ADVENTURE JOURNAL

Conundrum Peak

A good long approach.

Conundrum Peak

w/Packy Westfeldt


Glorious morning light and an endless amount of terrain to cover.

Glorious morning light and an endless amount of terrain to cover. Our objective lies beyond the scope of this phone.


The beauty of being in relatively good shape is that if want to ski something that is exceptionally far away and you don’t own a snowmobile, or really ever plan on owning one, you can still give it a go. The biggest obstacle can easily be your own self. The reality is that a long day in the mountains is more so about mental endurance than it is about physical endurance or strength. The biggest challenge being your own doubt and self-confidence. Of course, a strong baseline fitness is paramount, but there is something said for a strong baseline for your mental fitness too. This time of year the thought of sleeping one or two hours and waking up just after midnight to start your climb in the darkness can all but deter even the most eager from the brilliance of the entire transcendent experience. Fortunately, sometimes all it takes is a good friend to get you going. On this particular day, faced with a near 9 mile approach and 5K + climbing, that is exactly what I needed.


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Packy taking a breath before the breaking dawn.


Starting a little late because of the confusion of date-light-savings time, we left the Ashcroft parking lot around 4:45am. The long and mentally arduous skate through Ashcroft, out into the darkness and up toward Montezuma Basin was made a little more manageable through the usual conversation, “what did you do this week?” and “what the hell are we doing out here at this hour?”


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Packy breaking into the alpine just before a colorful sunrise.


As our tempo’s evened out and our sleepy minds came in tune with our bodies, the miles began melting away. Thoughts of how far we’d have to go slipped into the backs of our mind’s and all doubts were temporarily replaced with the euphoric images of the rising sun and the beautiful solidarity of being alone in the mountains.


With miles to go...

With miles to go…a no one around for miles. A normal day in the Elks.


Our early morning approach was highlighted by the vivid colors of a dark and mysterious sunrise that reflected the deep uncertainties of our own mentalities that morning. Could we do this?


Into the alpine, the sunrise comprised the vivid colors of a dark mystic.

Into the alpine, the sunrise comprised the vivid colors of a dark mystic.


Toward the morning light. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

Toward the morning light. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


As the sun hit, we were both awoken to the thoughts that we’d suppressed the last few hours on the skin track. Would we be able to make it all the way out to the Montezuma Basin before things heated up and got dangerous? The distant peaks lit up by the beautiful oranges and pinks of the morning sunrise, contrasted back the dark foreground only seemed to make our goal appear farther away, more surreal, un-probable. As the self-doubt began to creep back in and the internalizing questions about whether we’d be able to achieve our goal emerged we were both balanced enough to push are thoughts aside, put our heads down and continue forward. After all, we were already here, so we might as well press forward and continue to evaluate as we went.


Around 7:45 am the light began rising. We were 3 hours into our journey.

Around 7:45 am the light began rising. We were 3 hours into our journey.


Beautiful light.

Beautiful light. Peaks farther than they appear.


Sun and Clouds and Colors and Mountains with Snow.

Sun and Clouds and Colors and Mountains with Snow and so many options for skiing and sights to distract us from or goal.


Packy enjoying the view and the sunrise.

Packy enjoying the view and the sunrise.


Working our way up toward Montezuma Basin, our track behind us and our objective still many vertical feet in front.

Working our way up toward Montezuma Basin, our track behind us and our objective still many vertical feet in front.


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Montezuma Basin


After what seemed like hours we finally had our eyes on Montezuma Basin, the final leg of our skin. The air was still cold, and despite the sun, I threw on a down while we took water and prepared to give the next portion of our climb a go. For both of us, this was our first time up into the basin during winter and we were both reminded of the size and scope of the terrain, excited to forge ahead but tentative about the snow conditions.


TJ David heading up toward Montezuma Basin. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

TJ David heading up toward Montezuma Basin. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


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Packy working his way up into Montezuma.


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Getting there…


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Cramponing up the classic Conundrum Couloir.


With the north face of Castle unskiable due to high winds stripping the snow away and depositing in else where, and the classic Conundrum Couloir looking filled in and in good shape, we began kicking steps. We were a little unsure of the snow, as the surface reflected a soft wetness from the early morning sun. However, at closer inspection, this warming seemed to only be at the very surface. So we opted to continue up the east facing couloir.


Packy making his move. With style of course.

Packy making his move. With style of course.


Up up up. Step by step. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

Up up up. Step by step. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


After more than 8 miles and 4,000 + vert on our legs, the firm snow conditions in the couloir were a welcomed surprise as the surface of the snow began progressively hard as we climbed. The 700 or so vertical to the top went with straight forward ease. Each step forward brought us closer to a cool objective, our first 14er of the season.


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The last few steps to the top of the couloir.


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Heading to the summit, Packy in the lead.


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The view back down into Conundrum Couloir and out into Montezuma Basin from just below the summit.


Panoramic from the summit. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

Panoramic from the summit ridge. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


Summit Selfie.

Summit Selfie. 14,064 ft.


There is always a feeling of relief once you’ve gained a summit and finally put your skis on. All those hours on the track and up the boot pack coming to their anticipated fruition. The first “14er” of the year, all-be-it and unofficial 14er. But we were only half way there, and still needed to complete our ski.


TJ David dropping from the summit. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

TJ David dropping from the summit. Would it be as fun if it were perfectly safe? Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


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Steep, not deep. Actually quite firm. Notice the whippet self arrest that Packy is throwing down. Smart.


TJ David making his way down from the top of the Conundrum Couloir. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

TJ David making his way down from the top of the Conundrum Couloir. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


The steep ski in this classic couloir shouldn’t be down played. It’s not the longest couloir in the Elks, but under the right conditions, firm conditions, icy conditions, it certainly feels steeper than it is. We enjoyed the sporty ski, practicing our best technique as we descended one turn at a time down the line.


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Packing edging his way down toward the crux, one turn at a time.


 

TJ David entering the crux of the couloir. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt.

TJ David entering the crux of the couloir. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt.


Powder turns out the apron for TJ David. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt.

Powder turns out the apron for TJ David. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt.


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Enjoying powdery snow in the apron.


 

Enjoyment. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt.

Enjoyment. North Face of Castle in the background. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt.


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Packy letting her go a little bit in the wintery snow out the bottom of Montezuma Basin.


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Best turns for last. Photo Patrick Westfeldt.


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Looking back at where we came from. A beautiful sight.



Days like these test us in ways we couldn’t imagine. Today wasn’t a test of our skiing abilities as much as our minds, and our resilience to negative trains of thought that only limit us to achieve what is possible. With only 7 1/2 hours round trip, things went faster and smoother than we could have have realized. Fortunately, we didn’t let out doubts turn us away before we even got started. And today we understood its better to try and not succeed than to not try at all.


 

 

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