Snow climb and ski descent of Crestone Peak via Red Gully, 4/7/2013
Crew: Ben (benners), Matt (pioletski)
3844' climbed and skied, about 8 miles round trip
Solving the Sangres Puzzle
Skiing the Sangre de Cristo range presents a unique set of challenges. It is remote, it tends to be dry, and springtime warms it up early. The race is always on for the snowpack to consolidate sufficiently for safe skiing before it melts out entirely. So a little creativity is required...
Our multimedia adventure began when I arrived at the trailhead on Saturday afternoon. I had brought my sled, hoping to save some time by towing my companions up the South Colony Lakes road to the old 4x4 trailhead. It's a little questionable whether we saved any time, but it made for an interesting trip. The lower part of the road was dry and rocky - not ideal snowmobiling terrain. I chained up my truck and managed to drag the sled past several snowdrifts and icy patches, almost to the beginning of continuous snow, and left it beside the trail for the night.
Ben and Brian (lordhelmut) arrived at what is now the 2wd trailhead around 2am. I was too comfortable to pay any attention. They settled down for what sleep they could get, and at 5am, we geared up and hiked about a mile to where I had stashed the sled.
Ben on tow
Motoring up the road presented a challenge or two. Let's just say that the South Colony Road is no longer in for snowmobiling, unless you happen to bring the Army Corps of Engineers along. The road is open to snowmobiles in the winter, and the gate was still open, but the creek crossing just past the gate had melted out. We set to with our avy shovels, and built a bridge in about 30 minutes.
Crossing the Rubicon (Ben)
From that point, the sled more or less justified the logistical problems it presented. After negotiating a couple more bare patches, and making a few stops to cool the motor, we covered 3 miles in perhaps 45 minutes, arriving at what used to be the 4wd trailhead (just shy of the wilderness area boundary) at around 8am.
At the old 4wd TH
Turning around, we remembered why we came. The Sangres are spectacular and the Crestones especially so.
The glorious Needle
I led my companions on a slightly crazy line through the woods to the campsites near Lower South Colony Lake, at the foot of Broken Hand Pass.
Broken Hand Pass
And off we went...
On the road again
... up Broken Hand Pass.
Ascending the pass (Ben)
At this point Brian split away from Ben and me. He wanted to explore a line on Broken Hand Peak, while Ben and I were angling for Crestone Peak. At this point the wind was howling, and we weren't all that confident of our objectives. Still, Brian set off, while Ben and I crossed the pass and descended to Cottonwood Lake, delighted (in this dry year) to see the Red Gully full of snow.
The Red Gully dressed in white
Not completely full, of course... We would ascend directly up the gully and climb over the rock band halfway up; on returning, we would break to skier's left onto the broad bands of snow to the side, thus staying on continuous snow all the way down.
We geared up to climb...
Ben with Broken Hand behind
... and we climbed. Here Ben is approaching the band of bare rock.
Approaching the choke
This required some front pointing and mixte moves.
Mixte climbing (Ben)
Note, two pictures back,that Ben's boots are sinking to the instep in the snow. Most of the gully, perhaps due to cloud cover and protection from the wind, was incompletely frozen. I had no concerns about stability, but it did make for slow and strenuous climbing. We were grateful for the windbreak afforded by the sides of the gully.
View from the gully
Gradually we closed in on the summit ridge, with its spectacular notches and windows.
Ben near the summit
Did I bring enough gear?
View from the top (Ben)
Beta shot #1: KC and Challenger look about as in as I have ever seen them.
Looking very skiable
After the whistling gale on Broken Hand, the summit was surprisingly comfortable.
Brothers in arms
I never have had much success with action shots while skiing. Fortunately I have a GoPro. Here's a little POV of the first few hundred feet...
Ben is a bit handier with a still camera than I am.
Skiing the gully (Ben)
The snow was too hard in some spots and too soft in others. I guess you can't have it all...
Beta shot #2: As we began the re-ascent of Broken Hand Pass, we had this view of the south couloir of the Needle. I wonder just how narrow the snow is at the choke. I had entertained thoughts of going after it today, but the effort and time it took to climb the Peak didn't allow for it.
It's thin but it's in
Getting back up Broken Hand Pass was plenty of effort.
Climbing the pass, again (Ben)
Guided by our friend Carl, we had spotted this little couloir on the east side of Broken Hand Pass, just to looker's right of the pass proper (picture taken in the morning, of course) - which looked like a nicer descent route:
Couloir to looker's right
Looking down from the top:
Bonus Gully (Ben)
As with Carl's trip, it turned out to be the best skiing of the day. Here's Ben getting after it:
And a somewhat more flattering picture (sorry Ben, the last one was the best I got at the time).
Descending the apron to Lower South Colony Lake, the sled, the trailhead...
Down to the lake (Ben)
Descending to the lake
We (I should say I) only got the sled stuck once on the way out, and our bridge was still intact. A big, beautiful... tiring day in the alpine.
Thanks Ben, thanks Brian - good to see you guys again. And thank you for reading.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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