Hagerman Pk - 13,841 feet
Hagerman Pk - 13,841 feet
|Uphill both ways in the snow|
When you're going through hell, just keep going!
Hagerman winter ascent
Marble>LKB>Geneva Lake>south approach>SW ridge O/B>WNW descent
24.25 miles 6,474' vertical 11:35 moving time 22:23 total time
Team Snowmass: Brad McQueen and JTheChemE
Solo Snowmass: illusion7il
A feeble attempt to rise to the centennial snowflake challenge set forth by the infamous MadDadMike today was the day where nature did not abhor perfection. Chasing peaks this winter has been harder than I remember it being in years past. Perhaps my accident aged me 5 years or motivations weren't pure or the snow conditions weren't favorable. There are 99 excuses but the real answer is what Gladbach attempted and what Mike was able to finish is really effing hard. Mid January feeling dejected I asked Mike, "how the eff did you keep going?" He said, "I know that feeling you’re having well. I had several bouts of it during the project. Still not sure how I pushed through. But it helped that I had work to distract me. My job sucks so it was easy for me to forget how hard and how miserable I was climbing those mountains sometimes."
Thinking out loud, no one here on the dot com has truly appreciated what Mike accomplished and his project did not get the attention it deserved. He told me the other day he completed climbing the entire 10 Mile range this winter to add to his badge(s) of honor that no one cares about.
Well, I care!
While chasing centennials this winter; many solo, my eyes were bigger than my belly and I didn't finish the project. It's good to want. And chasing keeps you young. Torture solo trenching is masochistic and the terrible snow pack made the downhill just as miserable as the uphill this season. Many times I wasn't feeling good and burned a lot of energy getting to the base of the peak then turned on auto pilot to the top often miserable and painfully lonely. On the first day of winter I eagerly headed up Humbug Creek in the 10 Mile range to attempt Crystal-Atlantic but was enveloped in heavy clouds that never lifted. Once on top unable to see I traipsed across a cornice and panicked then decided to head back down the way I came. Two surface tension cracks later I triggered an avalanche on Atlantic's northwest flank. In my mind is was massive because traumatic events tend to fill in the blanks. In reality I got lucky and learned a valuable lesson. There are many stories and TR's I could write to describe the old iPhone phone troubles I had, partner deselection and selection, treacherous snow conditions, digging my car out of snow, changing a flat tire on frozen ground at the TH, frozen water ending my bid for a peak, taking a creek plunge and getting wet feet, pushing so hard I caused a bladder infection, dropping gear like a green horn, losing my GPS, busting my crampon and destroying gear but no one want's to listen to screeching guitar solos. Why do I do this? Feeling like a loser and lacking motivation I expressed my concerns to my mentor Mr. G and he wrote the following:
"My experience finishing peak lists is that the rate of progress substantially slows down as one approaches the end because the nature of things is that the more energy and time-consuming peaks get deferred to the end. Based on your rate of progress this winter you'll be hard-pressed to finish this year. Your remaining peaks seem overall more demanding than those that you've already done this winter. I think you could slow down and do peaks at a pace that you actually enjoy and still end up being the second finisher. Even if you weren't, so what. Wouldn't you rather be #3 (or #4 or higher) and have actually enjoyed yourself? Almost no one else will really care one way or the other."
Again, no one cares but me.
Hearing and accepting this advice I realized there was no way I was going to finish this winter and instead could cherry pick the right peak, the right time and the right team.
On March 7, 2020 I met Team Snowmass in Marble and after a Melissa McQueen (thank you Melissa) carrot coconut breakfast muffin, boots were on the ground a little after 1am. The road to Crystal Mill was tracked and three postholes after the Mill it was time for snowshoes. That's called the McQueen rule.
At Lead King Basin (LKB) we were caught by illusion7il on the switch backs where he took lead across the first avalanche path 0.5 miles from the Mill. Team Snowmass turned on their beacons and we each crossed safely on at a time. CAIC reported green conditions in the trees and yellow above for the Elk mountain range today. Heading towards the bushy willows now we decided to stay left of the waterfall and illusion7il went right up the chute. I could see by headlamp old wet slide activity and decided to go across first. Side-hilling on crusty steep debris was scary so instead I turned sideways and confidently shimmied across. McQueen and JTheChemE watched my painful feat and chose crampons but punched through a lot. I don't remember this section being a challenge when I went up Snowmass with Mike and Abe in 2016 but remember how much it sucked on the downhill because it's sun facing. There's the easy way, then there's the best right way and the MSR's are aggressive enough to get across this 400 foot section safely IMO.
Once daybreak lit up Fravert basin it reminds me that there's unspeakable beauty of pristine untouched snow where the Maroon Bells take center stage and they are most beautiful decorated in white. Their impalpability is felt from afar. The Elks are best enjoyed with snow.
Between stimulus and response there is space and in that space is our ability to choose and it’s in that choice that lies our growth and freedom. I don't remember where I read that quote but it holds true every time I climb a mountain. Up at Geneva Lake now by 0700 we merge with illusion7il and share trade secrets about the 400 feet of pain then all agree to go back down the way he came up because it has more shade with its heavier tree coverage. More beta is shared about their way up Snowmass and my way around Hagerman at the lake and with tingling energy I blast off around Hagerman's south shoulder thinking sun's out gun's out, time to climb. The 300' climb around was a breeze and I studied the entire south ridge carefully surveying potential exit strategies. On the south side now at the Geneva Lakes Junction by 0800 I take long break to eat, drink, sunblock and send my husband Marc a DeLorme message. I get more stressed when he's at home watching me from his command center vs. when he's out on a work trip and today he's flying so I feel more freedom. The sun baked snow is surprisingly stable but I chose to contour around in the trees at 11,500 where I was tempted to charge up the east fin but my gut said no. This was a smart instinct because once I got the the bergschrund at the base of the fin I had to pop off my snowshoes to dance around the rocks and noticed the fin was loose on all sides. My advice for future travelers would be to stay lower in the south valley at 11,200 then head up the gully toward Trail Rider Pass trail.
The sun is warm and the wind nil. The perfect winter kind of day. Starring headlong now at the south ridge I wonder will it smite me? I remember Mike asking me once we traded snowshoes for crampons at the base of Snowmass' S ridge what my predictability for our success would be and I said "100%". I've learned to stop being so foolishly optimistic and instead just focus on the next step, which is keep snowshoes on all the way to the ridge because the snow commands it today. I've only been up Hagerman once in late spring and went up and down the south face where the snow was absolutely delicious. Now on unknown territory knowing Mike can be a sandbagger when he says things like, "I don't remember it being that bad". Mmmm hmmm.
500 feet later I'm on the ridge and keep snowshoes on because there is a lot of snow up here. I pass a potential exit col on the west northwest and see it's not as steep as it looked from Geneva.
Looking down the spine of the beast I see one prominent notch ahead and several obstacles. This thing looks like Sloth from the Goonies. Chunky, distorted and loaded with ooey gooey milky Baby Ruth in between it's scant teeth. "Hey Mister, are you hungry? I got spiky things to get that crap out of your teeth". A couple hundred feet past my potential exit col at noon I switch to crampons and take a swig of warm tea from my thermos which boosts my temerity. The sun stays out longer now and the day is still long but I know this ridge is going to take a long time to out and back.
I look over at Snowmass and try to spot the team but instead see a raven soaring above caw cawing at me with his pretty ebony feathers glistening in the sunlight. The gnarly ridge blanketed in snow looks more gentle than the S ridge to my left and with the loaded leeward side to my right it was best to stay ridge proper. The only section noteworthy was at the notch due to the loose plates.
The final section of the southwest ridge slowly rises then packs a punch right to the summit where it steepens considerably. The final 300 feet of snow to the summit was bullet proof. A little before 3pm the immaculate untouched summit was mine and I decided to head out to Hagerman’s east finger to get better views of the Bells and also visualize the class 2 south face options. The day nearing perfection I felt peaceful and meditative. With spectacular winter days like today I’m able to spend considerable time on the summit and enjoy the fruits of my labor.
I chose to skirt around the south face to avoid the bullet proof snow and now that I’ve looked past the Goonies Sloth appearance of the ridge and understand its misgivings, mayhaps we are friends? I toy with the snow left and right of the ridge trying to decide what is the best exit strategy. The south side is warm but not slushy and the north side has good plunge stepping quality. The only section that gave me pause was down the notch with the loose dinner plates underfoot. A little exposure therapy is good for personal growth and of the three winter ridges I’ve completed in the Elks this one was the easiest and Snowmass’ S ridge only slightly more challenging than Capitol. I thought I heard Team Snowmass down in the valley while coming back down the ridge and knew I was moving slow but not that slow. How could they have already beat me I thought? Once I got to my snowshoes by 1630 and downed the last bit of warm tea my mind was made up and down the west northwest col I plunged stepped like a champ. The snow would ball up under my front points every 5 or so steps but I’d schwack it with my ax shaft and it would pop off then trundle downhill.
Climbing mountains is a gift but the biggest prize comes when I figure out how to get off the mountain fast and efficient. There is no greater pleasure than moving quickly in the mountains on snow because snow folly or foe always tells which way to go. I think it’s safer and more efficient to plunge step vs. glissade and I lose 1300 feet in 20 minutes. If I were to skin this cat in the future in winter I would come up the chute to Geneva Lake, skirt around Hagerman’s south shoulder, stay on the 11,200 contour then up the south face then down its southwest ridge and finally down the west northwest col. Of course this is weather and avalanche dependent but I think it’s the most efficient way up and down Hagerman in winter.
Bye bye sunshine...
I feel relief once down in Geneva basin, do my final gear change and filter water. Now I have to find Team Snowmass’ chute tracks because it’s stupid not to use trenches especially solo to preserve energy conservation and I know the hike out is a mother effer! The brief day drew to a close in a long, slow twilight and by headlamp now I spot the tracks. Snow quality changes constantly. Minute by minute, hour by hour and these tracks are pretty crunchy informing me they are a couple hours old again leaving me puzzled. Was I really that slow? Their tracks through the evergreens, then bald aspens then willows was smart and safe. There's something honest about winter trees, they're experts at letting things go. Will the snow down here chide me and also let things go I worry? I get to LKB by 8pm and see a wet slide was triggered at the spot where illusion7il caught and passed us in the morning. JtheChemE sent a picture to me a couple days after our climb and said it triggered after they crossed. The true condition of the snow after my experience was green above and yellow below treeline, classic early spring conditions.
Last message to Marc
Along Crystal Lake now and nearing the Mill I listen to Armchair Expert on my blue tooth, eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich then send Marc one last DeLorme message so that he’ll go to sleep because I pity the fool that thinks it’s all downhill from here. I later learned Team Snowmass had bad snow conditions and didn’t summit. My pep talk is you know life is tough but tough shit. As I switch from mountain climber to zombie mode my deep thought about unfinished projects this winter is all is fair in love and war. Some battles leave no victor, only a trail of broken hearts. I wonder if the price we pay is ever worth the fight.? The things we love have the power to inflict the greatest scars because what is more fragile than the human heart? Also, if we hang on too long do we start embarrassing ourselves? Why do I do this? Because I like chasing the rabbits so I’m gonna keep on chasing on and I know Team Snowmass will be back because there is no greater deed than a revenge climb.
Because they're worth it!
Many thumbnail pictures for perusal because on good weather winter mountain days you just can't get enough.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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