Thursday, March 19, 2009

Walking Over Mountain Ranges

SKY Chutes from Copper Mountain Super Bee lift

A few weeks ago I hooked up with riding buds Jeremiah and Doug for a ski mountaineering day in Summit County. The plan was to ride the K chute, one of the SKY chutes on the west side of the 10 Mile Range opposite Copper Mountain. If you are driving down from Vail Pass on east-bound I-70 you can see the SKY chutes clearly -- they are three avalanche chutes that look like the letters S,K and Y. These chutes can be very dangerous for avalanche so they are only good to ride if the snow pack above them is minimal and after some good warm weather to consolidate any layers. Definitely be properly equiped and trained and check the CAIC website for current avalanche conditions before any backcountry trip.
The plan was to start in Breck and climb over the top of the 10 mile range in order to access the K chute. We started at Jeremiah's house in Frisco, took the bus to Breckenridge at 9600', rode the gondola and chair lift to the top of Peak 7 and then rode far skiers left to the backcountry gate at 10,600'. From there we climbed about 1800 feet to point 12,438 between Peaks 6 and 7, with our snowboards on our backs. It was a bluebird day in the 20s, but with wind gusts to about 50 mph above treeline. We reached the summit over steep and rocky terrain after about two hours climbing. Next, we hiked along the top of the 10 mile range -- its like walking on the top of the world, snowy peaks 360 dgrees -- for about a mile to the top of the K chute, then dropped about 2000 feet, on snowboard, through beautiful gladed terrain on perfect powder snow. I love to wipe out in powder -- it just makes you laugh.

I always carry a mountaineering ice ax above tree line as a basic piece of safety equipment (see pic -- that's Doug with my ax). It was one of the first pieces of gear that I bought when I moved to Colorado and it always comes in handy for climbing or crossing snow fields, for glissade descents or if I were to fall and need to self arrest. I also like to use it like a cane when traveling over rough or unstable terrain on talus or scree.
I have not been in the backcountry to ride my board much this winter because I have been so focused on ice climbing -- but I plan to get in some rad snowboard mountaineering in April and June. Stay tuned here for those adventures.

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