The weekend before I had a 14 hour sufferfest on Long’s Peak climbing Dreamweaver, and I dreaded doing the approach again – I don’t know why I hate it so much. When Thomas Woodson and Joey Schusler invited me to ski the Lamb’s Slide I considered the approach for a second, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Alpine starts are painful. Thomas raps on the window of my car at Oh’Dark Three AM. I’d been waiting for half an hour and fell asleep with my seat belt on. We throw my fatty powder skis in the ski rack on top of his Toyota FJ and take off into the pitch black canyon. It’s a surprise no one else is on the road.
Loading skis and boots onto my full backpack to carry for the 5 mile approach, preparing to gain 3,000 feet of elevation to the base of the climb, I realized I need a different set up. Joey is in full Dynafit set up and carrying roughly 1/3 the weight that I am, with my fatty Bluehouse skis, Marker Barons, and Salomon Quest boots. Just to prove the point Joey does the entire approach in his new Dynafit TLT 6 boots, claiming that they are beyond comfortable the whole way.
Sunrise hits just as we breech the treeline.
Sam Seeward on the approach
First sight of the Diamond
The sky is overcast and there are powerful wind gusts the whole hike in. We thought we might not get the sun the at all during the day, but as we breech tree line the gold light of morning breaks through the clouds. We forget about the struggle for a minute to bask in the light and everyone pulls out there cameras.
I was impressed by Joey’s ability to climb in his Dynafit TLT 6’s.
After debating whether to walk across the frozen Chasm we determine that it’s safe. But it’s still a bit scary hearing the ice shift underneath your weight. It doesn’t help that 50+ mile an hour winds blow us across the lake.
Thomas Woodson keeping himself upright through the high winds that whip around use, periodically engulfing us in almost whiteout conditions from the loose snow.
Above Thomas you can see the Smear of Fear, an ice flow that’s particularly fat this year because of the floods.
The week before, climbing Dreamweaver Couloir with only a little weight on my back the climb at 13,000 feet felt decently easy. The difference carrying a pack full of gear and skis, climbing Lambs Slide took a lot out of me. I reverted back to my technique I learned in Peru: One step, one breath. With this technique I can chug along. I picture myself as the tortoise slowly beating the hare. Except, in reality I don’t beat anyone. I hope I’m not holding the other guys back, who seem to be impossibly fit. They did, earlier this year, ride their bikes from Boulder, climb Longs Peak, and return to Boulder all in one day. Insane.
The climb up Lambs Slide, for most part, was in good condition, but parts of it were slogs through waist deep snow that just collapsed underneath you
The wind passed largely over the couloir, but we still were blasted with huge gusts of wind carrying loose snow.
The view of the diamond from the top of Lambs Slide Couloir
I reached the top of the couloir and was done. I could feel some nausea coming on from the altitude and wanted to take it easy. Sam, Thomas, and Joey wanted to continue to the peak of Meeker (13,900) which “is just over that ridge. It will be 20 minutes”. I decided to stay where I was and wait for them to come back. I huddled amongst the rocks trying to keep myself warm for well over an hour. I climbed down to our skis we’d left below and back up just to warm up.
Finally they appear over the ridge. The peak had been much further than they’d anticipated. I’m psyched to start skiing. My core temperature had dropped quite a bit from sitting still and I want to start moving again.
We figure out our route down and start carving. The snow is a little crusty on top but our skis cut in well, giving us some great turns.
Sam Seward getting in his first turns.
After Joey Schusler figures out a binding issue he hits it hard.
It’s impressive that Thomas Woodson is skiing in advanced terrain having never been on skis before last season!
1500 feet of pure bliss, my first turns of the season were incredible. My legs burned, clearly not in skiing shape. I can’t wait to get out on more incredible terrain with these guys the rest of the season.
Thomas crossing Chasm lake. Skiing across the lake was so much easier than walking.
We hike the five miles back to the parking lot, everyone beyond tired. I can’t wait to get a lighter weight set up from Dynafit that won’t destroy my back on every hike. I was sore for days. I’m not psyched to do the approach to Longs anytime soon, but I’m excited to see what the Colorado backcountry has in store this year. Already, it’s shaping up to be a better season than last.
“Want to go do some mixed climbing in the Park (RMNP) Saturday?”
“For sure! When do we leave?” I say.
I have a Halloween party at my house Friday night…I can make it work.
“Yeah! I can do that.”
When Tristan Hobson hit me up for an adventure I was psyched to get out with him. He had pretty grand plans for climbing Alexander’s Chimney, up through the Notch, and summiting Longs Peak. I was just down for an adventure.
I sleep for roughly an hour and half after the party before meeting up with Tristan at 3am in the dark parking lot. I groggily grab my bag and jump in his Toyota truck. The road to Longs from Lyons was still closed from the floods so we had to take the Peak to Peak Highway through Nederland. Just as we got on the Peak to Peak I remembered I’d forgotten something crucial.
“You’re going to hate me…I forgot my harness in my car.”
We sat for a little bit contemplating what to do, then drove the 30 minutes back to my car.
“It’s almost 4am. Do you still want to go out?”
“I’m up, I’m psyched to do something.”
Tristan didn’t think we had enough time to accomplish his original objective, so we decided to climb the Dreamweaver couloir on Mt Meeker, next to the Flying Buttress.
Almost an hour later than we had planned we pull in to a full parking lot, as if it were still summer instead of a cold October morning.
The five mile approach takes you from roughly 9,000 feet above sea level to 12,000 feet above sea level. We start in the dark with only the light of our headlamps leading us through the woods, but before long the sky starts to brighten with the first signs of the sun. The sunrise comes up over the city of Lyons, beyond a few peaks to the east, and filters through the trees just below tree line. The trees get much shorter and scragglier as we keep trudging up hill.
Finally the Diamond comes into view, soaking in the alpenglow.
From the Chasm Junction, Dreamweaver looks to be in quite nicely. Ahead of us, the Smear of Fear is in pretty fat, but our original objective, the Notch, looks pretty thin.
I’m glad we picked to go up on Meeker, since you don’t have to do the traverse across a not-quite-frozen Chasm lake.
We finally reach the base of the Dreamweaver Couloir. The snow up to it was a little soft, but still firm enough to walk comfortably. But as we get higher into the couloir the snow gets softer and softer.
I start crossing into a small snow field below the first crux of the route and the snow seems a bit unstable, so we make an anchor and I tie in, just in case. The crux itself looks pretty easy, so I don’t plan on doing it as a lead, but as a free solo. I keep the rope on me so I can belay Tristan across the snowfield after I’m above the crux.
“Do you want some cams and nuts?” Tristan asks before I take off. “Sure, I’ll use them to make an anchor at the top, just in case.”
In the constriction the snow just collapses beneath me, dropping me below my ice tools that are stuck in the rock. I manage to climb back up to my tools, just wallowing in the snow. I can’t count on any support for my feet from the snow at all. I pull myself up to my tools and press my crampons into nonexistent holds.
‹side note› One of the things I love about ice climbing is when you sink your tools you know without a shadow of a doubt, because of the combination of sight, sound, and feel, that they are going to stick and be able to support your weight. Dry tooling (using your ice tools on dry rock), on the other hand, is incredibly unstable. Never does a placement feel 100% secure; anything could pop at any moment. You pull up praying that each tool holds long enough for you to place the next one. Your crampon-ed feet scrape their way up the rock face, alway potentially slipping. You would give anything to be using the sticky rubber of rock climbing shoes that will stick on the smallest pebble. ‹/side note›
With my feet pressuring off opposite sides of the constriction and my tools finding whatever small crack to pull on I inch my way up, miraculously finding a frozen fixed sling left by someone else for protection. I quickly clip in, incredibly thankful to have some form of protection on this unexpectedly hard climb. Though, I was only using one 7.8mm rope that are meant to be used in pairs. The route had looked easy so because snow filled up the constriction, but now the snow offered absolutely no assistance in my climb and was more of an enemy of forward movement. With every move I had to use one tool to clear off the foot of powder that hid the rock below. Each time I reached above another rock I tried desperately to stick my tool blindly into what lay beneath the snow, mostly to no avail. I would either hit featureless slab and my tool would just scrape down or small loose rocks. The only firm holds I had were generally on my left in a small crack system. And my feet felt as if they were dangling helplessly below me.
As I cleared off more of the powder I uncover two more slings spaced out every ten feet or so, each time temporarily boosting my confidence. I ran out the pitch a ways before coming to the last bit of the crux section. I find a small crack that I’m able to fit a nut into and clip in. I pull on it, and it feels to be quite secure. Two moves later I bump the stem of the nut with my knee and the draw + nut go zipping down the rope. But I can see the relief! Only one more hard move till the constriction opens up and I can stand up on slightly lower angle snow. Instead of wasting more time trying to find another placement I pull over the last bulge and make an anchor. I had unintentionally lead my first “mixed” pitch, and it was scary as hell.
Tristan blindly searches through the snow for a purchase on the last bulge of the first crux.
Wallowing in waist deep powder the ice tools do little more than put useless holes in the snow.
Climbing on lower angle, more featured rock is way easier than wallowing in snow and/or climbing vertical rock with no feet.
The last crux section had much better feet and tool placement options.
We free soloed the rest of the route, trying to avoid wallowing in the powder as much as possible. Thankfully there was lower angle rock with lots of features on the right side of the couloir. The last crux of the lower have of Dreamweaver went much more smoothly than the first. I was able to use the constriction more like a chimney and pressure both feet off of the opposing walls and there were many more solid tool placements for both hands.
We reached the top of the buttress, the end of the first half of Dreamweaver. The second half that takes you close to the summit of Meeker looked to be more of the same powdered mess that we just had come up, and it was getting late in the day so we decided to cut the climb short. We ate some food then down climbed to the Dark Star couloir which provided us an easier way down.
When we reached the basin floor my body decides it was time to shut down. It doesn’t care that I have a five mile hike ahead of me. Maybe for epics on Longs I should get more than an hour and half of sleep. I’ll keep that in mind for next time. Besides terrible climbing conditions, it was an incredible day adventuring. You always forget the pain and remember the awesome.