Saturday, April 23, 2011

Before Denali: 9 days to Anchorage

Today in Summit County Colorado it's been snowing off and on all day. I went out late in the day (1 PM) with the intent of doing some coloir on Quandary's South Side to test my boots in crampons, and my new sock combo, and my steep snow skills.

I parked as far up the Blue Lakes road that I could, at a turnaround just before the fork to the private road, then changed into my Lowa 8000 meter boots, put on my pack, and took off. There were a lot of ski tracks, and one set of snowshoe tracks, but no boot tracks. The snow was firm with about 6" of fresh powder on top.

I passed a skier going up, and one coming down, said "Hi" and continued to an old wrecked cabin where I did a layer adjustment, peeling off my Houdini.

With the falling snow, and being beat from the past week in which I did two 5k speed tests, I decided not to continue on to the main coloir, and picked a pretty looking one of about 1000' from the look of it.

I wasn't sure what fork to take but it would all work out. I went up about 100' above the road and put my crampons on, but kept my trekking poles for now, since it wasn't so steep. I tightened my boots, now that I had crampons on and needed more "control".

I could feel the hard but broken chunks of snow from the avalanche debris under the fresh snow, and there was a layer of hard slush, so the top layer wasn't adhered well, but it wasn't too bad danger-wise since that top layer was only 6" of soft powder.

I went up to a rock where I paused to switch to my Camp aluminum ice axe. It would be a lot steeper above me. I made my way up, angling around some of the huge blocks of rock.

I tried a couple of the forks, and ended up doing a bit of steep mixed climbing. Ice/snow/slush over broken choss that broke off in my hands if I tried using them as holds. The snow and wind picked up and it got darker just as I faced a stiff looking section of low 5th class climbing, so I bailed.

I did a bit of downclimbing for the first few hundred feet, and as soon as the angle let up and the snow improved a bit, I faced out and sidestepped down.

My technique was back in the groove and I felt good, having solo'ed up and down a random coloir. My Garmin 305 later told me it was 900'. Good guess.

Picture looking down from the fork where I rejoined the main path after my detour into the rocks. At the road I found my tracks all filled in, as well as the ski tracks. I made good time to the car, where I took off the boots and found one layer of socks had wandered all the way down off my ankles. That sucks. Otherwise all was well enough. I drank a bunch and headed for home.

Overall great day testing and training. 3.4 mi round trip with about 1500' of elevation. 9 days to Anchorage.