Cirque Mountain Sunrise

Sunrise alpenglow over Yankee Boy Basin
[+] Sunrise alpenglow on the peaks above Yankee Boy Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

This last Monday I woke up at 2am, drove up to Yankee Boy Basin, and hiked in the dark via headlamp up to the ridgeline of Cirque Mountain, a 13-thousand footer with a nice view of neighboring Mount Sneffels. With a solid overnight freeze, the snowpack was hard as a rock and the hiking was easy with my crampons. Dawn was just starting to break when I got to my destination, so I put on all my layers, put the hand warmers in my gloves, and hunkered down behind a big rock out of the chilly wind while I waited for the sunrise.

Here’s a few digital shots of the sunrise. You can see my large format shot here.

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Wilderness 1st Aid Course

On Friday I went down to Durango to take a two day Wilderness First Aid course offered by the Nols Wilderness Medicine Institute. Since I go backpacking so much in the summertime and backcountry snowboard so much in the winter, I figured it was about time I knew these things in case something went wrong out in the wilderness.

Wilderness First Aid
Griz demonstrates an improvised leg splint.

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Snowpack Dust Pollution

Snowpack with Dust Layer

Today I hiked and snowboarded down Mt. Sneffels (see the riding photos in the next post). Here’s the classic view looking from the summit into Blue Lakes Basin. Notice all the ugly brown snow?

When it’s windy in the western states, dust blows from the deserts and ends up smothering the mountains. It’s a phenomenon that has probably happened naturally through the ages, but has become much worse in recent decades due in part to large scale grazing which erodes the desert soils. I’ve even heard that some of the dust blows all the way across the Pacific from huge dust storms in China!

In any case, the dust has a terrible effect not only on the snowpack but on the entire watershed. The dark dust absorbs much more solar radiation than pure white snow, causing a rapid meltdown of the snowpack. In heavy snow years like this year, it could cause flooding problems. In light snow years, it can cause premature meltdown, leading to drought conditions during the summer.

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Mt. Sneffels Descent

This morning my friends Parker and Aimee and I hiked up and snowboarded down Mt. Sneffels, the iconic fourteener above Ridgway and Ouray. Oddly, this was only my second time on this local 14er; the first time was way back in June 2005 when I rode down a different line, also with Parker and Aimee.

Snowboarding down Sneffels
[+] Parker McAbery snowboards down Mt. Sneffels.

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Memorial Day Ride

Windy and unsettled weather up on the pass today. We did a nice long route that I’ve had in mind for the last few months. The mountains in this area form big broad basins above treeline, offering mellow skinning up above 13,000 feet. We splitboarded up one basin and rode down an entirely different one.

Skinning above treeline
[+] Fortunately the wind was to our backs during the whole hike up.

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Late May Powder Day

Jeff and I were pleasantly surprised to find some fresh powder this morning up in Yankee Boy Basin. Not a whole lot of powder, but powder nonetheless. The surface below was fairly soft and the new 4-5 inches of snow was pretty well bonded, providing some great cruisey late season pow turns.

Camp Bird Road snowpack
[+] Making progress on plowing Camp Bird Road. It’s almost to the spring trailhead now. What a snowpack!

Skiing by Sneffels
[+] Jeff Skoloda skis some powder with Mt. Sneffels behind.

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Skiing Kismet

On Saturday some friends and I skied/snowboarded down Kismet, a 13,694 foot peak neighboring Mt. Sneffels. A solid overnight freeze, bluebird skies, and perfectly smooth snow made for a dreamy high-speed cruiser descent.

Gilpin Peak
[+] Skinning up Kismet, with Gilpin Peak, also 13,694′, in the background.

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Cathedral’s Pearl

On Friday I met my friends to hike and ride the Pearl Couloir on Cathedral Peak, a rugged 13,943 ft. mountain in the Elk Mountains near Aspen, Colorado.

Cathedral Peak, Aspen, Colorado
[+] Approaching the Pearl Couloir, which is the curving chute above Ann’s head in this photo. Though the weather was cloudy and threatening to storm, and we knew the snow conditions wouldn’t be optimal, we decided to head up the couloir anyways.

Pearl Couloir, Cathedral Peak
[+] Bootpacking up the steep Pearl Couloir.

Pearl Couloir, Cathedral Peak
[+] The last section up to the summit ridge was very steep, requiring some nerve-wracking scrambling up rocks and very steep snow.

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