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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Skiing Denali - Gear and Packing

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The time is upon me.  I get on Denali in less than 24 hours and I have a mountain of gear packed up and ready to go.  It was not an easy process accumulating all the necessary gear, nor was it easy to get it all packed.  Here's what we've go going up the mountain with us.

I hope you enjoy my "MTV Cribs" version of showing you some gear.

Denali Gear Packing from Joel Bettner on Vimeo.

Round #1 pre-packing in Colorado.
Round #1 pre-packing in Colorado.

Round #1 post-packing
Round #1 post-packing

Round #2 pre-packing in Colorado.
Round #2 pre-packing in Colorado.

Round #2 post-packing
Round #2 post-packing

Re-exploding gear in Anchorage.
Re-exploding gear in Anchorage.

After a marathon grocery shopping trek, slowly re-packing and organizing the gear.
After a marathon grocery shopping trek, slowly re-packing and organizing the gear.

Our midnight view in Anchorage as we got things re-packed and organized.
Our midnight view in Anchorage as we got things re-packed and organized.

Tomorrow it is off to Talkeetna and out of communication for a while.

Clothing:
Ski Gear:
Cooking:
  • White gas stove (x2)
  • Propane stove
  • Fuel Bottles (x2.5)
  • Fuel & canisters
  • Stove hanging kit
  • Pot
  • Nalgene and metal water bottles
  • Water bottle insulators
  • Bowl
  • Spatula
  • Cutlery
  • Dipper cup
  • Mug
  • Lighters
Camp:
Electronics & Entertainment:
  • Solar charging kits and cords (x2 Goal Zero)
  • Watch
  • GoPro cameras w/ extra batteries and memory cards (x3)
  • Photo camera
  • iPhone with books and games
  • Satellite phone
  • Cards
  • Binoculars
  • Radio
  • Headphones
  • NiMH Batteries
Food:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Skiing North Maroon Peak - Perseverance Pays Off on the North Face

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North Maroon Peak - North Face Ski Descent from Joel Bettner on Vimeo.

I've been trying to ski the North Face of North Maroon Peak for several years now.  North Maroon Peak, which is one of the "Maroon Bells," is without a doubt the most iconic peak in Colorado.  It shows up everywhere.  It seemed to taunt me every time I saw it in an ad campaign, movie, website or even on my grocery store card.  Previously, each time I've tried to ski it there have either been issues with my ski partners or I've been turned around by conditions (like in this trip report from last year).  This year things were different.

5/23/14:
I picked up Nick Braun from his home in Edwards, CO at around 5:30 pm on Friday evening and we made our way to Aspen and the Maroon Lake TH.  On our drive we encountered a large, relatively warm thunderstorm.  When we got to the parking lot it was quite warm.  Things weren't looking great and we were both pessimistic about our chances of skiing from the summit.  After prepping our gear and setting our alarm clocks we tried to get a few hours of sleep in the car before our 2 am departure.

5/24/14:
We woke up in the wee hours of the morning to find that the air temperature at Maroon Lake was hovering right around 40 F.  We were hoping it was going to be colder in order for the snow surface to freeze (thus making the climbing safer).  We were still pessimistic but we decided to make an attempt at the mountain and turn around if we ever encountered snow that was suspect.

We hiked in our shoes, with our skis and boots on our backs, up to Crater Lake.  At first there was no snow on the trail but things soon became covered with snow mid-way between the two lakes.  The snow that covered the trail, to our surprise, was frozen fairly well despite the warm ambient temperatures.  When we reached Crater Lake we stashed our shoes, put on our boots, and began skinning.

Watching the moon rise before the sunrise.
Watching the moon rise before the sunrise.


A short way up the trail to Buckskin Pass we encountered avy debris that covered a large portion of the trail. During the winter a large avalanche tore through the forrest leaving a mess of snapped, broken and carried trees in its wake.  In fact, a bunch of the vegetation and debris that was carried down the hill still remained on an island of ice in the middle of Crater Lake.  Climbing over, under, through and around this debris in the dark set us back a bit.  When we finally re-found the trail we did our best to hustle and make up for the lost time.

Nick's camera got this sweet shot of hiking in the dark.  Gotta love the "alpine starts."
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A glimpse of our objective in the moonlight.
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We reached the base of the North Face right around dawn.  The snow we had encountered the entire way up seemed to become more and more frozen as we got higher and higher in elevation.  Our pessimism about being able to ski from the summit was waning, but we continued to openly communicate about turning around if we encountered unsafe snow conditions.

Doing my best to scout the face in the pre-dawn light.
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Getting to the base of North Maroon's North Face right at dawn.
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A glorious dawn.
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Shameless alpine dawn selfie.
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At the base of the North Face we transitioned from our skins to our crampons and began boot-packing up the maze of cliffs.  We were pleasantly surprised that the snow remained firm and icy for the entire ascent despite the rising sun, the rising ambient temperature, and the lack of wind to insulate the surface.

Nick had a bunch of really great technical gear, including an awesome super-light shell jacket, ice axe, helmet and crampons.  What he forgot at home, however, were any sort of ski pants.  This may be the most gnarly thing anyone has ever skied in Carrhart's (i.e. jeans).
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We took turns setting the boot pack up the North Face.
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Because there are so many cliff bands the ascent requires a lot of traversing...ugh.
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Kick. Step.  Kick.  Step.
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Deciding how to negotiate the crux.
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Awesome shot of Nick just before he climbed the crux.  I think this gives some good perspective to the exposure on the face.
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Shortly after passing the crux Nick took the lead the rest of the climb.  On the upper part of the face we got ourselves into a little mis-adventure trying to explore what we thought would be an alternate route to the summit (tacking on ~45 minutes to our ascent time), but decided against it.  When we reached the top of North Maroon Peak it was just after 9:15 am.  Even though we knew the snow was still very firm/icy at the higher elevations of the North Face, we began our descent shortly after summiting because we were worried that things might be heating up quickly on the lower elevations.

The views on the upper part of the North Face were not too shabby.
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Looking down our ascent route from the upper part of the North Face.
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Nick putting in the boot pack like a champ!  You can see where we had our mis-adventure at the top, near-middle of this picture.  It looked like we might be able to climb that little patch of snow through the rocks.  No dice.  We ended up down climbing back to our traverse track and continuing to traverse up the standard route (around the Punk Rock Band).
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Traversing to the edge of the Punk Rock Band.
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Coming around the edge of the Punk Rock Band with lots of exposure to climbers left.
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Last few steps to the summit.
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Nick, stoked to be on top.  14,014'.
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Looking west from the summit.
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As we knew it would be, the snow was still very firm at the higher elevations.  But, to our surprise, it didn't soften up until we were nearly off the North Face.  It would have been great to ski the entire face on corn-snow, but that opportunity did not present itself.  We were just thankful that we got to ski the face in safe conditions even if they weren't ideal.

Nick negotiating the descent around the Punk Rock Band.
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Dropping in on the upper section of the North Face.
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Nick making turns on the upper section.
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Looking down on a section of very firm snow just before descending it.
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Making my way down.
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Catching my breath.
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Nick finding his way down.
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Frozen runnels.
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Skiing out of the crux.
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Coming in hot!
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Getting down to some better snow!
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We were thrilled after our wonderful ski descent when we reached the bottom of the North Face.  From there we decided to shed some layers before continuing down to the trees for lunch, and eventually back to the parking lot.

Happy but warm.  Taking off layers at the bottom of the North Face of North Maroon Peak.
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Nick was stoked to have skied from the summit, even though he did it in his Carhartts.
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Claiming it!
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Claiming it!
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There is a reason this is such an iconic Colorado mountain.
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Back at Maroon Lake with weather starting to roll in.
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The Feed it took to fuel me up and down North Maroon Peak.
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Denali Relevance:
Climbing and skiing the North Face of North Maroon Peak was another great bit of training for Denali.  The mountain is one of Colorado's 14ers, so I had to work hard at high altitude and climb a significant amount of vertical all in one day.  Even though it didn't require the use of any rope, it was a fairly technical descent and allowed me to practice my route finding and hazard evaluation.

Beta:

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