Mt. Lincoln #006
It is 4:00 in the morning. I get up and begin my morning, excited for things to come. I make coffee and oatmeal while I check the NWS forecast for Blue River, CO. Sunny with a high of 45 degrees and blustery. I message my partner Natalie to get a final confirmation of commitment to the excursion. I get the green light and the weather looks good. My body is feeling strong, the avalanche forecast is low, our plan is solid, and my equipment is in good working condition. Our mission is to ski the north facing couloir off the summit of Mt. Lincoln, the “Glory Hole”. Mt Lincoln is a Colorado 14er that sits at the Elevation: 14,295′ and has a Prominence: 3,862′. The mountain is located 10 miles from Alma, Colorado and sits at the northern most part of the Mosquito Range. We decide to meet at the Montgomery Reservoir and take the path up the mountain via the Lincoln Amphitheater. We arrive at the Montgomery Reservoir trailhead at 6:00 am and go through our equipment checks and briefly discuss our plan. We then begin our skin.
The skin track begins from the first gate near the Montgomery Reservoir. It follows along the edge of the reservoir until you cross over the dam. Once over the damn it’s a short distance to the Lincoln Amphitheater, however, you gain a lot of vertical elevation in that short time. The morning sun crests over the mountains on the other side of the valley. It shines in the direction we are heading and illuminates our path.
The steepness begins quickly up the trail and we are forced to boot-pack up the first section.
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning.
And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first” - Mark Twain.
Boot-packing early in the journey makes the typically monotonous skin track exciting. We see a frozen waterfall and a mountain goat during the boot-pack. It’s the first mountain goat i’ve seen this season on a 14er.
We reach the top of our boot pack and during our transition back to skins, Natalie tells me, “If you have to pee then you should do it now”. I say, “what…? Why?” . Natalie says, “The goats love pee, I bet you’ll make his day”. Well in that case…trickling sound of pee on a rock. “there you go little buddy”. We say goodbye to the goat and push on through the amphitheater.
Through the amphitheater the winds begin to pick. We put more layers and eat a snack to keep us warm for the next section. We begin our next vertical push to the saddle. It’s 1.5 miles and 2000 vertical feet to the summit and the winds pick up. My skins are old and are on the verge of being trashed (or recycled if there is a program that does such a thing), every step I take forward I slide two back, it’s a tough mile. At last We reach the saddle and can see the summit of Mt. Lincoln. This section is less steep and more protected. What a relief! The sun is bright and I shed a layer. I see Natalie waving at me from the summit. She had a much more efficient time skinning than me. I think it’s time to invest in new skins. The winds are strong at the summit and the views are incredible.
We have to traverse a short distance along the Mt. Lincoln ridge line to get to the entrance of the couloir. The amount of rock exposure at the summit common trait amongst most of the 14er summits in Colorado. However much the winds affect the snow, they also transport more snow into protected areas like couloirs, which provide the soft turns we venture toward.
When this adventure occurred in early May we were both impressed but the amount of snow across the Colorado high country. In every direction and as far as the eye could see every summit was covered, it felt like the middle of Winter. The Colorado SNOTEL update in May was quite impressive as shown below, confirming our thoughts.
“The goats love pee, I bet you’ll make his day”
Across the traverse we scramble. A summer trail sign guides us to the entrance. We cross a small section of exposed rock on our skins, then finally find the good snow and a nice views down the couloir. The wind is still blustery and changing over to ski mode is difficult.
We survey our options and decide to ski down the left side of the couloir. We find some wind affected snow that makes it difficult to ski down the first section, but once we get into the couloir it is great and boot high deep. The lower section of the couloir was fucked. With full on spring melt/ wind affected snow the skiing was difficult so Natalie decides to ski on the wind loaded slope to try and find some good snow. Suddenly, a wind slab broke off, fortunately she was on the crown of the avalanche and the snow slide out in front of her. Lesson learned. Stay in the couloir.
I ski down to her and she is fine. I am much more excited because immediately when I saw the slide I shifted into a different gear, rescue mode. Thankfully it wasn’t necessary. After I see Natalie is alright, I skied all the way down into the apron and sat there in the snow to catch my breath and take photographs.
I take a drink of water and enjoy the moment. Mt. Democrat north face lines sit tantalizingly in the distance. The sky is clear, the mountains are covered in snow, and there is no one else in sight. We ski down the apron and through the valley to the cars. It’s a long way back, but we are able to ski all the way, passing abandoned mines and yurts. We get back to the cars around noon and revel.