| Maroon to Snowmass Ski Tour
Ascent of Bell Cord to Maroon Peak Summit
Ski Decent of Maroon SW Couloir
Decent of Favert Basin to Geneva Lake, Bivy
Ascent of West Couloir Snowmass Mountain
Ski Descent Direct from Summit onto Snowmass Snowfield
Descent of Snowmass Creek Drainage to Car Shuttle
25 mile loop?
My goals for the season where steep, I wanted to have 50 14er summit descents under my belt while finishing off the Sangres, Sawatch and most of the San Juans. Unfortunately I broke my leg in a test of fate on Mount Massive in December and therefore lost 3 months of the ski season. As it would turn out, the snowpack in Colorado was horrendously unstable throughout the winter so chances are I wouldn't have finished many peaks over that time period anyway. I did miss out on a trip to Culebra which bummed me out quite a bit, but I can only blame myself for the mistakes which led to my injury.
So during the long three months I had time to change my goal for the season to skiing some steeps and hitting the 40 peak mark on my list. This trip completed both aspects that goal.
I had a bit of trouble finding someone who wanted to do this loop. Everyone I talked to mentioned how difficult it would be for a few reasons. You have to carry an overnight pack up Maroon Peak and then ski down a high 50 degree couloir (Dawson's guidebook says between 60 and 70!) with the heavy load. Then a long journey was in store down Favert Basin to get close to Geneva Lake. The climb up and out of Favert Basin was reported as a horrible bushwhack through aspens on steep slopes. Once at Geneva Lake the difficulties would be past, only a simple 3000' climb over Snowmass remained with a 12 mile out.
Luckily Adimmen was up for the task after some serious moaning and groaning. He prefers to hit up aesthetic seldom skied lines as opposed to focusing on 14ers. We left the car shuttle at the Snowmass Creek Trailhead and headed up to Maroon Lake. Our ski descent route got relatively late sunhit so we started out at 5:45 am. A quick walk in trail shoes had us below the Garbage chute cramponing up. Shouldering the 50 lb loads we made quick progress up the moderate snow slopes to the base of the Bell Cord. We had originally wanted to climb the Y couloirs below the east face, but fresh snow up high above this route and warm sun had us diverting our booter up the cord. Just as we walked onto the apron a large rock came down the east face proper sending us bounding rapidly out from under its path. The snow was better than I expected in the couloir, runnel season is significantly delayed this year. In no time, we topped out at the notch.
I forgot my camera in the car shuttle at Snowmass Creek Trailhead. I have a system of remembering my camera which failed me on this trip by which I always take a pic to capture the start time of a day. Well, we didn't start until we had motored 30 miles from my car. Dohh!
The final stretch to the summit involved the most interesting climbing on Maroon for us. Instead of using the ridgeline, we contoured out across the face and climbed several steep and still frozen couloirs to the summit. I immediately checked out the entrance to our line and it was completely in, a direct from the summit was in the cards. The snow was still well frozen up high on the route so we dug a shelter on the summit from the gusty winds and cooked a hot lunch.
At 12:30pm we skied off the summit into what would be the most aesthetic couloir either of us has yet skied.
A few rocks were navigated around with ease to the entrance roll over.
The snow was still very firm. A high 50 degree pitch greeted us with open arms. I was happy to hit it first. Adimmen experienced his own form of camera failure due to dead batteries. He didn't have time to adjust the exposure time so these pics are pretty washed out.
Jump turns ensued for several hundred feet, then the snow softened and we had the option to make smooth arcs down the straight slot.
The apron was as usual in the Elks, super fun. Skiing out into upper Favert Basin after hitting this line was a special moment, especially when I took my first look back at the face.
Here is a pic from TGR by jeffsssmith of the south side of Maroon in leaner snow conditions with our line the only obvious option.
Favert Basin has always been on my short list to visit after first seeing it on my initial ascent of Maroon Peak in the summer. It was so green it hurt my eyes and seemed to be the largest basin in Colorado. Red ridges of rock surround the wilderness here framing a natural wonder. Finally I was here, only this time it was white. I would have taken a dozen pictures through here if I had my camera.
The going was easy on skis down to the headwall at the dogleg in the drainage. Goldenboy had tipped me off to the key for overcoming the waterfalls in this area and before long we were standing below the roaring torrent refilling our water supplies.
The basin leveled out considerably here. The summer trail to Geneva Lake begins to contour along the north side of the basin, gaining steady elevation during a long side hill. Due to these slopes appearing to be mostly melted out, we decided to try to follow it, a major mistake. After climbing 400' while bushwhacking through thick brush we ran into a cliffy area. Having not found the trail we made the decision to drop to the valley floor and cut our losses. If you do this route during snow cover, stay in the bottom of the basin until you're just below the pass to Geneva Lake.
The climb up to this pass is still not easy though and has been made even more difficult due to this season's 10 year avalanche cycle. The dense 2-3" thick aspen forests through here have been abused by snow slides. Each tree has been folded over parallel to the slope simulating a split rail fence. With skis pointing up over the tops of our overnight packs overcoming these obstacles was a hilarious endeavor. While Adimmen lost it and attacked random trees, I laughed hysterically. I was actually having a pretty good time through here. Finally on open dirt slopes we make quick progress to 11,400' where we could drop down to Geneva Lake at 11,000' for dinner and an attempt at sleep for the night.
I brought a bivy and a lightweight sleeping bag while Adimmen had a bag, down jacket and a two man tent. We both used pine branches for insulation against the ground. The freak snow storm commented on by many mountain folk out this weekend struck around midnight. A wet snow fell heavy atop my cocoon. Having tested this sleeping system in heavy rain I was confident in a somewhat comfortable night. I was wrong.
Around 1 am I noticed the bivy was saturated and my bag was slowly soaking from the top down. It was going to be a long night I thought. I was able to stand the onslaught of the weather until 4 am when the entire bag became a soggy ineffective mess. I had to find the tent or risk hypothermia. At this point I had an interesting moment. As I went to find the shelter I realized it was no longer in its previously pitched location. After yelling Andy's name multiple times he finally answered after I woke him from his daze. He had moved lower to find flatter ground. I dragged my sopping wet gear while postholing into the snow with boot liners on to the tent and climbed in. A dry environment and a hot brew brought instant warmth back to my body.
I couldn't wait to get moving again when dawn finally arrived, but the freak snowstorm held strong until around 7:30 am so I just sat in the tent zoning out while Andy snoozed. Eventually the sun broke through and we could see Snowmass. With a hot breakfast powering us on we skinned up to the base of the West Face. The complete lack of useful sleep and a overnight pack saturated with water was dragging me down, but I was still in pretty good spirits. Just being in the mountains this far into wilderness is a treat.
The waterfall area at the bottom of the face held the most interesting climbing of the day with 53 degree snow through rock bands. Once in the couloir, the terrain mellowed out and the process of putting one foot in front of the other commenced. Our slow progress had us topping out at 1 pm, 4 hours and 45 minutes after leaving camp.
The snow in the west couloirs on Snowmass is very healthy however; the line does not go from the summit. I really wonder how it would ever go from the exact summit over here based on the conditions we saw but others have said it has gone in the past.
As I reached the summit ridge my hopes for a direct summit descent where fulfilled. A strip of super steep snow came directly from the 4 foot tall summit pillar down the cliffs onto the Snowmass Snowfield. This required the camera be fitted with beacon batteries for one important shot.
Another hot lunch on the summit had us ready to go. Adimmen was on his DPS reverse camber reverse sidecut skis which are very useful for sketchy side slipping, so he took firsts down this slope. He asked me "So, where do we drop in?" There was only about 15' of snow providing an option, but it was so steep it seemed you were standing on the edge of a precipice. "Over there" I pointed. As he stepped to the edge he said "Holy Sh... that's sketchy." Jagged rocks protruded from a rotten snowpack on terrain averaging 63 degrees. Our sluff was kind enough to demonstrate the fall line took a trip directly over a knife like rock and then a 30-40' cliff.
The upper 20 feet of this section was easily 70 degrees in its current condition. Adimmen made slow deliberate progress down this first section. It was pretty much down climbing with skis on. After he cleared the fall line, it was my turn. I was feeling pretty sketched out for sure and realized by having Adimmen clear all the top layers of snow off, I had to make a serious effort to cut steps with my lower ski to provide for any purchase at all. I looked up a few times at what I had come down and just shook my head. It seemed vertical to me… "How the hell did I just get down that?" I would think to myself.
I was happy to get to the point where the slope mellowed to around 60 degrees and I could make my own track down the pitch as the top layers of snow made this work much safer. Finally down into 50 degree terrain we were able to make really fun corn turns out onto the snowfield. The skiing down the snowfield reminded me a lot of skiing on Glaciers in the PNW.
Well, if you have actually read this all the way to here, I salute you. For the rest, brevity is in store. The 10 mile out the trailhead went pretty easily, especially with the satisfaction of having just completed this loop. The logjam was easily crossed and the huge avalanche debris snow bridge was still holding strong. Trail shoes will be useful to at least 9,500'.