Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Iceman Cometh...

Alright I'm not exactly a Colorado mountain yeti but I was up in the high country where there was May.  Two weekends ago was the Basic Mountaineering School's "Hard Snow" day.  The premise of this field trip was to introduce students to couloir climbing, hone self arrest skills with an ice axe, crampon use, and rope travel in teams.  The route - Cristo Couloir on Quandary Peak.

Quandary Peak (14,265') is located south of Breckenridge, CO and is part of the Tenmile-Mosquito Range.  It is generally climbable year round due to easy access and avy safe routes.  The Cristo Couloir is located on the south side of Quandary Peak and is rated a Class 2 snow climb.  The stats are 2.0 miles/2600' gain/loss.  Typically, Cristo Couloir becomes climbable in early May but this year, conditions were questionable in the weeks leading up to the climb due to late snows that had not had time to consolidate.  The only way to know for sure was to give it a shot.

Our student/instructor group left Denver at 4 AM and arrived at the trailhead at 5:30 AM for an alpine start.  The alpine glow on the surrounding mountains was simply incredible.  As the students geared up, we communicated the plans for the day.  From there, we worked our way to the base of the couloir.  Last year when I was a BMS student, the Cristo Couloir was my hard snow so I felt comfortable on this terrain.  Initially, we asked the students to practice the 4 styles of self arrest with an ice axe - sliding down a snow slope on your back feet first, in a seated position, on your stomach face first and my favorite, on your back head first.  Once they felt they had enough practice, we started our trek up the mountain.  Snow conditions were not great but we continued on up practicing skills.

We successfully summited Quandary Peak about 1:30 PM and enjoyed an outstanding view on summit for about 20-30 minutes.  A lot of folks called their Mom's to wish them a Happy Mother's Day.  I called Karen and my Mom as well to wish them both a happy, happy.  Afterwards, we down climbed about 500'-750' on the couloir before setting up the glissade - basically sitting on your butt and ride the snow down to the TH.  We probably lost 1500' in about 5 minutes of sliding - great fun!  All in all, hard snow day was a success and I believe the students learned quite a bit about snow travel.

Next on my agenda, climbing Little Bear Peak this Saturday AM with great friend and fellow climber, Patrick Vall.  Little Bear is a serious mountain - a Class 4 - more so in the summer because of rockfall.  Our plan is to do Little Bear as a snow climb thereby reducing the risk of rockfall.  That and the snow provides a more solid anchor of sorts - we'll have crampons and ice axes to aid us.  If successful, this will be #40 out 54 14,000' peaks in Colorado.

Climb On my friends!

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