Colorado Snow and Ice Fun  Jan 25-Feb2

The Denali crew makes their descent from Quandary Peak.  If this picture format seems familiar, refer to the last time we all, (well most all of us minus Neil) got together for a Smokies backpack.  Dan took both shots.

That's Neil to the right.  JD sets us the rigging for his lead climb up the pumphouse at Vail.

That's JD leading up at Lincoln Falls on our second day past Breckenridge.  We had two complete and full days of wonderful ice.  JD took a lead fall and pulled a muscle in his chest but persevered as he is our lead climber.  Day 3 was to be a multi pitch day and for that we employed the services of professional mountain guide, Steve Johnson, an old friend of JD and new friend of ours.

Lee climbed up to a shelf to take these magnificent shots.


What you are looking at here is about 10 below zero with a 20 mph wind.  You can do the wind chill factor math.  We are the first pitch up our multi pitch climb at Lincoln Falls on the coldest day I have ever spent in the mountains.  After a one hour approach up to this huge and beautiful gulley, Steve led the first pitch and established this anchor.  Neil and I simulclimbed to that point before pulling Lee to us.  If you are wondering about JD and Dr. Dan, they had the good sense and bad health not to join us.  Let me show you why Dan wasn't involved.

This is what Dan did to his leg while trying to catch his motorcycle as it fell in his garage prior to the trip.  His arm looks about the same.  Dan was out of ice climbing for the week but he made a great cook and base camp Sirdar.  JD was suffering with his shoulder on the lead fall.  A quick note about that fall, JD was not very far up but on the first part of a lead climb you are essentially unprotected and will fall back to the ground or your first ice screw.  He was on belay by yours truly and was setting his first screw.  I would say that he was about 6 feet off the ground.  As he maneuvered to place the screw, something gave and he fell nearly on top of me as I caught the rope.  The only thing my belay did was to prevent his slide down the ice slope but he likely would have self arrested anyway.  It was a cool lead climb fall, if there is such a thing and he handled it in his usual diplomatic fashion, with a smile and wisecrack.

But let's get back to the multi pitch day.  As I mentioned, it was well below zero.  That was a problem for me and my formerly frostbitten digits.  As a matter of fact, this entire week was super cold with a fair amount of snow.  As we established our anchors, my fingers became painfully numb.  Numb in a way that had only occurred once before.  As Neil and I ascended that first pitch, I could hardly feel the ice axe and my fingers were throbbing with pain.  When I reached Steve's anchor point, I informed him that my climbing day was at its end.  He then told me that it was the coldest day he had ever spent guiding in the mountains and feared that he was approaching frostbite himself.  We were at 11 thousand feet and I had to go down.  It was not a decision with any regret whatsoever.  No climb is worth any form of frostbite.  Trust me.

By the time I had returned to the truck, it had warmed to this.  Minus the wind chill.  I was very content to sit in the heat and watch them appear as tiny dots on a huge ice wall over a mile away on a beautiful mountain.

Neil's face is a picture worth a few dozen words.  They did top out but it took a considerable amount of time.  Congratulations to them for their steadfast accomplishment on a day that only Alaska natives and a Colorado mountain guide could endure.

After three days of cold climbing we needed a rest so it was off to Copper Mountain for a relaxing ski day. 

Because we had big plans for Friday.  Trading our skis for snowshoes, we were to ascend Quandary Peak.  Of course, the weather didn't cooperate.  In fact, it was downright nasty and we only made it to 13500 feet.  About a half mile short of the summit of this fourteener.  We had past our turnaround time.  Just short of the summit, our 5 hours of battling the wind and snow culminated in a turn around.  We encountered a guided group that had short roped a client from the false summit and he was suffering from altitude sickness.  This guy had apparently come from Florida to 14000 feet.  I can't believe a guide who let him do that.  We waited until all of us were well acclimated to attempt this.  In fact, Neil and I had skied down from 12 thousand the day before.  We had been climbing at 11 thousand feet all week including the approach hikes.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ascent, however.  It had been years since I donned snowshoes and the feeling was great.  Again, no regrets about not summiting, my goal on this trip was to make good decisions in the mountains.  We will all climb another day.

This is an accurate descriptor of the visibility for a good portion of the ascent.

Dan struggles down.  He decided to make a go of the Quandary climb and he did very well for straight off an injury.


The infamous Lee group photo from 13200, our personal summit of Quandary Peak.  Cold fingers and toes and not being able to see your hand in front of your face were just some of the factors in our decision.



In summary, this was a most excellent weekend of Colorado Mountain Fun.  We got plenty of ice, snow and skiing.  It was a bargain basement trip.  Since we rented a house in Frisco, that cost was split along with the food which was mostly all prepared by Dan, including lunches.  Ice climbing is free and we snagged  a 55 dollar lift ticket on liftopia.  My airfare was 300 dollars.  I am only saying this because folks should understand that if you make good plans, travel can be a frequent and  inexpensive indulgence.  I appreciate having great friends to backpack with in the Highlander crew and play in other mountain arenas with the Denali Team.