| Early Season Elk Fun
Saturday April 28th
Willoughby Mountain - 13,143
UN 13020 B
From: Ditch TH
Aprox: 16 mi, 6100 ft
Partners: Dwight & Dominic
After a short nights sleep at the Snowmass Inn, we made the quick drive to the Ditch Trail. Thanks to some tips from Kurt Traskos, we found it rather easily. If you're coming from Snowmass Village, take a left off of Divide Road right before it starts to descend. The turn, just past Divide Drive and before an obvious z in the road, is not marked by anything that would lead you to believe that there is a trailhead back there. If you hear a bunch of dogs going crazy, you're probably in the right area.
If you're heading up the East Snowmass Creek drainage, the ditch trail allows you to substitute less than a mile of flat easy hiking for the initial 500 feet of elevation gain required from the East Snowmass TH. Given the length of our planned hike, every little shortcut would help. We started hiking around 5:30 by headlamp and followed the nice ditch trail past ski slopes as it traversed into the Snowmass Creek drainage. It terminated at the creek after about 2.4 miles. At this point we were able to easily cross the creek and climb up to the East Snowmass Trail on the other side.
The East Snowmass Trail soon became difficult to follow. It is cut into the steep slopes on the west side of the creek and the deep snow on these slopes showed it little regard. Snowshoes quickly became necessary. Often we found it easier to walk very close to the creek bottom. At one point as we were dropping down steep dirt banks with our snowshoes on to cross to the other side of the creek, I looked over and saw Dominic tumbling down. He was OK.
After a few hours of hiking, we finally began to discover what lurked near the head of this narrow drainage; Willoughby and its long flowing ridge were to our right, and the steep, red faces of Baldy and UN 13,244 were to our left. Most impressive were the steep slopes of UN 13,336 straight ahead. It was our first goal. Initially I hadn't planned on including it because Kirk Mallory and Kurt Traskos had attempted to climb its southwest ridge last May and turned back. However, before we left, Kurt told us we should try it as long as we had axes and crampons.
We had planned on climbing to the UN 13,336 – UN 13,020 saddle and attempting the southwest ridge of UN 13,336 first, but as we approached we began to eyeball a more convenient couloir route on its steep northeast face. Although it wasn't very early, this face hadn't been in the sun long so we decided to test it out. The snow wasn't hard and at first our snowshoes with heel elevators did the trick. As we climbed higher up the middle of the couloir the angle increased. A small rock came whizzing down from above, prompting us to move to the right side near a rocky rib. The snow here wasn't as nicely consolidated I had to stow my snowshoes precariously in the midst of trying to get out of it and onto the rib. Dwight and Dominic followed, removing their snowshoes sooner. We scrambled up the steep snowy rib until we reached the summit ridge. We estimate the average angle of our route to be 40 degrees. From there it was a rather easy hike to the top. I think it was around 12:30 when we arrived.
The views from the summit were grand. We could see the other three East Snowmass Creek 13ers we intended to climb as well as North Maroon, Pyramid, Sleeping Sexton, Snowmass, and Capitol. What a cast of characters! All of our hard work getting here really paid off, but we couldn't stay long because we still had a lot of work ahead of us.
Next on the agenda was a descent of the southwest ridge en route to UN 13,020. It looked like even though it might have a few tricks up its sleeve, it would probably go. In some spots we were forced to carefully traverse below the ridge proper to avoid difficulties, but we never encountered anything extremely spicy. The snow was soft and there was no need for crampons.
From the UN 13,336 – UN 13,020 saddle it was a short, easy climb to the summit of 13,020. Again, the views were dazzling. Buckskin Benchmark was staring us in the face, but alas the day was only so long and our energy limited. Willoughby Mountain, our final objective, looked far away and several gentle but significant ridge bumps stood in our way.
We left UN 13,202 around 2:30, wishfully calculating that we'd reach Willoughby by 4:00. Past the UN 13,020 – Willoughby saddle snowshoes were welcomed. The ridge bumps slowed our tiring bodies down, but we somehow managed to get to get over them – it helped knowing that climbing Willoughby was actually taking us back toward the TH. We topped out around 4:30. There were more awesome views of course, but my mind couldn't stay away from thoughts of it being so late and the long haul back to the TH.
We hiked north along the ridge from Willoughby for a few tenths of a mile before descending northeast along an obvious gentle rib. Slushshoes again became mandatory. Near 11,800 feet we left the rib and headed west down into a small gully. The snow had been baking in the hot sun all day and was not stable. When I was in a flattish area, I heard and felt the settling of a huge area of snow around me. There was a 100ish foot section that we tiptoed down anxiously.
Soon enough we arrived back in the vicinity of the East Snowmass Creek Trail. We tried to take a slightly better path back to the ditch trail, actually picking our way down the creek proper for half a mile or so near the end. It was getting dark when we reached the trail, but we knew the end was near. I think that gave us the little boost of energy we needed to finish it off. We arrived at the TH just after 9:00 after 15 ˝ hours of hiking. Just a tad bit hungry, we drove around town in search of food. Snowmass sucks and we ended up eating a sub par meal at some bar before crashing again at the Snowmass Inn. Although we had plans for a hike the next day, we decided to not set an alarm – we would get up and start hiking whenever we felt like it.
pictures & route map:
Sunday, April 29th
Baldy Mountain A – 13,155 (unranked)
From: Ditch TH
Approx: 10.5 mi, 4500 ft
Partners: Dwight & Dominic
Not much more than 10 hours after completing Saturday's 15.5 hour epic, we were at it again. Why do we do this to ourselves? Today we hoped to finish off the four East Snowmass Creek 13ers with UN 13,244 located on the east side of the East Snowmass Creek drainage. It promised to be a much easier day, but not really easy by any means. Very manageable though.
The empty post-season slopes of Snowmass ski resort provide easy access to this peak. The route is simple – take your pick of ski slopes and hike up them for thousands of feet until you cross the ski area boundary and come to a long easy ridge. Follow the ridge over its many bumps to the summit.
We decided to begin the hike again at the ditch trail. We weren't familiar with the resort area but knew we could quickly access ski slopes from there. This time we followed the ditch trail for 0.2 miles and then started hiking up the first ski slope we came across. The lower portion was melted out and a little muddy. We were soon on solid, soft snow and put our snowshoes on for improved traction. The monotonous climb up never ending ski slopes was rather efficient. A snowmobile and a snow cat passed us along the way.
Above the ski slopes, it was easy going to the top of the cirque where the long ridge to UN 13,244 begins. The ridge is easy, but its many ups and downs are discouraging. The largest bump is unranked Baldy Mountain. We all ditched our snowshoes at various places along the ridge and summitted around 1:00 I think. It was a HOT day. We were all sweating like crazy and trying to keep ourselves lathered with sunscreen. We've been in the habit of taking very short summit breaks lately because its cold and windy in winter, but today we had to ease back into the idea of a nice, relaxing, warm summit break. We stayed for a long time, thoroughly enjoying it. The views of the surrounding 14ers and other magnificent peaks were again astounding.
After we had our fill, we started back pondering how we could get down those ski slopes the fastest. The snow was pretty wet so glissading wasn't on option in most places. We were able to descend pretty quickly by slide stepping down the slopes until we reached Sam's Knob (point 10,621 on the map). From there we borrowed a crash pad and the three of us skillfully rode it the rest of the way down the snow covered slopes. We managed this by sitting on it couch style and working together to control our speed and direction with carefully coordinated heel digging in the snow. At first it was tricky to not spin around, but we quickly figured it out. At the bottom, we set it aside in an obvious location for it to be retrieved. From there it was a short jaunt back to the car. Total round trip time including our long summit stay was 8.5 hours. This was a great, entirely safe, reasonable hike that I would recommend to anyone wanting to get out in the Elks early season without an extraordinary amount of effort.
pictures & route map: