Tuesday, January 27, 2009

UAE - Nambe Chutes, Santa Fe

Un-Official AAS Event: - 1/25/09

I just wanted to share a few cool photos of me and 2 other BC Ski nuts in the Nambe Chutes bowl above the Santa Fe ski area last Sunday. I still can't believe how wintery is was up there! We have had no new snow in about 2 weeks and it was so warm at my house on Saturday, I had to remove my sweat shirt while changing my oil.

On arrival at the SF ski area Sunday, it was about 26deg with little wind. I made my now favorite purchase of an $18.00 2 ride ticket and headed up to the very top with Joel and John. (I met them both while trolling for BC partners on a local BC ski forum, yes disgusting I know...)

We were greeted by about 6in. of rime on the entire top of the mountain. There was about 8 to 10in. of new snow and rime that had blown into the bowl.
We dug a quick pit and all decided it was stable and we agreed to do a run one-at-a-time hiding behind rock outcroppings to check it out. We helped ourselves to a steep descent into a widening 30 to 40deg. couloir first. Here's me ripping it up and trying not to over-cook it!

We had a quick snack at the bottom and started the skin/climb back up. The snow was too soft in areas and left us swimming back up a 35deg. slope in waist deep snow... not fun at times ;-) For our second run we chose a wider run and let'er rip! The conditions were indeed stable with about 6 t0 8in. of good snow on top.

Here's Joel at the top of the chutes area proper (no it's not Alaska, it's Santa Fe, man I love this state)

Here's a great shot taken by John of me and Joel climbing out with Snow Science data added for perspective.

We were going to return via the Winsor trail after another run, but as I was getting sick all week I was really feeling tired (as I told my partners, my "Inner Man" was asleep on the couch) So we did the right thing and pulled the plug and traversed the ridge exploring more opportunities for next time. The sun was baking the south facing slopes we used to descend back into the ski area. I fell at least 3 times and got stuck in tree wells because I was getting so fried... After a beer at the mid-way bar we finished the run and I treated my friends to a crash under the beginner lift on the bunny slope because I couldn't even keep an edge any longer! Awesome!

That effort was enough to kick my cold into high gear and today I'm home sick for the second day in a row........ but I'm still grinning like a fool.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wahatoya: Scree of Vengeance

On West Spanish Peak, no one can hear you scree....

In December 2007, the AAS made a fateful decision to go to Plan B when a raging snowstorm blanketed our favorite ski resort in nearly seven feet of powder. What was Plan A? An ascent of one or both of the Spanish Peaks, sensuously shaped twin peaks towering nearly 7,000 feet above the plains of Colorado half way between Pueblo and the New Mexico border. Wahatoya is the Ute name, roughly translated to mean "breasts of the world" for their shape and the frequent summer thunderstorms that gather at their peaks, bringing rain to the plains that fed the tribes. We vowed we would return, and on November 21, 2008, Paul, Dan, Kirk, and Brian did.

This is what we wished they looked like. West Spanish Peak is on the right.

Usually by November, the taller peaks on the Front Range have a frosting of snow, enough to fill in the nooks and crannies, making climbing a little easier on a carefully-chosen route. From a distance and from the thin route descriptions we could find for West Spanish Peak, we didn't expect much of a challenge in terms of terrain, though snow cover was unseasonably thin. The AAS AAS-embeled at the Wahatoya Trail trailhead after some sleuthing to find it. We began our climb to AAS Base Camp well after sunset, traveling by headlamp under a moonless sky. On the climb, in thin patches of snow that hugged the daytime shadows, we spotted fresh bear tracks, and passed numerous piles of fresh scat -- something we didn't expect to see in late November, but the unseasonably warm weather had probably kept this one from hibernating.

We chose a ready-made campsite at the pass between East and West Spanish Peaks, with ample snow and a pile of dry wood thoughtfully placed by some previous benefactors. The next morning dawned cold but clear, and having gone to bed late after melting snow to refill our water containers, we took our time getting on the trail.

We soon found our way to a ridgeline that we decided we would follow for four steadily climbing miles to the summit, and set ourselves to the task. Below treeline we walked on thin snow cover and forest loam...but as we passed from Spruce forest to open Bristlecone Pine groves at treeline, we emerged into a scree field as far as the eye could see. Hope remained, however, as we simply assumed we'd find a use trail as we climbed higher, or we'd see firm, windpacked snow that we could walk on. It was not to be.

Hopping from ankle-twisting rock to knee-wrenching rock, ranging in size from softballs to small appliances, is hard work. One step is solid, but the next step could have you flailing to stay upright as a hundred pounds of rock slides tinkling from under your weighted boot. We left ABC shortly after 9am, and by noon, we estimated we'd climbed only half way to the summit -- there were nearly 1,500 feet and about 2 miles left. A brief sighting of a small flock of hearty Colorado Bighorn Sheep led by a giant full-curl ram gave us another boost, watching them fairly glide over the loose slopes, but we began to suspect our summit hopes had been dashed. We hiked another mile or so in two hours, and being out of water, searched for a patch of snow to refill from. Here's a collection of videos from Paul taken as we hiked, and after. Walking uphill on scree is hard enough...none of us wanted to walk downhill in the dark, so with a quote on Ed Viesturs' climbing philosophy in our heads, we began our retreat...but not before allowing Eric to partake in a taste of high-altitude camraderie via cell phone.

We finished our trip enjoying a roaring campfire, mountain meals, and spirits while we pondered a return, with skis and snowboards, in spring conditions when firm snow underfoot and longer days above would give us ample time to summit and enjoy the descent as only the AAS can.