We were supposed to do this camping trip last weekend, but Derek was sick an entire week. This past week was a bit rough as well, though he did go to school. I wasn't sure he'd be able to go until Friday morning, but he was feeling up to it. We had just received our new Hilleberg tent the day before and Derek set it up in the backyard. It seemed great - roomy and solid, with lots of guy lines. We packed it up and readied it for the real test the next day.
Our main goal was to practice winter camping, but the location I chose wasn't random. I decided that skinning up the 4WD road from I-70 to the summer trailhead for Grays and Torreys would be perfect. The ski into there was gentle enough to be good practice for Derek, the distance wasn't too great (3 miles), the trailhead offered reasonable camping spots (the flat parking lot and other summer sites), and it offered the prospect of a winter 14er ascent.
For additional practice, and to lighten the loads on our backs, we pulled a sled. I packed most of the heavier things (tent, stove, fuel, food, ice axe, shovel, snowshoes, etc.) into a third pack and strapped it onto my sled. I made up this sled at least 25 years ago and have used it sparingly since. It is a $10 kids' sled with some slots cut into the sides for two straps to go across it. The harness is made out of PVC pipes that can break down to just three feet long.
We had everything packed up on Friday night and hit the road at 6 a.m. Saturday. We parked just off I-70 at the base of the road and booted up. We were skinning up the road by 8 a.m. Derek had been having blister problems with his heels, but thought he had it solved via some boot fitting at Neptune's. Unfortunately the last time he was in there to make the modifications to his boots permanent, they changed things. I was skeptical at the time and, sure enough, he once again had bad blisters again.
|Derek pulling the sled into camp|
We headed up with just a bit of water, food, our shells and big down jackets. Derek switched to snowshoes, as the skiing above here is much more difficult to descend. We headed up the gully where the creek lies, as it is the safest way to traverse around Kelso Mountain, though avalanche danger was only moderate and seemed quite safe. The snow was hard wind-pack and I'm not sure floatation was even necessary. Thirty minute up, Derek was moving slow and stopping often. I thought it was because he was still weak from sickness, but he said it was heel pain. Dang it. We need to solve that problem for good. I was worried about the same thing with my boots, as I got blisters on our first ski with our mountaineering boots. In fact, I was so worried about it that I didn't use my mountaineering boots and instead went in my backcountry Nordic NNN gear.
|Bulletproof, wind-blown snow|
I left my skis at the usual spot, where the terrain gets too rocky and too steep for skinning. I continued on foot, with Microspikes pulled over my ski boots. 1100 feet below the summit I caught a guy and a girl and their dog. The guy remarked how much harder these peaks were than Sherman in winter. It was now very windy and I had to switch to my down mitts, as my hands were getting cold. I should have done this much earlier, as I had quite a bit of trouble getting my hands warm. On the summit of Grays I balled up my hands for five minutes and still couldn't get them warm.
|Derek snowshoeing above camp - which is down at treeline.|
I filled our tent stuff sack with clean snow and joined him in the tent. The snow was our water source. I didn't cook right away, though, and instead got in my bag for a bit of rest and a nap. Around 6 p.m. we were getting hungry and were lazy and lethargic. We nearly just ate our bagel sandwiches and left it at that, except that we were out of water, and need more. I couldn't get the plastic cap off my fuel canister and turned it over to Derek to give it a try. It we couldn't start the stove, we'd be okay. Thirsty, but okay, as we were only here for one night. Thankfully, Derek succeeded and we started the stove at 6:20 p.m. It ran continuously from then until 9 p.m. I was using my JetBoil stove and it's heat output was minimal in these cold conditions. I made soup and hot chocolate and boiled up lots of boiling water to fill our Nalgene bottles and put into our sleeping bags. We stayed very warm and quite comfortable. All the while we watched two movies on the iPad I brought along. We propped it up on one of my ski boots, but I need to devise a better strategy where we can hang it from the top of the tent.
|Torreys from the summit of Grays|
Derek drove separately up to the trailhead, because he was continuing on to Breckenridge to ski with some friends on Sunday. In order to get in a full day, he wanted to be back down at the cars by 7:30 a.m. I knew it would take Derek an hour or so to get back down, maybe 45 minutes if things went well. The reason is that Derek isn't confident or skilled enough to descend on skis without skins, but with skins on, he doesn't get enough glide. We're still building our skiing skills.
|Derek sleeping in our tent|
Derek had a frustrating time on the descent. He either had too much or too little glide. The road was rough and icy and a challenge for an inexperienced skier in mountaineering boots. I was cruising down in my NNN gear with a heavy pack and a sled and spending some of that time looking back over my shoulder at Derek. I stopped frequently to make sure Derek was okay and to wait for him to catch up.
We got back down at 8 a.m. and quickly packed our gear into the car so that Derek could head into Breckenridge. It was an essential step for us. We proved that our sleeping bags work great, our tent is bomber, and our Jet Boil is lacking in power. I received my MSR XGK stove just the day before our trip and didn't have a chance to try it out at home. I'll be using that stove on our next camping trip.
The total stats on this trip were 14.5 miles and 4300 vertical feet.