Climb and ski descent of Snowmass Mountain, 5/14/2013
West face route from high camp in Lead King Basin
Crew: Jordan (Jcwhite), Matt (pioletski), Gerlinde (telerina13)
Springtime in the Rockies!
The Elk Mountains, particularly the Lead King and Fravert basins, have been my favorite place on earth since childhood. What more fitting place to finish my personal 14ers quest, adding to my collection of sweet memories of that area!
Gerlinde and I met up with Jordan in Carbondale, enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the Village Smithy (highly recommended!), and headed over to Marble. Under a somewhat cloudy sky, we started skinning up the road to Lead King Basin at around 2:30 on Monday afternoon.
We found a relatively dry spot to camp at about 9700', near the summer trailhead for Geneva Lake.
Given the tricky and variable weather this spring, Jordan and I had selected Tuesday at the last minute for our climb. We expected a bluebird day, but it was a bit of a gamble as to whether the overnight freeze would be adequate. We decided to compensate for this by getting up at 2:00 am and getting going as soon as possible. Upon rising, to our encouragement, we saw a clear starry sky. Even though the temperature had never gone below freezing, the snow was firm in open areas, though not in the woods, a nice demonstration of radiative freezing.
Gerlinde, being smarter than me and Jordan combined, remained cozy in her sleeping bag while we began our trek. Our first task was to fight our way through the willows to Geneva Lake. Fortunately they don't cover too great an area in Lead King Basin. Unfortunately they are bigger than the willow bushes at, say, Guanella Pass. Like the muskeg in Alaska, these have 3" diameter trunks at the base. What's more, they are like the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter - they physically pick you up and throw you back down the hill. We were soon through them and back on snow, but it still took us 2 hours to get to the lake.
Once above Geneva Lake our pace improved considerably, and we watched the dawn creeping over the ridge of Snowmass Mountain. Here first light touches Siberia Peak across the valley:
There is a great advantage to climbing a west facing slope early in the day: we were in shade until we came out above the ridge, so the ascent was cool and comfortable.
One of the joys of climbing 14ers is watching the view unfold as you gain altitude. Capitol Peak was gradually unveiled to our left: first, the summit and south face...
... and then, by degrees, the east face, Secret Chute, Knife Ridge, K2 and One-in-a-Million. Capitol had been the first peak that Jordan and I climbed together:
To our right, the southern Elk and Ragged Mountains:
Shortly after 9:00 am we found ourselves doing the last few mixte climbing moves onto the summit ridge...
... and then celebrated the summit with a wee nip of Suntory which Jordan had thoughtfully brought for the occasion!
Spectacular summit views dept: the Bells, Castle, and Pyramid:
Geneva Lake and Lead King Basin:
The obligatory self-timed shot of the crew:
And then it was time to ski. We weren't in a hurry to get off the summit, but we didn't wait around for the snow to soften either, knowing that it would get pretty manky by the time we reached the valley floor. The upper part had a feathery, crystalline surface that took an edge well and made for nice skiing even though it was too hard to leave a track. Here's Jordan...
... me. One thing that needs to be pointed out - NO BILLYGOATING! Continuous clear skiing from summit to lake.
I have to add the comment that it's really hard for a photo, or even a video, to capture the immense joy of skiing in a setting like this!
All too soon we were at the bottom of the pitch...
... glancing back at Snowmass, shining in the sun...
... and approaching Geneva Lake.
Imagine our surprise when Gerlinde popped out of the trees to meet us!
Together we descended back into Lead King Basin, had some lunch, broke camp and started the trek (ok, slog) back to Marble.
After enjoying a quick trailhead refreshment...
... we repaired to White House Pizza for celebration.
The evening became a glow of good friends and good vibes; finishing a project like this naturally leads one to introspection. A few parallels came to light: this was two years to the day after I had had the privilege of celebrating Brittany's finisher on Pike's Peak; Snowmass had also been Jordan's finisher, followed also by celebration at White House. And it was an honor to share a meal with Lou Dawson.
I have mentioned elsewhere that skiing the 14ers is generally a team sport, and I am thankful to all who have accompanied me or contributed advice, photos, etc. along the way. Bill Middlebrook, your website is a marvelous resource. Benners has been my companion on more peaks than I can count at the moment. Jordan was not only there at the finish, he helped me to raise my game to tackle many of the harder summits. Frank, Brittany, Carl, Marc - the list is very long. Not least of all I thank Gerlinde for her patience!
Lou asked me if I had thought about dedicating my project to anyone. I replied that one of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me, or ever could, was to spark the passion for skiing and mountaineering that led me to take this on and see it through. I hope and plan to pass that gift on to my three sons.
I also credit Brittany and Frank for reminding me that 11 is actually a pretty special number:
Cheers, happy trails, and thank you for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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