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Trailhead: Browns Creek
Elevation Gain: 5,095'
In need of some solo time, and knowing that most people were afraid of the weather forecast, I figured it was time to do another relatively easy set of peaks. I knew it would be risky with the weather forecast, as I may have to turn around and bail at any point based on weather and avalanche conditions. The long approach from Browns Creek would make turning around without the goals achieved difficult, but I'd rather spend time outside, than sitting my lazy tail on the couch any weekend!
Saturday weather looked like normal spring, until afternoon when a snowstorm was predicted. With the long approach and carrying overnight gear, I figured going for the North Face of Tabeguache would afford me the highest percentage chance of success. The shady north side should remain much cooler than an east or south facing aspect. I really hoped the north face descent would be in, but had the saddle gully as a back up plan. Worst case scenario, I would spent some much needed solo meditation time in my bivy tent this weekend.
So from the empty Browns Creek trailhead, I started up the dry trail in my ski boots. I wondered how far I would go booting it, hoping it wouldn't be too far. Turns out, I almost booted all the way up to my campsite, only putting on my skis around 10,900'. Even then the snow wasn't continuous. The 5/6 miles of approach went by in a bit of a blur (which is good), and soon I was dropping my overnight gear off at my campsite for the evening, at the base of the south gully to Mt White. The snow in the hot valley was fresh and sticking to my skins in the sunny sections. I had to reapply glop stopper a few times, but it never really stopped being a problem.
A snowy meadow
Frosty stream crossing
Browns Lake is only partially ice covered, and I chose to bypass it on the south side. The snow on this side is annoyingly inconsistent and at times difficult to traverse. I went too high on the way up, and traveling by lake edge on the return was much easier. I was counting down the moments until I could take of my gloppy skis and start booting up a gully, since that was going to be my only relief from that monster!
Partially frozen lake
Rounding the bend, I had a couple decisions to make. Climb the north face directly, to see what conditions were like, or just take the gully up the saddle. With the day later than desired, but snow still rock hard on the north aspect, I decided to go with the easier ascent up the saddle gully. That even involved a choice, as there are 3 snow strips to choose from. The first viewable on the west, isn't continuous on top. The middle is discontinuous in the middle, and the eastern most is rocky at the start. I decided to go Goldilocks on it, and go up the middle one.
As I was ascending the middle fork, the snow storm started, and I just kept my head down and climbed for the most part. Each step was a test of the new snows stability. Every step was a positive, even though it was getting deeper and more difficult. The swirling and dumping snow was like a giant pause button for the snow stability. Since it hadn't started warming up the surface yet, I felt confident that it was still safe.
As I approached the summit area, the sun started to try to burn away the clouds. By the time I left the summit, it was practically a bluebird day! Ahh bluebird powder... roll of dice = All 6's
The last time I was on the summit of Tabeguache was back in 2001, and I think I spent a grand total of 30 seconds on top. Just enough time to snap a summit photo. An early morning storm was approaching, and I only tagged the summit before running back to traverse around Shavano on east side (very bad slope of doom). Tabeguache is also the last summit that I haven't seen the top of since I moved back to Colorado in 2007, so it was nice to sit there for awhile, as I prepared for my afternoon descent.
On the summit I had some hard choices to make. I really wanted to ski the north face proper line, but it wasn't continuous to the summit. It also looked thin in places and it was also a tilted line. Since I didn't climb it, I wasn't sure about snow conditions either. What I did know, was that there was nice stable powder to be had at the saddle gully. So after quite some thought, I went with the safer and more fun option.
The turns off the summit and down to the saddle were nice and creamy with a few inches of powder sitting on top of slightly softened transitioned snow. Once at the saddle, the powder deepened and it was everything I could have hoped for on a Sawatch descent. Midway down, there is a strange wind loaded feature I wasn't quite sure how to ski or deal with. The lower portion of the gully looked like narrow turns, so I stayed on top, until the approaching big roll over. From there I skied down into the narrow snow filled gully and made lots of tiny turns until the snow ran out in the lower section. Below the rocks, was an odd side hill skiing experience that was kind of fun. Once at the base of the 3 gullies, I traversed high to get the best snow all the way down to the lower valley.
Once lower in elevation, the snow was unsupportive and getting back to camp was a bit of a chore. Thankfully it was only a short distance below the lake to boot it.
Day 2: Mt White
Elevation Gain: 2,437'
Last fall, when I was on Pt 13,712 I got my first good view of the south side of Mt White with a dusting of snow. It looked like the south gully would fill in nicely. So right then, I decided I would ski the peak, especially when I planned to do Tabeguache.
Mt White last November
I spent a lot of the night wondering what the storm was doing. Was it approaching early, on time or late? So I'd wake up every few hours, check the time and peak outside. No snow. When civil twilight broke, it was hard to wake up and get ready. Probably from all the waking up in the middle of the night, despite getting about 8-9 hours of sleep. I peaked outside my bivy tent, and saw no snow again. Just a squawking squirrel the tree across the way, and the cloud deck coming lower on the 13er above me to the south (13,712).
As I was prepping my pack for the morning ahead, the first flakes of snow started falling. Perfect, the storm is 6 hours late! This would mean a safe climb of the gully, and depending on rate of snowfall, a completely safe descent. Not like there was a lot of snow in the gully to begin with, and being south facing, it was also thoroughly baked.
Waking up to no snow, lowering cloud deck, and a squawking squirrel
From the beta shots/views I got the day before, the center gully up the south face looked the best/easiest. It looked thin in an upper section, but the snow was otherwise continuous and the lower scramble section looked easiest. As I left the trees above camp and got my first close-up view, it looked like I made the right decision. It would be a fun route finding challenge to spice up a narrow snow ribbon ski.
The first rocky obstruction is easily bypassed to lookers right on a scree slope. The rock was certainly climbable, but I didn't think I could go down it with ski boots on, so a bypass was called for. The bigger obstruction was looking to be more problematic, but is also bypassed to the right. I went up to the little tree, and hoped that the route would be easy. It turned out to be a little more complicated and involved a class 3/4 mantle type move, where the left side doesn't have much in the way of holds. At least it was only one move and then it was back to easy crampon snow.
Once above the last major obstruction to the gully, the snow looked really rough. Many sharks did little to hide themselves. I was keeping a mental note of where I would take my skis off on the descent, to avoid the sharks and terrible snow. It kept moving uphill! So much for my exploratory ski! It seemed like I would would be portaging my skis a lot longer than desired.
But there was a nice long middle section that looked smooth and nice. With the falling snow, it would only get better. But then, I turned the corner in the gully and was confronted by a 300' section of bare rocks. Yuck! I hate walking on talus with ski boots, and I would have to go up and down it too. Above that, the snow is much nicer, and goes all the way to the summit on the left/west.
After a nice long rest, where the sun made yet another appearance on the summit, if brief, I get ready to ski down the gully. The ridge on the other side of the saddle snow, looks higher. Both bumps have cairns, so it's hard to tell. Not wanting to miss the true summit, I ski down to the saddle and up the other side, and hike the quick distance to the other prominence point. From here, it definitely looks taller. At least I skied the good stuff off the ridge on the other side!
From there, it was a nice intermittent powder descent until the rocky section. A short annoying portage, and I was back on a nice snow slope with just enough powder to make it fun.
Tabeguache doesn't want to come out of the clouds!
I skied down to where I had planned on taking the skis off again, but so much snow had fallen, that it looked like good skiing just below the narrower shark part. So I skied a bit further. Got to above the steep section, and thought, certainly here I will have to take them off. Skiing steep super rough snow wasn't a fun idea. I got to the rollover, and saw it all covered by about 4" of new snow. Hmmm, if i can make a few jump turns, I can ski all the way to the boulder cliffs! So I did!
Quite pleased with the days turn of events, I finally take my skis off and make my way to the scramble. Here I realized that I had been skiing in Koflach mode (ie walk mode) in my boots since the rocky down hike, a thousand or so feet above. Must have had good form skiing to not notice that error! I threw my poles and dropped my skis over the slabby scramble and slid down the rock. Here I put crampons back on till the valley floor, since the snow down here was still rough and was pretty short in duration with many rocks all over the slope. In fact, this section even had some spontaneous rock fall in the morning.
Once back at the valley floor, I took one more look at what turned out to be a pretty good line of skiing, for something I had no beta on at all. It was just challenging enough to keep things interesting at all times. I could only imagine what it would be like earlier in the season!
As I was approaching my bivy tent, the snow started to pick up again. All day there was ebb and flow of the snow and clouds, but now it was dumping snow! Soon as I dropped my pack, a crack of thunder echoed above me. Good timing! Though now I had to pack up camp in the snow! About 30 minutes later, I was hoofing it down the powdery trail in the snow. The upper section to about 10,900' can be skied, but there were so many rocks barely covered by snow, that I decided to just boot it. The way up, the snow was mostly avoidable, since you could see the edges of the snow banks, but now it was all blanketed. The first mile or so was pretty slow until I got below 10,900'. Then the new snow got thinner, and more manageable.
Snowy bivy tent!
The middle section of the approach goes through a major tree fall event. The trail is for the most part unaffected, but there was one section where I had to limbo and then crawl. With skis on the pack, it's like I'm 6'6" tall.
Tree limbo... crawl
Major tree fall event throughout valley
Below the tree fall valley, the trail just kept going. I'm not sure how I blocked so much of it out on the ascent, but crap it was tedious going down, and down.... and down. At least once I got to the Colorado Trail, the snow patches and stream crossings ended and it was just another 1.5 miles of dry trail to go... I also got to see the first inklings of spring in the mountains, with the first purple flowers of the season!
Overall, it was a successful roll of the dice, in a season of chaotic weather and avalanche danger which continues to hold on!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
jmanner - Hopefully I got things figured out for this weekend. Any music requests? Haha!
mountaingoat-G - The snow was actually quite stable. It was just that windloaded rolling slope down below that was interesting. But no rollerballs/death cookies, as the snow was still cold and light on Tab. The weather on White was, less than ideal for sure. Skied all winter in storms though! So it was nothing new.
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