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Saturday, April 19, 2014

San Juan Backcountry Skiing April 2014

Not mere survival, but rather full being is the essence of living.

This is the most important of the lessons to be learned from our

teachers, the mountains…

~~Dolores LaChapelle, Earth Wisdom

To Dolores LaChapelle, Silverton was home. Her memorial now rests on a hill above town: a fittingly simple, yet meaningfully put together, 'medicine wheel'. I had gone there to be alone, reflect, commune, or something to that effect.

It was April. The snow had mostly melted around town and the plants were unfolding their green sprouts. It was peaceful, with Kendall and the Sultan looming high above the the forested park. The air was crisp, the sun was warm, and the birds had returned to the valley.

But, uno momento, that's actually the end of the story.  Please, let me go back to the beginning.

Spirng Break: 1 pow day, 1 couloir, and 1 traverse.

Like Dolores emphasized in her book, playing with gravity in the mountains is awesome…

With the healed snowpack, some phone calls, and some local guys up for adventures,  a great week of fun, deep, and meaningful outings in the San Juans was in the works. Little did I know how sweet it would be.

DAY 1:

Brett Davis runs the Fort Lewis Outdoor Pursuits program. Athletic, a great route researcher, and a general bad ass, I relied on him to set up some lines for us. But, as per usual Mother Nature had her way. The Turk to Sultan line we hoped for was in a white out, and the wind ripped up high. So we headed up to something a little lower.
The powder was awesome, the picture taking, not so much.

Silverton before the storm really got going. Up high was covered it white out.
DAY 2:

The next day Brett, his friend Sam, and I went big knowing the snow was good. This time under blue skies, we went couloir skiing.
Brett in front, and Sam,  check out the wet slides from the previous week.

Big, mean terrain... with our way up over on the left.

Digging a pit on top of our line, because, once in, there would be no way out. 
Brett got first dibs.

Then Sam

Then me, enjoying the ambiance.

Then down the apron. 

Looking back

Sam hid some beers for us back at the car.

After saying our goodbyes those guys headed back to Durango and I got my room at the Triangle Motel to prep for the next adventure.

After putting out the word about wanting to do a short traverse in the San Juans, a guy I had met a few summers ago on Denali, Tom, had agreed that it was a good idea. So he came down from Montrose, that night and we readied for our trip.

Day 3-5

Coal Bank Pass to Red Mountain Pass was the original objective, but I suggested we park at the Ophir Pass road due some weather on Wednesday coming in, possibly preventing us from going the whole way (this proved to be perfect). But, the main goal was just to check out what was back there and have fun.

We started at Coal Bank just before dawn, and were up at Engineer by 8am.

Engineer is huge, and a picture doesn't do it justice.

We made our way passed Engineer and onward to Jura Knob

Jura Knob had a sweet wind lip and rock section to 'jungle gym' up

Heading down Jura's north side. The Drainage ahead in South Mineral Creek.  Mountains l-r are: Rolling, Vermillion, Fuller, US Grant, and on right Twin Sisters

Skiing northward into South Mineral's H U G E upper basin.
It was big.

Rolling Mountain's North Side
Tom feeling great at our first camp below Fuller looking eastward across Mineral to Twin Sisters.

Twin Sisters Western side from our camp beneath Fuller.
Next morning looking up to our pass into Icy Lakes, just right of Fuller.

getting up to the pass with the previous day's traverse in view.

Twin Sister is gorgeous

Weather was forecast for today, and by the time we got into Island Lake basin, it was clear the snow and wind would not be pleasant at the next pass, so we decided to stop and camp, despite it only being midday.

The decision to stop was wise, but we had to get out and walk in the storm or go koo-koo.

The storm ate half a day, but who can complain when you wake up to this.

Looking back southward with Icy Lakes just right of this photo.  Lines, Lines, Lines …Everywhere.

Heading up out of Island Lake and Icy Lakes with the famous peaks as a gorgeous backdrop.

Again, numerous lines were hard to pass up.

US Grant from our pass into Clear Lake.

Tom about to head into Clear Lake.

Clear Lake basin is Bad @$$, and my set up was built for it.

Traversing up to our pass over the South Lookout ridge

Clear Lake's southern wall

Looking down into Middle Fork Mineral Creek, and our way to Ophir Pass road.

Skiing our final line

Skirting roll-overs, that, from above, looked like cliffs.

Tom loving the last of our turns into the Middle Fork.

…and skinning out to the road with the saddle in back being where we came down.

skiing the side of the plowed road, and looking back at a sweet trip through the mountains.
And, that was that.  Tom took me back to my truck at Coal bank and headed home.  I went to Silverton not wanting to leave the mountains.  The traverse was a memory…. until next time anyway.

So, back to where I started to write.

Once back in town, I found myself wondering up to Dolores LaChapelle's memorial park (on the way to Silverton Mountain for those that are familiar with Silverton), wanting more: more time in the mountains, more of that movement and angular momentum that seem to drive me back into the mountains every time, more of that connection with the earth.  Dolores may not have the answers any more than the rest of us do.  But, I love that she tried to put into words in her book, Earth Wisdom, the connection and sacred space I had been feeling over the past week in the mountains.

So I thought I'd visit with her space.  There, on the side on the hill, in a little mountain town, I could hear her writing blowing on the wind… 

Skiing, especially powder skiing, provides the ultimate
experience of dynamic, complex interrelationship between
the members of a human group, the gravity of the earth, and
the snow from the sky.
~~Dolores LaChapelle

The interesting thing is that people are coming to Dolores' conclusion in their own lives too