| Revisiting Favorites to Ski - East Face, Birthday Chutes and Hourglass
TR by Bill Middlebrook: Little Bear and a Big Turd
When I got the pm from Bill, it took me a millisecond to decide to go. Ever since I first summited Little Bear in 2010 as a snow climb, I've wanted to ski it. Back then I knew I wasn't quite ready for it, but if I worked hard and became a better skier, then I would ski it. Well, that was this year. I've worked hard, skiing steep and committing lines in variable snow conditions. I knew I was capable, just needed a partner that I could trust. I think I can honestly say that this was one of the most rewarding climb and skis I have had so far in my life. Though, I made far fewer turns than I had dreamed of making. With the low snow year, it was a lot narrower than I would have liked. So, if it wasn't for that darn road, I would be back in a better snow year to hit that again!
Route: East Face, D12
Elevation Gain: 3,790'
Trailhead: Lower 2WD Matterhorn Creek
With the snow melting fast in the San Juans and Sangre de Christo's, it was yet another weekend to get after the snow before it was gone. So time to ski my favorite peaks, since after Crestone Needle, my favorites are Wetterhorn and Sneffels. Zach and I had been communicating about what was on the top of our San Juan hit list. Top 2: Wetterhorn and Sneffels. So go time, let's ski these before they melt out!
I arrive around midnight, after a long day dancing with the Bear. We decide that getting that extra hour of sleep is worth it, and get up around 4:30. We were able to drive and park by the 4WD section of road, and we were greeted by snow shortly there after. Being eager to get the skis off our backs, we start skinning. Well the snow ended around the bend, and became horribly patchy until after the 4WD trailhead, where we able to keep the skis on till the base of the climb.
Good Morning Matterhorn!
Skinning up the drainage
Once at the base of the East Face, we quickly transition and start up the booter that was being refreshed by the two guys above from New Mexico. The sun was beating down on us, and now we kinda wished we had that hour back that we had slept in. It was a heads down and climb fast kinda day. We made short work of that climb, and were dropping crampons and extra gear by the scramble section asap.
The East Face of Wetterhorn!
Starting the booter up the face
Zach coming up in the hot sun
Yay! Top of the "skiable continuous snow"!
Next ~30 minutes: Speed scramble up south face, click GPS, sign register, spin in circle with camera, drop pack - put on skis, make a couple turns, drop pack - put skis on pack, speed scramble down, drop pack - refill crampons & ax, strap skis on feet, un-Koflach boots - GO!
The scrambling begins!
Summit pano 1
Summit pano 2
A bit of a mixed scramble...
Now to the fun part - SKIING! Fun, fun sloppy turns ensued shortly after getting onto the face. But they were still glorious, with amazing views. I made lots of pretty decent jump turns - Bill, you would have been proud!
Starting down the face
Skiing with a killer view!
Zach tearing it up on the face
Bill - I promise I made better looking jump turns than this
Such a great day of skiing - Photo by Zach
Bonus turns! Guess which one is mine
Dirty corny goodness on the way out
We got a couple sections of bonus turns on the way back, by following the tracks of the other skiers. Oh, they were absolutely perfect corn conditions, so I let it rip! Of course, when I hit that yucky brown snow, my body lurched forward, and I barely kept it under control. Amusingly, my iPhone popped out of my R1, and either I or Zach skied over it, scratching the back. But Zach went back and got it for me, and received a beer from Ouray Brewing as reward. It's the iPhone with 9 lives... I keep loosing it in the snow. If only I could lanyard that phone to me!!!
Route: Lavender Col, Birthday Chutes
Elevation Gain: 2,975'
Trailhead: Lower 2WD Yankee Boy Basin
While drinking beer at Ouray Brewery, we noted a new trailhead update for Yankee Boy Basin. YES! We can drive all the way up to the 2WD parking lot. So up we went. It took some careful driving in my silly low slung Outback, but I got it up there (with only one scrape to the front bumper on the way down). My truck is getting a new suspension this week, and I've missed it horribly! With the forecast saying an overnight low of 32, with a high in the 50's, wind and partly cloudy - I didn't want a repeat of yesterday, where we had to speed climb. So we set an early wake up call, and got on the trail that hour earlier.
Well, we coulda slept in that hour (or more). It was freakin cold! We got up to the base of the Lavender Col shortly after sunrise, and took a nice long break. It's going to be a LONG while before this snow warms up! But as I was starting to get cold, I begin the worlds slowest mountaineering rest step, and exaggerate my switchbacks up the slope. Brrr! Dang wind was killing us too. So when we got to the top of the saddle area, we hid behind the rocks and chatted up a group of 3 locals, who were going to ski the Snake. Waited and called on all my powers of 'Little Miss Sunshine' to force the sun from behind the clouds.
Skin it to win it!
Zach climbing the Lav Col - Birthday chutes on left, standard route on right
Me trying to stay warm - Photo Credit: Zach
Once the the sun had been out for a little while, I was tired of waiting, and we proceeded up the remainder of the Col. A nice booter all the way up, and soon I was looking over to the north face of Sneffels, where that group of 3 was rapping into the top of the Snake.
Sneffels.... the locals favorite ski resort!
Topping out of the Col
Ok, so the V-notch is out - it's covered with a thick cornice. So you have to go with the more exposed class ~4 scrambling option higher up. The left option started out with huge blocky scramble, then a snow climb and drop on other side. On the right, was a steep snow climb followed by a highly exposed scramble, with rocks above. I was worried about skis hitting those rocks above, and limiting my scrambling, so I went with option 1: left. Well, Zach went with option 2, and as expected had some issues with his skis hitting those rocks above. The last few moves were going to be really hard to do safely, and he was almost going to go down. But then I remembered something. I had a sling, which I use to lanyard my whippet to me - since I have a bad habit of dropping stuff. So I slung a horn up on the ridge, and made a hand hold for Zach, where none existed. This allowed him to more safely and confidently, scramble around the ridge with skis on his pack.
Your scramble options. Left: class 4 scramble with snow finish. Right: snow climb, with class 4/5 scramble finish and ice climb descent
Zach coming up option 2 (right)
Sorry - I have to rant now. I've been made fun of for carrying this sling on my pack for the last few years. It always irked me, since I thought - "One day this will be useful". Well, today it was. It allowed a friend and partner to more safely ascend a peak. It also pointed out, that on these tougher peaks, I should be carrying my alpine rope and some basic gear. I almost packed it, but I've become a pretty confident ski boots + crampons scrambler, and thought I wouldn't need it. Lesson learned!
The magical sling!
Ok, few more steps to the summit, where once again we wait as long as we possibly can for the snow to soften. We chat up another group of 3 skiers and split boarders from Telluride, rapping into the Snake. Snap a bunch of photos, enjoy the views...
Onwards, to the summit!
Ready to ski! Let's go!
Ok, clouds are starting to look darker (in a wide circle around us), and the sun is still out, so let's ski! We drop down the face a bit, then ski into the prominent line crossing the lower face, to find the entrance to the Birthday Chutes. Oh, glorious corn in the chutes. This was fun, lots and lots of fun. We had a blast taking photos of each other, and milking it for all it was worth! Such a quality route. I guess it was our "Birthday's" in spirit!
Skiing the summit face
Finding the entrance around the bend...
Oh, sweet sweet corn! How I love snow and skiing!
SO Happy! - Photo Credit: Zach
Skiing down the lower half of the chute - Photo Credit: Zach
Zach invisioning the awesomeness to come!
Zach skiing like it's his Birthday
Tearing it up!
Lovely snow, how I love it
Skiing the white stuff
Does not get better than this! - Photo Credit: Zach
Skiing, it's soooo much better than that other S word! - Photo Credit: Zach
Skiing with a view - Photo Credit: Zach
Just something pretty I saw on the way down
A look back at yet another favorite ski!
Thanks Zach for coming along on what is probably the last San Juan ski adventure for the year. Fun times! Now it's time to ski some of the closer peaks, once the snow stabilizes! That is, unless this week's snow storm brings as much snow as they promise...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):