Spring Skiing: Citadel Peak

Springtime is the season for long walks with your skis. The snowpack is generally more stable and you can hit big alpine lines. A couple weeks ago, I went on two long walks with skis.

I first tried to get to Flattop Gully with my old roommate, forgetting how far back Flattop goes. We didn’t quite make it all the way to the gully but skied a fun north slope I’d assume doesn’t get skied very often because of how long the walk is. The exit is one of my least favorite I’ve done, second probably to Silver Couloir on Buffalo Peak.

Bindu Pomeroy, of Vail, and I had been trying to get out since we met at Outdoor Retailer. Three days before the Loveland Pass area received somewhere around 20 inches of new snow, and he thought Citadel Peak would still be good. I haven’t skied too much in that area, so was open to skiing something new.

I left my house at 2:30am to be at the trailhead at 4am. Bindu and his fellow split-boarder, Jon Adgate, show up a few minutes after me. We shuttle a car to the Herman Gulch Trailhead, where we’ll finish, and drive to the gate at Dry Gulch.

The moon, while not full, was bright enough that we didn’t need headlamps for the start of our skin. You follow a low angle road for about a mile before turning uphill, pulling up your heal risers, and walking up the steep creek – hearing the water running under the thin snow cover.  We had to traverse under a face that I would not want to be under in unstable snow conditions, then go straight up to the saddle between Hagar and a few false summits from Bethel.

I figured out with my Fritschi Ttecton binding, if I partially took it out of walk-mode the brakes would drop, which allowed me to walk almost straight up the hard-frozen steep face. I also found that this technique stops working when the sun warms up the snow, you just slide back down, the brakes sliding through like butter.


Bindu puts on his crampons for the final push, to the top of the rocky peak behind him

We walk the ridge and skirt to the northwest of the Citadel to find someone had oh-so-kindly already put in a boot pack up the steep snow slog. As we gained the summit ridge, we were finding the snow was softening up very quickly.


Looking to the northeast to Pettingell Peak

By the time we are set to go, a few wet slides and pilling are going off on east facing slopes. Bindu and Jon (carving in the photo above) choose the left route down the couloir (which looks far less steep at super-wide angle in the photo than it is in reality). After both of them are out of slide danger, I pick the shoulder on the right. It took me maybe 10 minutes to finish shooting and get set to ski and in that time the snow had warmed up considerably. I made a couple jump turns and set off a wet slide that pulled the top layer off the rest of couloir. I wait for it to settle before straightlinging out to the major slope. The east facing snow was some of the strangest I’ve ever skied in, both soft and crunchy, grabby and super fast. My skis sunk to ankle deep or so and the snow grabbed my tails, making it almost impossible to turn. I could make large sweeping turns which were not sufficient to control my speed. I’m not sure if I didn’t fully clip into my binding, but about halfway down the slope my right ski took off on its own. It took me too long to retreive it, wallowing in the wet snow in avalanche danger area. Getting my ski back on, I made it over to Bindu’s position, “Damn, it feels like I’ve never skied before!”. I hate that feeling. The snowboarders didn’t seem to have the same problem, claiming the snow was great for carving. I’m going to attribute it to their greater surface area and not sinking into the grabby mess (and not my lack of abilities…).

The ski out is 4 miles of generally downhill but very low angle skiing that goes by pretty quickly, except for the dirt patches you have to gingerly walk across. The last quarter mile or so we had to put the skis on the packs and awkwardly walk with ski boots (I guess the snowboarders less awkwardly walked in their more comfortable boots). High alpine adventures are fun, but I think I’m about ready to hang up my skis for the summer. It’s rock climbing and mountain biking season!

Mixed Feelings

Lately, I’ve not been taking advantage of the playground in my backyard enough, Rocky Mountain National Park. When Tyler Kempney asked if I wanted to climb Mixed Emotions, M5- WI4 (or Mixed Feelings – the name seems to be a bit interchangeable) I said yes. Although I prefer sticking my tools in ice, I haven’t mixed climb in a while.

After an hour and a half detour (we took the wrong trail), we made it to the Loch Vale cragging area. There was a guided group on Mixed Feelings, so we each got a lap on Crystal Meth, a dirty looking WI4. The guided group didn’t do the mixed line, so the hanging dagger looked untouched.

Tyler led through the dry traverse, climbing on the rock with his gloved hands and placing cams in the horizontal crack. There’s a fixed pin with an old sling right below the curtain that he tried to back up with a marginal #1 cam. The ice didn’t inspire confidence, looking quite dry and in need of refreshing, and Tyler tested a couple of different entry points.

Once established on the ice above the dagger we all relaxed a bit. I was unsure of whether the dagger would hold. I kept telling myself, “If the dagger breaks, keep shooting!”

It’s a fun classic. Great job Alex Lowe!

I need to get out on some more adventures. Hit me up with ideas!

Birthday in the Sand Dunes

Melissa had always told me how much she wanted to go to a hot springs and Great Sand Dunes National Park. Labor day was her birthday, so we took off to southern Colorado to climb and explore. We climbed for a day in Shelf Road, then made our way to the San Luis Valley. We found an awesome open camping spot on BLM land, then soaked in Joyful Journeys Hotsprings.







Sunday, we moved our campsite to Zapata Falls. We stopped in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to take some photos, then I missed the road to the falls and found these awesome wildish horses and a buffalo…

The road to Zapata Falls is 3.5 miles up a mountain gravel road that is in desperate need of grating. Even in Melissa’s jeep, it was a jarring road that we had to drive four times. “Oh, my poor car!” But the camping up there is great, and even on Labor Day weekend, we found a great spot.


The falls was incredibly crowded but worth going to see. We happened to be there for the 20 minutes or so that the sunlight streams down through the canyon, highlighting the falls’ mist.


Also, as expected, the Sand Dunes were overrun with tourists, so we drove down the 4WD road to a small parking lot. Luckily we got to right as someone was leaving, so we secured a spot. We took a nap under some trees, being rudely interrupted by a family of deer that came stomping through right next to us and loudly chewing leaves off the bushes all around us.

It was my 5th time at the dunes, but it never disappoints. Actually, with the smoke from the western forest fires, the light was absolutely incredible.








I’ve never seen the dunes with this much vegetation! It must have been a very wet August.










A couple came through, setting up camp and getting a front row seat to nature’s fireworks.




My friend, Dan Lehman, created these awesome La Croix seltzer water inspired tights that say “La Crushin It”. They’re sweet!

I couldn’t stop taking photos, the light was too good!




Right place at the right time!

Another couple joined us on our vantage point.




If you get the chance, it’s definitely worth while to watch the sunset from the interior of the sand dunes. I give it an A+.

After a lazy morning cleaning up at Zapata Falls Campground, we made our way down the mountain. We stopped at San Luis State Park to see if there was anything interesting. It was pretty barren accept for these sweet sun shades that litter the park.





The San Luis Valley, and everything east got smokier and smokier as we drove home. We went through the South Platte to avoid traffic, and it was almost impossible to see the climbing areas from the road. I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped on 93 to capture the epic sun, and of course my favorite tree. I love that you can see the sun spots on the sun!


This was a fun weekend for me shooting a ton of landscapes, I hope Melissa had fun for her birthday!

Laura and her horse, Sam

I’ve been wanting to add some composite work to my portfolio, and when I got the opportunity to shoot Laura Suslavich jumping her horse Sam, I knew it was going to be great. When we got to the horse barns, the sun was far too hot, so we shot some lifestyle work first.





Laura took Sam on a few warm up laps, kept asking her fiance to lift the barrier higher. After only a few jumps we got exactly the shot I was imagining!

It’s always great working with passionate people! Thank you, Laura and Joel, for spending a Friday with the Scotts (Scott Homan with the assist). Oh! Can’t forget to thank Joel for finding my keys I dropped in the field. Would have made for a long walk home!

Sunday Morning Motorcycle Ride

On Sunday, while hanging out the back of my car, I shot Dan Lehman riding his motorcycle up Flagstaff Mountain. With the back hatch open and my feet securely bracing against my bike rack, I was able to get the angles I wanted with Dan following super close. Dan’s friend, Samantha, held onto my Flashpoint Streaklight 360 (my favorite portable strobe!) completely safely held in by a makeshift seatbelt made from Alpine Draws. Had a lot of fun playing around and definitely learned a thing or two about what I’d do different next time.






This was one of those happy accidents. Camera got stuck in a weird mode, dragging the shutter for .3 seconds.





For this last shot, I was stationary and had Dan ride past me a few times. Melissa is hiding on the other side of the curve with the Streaklight.

 

I love doing personal work like this, playing around to see what works.

The Stars from Escalante

Colorado has some incredible and unique landscapes. Many are slammed with tourists, but there are some that are much less known. Escalante Canyon is one of those. Similar rock to the Westgate Sandstone Cracks of Indian Creek, this canyon attracts trad climbers, hikers, and ATV-ers.



I didn’t shoot any climbing because I was too busy climbing! Can’t wait to get back there!

Spring Snow Day

Saturday morning Boulder woke up to almost a foot of snow. Spring storms happen every year, but it’s a bit of shock after 70º pre-summer bluebird days. I made my adventure soul happy skiing two feet of powder at Berthoud Pass, but on the drive home I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera. I dropped off my buddy, and picked up my girlfriend and camera, hoping the light, snow, and fog would not change too much by the time I got back to the scenes I drove past on the way home.

I drive past this tree every time I go to my girlfriend’s house, and I think, “I should take a photo of that some day.” So, it was a natural first stop.

If you have followed me for a while, you know I have a favorite tree on the drive down CO 93 to Golden. I couldn’t help but capture it in beautiful fog and snow.







We drove a new road home, winding our way through the rolling hills southeast of Boulder. We found ourselves looking at a giant horse statue wearing hazmat suit and gas mask, which memorializes the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Production Plant. You can see the horse on my Instagram.

Across the road was this perfect abandoned Country Store overlooking the former site of the Nuclear Weapons Plant.

I have a bad habit of not shooting enough around where I live. I like breaking through that habit and exploring with a freshly inspired eye, seeing what stands out to me. Snow always helps with this inspiration.

Climbing the East Face of Notch Top with Skis

I was supposed to be in Indian Creek, but scheduling got a bit messed up. So I was unexpectedly in Boulder for the weekend. My buddy Eric Poore hit me up and asked if I wanted to ski the East Face of Notch Top in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn’t really know what that entailed, but I said sure.


The East Face of Notch Top

The trail to the base of Notchtop is relatively flat, but skinning over the iced over bootpacks was less than enjoyable. I decided I didn’t really want to do the traverse back.


Eric gearing up to lead a short rock pitch before gaining the snow climb










Eric races skimo, meaning he skis uphill really fast, skis down really fast, and repeats. He’s fit. He absolutely destroyed me on the bootpack. I asked him to stop so I’d have something to take photos of.


Photo Credit: Eric Poore. Fully loaded, climbing styrafoam ice with non-existent gear. The nut on my left was just good enough to stay in un-weighted.




Eric just below the 3rd pitch of ice. Most of the bottom section disintegrated as I kicked in.



Photo Credit: Eric Poore. Me slogging my way up the last pitch of snow to the ridgeline where we dropped into Notchtop Spire Couloir.
The giant cornice over the East Face. We tried to stay out from under it as much as possible.
View down Notchtop Spire Couloir and across to Flattop and Flattop Gully, which we climbed to get out of Odessa Gorge
The sun had been hitting the east and south faces pretty hard, and the conditions were pretty soft. We elected not to ski the East Face, but down the Spire Couloir, which skied pretty fantastically.




Eric looking back at what we just skied
Getting out of Odessa Gorge we decided to not climb the easy way out, the slope above us, but the “S” couloir of Flattop Gully. It was a bit longer, definitely steeper, but maybe more entertaining?
View from Flattop Gully of Notchtop.

The last climb out spent the last of my energy. The snow wasn’t being cooperative, and I kept sinking back with every step. Within 100 feet of the summit I decided to try mix climbing the rocks instead. I got stumped by a featureless bulge and was about to head back to the snow when I found a small crack seam that took me in the direction I wanted to go. Laying back on the seam, yarding on my ice tools, I got myself probably 30 or 40 feet above my starting point. The crack petered out and I had to do some balancy slab climbing moves, scary in crampons. Getting locked into another crack system I made my way to the summit, glad that scaring myself drytooling didn’t turn out badly. As soon as I reached the summit I found out that I barely had control of my legs on flat ground. They were exhausted. Apparently I need to train for Skimo races with Eric.

The walk across the snowless summit of Flattop took me far too long. We decided to drop into Tyndall Gorge via the Tyndall Headwall, which was incredibly steep. It skied pretty well, but soon all of Tyndall Gorge was in shadow and the sun softened snow hardened immediately.

Without full control of my legs and wretched snow conditions, I felt like I’d never skied before. Thankfully, Eric was waiting patiently for me at Emerald Lake. I’d asked for a big day, and he had delivered. I haven’t been that tired in a while.

Skiing in Red Mountain Pass

I was asked to join Paradox Sports for their ice climbing trip in Ouray, CO. It was impressive seeing the adaptive climbing on things most people would never dream of getting up. On Sunday, I was able to break away with Maury Birdwell and Lucas Onan to get some back country turns in at Red Mountain Pass. Great terrain that’s pretty easy to access made for a good morning.




A stitched panorama made from some 27 images that create an image that’s 5.6 feet x 3.12 feet at it’s native resolution!

I love driving US 285. It’s a beautiful drive that takes your past the Black Canyon of Gunnison and the Monarch Pass. I had to stop and take advantage of the light.


Pajar Icepick Women’s Waterproof Snow Boot

Boulder just got one of our spring snow storms where it snows a fair amount and it’s completely gone the next day. Melissa had recently bought a pair of Pajar Icepicks and I wanted to shoot them. I didn’t want a static studio shot, so I took her out into Boulder Canyon and Nederland to shoot some product lifestyle. We confirmed that they boots are, in fact, waterproof.










Canon 85mm f/1.8 on Canon 5DMKIII, mostly at 1.8. 

Women’s March in Denver

Saturday I was proud to march alongside an estimated 200,000 people, mostly women, protesting the election and publicly stating we are not ok with the direction Drumpf is trying to take this country. Now, my hope is that we can continue to organize is such numbers to take back control of our government, keeping our elected officials accountable to the people. We cannot stop at merely marching and holding signs, we must continue to take action.

 

 

 

 

 

Boy was angrily singing “Jingle Bells” and his parents couldn’t stop laughing.

Is this Nathaniel Ratliff?

 

 

First Snow of the Season

After months of waiting for a fresh coating of the white, powdery cocaine, snow is finally filling the mountains of Colorado. Like addicts falling off the wagon, Eric Poore and I met before dawn to get our fix. We headed to St Mary’s Glacier, where we were guaranteed at least some rock free skiing with a layer of fresh on top.

We were the only car in the parking lot. I was giddy taking my first gliding steps uphill, the nylon skins gripping the heavy, wet snow. God, I’ve missed this!

Navigating through the rocky trail we made it to the lake to find a beautiful winter wonderland. Needless to say, I’m excited for more of this.

Eric has had his right hand in a cast all summer with a broken wrist. He’s psyched for the freedom of the brace, but can’t wait till he can fully use his hand again.

Eric flips his binding’s risers as we get onto the glacier.

It was white out conditions when we got to the top of the glacier.

Halfway down our first run Eric swaps out his Dynafit skis for a pair of snow blades.

Eric scopes out the slope skier’s right of the glacier.

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Eric really wanted to ski the couloir we skied back in early August. He had broken his skins earlier and was having to boot-pack, so he decided to boot-pack the couloir to see what the conditions were like. I skinned around to the top and waited for him. I loved this tree weighted by the burden of the fresh snow.
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2015 Toyota FJ Summit

My buddy, David Shumate, called me up earlier this summer and asked if I would want to join him in Ouray, CO for the 2015 Toyota FJ Summit. Before really knowing what it was I said yes. Why not? Turned out to be a blast.

Nathan Clark’s 4Runner splashes through a creek on the Engineer’s Pass loop

We met up with a group of FJ’s driving out of Denver and went as a convoy on US285.



There was a blackhawk doing exercises at the Buena Vista Airport, and a massive YoungLife group was hiking at Cottonwood Pass. They had a mascot.

Cottonwood Pass

All the FJ’s

Denver Caravan Group Shot

Dave and I decided to take a detour and look down into Black Canyon of Gunnison. Worthwhile detour.

Dave airs down his tires for the trail. 

I was at this spot in January climbing Gravity’s Rainbow with Vincent Keller. Awesome to see this area in the summer time. 

They were all staring at me as I clung to a rock with one hand and took photos

4Runner group shot at an old mine. 

I stood on this Land Cruiser to get the previous shot. 

We went into a small abandoned mining town that has several of the building still standing.

We drove out through Silverton, got lunch and prepared to go through Ophir Pass to get to Telluride. Nathan decided to drive through the creek “just for shits” and Dave followed. A crossing and climb that normally would have not been an issue, something went wrong on Dave’s 4Runner. As soon as he started the climb, “clank clank clank”. He could not get the rear wheels to engage. He tried to back it up, but the wheels locked. We were stuck in the water. Nathan winched Dave’s 4Runner back on the shore, but obviously the truck was not going to go anywhere. He had sheered off the gears in his 3rd member on the rear axle. 

It took a while to come up with a plan. Only one of us had cell phone service, spotty at best. There was not much I could do to help, so I got in Gary and Joe’s 4Runner, and we went back to Ouray in search of a trailer. Nathan, family, and David went back to Silverton to wait for a tow truck. It only took 5 hours to come. 
Dave and I didn’t really get much off-roading in after this. His truck in the shop, we jumped in with Gary and Joe and drove to Telluride for the day. We took a beautiful road up through aspens and to this point above Telluride. 

We take Ophir Pass back to Ouray.

Nathan playing in the snow at Ophir Pass

Off-roading was a blast, and I had a ton of fun hanging out of David’s 4Runner to get the shots.

Dave’s 4Runner is repaired and ready to make the trek back to Indiana.

Most of these images are available to be purchased as prints at
https://dscottclark.smugmug.com/2015-Toyota-FJ-Summit/

Please do not use images without permission. Thank you. 

Buffalo Creek Mountain Biking

I’ve stayed away from mountain biking because it’s just one-more-thing-to-spend-all-my-money-on (Kayaking, skydiving, surfing, scuba diving, curling – all things that fall into this category). But with a recent climbing injury to my shoulder I thought I was try some cross training, thought it turns out mountain biking isn’t very good for resting an injured shoulder, but it’s addicting!

Before this weekend I had ridden real mountain bike trails maybe four times in my life. I knew I would enjoy it, but the consequences of falling also kept me wary. I took what I thought was a small fall while riding down Lookout Mountain a few years ago, but when I reached the bottom a huge chunk of my helmet was gone. It really put into perspective how close we really take it.

My roommate just restored a Gary Fisher hardtail that he bought at a thrift store for $20. Turns out it’s a pretty awesome bike!  I rode some Boulder Open Space trails Friday and was hooked immediately. Saturday I went with my friend Lee France to Buffalo Creek in the South Platte area in Central Colorado.

The trails there are a nice contrast to the super rocky trails in the open space. The hardtail bruised my bottom – kind of accentuated the “need” for a full suspension. The Buffalo Creek trails are a bit more flowy, smoother and less rough, but still a lot of fun to rip down.

Side note: My Sony A6000 has been held hostage by the warranty repair company for almost 4 months now. I put my Rokinon 12mm Lens on Lee’s A6000’s. It was so nice having such a great camera for shooting action sports in such a small package. Secured on my backpack with my Peak Design Capture! 

Bandelier National Monument Road Trip

The month of May was incredibly rainy for Colorado. For a state that typically has 300+ days of sunshine a year, an entire month that it rains almost everyday is pretty rare and infuriating. We’re here for the sun! There was very little outdoor activity we could enjoy during this month, and I was feeling quite cooped up. I decided to chase the sun.

We decided to go to Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, near Los Alamos. There was camping, hiking, and a bit of climbing to do there. And there was sun!

Bandelier National Monument is a valley with Pueblo cliff dwellings carved into the conglomerate rock walls. It’s pretty amazing to see how this culture made there homes.

Our campsite at the Juniper Campground was quite nice, and Greta making racks of lamb, steaks, asparagus, etc over the fire made it even better.

Greta’s brother, Lars, and I wanted to go climbing and found there was a crag just outside of White Rock. The parking lot is basically still in town, you walk 10 minutes out a rocky spine and down to the cliff and there are 70+ routes in volcanic basalt with an amazing view over the Rio Grande.

 The sport climbing was quite sandbagged, but the trad was very fun. Not quite a destination for climbing, but a great thing to do while you’re there.

On the hike out Lars let out quite the scream. We thought he’d fallen into a cactus. He’d found himself a friend.

We climbed our way around the rattler, but I had to go back and take photos. Unfortunately he didn’t want to pose for me.

We hiked from our campsite to Bandelier and went to the Alcove House. You have to climb up a couple hundred feet and several very tall ladders to get up to see this Pueblo structure. They speculate that someone used this for weaving since they found a loom inside. Why someone would climb all the way up here just to weave is beyond me though.

We stayed at a very nice AirBnB in Sante Fe, went and looked at art, and seriously thought about buying a piece from Eric Boyer, who makes incredible steel mesh sculptures. The crazy amount of detail that are in the sculptures is amazing, but it’s even better when you see the shadows the pieces produce when a light is shined through them. The shadow looks almost like an intricate charcoal drawing.

On the drive home from Sante Fe I missed a turn and stayed on US 84 too long. By the time I figured it out it was too late to turn back. This was a great mistake. If you have a chance to drive between Sante Fe, NM and Alamosa, CO take CO/NM 17 and US 84 from Chama. It’s a spectacular drive. Here are a few of the views.

There’s a steam engine train that runs from Antonito, CO and Chama, NM

I love to travel, and my favorite part is probably stumbling onto something you didn’t mean to. That’s part of the reason I don’t like making exact plans, I like to see what I can stumble upon.