Heartbreak Ridge

Now that the ski lifts are all silenced until next season, well except for Loveland and Arapahoe Basin anyway, its time to get in shape for climbing season. I decided that it is time to start doing some training hikes on some easily accessible peaks and trails in the area. I had a few ideas for this weekend but decided up heading over near Breckenridge to climb Bald Mountain. Anyone who has been to the town or the ski area has seen it; it rises above town to the southeast and is clearly visible from the main parking lots and the ski runs. The access is easy, its trailhead is located in a residential neighborhood and the first 3/4 of a mile or so is popular with dog walkers in the morning, at least it was on Saturday. After that point is an old mill building where most people turn around, as evident by the tracks in the snow fizzling out there. Beyond that point a slope rises up to some radio towers above 12,000 feet. There is an access road that criss-crosses up the slope to them, but at this time of the year the slope was covered in snow and I opted for the direct approach. Near the top is an old mine that is in very good shape, almost looked like it could still be active. There is a large structure on the slopes in front of it that at one time had tracks on it for the mine cars coming out of the tunnel. At the end there were two ore chutes on either side that dropped down to a tram line below. From here the ore would have traveled along the tramway to the mill below. Even the old tram line was still in tact, hanging from several towers, also in perfect shape and wrapped around the old flywheel. This part of the hike is easily accessed in the summer, seeing as there is an access road all the way to the radio towers. If you want a see a piece of old Colorado mining heritage, this would be a great place to go. The views of the ski mountain across the valley from the mine remind you of the old economy of mining, and the new one of ski tourism, that keep Breckenridge thriving.

The radio towers are the start of the next phase of the hike, the ridge to the summit. The ridge was a little over a mile, and gained an additional maybe 1500 feet or so of elevation. Some sections still had snow, others had been wind blown clear to the rocks. The ridge was fairly windy, and periodically I would travel along the leeward side to get out of the wind. The ridge was basically enjoyable to hike along, generally flat with a few steeper sections of rock that were like short staircases to make it a little more interesting. The only problem was the large number of false summits along the way that led me to nickname it “heartbreak ridge”. For those not familiar with the term, a false summit is basically a high point along a ridge, that when approached appears to be the summit. When you get to the top, however, you realize there is another higher point in the distance. On this ridge, you can see the true summit from the radio towers, but once you get on the ridge you keep being misled by the series of false summits now blocking your view to the summit. Finally the true summit came into view, and to the south of it are two more false summits, one of which is marked on the topo map as only being 5 feet shorter than the true summit. From a distance it appears taller, and I had to check the map to make sure I was actually finally on the real summit! Bald Mountain tops out at an elevation of 13,684’ at a distance approximately 2 3/4 miles away from the trailhead. This is enough to make it the 156th tallest peak in the state, a “bicentennial” summit, and was my 25th ranked summit over 13,000 feet. I was not the only person who thought a warm spring day was a good day to climb, there was a couple I passed on the slopes to the radio towers, and three guys with skis and snowboards who were going to ski the opposite face I had met in the parking area. On my way back down I ran across all of them again and wished them luck on their own summit bids. Although it was 60 in the valley at mid day, the summit and the ridge leading to it were much cooler, and very windy. It felt like winter on the summit, but the blue skies and the great views of the surrounding peaks across valley made it well worth it.


Winter "Officially" Over

Of course I don’t have to tell all of you back home that, I heard it was 80 out there today. Sunday marked the end of the season here in the valley as Vail closed. Most of the resorts are now closed, but Loveland Basin is open until May 1, and Arapahoe Basin is scheduled to be open to at least June 4, weather permitting. It’s amazing how late they are able to stay open every year, but then again their base elevation is over 10,500 feet above sea level, so winter lingers a little longer 2 miles up. The valley is definitely feeling spring like, 60 degree days, green grass, and budding trees are the norm here, while the snow slowly recedes at the higher elevations. I didn’t actually get on the mountain at all this weekend, but with close to 35 days on the slopes, it was okay. Friday I actually got to go to the Nuggets game in Denver, our contractor on one of the projects I am working on invited the project team to their box. The game was fun and they won. When they get their fast break going it is really a sight to see, when you watch it on TV you just don’t get the sense of how fast it really is. It’s basically 2 or 3 quick passes and then a dunk or layup all within a 5 second span. Afterwards I headed over to my friends’ Karlin and Wells house where we hung out with a few beers, fresh baked cookies, and a few rounds of Uno with Jake, Sara and Chad. Then on Saturday we went out for brunch and then Karlin and I bummed around downtown while Wells and Chad went to look at a car. It was fun, a nice and low key start to the weekend. Then I headed back up into the mountains where we were having a Snoop Dogg concert in Vail. They estimate about 10,000 people were here, which considering the town has a population of only about 4500, is quite a big crowd! It was probably about the whitest crowd he has ever played for I am sure. It was a little hard to hear him rap with the bass pumped up so high, but he did play a couple of songs I recognized, like Gin and Juice of course. I went with my friends Ben and Erica, and afterward we tried to look for a place to hang out in the village. The whole village was just full of people, all the bars were ridiculously crowded, and we just ended up heading back to our town instead. Apparently this weekend was good for a lot of the Vail businesses, with all the people in town the restaurants were full for dinner and the bars were all full after the concert. Sunday I would have headed up to ski for the last day of the season, but we had a deadline of noon on Monday to submit to the local design review board and I ended up going in to work instead. I guess I will have to wait until next November to ski at Vail again, but it was a good season, and I am looking forward to getting back up and climbing some more peaks real soon!


The (would be) Blizzard

I am sure you have heard about all of this snow that has been happening up in Colorado this weekend, and you probably think I am out there enjoying some epic powder skiing. The truth is the mountains barely got a thing. I was all excited about the forecast, made sure I was up Sunday morning to get to the slopes early, and all we got was about 2 inches. It did snow most of the day on the slopes and they may have picked up close to another 4 during the day, but by the time the ski day ended everything had tapered off. In fact, it was in the mid 30’s in the valley today, and the snow wasn’t sticking to the roads at all. In some parts on the drive home from Vail the road was even dry. All of the snow we got overnight pretty much melted off during the day so that we have bare grass up here. In fact the snow on the roof of my car melted off while I was skiing. In Denver it’s another story completely, they have over a foot, and some parts of the foothills have over 2 feet! It was cold and windy all day down there; in fact it was warmer up here, and much calmer. The mountains do weird things to the weather, this storm was basically a Front Range storm because the rotation of the moisture brought it in from the east, and the higher mountains between here and Denver blocked it from getting to us.

Even though, it turned out to be a good day on the slopes here. I think the weather in Denver kept a lot of people from coming up today so there was hardly anyone on the mountain, and almost no lift lines. I was still getting fresh tracks in some parts of the mountain even in mid-afternoon. Normally the whole mountain gets tracked out in about an hour. The visibility in the Back Bowls was tough though, I only did one run there. Because of the clouds there was no contrast on the slopes and it was virtually impossible to read the terrain. I actually at one point accidentally ended up going up hill trying to traverse a slope because I couldn’t tell what direction the slope was going. Another time I fell when the terrain flattened out and I wasn’t prepared for it. Most of the day I spent on the front side where the trees on the side of the run let you know when a flat spot is coming. I did get a few runs in at Blue Sky Basin as well though. There was some great stuff on Steep and Deep today, a run that was definitely correctly named! As it filters through the trees to get back to the main runs there were a lot of fresh tracks to be had, and with all the fresh snow falling it was quite serene. All in all it was a good day, the snow wasn’t as much as we all hoped for up here, but it did its job. The day before I was at Beaver Creek and with the cooler temperatures all of the nice soft spring snow had turned to hard pack and ice, so the snow we got over night and Sunday was enough to cover some of that up and make for some nice skiing. There is only one week left to the season, and overall it was good one. I doubt I have had as many ski days in my whole life total as I did this season! It has definitely improved my skills a lot; it’s nice to not have to worry about trail signs anymore. I have finally got to a point where it doesn’t matter if its black diamond, or green circle; moguls, trees or wide open groomer. Even if I get caught in a spot that is too steep or too narrow, I can still figure out a way to negotiate through, even if it is less graceful than some of the other people. I guess my first ski season as a “local” was a success. Soon it will be back to hiking up mountains!


Feeling Like Spring

It sure is starting to feel like spring around here. This weekend was warm and sunny, with highs in the 50’s in the valley. The grass is getting green, and the gophers (or are they prairie dogs?) are starting to come out of hibernation. So what does one do with their weekend? Why go skiing of course! The snow doesn’t just melt on the first signs of spring; up in the higher ground it takes weeks, months even to all melt out. The ski areas still have a few more weeks of operation before the season ends, and with the warm up, this may have been on of the last good weekends before it starts to get too slushy. Saturday I used another one of my Copper days. This time I tried to get in a few different runs from what I had done the weekend before, but some of the “favorites” I had to go for one more time, of course. I was thinking it would be a good day to take the snow cat and hike up Tucker Mountain, but there were an awful lot of people in the cat line. I rode the lift with a guy who had just finished a run up there and asked him how long he had to wait for the cat, he said 40 minutes. After the 5 minute cat ride it’s about a 20 minute hike up the ridge; and I didn’t really feel like standing around waiting for a ride. Fortunately there is another option, although to some it may not seem appealing. If you take the chair lift up, you end up on the opposite side of the U-shaped ridge, this adds close to a half hour to the hike, but it is relatively flat, even with a few downhill sections, and it saves having to wait for the cat. Hey, with ski season ending I could use some training for climbing season anyway, and shouldered my skis to hike across. The run was worth it, the snow was soft, deep and the run was steep. I also had it all to myself because I managed to time it so I climbed in-between cat trips. It’s like a backcountry adventure, but with the security of being inbounds.

Sunday my friend Ben and I met up at Vail. He is training for an ironman triathlon, and the next two weeks are big training weeks for him, so this is probably his last good ski day. We took a few runs in the back bowls, some of the runs had great spring conditions, but some were really hard and crusty. I guess it depended upon how much of that warm spring sun had hit the trail. We then went over to Blue Sky Basin and grilled ourselves some lunch. The grilles were not in good shape today, only about a third of the grilling surface actually worked, it took over a half hour to cook a couple of polish sausages, and they still weren’t 100% done. It’s a good thing they are precooked! After that we hit a couple of runs that Ben had never done before back there, then it was getting close to 3 and the lifts in Blue Sky were closing for the day. We headed back to the front to ski down for the day, and found a nice little slot below Mid-Vail that neither of us knew even existed. It was a great surprise, a narrow gully through what in the summer I imagine must be a creek that had the shape of a sort of natural half pipe. It had a trail sign, but it’s not on the trail map, and provided us with a nice way to avoid the crowds on the other runs. Some parts of it were steep, some parts had some dirt and stumps poking through, but in general it was a really fun little run; one I will have to remember for the future.

We are now down to two weeks left in the season, and a lot of warmth in the forecast. Tuesday it is forecast to snow, but I’m sure it will mix with some rain in the valley as it is forecast to be about 40. After that it is supposed to be warming back up to the low 50’s for the end of the week. It has been a great ski season, and it’s not quite over yet!