| Princeton: Face shots at 14,000
Route: Start at 10,400, Mt. Princeton Road to 11,700, ridge traverse to the summit, summit ski descent of the furthest skier's left east couloir, re-ascent to shoulder, ski descent of southeast slopes and back down the road.
Stats: 4,600' climbed, 4,600' skied, ~8 miles
The recent series of storms has been a boon for the Central and Southern Sawatch. On the first day of May, an upslope event dropped up to a foot of snow on the Eastern side of the range. I motored down the next morning to check it out. I pulled over at the Collegiate Peaks overlook and snapped this shot of Princeton.
Ultimately my route would take me on a huge arc, starting in the forest below the ridge on the far left, up the ridge, traversing it for miles to the summit, then continuing on past the summit before dropping into the furthest gully on the right that still drains into the basin below the peak. From the basin I climbed back over the ridge and descended into the forest.
I was able to drive more than two miles up the road past the Frontier Ranch Trailhead before getting the truck stuck at an altitude of about 10,400. I set out under clear skies, no wind and 6" of fresh. Clouds rolled in later in the morning and a few snow showers passed by at times, but it really was a fairly nice day to be up high.
Following Dawson's advice, I left the road at the last switchback and headed toward the basin.
I was quickly dismayed by the nearly impossible skiing on the thinly-covered boulder field. This section of the approach requires more than a mile of descending traverse and I found myself longing for the easy skinning on the road. I gave in to temptation, turned around and rejoined the road. I had no idea at that point the I would be trading one mile of descending thrash for at least two miles of miserable climbing on snow-covered teetering boulders. I left the road at the base of the ridge and skinned up to about 12,500 where the grade and snow cover dictated that I start booting. The new snow was approaching a foot deep at this elevation and I found it ridiculously difficult to climb on the loose rocks buried below the snow. I soon regretted not dropping into the basin and climbing one of the well-filled snow gullies instead. I was committed at this point however and slogged on. The ridge hits a high point at about 13,250 before dropping back below 13,000. I put the skis back on for the descent and ripped the bases to shreds as I crossed countless buried shark fins.
At the low point, I put the skins back on and attempted to stay on sections of drifted snow. I worked away from the ridge as necessary and found using skis to be somewhat more efficient. At about 13,700 I was forced to put the skis back on my pack and boot the last 500 feet to the summit.
I rested briefly on the summit and snapped a few photos of the surrounding peaks. Here is a blurry shot of Antero's North Face (sorry, but you get the idea)
Harvard's, South Face
and Missouri's South Face
Here is a picture looking back along the ridge I had traversed
and another looking into the basin. My descent would take me into the furthest gully to the left in this picture.
I skied out on the north east ridge and billy-goated a bit in order to enter the furthest gully on skiers left. The wind had made beautiful patterns in the snow and my descent started by crossing such an area.
Below the wind sculptures the slope smoothed out and I started to let the skis run. It was fantastic powder and I was treated to more than 2,000 feet of face shots until reaching the valley floor. As I skinned back over the ridge I realized how much easier my original route plan would have been.
Anyone attempting to do this route in spring snow conditions when the ridge is covered with soft snow should definitely traverse into the basin and climb on snow instead of attempting the ridge. You'll be glad you did!
The east couloirs appear to be very well filled with snow now. I expect they will last well into the spring, unless we have a prolonged warm spell. The approach will become easier once the boulder field leading into the basin (and/or the ridge) melts out.
Here is a parting shot of the southern part of the range taken later that evening.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):