The floodgates are open. I’ve heard more than one person mention that about what’s happening with Colorado extreme skiing. The classic route on North Maroon peak is being skied nearly every day, Landry’s route on Pyramid peak got it’s second descent a few days ago and was skied again today by a Crested Butte crew. And the huge news from today: Chris Davenport and Neal Beidleman did a 14 hour car-to-car push and descended a super extreme Euro style route on the east side of Capitol Peak.
Both men described being “shattered” by a day of skiing bony no-fall terrain above 500 foot cliffs. The route was first spotted several years ago by Pete Sowar of Crested Butte, who’s authored such new-wave lines as the South Face of Castle Peak. Pete has been up there a few times to try and piece it together, but never quite got it. Dav and Neal put it together, and from Neal’s description (he called on the phone a short time ago) the descent sounded incredibly marginal. Basically, the route starts from the summit and follows my 1988 line a short distance down to the upper east face. Instead of skiing to the Knife Ridge as I did, it continues down steeper and more rocky terrain, eventually requiring a short section on foot (about 70 feet) to reach snow on the south east face, which is then descended to the Pierre Lakes bowl.
|Davenport Beidleman route on the east face of Captiol Peak, Colorado. I’d rate this route at Grade V D21 R5, but it needs to be skied a few times to refine the rating.
I was incredibly happy to hear from Neal this evening, as I can’t exaggerate how on the danger edge this sort of skiing is. One tiny mistake and you’re dead. The kind of terrain they were skiing, ropeless, is the same place most climbers wouldn’t even think of visiting, and if they did they’d be begging for a rope in 10 seconds. It’s just amazing stuff that’s right up there with the caliber of extreme skiing being done anywhere else in the world.
Here is what Davenport sent me in an email:
“Hey Lou, Neal and I skied from the summit of Capitol today, down the east and south face into Pierre Lakes basin.. It was the route Pete Sowar has been looking at for a long while. It was the steepest and most committing ski I have ever done, and was scary at times as we traversed around the south ridge on slab rocks, then climbed up to hit the next part of the route. We did it in 14 hours car to car, and I’m totally shattered, but wanted to let you know. …Neal and I both agree that the Landry Route is like skiing Ruthies [easy Aspen resort run] compared to this.”
For me, along with emotions of astonishment and joy there was an element of sadness about the Capitol Peak route. I just got back from having dinner with Pete Sowar and his friends from Crested Butte who skied Pyramid today: Jeremy Wegner, Frank Konsella, Sean Crossen, John Jasper and Pete Sowar. The amount of effort Pete has put into researching and attempting the new Capitol route that Dav and Neal did is nothing short of stupendous. While I’m sure Pete is impressed by Dav and Neal’s success, it has to be disappointing for him as well. Reminds me of my days as a climber, when I’d get into trying a new route and someone would beat me to it — bummer. But that’s the way alpinism works; the top guys build on each other’s efforts, which leads to amazing expressions of the human spirit.
|Crested Butte crew today after skiing Pyramid Peak, Landry route. From left to right: John Jasper, Pete Sowar, Sean Crossen, Frank Konsella, Jeremy Wegner. Sean is now only one peak away from sking all the fourteeners, and that last pesky peak is Capitol. Possible plan is to wait for a few May storms to give Capitol a better coating, then hit it. I’m appreciative of Sean as he’s put an immense amount of effort into his project, in a grass-roots sort of style with much growth as a mountaineer along the journey. Dav’s project is cool as well, in a different way, but one that I still appreciate.
Congratulations from me to Sean’s group, as Pyramid is far from easy, and congrats to Neal and Dav as well!
And just for amusement value, here is a vintage shot of yours truly skiing across Capitol Peak’s knife ridge in 1988, on belay. Never in a million years did I think anyone could make it down the east face, especially with no rope work!
|Skiing across Capitol Peak knife ridge. Grade V D16 R4
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.