I seized on incredible weather for the weekend and did a ‘Triple Feat’ on Sunday, up and over Sunshine from the Mill Creek Trailhead, skied to Redcloud, dropped down to the Grizzly Gulch Trailhead and then did an out and back to Handies, returning down to Mill Creek by way of the Cinnamon Pass road.
Heading from Sunshine to Redcloud.
All told about a 18 mile loop in 15 hours to climb and ski #21, #22, and #23 of the project. And what a glorious day in the San Juans it was!
Roger coming up the north ridge of Handies for the third summit of the day.
Thanks to Roger Carter for battling all day with me on those three peaks and for Anna Migl for coming along on the first two.
San Luis was 19 miles for a spectacular ski tour.
Then on Monday April 4, I was heading home but knowing that the weather was good, I traveled up solo towards the Equity Mine and approached San Luis from the south Creede side and was able to ski peak #24 of the project. This allowed me to close out the peaks in the Eastern San Juan range, which will be a huge boost to allow me to concentrate on other peaks moving forward.
On Redcloud’s Summit, excited for more.
So far so good! The weather is bad for a couple of days now but I will be back out at it later this week, stay tuned for the full trip reports in the ‘ski the 14ers’ drop down menu.
It’s been quite a week, and today was a great way to finish my 4th peak in 7 days and my 5th peak in 8 days. We took advantage of fresh powder and seized on blue skies to summit and Ski Mount Sherman in the 10-mile / Mosquito Range. It’s been so darn windy all winter and I was hoping that the new snow as well as taking advantage of the leeward side of the peak would provide a reasonable descent.
Stepping to the summit of 14,042′ Ellingwood with Little Bear Peak in the distance.
I will have the new peaks and pages updated soon so thanks for following along! This week the weather is forecasted to deteriorate until next Friday or Saturday, so for now I will hold, rest and get ready to get back after it in a few days.
Summary of the past week:
#17 and #18 Monday March 21 Ellingwod (14,042’) and Blanca (14,345’)
Skiing the south face of Ellingwood 14er.
#19 Friday March 25 Columbia (14,073’)
The snow was pretty good on Columbia too.
#20 Sunday March 27 Sherman (14,036’)
Even the normally bare and scoured Sherman provided some healthy turns.
Steep, icy, dangerous, and challenging – Little Bear was ready to offer up a tough winter ascent and ski descent.
Chris Tomer pulled up in his Tacoma to meet us at the bottom of the Blanca Peak / Como Road in the early morning. It hadn’t dropped below freezing and the forecast was for nothing but clear skies. Torrey and Anna had both joined me for the evening and they were both stirring in their vehicles. I gobbled up some mini cinnamon rolls, downed some water and we were all ready to continue up the road around 2am. I jumped in with Anna and Torrey and we drove up the road behind Tomer. 20 minutes later we parked and started hiking up the road as it rose out of the San Luis valley, it definitely felt like spring.
In darkness we ascended in to the Como Valley in moonlight, reached the snowline at 10,000’ and kept climbing. It turned into winter as we got higher. It was a pretty cold early morning, in the teens for sure. Crossing Lake Como around 5am it was cold with an occasional wind gust, but we all knew the challenge looming above us. Above the lake we stashed some gear in the last trees and headed up the first gully to gain the west ridge. The steps were good and making the ridge, Tomer and I chatted as we watched the morning light and allowed Anna and Torrey to catch up to us for a bit.
Amazing morning – Photo: Chris Tomer.
We continued on. The ridge was awesome as the morning Belt of Venus owned the sky with a light show to the west.
The last full day of winter.
Getting on the snow slope and traversing to the hourglass was fun and relatively quick.
Dr. Jon cruising up the slopes of Little Bear.
I let Tomer lead and he made some nice steps up the firm snow of the Hourglass.
Tomer charging up the Hourglass.
Great couloir climbing. The snow was firm and even icy in places – I’ll admit, as I climbed up through the narrowest part of the couloir, I knew skiing down this would be difficult. I always try to envision and plan out where my turns will go in my head, and usually hold to the plan on my descent.
Dr. Jon climbing up the steepest section. Photo: Chris Tomer.
The rest of the climb went by pretty fast. I followed Tomer to the Summit and were there by 830am. The top was blustery with gusts coming from different directions sporadically. Peak #16 of the project was a big one.
A beautiful day in the Sangre De Cristo Range. Crestones, Ellingwood, Blanca, and Lindsey all 14ers visible here. Photo by Anna Migl.
As I prepared for the ski descent I had the steepest section in mind. A solo climber named Drew made it to the top behind us and soon after came Anna and Torrey. The views were stellar on a crystal clear day. Clear views to the Crestones and to peaks in the southern Sawatch and San Juans.
I was anxious to descend. Chris headed down further to set up to shoot some photos. After taking a few more summit shots and a summit video I descended. The top of the peak was icy and rocky, but if we don’t get any more snow up there this season this might be my last chance to make some turns.
Making delicate turns in the upper section. Not the greatest conditions.
Above the hourglass I made some turns and side slipped down to right above the steepest part. There was a small choke of ice and snow that would have to be skied in a straight line with a quick right turn to the wider top of the hourglass. Without too much more thought I went for it. The rest of what transpired is something unlike anything I have ever personally experienced in my ski-mountaineering career. I’ve seen a lot of things on my years of expeditions and skiing, but I have never been the victim. My skis wouldn’t bite when I carved my right turn into the slope. I lost my balance and fell backwards. I spun around and plunged down the hill and into the couloir. I immediately accelerated. My mind screamed, “self- arrest, self arrest, stop, stop, stop!” But my friends around me watched and heard nothing but silence. My ice axe got ripped from my hands, my skis popped off and went flying. I accelerated some more. Somehow I first managed to get my head up and face my feet out like I was riding downstream floating in a river or down a slide in the park. I don’t know how but I steered myself away from the walls of the narrow choke point in the hourglass. Realizing I had no tools to stop me, I turned around and dug in with every other part of my body: mainly my knees, hands, elbows, and feet. A hundred and fifty yards later I came to an abrupt stop. I sank into knee deep powder below. “Are you alright?” Tomer shouted. “Ya I think I’m good”, I said. “I was just actually mad at myself for miscalculating the turn!” I told my friends I was sorry for crashing. I did a quick check myself but because I was on such an adrenaline rush, I felt no pain. Chris and Anna brought my skis and pole and ice axe back down to me.
Descending down the rest of the slope I couldn’t believe I was ok. I was so lucky not to have hit anything. That was the wildest craziest ride I’ve ever taken, basically all the way down the Hourglass for about 400 feet. Once on the ridge I took stock of the situation in the morning sun as we waited on Torrey to come down the couloir himself. I had a couple of abrasive cuts on my elbows and knees, but otherwise I was completely unharmed. Descending the rest of the mountain, I felt like I wasn’t ready to try and go up to Ellingwood and Blanca just yet.
Ellingwood – Coming up next.
We headed back down to the trailhead and eventually into Alamosa. As I skied down the Como road before having to transition to my hiking boots I kept replaying what happened in my head. I was on such an adrenaline rush that I still felt strange that it all happened. Then I actually went to the clinic and got checked out. Nothing broken and nothing but a few stiches in my right elbow. A little sore at the moment for one hell of a tumble, but It wasn’t time to quit on this project now – I would come back for Blanca and Ellingwood soon enough to wrap up these peaks.
More Peaks to go – never give up…..
Thanks for following along and I promise to stay safe as I move forward.
Belford (left) and Missouri to the right up the basin.
I left my house around 4am to head down south and get a good jump on Missouri, Belford and Oxford on Friday. The forecast was for light winds and sunny skies so I knew that a little effort could mean getting three peaks in a day. As I drove up the dirt road to the Missouri gulch trailhead I was pleasantly surprised at how much the road to the trailhead had melted out. In January I had come up the same road by way of snowmobile to access Huron. I didn’t expect to drive through some frozen sections of snow and then dirt road and reach the summer trailhead. Wow!
It was going to save me some excellent time to be able to start from the normal trailhead.
In early morning light around 530am I got moving skinning quickly up the switchbacks and into Missouri gulch. A nice snowshoe track from folks a few days earlier allowed me to reach timberline in the basin below Belford, heading towards Missouri in a quick hour and a half. The occasional gust greeted me, and I was soon skinning up the basin and into the throes of the northeast aspect of Missouri and above 13,000’ in the sunshine. A short break to put sunscreen on and then I put my skis on my pack and booted up to the north ridge.
On the ridge at 13,800. The north face seen here.
When I got to the ridgeline, I had nothing but about a mile of short ups and downs on a fun and windblown ridge. The sun was nice and warm, and the snow was firm, so I enjoy my stroll to the south and the views were impressive.
looking back at my steps I had to kick in order to make it towards the summit.
Near the summit there are a series of sharp points on the ridge, in the summer the trail passes to the west of them. The snow was firm enough to kick steps in the steep sideways incline, so I pushed across a short 150 yard section and was up on the summit by 1015am.
The north face couloir drops almost directly off the summit and into the elkhead basin below. After a ski cut or two, the powder conditions felt perfect, so I pulled out my camera and filmed part of my descent.
When I got to the bottom, I took an angle to the southeast and began my ascent of Belford In order to head towards Oxford.
I would be able to put together a reasonable line directly down the west face coming straight down towards me later in the day off Belford.
The top of Belford was very windblown and dry. I was hoping to find a line off its west aspects later on in the day, but for the moment I bypassed the summit to the south and got my first glimpse of Oxford.
Looking over to Oxford, I was able to ski the windblown ridgeline to put together a line off the top.
Oxford looked bad, but I did see a long line of snow from the top down to the saddle of the ridge, so I knew if I could climb up to Oxford, I would be able to ski back towards Belford and get it done.
The winds began to pick up ever so slightly, but I made good time across the long flat ridge to Oxford’s summit. Looking south Harvard and Columbia Looked very dry.
Barely enough snow to ski off the top of Oxford.
We need more snow! Fortunately I already skied Harvard in Better conditions, but the southern Sawatch peaks that I have remaining definitely concern me.
Looking back to Oxford’s summit and my ski tracks.
After a short rest and some food and drink, I clicked in and skied the ridge back to the saddle towards Belford. I basically went from two of the best skiing peaks of the entire project (Castle and Missouri), to the worst peaks with conditions yet (Belford and Oxford). Honestly, I just wanted to go home at this point. It was a long day, and I did enjoy it a great deal.
The south ridge leading toward Belford was so dry. Fortunately the west face had just enough snow to ski down.
Then I arrived on Belford’s summit and was greeted by a Russian woman named Natalie who had climbed Missouri and had come back across the valley to bag Belford. We both agreed that the ski descent of Missouri was excellent and thought we could probably piece together a reasonable line on Belford’s west side.
Natalie dropping down the west face with Missouri as a nice backdrop.
We skied past some small towers and made the most of some great turns in the warm afternoon sun.
Looking back up Belford while skiing the west face aspects.
Then the fun part was cruising down the basin back towards Missouri Gulch and the trailhead above timberline on fast slopes in the creek bed.
Heading back to timberline, my tracks.
The only thing slowing me down now is that I broke one of my bindings in deep snow in the trees on the way down…luckily I have a bit of time to get if fixed this week as this Colorado storm system moves through, plus it should help with more snow!
As I entered the trees I started to take stock of the project. Feeling amazing so far and off to an excellent start through about the first quarter of this endeavor.
Back to the trailhead in Missouri Gulch before the sun set. A full 11 hour day!
I appreciate the support from many so far. I have had a handful of great partners to join me, and I’m sure there will be more on the horizon. On to the Sangres for a bit next!
Start Time: 345am Reached Summit: 8am (Hour on the Summit) End Time: 1015am back to Green Wilson Hut
It was a cold and clear morning when we departed the Green Wilson Hut deep in the heart of the Elk Mountains on Tuesday Morning. Sunday and Monday were quite stormy, dumping up to a foot of powder in this corner of Colorado. The snow had settled into the stable layer below, so as I broke trail into Montezuma basin, the going was moderately tough, but the stars were spectacular.
Early Morning Light
Cresting into the upper basin, the morning light came on strong and before I knew it we were skinning up to the notch on the northeast ridge of Castle.
Steep ridge in deep powder.
It was a chilly morning, and as the sun began to come up, we made it to the ridge. It felt almost Himalayan as I had been climbing in my down jacket throughout the morning darkness but thankfully there was no wind.
Brilliant day in the Rockies!
The views became even more impressive as we got higher and higher. The ridge was tough and loaded with snow, and at times as we booted up the ridge I sank up to my waist in the fresh powder.
Getting close to the top.
Up the final summit pitch was a challenge of powder, and we battle through it so by 8am we had earned the summit. Calm, cold, and clear, but the morning sun warmed us. This was a peak I definitely was enjoying. In fact we stayed for an hour on top. This was my 3rd winter summit of Castle and probably the best one yet. The snow was amazing.
Calm Summit 14,265′
After some food and snacks, I clicked in and skied right of the top of the highest spot in all of the Elk Range. The best way off the summit was by way of the east face.
The East Face with an impressive backdrop.
I took a couple of turns off the steep point on the crest of the face, and then we made our way to the notch on the northeast ridge that we climbed. From here the north couloir was beckoning. No steeper than 35-40 degrees or so, the broad couloir was filled in nicely with up to 3 feet of powder that had blown in during the last storm.
Creamy Turns in the North Couloir
Nearly 1000 feet of fun turns we took in this couloir, and once we made it down in to the basin we really opened things up for an half hour of fun skiing down the basin and back to the Green-Wilson Hut. I was fortunate to spend a few days hut tripping with great friends and got a chance to ski over Pearl Pass as well, exploring some excellent corners of the Elk Range.
Look closely, you can see our tracks!
Because the snow conditions of powder were so awesome, it was my favorite peak of the project so far and one of my best 14er skis in years. With more awesome weather coming in the next few days I am going to get after some more peaks to keep this project rolling! Thanks for following along!
Start Time: 430am Reached Summit: 1030am (Hour on the Summit) End Time: 2pm
I had a little Tiger inside me and I let it out with a fun solo day on Princeton in the southern Sawatch. My alarm in Vail went off at 230 am and I was on the road cruising down south in the dark by three after a nice breakfast. Pulling into the Mount Princeton Road I was able to drive about a quarter mile to where the snow started and so I turned around on a flat spot, parked, and was skinning up the road in no time.
In the darkness it was actually quite warm and not very windy at all. The usual magical hour came and went, a decent sunrise, and the lower reaches of the road turned from half melted out to full on snow making for a fun warm-up for the climb.
In early dawn light I reached the radio tower at 10,800’ and pushed on. For awhile the winds howled and I wondered if the day would turn out to be another battle in high winds. Near timberline I left the road and followed the summer trail west to get my first look at Princeton.
The east face with just enough coverage.
The morning sun was warm and between 8 and 9 as I climbed toward the peak in the basin and scoped out my ski line, the winds died down and it became quite pleasant! Luckily the peak has some reasonable snow, enough to make something work. Not having to essentially run for my life like last week in the winds, I took a 20 minute snack break about 500 feet from the top, sat and just enjoyed the views. It was so nice!
Before long I got in a good rhythm, up a few portions of snow on the ridge and at 1030am came to the summit wind rock shelters. #11 was a long morning, but I felt great and it was nice to get this one done on nearly a spring day in the Rockies! This was the second time in my career I’ve skied Princeton, and I have been to the summit at least a half dozen times before (1997, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 & 2016).
Summit Shelter in almost no wind.
Views to Shavano and Antero concerned me a bit. I hope we get some snow on those peaks! (Usually April and May deliver to make them skiable enough) The northern Sawatch has plenty, and so does the Elk Range and San Juans, which I could see plastered in white apart from the nice blue sky. Still plenty of days ahead!
Looking towards Buena Vista at the tip of the line.
After some snacks and photos it was time to ski. I left the summit on Princeton’s eastern and northeastern ridgeline, and fund the top of my line that I had seen on the way up. Besides and few rocks near the top, it was clean all the way into the basin!
I descended and made some nice turns in the softening snow that had been warmed by the bright sun. Near the bottom I crossed paths with some goats who crossed the chute.
Looking down the line halfway down.
Nice creamy turns in the warming sun!
We’ll call it the East “Tiger- Goat” Chute on Princeton! Soon after a short upclimb from Dry Creek Basin I was back on the summer trail that wrapped around “Tigger” peak and back to the road where I was able to ski nearly back to my car by 2pm.
Fun, Fast, and Efficient day in the Mountains for Peak #11 of the project!
March 2, 2016, Project Progress: moving forward into the Spring!
With the two toughest months of winter behind us now, it’s been great to stop and reflect on my great start in this endeavor. So far, I am thankful for relatively good snow, safe conditions, and successful summits and ski descents.
I made it through January and February with a nice start to skiing 10 peaks. A few of the days were very windy, and I just had to put my head down and go, while several of the days there were perfect winter conditions and almost no wind. As a whole I have enjoyed skiing these peaks immensely, and of course revisiting 14ers that I have a huge history with, to say the least.
As the days get longer, the snow conditions will settle, and I can pick up my pace a bit through March. Today is March 2nd, and at this time I am 2 peaks ahead of Chris Davenport’s pace. On March 2nd he had skied his 8th 14er on this date 10 years ago today. I am definitely inspired by his feat, and I am going to do the best I can to ski as many peaks as I can as we move towards the spring here on these mighty Colorado 14ers.
Moving forward, there will be blog updates as I continue this project, so please follow along and enjoy the adventure. Also, on the “Skiing the 14ers” menu bar, past trips and the first peaks skied so far will be updated with posts, so that the adventure and stories are shared.