Peak(s):  Culebra Peak  -  14,053 feet
Cronin Peak  -  13,870 feet
Pearl Mountain  -  13,362 feet
Grizzly Peak A  -  13,988 feet
Torreys Peak  -  14,272 feet
Mt. Flora  -  13,146 feet
Unnamed 13317  -  13,317 feet
Date Posted:  06/10/2018
Modified:  06/11/2018
Date Climbed:   05/27/2018
Author:  SchralpTheGnar
 Life is for the Living   

This trip report took a while to write because it took a while to live, a little bit over a year. It's written in the context of the mountains because that is what I know. It's part skiing, part medical, part life, and all love.

For 15 years my brother Mike and I have been trying to ski the Fall River Range, not that the range is particularly hard or noteworthy, but in the "ski what you can see" vein, we see these peaks every week doing the I-70 march or from the Denver metro area. We had Mount Flora left on the list, and in March, 2017, I decided to go out and finish the range, but I'd be doing this one on my own, without Mike. Mike had been diagnosed with leukemia in August of 2017, not less than one month after finishing the Leadville 50 run. He was in the hospital and would not be joining me. Lost and confused, I headed to the mountains, where life made sense to me. I climbed and skied Mount Flora from Berthoud Pass, skiing down to Ethel Lake, then climbing back up to the divide and skiing back down to the pass.

What are these guys worried about?

Summit of Flora, looking north toward the rest of the Fall River Range.

The line from the summit of Flora down to Ethel Lake.

Beginning the climb back up, starting at a frozen Ethel Lake.

The sublime frozen landscape awaits

April 22, 2017, about 100 feet below the summit of Cuelbra Peak, I stopped and the group that I had been hiking with went on ahead of me. I stopped and broke down in tears, uncontrollably sobbing, I didn't want to go on, not like this. Two days earlier I had done the blood test to confirm that I was good to go as the stem cell donor for my brother Mike's stem cell transplant. A whirlwind of emotions, the survival rate was low, a world without Mike wasn't one in which I necessarily wanted to live. Nevertheless, I pressed on to the summit, sunglasses hiding the tears, said the requisite congrats to my new friends on the summit, and managed the descent down. I skied down the west ridge and said goodbye to my new friends, drove to near buena vista and camped by the river. Empty.

San Luis, just outside the ranch for Cuelbra is the oldest town in Colorado.

Sunset near the entrance to the ranch.

Summit of Cuelbra

About a month later, blood tests looking good, it was time to do the transplant, since the chemo did not wor with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) for adults you don't have too many options. Mike would do a total body irradiation, taking him close to death, destroying his immune system entirely to allow the new stem cells to start generating new healthy cells from my stem cells, that was the plan, let's see if it works.

Moments before the radiation treatment. The machine in the background is huge, like the Diamond face, but even more terrifying.

About a week later, it was time for the transplant. My part of the deal was relatively simple, sit in a chair and donate some stem cells. It's a fascinating process where a machine with a centrifuge separates the different parts of the blood: white, red, and plasma and extracts the desired product based upon a setting. In this case we were going after the white blood cells. My wife Becky, angel that she is, sat with me for the 7 hours while the bag filled up. Bag filled, stem cells gathered, transplant done. Time to wait.

Moments after the transplant, brought to you by Peppridge Farms.

2017 Memorial Day Weekend, I planned a trip, my friend Steve came along for the ride, we planned on skiing Cronin Peak, and an unnamed 13er near the town of St. Elmo. Marcel would come up and camp for a night, it was nice to have some friends along. It was a hard weekend without Mike, and Steve will never know how much it meant having him along on the ski trips, unless he happens to read this, then he'll know for sure. Cronin is one of those peaks that you see when you are skiing the mess that is Antero and you think to yourself, "why am I skiing this 14er when I could be skiing that beautiful 13er". It's east face is quite striking. We had perfect conditions for the day, we were able to drive to about 10,500 feet, and with a solid freeze we made good time to the base walking on frozen snow.

Steve below Cronin's beautiful east face.

Steve and I on the summit of Cronin

Steve carving some turns below Cronin's summit.

This is hard work indeed.

Marcel came up on Saturday night, and we did the campfire thing, eating, drinking, singing. We didn't have solid plans, so we looked over the map and found a nice looking peak along a trail, not too far up the road outside the town of St. Elmo, pt 13,371, or something like that. Seeing the world beyond the 14ers really starts to open your eyes to a much larger world.

the land above the trees

The air so dewy sweet you don't even have to lick the stamps.

Turkey vulture rock keeps a watchful eye over the valley below.

Yo Steve, we did it!.

Sweet campsite at the cascade campground.

The side effects from the irradiation were awful, we'd been warned, and Mike sent me some disturbing pictures, and I stayed away. Just praying for everything to work out okay, life is for the living and I really wanted to ski with Mike again, but all I did was pray that he would not die. A month or so passed, Mike's wife Maureen did an incredible job of keeping everyone up to date on caring bridge. By mid-June things were looking decent, tests were showing no signs of the disease. Mike thought it'd be a good idea to get out skiing with his son Zach, so I decided to attempt Torrey's with him. Zach happens to be a phemonenal skier, like his uncle. We skied the tuning fork on Torreys Peak, an emotional experience for me.

Zach heading up the Tuning Fork in the early morning hours.

Zach and Uncle Rob at the summit of Torreys Peak.

Zach living up to the family name, schralping some gnar.

As the tests kept coming back positive, or negative, whichever the good one is, optimism started to set in. 100 days is a big milestone for the stem cell process, so we had a party for that with friends and family from all over the country coming to see us.

100 days in and his hair is already looking better than mine, I can confirm that the baldness gene does not reside in the white blood cell stem cells.

The ski season came and went with some good days on the slopes during pretty average ski year for summit county. It was funny to read about people complaining about ski conditions when I was just truly blown away to be skiing with my brother at all with. The perspective on perspective can be dizzying at times. We got out for a great day at one of our early stomping grounds, Berthoud Pass, a little known backcountry skiing area near Winter Park.

Mike in the deep at our favorite secret stash.

The resorts and slack country are all well and good, but our home, when we are most in tune, has always been in the mountains, far away from the resorts. Memorial Day Weekend has always been the weekend for us to get out and do things. Memorial Day has a special place in our heart because in 1969 my Dad's brother Leo died in Vietnam. We honor these men and women who gave their lives defending this country, by not taking this freedom for granted, by getting out and enjoying the freedom of the mountains. My dad used to always say to me, "Your uncle Leo, we still talk all the time, and you know what he tells me, 'life is for the living'".

So, like before, we make the plans, we plan to climb and ski Pearl Mountain with Steve and Gabe on Saturday, and Mike and I will climb and ski Grizzly the next day. We setup camp at the Difficult Campground, just outside of Aspen.

Steve and Mike doing as the kids say, chillaxing.

We drove up the Castle Creek road and hit the trail around 5am. The usual crews were heading out to Castle/Conundrum but once we hit the Pearl Pass junction and took a left we had the place all to ourselves.

Mike and Gabe at the junction in the early morning light.

Break time!

Hetzel thinking "I should have brought my crampons for this sick slope"

We made our way up to the saddle, since Steve forgot his crampons, he stopped at the saddle and skied down while me, Mike, and Gabe continued up to the summit. It was pretty cool climbing that ridge watching Steve carve buttery turns in sweet Colorado corn.

Steve making some sweet turns below Castle Peak.

Mike and Gabe making their way up the ridge to the summit of Pearl Mountain.

Gabe on the slopes below the summit, all dressed up.

Mike getting down to business just below the summit of Pearl.

Summit of Pearl, there is about 700 dollars worth of eyewear in this picture.

Mike dropping in just below the summit of Pearl with Gabe watching admiringly.

Skiing down through the flats, Mike in the lead, Gabe trying to catch up.

Pearl was an incredible day, Steve, Mike, and Gabe were great partners, and that mountain has a little bit of everything.The route to the low saddle with the ridge to the summit added some nice variety. The ski descent gets you about 2k vertical back to the junction with the main road, then it is a quick 2 mile walk back to the truck. We had some ice cold beers waiting for us at Gabe's F250 Platinum truck, that thing is a beast, it can easily carry a 12 pack of beer in a cooler. Chilling at the car, reliving the day, drinking some beers, just between you and me, it's one of my favorite parts of any trip. The objective is done, your body is worked, the spring weather is warm and therapeutic, I could go on and on, but we'll move on. Our friend Adan, who is not a backcountry skier, but is a good dude and great singer, met us back at the Difficult Campground and he had himself a guitar. I liked the way that guitar sounded. With Steve doing some road biking the next day, and Gabe having checked the outdoor activity box, Mike and I set our sights on Grizzly Peak for the next day. Gabe was kind enough to let him borrow the F250 for the drive to the trailhead, he's a solid dude.

The boys doing what they do best, Gabe, Mike, Adan, and Steve.

Mike in the early morning light, trying to see if we can float on this iceberg to the base of the Grizzly.

Mike heading up the Grizzly Couloir, we had nice steps to follow.

Summit of Grizzly Peak, the Mullen brothers loom large in their legend.

Mike skiing down towards Grizzly Lake.

If you fell here at least you'd tumble into a nice frozen lake.

Through the meadows and to the woods, with Grizzly looking on.

We made the ski back down above the lake and back through the meadow, back to the car, back to the campsite. Since it was pretty hot out we decided to take a dip in the Roaring Fork river, man, was that invigorating, cold, real cold. We hung out Sunday night, cooked some more food, drank some more beer, told some stories, listened to some more music, and played some music too, including a brand new, first time ever played, Digital Bird, written and performed by Gabe. Adan was solid on the vocals of the cover of CCR's Green River, and Mike and Steve did a commendable job on Floyd's Pigs on the Wing > Dogs. It was like old times, it was new old times being created in real time. Thinking back to that moment just below the summit of Cuelbra, a little over a year ago, not wanting to go on, not without my brother. Now, I don't have to, thanks to some stem cells, a lot of prayers, and nothing short of a miracle.

One year later, right back at it.

Comments or Questions
Awesome Report!
06/10/2018 23:30
Looks like some great adventures for your clan & way to stay strong through everything happening in your life! Yeah... Pearl is a pretty cool mountain, indeed!

06/11/2018 13:00
That's a whole lot of living in one year. Those schralp-cells are strong and they must carry the ski-mo gene. Glad this one had a happy ending, thanks for sharing.

Best wishes
06/11/2018 15:43
An entertaining and moving read. Best wishes to you and your brother.

What a journey
06/11/2018 21:50
inside and outside. Thanks for sharing, I really found this to be a powerful, meaningful story.

06/12/2018 00:16
Glad you got your brother back! Ski on guys. I still remember running into you characters on Blanca ├ó╦┬║Grizzly A was an excellent choice.

06/12/2018 12:04
Without the lows in life, the highs would not be as sweet.

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