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.
|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.
|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.
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.)