Saturday, May 28, 2016

New Ski The Garage Website

I have moved this blog to I'll leave the old content here but all new posts will be to the new blog website.


Monday, November 9, 2015

The Fourth Anniversary of The Garage Blog

Matt hiking along Mount Trelease's west ridge with the Continental Divide in the background.
Mud season in Colorado is arguably my favorite time of year. The crowds are down, weather is still great, and you can dabble in both summer and winter activities on the same weekend. And cheaply; many of Frisco's restaurants offer great 2 for 1 drink and dinner specials. But most importantly, the Fall mud season means its time to transition into ski season.

This will be my 10th ski season living in Colorado [gosh I'm getting old] and my 5th season blogging about it. Most of my favorite mountain memories can be found among these entries. The blog started out as part of our very short lived ski-wax/tuning shop business venture, that was located in [yes, you guessed it] our [The] Garage. The ski shop now only services our skis but the blog has lived on. This will be my 125th entry to the blog and while I'm still trying to find my own voice as a writer, at least my mom now knows where I'm at and what I'm doing on most weekends. In fact, that's often how I gauge whether I wrote a decent entry - How harshly did my mother interpret the outing?

Since I'm getting nostalgic about this being my 125th blog entry, I went back through some of the prior years' early season entries and came across one of my favorites (trips not blog entries). In November, 2011, Matt, Eric, and I ignored the fierce weather conditions and 100 mpr wind gust forecasts to attempt to ski Lambs Slide on Long's Peak. I'll save you the details but it was one of the dumbest/most miserable early season days I've been on.  But also one that I'll never forget. Ever since, I've kept my expectations about early season skiing in check. That is, despite what is portrayed on your Instagram and Facebook feeds, early season conditions tend to be very far from epic.
Here's Matt and Eric illustrating the fun you could expect to encounter in Colorado's early season conditions. Picture taken during the November 2011 failed attempt on Lambs Slide. 
Chances are that any social media pictures of knee deep powder skiing taken from the Colorado backcountry this time of year are only micro glimpses from an otherwise herculean effort of hiking, skinning over rocks and dead fall through patches of thinly snow covered terrain. With the climax being able to very delicately link a handful of turns on a short leeward pitch of wind deposited snow on a high mountain pass all the time hoping not to bottom out on buried rock that sends you and your now damaged skis cartwheeling forward. And then returning the long slog back through the thin patches of snow and over dead fall back to the car. But I love those so-called herculean adventures with little skiing actually taking place. The bases of my skis? Not so much.
Matt getting ready to ski our third and last lap. 
Matt and I considered other sexier ski options but no area looked to be holding as much snow as the Dry Gulch area on the Continental Divide along I-70. Dry Gulch is a not-so-secret locals' favorite that year-over-year seems to retain the best early season snowpack around Summit County.

We followed an established skin track that helped avoid much of the anticipated bushwhacking that normally exists this time of year on the valley floor. We contoured up to point 12,808' on the ridge line midway between Loveland Ski Area and Hagar Mountain (13,195'). It was 9:30AM and for the time being, we had the Basin to ourselves. Non-existent winds, warm temperatures, and clear skies made it that much more pleasant. We proceeded to ski three laps in the east facing bowl in 2 day old expired powder. A good first day.
We skied laps on both sides of point 12,808', which is centered in this picture.
Rather than backtrack to the car the way we approached, we traversed to the saddle of Mount Trelease's west ridge and then up the 12,477' summit. In doing so, it provided a more direct ski back to the car and provided a more scenic ridge hike in lieu of a long flat slog on the valley floor.  A good alternative exit back to the car from Dry Gulch if the weather permits.

And of course, we took advantage of those drink and food  specials back at the Blue Spruce Inn in Frisco afterwards.
Back in Frisco. Matt giving McKenzie a lift to the Blue Spruce Inn

Enjoy the early season conditions,

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Keller Mountain, 13,085' & North Traverse Peak, 13,079'

View of Grand Traverse Peak from North Grand Traverse Peak. Notice all the new rock fall that we heard from our tent bivy the night before.
At 5:30PM on Friday, October 3rd, Matt and I left Rock Creek Trailhead in a drizzle with a rough plan to link Keller Mountain to many other TBD Gore Range peaks and ridge line scrambles to eventually finish back home in Frisco sometime Saturday evening. Buuuut, one route miscalculation up Keller  Mountain in the dark, left us retreating in a on-again-off-again snow storm before this mountain adventure really got underway.
Rather than regroup and start back up Keller from the correct approach late on Friday night, we decided that with the few hour detour and in the current snowy conditions, that our ambitious plan to traverse into Frisco needed to be shortened. So we camped in the Rock Creek Basin that night with our tails between our legs and did a simplified Keller Mountain via the east ridge to North Traverse Peak on Saturday morning and then return back to the trailhead. 

Was a fun 20 hour adventure nonetheless. 

Yosemite Trip

Yosemite Valley has the best rock climbing on the planet. And there's very few climbers that would dispute that bold claim. Like Chamonix is the capital of mountaineering, Yosemite is mecca for technical rock climbing. The worlds best rock climbers spend months each year in the Valley pushing the sport further on her big granite walls - look no further than Tommy Caldwell's and Kevin Jorgeson's first free ascent of the Dawn Wall last year.

The Valley also has a ton of intermediate climbing in the 5.8 rating range for mortals like myself and Eric. That is, we hoped you wouldn't have to climb 5.12 and haul your portaledge up every climb to experience climbing in the Valley. But that didn't mean we weren't mildly intimidated going into it by the hyped "old school" Yosemite Valley ratings (aka - hard).

We drove into the Valley on Thursday night for three days of climbing - figuring three full days of climbing would be more than enough time for two weekend warriors to wear ourselves out. Starting slow, we lead up a popular first timers 6-pitch 5.7 at the Manure Pile Buttress Friday morning. There was a controlled forest fire in the valley bottom that smoldered below. As we reached pitch-3, we climbed out of the smoke and had the iconic El Capitan looking down over our left shoulder and Half Dome to our right. I spent more time staring at my surreal surroundings than finding hand holds and gear placements. I love to climb but experiencing new places through my climbing or skiing is becoming more of my inspiration to travel than the activities themselves these days.

The introduction climb went smoothly so we we moved one climb to the right back at the base of Manure Pile for a 100 ft 5.8 classic crack climb. The sun was still shining as we approached noon. Not being a crack climber on a sustained true hand crack, I fidgeted a little as the hand crack narrowed to fingers towards the top, but found the rating still well within our Colorado rating experience. All was good in the Valley!

The forecast for the afternoon was thunderstorms so we shied away from starting a committing multi-pitch and instead went to play on some single pitch climbs at the base of El Capitan's south walls. Rain started just as we were discussing our next and 10th pitch for the day - which for me was a big climbing day so I had no problem calling it with the prospect of two more days on the rock.

However, the rain never stopped throughout the remainder of the weekend. Yosemite averages 2-days of rain in October each year and it received that and then some during our quick stay. There was a few weather windows on Saturday that by the time we geared up at the car, the sprinkles would then resume. The highlight for the trip thereafter was the thunderstorm show on display Saturday  night. Thunder roared down the Valley throughout the night like a freight train over and over again - very impressive.

I wish I had more to report from our first trip to Yosemite but the weather was the story on this trip. There will always be next time.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

West Trinity Peak, 13,765'

This blog post is about a climb that nearly broke my lovely fiance.

An early start from our remote Weminuche Wilderness campsite meant catching the stars from high in the alpine and then a beautiful sunrise against the Grenadier Range as we approached our objective, the 1,100' north face of West Trinity Peak. The north face of West Trinity is a similar but less traveled climb than the neighboring ramp on Vestal Peak, or at least that is what I thought. You can read about my last trip to the Weminuche to climb Vestal Peak here.
So excited for the train ride.
Other than an awkward  move onto the north face proper on the first pitch early in the morning,the climbing was quite easy. The move was only difficult because the rock was still wet and very slick from last night's storm, turning an otherwise easy 5.6 smearing move into a sketchy 5.10 move. We proceeded to rattle off 40-60m pitches on a light alpine rack in about 30 minute intervals.
The hike into the Vestal Basin on Saturday
We'd spend 5 minutes at the anchor to exchange gear and repeat the routine. Silly conversation and absorption of the view around and below us also filled those moments. Otherwise we were climbing.
Sunrise on Vestal and Arrow Peaks.
Mental fatigue began to set in as the day wore on, one rope length and sunscreen application after another, on rock that got looser as the pitch steepened and most technical on the wettest sections of the very slippery when wet quartzite rock. A few of the belay stations up high were uncomfortable positions to belay from contorting the body into a difficult stance. At this  point we were past the anticipated seven or so pitches that I'd guessed that it'd take to reach the summit and still were a long ways away.

A few pitches up with the Middle Trinity in the background.
There wasn't one crux pitch or one route finding problem that we could point to as cause for the extended day. The climbing wasn't harder than planned for and we climbed with great efficiency. It was the effect of 12 pitches, the accumulation of continuously having to keep our guard up. Is the weather going to hold? Is this rock stable or gear placement going to hold? Did he say, 'I'm on belay'?
The north face of West Trinity Peak
By the time we reached the windy summit ridge, the relief was again temporarily postponed at the prospect of another unexpected 300 feet of what appeared to be technical and exposed climbing to the summit.

McKenzie fought back tears from behind her sunglasses. I felt terrible for putting her through such a lengthy day. I felt bad that she was no longer enjoying herself. She was at her breaking point and I  tried to reassure her, take her mind of climbing, all while moving.

We finally reached the summat at 2pm after 12 roped pitches. The weather held. We finally could let our guard down, or could we? We ate, drank, took photos, applied sunscreen, again, and took in the views of the San Juans.
Summit selfie
The descent down the ridge was slow going. It was a combination of exposed 3rd Class scrambling and loose scree down climbing. This wasn't going to be a quick walk-off the mountain after all.
Vestal Peak
All I could think on the descent was that McKenzie had signed up for fictional type steam train experience to a remote and spectacular mountain wilderness, void of people, crowded with only cute urine licking goats (this actually happens). She wanted to listen to mountain streams, see the leaves change, and view wildlife. She did not sign up for a hair raising sunrise to sunset adventure on the mountain that we were now on.
Downtown Silverton
It took one unplanned for rappel and some short roping before the last of the challenges were behind us. After many hours roped together on steep rock, talus, and loose scree, we finally made it to the grassy basin floor and collapsed. There was no more delicate and exposed steps. No more harnesses or rope work. Best of all, our campsite and dinner was a now a known hiking distance away.
Finally, down.
In the end, McKenzie never did crack. She didn't freeze or breakdown on the mountain. While she clearly moved past what we refer to as Type 1 fund into Type 2 or 3 territory, she stayed positive. Stayed focused. And kept it together. There was no backtracking option on the table - we had to keep moving forward. And she did.

The more experiences that you have in the mountains, you can take for granted dealing with the unexpected. You know that if you do this stuff enough, things aren't always going to go as planned. Each experience better prepares you for the next. But the next is never easy. If you follow this blog, you've noticed that once or twice a year we get lost, turned around, or just move slower than expected. And a couple times a year a fun day in the mountains turns into a marathon sufferfest leaving us humbled and drained by the time we return to the trailhead. This was one of those days. An adventure with certainty isn't an adventure. And we'll be better prepared for the next as a result.

We were never in danger - just tired. And it may even be worth it some day when we look back upon it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Indian Peaks Wilderness Ridge Traverse

Nick hiking up Bancroft. James Peak is in the background.

There is an artform to fitting an alpine adventure into a short time window. Nick and I had until 11AM on Saturday to work with. This is how you do it.

1) Choose a place nearby. We chose St. Mary's Glacier that is only a one hour drive from Denver. 
Looking south to Bancroft Peak.

2) Select an activity/route with options to shorten because there can always be unexpected delays in the mountains. From James Peak that rises above St. Mary's Glacier, the ridgeline to the south offers a few gentle sloped river drainages back to the Fall River Road (and our car).

3) Get off trail. Just because you don't have much time to work with, does not mean you can't be creative. The ridge south from James Peak links to three fellow 13ers - Bancroft Peak, then Parry Peak, and onto Eva Peak. That would be our objective.

4) Estimate the trip time based on mileage, vertical, and terrain type. The simpler the terrain, the more accurate you can be.  I estimated this trip to be 14 miles, 5,000 vertical feet, over what appeared to be all Class 1-2 terrain or about 4 hours.
Looking south to Parry and Eva Peaks.

5) Back into the time that you'll need to leave Denver hoping that it's not to unwieldy on the alarm clocks. We left at 4:30 am.

6) Give yourself a 30 minute cushion 

And voila, we spent a beautiful morning connecting four 13ers and were home in time for brunch. Well, in all honesty, we were 10 minutes late, arriving at 11:10 am. Really fun day and was fantastic getting out with an old friend.

Check this route out if you're in the area!

Our route in Orange.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Huron Peak, 14,009'

Often not having a weekend agenda leads to the most creative and spontaneously fun weekends of them all. For McKenzie and I, this was the first weekend in a while that we didn't have any weddings to attend, no guests in town, and nothing planned. And it all unfolded perfectly.

On Friday evening, Eric and I raced up Mt. Royal's Royal Flush multi-pitch sport climbing route in 2 hours. This was my second time on this front door gem. It took us over 5 hours the first time after starting behind some very slow groups above. It's hard to beat racing up 1,500' of moderate climbing at sunset. We simul climbed the lower sections (5.4 - 5.6ish)  and ran out the upper portions (5.8 - 5.10) with three full 60m length pitches. I think we brought 15 draws and used them all. When you consider the quasi-alpine nature of this route, the accessibility, and the vertical feet gained, I give it 4 stars. But I'd quickly drop it to 1 star on a busy weekend so get out early or start late.

On Saturday, McKenzie and I broke out the stand up paddle boards for some SUPing around Lake Dillon. There is a noticeable but very sweet chill in the air as Fall approaches so water activity days are dwindling in high country.

We then joined Lauren, Max and some friends on Saturday afternoon at a campsite south of Twin Lakes, where we ate, drank, and slacklined into the night.

On Sunday, we woke early to hike nearby Huron Peak, 14,009'. Huron was McKenzie's first 14er. And fun fact, she bypassed starting with a 12er or 13er and went straight for the 14er ranks. She had no problem making great time to the summit, even after a healthy dosage of campsite shenanigans the night before.
Three of Sawatch Range's most rugged peaks in the background . Left to right - North Apostle, Ice Mountain, and West Apostle