Posts Tagged ‘splitboarding’

Rocky Mountain National Park – 1/22/11

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
The Front Range area got pounded with a lot of snow all week, so my skier buddy and I took a trip up to RMNP to do some touring/exploring/adventuring. I’ve been up to the Bear Lake area a few times, and the paved road access cannot be beat, save for Berthoud or Loveland Passes. However, the crowds that mass at those areas are nonexistant up here in the wilderness.

We set off from Denver in the dark at 5:00, passing through Boulder and grumbling at the two dozen traffic lights on highway 36 that seem intent on screwing over the very few early risers on the road for no reason. The ground through the entire drive was dry as a bone.

Finally, we entered the Park through the north entrance station. Instantly the conditions changed from dirt brown to wonderful, fluffy white. In the early dawn light, we spotted a herd of at least 50 elk huddled together near the side of the road! We stopped and got out to have a look. The air was warm, dark, and silent. I watched as the herd moved about in the tranquil scene, going about their business as we were going about ours. We left them be and continued to the trailhead.

There was definitely over a foot of new snow at the trailhead, and the sky was very dark and overcast, with strong winds. We started off on the Dream Lake trail in a southern direction, before hitting Tyndall Creek and turning due west. On the way, we met up with a solo ice climber skinning his way towards some falls a bit south of us. We stayed with him until the fork south of Nympth Lake, where he headed towards the big cliff faces near Chaos Creek.

Tom getting stoked for some Corps of Discovery type action
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It was dark and grisly, but the powder and terrain was beautiful
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Although the plan was to get above Dream Lake, we were greeted with a huge blast of gale force wind at the edge of the lake. We took shelter in the trees and evaluated our plan. We decided not to go any higher and instead head north on the bench, putting us above Bear Lake.

We made our way higher and higher on the bench, and the sun finally started to make its way out between the clouds. We finally topped out at about 10,500′, amid some rocky bands and trees. From here, we had a pretty good view of the whole line down to Bear Lake, save for a few steep rollers.

Scoping out our intended line. We decided to follow the natural fall line down and to the left in this photo. (Photo by Tom Armento)
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I am ready to drop in. First splitboard descent of the year for this guy! (Photo by Tom Armento)
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I dropped in first. The line was a moderate one, but the two feet of powder was excellent for surfing. I got to another lower bench and called down for my partner to follow. We dropped a good 300′ of steep powder before we got benched out.

Tom blasting the pow
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My turn to surf (Photo by Tom Armento)
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(Photo by Tom Armento)
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This is when things started going bad. The bench was too flat and my board was getting buried in the immense snow. I unstrapped and found myself up to my chest in unconsolidated snow. It was a little scary, especially when I found myself in a tree well or two. I started having flashbacks to a nightmare two years ago on Vail Pass. Eventually, I found a solid ridge that I was able to climb up on by taking off my pack and stepping down onto it to climb up. Then I reached down, pulled up my pack, and continued the process. It was exhausting, and I was in no mood for any more touring.

Luckily, we hit another steep area and I dropped down around some cliffs. My partner took a more direct line on a short headwall, setting off a small sluff slide, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Hitting the steeps above Bear Lake
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Finally we made our way out towards Bear Lake, passing a few more ice climbers getting after it. When we walked way out to the parking lot, we past a much more crowded scene than we encountered at 6:00 AM. Dozens of snowshoers and a few skiers who were just arriving to start their day, while we kicked back and reflected on ours in true alpinist fashion with some cans of Old Chub.

Map of our ascent (green) and descent (blue).
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(Narrative and photos by Adam Reiner, unless otherwise specified)

TR: Snowboarding James Peak (13,294′)

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009
PART ONE: Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The first of March brings about a turning point in my snow activities. After three solid months of ripping through endless powder lines at ski areas like Highlands, Vail, Breck, Keystone, Telluride, Steamboat, and Monarch, I slowly withdraw myself from the chairlifts and begin to think big…”teener” big.

For my first big mountain climb of the spring season, I chose a local classic: James Peak. This prominent mountain west of Denver is named after Dr. Edwin James, the botanist who happened to be the best climber of Stephen Long’s expedition of 1920. Among many prominent climbs, James is most known for his climb Zebulon Pike’s “highest peak”, on which he made the first successful summit of a 14er in Colorado. While the formal naming of that peak went to Pike, the peak that was named after James is no less important. In fact, with its intimidating east face complete with 5 classic snow routes, I believe it holds a much more important place in Colorado mountaineering history than Pikes Peak.

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James Peak, as my friend “Snowsavage” would say “Mini-AK, bro!”

On Tuesday, March 3, I made a solo attempt of James Peak. Because I was alone, I had no intention of challenging any of the couloirs on the east face. Instead, I planned to skin up St. Mary’s glacier and up the broad south shoulder of James Peak, and stop to check out the conditions of the couloirs.

I arrived at the trailhead around 10:30 and the weather was very clear. However, as soon as I started up the glacier, I encountered the wild winds that the front range is known for. I pressed forward, and as I crested the top of the glacier, I encountered two mountaineers taking a rest on their hike down. I stopped to talk to them a bit, exchanging stories. I was excited to hear about their successful climb of the Trough Couloir of Long’s Peak last week. As for James Peak, they told me they were planning to attempt a climb of the east face, but turned back due to high winds. I thanked them for the information and continued onward.

The bane of any skier or boarder attempting this route is the mile long flat, grassy tundra between the top of St. Mary’s Glacier and the foot of James Peak. The last time I had been here, during the much snowier winter/spring of 2007, we were able to skin across. This time, I had to remove my splitboard and hike across the meadow.

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Looking across the grassy tundra. Mt. Bancroft is on the left and James Peak on the right.

Although the hike was annoying, the scenery was beautiful, as I had some great views of surrounding mountains like Evans, Bierdstat, Grays, Torreys, Quandary, and even Pikes Peak far away in the distance.

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Gray’s Peak, Torrey’s Peak, and Grizzley Peak

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Pikes Peak, over 100 miles away!

Finally, I reached the foot of James Peak and was able to skin again. Unfortunately, the snow again ended after the first steep pitch. Since I wanted to check out the couloirs, I scrambled up to the southeast ridge to continue the climb on foot. As I groveled up the ridge, I first checked out Starlight, which had a few rocks in the middle of the entrance. Then I found the entrance to Shooting Star. Somehow, I had missed Sky Pilot, which I can never seem to find.

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Gaining the ridge for the first view of James Peak’s east face couloirs

Finally, I gained the summit of the mountain around 2:30. Although I’ve climbed this same ridge and splitboarded the Starlight Couloir before, I had never been to the summit until now. I celebrated my achievement and snapped some more photos of the Gore Range to the west, Arapaho Peak and Longs Peak to the north, and I even think I could see Mt. of the Holy Cross far away to the southwest.

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Summit achieved

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Shooting Star Couloir?

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Clear view of Denver!

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Is this Mt. of the Holy Cross? Someone help me out

The descent was less than perfect. The heavy winds had scoured the shoulder of the mountain, and most of my turns were made on the hardpacked snow. Then, as I had dreaded, I had to walk back across the grassy tundra to the glacier. On St. Mary’s Glacier I encountered the most interesting snow of all: sharp frozen waves of sastrugi. Because the top of the glacier wasn’t steep enough to toe-side my edge all the way down, I was forced to make turns all the way down. If I could describe it like anything I’ve done before, I’d say it is like trying to water ski on Lake Michigan. :thumpsup:

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Battling the relentless sastrugi

PART DEUX: Sunday, March 8, 2009

This time around, a partner recruited me to take the same ascent route, but attempt to descend the Shooting Star. This time, thanks to daylight savings time, we had more daylight and an earlier start. Unfortunately, 40 mph wind gusts made for an entirely different experience. On the glacier, the easterly wind was blowing snow straight down up on us, it was all that we could do to keep pressing forward, up the glacier and across the tundra.

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Three skiers moving up the glacier ahead of us

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Battling the wind up the glacier

On the south slope, there was a little bit more snow than there was five days earlier. Although I was able to skin up much farther than before, I still had to skin over some rocks that were barely covered with the light dust.

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View back towards my partner on the grassy tundra

We continued to press ahead, and the time was burning away. Because of our battles with the intense wind, it took almost six hours to move as far as it would normally take four hours. Finally, just a few hundred feet below the summit, we turned back. In the words of my partner “I felt a wind gust actually PICK ME UP OFF THE GROUND!”

Although I was pretty bummed about aborting Shooting Star, I thought we could at least do Starlight. However, my partner reminded me that we would again be battling the wind as well as waning daylight when trying to hike back up out of the bowl below the east face. Cutting our losses, we descended the shoulder and made the all-too-familiar walk across the tundra, and painful descent down the glacier. :(

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Close up shot of the east face

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View of the entrance to Starlight Couloir

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Superstar–the steepest of all the couloirs on the east face

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Pretty cool picture of Arapaho Peak in the foreground, and the flat-topped mountain behind it that reminds me of an ancient Mayan Temple: Long’s Peak

After my third trip up this route, I’ve written it off. If I had to advise anyone who is attempting the east face couloirs, I’d suggest the route from Mammoth Gulch out of Rollinsville. From that route, you get the advantage of actually seeing and climbing the couloirs, and can make the descent directly back to your car without dealing with the annoying flat tundra.

(and now…some new trip reporting tricks I’ve developed using this cool software my girlfriend bought me :headbang: )

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Route topo

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Route profile

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!)