January 16th, 2010
Last week, Ari and Alex joined us for a 3 day blast of ice climbing in Silverton and Ouray. On the first day of our trip, we decided on a climb of Whorehous Ice Hose. The conditions on Whorehouse are superb this year, and the 3 of us had a great day on the climb. The lower pitch is probably in WI 3+ condition on the left, and WI 5- on the right. The upper pitch is a solid WI 4 on the right and WI 4+ on the left.
At the belay on top of the first pitch of Whorehouse.
The second day of our trip took us to the Ouray Ice Park, where we worked on perfecting steep ice technique and did a little mixed climbing as well. We followed that with an asent of Horsetail Falls, which is in fantastic shape given all the cold temps and lack of snow recently. Alex opted to go skiing on Red Mountain Pass on this day, with our guide Josh Coffin, while Ari and I climbed Horsetail.
Above the crux on Horsetail.
Ice conditions are great in the the San Juans right now, though it looks like with snow in the forecast we’ll be steering clear of areas like Eureka Canyon with avalanche danger sure to rise. Stay tuned!
Horsetail Falls, WI4
January 14th, 2010
Last weekend’s Level 1 Avalanche course
was a huge success. We had numerous folks from around the four corners come for three days of avalanche education. The weather was beautiful with some cold mornings and clear, blue sky days to make for a educational and enjoyable course.
After the first day of learning in the classroom, we headed out for the next two days of practice in the field. It was great to see people become proficient with their companion rescue skills, intrigued by the layers in the snow pack, and enjoy great touring to highlight the knowledge that we had learned throughout the course. We had some great snow to ski/ride as the icing on the cake. We had planned out some good tours along with alternate plans that resulted in excellent learning by all. Joined the last day by three individuals refreshing their avalanche skills, everyone had a great time and walked away with a greater understanding of making better decisions in the backcountry.
Gareth heading for the top of Prospect Bowl
Looking toward the top of Prospect Bowl
Lots of Skiing in great snow
Dave after a good run
Stephanie digging out her companion
Meagan on the flux line
Michael's fine search
Skinning off Red Mountain Pass
January 14th, 2010
The Southwest Adventure Guides ski posse had a great time exploring the skiing conditions in the alpine. This was organized as an intentional opportunity to share tricks of the trade while getting out and enjoying the skiing of the San Juans.
We all met in Silverton for our guides meeting over coffee, and then carpooled to our starting point. We decided on skiing near the Battleship slide path as it would offer some great aspects for skiing and provide opportunities to extend our tour up the ridge toward South Lookout Peak. As predicted, the winds were ripping over the ridges from the west and loading the lee aspects toward Hwy 550. After ascending the north ridge of the Battleship, we reconvened to discuss our options. We decided to strip our skins at which point, Mark’s binding broke and his ski went careening down the south facing slope. Obviously this left us with some difficult decisions about our next move. We decided that the route down toward the unknown resting place of Mark’s ski was safe enough to venture into and ended with the luck of finding it resting in a rock garden well down the slope.
After climbing back up the slope and fixing Mark’s ski with straps (see the attached photo – it was a great fix), we decided to ski back down northerly facing slopes toward Hwy 550, one of the options we discussed that morning in the guides meeting. Mark’s ski rocked it and we easily made our way back to the cars.
With a little adventure to keep us on our toes, we had an excellent day out that resulted in great turns, sound decisions, and great laughs among us all.
- Ridge to the Summit of the Battleship Slidepath
- A rest break on the skin track
- Danny having fun
- Gary in his element
- Ridge Top Traveling
- Broken Binding Repair
January 8th, 2010
Last week long time client Valari W. joined us for 3 days of ice climbing in the San Juans. We spent 2 days in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon climbing a few of the classics, most notably Whorehouse Ice Hose and Stairway to Heaven.
Descending the upper bowl after climbing the 3rd pitch of Whorehouse.
Both climbs are in super shape, with many choices in terms of which line you’d like to climb. We climbed the left side of Whorehouse with was in WI 3+ condition, with just about perfect ice conditions on the pitch. The right side looked like tricky WI 4+/5-, with some potential hollow spots near the steep section at the top. Stairway is in FAT condition, and good threads were in place for an easy descent of the route via a few rappells. There have been many parties on the route recently and if conditions stay the same the route is going to be picked out before you know it. The middle pitch is still quite steep and feels like WI 4.
Cool view on the 2nd pitch of Whorehouse.
All in all it was a great couple of days with good climbing the entire time. Ice conditions are fantastic right now, though still a little thin in Cascade Canyon. Hopefullly the continued cold temps will firm things up nicely for the bulk of the season. Stay safe out there!
First pitch of Whorehouse Ice Hose.
Topping out the 1st pitch.
January 5th, 2010
Last week’s AIARE Level 1 Avalanche course
was a huge success. Four motivated individuals came out mid-week to improve their avalanche knowledge and skills. There was a great mix of experience levels in the group including a professional skier, a competitive park rider, a recreational snowboarder, and a mountaineer. During the course, we had an excellent opportunity to address the relevancy of avalanche knowledge to each person’s needs.
We were fortunate to have perfect conditions that made learning during this course optimal. We began with a light snow on Tuesday which continued through the next day, leaving a new layer of San Juan snow to look at. Observing how wind transported the new snow onto lee and crossloaded aspects was very valuable for bringing attention to obvious start zones as well as not so obvious ones. We also enjoyed digging in the snow and observing all the previous snow storms and how those have changed over time. Learning to identify the potential weak layers and to gather more information with different snowpack tests helped the students identify the potential problem layers. As always, the San Juans obliged with an interesting snowpack structure!
This course was a great success with students leaving excited about the new knowledge and skills they learned. No doubt these new skills will help keep them safe out there in the backcountry!
Top of the skin track above Prospect Bowl
Nate switching his BCA Tracker beacon to search
Jason probing with his BCA Profile 240 for a victim
Ben in search mode with his BCA Tracker beacon
Ben on the move!
On the skin track through fresh San Juan snow
Checking out the San Juan snowpack
January 4th, 2010
The end of the year brought snow, cold, and another successful winter mountaineering course in the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Six aspiring mountaineers from Chicago to Texas to Colorado are now ready for bigger, bolder, and more committing climbs after successfully completing our four day Introduction to Winter Mountaineering course.
Day one consisted of students learning the basics of Ice climbing in beautiful Cascade Canyon. Students practiced everything from basic anchors to ice screw placement and spent the day refining techniques on vertical water ice.
Day two started the winter camping and second portion of the course. Students loaded packs and headed off into the wilderness snowshoeing up to the base of Engineer Mountain where they learned about setting up a “Quinsey” or snow cave and about the basics of setting up a winter camp.
Day three consisted of snow travel in avalanche terrain, basic avalanche forecasting (digging a pit), Avalanche Becon usage and searching techniques, snow anchors, and self arrest.
After three days of instruction, students finally set off to attempt Engineer Peak via the impressive Northeast Ridge. There, the learning continued with rope travel techniques and efficient travel in steep terrain. Though cold and windy, smiles were ear to ear as the techniques from the past few days were applied and practiced while we negotiated the ridge to the summit. Later, after down climbing back to the base of the peak we all reflected on the ascent, packed camp, and made our way back to the cars.
Well done guys!