Handies Peak
Descent Route: East And North Face
Handies Peak
North Face
April 26, 2006

I hope my enthusiasm in these reports is not coming across as redundant. I myself cannot believe our good fortune when it comes to the weather and the snow on this project. Today was just another example of our amazing luck and timing. I suppose it is true that we all create our own luck, but my team sure seems to be having more than it?s share. Once again, under crystal-clear, Colorado blue skies, we skied fantastic powder and corn on the north and east sides of a fourteener. Today it was Handies Peak. The team has swelled in numbers for this southern swing of the project. We were joined last night by Danny Brown, from Aspen, and Adam Moszynski, from Boulder. So now we are six. Danny is a creative cinematographer, well known for his time-lapse footage of everything from weather to plants, to people in motion. Adam is a frequent ski partner of Nick Devore, Will Cardamone, and Danny, and will accompany Nick and Danny on Denali in two weeks. Christian Pondella is still along shooting photos for Red Bull and my book project

We left the cozy comforts of our RV at 4:45 a.m. and transferred everyone to my truck. We drove up the 4x4 Cinnamon Pass ?Shelf Road? with coffee cups in hand, and arrived at the Grizzly trailhead for Handies Peak ready to climb at 5:30 a.m. As we started up the easy approach to Handies, Will was grimacing from the pain of two large blisters on his heels, and decided to save himself the agony by turning around. The rest of the group continued up through the dark forest in silence, pausing only briefly to admire Venus shining brightly over the top of Redcloud Peak. I have said this before, but one of the coolest aspects of this project is being high up in the mountains at sunrise so often. We neared tree line at 11,800? as the sun touched the summit of Handies, a sublime and beautiful vision. Christian was firing away and Danny was time-lapsing shots of the sunrise. After a 12-hour day on Tabeguache two days ago, we were all excited for this short, four-hour climb to the summit. As we hit the steeper climbing at 12,600? the light and the snow was so optimal that we decided to do a ?fun? run for the cameras. Adam, Nick, and I climbed up a soft couloir and skied great snow for 500?. We then regrouped and resumed our climb towards the summit. I guess when you start early you have the luxury of time, so we made the most of it. I?m trying to get as many great images as possible for my book project, and that means taking advantage of a photographer of Christian?s caliber whenever possible. (Check out www.christianpondella.com)

Handies is a fantastic fourteener for skiing. I would recommend this peak to anyone interested in this activity, especially skiers looking for their first fourteener ski descent. The approach is as easy as some other ?first? fourteeners like Quandary and Democrat, but the skiing is so much better. Plus, you are in the San Juans, one of North America?s best backcountry skiing zones. From the summit of Handies options for our descent abounded. We had scoped all of them out on the approach, and new our lines. Nick chose an exposed line looker?s left of the summit, while I chose a clean couloir with powder snow to the looker?s right of the summit. We skied off the top and into position so Christian and Danny could get some great shots. Nicky went first and surprised us all by hitting a big air after skiing the upper part of his line perfectly. Nick continues to impress me on every peak we ski. He makes good decisions, even when it means sending a 30? air in the middle of a steep face. My line did not involve my skis leaving the ground, rather submersing them in warm powder snow for a thousand feet. As you may have seen in the photos from Capitol, La Plata, Antero, and Tabeguache, I?m on some new Salomon skis, called the X-Wave Fury, and they are absolutely perfect for this type of skiing. At 87mm in the waist, and with a wood core, they are super-stable and light, easy to carve and very maneuverable. I?m pretty fired up to have these new sticks mounted with next years Fritschi Freeride Plus bindings as well.

We arrived back at the truck at 11 a.m. to find Will chilling outside an old cabin. He had waited patiently for us all morning. We ate lunch at the truck and headed down the Shelf Road and back to the RV. As I write this we are parked at Capitol City, and old mining town site near Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak, our next two objectives. Nick and Danny are attempting to out-do each other with yoga tricks in the meadow. Jon Hagman and Ben Galland arrive tonight from Aspen, so we will be a team of eight; three filmers, a photographer and four skiers. Welcome to the ?skithe14ers? circus! Because a big part of this project for me is sharing the skiing and mountain experience with friends, I wanted to leave you with a quote from one of my favorite books, ?Deep Powder Snow?, by Dolores LaChapelle.

? Skiing, especially powder snow skiing, provides the ultimate experience of the dynamic, complex inter-relationship between the members of a human group, the gravity from the Earth, and the snow from the sky. Conforming to Nature?s way is not like conforming to an arbitrary, man-made law which restricts freedom; instead it?s more like a group of experts skiing a powder snow slope. A group can ski very close together in perfect safety because for any given position on the hill, there is only one fall line. Skiing in the fall line, but the very nature of the terrain, allows the skiers to have much the same movement as a flight of birds- seemingly random but never colliding. Obeying the Earth results in perfect freedom.

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