Reflections on Freedom from a Classic Rocky Mountain National Park Ski Mountaineering Line

In an effort to start posting a bit more, here is an old trip report. I wrote this after a day out with Nodin and Vaughn in November 2015.....

I think backcountry skiers must be libertarians at heart. I do not mean to use the term ‘libertarian’ in the colloquial modern political sense. Philosophically, libertarianism is a political ethic that holds freedom as its principle end.

 Might have to take skis off soon. 

Might have to take skis off soon. 

Thomas Jefferson would have been a good backcountry skier. Living in 18th century Charlottesville, Virginia—which averages 44cm of snow a year—he likely thought little of winter recreation, but non-the-less I think he would have had a smile on his face stepping into a tech binding.

He once said that happiness depends on “good conscience, good health…and freedom in all just pursuits.” Clearly Jefferson was talking about making turns in the backcountry—a just pursuit. Make good decisions, get fit, and enjoy the freedom of the mountains.

The Flying Dutchman Couloir winds behind the so-called ‘Ships Prow’, a rock buttress prominently connecting 13,911ft Mount Meeker to 14,259ft Longs Peak. The couloir is tough to spot until you are in the Chasm Lake basin, a little slice of Patagonia that has found its way to Colorado.

 It gets steep.

It gets steep.

Its a bit of a haul to get to, but the couloir itself is awesome; 1600 feet long, topping out at over 13000 ft high, narrow and inset 50 + degree snow leads to a single pitch of mixed climbing and an incredible view of Colorado’s eastern plains.

Take the personal choice, responsibility, and determination so paramount to skiing and add pointless subjection to cold, winter weather, and the inherent risks of snow sports and you have a recipe that Thomas Jefferson himself would be proud of. After all, mountain sports are not usually governed by rules, only consequences. 

 Jump.

Jump.

Nodin and Vaughn picked me up at 4:45 am. Driving to the Long’s Peak trailhead, NPR relayed a series of depressing events...

Below the great East Face of Longs a few hours later, we were in our playground.

 Couloir skiing is just a blast. 

Couloir skiing is just a blast. 

Wind had left the basin below Longs bare and the peaks looked dry, but wrapping around Chasm Lake the Dutchman had filled. Up we went. Perfect snow climbing quickly turned into horrible post-holing in the steeps of the couloir—good news for our descent, exhausting news for the climb.

Up up up. 

 Ive climbed this bulge in super chill WI2 conditions before, this was scrappy M4...though im sure aluminum crampons and one ice tool being a light skimo axe didn't help. Nodin lead it like a champ.

Ive climbed this bulge in super chill WI2 conditions before, this was scrappy M4...though im sure aluminum crampons and one ice tool being a light skimo axe didn't help. Nodin lead it like a champ.

We rappelled off of the ice pitch (a scrappy mostly rock pitch in the conditions we found) and skied back to Chasm Lake. Ski mountaineering at its finest.

Oscar Wilde wrote that, “we can forgive a man for making a useful thing only so long as he does not admire it. The only excuse, however, for making a useless thing it that one admires it intensely.”  -- Skiing is useless. Admire it intensely. It is a sign that our society values self-determination, independent thought, creativity, and freedom.

 Hello Chasm!

Hello Chasm!