So the 2014/2015 season is officially here and along with it comes the never ending itch. I've been able to get out locally a good amount to take advantage of the early season snow but now it was time to drive elsewhere. Last weeks storm brought a good amount of snow and after talking with Joel Paula about a recent waist-deep venture he had last Monday, I had a pretty good idea of where I needed to head. And so the plans set in motion for Joel, Mark Koob, and myself to head up into Montezuma basin just outside of Aspen/Ashcroft. A well known early/late skiing destination I was stoked to get out for my first Elks mission.
High hopes were stirred as we were planning on a big day. We were hoping to be able to get in a double-whammy and ski both Conundrum Couloir as well as the North face of Castle Peak. We kept our fingers crossed that the week of high pressure and melt/freeze on the snow would possibly grant us with some fall corn but not quite how it worked out.
Mark and I left Summit at about 7pm on Sunday night and drove up to where Joel met us on Castle Creek Rd up towards Montezuma mine nearing about 11k feet. From there we enjoyed about 4 hours of sleep and woke up to our watch and phone alarms a little before 3am. On went the headlamps which we would not turn off again until we were above 14k ft. A clear and warm night we quickly gather our gear and off and up we went. We walked up the road until we reached the lower headwall of the basin at 12.8k ft and from there switched to skin mode. Up the lower headwall and eventually we made it to the base of our couloir where we transitioned into crampons, donned our axes, and commenced booting. I have to admit that it was a blast booting up a 47 degree couloir by headlamp!
Conditions seemed to be ok during our ascent of the bottom portion and apron but quickly changed as we neared the bottom choke where we encountered bulletproof snow. Front-pointing and picking our way up we continued encountering a mix of conditions with a lot of hard pack. At this point we figured we were going to definitely have to wait on the saddle/summit for the sun to hopefully do some warming and so up we went hoping for a gorgeous sunrise at 14k ft. Little behold as we near our top-out the clouds roll through and sock us in.
So much for a summit sunrise! Within 5 minutes of us topping out we were completely engulfed with clouds. Hoping that the sun would eventually burn off the clouds and warm up our descent we hunkered down behind some rocks to help stay out of the cold wind. Here we waited over 2.5 hours in hopes of a warm up. While the sun did eventually burn off clouds, it did so everywhere else but around us. Eventually we had to make a call, and the call was to bail and find an alternate route down.
So eventually we took a stroll up the ridge to scope out a way down from the saddle of Castle/Conundrum.
After scoping a line down from the saddle we went back, grabbed our gear, and headed down ridge until we found ourselves on top of our line. The snow ended up being much better than what we had ascended in the couloir and included a short downclimb through the cliff band.
From the saddle we enjoyed about 1000ft of skiing back onto the road. The clouds still seemed to never dissipate around the upper basin but once we reached the bottom of the lower headwall the sun was in full blare. Imagine that.
So we didn't get to ski either of the lines we wanted but; we had an awesome headlamp couloir booter to 14k ft, it was my first ski in the Elks, and we all made it home safely. Chalk that one up as a successful mission! Oh yea, its only October 20th!!