Northwest Face ascent, Northeast Face summit ski descent of Wilson Peak, 4/20/2011
Crew: Debbie (BonedaleDolly), Bertrand, Matt (pioletski)
About 7 miles, 4320' climbed and skied
Here's something Coors Light drinkers and hardcore backcountry skiers have in common: they both adore the shapely and spectacular Northeast Face of Wilson Peak. I must say that after yesterday, Coors Light will taste entirely different to me.
Bertrand, Debbie and I planned a trip to Wilson Peak to celebrate Income Tax Day, also known as Liberation Day if you happen to be a tax accountant (like Debbie). Bertrand is a lifelong ski mountaineer who lives in Telluride and had skied Wilson before, but only via the northwest face.
(Matt's only photo in this TR)
Here's the crew. Bertrand:
(Note that the date stamp is a few days off.)
(Bertrand, with Debbie's camera)
We donned skis and skins at 5:00 am and began our steady ascent. The Northwest Face is an excellent ski route, one can skin up just about to the summit ridge:
We gained the ridge a short way southwest of the summit:
Some interesting and dramatic mixed climbing then brought us over a false summit and up the last 150' or so...
... to the summit:
Bertrand and I discussing the route and snow quality for the descent:
Debbie and Bertrand carried their skis 30 feet or so down the north ridge while I made a couple of obligatory turns at the summit (though I also had to downclimb about 10 feet):
We had two bugaboos to deal with at this point: the snow and the route. The snow turned out to be safe, but demanded great care and close attention to aspect; the route involved a little zigzag at the bottom to avoid getting cliffed out.
As the face is generally a northeast aspect, the skier's left side of every gully on it faces due east, or even a little southeast, while the skier's right side faces quite a bit more north. There had been a snowstorm 2 days prior, with some wind loading. As we started down, rocks forced us onto the left side of the main couloir, where the snow was a little slabby and poorly bonded to the glazed surface underneath. We kicked hard to test the snow, sending off a couple of mattress-sized chunks of snow, though nothing propagated:
Under these conditions, the first few turns were tentative, to say the least:
Once we were able to cross to the center and right side of the gully, however, things became a lot more enjoyable and comfortable. Here's Bertrand making turns:
All was well until we approached the band of cliffs across the bottom. We couldn't see over the final drop on our chosen couloir, although we later saw that we could have simply continued - it might have involved a short downclimb (or huck, for the adventurous), but would have been manageable. We were carrying a rope and hardware for this reason. (Next time I ski this route, I will continue straight at this point, unless there is significantly less snow cover.) Another option lies to skier's right. We spent a little time casting around and ended up descending a ramp into the next slot to the left. In this photo, our route is marked in red, while the other options are blue:
(Bertrand, retouched by Matt)
Once down on the apron, we made a few more turns in fabulous snow, then turned our minds to getting out. This involves a long traverse to the northwest; it is important to make every effort to conserve altitude (which is made difficult by the mushy snow below timberline).
If you see Mr Badger, tell him we said hello:
This is an incredible ski route, one that definitely bears repeating. On this particular day the conditions demanded such intense concentration that we literally didn't realize how much fun we were having until we were done. Still, it's high on my list of favorites.
A farewell shot of the face, without the graffiti:
Thanks for reading! Debbie and Bertrand, thanks for skiing!
EDIT: Here is the helmet-cam video of our descent:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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