| Potosi`s South Face - The Unknown
Backcountry in Ouray
Areas skied - unnamed Pt 12,800 Mill Creek Cirque/Red Mountain Pass
Potosi Pk 13,786ft - SE chute on South Face
My friend David and I peeled out of Silverthorne after work on Friday with some pretty crazy weather in the forecast, not to mention what was going on as we were packing up the car. 50% and above chance of cruddy weather in various parts of the state. Our main reasoning for choosing to head South to the San Juans was one, the forecast seemed to favor parts of the Northern regions and two, its the most dramatic part of the lower 48 and the plan B options would be much greater than any other part of the state. We also had some blind faith that the skies would clear at some point and we'd experience some amazing May turns.
We decided to take 70 to 550, since most of the mountain passes were experiencing inclement weather and the quagmire that was Vail Pass had finally cleared by the time we were ready to leave. Arriving into Ouray around 10:30pm, we topped off the tank and headed straight for Camp Bird Rd. The gate closure around 9300 feet blocked any further passage and we were forced to park at the pull off before the bridge and pitched bivies for the night.
We fueled up in town, nabbed some breakfast at Maggie's Kitchen, ate a couple plate fulls of hash browns, cheese eggs, bacon, lots of tabasco, grabbed some poles at Ouray Mountain Sports and made our way South to the pass.
We nearly drove off the road a few times trying to pick the right line. This region, while probably just another day in the office for the folks that live around there, is a mind bending region, there is an overwhelming amount of terrain, definitely a lifetime worth of descents. Dave and I both agreed we needed to find gainful employment in the nearby towns and start ticking some of these lines off.
We crested the top of the pass and decided to check out some stuff on the South side. As we rounded a corner, David pointed at a chute coming off some random point in the Mill Creek Cirque region. I immediately, without acknowledging his recommendation, pulled into the pull off along rt.550 and began gearing up for the skin.
We began skinning straight from the car around 10,300ft, literally right along the road. Instead of switchbacking up the hill w/ our skins, we decided to shoulder our skies and boot up, right along the trees up to the ridge.
We reached the ridgeline within the hour and decided to dig a pit on a 35-40 degree slope. With all the wind the San Juans had received and all the new snow, we didn't know exactly what to expect. Luckily, the snow was very stable underneath, did a quick CT test, liked what we saw and continued along the ridge. The views were spectacular.
Oh, and correct me if I'm way off, but I believe this is Snowden Pk and the "Naked Lady Couloir" in the foreground.
We topped out on our objective around noon with no winds, minimal clouds in the near surrounding regions, prefect temps and a fun looking route ahead of us. I referred to this region as "Lookout Mountain" in the header. We did not actually summit the peak, but we a ridge run over from it. I figured I'd throw it out there for reference, just in case anyone was unfamiliar with the Mill Creek Cirque region. We were at the point, just due North of Columbine Lake.
After eyeing some lines on the southern aspects, as well as being mesmerized by the snow covered Grenadiers in the distance, we dropped off the summit.
And immediately experienced some fantastic turns….
And some more
This line, whatever it is called, seemed to go on forever, in a good way. Being a northern aspect, the top was a little rougher, but still very nice and it just got progressively better as we ripped further and further down. We had 3 feet powder turns in the narrow section down low!
And then looking up the aesthetic couloirs from near the bottom. You can pretty see our entire route.
As we rounded the corner, we noticed a significant wet slide that had been triggered by some other skiers that day. It was reported to the CAIC as a 700 foot vertical slide, no more than a couple inches deep. Here's a shot of the rubble down low.
I guess that's the beauty of skiing deeply inset, shaded aesthetic couloirs. We traversed across the now hardened rubble and made it to within a ski pole length from the car door. Off came the boots and out came the one and only Modus Hoperandi. We basked in the sun and proudly admired our spur of the moment line. At one point, a couple MILFS from Albuqurque pulled over and complimented us on our ski. We ate it up for the time being, then pulled off en route back to the Yankee Boy Trailhead.
Arriving at the gate closure around 4:30pm, we had a few more moduses, listened to some tunes, cooked some dinner and packed up for our skin into the basin. We skinned to about 10,700ft, a few yards short of the outhouse, pitched tent at a switchback along the road and konked out for the night.
We woke up in the morning to this…..
The cloud coverage made for some interesting photo ops and created views like this….
As we were gearing up for the day, we both noticed a faint line coming off the South Face of Potosi. Our initial plan was to ski the North Couloir, described in Cooper's book, which involved a skin around to the mouth of Yankee Boy, an ascent of the Teakettle-Potosi ridge, a downclimb of the ridge, an 800-900 foot climb of the couloirs, a ski of the couloirs, topped off with another ascent to gain the ridge, a ski down and a skin back to the tent. Sounds complicated. Despite not knowing a single thing about Potosi's South Face, we figured a 3000 foot descent right to our tent sounds a lot more appealing. We began skinning right from our tent and within an hour or two, our objective began to show itself.
Potosi's rounded summit block is off to the left and our narrow chute is that tarantula looking, inset couloir in the middle of the picture. Mountains have a tendancy to be scary, this was downright terrifying and awe inspiring.
We made it to the base of this mysterious couloir in decent time and figured we could climb the initial 400-500 feet in about 30-45 minutes and then another hour or so to the ridge, then another 15-20 to the summit. Never in my life have I been more wrong. This wasn't your ordinary couloir. It was a breeding ground for slough deposited snow from the high peaks above. Every 20 minutes or so, slough would shoot down from the narrow chutes along the sides of the couloirs, creating a VERY DEEP BASE. We dug a pit and stopped out of fear of burying ourselves. For the record, we stopped digging around 10 feet, all light powder. Great for skiing, an absolute nightmare for climbing.
At its narrowest section, we had to deal with a nice, 10-foot ice bulge that required crampons and 2 tools to overcome. This was, in one way or another, the crux of the route. The worst that could happen is you fall and land in about 5 feet of freshly deposited snow.
To make a long story short, it had taken us around 5 times as long to climb a mere 500. We tried swimming through the snow, we tried using our skies as flotation and doing pushups on each step up, we tried using the rock on the side as leverage and finally had to succumb to skinning up a 45-50 degree slope in about 6 feet of soft powder. Our vision of the best ski of our lives kept us moving forward. Around 13,400 feet with Potosi's summit ridge within view, I could no longer take zigzagging up a steep slope with that much snow and 185cm, 115mm underfoot skis. It was getting quite late and we figured we'd be back long after dark if we tried for the summit. We switched into ski mode and what ensued won't slip from memory till the day I die, simply put.
We had some surreal turns as we neared the mouth of the crux. We'd be lying if we said we weren't nervous about skiing down about 20 feet of vertical ice with a landing no wider than our skis. Luckily the powder was so deep, it really didn't matter.
This was taken after a few deep breathes and then a leap of faith into heaven on earth.
The turns here were a product of powder farming at its finest. Every turn was better than the next and each turn was the best one we've had in our lives. As we reached the mouth of the couloir, we waited out a brief fog before preceding, mainly due to the plethora of solid avy debris littering the rest of the chute leading down to our tent.
The ski out for an event in itself. The snow got thicker and harder to turn, but there was no shortage of thrills, including 3 drops over 10-20 foot waterfalls, a mogul field of avy debris and face shots in between. The South Face was wild in every sense of the word and we both had absolutely no regrets of choosing that line over a more guaranteed summit via the documented N.Couloir.
We reached tent around 5pm, took a quick nap and headed for the car shortly afterwards, just as the sun was showing its face. We were able to ski all the way back to the car along the road, with some nicks on the bottoms of our skis here and there.
Here is why the road is closed at 9300 feet…..
Upon arriving back at the car, I witnessed something I didn't know any human being was capable of. I went to unlock my car and noticed that I got no response from my Impreza. Upon further review, I noticed that my rear passenger window had been smashed in and front hood pried open with the battery disconnected and hatch door handle ripped off. Luckily David has reception, phoned to the Ouray dispatch and had a sheriff out there within the hour. We reconnected the battery, filed a police report, decreased my anger level by getting a great meal at Bien Tempo in town and drove home with 3 windows.
Note to all chromosome deficient, white trash rednecks in SW Colorado. Please be smarter when in search of your Meth fix. Odds are you probably won't find any in a Subaru Impreza Wagon with a Baltimore Orioles bumper sticker along a dirt road in the wilderness. And thanks a lot for using my car as a trash receptacle for your Bud Light. I can only hope you aren't a fellow peak bagger.
Anyways, this parting view of Ouray made me feel better.
Despite the break in, it was a great weekend with a great ski buddy in a great setting.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):