Today was brutal for me, and actually somewhat brutal for the boys as well. We grabbed as much gear and food as we could without compromising another night here in camp, then headed up the hill about 2,600 vertical feet to a cache location at 13,400 feet, just past a famed place known as Windy Corner. The 14,200 foot camp is only about 1,000 vertical feet above our cache, but we’re doing a few more ‘feasible’ double carries so we arrive at 14,200 at least somewhat acclimated.
‘Feasible’ is a relative term. Like I said, it was brutal.
The day started with a little wonder called Motorcycle Hill, which you’d think was an inconsequential bump at your favorite backcountry ski area of around 600 vertical feet. Instead, you’ve got 50 lbs on your back and 30 in your sled, which hangs from your waist like some kind of weight training setup you’d see in a body building gym. The sun beat us mercilessly and the weird side angles of the worn crampon track made climbing in ski boots feel like dancing with your feet in buckets. I actually got to the point where I was picking out snow lumps ten feet ahead of me and using them as my goal. That and a prayer or two got me up there. Shew. Talk about being humbled!
The boys dug a big cache hole and we got everything tucked away. Next, rip the hill. All these guys ski fast and aggressively. The spectacle they made flying down Motorcycle Hill, with their empty sleds swinging around like war cudgels, caused a guide down here at camp to say they looked like a bunch of banshees. As for me, it was the usual conservo style which got me down just fine.
We cooked a big dinner a little while ago, now time for sleep and then do it again tomorrow only we’ll go all the way to the 14,200′ camp.
I’m always in doubt about what I can do up here in terms of my age, injuries, etcetera; but I keep surprising myself. Mostly, being up here with my son is just so special it leaves me speechless and tearful several times a day. Practical agenda with that is that safety is job one. To that end, Louie and I roped up for the downhill skiing in the more crevassed parts of the route today. I wish we could ski all of the downhill roped, but skiing roped introduces its own hazards, such as more frequent falls that could take you into a crevasse or worse. What helps is that while we and some other groups always rope for the uphill, I’d say about 3/4 of the climbers we see do not travel roped, and most of them are on foot or snowshoes. So the trick when you ski down is to stay where they’ve walked. If you do that and ski smoothly, the chances of falling in a crack are in my opinion nearly nil. But stray from the path, and you’re asking for trouble.
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.