Sunday, February 22, 2009

When I grow up....

When I grow up, I want to be Lou. Or Tom. Either one.

I met Lou and Tom Sunday. They are friends of a friend, Craig, a former Boulderite who moved permanently up to Silverthorne, right next to many Colorado ski resorts. Craig is in his 50's and 'retired'. He is in fantastic shape; he skis almost every day. But I am getting away from Lou and Tom.

Lou and Tom are also retired. They also live in Silverthorne. Lou and Tom are old enough to be my Dad; Lou is almost 70 (not sure exactly how old Tom is). Lou and Tom ski almost every day. Lou noted that he gets into the back country about 3 times a week. Back country means skinning, which means hard physical exertion. These old guys are in awesome shape! These old guys kicked my butt!

This is Tom

This is Lou

Tom had planned a back country trek along the infamous 'Commando Run' and Craig was kind enough to invite Jesper and me along. This ski trek starts at Vail Pass and ends at Vail Ski Resort, some 15 miles to the north. Back in the 1940's, the Army's 10th Mountain Division did the Commando Run as part of their training. The trek travels northwest over Shrine Pass and Two Elk Pass before ascending up Siberia Peak and the into what is now Vail Resort via the back bowls.

The trip is not about downhill skiing, although we wore downhill tele skis and there is a reported 5,000 or so feet of descending. With 2,500 feet of climbing and most of the descending consumed in up and down rollers along ridge lines, this trip is more about getting 'out there' into amazing mountain vistas than it is about downhill skiing. It is also about working your butt off all day long.

The plan, as conveyed to us by Craig via email and a brief telephone conversation, was to meet at 7:30 am at the Rio restaurant on Main Street on Frisco. We had a bit of a drive from Boulder, so Jesper and I set our alarm for 5 freakin' am and were on the road at 5:30. As we approached Frisco, we weren't sure which exit it was, so we called Craig. No answer. Apparently, his cell phone was already stuffed in his back pack. We found Main Street and drove the length of it - nothing called Rio. Hmmmmm...

So, we pulled around at Mexican restaurant with a completely different name and prepared to call Craig, who had extracted his cell phone and was calling us at the same time. After a few minutes, we figured out that we were at the right restaurant - the guys were parked on the other side. Come to find that the restaurant used to be called Rio 10 years ago! These guys still refer to it as Rio and it never occurred to them we wouldn't know, even though we've only been on Colorado for 4 years and we don't live in Summit County! We all had a good laugh; it was a humorous way to start the day out, and the trend continued.

We donned our gear, including avy beacons, and set off. The parking lot was filled with skiers, snow boarders and snow mobilers. No wonder there were lots of people; it was warm and sunny - almost like a spring day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and wouldn't be the entire day. No wind either. You could not ask for a prettier day.

Parking lot filled with skiers and snow mobilers on a blue bird day

Despite the crowds at the parking lot, people dispersed onto the various trail options and we soon only encountered a few other skiers from another group. We skinned up the drainage basin of Ten Mile and Turkey Creeks, wide expanses of snow that Tom promised morphed into glorious wild flower meadows in the summer.

Jesper and Dennis skinning up an alpine meadow

Lou set off first like he was in a race. I thought to myself, "surely this old guy won't be able to maintain that pace" --- WRONG! Lou kept this up all day almost until the very end. Layers were shed as we warmed up and we all soon were skinning without jackets.

As we attained a high meadow, the Sawatch Range appeared to our left, dominated by Mount Holy Cross, striking with it's snow cross markings. The extremely rugged Gore Range majestically appeared to our right, Tom swearing our vantage point was the most beautiful view of this mountain range. Untracked white fields of snow in the foreground with rocky, snow covered peaks as far as the eye can see; the views were unbelievably beautiful.

Jesper and me, with Mount Holy Cross in the background (photo credit Craig McNeill)

After a few miles of some uphill and some rollers, we pointed our skis straight up the fall line, the actual trail zig zagging underneath us using switchbacks we were not obligated to follow on the snow. Lou finally slowed down a bit to accommodate my slower uphill pace. I was not able to go as fast I as would have liked due to a bum left thumb, which I had sprained the weekend prior. It was still very sore and I couldn't use my left hand to push off my pole, significantly diminishing the power I could generate (I may not have gone on the trip at all had I known how much trouble my thumb would end up giving me, but I'm certainly glad I went now).

We continued to climb, stopping to eat our lunch at aptly named 'Lunch Rock'. The location was exposed and windy, so we soon cooled down and felt the need to get moving to generate some heat. Personally, I would have chosen another, more sheltered location, for lunch. However, Lunch Rock, which looked like a big marshmallow as we approached it, afforded spectacular views of Copper Resort and the Ten Mile Range to the southeast and the Gore Range to the east.

Lou approaching marshmallow-looking Lunch Rock (photo credit Craig McNeill)

Me and Dennis at Lunch Rock with Copper Ski Resort and the Ten Mile Range in the background (photo credit Criag McNeill)

After Lunch Rock, we skinned through the trees along a ridge line and hit our high point of the day, somewhere around 11,700 feet. Jesper and I had our GPS units and maps and knew the official track stayed to the east and north, but we were just following the other guys, who have done the route numerous times. A debate ensued between Lou and Tom about how long to stay to the right up on the ridge and when to descend.

Lou and Dennis on the ridge before we prematurely descended

Finally, the desire to ski some downhill won out and we descended through the steep trees in some luscious untracked powder. When we got down, Lou proclaimed, "Crap, we went down too soon!" Instead of staying high and ending up at Two Elk Pass in position to summit Siberia Peak, we had dropped down and ended up at Two Elk Creek, just outside of and at the bottom of Vail's Mongolia Bowl. We had added a lot more climbing to our day.

We snacked and put our skins back on for the long slog up Vail's Silk Road; all the way from Two Elk Creek up to Two Elk Lodge, bypassing Siberia Peak itself and staying on its western flank. We crossed over and up Mongolia Bowl, Siberia Bowl and China Bowl, all of which were closing for the day. It was strange to see the last remaining skiers and snow boarders out there, knowing they had been riding the lifts all day while we had climbed all the way using our own powers.

More uphill skinning at the end of the day

We skinned back out of bounds up on the ridge line above the Mushroom Bowl. A large cornice paved the way down to a steep and cliffed drop, probably quite avalanche prone, which NONE of us felt inclined to attempt. We stayed on the ridge line until we encountered a rock gully we needed to negotiate to get back down to Vail proper. Skis came off for this one! From then on, it was a short skate ski to Two Elk Lodge, which was long closed by this time.

Jesper making his way toward Two Elk Lodge (tough to see but down the white slope toward the left)

All that was left for the day was to ski down one of Vail's fine ski runs to the car. We opted to ski down the black diamond run Blue Ox, usually a nice run, but that day a sheet of ice from all the radiant heating! Legs tired from skinning up and up all day, we all struggled on Blue Ox. Lou finally succumbed to the effects of his blazing pace and wiped out hard. He finished the day with a bloody nose, but still in good spirits. Everyone was glad to make it off the tilted ice rink that Blue Ox had become.

We were done. We were tired. We were satisfied. I was wonked! Those old guys kicked my ass! I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that Jesper and I will, one day, be retired and able to ski every day in the back country like Lou and Tom. Yep - I want to be Lou or Tom when I grow up!

The whole Gang - Dennis, Lou, Craig, Me, Jesper, Tom (photo credit some guy from the other group with Craig McNeill's camera)

Stats: 15.7 miles; 4:26 moving time (3:00 stopped time); 3.1 mph average moving time; 2 mph avg overall time; elevation gain ~2,500 feet; lots of laughs.

White squiggly line is our track (click on the pic and its easier to see)


Anonymous said...

Love the write up. Sorry for the El Rio screw-up ! Craig

Itty Bitty Betty said...

Don't apologize - that set the tone for a great day!

cynthia said...

awesome story...those men are my heros too!

bbrooke said...

Isn't it funny how a tiny body part like a thumb can cause so much pain and annoyance...?

I get motivated when older people kick my butt. It reminds me that I have the potential to get better / faster someday, and that degenerating with age isn't an inevitable foregone conclusion.

Kim said...

Wow...I'm tired and hungry just from reading this!

Itty Bitty Betty said...

brooke - Lou or Tom mentioned that he hoped to have 20 more years of back country skiing. That'd put him near 90! Kick ass! That's what I aspire to as well.

Kim - the Commando Run is an invitation to eat massive quantities of whatever you want for a day and then sleep like a log; hence the reason we did not get up early the next day for anything. I had to work HARD to stay awake for Jesper as he drove the whole way home.

Lara Robinson said...

Excellent!! Once again, you show me what I'm missing in my own backyard!

I noticed on your profile you're an Environmental Consultant of some kind in Boulder... I am too!

I've nejoyed reading these, great writing, love it!

Itty Bitty Betty said...

Lara - thanks for your comment. I zipped over to your blog. Very Nice. I can't figure out how to comment on it though... darn Word Press. Anyway, can't believe we haven't crossed paths, either in work or out running.

perdido y alegre said...

Hey there, Cynthia's sister, Patricia here. Nice story. IT's refreshing to see the older gents forget their age to keep on truckin'. I wanna grow up to be like them too!