Seven hours of climbing
It took all day for Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton to climb through fresh powder to the top of Vail Mountain. Seibert still marvels at the “perfectly sculptured spruce and fir trees rolling up the hill almost as far as the eye could see.”|Photo courtesy Ken Redding| |
Floundering upward in 3 feet of snow along a faintly visible logging road, it took us two hours to slog the first two miles up the nameless mountain.
I thought of the old days in New Hampshire and the round-shouldered mountains there. Compared to those hills, this was like climbing the Himalaya. It occurred to me that I should be damned grateful I wasn’t carrying any full bottles of milk, like I did as a kid in New Hampshire, or lugging my 90-pound army rucksack, like I did in Italy during World War II, on this strenuous trek.
We eventually reached the site of a ramshackle sawmill on Mill Creek. Then the logging road petered out as we turned west and entered a dense, silent forest of lodgepole pine and spruce. We climbed in soft, knee-deep powder, cutting back and forth through the woods along a narrow skid road once used by loggers.
After almost two hours in the trees, we broke out into sunny, open terrain and faced a vast landscape consisting only of sun-splashed snowy slopes, dotted here and there with perfectly sculptured spruce and fir trees rolling up the hill almost as far as the eye could see.
I didn’t know it then, of course, but this place would become Mid-Vail, where the ski trails Swingsville, Zot and Ramshorn would all come together from the summit; where skiers would drift off to the Cookshack restaurant for lunch or take the Number 4 lift back to the top for another run; or where they would head to the bottom of the ski area on trails such as Gitalong Road and Giant Steps.
We decided to stop for lunch: cheese, salami, good bread, and hot, sugary tea from a Thermos. It was a moment of pure bliss. Everything sparkled in the sun. I envisioned a line of skiers charging down through the virgin powder, making braided tracks and kicking up rooster tails of snow as they swooshed past and disappeared into the woods, doing quick turns through the trees. Across the valley, we could now see the Gore Range, mile after mile of great peaks of rock and snow.
“My God, we’ve climbed all the way to heaven,” I said to Earl.
“It gets better, Pete.”
“From now on I’ll believe anything you say, Earl,” I promised.
There was a lot more mountain to climb. The snow lay undisturbed, a peaceful glittering blanket in the noonday sun. But from the moment we stepped into the powder, we found it nearly bottomless. It flowed up to our waists as we fought our way up.
We traversed back and forth up the slopes until we reached an open ridge running north-south. Of course, we couldn’t know it then, but in a few years this ridge would lead skiers to the runs that would become our two most famous trails: Riva Ridge and Prima, both named in memory of the harrowing days I’d spent in Italy with the 10th Mountain Division.
From that same ridge we also got our first good look at what would be the woodsy North East Bowl and a glimpse beyond of the shoulder of the future Sun Up Bowl.
We continued our climb. The sun, at its apex in the noon sky, was hot. We would have more than an hour to go before we reached the summit, it turned out, but as we plodded up, it dawned on me that this might be the mountain I would happily dedicate the rest of my life to. We had already seen contours and configurations that resembled other excellent runs at other resorts. There was a long, very steep section that reminded us of the face of Bell Mountain at Aspen and another section that looked just like the ridge of Bell.
We finally reached the summit-and wow! Seven exhausting hours had elapsed since we began our ascent in the morning darkness. We had climbed 3,050 vertical feet, probably covering at least eight miles in our crisscrossing back and forth. And here we were at the top – 11,250 feet above sea level.
Editor’s note: This is is the fourth installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter One, entitled “Up the no-name mountain.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.