Sunday, June 3
My most regular Memphis alpine climbing partner, Cooper, and I took a late flight into Denver from Memphis arriving at about 10 PM. We hustled through the airport, where Heath met us at the baggage claim. We had big plans for the next week, starting on Monday morning. So we did what we could to streamline the processes of getting back into Denver, sorting gear and food and hitting the sack.
Monday, June 4
We got an early start from Heath’s place in Denver, and were on our way to the Flatirons in Boulder around 6. We wanted to get an early start to beat the heat and to finish up in time to relax in the afternoon and prepare for Skywalker on Tuesday. After the casual ride to Boulder and a quick bite, we arrived at Chautauqua Park. We racked up in the parking lot and headed for the base of the First and Baker’s Way on the way to the North Arête.
Locating Baker’s Way proved to be the crux of the day, as it was last year. Last year we started at the right spot, but ended up on Kamikaze Roofs. This year I started too low and ended up with a long and scrappy first pitch, but ended up in the right place. I later figured out that if I’d started at the same spot for Kamikaze Roofs and Zig-Zag, the first pitch would have been a little cleaner, but maybe only 30’ tall. Nonetheless, it’s still the crux of the route.
Starting Baker's Way (crux)
As we were climbing as a party of 3, I brought Cooper and Heath up on my 60m half ropes without much incident. The crux was a little bulgy, just enough to make things interesting for these guys. From here, we re-flaked the rope and ran out 2 more long pitches to the end of Baker’s Way on the North Arête on mostly 3rd class terrain.
Baker's Way - typical 3rd class
Once we regrouped on the Arête, we had our first views west into the Indian Peaks and RMNP. There was a shower moving in, but we decided to hang out a few minutes to see how it shook out. We got a little cold in the wind and sprinkles, but nothing too bad, until the first thunder clapped. So we packed up and rappelled of the East side and hiked it out.
The afternoon was spent checking out Boulder Canyon and Nederland, where we would bunk for our early start the next day and my primary objective for the trip, Skywalker Couloir. If you are ever in the area, check out the pizza joint upstairs in the “strip mall”. Great pizza and beer.
Tuesday, June 5
Our alpine start began at about 2:30AM as we shot out of bed at the Best Western Lodge in Nederland. Several minutes of dressing and packing set us on our way through the “Ghost Town” of Eldora to the Fourth of July Trailhead in the Indian Peaks, where we racked, packed and set off up the trail at about 4:15.
The trail was mostly melted out until tree-line, where we started consistently hitting snow patches, which were not a problem until we got into the shrubs past the mine and proceeded “off-trail” toward the couloir. Heath was feeling whipped from the fast pace of the approach, the bit of post-holing and the altitude, so on the last ridge before the final slope to the lower apron of Skywalker, he decided to go back to the car. After a little discussion, we took a couple pickets and he started his descent.
Cooper and I finished the scrambled up to the lower apron, put on the crampons and headed up Skywalker, past some avy debris on the left of the lower apron. The climbing was consistently on very firm snow through the couloir all the way up to the steep direct finish, were we broke out the rope and 4 pickets and Cooper belayed me from a nice moat on the left. From here I led out on softer snow, just firm enough to kick steps, any looser and it would have been a mess. I ran out the 60m half-rope putting, using four pickets in placement that I tried to stomp firm. They “may” have held s sliding fall, but as loose as the snow was getting, self-arrest should not have been a problem. I was wishing I had the #1 cam out of my pack, as it would have fit a couple spots and a solid piece would have provided a little more security as we ran out the 60m and then simul’d the last 20m to the top where I was greeted with 20mph wind in my face.
Typical Skywalker from Approach
I set a quick anchor by slinging a boulder and continued bringing Cooper up. As I leaned out over the edge to snap a pic, a big gust came through and knocked my camera out of my hand down and rocketed it down the gully where we lost sight of it. I was pretty torn up about that, not from a care about the camera itself, but for “junking up the place”. I am usually the type to be leaving with others trash, not leaving anything behind.
We scrambled up to the South Peak as the fierce wind continued. The ridge to the North Peak looked pretty sweet with large cornices and expose knife edge snow climbing. It looked like a pretty tough mountaineering objective on its own in these conditions. Most of the descent down the south ridge was on snow as well, which beats the boulder hopping summer conditions (there is much more snow up there than in the same week last year).
By the time we made it to the saddle, we were a little protected from the wind and the sun was finally in full force. We descended the trail until we could pick out a traverse back over to Skywalker where we searched the lower part of the route (from the main rock headwall down) for the lost camera. We say a guy complete his climb and ski the gully in the process. We spoke with him for a bit, he too had not seen the camera. He agreed it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. So I finally called it quits and headed for the trailhead where Heath waited for us with a six-pack he bought in Nederland and stashed in a snowbank. We got back to the trailhead at 1 PM.
We thought about going up to Estes, but instead headed back South where we explored the area around Evans and ended up at the Morrison Inn for Mexican food (man I love that place). Cooper and I where pretty whipped so we wanted to climb something with a short approach on Wednesday. I thought of the “Flying W” on Pikes Peak.
Wednesday, June 6
Since the road to Pikes doesn’t open until 7, we got to sleep in until 5:30 AM. Even then, with our leisurely pace we didn’t make it to the “park” until 8:00, where we learned the road was closed at tree-line due to high winds. This was 70m from the pullout where we’d start our climb. The three of us racked up in Glen Cove, then drove up and hit the approach to the “W”.
The “Flying W”. We took the finger to the climbers left.
The short approach was very tedious with lots of post-holing until the angle increased in the bottom of the couloir. Trying to follow the better snow conditions put us in the left branch of the gully, which we continued up for the sake of speed, although the climbing in the middle and right couloirs looked more interesting. The wind felt sustained at 20-30mph with gusts that had to push 60mph. The snow ranged from firm to loose, but was climbable throughout, which was much better than the decomposing red granite of the one short 4th class rock step we crossed which was very loose (although the sides of the couloir had some splitter cracks that looked solid if one needed pro).
Climbing in the Lower Flying W
Once we kicked through the top of the restriction and reached the upper snowfield, snow conditions were a little more concerning, so we stayed to the left and headed up a faint rib until we joined a ridge (between the “W” and the “Bowl”) that we descended back to the car. The wind was extreme, making verbal communication from more than a couple feet impossible. The wind did become less sustained as we went lower, as the post-holing picked back up. At one point I had to resort to rolling in order to stay on top of the soft snow.
Once we got to the car, a gust caught the door of the truck and pinned my legs, another slung the door so far open I think it did a little damage. Winds were pretty rough today!
Thursday, June 7
Today was “snake-bit” from the get-go. Heath had to work today, so Cooper and I planned on attempting Dragonstail on Flattop, even though the forecast was for high winds. With the alarms set for 2AM, I was up at midnight puking for no apparent reason. We got up anyway, loaded the car and headed up I-25 from Denver. Once we were past Boulder, about the time that I was reading to expect gusts of 90-100mph on my phone, Cooper realized that we left our boots at Heath's. So we bailed and went back to sleep.
We spent the rest of the day doing recon for Friday. We went West on I-70 over the divide where snow was dumping. The heaviest I’ve ever seen in June. After we discovered that the road to Evans was closed, we checked out St. Mary’s Glacier. There was a group practicing self arrest and crevasse rescue in full conditions, lots of snow and very high winds, just as advertised. There was also a bad-ass little dog named spike that made the climb up to the glacier with us. He seemed to enjoy the conditions as he boulder hopped and splashed through the water.
Friday, June 8
After reviewing some trip reports from SP.org, we decided to check out the Crystal on Evans today, with St. Mary’s as a back-up. The wind was forecast to calm down a little, and it was COLD (30F in Idaho Springs, I figure 10ish at Summit Lake). The sign at I-70 said the Evans road was closed, but I wanted to check it out. Luckily it was open and we made it up the “exposed driving” to Summit Lake.
After much consideration due to the cold temps and still high winds, the three of us set out at sunrise to tackle the ridge on the approach to the Crystal. Once we made the ridge, we all were still cold. Heath had made up his mind that the ridge was as far as he was going before he left the truck, so after we all took a break, we again split ways. Assuming he saw us get high in the couloir, he was going to meet us at the summit.
Cooper and I continued cramponing across super firm snow to the base of the couloir, where we took our last breather. After that it was kicking steps all the way up the Crystal to the rock-field above. A few meters of climbing on decent scree, talus and a final small snow patch put us atop the couloir and looking down at the summit road below to the Southeast. An easy walk put us there where we met Heath and un-racked, 2 hours after we left Summit Lake. On Coop’s suggestion, we made the quick walk to the summit before we headed down. We saw three skiers following our track headed to the Crystal (although they told Heath in the parking lot they were headed to Bierstadt?!).
Enlarge to see three climbers starting the Crystal Couloir
After briefly considering climbing St. Mary’s Glacier, we decided to can it for the day and the trip. We spent the rest of the day, packing, shuttling Coop to the airport and having a few beers in Denver before hitting the sack early for my flight out on Saturday morning.
Good trip. Can’t wait to do it again!
Our conditions for the trip (as reported from the Niwot weather station):
1 - Skywalker
2 - Flying W
3 - St. Mary's Glacier
4 - Crystal on Evans
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