Peak(s):  Helen, Mt  -  13,164 feet
Date Posted:  03/13/2015
Date Climbed:   03/10/2015
Author:  SolarAlex
 Mt Helen - East Slope   


Mt Helen 13164'
Trailhead: Spruce Creek
Mileage: 5
Elevation Gain: 2700'



Just a quick intro: This outing was to honor the memory of my grandmother, Helen. She passed away a couple of years ago and I've been wanting to get up this mountain to pay tribute to her for a while now. She was a remarkable woman...She was a holocaust survivor, which is something that took me a long time to come to terms with. Its hard to comprehend the strength she must have had to overcome something so terrible. As a kid, she was the perfect grandmother...she worked in a bakery and was always sending us boxes of cookies and bagels and all kinds of crap. Drove my parents insane. She was always extremely independent, and she lived on her own well into her 80s. She loved walking, and would walk pretty much everywhere. I like to think that in another life, she would have been into hiking mountains.

Of course, she would have been horrified to know that I intended to go up the mountain in winter...in a lot of ways, she was very much the stereotypical Jewish grandmother..."Is it safe? Is it warm?? DID YOU EAT!??!??" Even still, we picked about the nicest day of the entire winter to go up there, so hopefully she wouldn't be too upset.

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Grandma Helen


This winter I've really been getting into backcountry riding...I've done a fair amount of backcountry in the last couple of seasons but this year has been amazing. I've been extremely lucky to have a group of close friends who are all on the same page as far as risk tolerance and avalanche awareness. Its been a blast exploring zones around summit county and I've gotten more powder days than I ever thought possible, even in an inconsistent snow year. Its been an amazing learning experience. Now that spring appears to arriving in full force, its time to transition from riding powder in the trees to riding up high on some of the taller peaks. I think it makes sense to start with the low hanging fruit, and Mt Helen is about as low hanging as it gets: short, close by and mellow angled.

Matt came and picked me up at about 645 and we made the short trip over to the Spruce Creek trailhead, just south of Breckenridge. Despite the forecast calling for warm weather, it was a balmy 6 degrees at the trailhead. We sat in the car for a while drinking coffee and trying to prepare ourselves for the cold. We geared up, and started skinning up the road by 745. The road is well traveled, partially due to the traffic coming and going from Francies Cabin, and packed down extremely well...it made for some very quick skinning. As the sun came up, the temperature increased rapidly and it was clear that a beautiful day was in store for us.

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Skinning up the road


We stayed on the road at the first junction and then turned right at the 2nd junction. There is a "wheeler trail" sign right there. After making the right, we continued about 150-200 yards down the road and then made a left turn into the trees. The first time we attempted to ski Helen, we failed because we missed this turnoff and continued too far to the north. We ended up trying to ascend some steep trees between 2 steep gullies...picture making kick turns every 3 steps in waist deep unconsolidated snow. It was an easy choice to bail that day. This time, we were lucky that another group had gone up that way and already put in a skin track for us.

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Skin track


The snow was very icy early in the day, which made for some challenging skinning at times. There are some steep sections below treeline...at one point, it seemed as though someone in the previous group abandoned their skins and booted up a steep section, leaving huge postholes about every 6 inches. Looked like a fun time! The skin track was in shambles, so we elected to follow suit and boot our way up this section...luckily for us, it was frozen solid and made for some easy travel. Soon after we reverted to skinning and made our way up to treeline . When we crossed the gully, the snow was hard enough that it showed no evidence of us crossing it...it was fun trying to hold an edge on that slope!

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Working my way to treeline

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As we skinned higher on the face, the snow became more and more wind affected. Some of the hardest snow I've ever been on, thats for sure. The coverage also became a little less continuous. There were patches of tundra poking through. It was incredibly warm and bluebird; crystal clear views in all directions. I feel like riding peaks in winter is usually more about the scenery than the skiing, at least for me.

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Skinning higher on the face

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Getting thinner

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Thinner still


We pieced together patches of snow until about 12875, when we found ourselves out of snow. There were patches but they were separated by plenty of tundra, so we decided to ditch the planks and walk to the summit. There was a herd of about a dozen goats above us on the point lookers right of the summit. They seemed to be enjoying the warm day and the exposed tundra. It was a short 10 minute walk to the summit, and it was absolutely still on top. Awesome!

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Booting to the top


We sat up there for more than an hour, eating lunch, drinking a summit beer, taking photos and just enjoying the day. I had carried a photo of my grandmother up in my pack, and set it down on the summit and took a few photos...it wasn't easy to do with an iPhone, but I managed to get a couple of good ones. I also took a bunch of photos of the surrounding peaks, and plan on getting back there again very soon for some other lines.

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Grandma at the top

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Matt on the summit

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The official beer of splitboarding

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Peak 10

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Hawaii Chutes

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Quandary

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Father Dyer

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Soon it was time to head down and get to the fun part...we walked back down to our skis/board and geared up for the descent...I put my split back together and clicked the boots down into ski mode and we were off. The upper part of the face was some pretty heinous sastrugi/windcrust...it was jarring to say the least. At one point my downhill edge caught on a wind ripple and I fell right on my ass...it was like landing on cement. Still beats walking any day though.

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Matt making the most of it

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The lower we got, the better the snow became. By the time we were entering the exit gully, there were a few corn like turns before it turned to heavy sloppy snow in the trees.

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Probably my best turn of the day

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We made our way out through the trees back to the road, and enjoyed the luge track back to the car. Another great day in the books! Hopefully the first peak of many this spring.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
dillonsarnelli

Grandmas are the best
03/14/2015 04:32
Looks like a great day out Alex! Nice report.


Marmot72

cool
03/15/2015 02:35
Great way to honor your grandmother and enjoy the backcountry.


ameristrat

Nice Report
03/16/2015 14:49
Hoping I can ski a few peaks this spring as well – nice work!


bigmtnskier
MMMMMMM, Sastrugi!!
03/23/2015 23:16
You have any teeth in your mouth after what looks to be a horrendous teeth chattering ski down rippled wind board snow? lol



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