Trailhead: Silver Creek (Colorado Trail)
Elevation Gain: 4,801'
Some trips are a test of ones will power, or stubbornness. For whatever reason, I really wanted to ski Yale this year. The only snow face left was the NE one. No trail for half of it, but hopefully enough snow to skin and boot up. I knew there would be a bushwhack, when I had to leave the nicely groomed Colorado Trail, but I hoped it wouldn't be that bad.
Based on the forecast, it was going to be rather cool and windy, so I would be in no hurry to get to the summit. The snow would keep. So I got up with the sun, and started up the easy Colorado Trail. It climbs steadily up the Silver Creek Drainage. Shortly after setting out, it starts to snow, heavily! I had to swap gear to put on my soft shell and hood to stay dry. Fun!
Yale's East Ridge, through the snowy clouds
The trail was reasonably dry until the stream crossing, where I was planning on leaving the trail anyway. After that, the snow is pretty thick and patchy in places. Plenty of downed trees to navigate as well. All terrain skinning ensued...
After what felt like an eternity in the trees, I exit to find that the clouds are starting to part, and the sun has come out. I could finally see my snowy path to the summit. It was going to work. Be the Beta!
The clouds part over Yale
The snowy fingers up to the summit
As I was making my final approach to the windy summit, I could see two people briefly on top. They didn't stay long, and I don't blame them. The snow banshees were out with the fresh snow, blowing it around. I stayed on the summit for a little while, in the vain hope that the sun may warm things up a bit. I knew it was futile with the temperatures up high and the winds, but where there wasn't fresh snow, it was going to be rather bullet proof. Oh well, revel in the freshies, and survive the hard pack. I searched out all the pockets of fresh snow to make my turns in, as I dropped the summit pitch, and then traversed over to the drop into the valley below. Once below the last powder drop, the snow had turned to corn, since the wind was less. Then the snow turned to mush in the trees. So I got to see all the major snow types today for a well-balanced ski diet.
My descent down the NE Face
Harvard and Columbia as I get ready to ski
Powder off the summit!
Traversing to the next powdery slope
Last bit of powder
The drop into the bushwhacking valley
A nice view before re-entering the trees.
After another eternity bushwhacking in the trees, sliding on variable snow and climbing over trees, I make it back to the stream crossing. Then all I have to do is shoulder the skis and walk the remainder back to the trailhead and grill up some dinner!
I had originally planned to go ski Castle and Conundrum on Saturday, but after hearing Bob and Kate's plans with Valerie, I figured I could do them on Sunday. Since while going out for dinner and drinks with friends during the week, or even emailing with those farther away like Valerie is nice, there's nothing like the quality time spent attached to the side of a mountain for 16 hours! Besides, I had been eying the 13ers around the Bells and Pyramid as snow climbs for a while now. Why not add skis to the mix! I am masochistic and stubborn, remember?
I arrived shortly after 7:20pm to the lower overflow spot to sleep, while the rest were at the main lot, arriving after dark. In the morning I confer with the group about the beta on the trail, disoriented by the smell of coyote urine they had spread to thwart the porcupines. I have a big decision to make. Boot Wings... I hate them, but sometimes they are the only option. My 3 yr old pack no longer really fits in the hips, so if I have to put my 7.5# boots on my skis on my pack, that's a lot of weight all on my shoulders. So how much snow on the ~4mi approach? Unknown... Pick your suffering! I chose to walk those 4 miles of approach and deproach in my ski boots. My feet will hate me at the end of the day!
The walk up the rocky trail goes well enough, as the sun slowly brings some light as we get to the turn-off to the ascent. We run into Jorge, who tells us of a group of 3 ahead of us. Sounds like we'll have a party on Thunder!
Evening at the Bells
Early morning Crater Lake reflection
Approaching the turn off
A little beyond the snow bridge creek crossing, we transition over to crampons for the snow ascent. The snow is really firm, having never warmed up the day before at all. So all the new snow that fell on Friday morning, is still fresh, but blown into pockets. We make an ascending traverse to the base of the climb. Then we ascend a snow field and cross along a ledge system to the base of the snow gully. Here we get the first views of the condition of the snow. It has wet slid and was rough in the center. Where the gully was wide enough with snow, there were some smoother areas of snow at the sides. But mostly it was like climbing rough frozen seas. With giant snail heads of snow to climb around. Blerg!
Valerie looking bad azz! But that's normal for her
The snow gully (on left), with Brit and crew at the start
Bob with Lightning Pyramid behind
Kate or Valerie with the stunning backdrop of the Bells
Up the rough, choppy gully we go!
Sun rise on the rough surface of the snow gully
Sun rise behind my skis - Photo Credit: Bob
The up on this snow gully was unrelenting. Not particularly steep, just never ending! The inconsistency of foot steps, moving around the slide debris was taxing and tiring. We reached the split in the gully's and chose to go with the far right one. We had all read Caroline's TR, and felt this would be the easiest option, even with the scrambling we'd have to do above. There is a snow line directly to the summit, but it looked steep and possibly thin. Better safe and easy, than sorry. We were tired.
Bob's tilting my world! Cant. keep. camera. straight.
Kate climbing the last bit of snow to the saddle
Once at the end of the snow, we scramble with crampons still on, up a nice reasonably solid rock rib to the saddle. From here we make our way to just below the summit pitch, where we can see the ledge system that works it's way up to the summit. This would be very tricky with skis on my pack. One exposed rock ledge, caused me more harm than the others, just since my skis were hitting top and bottom. But with team work, we all made it over the cruxes and made it to the summit, very very tired, but happy to have made it. It was Bob, Kate and Valerie's second go at this peak, so it was a sweeter victory for them. Celebrated with some GF CC cookies.... Mmmm summit cookies
Scrambling! - Photo Credit: Valerie
Looks like a rocky scramble to the summit from the saddle
At saddle, with ridge and more scrambling to go. Ledge system below cliff face - Photo Credit: Valerie
The ledge system with the 2 cuxes. One especially for me with my skis
Me at the crux step - Photo Credit: Bob
The group traversing the icy step crux
Ah, the Elks are awlays beautiful with a coating of white
Now for the tricky part... descending to the snow. Down climbing is ever so much more tricky with skis on!
Kate gracefully descends a class 4 section - Photo Credit: Bob
My turn... hey are my skis hitting anything? - Photo Credit: Bob
Recrossing the step crux - much easier the second time! - Photo Credit: Bob
Why we left the crampons on! - Photo Credit: Valerie
Once back to the snow, it was go time! I was hoping for a decent ski, and that the rest of the group could glissade as much as possible. The new snow was ok for the first couple turns, then turned into concrete when I traversed into the center gully. After awhile, I decided that skiing the old snow surface, which had gone to corn, was a much more enjoyable time. Once I figured that out, it was a glorious ski down to the transition point, where I sat down to wait for the group.
Time to enjoy the reason I brought skis up! - Photo Credit: Valerie
First set of "powder" turns
Looking down my line. Such views!
The soon to be, butt sliders. Probably hating me right now
Concrete turns - Photo Credit: Bob
Jump... turn... ugg, skis are heavy! - Photo Credit: Bob
Skiing with a view - Photo Credit: Bob
Looking back up at the concrete jump turns down the line, with the group above.
Oooo, corn turns
Some glissading to be had - Photo Credit: Bob
Kate and Valerie making their way down - Photo Credit: Bob
Relaxing at the transition spot, I figured I had about 30-45 min to wait. At least that was what I hoped for. But after awhile, I didn't see any one coming over the last section of snow. Hmmmm... what's a sure fire way to get them to show up? Take off my boots and socks, and tear apart my boots to dry. Surely luck would have it, that as soon as I did that, there they would be! Then I would be scrambling to reassemble my boots. Hmmmmm.... it's not working? After a long while, I see Bob up on the rocks. Maybe the snow turned bad? They couldn't glissade all of it? We used some yelling and sign language to communicate. As soon, as I saw three heads, I got my boots back together and got the skis on the pack. Traversed around, and built a bit of a snow traverse over the section we had cramponed over this morning. Then skied down below to wait some more.
Well, when they got to the snow traverse, Bob yelled at me to "Go Home". So after a bit, I turned my skis downhill and went down. I didn't want any rocks thrown at my like Arya did to Nymeria! I got the hint
Another 13er with ski potential...
Bob and Kate glissading the last big slope, with my tracks nearby - Photo Credit: Valerie
A look back to Thunder Pyramid in the sun
Not that I was going to leave them too far out of sight. I skied down to the snowshoe stash, where I found Brit and Shawn. They then got to witness ski dancing with willows! I'm still perfecting my dance moves... After the snow bridge crossing, and starting the trek down the trail, I could see the group approaching the last of the snow slopes to the snowshoes. At least they wouldn't be too far behind my sorry ski boot hobbling self! Many Aspen locals were running up and down the trails for exercise that evening, and all noted my ski boot situation. Many gave me encouragement. One even thought for a moment that I had just skied Pyramid solo... I wish! Haha There are no lines in from the Maroon Bells side, not that I could see.
This big grouse gave me a song and a dance! Maybe my foul smell confused him as to my species...
Back at the parking lot. I move my truck, since coyote urine is potent nasty smelling !(#$*! I set up my grill and make my dinner while I wait. I had some left-over pre-cooked bacon that I handed over to Bob and Kate, who looked as tired as I was! I jokingly say, Lackawanna? They laugh. They want none of that. Nor does Valerie.
Bob, Kate, Valerie and Matt had planned on hiking up the SW snow gully of Lackawanna on Sunday. I thought, well maybe, if Thunder Pyramid really tires me out, I'll come. After 16 hours on the trail on Sat, there was no way I could recover in time to do another full day on Castle & Conundrum. Lackawanna would be an "easier" day. I could sleep in till 6:30am! Just climb up the snow, slide back down. No big apporoach, hardly any bushwack. Simple. I can recover to ~70% in time for tomorrow. My left knee was achy, but nothing some Vitamin-I couldn't cure.
So finding Matt's vehicle at the turn out the next morning, I pull in and get my boots on, and start probably an hour afterwards. Guess I'll see him on the summit, as my slow ass makes it's way up another 3K of snow!
I jettisoned all superfluous gear, taking only the super bear essentials. No crampons or puffy, I'll just make do without. Time to go light and fast....er-ish-like, haha. I'll only be a short distance from my vehicle all day anyway.
2K of snow to the summit!
Mini La Plata! Star Mountain
After what feels like a slow moving dream of snow delusions, I reach the summit, and chat with Matt for a little while. As he didn't bring his board, he starts down before me. Skis win out again, even if it takes more work to get them uphill.
Dropping the steepest section
The top part of the SW gully
A short re-ascend to get some more corn!
Milking my turns for the last lil bit.
Remainder of the continuous snow, a bit of side hill skiing!
Those aren't ski tracks! They're boot tracks! Yep, too rocky for skis on the lower section of snow, so I let my boots slide. Turning and hockey stops worked just like having skis on too! Fun
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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