Monday, April 13, 2015

Never Summer Range Traverse

I set out the first weekend of April to ski from Cameron Pass to RMNP with Mark Koob. We had attempted this traverse a few years ago with another friend, Travis, but decided to bail at Lake of the Clouds after unfavorable weather.

Using the knowledge gained from the last time I set a more ambitious goal of also summitting all the peaks from Richthofen to Baker and getting as many ski descents in as possible.

We didn't have any car shuttle help, so had quite a bit of driving to do with 4 hours on Friday night and 5 hours on the return on Sunday night.

We started at the Crags trailhead at 4am on Saturday moving quickly to warm up. It was quite cold. I was wearing my micropuff under my helmet and had on windshells plus a hand warmer over my gloves. We had warmed up by the time we got past Agnes Cabin and we could start to see the moon losing some of its disk to the eclipse. Unfortunately we followed an existing skintrack in the dark and ended up on the flank of the wrong mountain(Braddock Peak). After breakfast burritos we realized our mistake and decided to ski traverse around staying as high as we could. Mark left his skins on and his splitboard in ski mode while I ripped and locked my heels. We skied through a number of large slide paths that had gone big within the past few years. One in particular felt almost like walking though burned out forests north of Steamboat Springs. It was eerie.

The snow was in great shape with 4-6 inches of fresh on top of a nice stable base and we had high expectations for our descent down Richthofen's SE face later in the morning.

We skinned up past Lake Agnes and made good time to Richthofen's shoulder. Amazingly the fresh snow made for easy skinning with no ski crampons required.

When we gained the ridge we were cold again with significant wind and while the sun was hitting Mahler Peak to the west of us, it would be awhile until we were blessed with its warmth. The hiking up the ridge was treacherous with the talus being loose and only covered with the most recent storm. It made slow and frustrating progress. When we got the view of our planned descent we were disappointed to find dry talus where there was plenty of snow on our last attempt. We started to climb down the talus to a ribbon of snow but that felt unsafe due to the steep pitch. I kicked off a large block and it kept bouncing past my view. So as soon as possible I put on my skis to sideslip the 'ribbon of death.' It is even more fitting here than early season at the resorts, and fall would have been very dangerous and the snow was narrow and very firm. I did manage a few turns in a small powder deposit before traversing hard right where we had made it down in 2013. I had to cross another talus field with fresh snow on top of dry rocks. This was possible by stepping with my skis, but I worried about how Mark, on a snowboard, would manage it. I managed to avoid any coreshots, but did definitely cause a little pain to my edges and bases with this maneuver. I kept traversing until I could see a line that I was reasonably sure would go. Due to the steepness and the fact that the slope rolls over I couldn't be certain that skiing down the snow I had just traversed would have gone, but in the future I would like to do a bottom up ski of this pitch because there are some very interesting lines to be had with the right beta. I skied down a narrow ramp with variable snow until I could see for sure that I would make it down and then turned my attention to Mark.