Trip & Condition Reports
from SJMG Senior Guide Mark Miller
Recently, SJMG Senior Guide Mark Miller got a few days off of guiding locally here in Ouray & the San Juans. He took the opportunity to see how things were forming up and grab some conditions reports on a few of our local area hardman classics like The Talisman in Ouray and Bridalveil Falls in Telluride.
Matt and I climbed Talisman on Sunday.
The first pitch was in good condition. We climbed to the left side of the ledge to belay and then moved the belay to the right, below the start of the pitch 2 traverse, due to a lack of ice leading directly to the belay stance.
The second pitch was excellent. I placed two pieces of rock gear and the rest was completely reasonable with good screws, a few 16cm and a couple stubbies. Yesterday a party placed a couple V-threads, making a really nice belay.
The third pitch turned out to be the best of the bunch. Right above the belay there was enough ice to place one cam and protect the rest on ice as I climbed out of the roof toward the column on the left side of the upper curtain. After a couple very pumpy to place screws, I turned the corner. It was solid, but very steep for a short section, which then backed off to grade 4 ice and a nice belay from screws in good ice.
We then finished the last 40 feet of grade 3 in a continuous spindrift, since we were no longer under the overhangs for protection. A quick rappel back to the ground, a little more snow slogging and a balance beam act across a log to get back across the river rapped up a fine day.
On Saturday Dave and I went to Telluride to see if Bridalveil was in, since word on it’s conditions were scarce. It looked a little narrower than last year and the cauliflowers looked a little bigger as we got up closer.
The cone at the bottom was pretty much like usual, maybe grade 3, but protection was rather poor until very near the top. At the top of the cone my plan had been to head straight up a groove that looked the most promising from the ground. As I arrived I could see that it had a steady shower pouring into it from a dagger directly above it. By stepping left into an ice chimney I could see a reasonable path, if I could clear out the crazy hanging shafts of ice that barred the path without them taking me out, or getting too worked from the cleaning. At the top of the chimney I was able to quickly cross the raining dagger back to the right and into a nice rest, before continuing back left to a semi-hanging belay from very good ice in a well protected alcove.
Dave then led a short rising traverse to the right with a step down at the end, which put him on a large well protected ledge, that has been the belay station for pitch one the last few years.
From there the upper section of the climb was blocked by a 6-8 foot ice roof that had to be traversed around all the way to the left. Near the center I saw a line that might go if I could stem up a pillars left side, get on top of it under the roof without getting too off-balance and then pull a smaller 2-3 foot roof. The more direct line just looked to aesthetic to pass, so up I went. After a serious workout cleaning off some more ice daggers and other bizarre ice shapes that were barring the way, I down climbed back to a rest near Dave. With a good shake out and some gear already placed I gave it a run. Luckily I found an arm bar rest just below the roof, gave Dave a heads up and went for it. A few fatigued swings later I had a good belay station in sight and made a comfortable belay stance, while Dave got his turn at getting pumped stupid.
From there it was a nice long grade 4 stemming session to the upper ramp where it backs off to the snow gully and eventually the anchors. Dave arrived a little later for a couple quick raps and laughter the rest of the hike back to the truck for a mondo burrito and a casual drive home from a truly excellent day.
San Juan Mountain Guides will be adding the Ortler Traverse, a prominent ski tour in Italy’s South Tyrol, a mountain range straddling the Italian-Austrian border. Despite the 4000+ meter peaks and the luxurious hut systems – this expedition is a experience of fused cultures: that of the Austria ancestry that resides in the Northern Italian territory. Check out these three interesting facts about this unique opportunity as we plan this Ortler Ski Circuit for next spring are March 18 – 28 & April 4 – 14, 2015.
1. Northern Italy doesn’t always mean Italian
The Ortler region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was ceded to Italy at the end of the First World War. As a result, a dual identity is reflected within the culture of the Ortler Region, hence the Ortler Region being known as known as Südtirol (German) or Alto Adige (Italian). German is increasingly predominate in areas close to the Austrian border and its not unsual to see signs written in German instead of Italian.
2. Monumental Crosses erected on top of the Summits
On top most of the summits there are metal and wood crosses grounded with large metal cables. Some pay homage to the Pope, others, like the one atop the 3,594-meter Monte Giumella, memorialize those who fought for the “Fatherland,” of Austria, the country that formerly held this sea of mountains prior to WWI.
3. Best of both Worlds: Italian Cuisine & German Gourmet
Prepare to have some of the best four course meals of your life! This includes Italian wine, cappuccinos and traditional dishes but also – Austrian Apfelstrudel and tasty beers after a great day of touring.
Meet your Guide, Pat Ormond
Pat is a fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide, having completed his AMGA Rock, Alpine Guide, and Ski Mountaineering Certifications. This will be his second trip on the Ortler Traverse.
Also, the Ortler region is in the South Tyrol, which is an autonomous region in Italy, near the border of Austria. There are many relics left from WWI and WWII when Italy and Austria were fighting for control of the area. As we ski around, we cross over old borders marked with barbed wire, stone fortifications, old cannons, all up at altitude and on glaciers. Think of the effort it took to fight wars in the mountains. Amazing!”
Also, the Ortler region is in the South Tyrol, which is an autonomous region in Italy, near the border of Austria. There are many relics left from WWI and WWII when Italy and Austria were fighting for control of the area. As we ski around, we cross over old borders marked with barbed wire, stone fortifications, old cannons, all up at altitude and on glaciers. Think of the effort it took to fight wars in the mountains. Amazing!“
How would you describe the snow-pack, weather conditions and over-all skiing of the Ortler Traverse?
“The good time to be skiing there is in the spring, mid march to late April. March can bring more storms and powder skiing, while April is time to ski from the summits. Stability varies, but tends to be like an inter-mountain snow-pack as opposed to a weaker continental snowpack. So as spring rolls around, more stable conditions tend to prevail. The skiing is mostly in the alpine, above treeline, and we are up in the mountains, ranging from about 9-12,500’. We travel on glaciers that are well filled in, allowing for everything from wide open runs to steep and narrow couloirs.”
What is the Ski skill-set to do the Ortler Traverse?
“If you can ski the mountain at your home resort, then you’re good to go. While we can keep the terrain fairly mellow, there are times that we are boot packing up couloirs, climbing along exposed ridge lines, using ice axe and crampons, ski crampons, scrambling over rock, skinning up steep slopes with kick turns, skiing steeps. So you want to be comfortable on all terrain. That said, we can be roped up for any and all of this if needed. We start out mellow, and build into the more exposed terrain, and we can always go back to mellow. But a great gauge is skiing all the terrain at the ski area. At Telluride Ski Resort, for instance, that would include hiking Gold Hill and Palmyra Peak. Skiing down doesn’t mean skiing fast and straight lining. In ski mountaineering, a lot of terrain is taken one turn at a time, and control is the name of the game.“
What was one of the most memorable days on the Ortler Traverse?
“Most memorable day was skiing the Grand Zebru (pictured below) above the Pizzini Hut. It’s the highest peak we can ski, and it has it all: a steep couloir, 40 degree open face, knife edge summit ridge, and we’re back to the hut in time for lunch and then an afternoon tour if we’re up for it.”
We invite you to join us for this 2015 expedition that is guaranteed to be the highlight of your season! As always, don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule your next trip, course, or expedition with The Local Experts!
The Lodestar Jacket
With winter upon us in here in the San Juans, our technical layers take on added importance. SW Colorado and the San Juan Mountains offer up a veritable cornucopia of conditions. Everything from whiteout conditions, 45 mph winds, warm sunny days, feet of snow, and frigid freeze-your-fingers cold is par for the course in Ouray and throughout the San Juan Mountains in the winter months. As a consequence, the versatility and durability of our technical outerwear is critical to our daily work in the the field. This year, we chose the Outdoor Research Lodestar Jacket as our go-to softshell jacket for all winter endeavors.
I’ll spare you the suspense: the Lodestar Jacket is perhaps OR’s finest effort at a workhorse softshell ice and alpine climbing jacket to date. Our guides prefer working in a softshell jacket given the nature of our conditions here in SW Colorado – low humidity and super cold temps don’t necessarily call for Gore-Tex.
They do call for a jacket that can perform in all conditions and function well doing so. I’m happy to report that the Lodestar does it all. Here’s an example: guiding two clients up the classic Stairway to Heaven in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon. We need a jacket that climbs well and can be worn all day without the need to mess with other insulating jackets to stay warm. The beauty of the Lodestar is that you can wear it all day and it is warm enough (especially with the hood up) that you can climb up and rappel down Stairway to Heaven without putting another layer on – or find it necessary to take the Lodestar off.
Here are a few features that I think make this jacket stand out:
The trim fit of the jacket eliminates any extra fabric that can bunch up and get in your way while climbing. I’ve found that the arm length of the jacket is perfect for when you are reaching for a tool placement – meaning that the cuff does not ride up and expose your wrist to the elements. The trim cut of the jacket affords you the ability to layer underneath, but does not allow you to over do it. Doing so would lead to over-heating anyway because the next feature of the jacket that I like is it’s……….
This is by far one of the warmest soft-shell jackets I’ve ever worn. The combination of the Polartec Powershield Pro and Polartec Powershield High Loft is perfectly balanced throughout the jacket to achieve both warm and breathability. The overall warmth of the jacket gives you the flexibility to wear a bit lighter layers underneath the jacket, limiting the complexity of your clothing layers – which I consider to be a major bonus in a workhorse softshell jacket.
This might be a small detail to some, but the functionality of the zippers on a jacket is a major factor to me when I consider the overall quality of the piece – especially when considering you are usually messing with such things in a gloved hand. I’ve found that I really appreciate the larger teeth on the zippers of the Lodestar because they are simply easier to handle and don’t snag unnecessarily on excess fabric near the teeth of the zipper. Not to be overlooked – the pit zippers function perfectly in each direction, a feature that I’ve found underdeveloped and poorly executed in other types/brands of jackets that I’ve worn over the years.
I like the placement of the pockets on this jacket, and they haven’t overdone it with too many in all the wrong places. A simple left-hand chest pocket is sized just right for a small point-and-shoot camera which is handy for taking quick pics of your friend following the pitch. The zippered hand pockets fit well over a harness and still allow you access when you’re all cinched up in your harness. To boot, the pockets are formed with a tight mesh lining that would seem to increase breathability. I am a little suspicious of the durability of this feature of the jacket but I don’t often put sharp things into my jacket pockets so I’m not too worried.
The Details Are What Counts
On the Lodestar Jacket, a few more details really set the piece apart. The hood fits over a helmet perfectly and is easily maneuverable without having to unzip the jacket. The draw cord on the waist maintains its adjustment and does not routinely come loose during the course of the day. Overall, all the features of the jacket are extremely well thought out and executed by the design and development team at Outdoor Research.
If you’re in the market for a new ice/alpine jacket – look no further. Alpine objectives await in the the newly redesigned Lodestar Jacket!
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
Classic Line Back In Condition
Climbed Ames with Kevin today. The first pitch is in the fattest and most protectable condition I have ever climbed it.
The second pitch has a few interesting cauliflowers to work around, but mostly protects well and the chimney is too full of ice to need rock gear. The third pitch is narrow at the top with enough water running behind it that you can easily hear it. Turned out to bee a great day and excellent conditions.
On the approach it’s a little interesting to get across the creek without wet feet due to the warm temps. I would recommend the Galloping Goose trail for now, it is well packed.
Classics are IN and Getting Climbed
After a bit of nervousness with respect to how the trajectory of this early ice season was going to play out, I’m happy to report that cold weather is back in a big way in Ouray and the San Juans. Consequently, our ice conditions have improved dramatically in the last 2 weeks with most of the major area climbs coming into condition – or very near to it. Temperatures in the next 10 days also look favorable for additional ice creation and they are even spraying water at the Ouray Ice Park earlier than I can remember.
We’ve received plenty of early season snow this year (last weekend was a bit of a game changer for the skiers) and so the melt/freeze cycle is in full effect now. A few of us climbed Stairway to Heaven in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon yesterday and we found generally good climbing conditions for this time of year. I also observed that Goldrush appears to be in condition this year. I did not look at the complete 1st pitch of Whorehouse Ice Hose and my sense is that one may take another week to fully form up. With more cold weather in the forecast (consistent single digit temps in Silverton next 10 days) all major climbs will see additional growth/accumulation, lending to even better climbing conditions.
In South Mineral Creek – the road is still open but this coming weekend’s storm will tell the tale on how much longer it stays that way. Direct North Face, Snowblind, and Campground Couloir are in fun and climbable condition. Right now the forecast is trending towards this weekend’s storm to be less productive in terms of snow totals than originally forecast but we will have to wait and see how that plays out. If the road stays open then now is a great time to go tick off those climbs.
On the other side of the ridge, the Ames Ice Hose looks to be all the way in – with ice hitting the first pitch already. This is a good sign for conditions on that route for the rest of the year, so look for that one to get fatter as the next few weeks progress.
In the Camp Bird Mine area the Ribbon and Bird Brain Boulevard have good ice formation and are looking climbable. As with S. Mineral, have to wait and see how this weekend’s storm plays out as avalanche danger on the Ribbon specifically can shut that route down until things settle out. In the Skylight area, all the climbs have good ice formation (Skylight probably best) but all are a bit thin yet as expected. The Talisman has gained a lot of ground in the last few weeks and will probably see some traffic here soon…….
We’ll be out climbing a bunch in the next 10 days so we will continue to update conditions regularly.
Early November Ice Conditions Report
It’s that time of year again – ice season is fast approaching. Winter has returned to the San Juans – with snow and ice starting to come into condition throughout the range. Make sure to bookmark our San Juan Ice Conditions webpage. We will be doing twice weekly updates starting in mid-November and continuing throughout the 2014-2015 Ice Climbing Season. Overall, when compared to this same time period last year ice conditions are not quite as robust.
Currently, most climbs in the San Juans are starting to see some pretty decent ice formation, but none of the classic climbs are what I would call “in” just yet. As you can see from the pictures below (taken November 5, 2014), climbs like Stairway, 2nd Gully, Direct North Face, and Campground Couloir all have ice on starting to stick around, but we are still in a warm period here in the Ouray/Silverton areas. As it stands, models are forecasting that around Tuesday/Wednesday next week we will see a meaningful drop in the overall temperature regime in the mountains with overnight lows dropping into the teens. Those are the nighttime temperatures we need in order to improve conditions and build things up to be in climbable condition. The banner picture (above) shows current conditions on Bear Mtn and Sultan Mtn outside of Silverton – so there is plenty of snow in the alpine for the melt/freeze cycle to occur once temps normalize for this time of year.
One exception seems to be Hoser’s Highway in Eureka Canyon (pictured below). The pillar looked to be in the best condition of anything I looked at on Wednesday, and a few of us might go have real look at the climb here in the next few days. Stay tuned, and wish/pray/etc. for cold temps. Really cold temps!!
Stokin’ ain’t just for the fire and keeping your average stoke-level high ain’t easy.
If it was easy to be stoked on everyday life as we get stoked for our outdoor pursuits and life passion, then the very existence of “stoke” would cease to exist and life would almost be…well boring. With that being said, it is not easy to keep stoke-levels high each day when your ultimate stoke-level is fueled by thrashing some pow in the back-country, scaling granite rock in the high-country, crushing trails on your mountain bike or whatever your fix may be.
Here are a couple of scenarios when the average human-beings’ stoke-level is moderate to low and how you can raise that stoke-level and potentially have a high-level of stoke for the rest of your day. I can’t guarantee you the same levels as getting pow-shots to the face after a fresh snow-dump in the San Juans’ but I can promise that it will make your day go better and get you one day closer to those unbeatable days outdoors.
When is your stoke-level the lowest you ask?
That’s right, the moment you wake up for work. Or maybe it isn’t work, but just waking up in general. If it isn’t for some epic adventure outdoors, you are looking at a moderate to low stoke-level at best. Here are some simple tools to help increase your average stoke-level and start the day off right. It’s recommended to do all of these steps for ultimate results.
Step #1: Brush that Tongue
The last thing you would expect right? According to 11 Morning Rituals That Can Change Your Life, brushing your tongue as soon as you wake up can alert sensors and start the rejuvenation process you need to do to make the transition from sleep to wakefulness each day. Match that with a cup of water and you’ll be awoken from your zombie state and feeling alive in no time.
Step #2 Stretch
If the morning isn’t your ideal time for exercise then always make an effort to stretch. Stretching has proven to bring longevity to your life as well as prepare you for whatever outdoor adventure you may have later that day or week. For basic to advance yoga and stretching routines, check out www.grokker.com. Two things you need to know: #1 It’s FREE! and #2 Grokker gets it. We can’t all be yogis and spend a couple hours stretching so Grokker has modified videos for those of us on the go. Check out my fave– 7:12 minutes of Morning Yoga for Flexibility.
#2 Pump the Jams!
So what tunes do you dig when you are pursuing your outdoor passions?? That’s the first thing you should hear in the morning; not your mom telling you to pick up your laundry, or your roommate telling you to clean your dishes or even a simple conversation on the weather. For a higher-level of stoke, you should listen to your current jam before any interaction with other humans. This sets to tone for the day. If you do encounter a human while jammin’ out- it’s good practice to start a MDP (Morning Dance Party) which will result in Collective Stokification. Collective Stokificaton is consider good karma and practiced habitually in many regions of the world, so kudos if you are able to bring the good word of stoke to others early in the morning!
Looking for some high-level stoking tunes? This is what I have been listening to, I hope you enjoy!
Stay tuned! If you liked this completely serious and mildly humorous article, be sure to check San Juan Mountain Guides Social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as this is Part 1 of a four part series where I will be discussing “How to Get Stoked” in all context of life.
The Author: Kelsy Woodson
Born and raised in the Four Corners and mainly in New Mexico and Colorado, I live and breath the mountains and all of the glorious adventures they have provided me. I could live 3 life-times here and still I would still be astonished by the vastness of our mighty San Juan region, the reason I’ve never wanted to leave. I took my first course (AIARE 1 Avalanche Course) with San Juan Mtn Guides last year and haven’t left since. If it is the mountain tidings you seek and adventure you desire, then look no further- San Juan Mountain Guides are the premiere guiding company for Colorado and beyond. Call them up for any questions over anything relative to this area or their International trips, they are good people with great times to be had.
Vestal Peak, elevation 13,870 ft (4,230 m), is a summit in the Needle Mountains of southwest Colorado. The peak is southeast of Silverton in the Weminuche Wilderness.
Described by many as one of the most aesthetic peaks in the San Juans, our client David Yurko was able to capture this incredible Alpine adventure summit of Vestal Peak on his 3 day trip with San Juan Mountain Guide Dan Zokaites. For more information over our Vestal Peak trips.
Dawn Glanc, pronounced, “Glance”, was born and raised in Brunswick, Ohio. In 1996, at the age of 21, she moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is where she learned to rock and ice climb. After 8 years in the hills, Dawn wanted to explore bigger mountains and more complex terrain. In 2004, Dawn moved to Bellingham, Washington, to begin a career as a Mountain Guide. She now works year round as a certified rock climbing and alpine climbing guide. Dawn is certified by the American Mountain Guide Association. She has guided clients of all ages, and clients with varying levels of abilities. Dawn is now based in Ouray, Colorado.
How long have you been a guide?
I started guiding right after college. I started as a part time guide in 1998 as a belayer for basic courses. In 2004 I moved to Bellingham, WA and started guiding full time. I have been with SJMG since December 2005.
Why did you want to be a guide?
I first became a guide because I loved climbing and I wanted to be paid to do it. As the years have gone on, I stay with this career because I still have a lot of passion for climbing and I find it very rewarding to share this passion with others.
What is the most rewarding experience of being a guide?
The most rewarding thing about guiding is when a client is truly ignited by the climbing experience. It is so exciting to see the initial spark that triggers the giant smile and the new found love of climbing that will forever capture them.
What’s the best part of guiding in the San Juan Mountains?
I love the San Juan Mountains. They are so beautiful and wild. This is my back yard and I like to share that with others. Plus I sleep in my bed at night. That is a coveted thing as a guide.
What is one lesson or perspective a client has taught you after a course /trip?
I am constantly reminded that I have to face my fears. I watch clients every day overcome a mental obstacle and it pushes me to do the same. It is so inspiring to watch a client step up and face their challenge.
What’s your go-to “On the Trail” snack or meal?
Snicker bars are my number one choice for a snack when I am in the field.
If you had a spirit animal what would it be and why?
I am drawn to the raven. They are big, strong, beautiful and very intelligent. They are social yet very independent. They also adapt to all environments.
What’s the one thing people usually don’t know about Mtn. Guides?
This is an unofficial statement, but most of the guides I have ever met have gross feet. They either stink, are full of some nail funk or they are deformed from being stuffed in old boots and shoes. Guides are not typically barefoot models.
What’s the one thing you want to do when you get back from an extended trip?
I want to take a long hot shower and eat a good meal at a table.
Describe a personal EPIC you have had and how it worked out?
In 2012, the Thursday before the Ouray ice fest, I was climbing a bolted mixed route in the park. As I climbed onto the 20 foot free hanging dagger, the ice cracked and I rode the dagger as it fell. Eventually, the last bolt I had clipped and the rope pulled me off the dagger and into the rock. The force of my fall pulled my belayer off the ground. Even though we were both completely freaked out, my belayer and I walked away from the scene unharmed. Neither one of us had a scratch. To say we were lucky is an under statement.
What’s one lesson or phrase that the mountains have taught you?
The mountains and climbing have taught me so many lessons it is hard to pick just one to discuss. I know that I would not be the person I am today if I had not had these outdoor experiences. I continue to learn about myself and my environment every time I go out.