First Climb of 2006

It had been a while since I had gotten in any peak climbing, and the opportunity came up to get a chance for a January fourteener, so I decided to give it a shot. Despite all of the snow we have been having in the northern and central mountains, the southern mountains have actually been really dry, the Sangre de Christo's in particular. In fact in New Mexico, Taos Ski Valley (in the Sangres), only has about 20 of their 110 runs open, and mostly on manmade snow. The Colorado Sangres are in the same boat, and despite the calendar reading January, conditions for climbing are more akin to October. My friend and I met at the trailhead for Kit Carson Peak at 6am, and started off before sunrise on the trail. We continued up the trail as the sun rose, and reached an area of an old forest fire. This area has a lot of fallen trees, some of which make nice balance beams, others of which you have to climb over to keep following the trail. At the end of this burned area we got a good look at the famous south ridge known as The Prow. This was not our route as it a 5.8 technical rock climb, but it was an impressive sight to see! Our route was still a steep route, the southwest face, directly alongside The Prow. The lower slopes had a little snow on them, but were class 2 and easily negotitated. The slope then started to steepen into a class 3 slope. Overall there was over 1000 feet of scrambling on this face. The last 100 or so feet started to steepen and actualy were class 4. The difference between class 3 and class 4 is subtle, basically most people would face in to downclimb a class 4 pitch, while they could face out on class 3. At the top of this wall we reached the Kit Carson avenue, a long ledge that wraps the mountains upper cliffs to reach easier terrain. There was some snow on this ledge, and I am sure in a normal winter it would have made passage too difficult, but we were fortunate to be able to make it smoothly to the final summit pitch. This gully is an easy class 3 which flattened out just before the summit. From the summit we had a great view of the surrounding valleys over 6000' below us. We descended an easier path, a steep snow filled gully known as the south couloir. This gully is no steeper than a black diamond ski run at any of the local resorts. There was some snow, but it wasn't too deep. A couple of places we sunk to our knees, but being prepared for winter climbing I had on my ski pants and stayed warm and dry. The hike out was long after our climb, and by the time we reached the trailhead the sun had set once again. That is one of the problems of winter climbing, short days! It was worth it all to get a peak that normally is considered too tough to climb in the winter, our names were the first ones in the register for 2006, so that was something nice as well.

After a long but dry and clear day climbing, the drive home actually had some snow in Leadville, once again the northern and central mountains keep piling it on, while the southern mountains continue to be in a drought. Here we are at 175% our normal winter snowfall for this time of year, but down south they are under 50 in some parts. Incredible what a difference geography can make, I guess the storms coming from the NW just can't get over the big mountains in the middle of the state to get down south. Today was a day of rest after beating myself up with a long hike, then tomorrow it is back to the grind!