Report from August 10th 2020
August skiing is among the worst skiing of the year. The snow has all melted save for perennial snowfields, but it’s too early to get fresh snowfall in late October and November. Today was certainly no exception, but it felt amazing to check off my 15th consecutive month of skiing, regardless.
We got a late start since we wanted to give the snow at least some opportunity to soften up for the descent. Last week, when we climbed Castle and Conundrum Peak, we did not have a 4WD vehicle, so we walked up Montezuma Road, but we had one today, which enabled us to drive almost to the bottom of the snow.
We worked our way up the lower boulders up to the bottom of the snow, and then took off our hiking boots and replaced them with ski boots and crampons. We flipped into walk mode and started hiking up. The snow had already gotten quite mushy, but only a small percentage of our steps were slipping; our side points were engaged down to the isothermal snowpack beneath the soft top layer.
We gradually ascended the lower snowfield and crested above the steepest part to a mellow snowfield that ran up toward the Conundrum Couloir. Instead of climbing the couloir, this time we continued up as far as the snowfield went and then switched back to hiking boots to climb across the scree field over to the second snowfield, which was much larger and steeper. We called it “the Headwall.”
We put our ski boots and crampons back on and frontpointed our way to the top of the headwall.
Once we got to the top of the headwall, which sat just below the Castle-Conundrum saddle. We were a little bit under 200 feet shy of 14,000 feet. We used our ice axes to dig out a platform to put our skis on. We got transitioned, flipped our boots into ski mode, took off our crampons, and clipped into our skis. We then began our descent. The snow was as you would expect it to be – crummy, rotten snow riddled with rocks left and right. However, the hardest part about skiing the headwall was that there were large ridges of ice strewn across the slope that was near impossible to see, which resulted in some very difficult and choppy skiing, which is typical for August skiing.
We worked our way back down to the boulder field next to the lake at the bottom of the headwall, and put our hiking boots back on to ascend over the ridge back to the lower snowfield.
We got to the lower snowfield and put our skis back on. The lower snowfield was marginally better, a few fewer ridges but rutted none the less. We skied the lower snowfield down the tongue back to the boulders at the bottom, where we dismounted into hiking gear with the skis back on the packs and walked back to the car.
We finally sat down for some sandwiches and appreciated the beautiful sunshine. The skiing was horrible at best, but checking off month 15 with over 1,000 vertical feet of skiing in August was a treat, to say the least!