|12 hrs down, only 5 to go!|
The end of the race season for me was the US Nationals at Crested Butte. What a great course! Looking at that thing when I first tried skimo 2 years ago totally sold me on skimo. My tele gear was on eBay soon thereafter.
Getting to climb the guides ridge was super cool. If the vimeo video in that link doesn't make you want to do it Im not sure what is wrong with you! Check out photos on Kevin Krill's site too. I definitely finished with a time I felt happy with after my season's training. Not world class but a lot better than what last year would have looked like. The ridge part was very fun for a climber and I passed more people there than any other section of the course. I still came in way towards the end of the pack. I guess very few of the other mere mortals bothered showing up. Weird. It is an amazing race and I wish I had a good explanation for why others apparently dont think so.
Anyway, I learned a few things I wanted to hit real quick. First, there were these horribly icy never ending switchbacks going up the Peel. My 59mm skins were just not up to the task. There were also some straight uphill sections that I kept slipping on. After talking to some folks, Im definitely thinking wider skins and possibly longer than I currently run are in order. Maybe cut 8 from my tails instead of 12". Second, I ran into Jari Kirkland, yet ANOTHER super nice and amazingly fit racer who was happy to share her thoughts on training. Once again, sprints and fast training was emphasized. OK, I get it, I promise to do more!
Switching gears...So the season was over and I was ready to reward myself. Last year I tried an ambitious (for me that is...) tour from Wolf Creek Pass traveling South along the Continental Divide Trail for something along the lines of 45 miles to the Forest Service winter road closure up the road from my house. I had hiked this stretch in a day and thought it would make a fun tour. I tried it last year but my buddy who is a tough guy but not a skimo guy just didnt have the right gear or training under his belt and after a few hours, his blisters and pace forced us to bail.
|Here is my buddy, Marty, on attempt #1|
If at first you don't succeed...
So, I learned my lesson the hard way as usual and tried again. This time, since there are almost no folks who do much of this stuff in the area, I asked Scott Simmons from Durango if he knew of anyone over there who might be interested. His response was something like, "When do we get started?" I was kind of taken aback because 1. He had no clue who was nor vice versa other than meeting at a few races and 2. He is a badass racer and Im slower than most folks on the course! I threw that out there and he didnt seem that phased by it and since I wanted a partner I was cool with it.
On a side note, Im usually the one with the hairbrained idea and have the skills to be at least an equal contributing member of any endeavor I get into. Being the weaker member of a team is rare and while Im cool with it and even welcome that change of paradigm it is weird getting used to at times. When the stronger member is waaaay fitter than you and you don't know them it is even weirder.
Anyway, I did a recon of the beginning of the route, TOTALLY got my distance estimates out of whack and was ready!
|Scott ready to go!|
Anyway, this is a cool trip because there are real navigation challenges as the CDT is not the optimal line of travel in most places if you could even find it. Starting out at 4 am makes it even trickier. Map, compass and altimeter were all required. Of course, later in the day there was avy risk to mitigate through route finding. Spring snow is always tricky especially when skiing in the afternoon. Then there is the whole food & gear question.
I had hiked the route twice and skied part of it twice so was the navigator. The first section is below tree line and it's tricky to stay on the ridge especially before the sun comes up. I had skied it a week or so earlier out for a few hours but we got a late season dump and my skin track was gone. Oh well. We never really got too misoriented, just a few inevitable, "Something doesnt feel right" moments that were quickly set right without much lost time.
|Typical terrain on the first section.|
|Pow in April. Pleasant!|
This sking had PUDs (pointless ups and downs) that were all too small to bother ripping skins. Some of it was a little exciting but none too crazy. Ridge sking in trees.
I should mention, we both just took race packs with extra food and water/Tailwind. That was about it other than skimo race stuff including 2 pairs of skins of course! The two other minor extras were sunscreen (I forgot mine in the car but thankfully Scott had extra) and skin wax for when it got warm. We also packed running shoes for the end.
|This was where I realized my gross underestimation of the time it would take us. We are not yet to Ellwood and the entire ridge beyond us will take us to just shy of Summit Peak aka the end of section 2.|
|Skiing the divide|
|I love the beauty of untracked mountains in the winter|
|Closing in on Ellwood Pass|
|Finally approaching Ellwood Pass!|
Somewhere in there, Scott ran out of water and started stuffing bottles with snow and putting them in his suit to melt. I followed suit a good bit later. That technique on a warm day worked quite well but Im guessing we were both a little less than optimally hydrated.
|Scott still going strong.|
|One of Scott's waits while I caught up.|
|Montezuma Peak (13,150ft), the second tallest in the county- go Scott!|
|An unnamed 12,000ft peak Scott hit.|
|Summit Peak, at last! What a beauty.|
|Rounding Summit Peak|
|On the connecting ridge. Above Scott's shoulder is the back of Nipple Mtn, a small rock pinnacle easily visible from much of Pagosa Springs when looking to the East. It is on Quartz Ridge and marks the beginning of the final descent.|
|Looking to the East. Behind me is the general area in which Colin Sutton, a Ski Patroller at Wolf Creek Pass, died in an avalanche just over a month prior to this trip. I never knew him but have always been impressed with the ski patrol staff at Wolf Creek and had heard many very good things about Colin. I definitely took a few moments to pay tribute to him as best a I could.|
|Unusual snow features.|
|Arriving at Quartz Ridge, shadows growing longer!|
|About to drop into the gully from Quartz Ridge. You can make out Nipple Mtn on the sun/shadow line behind Scott's pole baskets.|
ConclusionOverall, a cool way to end the season. Here are a few lessons learned though. We went North to South as that let us loose more elevation than we gained. Definitely a good idea from an energy efficiency standpoint. However, most of our ski descents were on the warm slope and not as much fun as North facing descents in the spring.
Since the trip was so long, we planned it time-wise so we would exit on a West facing slope to avoid dealing with crusty snow while tired. That worked out pretty well. The East facing stuff was crusty and terrifying towards the end!
Tailwind in water is still just awesome but for me, didnt provide enough calories without making the water too rich or carrying too much water. I supplemented it with Honey Stinger waffles every so often and some ham, cheese and nuts every few hours. That combo worked out great.
Our light weight packing plan was more than adequate. We wore race suits with wind shell tops and bottoms prior to sunrise and then just the suits. I had a puffy but never needed it. In fact, the sun was so warm, the suits got a tad warm. Scott showed me a great technique of sitting in the snow to cool down every once in a while. He got to do it a lot more than me as I was huffing and puffing along, trying to keep him from waiting any more than he did.
The route was beautiful and personally very cool as I have a connection with that terrain and look at it almost every day. However, it was more gently rolling than I think would be ideal for a really "ideal" skimo tour. I think fewer ups and downs of much more significant vert would present the best terrain. Just my thoughts and something I hope to validate in the future on other excursions!
That being said, if anyone is interested in repeating this trip, Im happy to provide any route info.
Finally, as always, having a gracious and mellow partner makes all the difference. Anything we do is better when done in the company of good people with positive attitudes!