The photo was taken by early Fourteener skiing pioneers during aerial reconnaissance in the 1980s. Howie and Mike Fitz and Bob Pfeiffer skied more than 40 fourteeners and were trying to get them all. They had a pact to ski together, and when Howie’s knees gave out they called it quits. These guys were super helpful during my ski-the-teeners project, and shared all their photos. This one really inspired, though I ended up doing my Kit Carson descent down the other side. Davenport skied the Outward Bound Couloir, connecting via a route that’s on the other side from the photo view. My journal entry below is for the “Kirk Couloir,” which I named after my first orthopaedic surgeon Rodny Kirk, who was killed in a plane crash some years ago.
(A brief digression to the department of orthopaedic recreation
While writing about Kirk I had to chuckle to myself because I’m on my fourth surgeon. After Rodney, I procured the skills of a guy up in Seattle who was doing some radical stuff at the time, then switched to a gentleman in Colorado who retired a few years ago, probably off all the money he made from my insurance company. Guy I’m seeing now seems to be doing a good job of keeping me going — and he sure makes a lot of money from our insurance — not to mention the co-pays… groan.)
One of my biggest life disappointments is that I failed to journal things like my first NOLS course or that big Denali expedition back in my day. Now, even though I sometimes even get paid to write and most often enjoy it, I’ll confess that a series of swift kicks to the rear are what I usually need to journal a trip. So after self administering a few of such, I usually keep some sort of log when I’m doing any trip more significant than my day-to-day.
Now those little books tucked away in my file cabinets and memento boxes have become as precious as the alpine breezes and scrappy mountains they describe. They easily evoke positive emotions that are more powerful than I probably should admit. More, my family will have them when I’m gone and hear about the things that made my life whole and complete, just as we presently enjoy letters and other writings from past relatives.
On lesson I’ve learned is that I need to remind myself that creating a trip log or journal is like making a deposit in an emotional bank. Later on in life, perhaps when things get tough, you can dig up those words and cash in. Years later, someone else might do so as well.
Inspired by Chris Davenport’s new 14er skiing book that’ll soon be on the shelves and includes some of his excellent trip reportage, I thought I’d share a vintage ski mountaineering journal entry from back in 1989. That’s back in the days before there was an internet as we know it, when my sharing anything in writing about my adventures meant doing so in a rare magazine article, or perhaps a guidebook that would appear years later.
This particular entry is from when I was skiing all the 14ers, and nailing the occasional “bonus peak” for guidebook research and because some looked worth their own day if plans had to be adjusted due to weather or lack of energy for bigger climbs to the real 14er summits. In this case, bonus summit is Challenger Peak, a point west of 14er Kit Carson that was named in honor of the Challenger space shuttle astronauts who lost their lives. Challenger definitely doesn’t count as a 14er even though the top is about 14 (because it’s just a point on a ridge), but it’s a cool climbing goal and a nice ski descent. The day was intense because I went solo, into a storm. A few words from my journal bring it all back to me. Yeah, it’s just some scribbles, but they work like magic to dredge up those fine memories.
4-12-89 — Challenger Peak North Face
Slept in late, till 5:00 AM, then did the slow drive from Alamosa to Crestone with time for breakfast and loading the truck. Didn’t get moving from the trailhead ’till 8:00, late, but it was cold and stormy, not a thaw day.
What a slog up Willow Creek! I put my head down like a pack mule and had it out with the first 2,000 vertical — walked the dirt in my randonnee boots — ouch.
The clouds were dropping and it was snowing like crazy. I knew I couldn’t make it to upper Willow to do the O.B. couloir off Kit Carson, but a “proposed” route that Howie and Mike Fitz and Bob Pfieffer had told me about was penciled in on my map and looked intriguing; a stunning couloir that cut up to lookers right of Carson and topped out just a few feet from the summit of Challenger.
The map showed it being steep. It was.
There was about four inches of new snow, so to avoid getting blasted by a big slough or worse I worked a climbing line under the left hand cliffs, out of the gut. The clouds dropped down to a point about halfway up the couloir, so I literally front pointed my way up to the clouds.
Got to the summit saddle tired but still enthusiastic, and decided to first explore that side of Kit Carson a bit, thinking there might be a secret ski route that might get me a 14er descent. No such luck, so back to the saddle, then a quick walk up to Challenger summit.
It was still snowing and blowing and all I had on was a pair of wet lycra tights. Had to change up there in the wind & storm. What a pain: Boots off, pants off! Got it done.
Then dived into a complete white-out in the couloir. Realized there was too much avy danger, as well as fall potential because of vertigo, so I hugged the rock wall as long as I could then traversed into the less steep section. All this time I’d been knocking off sluffs that would disappear into the clouds below me.
Finally, I got down to the apex of the bowl and breathed a sigh of relief, but only a short sigh, because here the small sloughs I’d triggered above had deposited enormous piles of snow. I could only wonder if more would be coming down, to the exact spot where I stood.
So I booked it down to the drainage where dirt walking began. I was glad that was over! I’ll also be glad with I’ve skied all these 14ers — that is some goal I set for myself… a bit more than I bargained on…
The walk-out from Willow was more slog action. But I did enjoy the smell of spring down in the forest — and enjoyed calling Lisa — miss her dearly. Seems to me I’d never make a good traveling worker, always too homesick.
Back at truck 4:30 P.M.
The nuts and bolts of journaling a trip are not of much importance, but worth a few words. I favor a ball point pen just because they work better with my stiff fingers. If you use a pen, just make sure it is waterproof (test at home). Iâ€™ve journaled on the back of an envelope, and used the margins of topo maps for quick backcountry skiing notes. Neither are recommended, however, as the maps tend to get used up and unbound paper literally falls through the cracks. Instead, I favor those small spiral bound notebooks you can find on any school supplies shelf at the store. The medium size 5×8 inch version works well for major note taking, and at 3×5 inches the smaller version fits in the vest pocket of my collared sun shirts or the hip pocket of my favorite soft shell pants. When a trip is over, they fit nicely in my files or live on my desk while I’m writing.
Blog readers, do you journal? What’s your take on the process?
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.