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The Elk Mountains Grand Reverse

March 29, 2010 Ski No Comments

Bryan Wickenhauser (left) and Brian Smith celebrate their winning "reverse." Photo courtesy of Bryan Wickenhauser

Brian Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser won the 13th annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse on Saturday in 6 hours 28 minutes and change. This backcountry ski race normally runs from Crested Butte to Aspen, but more than a foot of new snow and high winds forced organizers to scrub plans for the midnight start and high-altitude (over 12,000 feet) traverse to Aspen. Instead, racers did the “Grand Reverse,” starting at 6 a.m. and following a complex course up to the Friends Hut and back, doing several loops to add mileage, and finishing at the ski resort.

The course was so unfamiliar, in fact, that two of the leading teams took a wrong turn with about an hour left in the race and lost their podium finishes. In the final results, second place for the men went to Ethan Passant and Travis Scheefer, and the third spot went to Jake Jones and Pat O’Neill. Mark Smiley and Janelle Smiley won the co-ed division in 7:26:02. The fastest women’s team was Emma Catmur and Emma Lohr, in 9:05:45.

The Grand Reverse distance was approximately 38 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical, which is comparable to the usual course, but this year was much quicker. Top finishers glided in 1.5 to 3 hours faster than the winning times in recent years.

We asked winning skier Bryan Wickenhauser for his impressions.

Mojo: Like everyone, you must have been disappointed that conditions caused the course change. What did you think of the new course? Did it play any more to you and your partner’s strengths? … Continue Reading

Road Trip: La Sal Ski Descents

March 25, 2010 Ski 2 Comments

Jonathan Kriegel near the summit of Haystack Mountain. Northern La Sals in the background. Photo by Stan Wagon

The La Sal Mountains, just over the border in Utah, had nearly 150 percent of their average snowpack in mid-March, and that’s when Stan Wagon, a Summit County resident and avid ski mountaineer, headed toward Moab to sample the goods.

By Stan Wagon

On Friday, March 19, 2010, Jonathan Kriegel and I headed up the Geyser Pass Trail with large packs (55 pounds) to set up a camp for three nights at the pass. Conditions were stormy (and the drive up difficult in 6 inches of new snow), but the storm was ending and so it seemed perfect, with a forecast of sunny days and lots of fresh snow. We got to the pass in just over two hours and set up camp. We headed north for a short ski tour in the late afternoon but got a little lost on return, having to climb 200 feet to return to camp.

On Saturday we went for Haystack (11,640 ft.), which we failed on two years ago because of very firm snow and no crampons. This year, armed (footed?) with the proper tools, we easily cramponed up the steep east ridge and enjoyed some fine summit time. We could look down the large north face, which would have been skiable, but we stuck to our plan of skiing the south face.

Kriegel points out the pair's route on the beautiful north face of Mellenthin. Photo by Stan Wagon

The descent of the south face was not great—firm and uneven—and we had hopes for better on the north-facing slopes of Mellenthin (second-highest peak in the La Sals). In the afternoon we investigated the route to Mellenthin (12,645 ft.) and set a useful track to the base of the wonderful north face. Looking at things up close, it seemed like the left-hand ridge (the northeast ridge) would offer the best way to the summit, and there appeared to be a rock-free way down from the summit area to the center of the face we wanted to ski. Jonathan had skied this several years ago, in a lower snow year. Snow conditions this year were amazing, at 146 percent of normal….

Read the rest of this story at Summit County Citizens Voice. Click here to visit Stan Wagon’s website, where you’ll find more photos from this trip as well as dozens of Colorado ski descents.

Truly Tested: Stoic Bombshell

March 25, 2010 Climb, Hike, Ski No Comments

Cold day at Hidden Valley, RMNP. Photo by Doug Schnitzspahn

By Dougald MacDonald

I’ve been wearing the Bombshell Jacket, the flagship waterproof-breathable shell from Backcountry.com’s new Stoic line, for much of this winter. And after months of backcountry skiing, mountaineering, and a bit of ice climbing, I’m definitely impressed.

At first, I wasn’t at all psyched with the jacket’s fit. At a trailhead in the Indian Peaks, as I pulled on the coat, my female skiing partner gave me that look I know oh-too-well from my wife—the look that says: “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” Don’t get me wrong: The jacket looks sharp. Mine is black with turquoise highlights, and the cut and detailing are fine. The problem is the super-trim fit around the waist, which would have looked great when I was a 145-pounder in college but looks and feels a bit snug as a 162-pounder (OK, 164-pounder).

I almost always wear a medium jacket, and the Bombshell fit me perfectly in the chest, shoulders, and arms; if I sized up, I think there would be too much fabric bunched around these areas. I grew to appreciate the trim cut on long ski tours and while climbing; the jacket fit great under a harness, for example. But it limits your options for layering. If you wear your jacket as a true shell, over multiple insulating layers, think about a larger size. If you wear the shell over light inner layers while moving and throw a puffy over the top when you stop, as I increasingly do, this fit might be perfect. If you’re just thinking about taking up ski touring to lose a few years of accumulated paunch, consider another coat.

Despite my quibbles about the fit, the Bombshell hits nearly every other note perfectly. … Continue Reading

Crested Butte Extreme Telemarking

March 22, 2010 Ski No Comments

Crested Butte hosted the 14th U.S. Telemark Extreme Freeskiing Championships last weekend, with 62 free-heelers competing in six divisions. A snowy day on the Headwall gave good conditions but caused one men’s run to be canceled. On Saturday, the action moved to Sock-it-to-Me Ridge on a cold, clear day. Sydney Fuller took the adult women’s crown, and Mark Robbins topped the podium for the men. Read a first-person account by Candace Horgan at Westword, check the results at Telemark Skier, or watch this video from Day 2:

Truly Tested: BCA’s Tracker2 Beacon

March 11, 2010 Ski 2 Comments

By Rob Coppolillo

More than a year has passed since we began itching for a look at Backcountry Access newest beacon, the three-antenna Tracker2 ($335). Production delays kept us guessing, but the gang at BCA said it was all to get the new Tracker2 just right—and for the most part they’ve done just that.

BCA introduced the first two-antenna beacon, the Tracker, more than a decade ago (still available for $290). Suddenly, avalanche transceivers were easier to use and more accurate when searching for burial victims. European manufacturers followed suit, launching two-antenna beacons of their own and kicking off an arms race to see who’d develop the first three-antenna model. Turns out the Euros, like Ortovox, Pieps, and Barryvox, beat BCA to the punch, but that certainly doesn’t mean anybody’s been KO’d.

Why does anybody need three antennae, you might ask? Three is better than two because they make beacons easier to use and more accurate when searching for a buried transceiver. Without getting too geeked out, the three-antennae models give more accurate information, especially with a deep burial and when “pinpoint” searching just before probing and digging. Bottom line is you want your buddies using a three-antenna rig if you’re buried beneath the snow and counting the seconds. … Continue Reading

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  • Jeff: Awesome!!!! Are they ever going to be published in book form! These stories need to be made into a movie!!!!...
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A Fine Line on Arrowhead

March 26, 2010

A Fine Line on Arrowhead

Climbers Scotty Nelson and Gil Weiss have discovered (or maybe rediscovered) a great-looking moderate mixed route in Rocky Mountain National Park that might take pressure off overcrowded climbs like Dream Weaver or Martha. The line, which they called Deborah, splits the south face of Arrowhead above the high bench to the west of Black Lake […]

Shelf Road’s Hardest Route Climbed

March 10, 2010

Shelf Road’s Hardest Route Climbed

Colorado’s Shelf Road , a network of vertical limestone cliffs near Cañon City best known for sunny moderates, has a new 5.13d pitch and may soon get its first 5.14. On Sunday, March 7, Mark Anderson redpointed a striking, super-technical arête at Cactus Cliff that was bolted in the early 1990s but apparently never free-climbed. […]

New Route Likely Platte’s Hardest

February 14, 2010

New Route Likely Platte’s Hardest

Jason Haas, who’s working on a new guidebook to South Platte rock climbs, has just redpointed what’s likely the Platte’s hardest pitch, a roof seam that’s protected with removable pro and might be 5.14a. The new route, Comprometido, took about a year and a half to complete. Here, Haas tells the story. While researching routes […]

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Brain Freeze on Mt. Otis

March 18, 2010

Brain Freeze on Mt. Otis

In the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, a granite spindle called Zowie protrudes from the convoluted south face of Mt. Otis. Just to Zowie’s left is a zigzagging chimney and gully system that holds an unlikely mixed-climbing gem. Brain Freeze was discovered very recently (early 2008) by Andy Grauch and Chris Sheridan. Several parties […]

Lake Agnes–Seven Utes Loop

February 19, 2010

Lake Agnes–Seven Utes Loop

Kevin Landolt is a skier/climber/student, based in Fort Collins, who writes the fun Alpine Ambition blog for the Mountain Shop. Here, Kevin describes a favorite midwinter ski tour near Cameron Pass offering a little of everything. Trailhead: Lake Agnes Road, 2.5 miles west of Cameron Pass Tour Distance: 7.3 miles Total Vert: ca. 2,900′ Season: […]

Mr. and Mrs. Mesa

January 28, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Mesa

Two of the wildest and most difficult water-ice pitches in the state are in plain view from Highway 50, en route to Ouray and Telluride from points north, plunging down the sheer face of Grand Mesa. Yet few people notice them, and far fewer have climbed them. The routes are tough, to be sure, but […]

East Ridge of Mt. Bancroft

December 28, 2009

East Ridge of Mt. Bancroft

Mt. Bancroft’s rocky east ridge is a terrific mountaineering adventure for Front Range climbers, beginning less than an hour from Denver. The 13,250-foot peak is relatively close to the road, and avalanche danger can be easily managed, making this perhaps the most accessible technical winter summit on the entire Front Range. The east ridge offers […]


Rarities: Wolf Moon, Arapaho Peaks

February 5, 2010

Rarities: Wolf Moon, Arapaho Peaks

Photographer James Beissel sent us this fantastic dawn-patrol shot of the full moon setting over South and North Arapaho in the Indian Peaks, shot from Flagstaff Mountain. Said Beissel: “The first full moon of the New Year is often called the Wolf Moon. The name comes from Native American culture, in which it was associated with […]

New Deal for Great Sand Dunes

January 20, 2010

New Deal for Great Sand Dunes

By Bob Berwyn Stakeholders in the San Luis Valley have taken a giant step toward protecting Great Sand Dunes National Park from mining, energy development, and water exports. Lexam Explorations has agreed to sell its mineral rights if a $9.7 million deal can be finalized by May. Great Sand Dunes National Park was created by […]

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