| Climbing a ski run at Snowmass
Trailhead: Two Creeks parking lot, 8,100'
Route: Up the Creekside ski run (parallel to the Two Creeks lift), past Café Suzanne, then up the Elk Camp lift
Total round-trip length: about 7 miles (not including a bit of switchbacking on steep sections)
Total elevation gain: about 3,200 feet
Our "summit": top of the Elk Camp ski lift, 11,325' (just a short ridge away from Burnt Mountain, 11,385')
It was like driving through a ghost town. And I was amazed at how quickly the Snowmass ski area was forsaken, just one week after it had closed for the season. But we weren't done with it yet, as we saw it as the perfect place to train for our upcoming Rainier climb.
We chose to climb a ski run because it's completely covered in snow, avalanche danger is low, the trail isn't obstructed by streams or deep snow drifts, there's no routefinding to worry about, and ski runs climb consistently and uninterrupted for thousands of feet. All of that allows for more focus on the root of what we were after: just the snow climbing.
To add to the challenge, we loaded our packs down with extra weight to simulate the first leg of the Rainier climb – Paradise to Camp Muir. We also wore our heavy plastic boots, which make you feel like you're hiking with ankle weights on.
Aside from the official Snowmass vehicles – shuttles, buses and vans – that were neatly aligned like soldiers on one side of the Two Creeks parking lot, the place was empty. A yellow sign warned that only authorized vehicles were allowed to park in the lot, but after talking with someone at guest services, we learned that it was OK to park there to hike up the ski runs.
Under bright blue 9:45-a.m. skies, we started up a thin layer of snow from the base of the Two Creeks lift. Even though the temperature hovered around 40 degrees, the bright sun baked us from every angle and it made us feel like we were walking across a white sand desert. A desert with a bunch of abandoned 10-million-dollar homes, I should add.
At first, the snow was crusty and firm, which allowed easy progress. But as we gained elevation, and as the sun burned hotter, the snow softened and we sunk deeper and deeper with each step.
Both of us were sweating profusely so we stripped off as many layers as we could, but it was never enough. I knew any exposed skin that wasn't slathered in 45-SPF sunscreen, especially my lily-white parts, would be burned instantly, so we kept our shirts and pants on. Had to break out the sweat rag, though.
I knew I was getting dehydrated when my pee started to look like Mountain Dew. The nine hours of marathon drinking we did in Aspen the day before probably wasn't such a good idea. After popping some Clif Shot Bloks and washing them down with a half liter of water, we pushed on up the steep, sand-like slope.
Café Suzanne (closed) on the left:
I'm not the biggest fan of hiking in the heat. It sucks. And it really started to suck even more when I felt braided streams of sweat trickling down my shins. That's when I started to question this "mountain climbing hobby of mine." Not in a serious, philosophical way; more like in a frustrated, why-the-hell-am-I-killing-myself-like-this sort of way. Yeah, I know I love it and all, but what makes this passion of mine so strong that it causes me to look past all the pain and suffering that it entails? Why couldn't I have just become passionate about a safer and easier hobby like stamp collecting?
It would have been such an easy decision to call it a day and turn around at that point. It was hot as hell, we were postholing up to our knees, and we didn't even have a strong summit objective. But I didn't say anything to Jen, even though I sensed she was thinking the same thing.
Then something inside me snapped me into shape. It basically said, "You wanted to train hard so here you go. Stop being such a wuss-bag and suck it up." Then I realized, that little voice inside me was right – I was being a wuss-bag. Plus, I theorized, the harder I train now, the less pain I'll have to endure on Rainier.
We opted to leave the snowshoes off, even though the postholing was getting worse, because we didn't want to hassle with them. We just took turns breaking trail and kept pushing up the slope.
Some recent slide activity on some really steep slopes across the valley:
And a look back:
Fortunately, an earlier hiker's route connected with ours, so we capitalized on some of his boot prints. His gait, however, was much longer than ours, so his steps only helped a bit. For every step he took, we often had to take two. When we finally passed him later in the afternoon, he wasn't seven feet tall like I thought he would be.
After climbing almost non-stop for three hours and forty-five minutes, and after gaining at least 30 false summits, we finally made it to the top of the Elk Camp ski lift at 1:30 p.m.
Here's an obligatory shot of the Maroon Bells, with Willow Creek below:
It was surprisingly windy and cool up there, but it was welcome relief from the heat.
So this is the part where all you backcountry skiers are going to have a heart attack. I'll just say it: We didn't ski down. That's right. We hiked all the way back down – the same way we came up.
Even though we made great time on our descent (it only took us one and a half hours to get down) and it was much easier than going up, it was still a pretty good workout.
Having skied at Snowmass many times, the terrain was very familiar yet it was curiously different because we were the only people there, and everything seemed like it was in slow motion compared to when you're skiing.
Who was it that said Colorado doesn't have crevasses?! Check out this badboy:
While waiting for our Colorado-style mountain pie at Beau Jo's Pizza in Glenwood Springs, I reflected on what we had just done. My feet were battered, my lungs still burned and my muscles were sore in unusual places. Those unpleasantries reminded me of a couple things I learned many years ago about mountain climbing: 1. Without difficulty, pain and suffering, the sense of accomplishment wouldn't be as sweet. And, 2. Passion has a way of obscuring pain. No disrespect to any philatelists out there, but I couldn't say the same about stamp collecting.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):