No sooner was I back from AK than it was time for the next adventure.
The journey lines crew had plans to finish this historic snow season in style with a next level fatpack snowboard mountaineering trip. The bike tour and intended climb/ski routes were obscure and remote. We'd travel to a seldom visited part of the San Juan Mountains and use fatbikes to access camps below our objectives. A SAG vehicle would shadow the team but couldn't drive the route. The truck would have to drive many miles out and around the still snow covered roads and passes to meet the riders each evening for a resupply. Lots of logistics in play on this one. And even though I'm in incredible shape, chasing two navy SEALs and a twenty something yr old on this robust tour put my fitness to the test.
In the end, the mission exceeded our team's expectations. For most, a bikepack into Lone Cone coupled with a climb/summit and ski descent would be bucket list. Pedaling the entire loop and successfully sending quality lines on all three massifs we encountered was way beyond all hopes and dreams. I'm excited to see some burly characters step up on the repeat of this tour- maybe sans SAG? That would be next level...
The Lonely Cone
Day one was a big, heavy push on bikes from Groundhog res to a camp on the north side of the cone. I have ALWAYS wanted to climb Lone Cone- it's the most prominent peak in the western edge of my home range. At over 12k, it's no joke in any season. The north face of the cone is visually stimulating and the devil's chair was covered in deep snow. This made travel easy for both us and the large bear that traversed across the face that morning.
We chose to ascend the north face on looker's right and locked into a left leaning couli that gained the summit ridge only 500ft from the top. The ski down the gully/face was heady but the snow was delightful. We ducked over the mtn's shoulder, onto the east face, squiggled down a micro strip of snow and gained the trees for our schwack back to camp. An incredibly beautiful line on a truly remarkable peak.
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the north face
summit of lone cone
Middle Mountain Mission
After sending the cone, it was back on the bikes for a hearty grind over to Middle Peak. Our goal was to set up a base camp and then tackle the west face of the peak the following day. Middle Peak is home to the twins- two, gigantic and very steep lines that drop directly from the summit. One can't help but stare at these routes and think, what if? Our goal was to check out both couloirs, determine the best option and send.
We camped at the palace of the Beaver King- one of the craziest complexes of ponds and dams I've come across. This dude had constructed some serious real estate and was dropping trees with a royal flare. The meadows surrounding his kingdom made for great camping and it was a little over 2.5 miles from there to the base of the twins.
We observed moderate rockfall spewing out of our intended line(s) which was def cause for concern. Once we'd committed to the climb up the twins, there'd be no where to hide from future geologic cascades. Into the chuting gallery we go! We chose the right (looker's left) twin and it was no games from the git go. We climbed a steep entry slot to a 50 degree choke that appeared to funnel every rock shed from above. After sneaking through that, it was about 1800' of moderate snow climbing up mid- 40 slopes. Finally, a 55+ pitch of rapidly warming neve guarded the exit of the couloir. A classic San Juan ski line!
A quick summit and then it was time to shred. The drop into this no-fall adventure was spicy goodness. Technical jump turns, the kind where you're fully off the mountain and falling multiple feet with each turn were necessary. But the snow was receptive and our confidence grew as we all styled the entrance moves.
The upper and middle couli was a burner. My legs could feel the cumulative result of biking, hiking and riding the past few days. But the quality of the turns and the radness of our current line put any calf concerns to rest. Finally, we were positioned above the route's second crux, the lower choke- The team quickly dispatched that challenge in good form. We emerged onto the lower apron, cut hard right and took snow as far as we could down the mountain. When the snow became patchy, we skied dirt in the trees. Eventually, we arrived back in the meadow and burned the afternoon staring up in pride at our turns, clearly visible in the right twin.
middle mountain massif- our climb/ski line took the looker's left twin from the summit
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chill and reflect on a job well done
We biked to a nice camp the evening prior and discussed our final day's plan around the campfire. Day four was going to be big- another large bike ride, to a climb and ski of Groundhog Peak, more biking (pushing) over the final pass and then a long downhill to close the loop.
We made decent time traveling to the spur road that lead to the snowy slopes of Groundhog. We climbed up through the dark timber and emerged on descent snow. Gullies and fields of corn led up to the summit plateau- which was all rock. We traversed scree for about a mile until we were at the base of the final two summit humps. Loose, class 4 scrambling up and across a knife edge ridge gained us the the top. We had thought this final peak would be an easy summit- we were wrong- the climbing was stimulating and hazardous.
We chose to descend snowfields to the west off the top of the peak and ended up making a complete circumnavigation of the upper mountain. We strapped in and slid down on some of the best corn of the trip. After shredding the flanks above tree line, it was session of dirt turns in the trees. Our navigation was spot on and we emerged at the exact spot we had ditched the fatbikes. Lucky us, time to pedal.
We pushed the fatties for a couple hours over the final pass guarding our descent. After a dirty, muddy ride off the shoulder of Groundhog, we connected back into the dry and graded goodness of the lower forest service road. A scorching downhill led us many miles back to the valley floor and our rig. We hit the truck an hour before dark and squeezed gear and riders inside. As we drove away, it rained lightly and a gigantic rainbow loomed over us.
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The Lonely Tour, June 2019
Ricke Schuler, Josh Jespersen, Isaiah Branch-Boyle, Michael Ackerman
Josh's forthcoming Journey Lines guidebook will document this tour in much greater detail and provide prospective adventurers with all the beta you need to get lonely out there. See Chapter 14 of Journey Lines, Pedaling Around the San Miguel's which will be included in Section Four- Full Value "Now you're cutting loose and getting mobile. It's time to be committed!"
Not a sufferfest but a solid type two lite experience. With nastier weather, mechanical problems or less competent partners, this mission could prove a real son of a bitch. Approx stats were 75+ miles of hiking, biking, climbing and skiing with ~15k of elevation gain over four days. I'm so inspired by my teammates, their perseverance, perspectives and performance. This line is now complete. But the journey continues.
The bike tour (red) and climb/ski lines (blue)