Getting Up There
I have been dreaming of getting up North and South since moving to Boulder. Multiple times have I been turned away, humbled. Not this time. After cruising up Hessie Road on Friday night, I set up camp at the Fourth of July Trailhead as the sun set above me, what I thought to be South Arapahoe's summit cutting the skyline in the distance. I checked the damage done to my snowshoes on the way up. The road is about half melted out now, and being one that hate's transitions, I huffed it through the dry sections - noisily. Skins would be useless and next time I'll leave my shoes behind.
The following morning I got a belated start, leaving camp at 7 and heading up the trail to Fourth of July Mine. The trail was mostly covered in hard snow, making snowshoes, again, worthless. I tried to engage my crampons crossing some gullies but still ended up eating it once. My first fall on refrozen snow - it hurts! I continued on for a while in my shoes and poles until I reached a more broad snowfield and brandished my crampons and axe. I ditched the trail here and climbed up to a shelf halfway up the northern slopes of the valley. For anyone doing this soon, I'd recommend ditching the trail and finding some snow to get up to the bench early on. Traversing the hard snow was frustrating at times. The shoes could have been replaced by crampons for the whole way up.
Finally I saw it - Skywalker. After about two hours I stood at the base.
Skywalker is very cool looking from below. This being my first couloir climb, I was stoked. It looked well filled in, a sunball at the top skier's right of Princess Leia, and some evidence of a wet loose slide skier's right below the choke. I looked around at the gorgeous surrounds and headed up. It was 9:15.
The snow at the bottom was firm. I Frenched up the first part until I got into the debris which was a little softer, and kick stepped up to the choke. Here the snow was firm again and the right side of the couloir remained in the shade and less consolidated. It got steeper and I made sure my steps and my axe placement were more solid. Out into the steepness above the shady region the snow started to get REAL soft. Sun all morning and toasty temperatures (in the 50s easily) on the upper portions had turned the snow slushy. Getting a little worried about some wet activity, I plugged on up and out. Kicking steps into a slushy Princess Leia up high with balling snow on the bottom of my crampons was an interesting experience. It was meditative, kick kick kick, step. The upper section is STEEP and cool. Leia was one of the coolest things I've ever done.
At the top of Skywalker I kicked it for a half hour with my shirt off, getting some sun. Absolutely gorgeous day, and all to myself. At times it got almost TOO hot, and I was sweating bullets. I cruised up to South Arapahoe and checked the awesome view. I like that plate on the top noting the mountains and the ranges in the distance. 100 miles to Pikes, cool!
Met two people from Ned on the summit looking to do the traverse. I was wondering if I had it in me (my leg was bothering me a bit), but they went for it so I decided to as well. This my first time doing semi-technical rock in plastic boots, and it is pretty awesome. Makes for a whole new game. The traverse was a blast, pretty mellow. The one or two fourth class moves were fun in the plastics. I was a little shaky at first but by the end of it I was playing around, trying harder moves and making the climb more interesting. The two people in front of me elected to take out their axes but I did not. Crampons weren't necessary either. They beat me to the top and once I got to the summit I had it to myself.
The cirque looking down to the glacier is incredible. One of the most stunning views I have seen. Huuuuuuge cliffs off of both South and North, steep steep slopes and (dare I say) some sweet looking descents. The view of the Peaks to the North was pretty stellar as well, Navajo and Apache looking burly and Lone Eagle Peak (maybe) off to the west of those. Whatever that spire is it looks awesome.
Some clouds were forming overhead by now (3:15) and there was a chance for thunderstorms forecast so I made the stop quick. No time to check the north-facing couloirs off of North. An axe descending off the back side would have been handy, but I decided to keep mine on my back. Getting back to South was a little more interesting due to my increasing dehydration and mild AMS. I had lost a water bottle in my spill earlier and wasn't drinking enough agua, which always makes things mre interesting. Mild hallucinations and poor judgement, you know, the regular.
The descent from south was ... interesting enough. I cruised down the East ridge, hugging some of those gnarly cornices hanging into the glacial cirque. That cirque is such an incredible creating of glacial and morphologic processes, utterly awesome.
Beware! A lot of the cornices hanging off of South's northern faces are bigger than they look. I walked out a little further on one than I should have because I thought it was cool.
Some bushwhacking and glissading got me back down to camp, tired and smiling
Lots of good descents in the Peaks. Neva and Jasper both looked filled in. Skywalker is about ready to be skied. By noon the Leia section was REAL slushy. The night before hadn't gotten much below freezing so there wasn't a solid freeze through the pack and it melted out pretty quick. The lower flanks at 9 and 10am were still solid and required crampons. I did need crampons for about half the couloir and kept them on while kick-stepping up the slushier parts (not helpful, but I wasn't going to try to take them ff on that steep stuff!) The shaded skier's left of the couloir still hasn't consolidated all the way through. The crystals were melt-freeze, but not as developed as the sunnier aspects of the line. Some wet-loose debris skier's right after the choke that was softer than the surrounding snow. The cornice at the top isn't as big as in past pictures that I've seen.
The traverse didn't require crampons. Axe would be helpful but not necessary either.