Dates: April 23-27, 2013
Start/Finish: Lemon Reservoir/Town of Silverton
On April 23rd of 2013 I set out with three friends to do a trip we had all thought about for a long time - a ski traverse through the heart of the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains. In previous years we completed a number of other traverses in outlying parts of the San Juan – but this was the year to go for the big Kahoony. Early debates about whether to basecamp in one of the remote basins and climb/ski (and thus schlep extra mountaineering gear) quickly gave way to a plan to just move through the most spectacular part of the wilderness and get in as many great descents as possible on the way.
Day 1. Lift off. Lemon Reservoir to Sheridan Mountain
Entering the wilderness without a multi-mile long schlog along a forest service road was where our friend Dave played a key role. A well seasoned sledneck, Dave was able to rig up his machine to tow three skiers. If you never have “skied” behind a snowmachine you are missing out on an important category of the sport. Dodging rocks and racing uphill at 30 miles an hour is not to be missed. We knocked out the nearly 10 miles of road in less than an hour with some hilarious falls and no (serious) injuries. We thought it best to stick with the nature of gas burning fun and celebrate our entry at the Wilderness boundary with a round of cold ones.
Andrew & Dave at Snowmobiles End
Now it was time to work. Putting on our skins, we moved up hard snow and the above timberline ridge of Silver mesa making our way to Sheridan Peak for a ski descent down its long northwest facing couloir to land us at our campsite near City reservoir.
Sheridan Peak Coulior – just lookers right of the summit
Although the coulior itself presents a really nice line, the snow condition were less than optimal. And with fully loaded five-day packs we combat skied 45 degree rollovers on the variable, very hard and crusty snow.
Dude you’re doin it! Nate getting ready to ski a pitch in Sheridan’s coulior
Andrew negotiating a steep rollover in Sheridan’s coulior
We set up a nice camp in clearing weather with views of our route the next day.
Day 2: City Reservoir to Chicago Basin
Today it was our business to get up on and traverse the high alpine of Silver Mesa on our way to Chicago Basin. The skies were grey, trending toward, but never getting to, whiteout conditions, and the miles rolled by. We kept it going in hopes of a great ski descent from Aztec Mountain down into Chicago Basin.
Eventually we got to Aztec col and were not disappointed. Although the snow in this zone had a slight dust layer, a mile and half long and 2000 foot descent fired us up.
Dave testing the snow in the upper Aztec Bowl
The bowl funneled into a neat gully feature we were not sure went but we managed to hack our way down around and over logs and small ice patches.
Andrew in a gully that dumped us out near our campsite in Chicago Basin
Arriving into Chicago Basin we searched for dry ground and eventually found some slabs to cook and hang out on. Then it started snowing…..We hit the tents with hopes of an early start and an impressive descent into upper Noname Basin.
Day 3: Chicago Basin to Noname Basin
Leaving our camp in Chicago Basin for a Col into Noname
Today we had two plans, both leading to the same place. Our original idea was to cross over into Upper Noname Basin via the Sunlight Col – and it did indeed look excellent both on the map and from a ski mountaineering standpoint. But a somewhat late start and boiling sunshine led us to expedite our climb on these south facing slopes to the much closer, Twin Thumbs col. Our season's already sketchy snowpack had our antenna up, and indeed a few sloughs did come down during our ascent, making precise routefinding and speed a requirement here.
Closing in on Twin Thumbs Pass – the Spectacular Needle Ridge in front of us
Happy to be off the rapidly warming southern slopes in the Twin Thumbs col. Peak 18 in the background
When we finally arrived at the col and found a huge, perfectly white, powdery and well angled bowl. After some stability assessment we fired up some of the best turns of the trip. In the end, this was probably the better ski descent and the 2200 feet of powder and then corn snow sealed any questions as to whether we had taken the best route
Nate laying down some nice ones in the Twin Thumbs bowl. Impressive unnamed peak to the left
Dave showing off his new school tele chops in the Twin Thumbs Bowl. Paul & Nate’s perfect tracks next door
A shot of the full ski from Twin Thumbs down into Upper Noname
Nate and I had both been in Noname basin numerous times in the Summer, always an incredible place, we looked around at scores of possible world class descents. We then rested and prepared to head up again towards Jagged Col to get into position for another big day.
Shot of Upper Noname with Knifepoint and Peak 10 in background
After a few hours of climbing we hit a perfect campsite at a small lake just below Jagged Col.
Moonrise from our camp below Jagged Col, looking West –Animas Mountain and the Index in the background
Day 4: Jagged Coal to Elk Creek
This was a big day with some questions. Two things we knew for sure; we didn’t want to be on any steep sunny slopes in the afternoon and that we had 6 passes to get over so the plan was to get up super early and make a long mountain run through some rarely traveled terrain.
Looking back at Jagged Peak from Leviathan Col with Jagged Col on the right
We ascended in the dark to the top of Jagged Col and admired Jagged Peak in full condition. No give-away in the summer, a winter ascent of Jagged would surely be a proud one. But this trip was for skiing so we immediately moved north to our second pass right next to Leviathan Peak.
Looking out at our next passes from Leviathan pass
One of my very favorite parts of the trip. We skied down into a a very tight bowl with huge walls looming all around, (still too dark for a good picture). The skiing was frozen corn but still a blast with lots of interesting variations. From the bottom we shot up another short pass and around to the east ridge of Peak 7 and then north again to a pass near Peak 8 and around again to a pass dropping us into Lake Silex. Five of the six passes were down and we had skied through some incredible terrain with the turns improving by the minute.
Peak 8 to our right, East Trinity Peak in the background left
After making our final, mildly hairy, descent down a shallow gully into the upper reaches of Stormy Gulch we laid down on a small patch of dry ground for a long nap under the impressive north face of Storm King Peak. I think we would all have slept soundly here but all the boots, socks and pants came off and their were some scents emanating from our rest area that were definitely not natural.
After a few hours we rousted ourselves into a lazy conversation about where to go from here. Quality plans were laid out to ski off the summit of Peak 1 or Peak 2 the following day. But as the afternoon wore on and the sun got lower in the sky we all settled on the more appealing option of just skiing to the Peak 1 and Peak 2 pass and drop the big and long descent right down into the upper Elk Creek drainage.
The long, hot trail up to Trinity Pass
The skin up to Trinity Pass was a solar oven. My friends decided to strip down and try all sorts of cooling and shading techniques. I maintained my dignity and relied solely on Jedi mind power to control body temperature. When we finally pulled the skins at the pass we were welcomed by a really nice mellow descent through more incredible terrain and a dry camp in an upper Elk Creek Meadow was warmly welcomed with a nice fire, much eating, and polishing off the rest of our small (strictly survival) supply of booze and tobacco.
Looking back up to Trinity Pass
Day 5: Silverton
We woke up late and started another tiny fire. Our ski "descent" for this day consisted of extremely dangerous downhilling of the 2 foot wide trail over ice and talus. Soon the snow ran out and we resigned ourselves to a long boot hike. Arriving at the train stop in Elk Park, the prospects of booting up the 5 miles and 2000 vertical up to Molas pass seemed like an unfitting end to our journey. It was early season, the train wasn’t running, so we opted to hike out the tracks into Silverton. About 2.5 hours later we were walking up and down the empty streets of Silverton with skis strapped to our packs looking for an open restaurant. Finding none, we hit the liquor store, bought some Coors and couple bags of Funyuns and sat out front on the small grass patch to relax and await our ride. Shortly thereafter a Sheriff deputy pulled up. Busted! We were not liking the idea of ending our trip with open container tickets. But no, he, and everyone else around, just wanted to know about what we had just done. This is the Southwest Colorado I love, when mountain folks young and old are interested in hearing about high country adventures. He was a nice guy and seemed genuinely excited for us and our trip. Cool.
Rolling into Silverton the old fashioned way - Dave, Nate, and the trip photographer Paul Broderick
I have been skiing and climbing in the San Juan's for nearly 20 years and this trip takes the cake for adventure and scenery. I am happy to answer any questions or give additional details about our route or kit.
Andrew Klotz http://mtnguide.net/