Saturday, December 9, 2017

Winter Adventures Part 3: Hut Trip

***OK, so this post is unacceptably late -- you've been holding your breath since I announced it, right? -- but life got in the way.  But, hey!  It's kinda winter here, so talking about snow is still appropriate, right?***

In the previous post in this three-part series, I told the story of Brennan's and my ice climbing adventures -- climbing up near-vertical walls of ice using ice axes and crampons that didn't take much effort to provide a solid hold.

In Part 1, I told of how Brennan and I tried backcountry skiing -- uphill climbing/hiking on skis, followed by downhills on untested and ungroomed slopes.  We were hoping to backcountry ski on a hut trip with several guys from our church, but neither of us were quite prepared for that much adventure!  So we opted to snowshoe instead.

By this time, if you're not from around here, you may be wondering what a "hut trip" is!  In the Rocky Mountains, there are several cabins that aren't road-accessible in wintertime.  The only way to get there is to hike in through the snowy wilderness.  On this trip, we went to Francie's Cabin.  It's located only about 5 miles south of Breckenridge, and about 2-3 miles from the trailhead, so it was an easy hike up.

We arrived at the cabin around lunchtime.  After some chow and a little rest, a few of us decided to get busy exploring.  We had heard there was an alpine lake not far from the cabin, so several of us geared up and headed out in search of it.  How cool would that be to see a lake in the middle of this snow everywhere?  The cabin was located at the base of a valley, with mountains surrounding the valley on three sides.  As we hiked up the valley toward the peak at the end, we could see a bowl at the peak's base as we approached.  We assumed this was the lake.

The valley hemmed in by mountains
You can see the bowl at the base of the mountain in front of us.
We ran across this little guy as we were exploring!
No such luck, though.  There was definitely a large bowl, but no lake.  Instead of a lake, we did find the remnants of a miner's cabin.  (It turns out, that really was the lake, just frozen and snowed over.  Call me a newbie at winter trekking!)

So, having not found (we thought) that which we sought, we looked for more adventure and found a trail heading up one of the ridges toward the peak at the end of the valley.  We knew we wouldn't summit the peak that afternoon, but we thought we might get some nice views.

The picture from the trail we climbed up to.  You can see the steep slope and the horrible terrain (and the frozen lake below).
It was definitely an adventure!  The trail we saw along the ridge didn't seem to connect to the valley floor, so we had to just hike straight up the base of the ridge to get to it.  Turns out it was farther than it looked, and the terrain was tough.  In places there was no snow, just exposed rock.  Between the rocks was scree -- gravel-sized rock chips that just lay on top of the steep-sloped ridge.  Climbing up was tough!  Imagine trying to climb up the side of a mountain that moves with large boats on your feet!  When we finally did reach the trail, we ditched our snowshoes and headed up.  In some places, the trail was completely snowed over.  Aware that nature is not a theme park, we looked up the side of the ridge to check the snow up-slope, and there didn't seem to be that much that would be an avalanche danger, so we pressed on.  Still, the snow was wet and over knee-deep in some places, and progress was slow.  We thought we might make it to the corner of this rectangular mountain wall that surrounded the valley and see what lay beyond, but the sun started sinking before we made it that far, and we didn't want to be finding our way back to the cabin in the dark.

Once we reached the place we left our snowshoes, we were left with a decision:  How best to get back down the side of the ridge?  As we discussed it, there seemed to be three options:  1)  Back down the way we came -- but it was steep and heading down the scree might be dangerous; 2)  We could travel farther down the trail to a place where there was snow all the way down the ridge and switchback our way down the ridge to the valley floor; 3) Brennan jokingly said we could just butt-sled all the way down.  I quickly dismissed that option.  Brennan did not.  Eddie, my partner, seemed willing to try it, but I was afraid we would tumble, get covered with snow, and get cold.  Thus, Eddie and I decided to switchback our way down the ridge.  After a while, we seemed to not be making progress, and we were having trouble keeping good footing on the steep, snow-covered ridge.  Eddie asked again:  What do you think about butt-sledding?  I finally relented.  I took my snowshoes off, sat down, and kicked off, using my snowshoes held in my hands to steer.  And it was fun!  It was thrilling!  I was a kid again!

Upon returning to the cabin and bragging about all of our exploits, our leader informed us that we plowed through prime avalanche terrain -- without the proper equipment.  Oops!  Guess we've got more to learn about winter outdoor adventuring!  Note to self:  Sign up for avalanche safety class!

Our fajita feast that evening could not have been better after the workout we had that afternoon.  We sat around the wood-burning stove and swapped stories, the fellowship of fellow outdoor enthusiasts completing the adventure.

The next day, we headed out for another half-day adventure, this time exploring the opposite ridge before heading home with our stories.  My first non-skiing winter adventure had me hooked!  Can't wait for this year's adventure at Janet's Cabin!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Winter Adventures, Part 2: Ice Climbing

In Part 1 of this series, I chronicled my adventure of backcountry skiing, which wound up to be more adventure than I could handle.  I wasn't very good at it at all!  A couple of weeks after that trip, Brennan and I signed up for ice climbing at the Boy Scout camp.  The wall was mostly artificially created, but it was over an immense vertical rock face, so it looked natural.  It was a cold day in the mountains, not quite up to freezing even with the sun high in the sky.  We strapped on a climbing harness and some crampons, grabbed a couple of ice axes, and away we went.  The first ascent was on a slope.  Brennan went first and made it look easy, getting to the top in about five minutes.  It was much rougher for me.  I got less than halfway up, and my fingers were completely numb and I was completely worn out.  I didn't think I was going to be able to make it, but I pressed on and finally reached the top after what seemed like an eternity!

You can almost see me at the top.
When I got back down, the climbing instructor explained that if I gripped the ice axe for dear life, I was actually squeezing the blood out of my fingers, creating the numbness.  If I just relaxed and held on to the axe with as little pressure as necessary, both swinging and climbing, that it would be much less work and my hands wouldn't get so cold.  Sure enough, we both thought the next run was much easier, and my hands stayed warm!  We were really amazed at how well the ice axes held in the ice -- even if the axe went less than an inch into the ice!

For our last climb, we wanted to try the completely vertical face.  The instructor explained that even though it looked harder than the others, it really wasn't because of the way the ice formed with plenty of places for footholds and ice axe holds.  Sure enough, that held true.  Brennan and I both thought the climb was pretty easy until we got about 2/3 of the way up.  At that point, there were plenty of footholds, but they were really more like holes in the ice wall.  We put the ice axes in the holes, and they did okay, but were not as secure as creating your own hold.  At one point, one of my axes came loose, and the other started to slip.  Using my crampons and digging the one axe in, I was able to prevent a fall, secure myself again, and finish the ascent.

You can see the holes in the ice in this picture.

If you ever have the opportunity to try ice climbing, I highly recommend it.  There are some absolutely beautiful places in this country to do it.  But do it on a warmer day!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Winter Adventures, Part 1: Backcountry Skiing

Brennan and I had the opportunity over the last couple of months to try out a few new adventures, including backcountry skiing and ice climbing.  Then, just a few weeks later, we went on a hut trip -- an overnight trip that involves hiking up to a remote cabin not accessible by road in wintertime.  All three turned out to be quite the adventure!  I'll post about each of those in a 3-part Winter Adventures series with this post covering the backcountry skiing trip.

In preparation for the hut trip, Brennan and I went backcountry skiing with a friend.  We had never been before and were intrigued when he said he preferred backcountry skiing to snowshoeing because you could go all the same places you could on snowshoes only faster.  Faster is always better, right?  Backcountry skiing is similar to cross-country skiing except you use high-performance skis that are designed for all-terrain use:  uphill climbs, rolling terrain, and standard downhill (on groomed or natural slopes).  We met up at Monarch Pass, put our skis and skins on (skins are a rough material that attach to your skis to give you traction going uphill), and set out along a trail that skirted the outer limit of the Monarch Ski Area.  It was overcast that day, so the picture below doesn't do it justice, but from our perspective at the top of the world, it was absolutely beautiful out there!

We stopped for a picture on the Continental Divide at 12,000 feet.  Wow, it was windy!

Our initial plan was to loop around a couple of mountains and wind up back down where we started, but our options appeared limited at the pass.  Once we got up there and looked at it, the terrain showed too many avalanche indicators, so we decided to ski down the hill we had just climbed up and spend some time exploring the valley below.  That hill turned out to be more than I bargained for, though:  It was steep and had lots of powder that I wasn't used to skiing in.  Let's just say it took me a while to get down.  Unfortunately, by the time I made it down into the valley, I was beat.  Brennan climbed up another hill and skied another run, but he was tired by that time, too.  As we traveled home, we decided that, whether we weren't cut out for backcountry skiing or just needed more practice at this expensive sport, it was more adventure than we expected!  We decided that we would just snowshoe on the hut trip!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Skiing: A Bucket List Completion

Okay, I know that skiing isn't a unique adventure that is going to draw the masses to my blog like a siren song.  I mean, no one has ever been to Colorado skiing, right?  But, it does cross yet another item off a Bucket List aimed at experiencing as many different adventures and as much of God's beautiful scenery as possible.  And I got to enjoy a day with my kids.

Addison decided on Monarch in south-central Colorado because a friend gave her a BOGO coupon, and I could get a great military rate.  Monarch is a great resort for first-time skiers or families.  The Green runs are challenging for novices and fun for those that just enjoy skiing recreationally, and the Blue runs are respectable. 

The weather was supposed to be horrible!  The forecast called for a high of 15 with winds 30-50 mph all day long.  I think it scared most people off because it really wasn't crowded (and it was a week day).  It was cold that day, but we stayed warm in our layers, and the promised wind wound up being relatively calm with the exception of the occasional large gust.  It turned out to be a great day!