Riding the Monarch Crest Trail


Sunrise on Mt Silverheels

A couple weekends ago I woke up well before sunrise and drove my friend Vincent into the mountains. We were supposed to meet up with some other friends in Crested Butte, but when we got to Buena Vista, the other side of the mountains looked completely socked in. We checked the weather and CB was supposed to have rain and snow all day. BV had a better outlook so we looked for some mountain bike trails nearby. We found the Monarch Crest Trail was the highest rated ride in the area so we decided to check it out. We met the Valley High Shuttle in Poncha Springs and were delivered to Monarch Pass. The pass was covered in an inch or so of snow, with no breaks in the clouds in sight. We started up the trail, leap frogging with most of the group from the shuttle all the way to Marshall Pass, 8 miles of uphill. Once the downhill starts the group fans out and we’re mostly on our own. The snow definitely added a bit to the riding, making me stay on my disk brakes a little too much.

0924-monarchcrest-0007 0924-monarchcrest-0022 0924-monarchcrest-0036

But, it was beyond beautiful.

0924-monarchcrest-0179-hdr0924-monarchcrest-0053 0924-monarchcrest-0098

Once we dropped into the trees, the snow went away and the leaves littered the trail.




The trail continues for 30 miles, joining the Colorado Trail for portions of it. You climb for close to 2,000 feet for 8 miles from the pass, then get to descend 6,000 feet over the next 22 miles. The trail varies quite a bit, from flowing single track to incredible rock gardens. There are several cut offs if you need to bail, they take you down forest service roads back to the highway. We stuck it out and took the last bit of trail, Rainbow Trail, my favorite part. Most of the people turned off before this section, but it’s not to be missed. After you descend the steep last 1/2 mile down to the road you get to cruise 5 miles down US285, which brings you right back to your car.



Beautiful spot on the Arkansas River next to our campsite north of Buena Vista

I just started mountain biking last summer. It’s been fun learning a new sport, but it also a steep learning curve. The Monarch Crest Trail is definitely my favorite trail that I’ve done. Can’t wait to explore more of the trails around the central Colorado mountains.

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.

1023-stmarys-0125 1023-stmarys-0132
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.
1023-stmarys-0142 1023-stmarys-0156 1023-stmarys-0162 1023-stmarys-0181 1023-stmarys-0193

Skiing in June – Mt Toll

I skied in June. 
Some people make it a goal to ski 12 months out of the year, which in Colorado is definitely possible. I maybe I’ll try to do this next year. But this was my first time skiing in June, and it was awesome. 
My buddy Alex Vidal invited me out with another friend to go on a early morning mission to Brainard Lake to ski Mt Toll, one of the snowy peaks easily seen from downtown Boulder. 

We start the drive well before sunrise and get to the Brainard Welcome Center just as the sun is coming up. There are a few other cars in the parking lot, but we don’t really see anyone else on the trail. The road to Brainard lake was still closed for a few more days so we brought our bikes to ride the 4 miles up the road.

A moose! 

These guys were always waiting for me. 

 I found out I was not in biking shape. Both of the others were on single speed bikes, just cruising up the hills. I, on my stiff tail converted commuter 21 speed bike, found myself walking several of the hills. My legs were done before we had even started. We got to the trailhead and switched our shoes out for ski boots and started skinning uphill. I had thought after the bike ride there would be no possible way to keep up, but funny thing, skiing uphill uses different muscles than biking. I have those muscles!

Middle June, bluebird day. It was quite warm going up hill. 

First views of Mt. Toll. We skied the left face off the peak. 

Debating our approach route. 

We skied uphill as long as we could. It eventually got too steep, and we had to boot pack. 

Alex at the summit

The sun baked snow gave us some high quality turns. Soft enough for great control, but not too slushy.  Views over the Indian Peaks were fantastic. 

Crazy hole in the snow over the creek.

This was the theme of the walk/ski back to the trailhead. 

I was absolutely exhausted (and quite a bit sick) when we got back to the trailhead. I was more than happy that I got to put my shoes back on and ride a bike downhill for four miles.

It’s now October. Arapaho Basin has already opened for the season. I’m really hoping this is the epic season some forecasters are predicting. I’m hoping to beat last year’s record of 21 days on the slopes. Need to start soon! 

Backcountry Skiing Above Emerald Lake on Halletts Peak

I’ve gotten more ski days in this year than ever before. I think I have 17 days on snow, which is not a high number for many Coloradans. But it’s a huge improvement, and I’ve spent many of those days in the backcountry. I’m excited for spring skiing and getting out more.

A couple weeks ago I got out with Will Butler to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, on a warm Saturday morning in early March. The skin up to Emerald Lake is not difficult and goes by quickly. It was my first time in the backcountry with my new Black Diamond and Dynafit set up (and it was glorious!)

We had met two friends in the parking lot who had never been up in this zone and invited them to come with us. It was good to fill out the group.

I know I already posted this, but, well, I like it. The view of Halletts Peak from Emerald Lake. Dead Elk and Dragonstail coulouirs are the steep couloirs on the right face. 

Will Butler, Garth Fasano, and Peggy Tautz skinning up below Dragonstail Couloir. It is steeper than this photo makes it look.

We debated what to go up. There were some natural wet avalanches being triggered in and around Dragonstail, but the slope between Dragonstail and Dead Elk looked to be more stable, and others had already skied it this morning. We follow their skin track to a safe zone between the two couloirs. Garth and Will contemplate trying to cross the slope to a larger ridge line past Dead Elk, but since things are sliding around us I thought it best to get down as quickly as possible in the zone we just came up.

As Garth and Will try to get a better look a slide comes down Dead Elk solidifying that we should get down as soon as possible and we should stay in the zone we “know” is solid.

Garth crosses some of the debris to get to some fresh snow. I follow him up, staying in the debris field a little longer. When I pop into the fresh snow, its much heavier than I expected, having been warmed in the sun all day. It was still bouncy, grin inducing skiing. 
Will cuts some turns in the soft but heavy, super wet snow below Dead Elk Couloir. All the debris around are from wet avalanches from the day’s heat. 

 We decide to stay on the north face and end up in some really nice snow directly below Halletts  Chimney. This snow, protected by the mountain, was in much better health. It’s amazing how much aspect makes a difference in snow conditions.

Another group preparing to drop in

Making some pretty tele turns down the steeps. 

 We take one more quick lap before calling it a day. I will definitely be back up here. I’m looking at you, Dragonstail!

Garth enjoying some fine powder.

Peggy making a slash

Gear Review: Black Diamond Convert Touring Skis

I sold my AT skis before I was ready, and RIGHT in the middle of powder season. Huge mistake. But, on the flipside, I was tired of skiing uphill with lead weights on my feet and turning huge powder boards on so-so snow.

When I buy gear, or anything really, I tend to do a lot of research. I’d been looking at the Black Diamond Convert for a while and had only seen glowing reviews. Coming in at just over 7lbs for the pair and combined with Dynafit Radical FT, they feel ridiculously light weight in comparison.

Radical FT tech binding. Photo from the Dynafit website. 

My old set up topped the scales at almost 25lbs including skis, boots, and bindings! That’s 12.5 extra pounds for every step you take. Simply too much.

I missed a couple weeks of great snow in the meantime.

Seventeen Pounds. Dynafit boots & bindings & BD Skis come in at 17lbs, a savings of 4lbs per foot per step, which is incredibly significant!

I took my new skis for test drive a Keystone Resort on a mediocre snow day. The groomers were fast, the moguls soft, but the trees were less than ideal. I was nervous using my tech bindings, two metal pins that somehow hold your boot in while you’re screaming down the mountain. I had had issues with being ejected once before on a pair of demo skis, but I had no such problems on this day.

They RIP!!! I had a blast carving at full speed on the groomers. I attacked moguls harder and faster than I ever have before, I think due to how light they are I can really throw them around. There were times when I thought I had lost a ski when I lift my foot only to see it fully connected with no hint of coming off. It was so light I just barely felt it. Honestly, I was psyched, except my first time in my boots, as with first time in any ski boot, was extremely painful (After 4 days in them they are MUCH better).

I went on a tour up to Hallitt’s Peak the next weekend. Holy Amazeballs! Going up is so easy! The Mercury boots walk so incredibly well, each stride almost twice as long as in my Salomon boots. With the tech binding you’re not lifting the back of the binding with every step, which saves a ton of energy. And everything is just so much lighter. Heaven.

By the way, Emerald Lake and Hallitt’s Peak are beautiful. 

On a warm day we skied the line between Dragon’s Tail Coulouir and Dead Elk Coulouir, mostly because of the avy danger. The Converts cut through the crud and bounced in the warm, springish slush. 
The Convert’s dimensions I have deemed to be about perfect. 105mm underfoot, 133mm in the tip and 117mm in the tail. Fat enough for most powder days, the tip floats, the tail sinks and you just enjoy the smile inducing powdery ride. 
ME! Getting some airtime on a cornice at the closed ski resort Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park

Skiing East Portal – Accessible Backcountry

Last season I only really got out into the backcountry in one area, Butlers Gulch. It’s good, but has a few downsides: It’s prone to avalanche, it gets skied out like a resort, and mostly, you still have to drive I-70 to get there (I-70 on the weekends is practically impassible). This year I’ve discovered several new areas.

One of the best, which happens to be the closest, is East Portal near Rollinsville. It takes just about an hour to get there from Boulder and you never have to get on the interstate. The approach in the valley to the steep skin track is relatively short. It’s trafficked enough that the main skin track stays firm but it doesn’t get too skied out. There are plenty of trees to for protection even when the avalanche danger is high and winds are unbearable elsewhere.

A couple of weekends ago I got out with Patrick Shehan and Lee France for a Saturday/Sunday one/two punch. As you can see from the photos, it was incredible! I’m so excited to get back up there.

Patrick Hucking

Lee blasting through

And eating some soft pow pow

Despite enough head injuries to make me nervous, Patrick loves to drop pillows. As he should. Having now also dropped pillows, it’s addicting. 
Myself hitting it hard, my camera on my shoulder held on by the trusty Peak Design Capture2! Photo by Patrick Shehan, aka @sanjuansherpa 
This looked much bigger than it turned out to be. 

The creek bed is incredibly fun and far too short. It culminates with a quick duck. 

Face full of the pow pow. I want to be back there. 
Sadly, the next day I sold my AT setup. BUT for good reason! I’m getting a much lighter set up! Hoping to drop roughly 4-5lbs per foot! Will be so much better for going up, and I’m excited for my new Black Diamond Skis for going down. I will have a review of my new gear once I’ve used it. 

Back from the Fury of Outdoor Retailer

For the record, when I refer to OR I’m usually talking about Outdoor Retailer not Oregon. Sorry Oregon, I really do want to talk about you / come explore your wonders. Several of my friends in Oregon thought I was coming to see them and friends ask me, “How was Oregon” when I got back from Salt Lake City. Outdoor Retailer is a tradeshow where the entire outdoor industry is in one place showing off it’s goods. I go to network with all of the marketing departments and scrounge up future work.

Another OR is over. I rushed to get my new portfolio magazine (take a look!) prepared for the show and skimped on setting up meetings, but the show went well despite my lack of preparation. It was a slow show, so many companies had more time to talk with me. (Many are hurting because of the lack of snow in much of the country).

Now the real work begins, the constant contact after the show. Get companies engaged and make them think of you first when they have photography needs. It’s a balance between not contacting them too soon when they’re swamped with all the other inquiries and not too long when they forget about you.

So…I have work to do. And I leave you with a random photo from last month.

The Crested Butte backcountry on Mt Evans last month when I was out with Donny Roth for Dynafit

Sometimes It’s Not Perfect

The last couple of months have been great for my adventure needs; I’ve gotten out and done something adventurous every weekend since the end of October! This summer I had been feeling, well, adventureless. I know, I went to Peru and had an epic, but besides that I don’t feel like I did anything really awesome. I got out and climbed around Colorado, and I did get to raft the South Platte river which lightened my spirit quite a bit, but all  of that wasn’t enough. Spending two consecutive weekends on Long’s Peak was a great start to what I hope will continue to be an adventurous year.

Last weekend I got out for my dose of adventure, but both jaunts into the wild were less than ideal – I’d even say disappointing.

Besides climbing Dreamweaver at the beginning of November, with zero ice on the route, I haven’t gotten out to ice climb yet this year. Disappointing. Friday I finally got out with Matt Lloyd, excited to get into some good water ice in Vail, but we decided to go to Officer’s Gulch instead, mostly because it’s slightly closer. You can see the Shroud from I-70 and it usually looks quite fat. The approach is a ten minute walk on a flat bike path, about as easy as it gets in Colorado without rapping into the Ouray Ice Park. 

The Shroud was not looking particularly fat as we approached. What is usually one very solid slab of blue water ice was nearly two separate pillars of dripping chandelier ice. Dripping. The temperature is flirting with 0ºF and the ice is dripping! Not a little but showering you as you climb, making it almost impossible to look up, soaking your climbing gloves making your fingers unusable, and finally freezing to every part of your outer shell making you an icy coat of armor. You start an ice screw into the chandelier ice and feel it sink hollowly in with little resistance, not inspiring confidence in it’s ability to catch you if you fall. Hanging off your tools with hands that are beyond numb, forearms unbelievably pumped, and feet slipping off the featureless ice you will yourself to continue. It’s easier to go up.

On top of the first vertical section snow gathers on the low angle shelf, your ice tools tear through a layer of unconsolidated ice that starts to avalanche on top of you. You push that aside and get a solid foot, relaxing a bit as you make your way to the second tier of vertical ice. This time, as you swing your ax into the ice it shatters all around, breaking off and exposing the granite beneath. You lightly pick at the ice to create a hole strong enough to hold you but not too deep, but your tool is dull from dry tooling, refusing to sink into the hole. You inch higher, kicking your crampons into columns of ice you could reach both hands around. Your last ice screw is full of ice and won’t start. It’s useless. You have to just push through to the anchors. As you lower back down what you just ascended you think to yourself, “man, I love ice climbing!”

Suffice to say, the conditions of the ice on the Shroud were less than optimal. Matt and I did a couple of laps each, I ran up a mixed route to practice dry tooling, and we headed home. Not a lot of climbing for the hour and half drive.

Lee pulls off the skins from his splitboard, preparing to ride down what looked like great snow

Sunday I head out with my buddy, Lee France, to check out Hoosier Pass for some backcountry skiing. We picked it because we could get there without getting on I-70, which is always choked with traffic on the weekend. Hoosier Pass is just south of Breckenridge on highway 9, and surrounded by 14ers, Lincoln and Quandary. It’s been snowing a decent amount this early season so we thought that in the least it would be skiable. We skin up the trail for two hours debating where to ski. Do we drop over the north side into the bowl or stay below the treeline and ski down to the reservoir on the south side? Lee is a cartographer for National Geographic, and he created a map showing the angles of the faces that would be susceptible to avalanches. The danger above the treeline was considerable so we elected to ski down to the reservoir in the trees. We take two turns in moderately good powder (woo…) and the mountain says, “That’s all you get!” We’re stopped. The snow on low angle will barely slide under my skis. We wallow over to the a steeper gully and every turn is greeted by the equivalent of nails raking down a chalk board: rocks. There’s little more than a couple of inches over some of them. At one point I just am sliding down a granite slab with less than an inch of snow under me. We’ve been beaten. Reluctantly I take my skis off. I believed longer than Lee, he was already stumbling down the mountain, falling in the scree, with his snowboard in his hands. The snow hides the inconsistencies of the route you choose, one step you’re on a rock, your knee against your chest, the next  you sink to your waist and fall over. Every step comes with a curse under your breath. This. is. awful.

We put our skins on at the bottom and ready ourselves for another two hour trip back up the mountain to where we started. We’re on residential roads, passing empty, expensive summer cabins. A couple cars pass us. I wanted to stick my thumb out, but I didn’t. This is why we get our right? For the exercise? I think about how heavy my skis and boots are and how badly I want a much lighter Dynafit set up. Every step I take, with each foot I’m dragging an extra 12.5 pounds. I think about how many steps I’ve taken. How much does that mean I’ve lifted today? I don’t want to be – I want to be a machine – but I’m a baby when it comes to carrying weight uphill. I’ll blame it on the 26 years of living at the grand elevation of 900ft or less. I just keep repeating to myself, “this is training. I’m getting fit. This is training. How the hell am I supposed to keep up with the athletes I’m shooting?”

Not every adventure is grand, and not every one is a success. This day was definitely not a success. But on to the next! Also, pray for snow! Do the snow dance. Do something. I want amazeball snow. Maybe I shouldn’t expect that in Colorado.