Mt. Democrat: We're Beefing.

After a busy few weekends with the long slog up Gray's Northern slopes and getting shut down on Dragon Tails, Max and I felt like we were in shape to tackle another 14er. I had been told about Democrat's North face by Justin Ibarra during my AIARE 1. Avalanche conditions were stable, our only concern were wet slides in the late morning/afternoon. We thought we would make it a two night trip and do quandary the next day. I was frothing by the idea of skiing off the summit this time. 

Mt. Democrat - North Slopes

We departed late Friday night from Denver. For some reason, we decided to take my car, meaning that it would be Max and I's first time sleeping in a tent together. Max's tent was a worn down REI half dome 2 that his dad had lent him after years of use. Max also made the executive decision to not bring the rain tarp, only 2 guy lines and no footprint. 

After a few hours of driving, we arrived at Montgomery Reservoir only to find an unmarked, white van a few 100 feet away from the winter road closure, where we were going to sleep. I was already in an unsettled mood after reading that there was an old mining town underneath the reservoir itself. According to, "there were over 1,000 residents complete with 150 cabins, hotels, sawmills, and a dance hall. However, a decision was made to flood the structures in 1890s". 

Before getting out of the car, Max and I just stared at each other. Subconsciously, we were both asking the question: were we actually going to sleep outside in a tent here? 

Max, then, suggested that we protect ourselves from potential intruders by sleeping with our ice axe's. I shrugged my shoulders and for some reason agreed to go along with the plan. Max set up the tent, as I organized the car as much as I could. 

We had a few unknowns that we discussed as we went to bed: How dry was the road? Were we going to boot up at the car in the morning? or just take off in "approach" shoes? 

After pondering these questions, Max fell asleep almost instantly and started to snore. I stayed up for a little while and looked at the stars above me, but in reality I was scared about the white van. About 15 minutes later, the wind began to pick up. The tent began to bend; I could feel the floor wanting to lift up off the ground and I thought we were a goner. I decided to just attempt to go to bed.

I woke up a few more times to the wind, and then was rudely awaken by my 2:30am alarm. 

We, both, were slow to get moving and made some food.

Cooking some oatmeal

Max, preparing for the day at 3am 

It was decision time. Shoes or ski boots? 
I decided to go with shoes as the trail directly after the gate was very dry. 
Max started to scramble around in the backseat... "Stew.... I think I only brought flip flops...."
I was not about to give up.
I looked at Max in the dark and said, will these work? and gave him my shoes. 
For those that do not know, Max is a US 11.5 and I am a US 10. 
He squeezed his feet into my old Nike Frees as I put on my Van Eras and we took off down the closed road toward Democrat. 

Me, walking in the dark, shortly after our departure

Shortly after, I already got us lost. We were already 45 mins behind schedule and still had not gone even a mile.

With Caltopo in hand, I began to bushwhack toward the trail with frustrated Max behind me. Five minutes later, I broke through a set of branches and looked up.
I took a deep breath and turned around to Max and said, "I am *NOT* going any further. We need to turn around." He looked at me, pushed in front, looked up.

What we saw was some distorted photos hanging on an abandoned mine in the dark at 3:30 in the morning. After the white van, the potentially cursed, flooded mining town and now this. I felt like I was in a horror movie about to be killed in the woods.

We turned around and Max began to lead. We headed up a small hill and then ended up back at the abandoned mine. We had to go through it. I turned off my headlamp and stealthily made my way through camp behind Max.

With the mine still in sight, Max decided that it would be a great time for him to go poop and takes of his bag. 
As I wait for him, I can't stand still. Hurry up, Max!!!!! Let's get the fuck out of here!!!!!

Now over an hour behind schedule, we began making ground quickly. 
Beginning of the 4x4 road up to Wheeler Lake

We were post holing frequently in our shoes but thought it was not worth it yet to put on ski boots. 

My feet were already soaking wet when we came upon our first "river" crossing. It was still dark after a decent freeze. I thought I could make it across the river via a small snow bridge.

I looked at Max... "I'm gonna go for it".

My first step was solid. I was on top of the snow.
My second was a little deeper in the snow, maybe 3-4 inches deep.
The next thing I know, I am fully up to my shin in cold, running water. I push forward out of the river while Max is hysterically laughing. 
"I KNEW that was going to happen!!" Max says and begins bushwhacking in the trees to avoid the water.

A half mile later, we came to another water crossing... 
Again, I, obviously, chose the snow bridge. This time, I was in almost to my knees. All I wanted was for my socks to have a chance to dry before shoving them in ski boots for another few thousand vertical feet.
Max, laughs at me again.

I could not feel my toes at this point, but the idea of skiing from the summit made me continue on. 

Another quarter mile down and we come to the last river crossing for our ascent. 
I, once again, fell in. When would I learn??

An hour and 45 minutes into our day, we finally put boots and skis on. We were still 45 minutes behind schedule in our minds. We wanted to be on the bottom of the boot pack by now. It was a flat 4x4 road, but our shenanigans had slowed us down.

Here's a short video of me getting my boots on:

We hung up our shoes and socks in a tree, marked it on Caltopo so we could find it again and skinned on. 

The sun was beginning to rise and my stoke was growing. 

The view down the basin from where we came from

Democrat North Face, May 2021

Seeing the face in person while the sun was rising was incredible. It felt like I almost was not totally suffering with no socks in my boots. At least my boots were dry! No blisters.... yet.

From here, we decided to climb the farthest left snow gully to the ridge.
I suggested dropping into the basin proper; however, Max did not want to "lose the elevation we already gained". 
Thus, we suffered more. Max and I side hilled for the rest of the skinning portion of the day. Our downhill ski would slide out on the side hill, which made it hard to skin fast.
I turned around halfway across the face and saw Max far away, cursing under his breath. 
At one point, we downhill skinned through two tight rocks, which symbolically was the end of our side hilling adventure.

Almost time to switch to boot packing

Around 6 am, 2.5 hours later, we reached the bottom. I was already worked at this point. I had no socks, no food and only a half liter of water.

I wanted to pull my weight, especially after my Gray's bonk, so I transitioned quickly while Max ate a snack. Max ate his food and I broke trail for roughly 60 steps. A few moments later, Max had caught up to me. 

I looked behind me and said, "I'm going to make it to this bend and then you can take over and break trail".
I make it a solid, 4 or 5 steps before I looked back again and said, "never mind you can take over".

Max began breaking tail and left me in the dust.
I decided to eat my one snack, a milky way candy bar.
I ate it too quickly, the caramel began to glob up in my mouth. At ~12,500 feet, I had not fully caught my breath and I began to choke on the wad of caramel. I thought in my mind, "am I really going to die from a candy bar?" 
I spit out the caramel, and began to catch my breath from my "snack" or death wish. 

How much worse can this day get???

Max's view of me moments after the milky way incident...

Max ended up waiting for me, when I got up to him after a solid 10 minutes, he took off again.

Max taking off, breaking trail

Max looking back at me, probably thinking, "Hurry up dipshit"

Max did not wait for me again; He just watched me suffer occasionally. 
Max and I were beefing. I was so worked, but tried to keep going.

Me in the pain cave.

Max was getting worried about wet slides, even though we were on a north aspect. I think he was just being nice because I was dragging ass. We decided to transition 500 or so feet from the ridge. 
Max transitioning

The ridge felt close

I dug out a little platform to put my skis on and clipped in.

My favorite part of the day, skis on!

Great views! More lines for the future

A short clip of Max dropping in:


The ski was super fun! It was fun to get on something steeper

At the bottom

Skiing down the basin

Our next goal was to try and find the tree with our shoes and socks on it. It took us a few minutes, but we ended up finding it relatively easy. Time to start down the road and cross the rivers again. 

Max went for the unlocked heels and locked out toes to start down the road down.
I lost sight of Max for a few moments and then found him like this.

Max in shock. One ski in the woods

I was glad that Max didn't end up in the rocks, but was also glad I wasn't the only one suffering through the day.

We came to the first of the the three rivers. I was coming in fairly quickly and thought I could use the continuous snow on the side to get by. I was halfway through when it gave way.

Me in the river

I was so mad. Now, I was barefoot in wet boots. We were still able to ski down the road a good amount that made our descent fast and allowed me to get out of my boots quickly. We put on our shoes on a big rock and start down the wet, dry road.

We passed the mine and looked at the disturbing images we looked at earlier this morning.
Midsommar vibes anyone? 

I still justify my decision to turn around before the mine to this day. I was so scared in the moment. We made it to the car and immediately sat down.

I learned a few things from this day. 1) bring quality snacks. 2) always keep an extra pair of socks in your bag. Democrat, just like Grays, taught me how to suffer and how to overcome adversity. I think Max and I will be back to ski this line from the summit in the future, but hopefully it goes a little differently.


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