I spent the past eleven days on the road with the Peaks for Peace Team; moving tents, sorting gear, chasing summits, becoming unimaginably dirty and living the simple life we’ve come to love. Today, I find myself on the road again, solo style. Sunday’s drive back to Summit County from Utah provided me with just enough time to unpack, sort my life into boxes, move out of my winter condo, purchase and move into a storage unit, and pound the pavement for a date at an Ethiopian restaurant in Denver. Damn is Ethiopian food exquisite. As are women and dates. All three things are easily forgotten on the road.
Of course, yesterday’s rush to an amazing dinner and good company was the prelude to a 4:50 wakeup call, 1200 mile flight, and strange reimmersion into the modern world in none other than sprawling Chicago, IL. Good thing I showered and shaved for my date; people would be looking even more strangely at my trucker-hat wearing, backpack sporting, skate shoe clad, long haired self.
For those of you that read last week’s report from Yankee Boy Basin, thank you for all of the kind responses and support. We had ourselves a real adventure out there, and came together as a crew in turn. That Andrew guy can string some words together, huh? And Sunshine’s editing skills are fun to watch from the modern home.
Well let’s see, we left you in Southwest Colorado last Thursday afternoon. So that’s where I will start.
Following a hard earned burger and beer at the Ouray Brewery, the team headed west to Moab, UT, for a few days of sandstone climbing and desert fun. After 48 hours of sport climbing, hot rods and tequila, it was time for me to return to the real world. That is, after I had myself a little desert snowboarding.
Anyone that has recreated or toured around Moab in the warm Spring and Summer months will tell you of the oasis that is the La Sal Mountains, an isolated cluster of 12,000 foot peaks rising 8,500 feet from the valley floor just east of town. When the mid-day sun begins to boil desert dwellers with sweltering temps, the snow capped La Sals become a torment, a visual spectacle and physical Valhalla. So naturally, after staring at the snow for a few days, I had to find out for myself. I had to know. I had to stand up there and feel it. Play with it. Breath it. And, of course, ride the hell out of it.
I split from our team camp at Jaycee shortly after 6am and made my way out to the winding roads of the La Sals. At 4,000 feet I saw but sand and stone, barren country. Around 6,000 feet sturdy shrubs and grasses sprouted from the cooled earth, and small critters roamed to feast. At 7,500 feet willows and aspens took residence along the road, gaining the approval of herds of deer. And by 9,400 feet at the Winter Geyser Pass TH, I was back in a fertile Apline forest, just like those back home in Colorado.
After speaking with a couple of friendly forest rangers who were to take down the cross country ski signs (mountain bike and climbing season is upon us, you see?), I headed up the snow covered pass. Following the ‘Pre-Laurel Peak’ cross country trail, I gained a few hundred vertical and found myself on the Summer Gold Basin 4×4 road, still very much buried in snow. Contouring around the densely treed Northwest Ridge of Laurel Peak, I banked and descended into the entrence of the funnel shaped Gold Basin Valley. The north aspects of ‘Mt. Tuk’ and ‘North Tuk’ made themselves known to me at this point, flaunting gloriously white and steep slopes at my mesmerized being.
The sight of snow – and an cozy basin of terrain to myself, provided me with an injection of adrenaline. My skinning cadence quickened as I made haste to cover ground on quickly warming snow. It was going to be a burner – 85 in town – and I didn’t want to be late to the party. Trees and sticks and footprints blurred as I became numb to the physical effort, entirely consumed and distracted by the visual spectacle that is Gold Basin.
Old ski tracks informed me that I wasn’t a pioneer to this area. Though I wouldn’t see another soul on this day, the beauty of this place had been appreciated by several other parties of skiers. They carved their signature on steep snow slopes throughout the valley, an impressive set of lines arced by obviously talented men and women. And their slowly melting grooves lead me through rolling hills, across hollow streams, and straight to treeline, the ‘X’ on a real world treasure map.
Mt. Tuk’s front sidewalk – a towering serpentine north ridge - seemed a particular menace. Falling away steeply at its mid section, it left me wondering if my intended route to the top, the recommended summer path by those in the know – was smart or safe or worth the effort and focus. Waves of doubt and concern and other tricks an isolated mind will play began conflicting with my excitement for summiting. Navigation became of high priority as I couldn’t afford too much lost time, not with the solar intensity of this Sunday morning. The snow wouldn’t hold locked for long, no matter how excited my snowboard obsessed self remained.
I kept the pace honest, striking out direct trajectories up steep paths and straight over terrain features. No Mercy, Gold Basin. No Mercy. ”The shortest distance between two lines in linear space is…,” I told myself. Soon enough my laughable temporary anxieties began to fade as I rounded the North Ridge and saw that Tuk’s NE bowl held several safe ascent and descent options on multiple aspects. The pistons under my core slowed back to a non stressed rhythm, and I found a renewed joy in my surroundings.
Towering granite cliffs guarded short but oh so sweet steep chutes. Snow clung to all slopes throughout the valley, gathering into remarkable hanging snowfields and mellow faces alike. The oasis proved inviting, letting me – a humbled desert dweller – into it’s home. As I set a skin track to the sky, I found myself giddy with anticipation. This was going to be a fun descent. Soft, sweeping, soulful, shredding. Not the craziest pitch, but just right to enjoy the slope proper. Fear would not guide the descent, rather sheer bliss and an appreciation for the movement.
Soon enough my spiked feet found purchase on the East Ridge, and I began my final boot to the summit on a fun spine. And then there were no more steps to take. The climb was done. My lungs and heart and legs had done their part, providing me with the chance to fly. 360 degrees of south central Utah and Western Colorado filled my visual processor. Red rock canyons and blue sky for days.
The descent began with some short and snappy turns down an east running spine. Snow slid away into separate basins as opposing turns were made. Heelside snow would end up watering the lawns of the kind hearted residents of Moab and Geyser Pass, while toeside turns provided moisture to those further south on La Sal Loop Road.
It’s a strange sensation to slide in summertime warmth. T-shirts and liquid water stood foreign in my mind. The snow didn’t seem to mind the furnace too much, alternating between forgiving slush and slowly softening snirt.
I approached the saddle and my ascent bootpack and dove nto the colder north snow. Wide open, sweeping turns were my chosen tactic, providing a thrill and sensation and FUN. As I passed through the final rock bands of the line, the snow softened to springtime slush – haul ass hero snow if you ask me. I let it loose and enjoy the carefree surface, running top to bottom in under a minute -thirty. As the basin mellowed and gravity brought me back to normal speeds, I paused and looked back up at the Tuk’s flanks. I now knew. I had felt it with my own hands, feet, and board. And I fell in love.