Marble Peak Night Ascent — Headlamp Testing

Post by blogger | March 5, 2007      

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Night is minutes away when we park at Marble Peak in central Colorado. Our family of three (myself, son Louie and wife Lisa) are on our sixth month straight of backcountry skiing, and we need something different. So we’re climbing and skiing Marble at night, under the full moon. Good way to get in some headlamp testing and see the mountains in a setting we don’t experience often, since most of our adventures are quick day-trips.

Louie, night, Marble Peak backcountry skiing
Most of the avalanche safe terrain was covered with trap crust, but we did find a few powder turns.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any night missions, so it feels strange packing the truck in late afternoon. The weather report is bluebird (or in our case, something like “blackbird”), I’m not worried about getting stormed. But the avalanche forecast is hovering in the red zone, so I know we’ll sacrifice the easy open terrain skiing for an avy safe line up and down a narrow ridge. I tell myself this is about experiencing unique mountain beauty — powder turns can wait for another time.

As we start skinning, dusk falls like a gigantic glove is closing over the earth. A little alpinglow struggles through. I dig out my headlamp, and soon see Louie and Lisa’s lamps bobbing up the trail behind me. We travel one-at-a-time up the first exposed section then group together and follow a series of safe timbered ridges. The skin track is steep and glazed. We should have ski crampons and we don’t. Bad call. I break a bit of new trail and we move fast enough to stay warm and happy.

Backcountry skiing trailhead.
Dusk at the trailhead. Yep, bowtie fans, that’s my Silverado.

We move slow up the final ridge, making tiny switchbacks to stay off any possible slab. Skill with kick turns and a dose of patience make our style fit without frustration. The air has been warm and calm so far, but a stiff breeze is blowing at the summit so we layer up in our puffies. Our timing is perfect. After fiddling with our gear and drinking a few cups of hot tea, luna ejects from the exact top of Treasure Mountain like a molten glob rising from a volcano. It’s moments like these that make all the sacrifices for a mountain lifestyle worth it.

Moon rising from the exact summit of Treasure Mountain, a high 13er to the east of Marble Peak.

Our descent is all about avalanche safety. Under moonglow that makes headlamps optional, we pick our way down from the summit like newbie lift skiers getting down the chairlift ramp after their first ride, staying in a 10 foot wide safe zone, side stepping and side slipping. Once in the trees we find excellent powder, make a few turns, then kick turn and traverse another pitch of breakable crust. We get a gift, however, as the last turns to the truck are silky fluff which once inhaled blocks all memories of bad snow, leaving only moonrise visions and a case of the munchies that we bandage with bagels and brie during the ride home.

Black Diamond Icon headlamp
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp.

Oh, about our headlamp testing: For night skiing we’ve been using the Black Diamond Icon. This fire breather has a nice ratio of power to battery life and is holding up well. We’re happy with it. Our only problem so far has been that the head strap detaches a bit too easily (fixed with duct tape). At an IPX waterproof rating of 4, this headlamp is doubtless good for most North American mid continental conditions. It has two coverage modes: a broad beam comprised of four LCDs, and a bright spot beam that uses one super-bright LCD. Also has adjustable levels to help conserve batteries. Our overall headlamp gripe is the difficulty of attaching a headlamp to a ski helmet. Someone needs to make a retrofit kit for this (and no, I’m not talking about providing a roll of duct tape.)


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11 Responses to “Marble Peak Night Ascent — Headlamp Testing”

  1. Lisa Dawson March 5th, 2007 6:45 am

    Yes, that was fun! I think it’s the fourth full moon this winter that we’ve seen on skis. We should make it another Dawson family tradition.

  2. Craig Burbank March 5th, 2007 7:05 pm

    Hey Lou we dont call that “blackbird”, its “starbird”. Nice work.

  3. Lou March 5th, 2007 7:12 pm

    I had it as “starbird” then changed to “blackbird” because it’s the name of a bird, as in “bluebird.” Fun to play around with the words…

  4. Matt Kinney March 5th, 2007 11:35 pm

    Nice family trip report….with a moon rise included! Don’t get much better than that.

    I use the BD Zenix(?) for all our night work here and it has the same two and one light system. Amazing brilliance. I use Energizer Lithiums which are amazing at low temps. Very reliable, which is handy when the moon is not handy as a backup to dead batteries on the trail.

  5. Cody March 6th, 2007 6:42 am

    Hey Lou,

    Sounds like a great trip! I have been looking around for a new headlamp. Right now, I have a standard single LED type lamp, which does me no good for night time navigation. Is the BD Icon good in the navigation aspect of light output? I’d like to get something that is not too bright for camp or the tent, but which I can find my way with on the trail at night. Any thoughts.



  6. Lou March 6th, 2007 8:14 am

    Cody, I’d say the Icon is good for night nav, and it has brightness settings so it’ll work fine around camp. That said, it’s not our only headlamp. We use ones like the BD Ion when we’re not planning on night travel.

    Matt, yeah, those Energizer Lithiums changed my life when they became available.

  7. Mark Worley March 6th, 2007 8:10 pm

    Just got the NiMh rechargeable system for the Icon where I work. Now if I can just find a cheapo solar panel…

  8. patricia dawson March 9th, 2007 7:56 am

    Lou, The photo of the moon rising from behind Treasure Mountain was so beautiful it made me cry……Thanks for sharing that moment with us all. Mom

  9. Stephen Kosacz March 18th, 2007 6:22 pm

    Great REad!! Especially enjoyed the moonrise. Our moonrises come out of the Atlantic Ocean here on the Maine coast. Minor correction: the headlamp has LEDs (light emitting diodes) not LCDs (Liquid Crystal Display). No need to post this, perhaps you could just correct the description if so inclined

  10. Dave VanHorn October 29th, 2007 12:19 pm

    Keeping the battery pack at the head is smart, especially if you can get it inside a hat or something else to keep it warmed by your head.

    A lithium-polymer battery would be nice, far better power/weight than nimh, and easier to charge, but li-po needs some more smarts in the battery itself. I suspect they will have something in that range soon though.

    I work with high power LEDs daily for a military system, and I’d say this light is worth the money.

    Back 30 years ago, a friend and I used to night hike with flourescent lights built onto the top bars of our backpacks, with lead-acid “gel cells” to power them.. 🙂 That was cool at the time, but this is WAY better!

  11. Dave VanHorn October 29th, 2007 12:22 pm

    Oh, PS: For low temperatures, Nicad is a better performer. Not nearly the capacity of NIMH, but much more output at low temperatures, and much more tolerant of high temperatures.

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