... and the beast was starving! It had been 1 year & 10 months since my last new 14er ski, so I've been chomping at the bit to get out this season, once it started snowing this spring. So after 37 miles and 16K elevation gain, over 3 days to get 4 new 14ers and a 13er ski in, I feel the beast is satiated... for a little while at least
Day 1: Handies and American Peaks
Trailhead: ~500' from Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek
Route(s): Roach "Classic" Patriot couloir on American, West Slopes on Handies
Partners: Prakash & Colin (for American only)
Elevation Gain: 4,847'
Green Avy danger in the San Juans... Yes! I threw out a couple emails to guage interest in some San Juan 14er skis, and got a response back from Prakash. He soon roped Colin into the mix. Not bad for mid-week planning and knowledge that CAIC "green" means "grass".
So Thursday night, we brave the deer and elk gauntlet on 149 to Lake City, to have a last meal at the Restless Spirit Saloon. The drive up to near the trailhead is mostly dry, with a ton of sharp rocks (from rock fall) to avoid along the road. Just before the trailhead was a long downhill section of snow, that I didn't think my Subi could get back up, so we stopped there for the night. By the time we left on Saturday afternoon, this snow patch became 2 small ones, and easily passable.
Up at 4:15, on road by 5:15... The road to American Basin TH is snowy in patches for the first 2 miles, then completely snow covered after that. But it's melting fast! The views as we turned off the road and started skinning up American Basin are always extraordinary, and this was my first time seeing it with a thick snow blanket. We made decent time up to the base of the right most couloir up American. Roach calls it a classic, and we would agree. The left most one is melted out at the top, and the 2 in the middle were narrow and a steeper snow climb than what we were looking for.
Since I was first out of the ski transition, and feeling rather strong, I started the booter up the couloir. Since this couloir had seen some sun over previous days, it had already seen some afternoon wet slides. (Failure on dust surface) So I followed the previously slid zones on the way up, since it had the best/firm snow. I waited at the top of the couloir, to point out the cornice at the top.
American Basin trailhead
Looking down the couloir, with Handies in background
Top of the Couloir, looking at Handies
Colin about to top out
From the top of the couloir we followed the ridge up to the startlingly corniced summit. I was apprehensive at first to step on top, but once I saw that it wasn't overhanging, I climbed on up. We didn't stay long on the summit, since we knew the couloir had been getting sun for much of the morning.
Fun ridge walk - pano
Me on the summit, with Colin Approaching - Photo: Prakash
Colin approaching the summit
Colin and me, just below the corniced summit - Photo: Prakash
Prakash perched on the exciting summit!
Colin having felt the effects of a bad pizza the night before, didn't bring his skis up the couloir, so he scampered down before we could even transition to ski mode. So it would be just Prakash and me skiing the lovely soft snow all the way down! Fun, fun!
Prakash shredding the upper couloir
Prakash skiing the lower couloir
Colin skiing down from his ski stash
From the base of the couloir, I decide that I still have the energy to race up Handies for my 1st 14er ski in 22 months, while Prakash and Colin ski what looked like an amazingly mellow and fun American Basin. I was able to skin directly up to the summit of Handies in about an hour, ~9 minute ski transition, and then ski down the SW slopes about 1:09pm. It's "in" from the summit, but then shortly after, it became quite boney and I was zig zagging all over from snow patch to snow patch, until I got much lower down and into the gully proper. From there it was a lovely corn ski out. I decided to avoid the rocky drop in the valley below (since it would be the perfect wet slide trigger), by traversing a bit up and around for some bonus corn turns. Once back at the road, the red slush kinda ski-walk began... Stupid dust made the ski out more painful than it needed to be. Even a coyote crossing my path wondered what the heck I was doing.
Trailhead: ~100' Silver Creek
Route(s): North face of Sunshine, std loop (with skiing down)
Partners: Prakash (Colin did 13,811)
Elevation Gain: 5,072'
Today we decided to start a little earlier, and got started about 4:45. It felt colder than the morning before, so we hoped that would mean firm snow to start the trail, since we would be carrying skis. From my perch on Handies, I knew the snow would start about the junction with the South Fork stream that Prakash and I would take up to the north face of Sunshine.
Beware the Postholes Of Obnoxious Proportion! We got lead astray in the woods, and missed the trail for a short while, but soon found it, after cooling off our backsides with some postholes!
At the junction with South Fork, we part ways with Colin, since he wanted to hike the centennials. So I hand over a radio and Prakash and I cross the snow bridge to make our way up the valley to the base of Sunshine. From there we had to choose which gully to go up. So we went with the most asthetic one, surrounded by the jutting rocks above. Prakash took lead, and put in the booter, having to go low dagger with the whippet up top, since we both didn't want to carry crampons for such a short climb.
Sunshine, with the gully choices
Climbing up the prettiest looking gully
Prakash topping out of the gully
Me topping out of the gully - Photo: Prakash
Looking back down the gully to the valley beyond
Once above the gullies, we decide to take the snow up the face, until we had to traverse over to the ridge for the final couple hundred feet.
Pakash on the north slopes of Sunshine
Once on the summit, I was presented with the gloriously white SE face of Sunshine that Elliot had hinted at seeing from the lake off 149. I was getting excited! I had such low hopes for a good skis today, especially after seeing the boneyness on Handies. We had a glorious time skiing down the face, as it had just started to get warm. 15 or more minutes longer, and it would have been corn, but we had another peak to ski! So down we went, until it got flatter. Back up to the ridge, traverse around, and up to Redcloud!
Pano north from Sunshine
Pano west from sunshine
My skis about to shred a field of white!
Time to Ski! - Photo: Prakash
Prakash skiing the SE face of Sunshine
Just look at that white SE face of Sunshine!
The traverse to Redcloud was long and mostly dry once past the Sunshine side. Once on the summit, I became ecstatic that a summit ski was once again in! Though I was quite disappointed that I wouldn't be able to ski the east face gully. It was noon, and I just didn't want to chance setting off a wet slide. There were plenty of rock outcroppings in the snow that would be perfect triggers. The more northly facing slope would be doable, but we would still have to exit into the gauntlet of east and south facing rocks below, with a climb up a south facing slope to get back to the ridge/saddle. So no go
Looking back at Sunshine's rocky NE face
SW Pano from Redcloud
Me Ecstatic that Redcloud is IN - Photo: Prakash
Redcloud ridge skiing at its finest
Redcloud's East face.. snowy? Wow
So down the corniced ridge we went. Half way down, the cornice ran out, and was completely overhanging. But thankfully, Colin had radioed of another way... so I looked to my left, and spied a slope of white, accessible by taking the snowy trail for one switchback. Then we experienced something unheard of on Redcloud.... POWDER! Yes, that's right, we skied powder on the NNE face of Redcloud! It was gloriously amazing, and completely unexpected!!! We enjoyed ourselves lots
Prakash reveling in the POWDER!
Having fun in the snow! - Photo: Prakash
Redcloud's snowy NNE Face!
"Why would anyone want to hike down a mountain?"
Once below the face, it was "Warren Miller Ski Time"! Lovely corn snow awaited us, all the way down to our split from the morning. Oh glorious corn!
Trailhead: West Willow Creek - Equity Mine
Route(s): Western Yawner Gully
Elevation Gain: 5,970'
Time: 10.5 hours
A quick drive from Grizzly Gulch to the Equity Mine north of Creede. Beware the parking lot is mud soup at the turn-off/parking spot. I had to wash my feet after walking around trying to find a flat spot (non existent!).
As always in the morning of a solo hike, I procrastinate. So at 4:30, I finally get on the road to skin up to the pass for a pre sunrise ski down. There was a pretty hard freeze the night before, so the skiing was all hard pack. I more or less followed Eric and Rob's ski track from the Monday before, and exit into the valley below.
Moon lighting my way
San Luis Pass - pre dawn
From there it was a ski down, and traverse around and up to the base of the gully. Since this was day 3 for me, I decided that crampons would be too much weight, and I wanted as light and fast a day as possible. So while the lower section of the gully was easily bootable, the upper section was quite bullet proof. So up top, I stuck near the rocks and utilized my whippet.
Base of the gully
Evidence of a hard freeze, at the base of the Yawner
Pano west, midway up gully
View up the Yawner, once into the warm sun.
The last 800' or so up the gully was quite the suffer fest. I was starting to feel the effects of a long weekend of ski mountaineering. But eventually I got up to the ridge, and then it was an easy stroll to the summit.
On the summit around 10:30, not bad for a tired body! I transition quickly, since the top of the Yawner had been getting sun since soon after sunrise. The gully has many different solar aspects and is 2,400' long, so timing the snow just right would be tricky! As it was, the top steep section was hard pack, the middle was nice and soft, the bottom was corny goodness! Not too bad on the timing, even if it would have been nice to have the top be softer!
My skis, happy for yet another 14er with continuous snow!
Ridge ski off of San Luis
Looking down the top of the Western Yawner Gully
View back up, after a long fun ski!
From the base of the Yawner, it's back to a ski around and back up to the Pass. A heads' down and plod your way up. No attack of the glop-monster. Slush monster instead! A cruise down the stream gully on the way back to the upper trailhead, and then down the road. I thought I was having an easy time of it, until I got to the bypass road around the mine. Then it became a post-hole slush nightmare of me punching down to ground with my skis and my hand once. Getting to the top of that road for the last ski down cost quite the effort! Guess I couldn't get away from the ski post-hole! What a great 3-day weekend in the San Juans!
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