The Monkeys Were Sending: Late May Powder Over Memorial Day Weekend

After a below average snow year for most of the state and an early melt of our snow pack, Colorado saw record precipitation in May, rejuvenating our snow pack and extending our season. Along with lower than average temperatures, the high country was looking pretty good.

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My friend Keegan was planning a trip out here over Memorial Day weekend, seeing how the conditions were looking a little better than out in Tahoe. Where we would ski was up in the air until we knew what the weather would be like, but one thing was certain, we weren’t going to mess around… this was a ski trip and not a partying vacation. It wasn’t until a few days before he flew out that we solidified our plans, somewhat… Our goal was to ski the Pearl Couloir on Cathedral Peak, something that had been on our lists for a while. We planned on camping out there on Thursday to get an early start on Friday. The rest of the weekend we would just play by ear.

Thursday May 21- That morning, Marc and I picked up Keegan at DIA around 10am. We grabbed some coffee and bee lined it towards Aspen. It was on!

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Of course, I had to let my boss know.

The forecast for the weekend was pretty variable- sunny during the day, afternoon thunderstorms, and snow. There was a 30% chance the weather would be shit, but with some calculations, that left us a 70% chance  it would be nice. We took our chances. We made it to the trail head around 5pm.What was once a nice sunny day, became snowy and cold just in time for our hike out.

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Marc, ready to crush.
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Keegan, ready to crush.
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Our hike out. We were pretty wet at this point.

We decided the best bet would be to camp just under treeline to limit our exposure to the bad weather. This was also about halfway to The Pearl.

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We set up camp just before it got dark. The rest of the night was filled with thunder and snow. Sleeping was difficult because we all just wanted to get out there and see our much anticipated line.

Friday May 22- Alarms went off at 4am. The thunder and snow hadn’t stopped yet so we waited in the tent until it faded away. Lightning illuminated the tent while we listened to the weather outside- Would it ever end? We were in this state of being half asleep and half ready to go at any moment, setting alarms every 20 minutes so we wouldn’t fall back asleep. By 530, things finally cleared up and we were on the skin track by 6- with about 4 inches of new snow on the ground.

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It didn’t take long to finally get a view of our line.

Our largest concern was the new snow and the notorious 15′ cornice that guards the entrance to the chute. We dug a quick pit and found the new snow to bond well to the old interface. Game on!

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And up we go! The boot back was waste deep at times. There was definitely more snow now that we were at about 13,000 feet.
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Gotta love large rock walls.
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We took turns leading the boot pack to manage our energy. My turn!
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Our sight for most of the climb, a large 15′ cornice. We tried to limit our exposure by hugging the side of the couloir.
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We didn’t go much further than this because the sun was baking the slope and we started to see some of the new snow start to shed above us… and there was a monster we did not want to awake.

It was time to go skiing!

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Keegan getting ready to drop.
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See ya!
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Marc’s turn.

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I think we were all dumbfounded on how good the conditions were. It was pretty relieving to know that we didn’t come all this way for nothing. We took our time getting back to camp and then discussed our options for the next day. Our decision was to go after another couloir next to where we just skied. It was tighter, steeper, and by the next day, would be filled with more snow.

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Eating some lunch and pondering whether or not that was the best run of our lives. Little did we know what tomorrow had in store.
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Camp vibes.

Saturday May 23-  F***yeah, 4 more inches had fallen overnight. It was another early start but without the bad weather. We took a little more time to get out of our sleeping bags, but after making some breakfast pb&j’s and remembering that there was pow, we gathered our stuff and were on the trail by 5am. Our first stop was a creek just below our camp to collect some water for the day. We filled up our nalgenes and were greeted to a spectacular sunrise.

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Time to hit the road.

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After stopping short on our line the day before, we were determined to beat the warming day temperatures and make it to the top.

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The top. Photo: Keegan Kliman

After a STEEP top-out, and a round of high-fives, we were looking down 2,000 feet of cold blower pow. It was windy and cold at the top, so without much of a wait, we were ready to drop.

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3..2..1… Photo: Keegan Kliman
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See ya!
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Keegan
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Shazam!

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Keegan entering the white room.
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and exiting…

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Holy f***ing smokes that was nice!

The funniest part is that we didn’t even come to ski this line. Our goal was The Pearl the day before. We all hugged at the bottom knowing that was easily the best run of our lives.

We eventually made it back to camp, packed up and got back to the car around 2pm. Keegan was leaving late the next day so we wanted to get back to Boulder that night and hang out with some friends. After some fast food and beer to replenish our bodies, we decided we could squeeze in another shred Sunday morning before Keegan had to be at the airport… why not? We decided to go for the classic Sky Pilot Couloir off James Peak, a quicky bang-for-your-buck chute right in the Front Range.

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Mac dddropping!

This weekend was one that I will never forget, and it still seems almost like a dream. Everything went according to plan, and better. Besides some bumps and bruises and small equipment malfunctions, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Of course, this probably wouldn’t have happened if Keegan didn’t book a flight out, so thanks Keegan! I’m pretty damn stoked and thankful to have a rad group of friends to go do stuff like this and who push me along the way. Can’t wait for next season.

2 thoughts on “The Monkeys Were Sending: Late May Powder Over Memorial Day Weekend

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