Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Monte Cristo Couloir on Quandary - a Repeat with a Friend

On Saturday, April 11, I took my very good friend Todd Gilles, who shared my adventure on Elbrus Race 2013. He took 3rd place and I took 5th. I wrote about it and it's one of my best selling books on Amazon:

Elbrus Race 2013 (Seven Summits Quest Book 4)

It was my second time up this season. Last time the snow was really damp and deep, but that made for really easy climbing. I was using my GRIVEL Condor Trekking Pole with Arrest Pick instead of an ice axe. I was also using Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 CS running shoes. Yes, they're a bit more stout than my usual trail running shoes, and yes they are somewhat waterproof, but I have run a 10:00 pace in them and I know several trail runners who do use them as their main shoe. I also wore Grivel Air Tech Light Crampons.

Since that worked out for me last time, I used it all for this time as well. I wore my GoLite WindPro Tights (sadly they went out of business), my Columbia OmniHeat (reflective dots) tech tee with TNF arm sleeves under my Patagonia R1 sweater. The weather was supposed to be a bit warmer according to the forecast. It wasn't. I ended up with my TNF BTN superlight softshell on as a wind shirt.

At the dam we took off up the couloir. I knew that there would be a longish section of tundra just over the first bulge, so I didn't bother with crampons at first. At the top edge of the tundra we stopped to put them on at a large rock. Up the steep snow slope we went with me in the lead. There was about a foot of powder/sugar over breakable crust and about halfway it changed to thick powder over the crust. There were some very solid bits that the aluminum crampons were a bit slick on, but I still felt comfortable and glad I wasn't in steel. Todd was in Lowa single boots with Petzl steel crampons. I figured he'd be just fine. I did slip a few times after breaking through the crust on some of the steeper sections, but jamming the pick in prevented any downward movement.

Using the Condor was intuitive for me.

At the top we took some pics and then took off down the East Ridge. I wanted to reconnoiter for an upcoming attempt at breaking my own record, and possibly get second place for the Winter East Ridge Route on Strava. More on that later.

We ran into some goats, and got pretty close to a big old one before it booked it down the South Face in one of the remaining snowfields where a half dozen of his family waited for him. Quite a sight. We pulled off our crampons at 12,000' and slid on our feet the rest of the way to the car in the softening snow. Fortunately it was quite overcast and cold and windy in spite of the forecast, so it didn't melt out too bad. But gosh that snow looked and felt dang fast to me. Hmmm....

We had a blast, and it's been a while since we've climbed together. Today I wasn't looking for speed, just a good workout, good snow climbing, and good companionship.

That's what it's all about, right?

Photos on this page were taken by Charles Miske and Todd Gilles on their own and each others' phones.