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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gothic Peak 1-3-2015

It was lightly snowing when we pulled up to the Monte Cristo trailhead around midnight. There was slush and ice on the mountain loop a few miles before deer creek, and about 2 inches of snow at Barlow pass. After 4 hours of sleep, we started down the trail at 5 am, uncertain of the snow conditions that lied ahead.

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The trail to Gothic Basin was well packed until the first gully crossing about a mile beyond the Monte Cristo Trail. We put on snowshoes on the other side of the gully and continued climbing as the peaks to the east began to appear above the tree tops. Evidence of the trail could be seen occasionally through a foot of fresh powder. Sheep Gap Mountain came into view ahead as we crested the ridge into Gothic Basin. Clouds flowed through the peaks surrounding Monte Cristo and Sloan Peak appeared in the saddle between Sheep Mountain and Gemini Peak. We were moving very slow, though it didn't seem like it - in 7 hours we had traveled only 4 miles and gained less than 3000 feet.

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Gothic Peak was shrouded in thin fog when we entered the basin. From the frozen shores of Foggy Lake we ascended the mellow east face, connecting with the SE ridge. I became disoriented a few times, uncertain of the angle of the slope ahead of me in the whiteout. Just before the lake disappeared below us, we heard voices and noticed two people following our path. We didn't see them again, but noticed their tennis shoe tracks on our return - wow!

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The west side of the ridge was super steep near the top. As we traded snowshoes and poles for crampons and ice axes the clouds surrounding us dissipated, and the Cascades appeared. With renewed energy we kicked up to the summit block then carefully scrambled the last 40 feet of rock and loose snow. The wind was mild, so we took tons of pictures and enjoyed a lengthy summit stay.

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We rapped down to the snow and made a long glissade into Gothic Basin before pulling the snowshoes back out. All of the hard work we put in on the ascent payed off - in just over 3 hours we descended what had taken us nearly 11 hours to climb. Someone decided to break the register box and tear down some postings at the Gothic Basin Trailhead. Brilliant.


10.5 miles round trip 5000' elevation gain 15 hours trailer to trailer

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bearhead Mountain: The return of aDam 2014-12-28

aDam is back! He joined me and a few friends on a trip up Bearhead Mountain last weekend. Snow levels were similar to my first attempt on this peak, but this time it was a few feet of fresh powder all the way to the top rather than the springtime snow we experienced in March. Nellie's car stopped around 3500' on the road just after light rain turned to snow. Colin dropped me off with Maverick and some gear near the trailhead and ferried the rest of the group back in his jeep.
I started slowly up the trail to stay warm, sinking at least 6 inches with each step. Everyone else caught up below Twin Lake and we took turns breaking trail for the mile-long traverse. Much of the bear grass and branches were covered in newly-formed hoar frost. As we reached the SE ridge, the slope mellowed and the trail disappeared into smooth powder.

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The snowfall stopped around halfway up the ridge, and we got a few brief glimpses of blue sky. Breaking trail uphill became more challenging with every step. The final 400 feet took us an hour to climb. We experienced some "whoomping" and found a few fractures in the snowpack, and had a quick safety meeting to insure that everyone felt comfortable continuing. We plotted a route through the trees, keeping a safe distance from the steeper slopes to the east.

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There was very little wind at the top, but it was still pretty cold. Maverick was not happy to be stopped, so we built him a dog cave out of emergency blankets. We ate lunch on the summit, looking down at the spot where Colin and I turned back with our Mountaineers group in March.

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I cannot describe how great it felt to fly down at high speed after such a brutally slow ascent. We cut most of our switchbacks, alternating between plunge-stepping and a standing glissade back to the traverse. Colin and I reached the trailhead quite a bit before the rest of the group so I continued on with Maverick towards Nellie's car, accompanied by the sound of gunshots and occasional sunshine.

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9 miles round trip 1800' gain