| Here I go again on my own
After hearing that the road was nearly open to the Wetterhorn trailhead, I decided to head out to Lake City in hopes of getting a ski decent of Wetterhorn. The plan was to meet up with my friend Austin in Buena Vista. Just as I arrived in B.V., Austin called and told me that the weather forecast for the Sangres had improved and that he wanted to make an attempt on Crestone Peak. So, I decided to head down to Lake City, solo.
I arrived shortly before sunset and discovered that the Henson Creek road was gated off just after the Nellie creek jeep road, inspite of the fact that the road was completely dry. Since I had my Wetterhorn/Uncompaghre map with me, I decided I’d do Uncompaghre the next morning.
Just as I had set up camp, it began snowing. The ground and the vegetation were well above freezing when the snow started, but it was coming down hard enough that the snow was accumulating. With the promise of a good snow day, I quickly fell asleep.
The next day I awoke to about an inch of snow on the ground and an additional one or two inches on my car and tent. Not wanting to risk having to dig my Jeep out of a snow drift, I decided to just leave my Jeep, and hike the entire Nellie Creek road. A Jeep with good tires (definitely not mine) could have driven at least 1000 vertical feet up the road, but oh well, I needed the exercise.
I headed out, I think, a couple hours before sunrise. The morning was extremely cold, and it appeared that there had been enough wind the night before to knock the freshly fallen snow off of the tree branches. Fortunately the wind had stopped and I was able to enjoy the day without any wind.
First view of the peak
Once I reached tree line, Uncompaghre’s vast East basin became visible. The standard route stays to the right (North), of the creek. I decided to take the more direct path to the left. In hindsight, it might have been better to have taken the standard route since it follows a gentle and continuous grade upwards, whereas the left side has a lot of ups and downs. But oh well, I needed the exercise.
As I approached the steeper snow slope, south of Uncompaghre’s cliff bands, I began eyeing the cliffs for a possible ascent/descent route through the cliff band. There were plenty of options to climb through, but a suitable line for the descent was a bit more elusive. By the time I got to the South ridge at the base of the cliff band, I had viewed one or two lines with moderate airs that might have provided a possible descent route, but being solo, I wasn’t incredibly psyched about that option. I decided to traverse around the West side to see what I could find.
The West side revealed several climbable gullies that I knew would get me above the cliff band. One of the gullies even had enough snow for a descent. I ascended one of the more snowless, wind blasted gullies.
Best West face option
Once above the cliff bands, my completely windless day became a little bit windier, however it was an easy skin to the summit from here. The broad summit plateau was mostly wind blasted, but held strips of snow that lead to the summit.
Sunshine and Redcloud
Looking over the North face. Probably not a good option for a descent
I was able click in to my skis on snow on the exact summit (well, at the base of the highest rock on the summit) and ski a narrow stretch of wind hammered snow all the way to the roll over at the edge of the summit plateau. The roll-over had the thinnest snow, which I had to carefully ski through, cross-country style.
Past the roll over, the pitch steepened a little bit and yielded a few nice powder turns.
Below summit plateau
Arriving at the top of the West gully I chose for my decent, I knew it was about time to pay the piper. The gully had enough snow for a complete ski descent, but it was very, very thin! There was a lot of careful side stepping over rocks and very carefully planned jump turns into snow less than a foot deep.
Looking down West face gully
Bottom of West face gully
At the bottom of the gully, I ski traversed a band of snow around to the south ridge and the east facing snow field. Although I was reasonably confident with the stability of the snow pack, I exercised a bit of caution while descending this slope, including a few ski cuts, a bail out plan, a line that reduced the possibility of trigger points, followed by a fast exit.
There was one other steep roll-over that I cut and then made some fast turns down to flatter terrain.
After this, the terrain was flat enough to not worry about slides but steep enough to keep me going, while making a few large radius turns. A cornice overhanging a steep sided gully gave me one last thrill before getting back on the snow covered trail and skiing my skin track back out.
I was able to ski the trail down to just below 10 000’, for a 4 000’ + vert. day! I even got some nice views on the hike out.
Summit descent and 4000' vert of continuous skiing...woo hoo!
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