Sunday, March 27, 2016

Road to Denali, part 11: Skiing, skiing, and Bierstadt

With all the snow we had on Tuesday I wasn't sure about conditions in Wild Basin, so I switched our planned overnight adventure on the Cleaver to two separate days, returning to the house. Actually, that's only partially true. I wasn't motivated to go camping for the entire weekend. We'll go overnight next weekend. In preparation for that, Derek and I skied up Wild Basin on Saturday to check out conditions and make sure Derek was okay skiing out from there. Both were great.

We got a casual start, leaving house at 7:15 a.m. and not skiing until nearly 8:45 a.m. We just went up for an hour and 45 minutes (about four miles) and turned around. Our pace was slow and easy. We had a great time coming out and Derek was really solid and having fun. He led most of the way and I just followed his pace. We didn't see anyone on the way up and only a few people on the way down.

At the Ouzel Falls Bridge in Wild Basin
Sunday we got up at 4:30 a.m. and were driving a little after 5 a.m. Our destination was Mt. Bierstadt with the intention of skiing as high as we could and bagging the summit, of course. We left the car about 6:45 a.m. and made first tracks up the road. We broke trail, but only sunk in 1-2" - hardly noticeable from a broken track. There were a couple of cars in the parking lot, but no sign of the people anywhere.

Skiing out from Wild Basin in a small snow squall
We followed the road up to the summer trailhead (1.6 miles from the winter parking), going higher than we needed to. I went up there, hoping to find a sign of passage, just in case the snow was soft across the willows. We found no track, but we needn't have worried. The snow conditions remained about perfect. We cut down and across the willows, which are no issue at all in winter when most of them are buried, and then started up the slopes of Bierstadt.

We generally followed the summer trail to get up onto the upper bench and then just skinned up gradually. The coverage here was pretty minimal. We could have probably walked from there to the summit, but we kept the skis on. I knew I'd enjoy the ski down, but I also knew it would challenge Derek. He never asked to drop the skis, though. He's eager to learn new skills, but a bit apprehensive in getting in over his head. I was confident he'd get down with enough traversing and kick-turning.
Skiing up Bierstadt
We ended up skiing to 13,500 feet. It was getting too tight with the rocks at this point and skiing down was going to be tricky. We left them and continued the final 500 feet (560 feet actually) on foot. The weather was cold (10 degrees at car at start, -7 wind chill on summit), but gorgeous and no wind until 13,800 feet, thankfully. We went in our biggest mitts right from the car and my toes were a bit cold on the summit, but not too bad. We topped out in 3h50m and took some photos. We even ate and drank a bit, despite the cold, before starting our descent.

Heading up the final ridge
In no time we were back at the skis. Derek started off with his skins on, but was having trouble and I convinced him to take them off. Skins are a great speed brake if you are forced to come down a narrow path - like in Wild Basin - where you really aren't on your edges. But up here, high above treeline where you can go anywhere there isn't rocks, skins hinder things by vastly altering the speed of the ski when it is flat versus on edge. Once the skins were off, Derek did great. We traversed and kick-turned down the upper section, as the snow was so thin that a turn would drive us down to the rocks. Also, the rocks were plentiful up here and navigating them was tricky.
Derek on the final obstacle
Further down, with less rocks and more snow, we started making real turns and I think Derek was really enjoying himself. Lots of good learning was going on and his confidence grew. At least until we got to the crux steep section. This was challenging for us both, but much more so for Derek. He lost a bit of confidence and I told him he could take off his skis and walk down, but he wouldn't. He kick-turned, side-stepped, and side slipped down the steepest, narrowest parts and then let them run over some rolling terrain. He took a couple of falls, but the snow was deeper here and he was uninjured and undeterred. Skiing the lower willow section was fun, as you can ski right through the top of any willows poking out through the snow.

On the summit with Grays and Torreys in the background - we climbed those last weekend.
We hit the lower point and put the skins back on. Fifteen minutes of moderate climbing and traversing and we were back at the road, pulling them off again. It was then an easy, short cruise back to the car. We didn't see anyone until we go back down to within a half-mile of the car and then just one guy. We did however see fresh ski tracks from about 13,000 feet down, though we never saw these guys (either two guys or one guy making two laps).

Derek and I have done five 14ers in the last four weekends: Maroon Peak, Longs Peak, Grays and Torreys, and now Bierstadt. This one was 10.5 miles and 3400 vertical feet and we did the roundtrip in just under 6.5 hours. With Saturday's ski, we've done 18 miles on our skis over the weekend and our feet are doing great - no blisters.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Road to Denali, part 10: Kelso Ridge

High on Kelso Ridge

The idea this weekend was for Derek to get another winter 14er ascent - to make it three weekends in a row, something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done. Thinking that Spring starts on the 21st, I thought we could go either day. Wrong! Leap Year. So, we got in a Spring ascent instead. Still it felt like winter out there and we went on skis from the car, so great training for us.

We went back to Grays and Torreys because Derek had a tough time on our previous trip. He was still having heel troubles and had a hard time pulling the sled up to our campsite at the summer trailhead. Derek switched to snowshoes to attempt the peaks, but his heels turned him back very early. I went on to just get Grays, skipping Torreys due to prodigious wind.

We left the house a bit after 5 a.m. and were skiing up the 4WD road at 6:45 a.m. A quarter mile up we found a pickup truck stuck in the snow. I shook my head. It’s so stupid to drive up this road. Unless you have a speciality snow vehicle, you’re going to get stuck. As we neared, the front door opened and a young guy (20’s) asked, “Do you have something that can jump me? My battery is dead. I’ve been here all night.” “Nope,” I said. I can’t get up this road and there is very little chance anyone down there can get up here to jump you, but a few other SUV’s pulled in and you could ask.” He said he didn’t see the sign telling him not to drive up this road. He was just following Google directions. How he ran his battery down to nothing, I’m not sure. Maybe running his heater all night? He’s learning an expensive and time-consuming lesson. The truck was there when we got back down, but the guy was not. I hope he was getting a shovel.
Torreys with the Kelso Ridge on the left.
Derek was skiing up in his mountaineering boots and I was once again in my NNN boots. I really need to get out and rip up my feet so that I can get my boots properly fitted. :-) The blisters will show the fitter what needs to be done. Anyway, we skinned up the road. Derek’s boots, skis, and bindings are considerably heavier than mine, which is surely one of the reasons I’ve been dragging my feet on using my mountaineering boots. But Derek kept up great and set the pace most of the way into the bridge at the summer trailhead. We got there in 1h15m. This is exactly three miles and gains about 1500 feet - from 9800 feet where we parked to 11,300 at the bridge. From there it is 3000 feet to the summit of either peak. Grays and Torreys are the 10th and 12th highest peaks in Colorado and there is just three feet difference between the two: 14,270 and 14,267.

On the way up the road we caught the morning sun setting fire to Kelso Ridge - the east ridge of Torreys. There is a classic 3rd class route up this ridge and Homie had already put the idea into my head. Further up, when we got a good look at the conditions, we were drawn to it like a Portland-ite to local, organic produce.

Taking skis above the bridge requires some backcountry/survival skiing experience. I wasn’t sure Derek was ready, but he was all in to try. Worst case, he would have to walk down. That could be very bad if the snow was soft, but we were committed. We followed the tracks leading across the bridge and steeply up the summer trail, not wanting to try putting in a track up the drainage. That would have been fine, as it turns out, since we came down that way. Further up, when the trail comes close to the very steep, avalanche-prone slopes of Kelso Mountain, I veered south, maybe not enough, but further away from the danger. I kept one eye on the slope above, but the snow seemed very solid. We did see a fracture line at the very top of the Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys, but Kelso was quiet and we skinned by hoping not to wake the sleeping giant.
Derek above the lower crux. Dementors looming about on the right.
We dropped our skis at 12,300 feet, per the youzh. It had been quite windy above the bridge and we even stopped to "balaclava up" and pull on our shells, but it was still and sunny. We took some time to eat and drink and stashed the skis. We continued on foot towards the base of Kelso Ridge that reared up in all her grandeur, an enticing, shining path to the summit. We gained the ridge and worked upwards, sometimes on rock, sometimes on snow. The lower crux was very steep snow (65 degrees). It didn’t last long, but after kicking a step I had to press my knee hard into the snow so that I wouldn’t tip over backwards. It was somewhat gratifying to find a rappel sling at top of this section. 

This ridge is spectacular and even more so dressed to the nines in snow, with beautiful curling cornices. Significant and exciting exposure kept us focused as we tiptoed across narrow rocky ridges. The climbing is sustained and varied, with a couple of nice, gentle sections that allowed us to catch our breath before the next onslaught of verticality. We traded off the lead pretty regularly, but Derek had a long (500 vertical feet) stretch of lagging. When he rested in a sheltered spot, I offered him: "And we're not committed to doing Grays either. One summit is still huge and a success for us." He responded with determination: "unless I am blown off the mountain, or my hands fall off from cold, we're doing Grays." Well that was that! After his rest he led a long stretch near the top and then the final 200 feet to the summit also. 
The upper part of Kelso Ridge
It was windy on top, like it was for most of the ridge. We were buffeted around pretty good and didn’t pause that long before descending to the saddle and starting up towards Grays, 550 feet above. We saw a lone skier descending Grays’s northeast slopes. We had watched him climb up Grays while we were ascending Kelso Ridge. We had watched another group of three ascending and then another lone guy. We met all four on the summit. They immediately asked Derek, leading the way once again, if we did Kelso Ridge. Derek affirmed and the dude responded, “F!@# yeah!” It was really nice to receive such immediate props. It sure put a bounce in our leaden steps. 

A snowfield high on Kelso Ridge
One of their party had extremely cold feet and they were attending to him with chemical heaters. I felt for him. He was wearing inadequate, single boots with no gaiters and his socks were caked in snow. If they were really in trouble, the only solution was to pull the feet out of the boots and warm them up by human touch - hands or stomach. At times like that, you’ll figure out how dedicated your partners are. It was cold out, we’d been in our expedition down mitts from the car, where it was 10 degrees when we started, but it was sunny and descending just a few hundred feet would get you out of the wind. I hope he got down okay and didn’t do any permanent damage to his feet.
Once again, we didn’t linger because of the wind. Lately, once the descent is joined and we’re below any technical problems, Derek is like a stable horse. He knows where the barn is and his long legs, agility, and fluid gait carry him swiftly away from me. I found myself almost running easy sections and still falling behind. Yet, I never saw Derek run. He’s really building his strength and experience and comfort in his mountaineering boots. I only caught him when I started glissading before him.
Derek leading the final steep section to the summit
Derek and I on the summit of Torreys. Our secret is revealed. Obviously we're form France...and Coneheads
Back at the skis it was once again sunny and still, but some extended  time with my gloves off proved it wasn’t that warm. We carried the skis for a bit, as we found dry ground. As soon as we plunged into the snow, we put on the skis. We kept the skins on to begin with to control our speed, and it worked out great. The new snow made skiing conditions very good and it slowed things down from the icy conditions we had the last time in here. Derek and I were able to pretty much just point the skis downhill and go. In the flatter sections I did a bit of kicking and Derek a bit of poling, as he had his heels clamped down, but it worked out very well. When things got a bit too gentle we stopped and stripped the skins off. Derek continued to cruise down nicely. His skiing has improved immensely. He fell once or twice getting back down to the bridge, but even I fell once. 
On top of Grays. I'm huge! 
On top of Grays. Derek's huge!
Once we got down the road, the going was now much faster, as it was more packed and narrow. Still, Derek now used all the speed control tricks in his bag. He snowplowed, he made short parallel turns, and he skied off the road, uphill into the powder. He fell maybe two more times on this road, but we came down from 12,300 feet to 9800 feet in an hour and ten minutes. Last time here, Derek took two hours to descend just the road. So he was 3 or 4 times faster. That’s improvement!
Back down at the summer trailhead and still smiling
We packed up really quickly, so fearful of the ski traffic were we. It was 3 p.m. and it had already started, but wasn’t into full swing yet. Derek took the wheel and we were driving by 3:10 p.m. I wrote the report while he steered us down the hill and home before 4:30. What an excellent trip! We got in nearly 14 miles and 5000 vertical feet, climbed the awesome Kelso Ridge, and skied out efficiently. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Road to Denali, part 9: Longs Peak

Topping out the crux pitch

Being that I'm a serious Longs Peak ascender (I've done the LPP twice), it was more than little bit embarrassing to Derek that he'd only climbed the peak once in his life, when he was ten years old. It was time to get another ascent and it might as well be a winter ascent and up a different route, of course. I chose the North Face because it's the shortest route and would give us just a touch of technical climbing.

Derek was very excited and motivated to get Longs in winter. We had all the gear packed up and in the car the night before and when I got up at 4:20 the next morning Derek was already dressed and eating breakfast. We were driving at 4:45 a.m. and Derek slept most of the way to the trailhead. We were booted up and moving up the trail at 6:05 a.m.

Derek led the way up to treeline and I took over to navigate shortcutting across the tundra and up to and across the regular Longs Peak Trail and onto the steep slopes of Mount Lady Washington. We stopped to drink and eat a bit and then moved on. We moved across the flatter section of the Boulder Field with the intimidating North Face staring right at us. I assured Derek that the climbing wasn't nearly as hard as it appeared. When we started to steeply climb up to the crux section, Derek started to fade a bit. We'd been going for three hours now and the altitude and angle were getting to him a bit. I decided to continue at a slow, steady pace and got well in front. We talked about this later and we'll stay closer together in the future.

I was somewhat motivated to continue because I spotted a pair of climbers ahead of us. When I caught, still a bit below the crux, I greeted the pair - a man (Matt) and woman (Allie). The man took one look at me and said, "Are you Bill Wright?" He had been at Charlie and my talk on LPP Thursday night at Neptune's. Cool. He offered us first crack at the technical pitch and I responded that which ever party is ready, should just go. I moved by them and up to just below the crux. I stomped out a platform to the right, where I knew the terrain was a bit flatter.

I flaked out the rope and put on my harness. Matt and Allie arrived and moved a bit further to the right. They pulled out their stove and started melting snow to refill their water bottles. Derek soon arrived and while he took a rest and rehydrated, I got out the rack and readied myself for the lead. The pitch looked mostly rock, so I opted to continue in just the Microspikes that I was wearing. Derek and I both carried crampons and, in retrospect, should have put them on for this pitch. It went okay, but I found the climbing tricky enough in that footgear to place three of the four cams that I carried. Derek followed nicely, though his hands got very cold.
Derek leading the upper part of the North Face
Once he joined me, I had him led up another pitch to easier ground. He didn't carry any gear and was found a stance above where he was comfortable. I followed up to him and found another eyebolt up there. I left the rope and rack here. We continued to the summit, following some tracks that we'd find out later were made by a soloist out early. Derek led all the way to the summit, with me on his tail. There were a couple of short sections with very hard snow and our Microspikes gave us very little purchase. We used our axes to secure these sections. We were both feeling the altitude here and moving slowly.

As we approached the summit, I thought back to when Derek first climbed Longs Peak. It was in 2008 - the year I first did the LPP. Derek was my partner for the Keyhole route. It was a bit icy then and the night before I had put in some screws into his tiny running shoes. Back then I told him, as we took a break in the sun at the start of the Narrows, that we might be able to break six hours. Even back then this motivated Derek and he motored up the Home Stretch. We were now sure to break six hours again.
On the summit of Longs
We topped out after 5h53m of effort. The day had been mostly overcast, but it wasn't very cold and on top we had zero wind! Of the 15 or so times I've climbed Longs in winter, this was the second time I've had still conditions on top. It was the first summit we've had this winter where we just didn't tag and go. On MLW and Meeker the wind was ripping. On Maroon Peak last weekend, it was windy and snowing with no view. Today, we lingered for twenty minutes, eating and enjoying the view.

We started down and passed Matt and Allie coming up about halfway to the technical section. We bid them a good day and moved by. Back at the rope we did a rappel from this top eyebolt down to the eyebolt at the top of the crux and then from there halfway down the crux pitch and then back down to the base of it. I picked up our poles and water bottles that we'd left here and then we did one more rappel from a piton with a sling on it. We had soloed up this terrain on the way up, but as long as we were in rappel mode, why not take it? The pin seemed solid and the sling was in good shape, but I still had Derek unclip from it. He asked why and I said, "Just in case it pulls, I don't want you coming down with me." He reluctantly unclipped and said, "But it's not going to pull, right?" I sure didn't think so or I wouldn't have weighted it. Plus, the terrain wasn't very steep here and I wouldn't be putting much stress on it. Finally, if it did pull, I think I'd have been okay and would have stopped in the snow I was descending through.
Descending back to the rappels
We stopped to pack up our technical gear at Chasm View and spotted two separate teams on the Diamond! One was still working on the first pitch of D7 and it was 1:30 p.m. If they made it, I'd bet they were still on the wall in the dark. That's possible, but that's scary and committing and cold to be climbing on the Diamond in winter, in the dark. The other party was higher and, to my shock, were on the Casual Route. The leader was halfway up the pitch after the traverse, so the third pitch. Neither party was really moving much, as I'm sure they were both aiding, but if the Casual party had done the traverse, they'd have to free climb some of that. Maybe they did an aid-climbing direct start? I'd love to hear how these parties did. Back at the parking lot a snowshoe guide asked us what we'd done and when we said the North Face, he said, "I came down that last night." He had done D7 the previous day. Cool. Some hardmen out conquering the Diamond in some friendly weather conditions. Yet a storm was moving in, and Derek and I did get snowed on a bit on the descent. Not much and we didn't get any wind, but anything like that would intimidate me if I was on the Diamond.
Two parties on the Diamond
We cruised back to the trailhead with Derek motoring along at such a pace that he gapped me pretty significantly. He waited for me at the start of the winter shortcut and I led the rest of the way out, mainly so that  wouldn't get dropped again. I set a pretty fast pace, hoping to satisfy Derek, but he was so close on my heels that he probably wanted to go even faster. We got back to the trailhead 9h34m after we left. I had predicted we'd take about ten hours for the roundtrip so was pleased how well Derek had done and how strong he performed, particularly on the way out. He gets better on every outing.

Our family are big tennis players and fans. Tennis has four major tournaments and if you win all of them in a single year that's known as the Grand Slam - a feat that has rarely been done and not in recent history. A still very difficult goal for a top player is the career Grand Slam - to win all four tournaments over their entire career. Derek is now 2/12's of the way to the career LPP, as he's climbed it twice, each in different months (September and March) and each by a different route (Keyhole and North Face).

Monday, March 07, 2016

Road to Denali, part 8: Maroon Peak

Not a lot to see here, except for one seriously happy kid that he doesn't have to go up anymore.

Homie and Dan climbed both of the Bells in a 17-hour day from the winter parking last weekend. That is completely badass. Homie said conditions were great and I offered the Bells as a weekend training climb for us to Derek, along with an easier alternative. Derek chose the Bells. I love the ambition, but I doubted he knew what he was committing to. I did. I’d failed on these peaks in winter twice before with Homie. He solved that problem by teaming up with Dan and going big. I don’t think I could have managed their trip. Derek and I needed more winter camping experience anyway, so we opted for a 2-day attempt.

We left home at 5 a.m. Saturday morning and were skiing up the Maroon Bells road at  9:15 a.m. In winter an ascent of the Bells is 13 miles longer, as you have to get up and down this road to reach the summer trailhead. I was in my NNN touring gear and towing a sled with a ton of gear: rope, harnesses, rack, slings, two pairs of crampons, a shovel, XKG blowtorch, cook set, 9-pound 4-season tent, 33-ounce fuel bottle, two sleeping pads, two ice axes, two pairs of snowshoes, too much food, and my mountaineering double-boots. It looked like the Grinch’s sled once he got it atop Mt. Crumpit. I sure could have used a bigger set of lungs and legs to pull that beast. In our packs, Derek and I mostly carried down - sleeping bags, jackets, booties, and two more pads, our helmets, water bottles, and more clothes. 
Saturday was the last nice day to climb the Bells...

Within the first mile I had one of my water bottles fall unnoticed from my pack and Derek lost his sunglasses. Bummer. We ground out the 6.5-mile road leading to the summer trailhead. A mile before we got there I snapped one of the PVC pipes that I use to pull the sled. This is a very gentle road and I was putting minimal force on the pole. It must have been on the verge of breaking before. The pole snapped inside the threaded connector attached to the sled. I pulled the rest of the way to the trailhead with one pole. Once there I rigged up something with the climbing slings I brought, which of course were buried in the bottom of the pack attached to the sled. We took a 45-minute break here to rest, fix the sled, and drink some hot chocolate from the hut that is located here. Derek was also dealing with blisters on the balls of his feet, which he taped up.

We continued on at noon, up the single-track trail, 3+ miles to Crater Lake. Derek was now on snowshoes, leaving his skis here. I continued on skis. Why wasn’t I using my mountaineering boots to ski, like Derek? Because those boots give me nasty blisters when I ski in them. I’ll get them fitted, but haven’t done it yet. Also, my other pair of skis have mountaineering bindings that are in marginal shape. 

The trail to Crater Lake traverses a steep slope and the sled rolled a few times on us. Sleds are great, except when they are not. Sleds to not like to go across hills. Up or down, not across. Derek righted things as necessary and it wasn't too bad. There are some short steep hills on this section and I needed Derek behind me pushing with his poles to get the sled up and over. We got into camp — at the last grove of trees at 10,3000 feet— at 1:30 and immediately set about pitching the tent. This was the same spot that Homie and I used the last time I was in here. This site just barely accommodated our rather large tent. There were lots of logs and trees around to secure all our guy lines. We still haven't erected it in "Denali conditions", meaning no trees or fences nearby. 

While Derek blew up the pads and flaked out the sleeping bags and stove, I put on the snowshoes and went up to 11,100 feet to recon the next day's route. I met three climbers coming down. They had started at 1 a.m. from the parking lot and had climbed Maroon Peak. They originally thought about doing the traverse to North Maroon, but ran out of time and fitness. They all knew who Homie was and I was shamelessly name-dropping him as I always do when it comes to Colorado 14ers. Homie is an absolutely beast. Of course I’m hoping that some of Homie’s credibility will be transferred to me since, “he’s my good friend.”
Back down at the tent after the ascent.
I descended with these guys. They were clearly very fit and ambitious themselves to get even one of these peaks in a single winter day. I told them our plans and they mentioned the storm that was coming in the next day. We knew about it, but elected to try anyway, since it might not amount to much and it looked like it was going to hit in the afternoon, when we hoped to be on our way down. Behind these three were two parties of two - a husband and wife and two guys on skis. One of them skied the entire Bell Cord Couloir. That’s impressive and not just for the skiing, as it maxes out at 42 degrees (according to one of these climbers), but to haul skis all the way up there requires some serious fitness. Unfortunately, his skiing and the vicious winds that night would eliminate all traces of a track.

Derek and I were in the tent for good by 4:20 p.m. when the whole valley was in shade and getting cold. It wasn’t nearly as cold when Homie and I were in there last time and we stayed nice and warm in our -30 and -40-degree bags. My buddy Mark has just shown us the proper way to start our XGK stove and we fired that baby up in our vestibule and melted snow non-stop for the next 100 minutes. We ate and drank and filled every container we had. I cooked us up some Ramen and chicken. We brought in tons of food and ate about half of it, mostly due to the conditions the next day and Derek’s low appetite when camping and climbing.

After some debate, we set the alarm for 3:15. We wanted to be moving at 5 a.m. I wanted to set it later, because we wouldn’t need to melt much snow in the morning and I thought we’d get ready faster. Derek felt if we got ready faster, we could just leave earlier. This is a high school kid arguing to get up earlier...on the weekend! I think he might be true alpinist. 

The night was very windy but our tent is a champ and was very securely erected. I wasn’t too keen about going out in the wind, though. When the alarm went off and it was still super windy, I snoozed it a couple of times and then asked Derek, “What do you think of that wind?” I wanted him to release me from going out into the cold, dark, windy morning by saying he didn’t want any part of it. Instead he responded, “We better bundle up.” Blast!

We were moving at 5:15 a.m., both in snowshoes. Derek wore a borrowed pair that we got from Mark. Unfortunately, one of the bolts on the binding broke before we climbed a five hundred feet. Derek mentioned it but other than that didn’t complain at all. It was a pain though, as the snowshoe turned sideways. Also, those shoes didn’t have nearly the crampon claws that I had on my pair, and we needed the traction on the lower slope, as it was quite firm in spots. We finally left Derek’s snowshoes at the top of the lower apron when the slope above was too hard and icy. He switched into crampons on a small ledge I hacked out with my axe. I continued in snowshoes, just in case we needed floatation. If we did, we'd have shared the shoes - one each. This was never need though, and I left them at the top of the second apron, after the traverse.

Here the snow was softer and all traces of a track were gone. I started kicking steps and continued doing that for the next 2.5 hours. From our camp, we climbed continuously, at grade of 20 degrees to 40 degrees, for 3500 feet. For more than 2000 of that I was kicking steps to mid-calf or my knee. The couloir goes on forever. I could practically see the top from well below, though I don’t know at the time. I wondered how much climbing was above the bend above me, but that bend came closer so slowly. What looked to be 500 feet away was 1800 feet. 

Wind and spindrift hampered our ascent and we both wore our big mitts to keep our hands warm. I was warm except for my face. I had my collar up and my goggles on, but my nose was exposed. Derek was in the same boat. We had balaclavas with us, but were too focused on making the saddle. My breaks, at first spaced by 100 steps, came every 50, 30 and then 20 steps. I led the couloir and at times Derek lagged a bit behind, but he closed up right on me at the top. We pulled over onto the top of the couloir after 4.5 hours, equally wasted. 
Looking down our ascent route.
The wind was blasting here and though I wanted to put on my balaclava, I didn’t want to take off my gloves or hat or hood to do it. It was snowing now and socked in. The traverse to North Maroon was out of the question. Truth be told, I was already rejected that as an option two thousand feet lower when conditions were already tough and I was getting my ass kicked. Nevertheless I carried all our gear up there. Derek was really wasted. If it was anyone but Derek I’d have asked if he was up for continuing to the summit. Even in such terrible weather, I knew Derek would go up. We put on our down jackets and left our packs behind and headed up.

Conditions from here on up made taking photos extremely difficult and I only did it halfway up and on the summit. I only took those so that we'd have something to remember the climb besides our sore muscles. Doing so required me to take off my big mitts and I stupidly didn't have my liner gloves with me, so that exposed my bare hand. My hands are renowned wimps when it comes to cold temperatures so this marked a supreme effort for me.

Derek had never done climbing like that in crampons. He did fine, but he was so tired that it was doubly challenging for him. It is common for climbers to get sloppy when they are tired and take some chances to save energy. I’m guilty of this. It’s a combination of confidence and laziness and it isn’t recommended. I was very encouraged that Derek didn’t take this approach. More so for someone so young. From a very young age Derek had no fear of heights and complete trust in me. He’d lean back on a monster overhanging rappel with zero hesitation. It would be freaky and worrying if he didn’t realize the danger or that he was careless, but he never did or was. We’ve done a number of big adventures now and he always is careful and never reckless. In the Grand Canyon I let him solo up a 5.4 wall, because I knew he’d be solid. Here, high on Maroon Peak with huge exposure in spots and unfamiliarity with the climbing, he was cautious and took the time to be safe. We were unroped up and down and I was mostly behind him to spot him, but no matter how tired he was — and he was completely at his limit — he did not cut corners on safety. 
The frightening traverse to North Maroon - not for us!
When we topped out I was so proud of Derek. His drive, his attitude, his competency, his ability to suffer. He’d never done anything remotely this big in winter before. Heck, it is one of my most significant winter climbs and I did it with my 18-year-old son. He has a HUGE jump on where I was at his age. We stood alone on the summit - the only people in the entire valley. The wind was howling and it was snowing and we had a long way to descend, but we’d done it. It felt great to final get some success in the Bells in winter. I guess I just needed the right partner.

We descended carefully back to the top of the couloir. Still wasted we knew we had to drink and eat. We did a little of both before starting our descent. The wind had completely obliterated our tracks. Fresh snow covered everything. We down-frontpointed for a tiring thousand feet, then another 500 before it was more efficient to face outwards. It was tempting to glissade but I was worried about too much snow coming down with us and a mistake could be fatal. It wasn’t worth it. Derek didn’t dig this decision but he respected my greater experience. 
The last few steps to the summit. Why climb mountains? The views, obviously!
I spent twenty minutes frantically digging for the snowshoes I stashed on the way up. I thought all the snow coming down the couloir had buried or swept them away. I finally gave up and descended, thinking I’d just lost my new snowshoes when Derek spotted them hundreds of feet lower, exactly where I left them. I was so sure I was at the right outcropping, but I was not. Whew. 

We picked up our poles and snowshoes as we descended, but just continued with crampons and ice axe all the way down to camp, getting there at 1:15 p.m. The storm was going nicely now and all our gear was covered in snow and the wind made packing up more difficult. We went straight to the task of breaking down camp, which is time-consuming, but we had everything packed up and on our backs and the sled by 2:30 p.m. We headed out. The tracks we followed on the way in were completely covered but we knew the route and once we got up the crux hill on the other side of Crater Lake we were on a clear trail. The sled tipped over a number of times and Derek handled it expertly each time. Careening down this trail on the very edge of control in my NNN boots with a big pack on my back and a heavy sled is quite a rush.
On the summit of Maroon Peak
I worked very hard getting that sled back to the road and was completely drenched as I did it all in my down jacket. I should have stopped and shed, but it’s such a pain when I’m hooked up to the sled, that I just suffered. I went directly into the hut and stripped down to bare chest. My shirt was completely soaked. Luckily I had a spare dry shirt and I changed into it. Derek got both his skis and mine ready for the road descent and secured the second pair of snowshoes to the sled while I recovered in the hut. 

We left there at 4:15 p.m. for the 6.5-mle slog back to the car. The elevation drops from 9800 feet to 8300 feet, yet having descended it three times now if I were to guess the top along this section I’d say it drops 200 feet. It’s one of those mystery spots where the road is basically flat yet supposedly (I’m not completely trusting these geographers) it drops 1500 feet. Derek easily outdistanced me. My sled felt like and anchor and I pulled and kicked and glided and suffered all the way to the car. My shoulders are so sore from pulling all that weight over the last two days. Derek waited up near the end and we skied together for the last kilometer and a half to the car.

We had the car packed up by 6 p.m. I was so relieved to be sitting down - something I really hadn’t done since leaving the car on Saturday morning. Derek handled all the driving on the way home, while I wrote up our report. We stopped at Qdoba for a giant burrito, which Derek had no trouble inhaling twice as fast as I did, yet I eat twice as fast as him in the tent. We got home just a bit after 10 p.m. - in plenty of time for a better man to head to the gym at 5:40 the next morning. But I’m going to sleep in a bit and then start drying out all our gear, which is soaked!