Leading into day 2 of Aspen Expeditions ski mountaineering program this April the weather got a little bit tricky. Nathan and I decided to go out for our second day on Wednesday the 5th of April 2017. A potent little storm system rolled in late Monday night.
Snow had dropped to the valleys Tuesday morning and my wife Ella and I skied the upper end of green trees in Maroon bowl early Tuesday in 8 inches of blower mid storm snow. There was wild rippled texture across the NW face of Maroon bowl but it actually didnt ski slabby in the trees at all.
Tuesday into Wednesday I was pretty keyed in to the increase in snow / wind load and the potential increase in avalanche hazard. I frequently searched upper elevation weather stations for snow totals and wind speeds. Nathan and I were in communication and we had several options for our tour.
Ultimately we decided we would go up into the South Hayden Zone and take a look at the Tri Hayden Traverse. This is a traverse I have always wanted to complete, linking north facing shots from South Hayden to Ski Hayden. The Snowmass and Highlands wind readings had only bumped into gusts of moderate and showed single digit temps at 330 am on Wednesday so we were hopeful the new snow might not be slabby and we would have an epic day.
We met at the Snomass park and ride at 430 and dropped a car at the Conundrum Creek pull out because we hoped to hit the long NW finish off of Hayden into Conundrum valley to end the day. By 5 am we skinned south toward pine creek and made our way up aspen forests into the mellow alpine basin north of Leahy Peak.
But alas, when we reached the basin the snow was thick and drifted. Nathan and I traded trail breaking as we remained hopeful, staring up into the beautifully coated alpine peaks.
But as we climbed further we noticed streaming plumes of wind blown snow feathered off the peaks and when we attempted to climb the east ridge of South Hayden we were beaten back with blasting wind and snow. The overnight low temperature on the Snowmass weather station had read 5 degrees fahrenheit and as we pushed up the ridge I was worried for the potential for frost bite. We even had a small pocket of wind slab crack apart on the ridge under our weight. With a quick discussion we decided to drop mellow SE slopes from low on the ridge and make our way down the basin. The wind slab was isolated to the ridge and the SE slope skied well with blown in powder.
We were perplexed by the isolated upper elevation wind speeds and we decided to ski the lower elevation Monument peak to the parking lot. Funny enough with only a short descent to Monument peak the wind had all but died completely. We looked back up into the alpine at the pluming and speculated that the upper elevation winds might die with the warming of the day. Regardless we decided to drop monument to the parking lot to salvage a lift access run at Highlands. The Monument drop skied pretty deep off the first few pitches but the new snow warmed up in the sun and we were careful through some steep rolls lower in the elevation bands and stuck to the tight trees. In the spring time when you get significant new snow and it warms up with above freezing temps and sun it is instantly suspect for wet loose slides or even soft slabs.
As Nathan and I drove back down Castle Creek to grab my car at Conundrum road we discussed the option of east verse west drop off of Highlands. We decided the northwest aspects would be holding out the best against the warm low elevation temperatures. The summit of Lodge peak on Highlands is close to 2000 feet lower than where we spun around on our Hayden attempt. As we rode the lift up around noon I looked down at the north facing low elevation snow in the ski area and noticed it was staying dry from cold temperatures in the shade. I knew that the drop would be incredible.
We dropped northwest from 12000 feet in a bowl called Desolation Row just south of Maroon bowl off of the highlands ridge hike. It had been many years since I had been in Desolation Row. It is a bowl I skied a handful of times with my friends during our first season out here, the deep 07 / 08 snow year. The snow was not wind effected at all and it skied beautifully 4000 feet down to Maroon creek. We had no cracking in the storm snow but some significant sluffing in the new snow as we skied steep NW slopes below tree line on top of a firm melt freeze crust. It was fun skiing technical little double fall line chutes and ridge and managing the sluff.
When we reached Maroon Creek Nathan and I put skins on and skinned north a long the creek to find the standard log crossing at the base of Maroon Bowl marked by a hoolahoop. We lost and found the t lazy 7 summer horse riding trail as we skinned down the creek. It brought back memories of running a long the same trail up to Maroon Lake years ago when I lived at the T lazy 7 ranch. I remembered running in the fall during some of the first snows of the season and seeing mountain lion prints in the snow. I still have not completed the tri Hayden ski traverse. As we skinned in the warm April sun along the bubbling Maroon Creek I was happy we backed off of it that day.
thanks for reading
Recently, Eric Genty and I took a climbing trip down to Potrero Chico, Mexico. Eric is a good friend and return client and it was exciting for Aspen Expeditions to run its first trip to this world-class climbing venue.
Getting down there is pretty easy. We flew through Dallas straight into Monterrey in the state of Nuevo Leon. We were picked up and taken to the small town of Hidalgo, where we shopped for groceries before driving out the dirt road to our room at the mouth of the canyon.
Our home for the week was the El Dorado Inn - a white apartment-style stay at the base of the climbs with small kitchenettes.
We settled in quickly. It was Friday night and there was a local bar out front on the side of the street that was fairly rowdy. We were a little nervous the party and music might go all night but it dropped off once we turned the lights out and before long we woke to the 5:30 alarm for our first day on the rock.
Each morning, we started off right with eggs, avocado, tomato, and coffee, before hiking the short approaches to the routes. Our hosts had provided an old black and white guide book of the routes and we had the Mountain Project app; I also ended up downloading the full guide book, available on the Rakkup app and using it on my phone. It worked really well in the sense of breaking down the climbing into zones and giving us more of the big picture layout. It even has a GPS locator with mapping that shows where you are situated relative to the walls and trails. I would highly recommend it.
Day 1 we headed out at dawn and it was pretty cool and windy. I climbed mostly in jeans and at most a light base layer top and a super thin breathable soft shell with a hood. Early morning in the shade we needed these layers but climbing in the sun ended up being hot! Late morning in the shade I was often in a t-shirt when it warmed up and this was perfect.
Our first climb was the classic 10c on the Mota Wall: Pancho Villa Rides Again. The Mota wall faces south and has a good selection of 500 - 700 foot classics in the 5.10 range. In February it's a good idea to start early on these routes so the bulk of your climbing is done before sun hits. You can move fast in Potrero. It is well facilitated bolted climbing and a 70 M rope will almost always allow you to link pitches and descend. Eric and I swapped leads on the route and finished with a worthwhile 11- variation on the last pitch that felt like some work in the sun. We also met a cool Canadian Couple en route, who had travelled the world climbing for a year and were just about to head home to Canmore. Serendipitously they had climbed in South Africa which is an area that Eric has been interested in, so we were able to meet up later and get beta for him on the climbing there.
When we rapped off it was mid day and hot so we specifically sought the shade for a few more pitches. We ended up climbing on the North faces of two small spires across the valley in the afternoon. They had cool alpine-style top outs on thin needles and they are relatively small features compared to the rest of the walls.
When we met up for dinner with Mike from Canmore, to get the beta on S Africa climbing, he planted the seed for the big classic Time Wave Zero and that became the plan for Day 2.
Time Wave is a 2300 foot S facing route, with mostly moderate climbing peppered by a short 11b crux on P2 and a few 10+ pitches up high leading into a 12a or aided bolt ladder near the top. We looked at the weather the night before and luckily the forecast called for cloud cover. We started the day at our standard 5:30 wake up time, and by 8am Eric was leading out on P1. The route is not committing in the sense that you can always spin and rappel. We made good time and effort on the route linking pitches and swapping leads until we were high up on the butress. However the cloud cover and wind was not quite what it could have been. We linked two steep exciting 5.9 pitches to the base of the upper 5.10 pitches and decided to turn and start heading down at 1:30pm. We must have been around 800 feet from the top still. With plenty of time to descend we decided not to bother with simul-rappelling and we were at the base of the route at 5pm. We will have to head back for this one to put it to bed! We made it back to town in time to catch a full-value local Saturday street party, with trucks, loud music, beer, and cowboys and cowgirls on horseback.
In this photo Eric leads a traversing rappel off Time Wave where he had to clip draws into the bolts along the way to guide him into the next descent anchor. Sometimes there are rappelling shenanigans such as this in Potrero.
...and here is a young girl of Hidalgo hanging out near the entry to the canyon for the Sunday festivities.
On Day 3 we went back for another classic on the Mota Wall called Snot Girlz. A lot of the crux pitches on the Mota Wall are right off the ground on really solid rock. This route in particular has an awesome 10d crux off the ground with solid continuous climbing throughout the pitch. The route continues up from there with fairly moderate climbing and then near the top of the route the money pitch is a wild exposed traverse and arete climb at 5.8, which I thought was one of the coolest pitches of the trip. It climbed like a fantastic gym problem way off the deck, exposed and with interesting moves but great holds. Really fun. We were a little tired from the previous days effort on Time Wave so we ended the day with a little rope skills practice at the apartment. In this shot Eric practices transitioning from a rappel to an ascent on the rope in the case of missing an anchor while rappelling.
On Day 4 we decided to chase the shade on the Zapatista wall; we got up a bit earlier and approached in the dark to make sure we were the first ones on the route. The GPS function on the Rakkup app was nice for this 35 - 40 minute approach because we had not done it and we were moving pre-dawn. This next shot is of Hidalgo at sunrise from the base of the Zapatista wall.
Starting early paid off because we were able to link two routes on the wall. We started with the classic Satori, which climbs a fairly steep alpine-esq feature with a fantastic roof pull up high on the route into more moderate terrain to the finish. We rapp'ed off to a big ledge two pitches up on the route and then we broke left and climbed a variation called Off the Couch, which has a more sequency face crux on solid rock on the final pitch. Linking these two routes made for an awesome day. We thought the Zapatista wall felt fairly alpine, thus began our running joke about jungle-alpine / tropical-alpine climbing. All the bolts sure allowed us to focus on the movement though.
That afternoon, we went on a long trek into downtown Hidalgo to find some "street corn" that we had been told about by some other travellers. We also restocked on water and coffee for the final day.
On our final day of climbing we were back to the reliable Mota Wall for the classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre. We started early again to ensure shade and solitude, and we were rewarded by a beautiful sunrise at the base of the route.
The route has a fantastic sustained mid-10 crux pitch on P3 and then another short steep roof pull higher up that takes a little sequencing. The quality of the movement will not let you down. We ended our final cragging in the shady oasis of Virgin Creek, which is accessed by walking through an old hotel and pools built into the mouth of the canyon; stone stairways lead up into the slot canyon and on to the cragging. It has a cool feel because of this, almost as if you are entering some sort of temple. In this photo Eric enters the Virgin Creek canyon through the old hotel.
We finished with some fun pitches including the super classic Don Quixote, which I was able to put the rope up on but alas it remains a project for me! We will have to return one day to put it to bed, too! That night there was a cool outdoor BBQ hosted by the neighbouring hotel and we got to hang out and chat with other travellers and climbers over dinner. In the morning we had a pick up at 6am out front on the dirt road and we were swept away through dark and dawn to Monterrey.
A fantastic trip to a fantastic place!
Come try Scott backcountry skis and boots on Saturday February 18 from AspenExpeditions the base of Aspen Highlands!
Come listen to the living local ski legends Art Burrows, Dick Jackson, Neal Beidleman, Chris Davenport and Jordan White talk about the evolution of five decades of backcountry skiing in and around Aspen.
Event location: Highlands Alehouse - $10 includes a beer
Presented by Aspen Historical Society
It's time! Take that Avalanche Course and enjoy the backcountry!
Women, ladies, babes, girls.. bottom line is, "we rip too." A lot of men, as well as women, seem to think that skiing "off-piste" is an extreme and dangerous activity. For this reason, females mistakenly become deterred from the backcountry. This lack of female participation in backcountry skiing as slowly been seeing an increase in participants. Clinics, camps and social networking has helped chicks feel confident enough to change the trend. Here at Aspen Expeditions, we are striving to create a supportive community where we can foster growth, confidence & fun amongst women in an otherwise intimidating arena.
Our goal with a women's program is to build a community where women can feel comfortable getting out into the backcountry, learning safety and technique without feeling the normal 'pressures.' The backcountry environment is an ever-evolving process, where the more education and experiences one has the opportunity to engage in, the better off they are.
See the following article in Forbes;
The seasons are changing. It's peak autumn season here in the central rockies near Aspen, CO. The Aspen Trees are golden, the high mountains covered with a dusting of snow.
Coming out this fall? Then come let us take you on day of fall rock climbing, maybe a peak ascent or scenic autumn mountain hike.
Planning to come this winter or thinking about it? Join us for a day of backcountry skiing, take an avalanche course, go on a custom hut trip with your friends/family or try your hand at ice climbing.
Rockies is still ideal for climbing mountains, climbing rock and trekking/hiking around the mountains. Plenty of clear skies and a temperate climate!
The summer has been fantastic. A thank you to all of our wonderful guests! Below are a few images of good times in the mountains;
"Hey just wanted to say had an epic day. Jack is freakin' awesome. Loved every second of it. Can't wait to do more with you guys. "
"A quick note of thanks for a great day yesterday on Pyramid! Scott was a fantastic guide, keeping this flatlander on pace and on target. Truth is, I was quite unsure at the outset with my finger issue, my boots having blown out the day before and just general trepidation. We had perfect weather, saw plenty of goats and experienced views that cannot be beaten.
Scott engineered a great summit day for me and I appreciate his patience dragging me up where the air is a tad thinner than Fort Worth and the rocks a bit bigger. So, thanks to you and your team for a very memorable day."
Get outside and enjoy the mountains! Plan your day or multi-day trips now.
The staff and professional AMGA Mountain Guides at Aspen Expeditions excel at providing a custom outdoor experience for you and your group. From easy half day private hikes and rock climbs to multi-night "turn-key" camping and technical peak outings, let us help you plan some outdoor mountain fun! Contact us today via email or voice at 970-925-7625.