and also out of the fall line of a potential avalanche or tumbling serac. (or so we thought, but for the rest of our time there, we couldn’t help but have a general uneasyness ever time we heard movement from above!)

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Here, we were supposed to go left around the big rock ‘cleaver’, and onto the snowcovered Wilson Glacier.

It was early when we made camp, and I still had a really good feeling about making it at least above the Fuhrer Finger, if not the summit, the summit the next day. If we had moved 3,000 feet today, we could do another 3,000 the next day, and at least tackle the finger. We spent about an hour relaxing at our camp and checking out the jaw-dropping views of the Tatoosh Range. In our panoramic view, we could see the other Cascade volcanoes, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and far off in the distance, Mt. Hood. I was amazed at how these volcanoes just dominate the skyline above all the other surrounding mountains.

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The author posing in front of Mt. Adams (covered by clouds)

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Cool looking seracs

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Brian chilling out at camp.

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Camp robbers in the alpine zone? We must be in a National Park.

We turned in early, even before sunset, for the plan was to sleep during the warmest part of the night, and wake up at midnight and make our push for the top. We agreed that 10:00 am would be our turnaround point, summit or not. When we woke, it was close to 2:00 am, and I got out of the tent to check out the snow conditions.

Up until now, I had some good feelings about the trip. However, I had my first doubts when I walked around camp and found a very thin layer of crust, with unconsolidated snow underneath. This condition was very similar to my aborted attempt on James Peak a few weeks ago. It would appear that the “two feet of new snow” that the splitboarder talked of the previous day hadn’t had enough sun to consolidate.

Now we had serious doubts, but since it was still way before dawn, we could either sit around in our tent for the next 8 hours, or at least make an attempt at climbing. We geared up with crampons and started up the slope. The 30-something degree slope would have been a breeze if we were able to toe-point on solid ice. However, we were breaking right through the crust and sinking almost to our knees with every step, moving just inches at a time, and burning a ton of energy. I kept hoping for better conditions as we got higher, but just like the James Peak experience, it only got worse. With heavier snows up high and less daytime warmth, we were pretty much discouraged from going any farther. We both knew our limits, and the energy drain that the conditions would do to our bodies, and decided to abort. It was way too early to ski, so we carefully downclimbed back to camp.

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Post-hole hell

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Sunrise over the Ice Fall. This place reminds me of Superman’s “Fortress of Solitude”. Haha.

Now all we could do was sit an wait for the sun to come out and heat up the lower part of the mountain and provide us with some good corn snow to descend. The weather was clear, so we just waited and waited, enjoying the view. We saw a lot of rockfall across the opposing slope on the Wilson Glacier, but no signs of snow instability.

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Mt. Adams

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Mt. Hood

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Mt. Saint Helens

Finally, when we thought we’d given the snow enough time to corn up, we made our descent. At first we tried skiing roped up to cross the crevasses. However, this proved to be too cumbersome, so we unroped and carefully made our way past all the crevasses by following the previous day’s tracks. Once we made it past the scary part of the glacier, we happened to find the best corn snow, which we rode down for another 3,000 feet, far below our starting point and arrived at the bridge where the National Park road crosses the creek. From there, we climbed up and hitched a ride back to the visitor’s center.

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Brian skiing down

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Whoah! Watch the hole!

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The author descending

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Back to civilization

In retrospect, I first always view a trip as a success just for making it back without incident. On this trip, I was also completely satisfied with our accomplishments. We had performed a ‘DIY’ mission, on skies, up a very challenging mountaineer’s mountain. The snow conditions may have deterred us from going further, but I think the greater challenge is just the sheer size of the climb. 9000 feet is 9000 feet, and it was pretty much exactly how I expected it to be. I feel that all the conditioning I’ve done up in the Rockies really helped. I felt very strong during the trip. However, If I have future hopes on making it all the way to the summit, I think I’d like to go up via a standard route, in summer, mountaineer-style. Once I’ve made it to the top that way, then I can think about doing it with a splitboard.

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Final view from the road

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: Splitboarding Herman Gulch 3/11/09

Thursday, March 12th, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009.
Herman Gulch, Arapaho National Forest

Herman Gulch is a popular backcountry destination for us front-rangers. With its close proximity to the continental divide, it offers a high elevation trailhead. As well, the gulch itself is very well protected from the wind. Lastly, the amount of available lines in one gulch alone are endless.

Although I had never been up here, a friend of mine had scouted out a long, broad, and steep powder gully on the north ridge of the gulch, not a very far hike from the trailhead.

When we arrived at the trailhead at roughly 9:00, it was under blizzard conditions. Forecast was calling for it to clear up at some point, but we had no idea when. Nevertheless, we suited up with goggles and face masks and headed up the trail.

Like many Front Range approaches, the first mile or so into Herman Gulch is relatively flat. While it makes for an easy skin up, a concerned splitboarder should make a mental note of the depth of snow, to be recalled later on when trying to ride out through the flat terrain.

After less than an hour, we arrived at the base of the gully. The first pitch looked steep, with trees on the left and rocks on the right. I couldn’t really see above the first pitch, both because it disappeared behind the steep face, and also because the snow and fog was so thick.

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Entering the foggy chute

We started skinning straight up the gully. At first we cut a few switchbacks, but soon realized that our skins were able to grab and climb straight up the slope. The snow was variable, but in most areas there was about 3″ of fresh snow over a hard layer. Some spots were total hard packed. The wind was much softer than my previous excursion on James Peak.

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I’m amazed our skins held on such a steep pitch

After the first pitch, the grand size of the gully came into view. It was a lot larger than I had anticipated, but I got even more excited about what I’d see at the top.

After about 1200′ of climbing, my partner was at the top, and I was just below him. This was the hairiest part of the climb. The slope was hard and icy, and I started to lose the glue on one of my skins. Frustrated, I took off my boards and bootpacked up the final 100 feet. Since I hadn’t anticipated any steep exposure today, I was a little jittery from that little experience, so I breathed a sigh of relief when I was safely at the top.

Although it was still foggy and snowing, I was able to take a few pics of the surrounding areas. We could barely make out Pettingell Peak and the Citadel to the West.

Right before our descent, as if on cue, the clouds started to disperse. Perfect timing! The high peaks to the West came into view, and we identified some very sweet couloirs to add to the tick list. To the South, the large hulking mass of Torrey’s Peak appeared out of the mist, right before our eyes.

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A quite ethereal photo and rare angle of Torrey’s Peak from the Northwest. Tuning Fork Couloir is dead center. (Call me out if I’m wrong.)

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Looking down at my line

When the skies opened, we both took off down the slope. The snow was better than I thought. I pretty much let my Voile do all the work, and straightlined it down the mountain, making very short, snappy turns in about 5″ of powder. It has been a long time since I’ve had a long, sustained, 1000′+ vert on a constant powder slope, without having to make a sketchy jump turn, or traverse around some rocks. There was plenty of “whooping” going down the mountain that day!

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My partner skiing the broad slope. Thats Pettingell Peak on the continental divide in the background.

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As I look back up at the skier making wide S-turns, I thought about how different our riding styles are depicted based on the tracks!

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Yours truly, holding “the stash” in my hand

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Narrative and photos by Adam L. Reiner

MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS TRIP HERE