Sunday, May 25, 2014

Skywalker Couloir w/Boys

Nearing the top of the Skywalker Couloir

My boys are interested in bagging peaks. That's cool, as Sheri and I love doing that. Sheri only has two 14ers in the lower 48 states left to climb: Polemonium in the California Sierra and Mt. Rainier in Washington (I only have Polemonium left to do). When I mentioned Rainier to Danny and Derek they were immediately interested, despite not having a clue what it entailed. First, they'd have to learn how to use crampons and an ice axe and this climb was our first outing.

I got the boys fitted in my mountain boots the night before. Conveniently, all three of us have the same size foot. I pulled out three ice axes, got them suited up with spare gear of mine and we were set. Our friends Pat and Max Manson joined us and arrived at our house at 5:15 a.m. We drove to the Fourth of July trailhead and were hiking around 6:30 a.m.

The snowpack up here is tremendous and we rarely saw any sign of the trail. I felt my way through the words, guided by previous experience on this trail and an innate sense of direction that draws me to great climbs...Or so I imagine in my head. My boys might argue with that description of my route finding abilities and indeed, as we followed the track back to the car, I wondered what drunken imbecile had put in a route that seemed to go uphill more than downhill on the descent. Nevertheless, we successfully found our way to the base of the gully. We spotted two climbers high in the couloir as we approached it, but never say them again. Too bad, as I'd have liked to thank them for the great track they put in. We followed their footsteps all the way to the summit.

On the summit of South Arapaho Peak
Viewed head-on from a distance, this climb looks frighteningly steep. I knew Danny wasn't too thrilled with that view and I assured him it wasn't as steep as it looked. Internally, I knew it was steep. Too steep really for your first time on crampons, but my first choice, Queen's Way on Apache, was too far of an approach with the Brainard Lake road still closed. I hoped for good conditions and we got them.

We geared up at the base of Skywalker. The boys and I roped together, as we wanted to practice climbing roped for Rainier and it provided some security on the steep upper section. Pat and Max climbed unroped until the steep sections.

Pat is a pole vaulter. He was really good pole vaulter - a professional pole vaulter. In fact, he's the only person to ever vault over 18 feet for 18 years in a row. He recently set the Masters record at 16'9" and he's jumped that height for 30 years in a row! That's also a world record. World Record. So, he isn't just athletic. He's Superman. And the most modest, unassuming, normal Superman that I've ever known. His son Max is only 13 years old, but he's already climbed all the Colorado 14ers, is on a climbing team competing in speed climbing, and is a natural mountain adventurer. He told me all about the mountains around us on the hike up and about an airplane crash on Mt. Jasper that he wants to investigate, but only after traversing to the mountain via a 4th class ridge on another mountain. He climbs completely at ease, like he was born to do it. These two were both just so jazzed to be in the mountains. Pat would let out a whoop of joy every now and then. We were in good hands if anything went wrong.

Back at the car. Max, Derek, Danny, Bill and Pat
Danny was only fourteen hours away from sea level when we left the car this morning. He adapted to the 13,000+ foot elevation remarkably well and we climbed the entire couloir without stopping, save for the occasional photo. Both Danny and Derek were very relaxed and composed and looked like experienced climbers, despite this being their inaugural outing with crampons.

The approach to this climb is only two miles! That's so convenient, though the going wasn't easy to get there. We started climbing two hours after leaving the car, taking time to learn a bit about what we'd be doing. The couloir itself gains about 1600 feet. Once out of the couloir we coiled the rope and continued a couple hundred vertical feet to the ridge connecting the Arapaho peaks and then south along it for just a few minutes to summit of South Arapaho Peak at 13,397 feet.

We had some fun glissading on the way down and then slogged back to the parking lot. The continual side-hilling and softer snow proved a bit taxing by the time we got down, but we still had smiles on our faces. The round trip had taken almost exactly seven hours. It was a success all the way around. The Mansons had seen a new area that they were excited to explore and Danny and Derek had gained some new skills and experience. Hopefully Rainier is in our future.


Buzz said...

Nice! Skywalker is steeper than anything on Rainier, but that goes on forever and has crevasses. Best time is June when crevasses are covered.

Matthew Du Puy said...

I was thinking of checking out Skywalker tomorrow (May 26th). My climbing partner and I were concerned about avy conditions after reading CAIC warnings about wet slabs. We were curious if you saw or heard any avalanches in or around the area.
We're in awe that you did this climb and then the 10k the next day. We did Liberty Ridge on Rainier a few years ago if you want any beta. It was a wonderful route. You certainly appear ready.