What a crazy few days it's been. Hard to believe I am back in Colorado and I'm not thinking about snowboarding! Unfortunately I think I might be hanging up my snowboard for the season, unless if I decide to hit up Tuckerman's Ravine when I get back home. At 68 days of riding this season, I would say it has been a very successful one to say the least. Currently shacked up at an Airbnb in Fort Collins. I would have camped out, but after spending 2 days hiking in Taos I definitely needed a hot shower and a bed to sleep in.
Since Santa Fe, I went up to Taos Ski Valley to do some backcountry snowboarding. After leaving the Motel 6, I wound up stopping at a local place for some Southwestern style breakfast. Damn are eggs good with chopped up chorizo (I thought it was corned beef hash at first) and some salsa. I had my first cup of coffee in probably 3 weeks or whenever I was in Lake Tahoe with the family. I stopped in at the Santa Fe REI to grab an ice axe and some more camping food, but the guy there looked at me like I was crazy for asking if they had ice axes in a New Mexico REI. Apparently he didn't know (like myself) that New Mexico actually has mountains. And high elevation mountains at that!
I was hoping to get to Taos by noon, but after my phone's alarm decided to be on mute (why is that even an option?!), a leisurely breakfast, and the REI trip, the hour and a half drive got me there around 2pm. Way too late to make a summit attempt for Wheeler Peak. I decided to hike halfway to Williams Lake at a little over 11,000'. It surprisingly only took me an hour to hike 2 miles in and 1,500' vertical. Honestly, I could have made a summit attempt, but without my splitboard or micro spikes I would have been boot packing the remaining 1,500' on 30°+ pitches. And I probably would have been getting back to my car at dusk or worst case, sundown.
I rested up for the night, tuned up my board, figured out my pack, and got to fall asleep looking out my rear window to the sky lit up with stars at 10,000'. I set my alarm (with an actual ringer!) for 6am and the sun was already pretty much up, but behind all the mountains. It took me about an hour to warm up and eat a quick breakfast of a half a Clif bar and a cup of green tea. By 8am, I was on the trail, already carrying my splitboard. About half a mile into the trail, the snow was covering the woods and I strapped on my split. The ground was pretty frozen and had a bunch of boot/post holes from the previous day's late day hikers (myself included) and skinning up made it so much easier than hiking in boots. There were a few other people on the trail and they all thought I was crazy skinning through the woods and potentially up to the peak. There were several points I had to unstrap and load my split onto my bag. I kept thinking "why the eff am I doing this?!"
I got to the fork where you head towards the lake or start gaining altitude. Again, I was only about an hour in when I reached the lake. After the fork, I can't say was too fun. I had to put my board on my bag and boot pack the remaining 1,500'. I'm not sure if you've seen my video, but the first big incline towards the peak was definitely at least a 40º pitch. My trekking poles crapped out on me but luckily I could use my avi shovel's handle as a makeshift ice axe. I threw my micro spikes on my snowboard boots, which just barely fit and totally saved my ass from slipping.
For the next 3.5 hours, I made my way up stopping probably every 100' to catch my breath. By the final 500' of the peak, I could only make myself go about 50 steps before dropping to my knees. Hiking at around 13,000' is tough enough as it is when you live at sea level, but with a bag probably weighing around 20lbs really does not help. Not being able to fully skin up added an extra 10lbs that I definitely did not want to carry. But I sucked it up and took it 50 steps at a time.
"When it's been a long day of climbing, and I feel like I can't go any farther, I concentrate on the next three feet. And then the next three feet; and then the next three feet. Pretty soon, I'm at the top." - Royal Robbins
Getting to the top of Wheeler, my phone was completely dead from the cold whipping winds. I was also dead, but was just in a T-shirt sweating my ass off totally overheating. I dropped my bag, signed the register, and plopped down behind the rock wall that someone had set up to shield you from the winds coming from the west. I ate some lunch and prepped my board for the descent. At this point, it was almost 1pm. The sun was nuking the slope, so I felt I needed to get down soon. There were also some other hikers coming up towards the summit and I didn't feel like getting in a conversation with anyone at 13,000', when I was exhausted, sweaty, and still hungry despite eating 2 avocados, a Clif bar, and a 1/2lb of trail mix. I was also almost out of the 3L of water in my CamelBak.
Wheeler Peak at the top is all loose rock scree and I had to walk down it with my board in one hand for about 50 yards until I actually got to my line. There were 2 moments where I had an "oh shit" moment as the rocks started to give out under me. Luckily I grabbed onto a solid boulder and made my way down. I strapped in, powered up the GoPro, and zoomed down 1,500' in about 2 minutes blowing past all of my boot prints. That last hour and a half I kept asking myself "why the hell am I hiking this?" But looking back at my lone snowboard track going down that whole face made it totally worth it. I was almost tempted to head back up to do it again.
Once back in the trees, I was too lazy to throw my skins back on the board and decided to walk the 2 miles out, intermittently strapping in on any long downhill stretches. I was worried about people coming up the trail and I didn't want to plow into anyone while riding down. Luckily I only ran into a couple on their way up to the lake at the end of a clearing. At this point, I was totally gassed and out of water, but luckily I knew my car was only less than 2 miles away. And I was only going lower in elevation.
Getting back to the car, I dried off all of my gear and packed up, ready to head back North into Colorado. It took me roughly 4 hours to get to Colorado Springs, where I parked in a Walmart parking lot and crashed hard. I woke up this morning around 7am and started heading to Denver. On a whim, I decided to stop in at REI again but realized they're having their Memorial Day sale. (Shit, I forgot its Memorial Day weekend!) I splurged on buying a pair of La Sportiva mountaineering boots since members get 20% off, so now I have to break those suckers in before my mountaineering course later this year on Mt. Baker in Washington.
I'm hanging in my Airbnb for tonight and in the morning I will drive to Nebraska to get to it's "high peak" and make my way up to South Dakota to camp out in the Badlands for a night or two (depending on the weather and hiking). By the end of the Memorial Day weekend, I'm hoping to have hit up Badlands/Wind Cave/Teddy Roosevelt National Parks, Crazy Horse Monument, and the high peaks in North & South Dakota.
I can only assume the Dakotas will have sporadic cell service, so who knows when I will get to post again.