| Big day on East Slopes
Route - East Slopes (summited via East Ridge)
Descent - East Ridge variation
Group - Me and Carl
21 miles roundtrip, 5700ft elevation gain
I realize there have been an abnormal amount of reports on Snowmass lately, one a teleskier and splitboarder, the other being a finisher. Carl and my experience was a little different in a number of ways. From start to finish, this was a memorable experience and I am still sore and exhausted 24 hours later. Our original plan was to do the Chicago Basin trio, but we "settled" for a slog up to Snowmass, thinking it was easier logistically and geographically. About halfway up the trail on Monday, we both realized there was basically no difference between the two, except one was about twice the distance driving wise, 70$ train ride with people looking at you funny and 3 mountains to ski instead of one. Nevertheless, this will not be a trip that will slip from memory anytime soon.
Being unemployed, I'm kind of the weekday warrior's best friend these days. Carl has taken a few days off from work and we planned out a nice two day adventure out in the Elks. I met Carl at his house around 8am Monday and we arrived into Glenwood Springs with mixed weather, which would be the case for the whole weekend, extemeley variable.
First things first, the trailhead. Elliojos posted a TR last week about his car getting stuck. We did see an abandoned Subaru about 1/10 of a mile from the trailhead with skiis in the back. It blocked a good portion of the road but Carl was still able to meander his way around, only to get stuck about 25 yards later on this.....
It actually is more ferocious that it looks, that patch of shit high centered Carl's Landcruiser and we spent the next 30 minutes digging....
On a side note, with enough speed and clearance, this should not be a problem.
After deciding to hike the entire way in with our AT boots and everything else strapped to our backs, we hit the trail at 1:52pm en route for the lower lakes/beaver ponds/whatever they are called at 10,100ft.
Around a little more than halfway into the approach, we got our first glimpse of our objective and the surrounding area. In summer, these views, with all the aspens, deep carved out basins and rivers, must be a sight, but its no less dramatic in the winter, thanks to all that shiny white stuff.
Carl and Snowmass
I'm not 100% sure on the mileage, but around hours or so into the hike, we were finally able to put our skins on.
Around where we donned skins
We reached camp a little before 7pm and pitched my 3-season REI halfdome tent, which I'm proud to say is my go to tent. Despite every employee I've ever encountered from REI say it would never hold up to a winter storm, this guy has braved the winds at Longs Pk, La Plata Gulch and Berthoud Pass. Lucky for us, there weren't any winds that night and we were cooking some sweet sausage and cheese tortolini and green tea with some sunlight still left.
We also conveniently parked ourselves right next to a water source which made life quite a bit easier. Nothing tastes better than recently melted snow, nothing.
We woke up to some variable conditions around 4:15am and held true to our alarm and actually got up. On the trail by 5am, we began the skin through the trees and were able to remain on the trail most of the way.
We popped out at the lake a little above our objective
There were clouds all around us and the snow was coming down pretty hard at this point. We quickly crossed an avy path along the south side of the lake and made our way up the East slopes towards Snowmass as the sun finally started to pop out.
A little ways up from the lake, Carl began to dig a pit. Instead of describing what we saw, I'll just show you, the picture will hopefully speak for itself.
The layers were pretty damn easy to decipher, all divided between Arizona dust storms. After a couple different compression test readings, Carl felt it was safe, more or less, to push on. The new layer of snow was weak but not incredibly deep and we agreed to assess the situation throughout the day. We did see a big slide come off the east cliffs of Snowmass Peak (the 13er), but nothing major was triggered from it hitting the slopes beneath.
Anyways, we continued our skin...
And made it to a flat section of the slope with an incredible view to the East, kind of like this...
Now for the explanation of my title. I love mountains and I love snow. The two mixed together can bring a lot of joy to one's life. When snow gets enough moisture, ski touring can get problematic to put it politely, I'll save how I really feel about snow globbing though. From 11,100 ft all the god damn way to the East ridge at 13,970ft, Carl and I not only lugged up the gear on our back and the skis on our feet, but approximately another 10-15 pounds of heavy snow that stuck to the bottom of our skins. Every 5 minutes we'd remove our skis and rub off the excess snow, but within the next 10 feet, we'd be back to square one. At one point, I got so fed up, I attempted boot packing up the hill, but with the new snow, this did not fair too well for me and I threw the skins back on within minutes.
Just under the entrance to the East Ridge, we booted the last 100 feet or so. This sped things up considerably. Near the top of the ridge, Carl, a few feet above me, made an acrobatic move to get over the cornice, on to the ridge and I thought to myself "so this is how its gonna be huh?" I told Carl about 10 minutes before we have two options with the whiteout conditions. We could climb a gully directly up Snowmass's east face into the unknown or climb the East Ridge. I remember reading Shanahan96 or Chicago Transplants account of the East Ridge a spring or two ago and thinking it was a dicey route in any season. Here we were with visibility dwindling, wind speeds increasing as well as anxiety and the day definately wearing on us, physically and mentally. I straight up admitted that I did not like the situation and was willing to come back another day. About 20 minutes later, I was on the bone chilling exposed East Ridge looking something like this...
To be perfectly honest, this was the most exposed section of any route I've ever done. To our left was a white abyss better known as the East face of Snowmass. To our right was a series of cliffs littered with razor sharp rocks just waiting to tear us apart had we slipped. Nothing is more unnerving than looking down a sheer cliff hanging on to a somewhat loose, slippery snow covered rock. The last time I was in this region, I was traversing across a cliff band of large, splitered white rocks while downclimbing Hagerman Pk with thunder in the not so far distance. The entire ledge gave way from under me and if it wasn't for my cat-like reflexes, I'd probably be very dead. All I could think was "not again".
An idea of the exposure. Although the pic is whited out, you get an idea of how sharp this ridge really was. Throw in some wind, fatigue, snow and skis on our back and things get a whole lot more complicated.
Carl somehow found a somewhat reasonable way up the ridge and by he time I reached him, he was cuddled up in a ball wedged in between two upright rocks on the north side of the summit.
We didn't spend much time on the summit for obvious reasons. After discussing our descent options, We decided a descent back down the East Ridge was our best bet. Carl definately knocked some sense into me. I was trying to vouch for the standard summer route descent, despite not remembering the route. Carl basically said the East Ridge was a sure thing and that we'd be sleeping in beds that night, instead of bivying at 14,092ft. Thanks Carl again for that, my thought process was a tad unreasonable at the time. We both agreed that a summit descent on skis was out of the question since visibility had turned to essentially zero.
The descent went a lot more smoothly than the ascent, its amazing what a little familiarity can do for a persons confidence and climbing ability. We reached the ridge at 13,970ft and finally were able to enjoy what we slogged all the way up there for, the ski.
We began right at the cornice and agreed on a drop in from the top rather than a downclimb. The cornice was overhanging and it was a steep slope, but the snow was better than any powder day you could imagine. A good deep 16-18 inches of fluffy white stuff, but this added the element of a slide, which we were very aware of.
Carl about to drop in
Despite the flat light and the feelingof vertigo, it really didn't matter. We didn't recall seeing any obstacles along the East face and enjoyed a full 3000 feet of vertical powder all the way to the lake, with the skies clearing about halfway down the route.
Carl with the Eastern Elks as a backdrop, not bad at all
Towards the end of the route, Carl scouted out a chute that ran out into the lake.
A great shot by Carl
Carl finishing off the day with some nice turns
We were able to ski all the way back to our camp with a little surprise fur us when we got there....more dust. Between the time we left camp and got back, the entire basin had been blanketed with a layer of brown dust, which made the last section of the ski interesting.
We packed up camp and headed for the car very soon after....
The slog out was a slog. I realize a war vet may think otherwise, but after reading accounts of the Batan Death March in WW2, I found a few similarities. The AT boots, which may have saved us a little weight, were killing our feet. The last 1.2 miles of the slog were the worst we both agreed, lots of postholing, tripping over rocks, cursing, etc.
We finished off the trip with a huge high five, enjoyed a coors light and were on the road very soon after. All those thoughts of Qdoba vanished when we realized we'd make it back too late, but thank god for late night drive thru's at the Wendy's in El Jebel. Carl downed his fries in record time, myself a baconator, 5 piece nugget, large fry and root beer and we traded off driving duties on the way home, arriving into Golden a little past 1am, a grand total of 21 hours including driving time.
Although very worth it and probably the most gratifying ski descent thus far for me atleast, we both agreed we will never be skiing this mountain ever again. Carl is claiming this as a descent and so am I, I'd like to think we earned it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):