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Peak(s):  Wheeler Peak - 13161
Skiers Point - 12980
Date Posted:  03/07/2016
Modified:  03/08/2016
Date Climbed:   03/04/2016
Author:  bergsteigen
Additional Members:   EatinHardtack, joelmpaula
 Winter Emeralds   

Skiers Point

Trailhead: Pitkin Creek
Mileage: 7.2
Elevation Gain: 3,631'
CAIC Level: Green
Partners in Crime: Joel and Max

Not wanting to be left behind on the Green CAIC Avy rating, Joel and I decided to go up Pitkin Creek to see what kind of steep mischief we could get ourselves into. Skiers Point was a false summit that I was actually kind of sad to miss the last time I was up here (Mt Solitude), but figured it would be better to ski it anyway. While this TR may not be as exciting as all the big winter 14ers going down to the winter dry spell we're having, it's certainly about as much fun as you can have on skis before the final spring stable happens.

A few minutes before my alarm is set to go off, I get a call from Joel, he wants to meet earlier. Good thing I'm camping close by, otherwise that could be tricky. So I got my hot water heating in my convenient car hot pot and drove a couple miles to the next Gore TH. We gear up and I borrow an ax from Joel's friend who lives next to the TH. When you play musical cars in winter, you don't always remember to transfer all the gear in between. Strapping on the pack with skis on, was a bit of a kick in the gut. So much heavier than my usual winter backcountry ski pack. Been almost a year since I did this. Not wearing trail runners - ever again. Too dangerous.

So after the requisite hoofing up the steep approach, we put on our skis and skin up the drainage in the slowly increasing light. I kept hoping for a nice sunrise or alpenglow, but it was just too bluebird and the angles were all wrong. We made it up to the base of the climb as the sun was slowly approaching our position in the valley. With Joel's old skis and skins not wanting to work together anymore, we started booting up the couloir near the base. Parts of the booter were easy and enjoyable (Joel: "This couloir is just like McDonalds - I'm loving it"), other parts not so much (Joel: "We may be turning around here"). But something kept us going up. Soon the sun hit us and we started to bake. We also were sinking more and more into the snow. The leg burner was on with a vengeance. Even going second didn't stop me sinking further into Joel's booter.

Thankfully Joel has been making the booter, since my gaper ass forgot crampons as well as the many nuances of ski mountaineering. Been spoiled by so much powder and resort skiing. But eventually those things come to an end when the spring season begins, I'm just hoping we have another month of powder - at least.

Nearing the top of our line, we note that the snow runs out and turns to tundra and rock. No need to continue up that way, we're still in ski mode, not ridiculous skimo mode (yet). Plus both of our legs were done, we needed to save what was left for the descent. Seems like I need to come back and climb another fun couloir to the summit, there are about 3 of them that look tasty.

Skinning up Pitkin drainage, with East Partner, Solitude and Skiers Point above

First view of our line

Gore Partners

Joel in the rock cave

Under the rock cave - Max chasing a pine cone

Me in the cave - Photo: Joel
More lines to ski...

Joel booting up couloir

The gorgeous Gores

Reaching the end of the snow - exhausted - Photo: Joel

The first set of turns are always the most difficult, but thankfully the body usually remembers how to ski. I wish I had brought my new skimo skis, but these powder boards will do well enough. Thankfully the day before saw a few inches of fluff to lighten the way down just a little bit. The snow is highly variable, with hardpack and wind effected, next to some nice fluffy stuff. After the initial steepness wears off, the center of the couloir is nice and manageable. The legs are exhausted and neither of us can make too many turns before requiring a break. The narrow choke and cave below are the crux of the descent, and while the skiers right side is all icy hard, the left is nice and fluffy. Even Max is excited about running down the mountain.

Joel getting ready to ski - Holy Cross and Vail in distance

Joel starting to ski the line

Me throwing up some snow - Photo: Joel
Skiing with a view

Joel ripping through the powder


It looks softer than it was

Joel searching out the soft stuff

Me entering the choke - Photo: Joel

Max is excited to run down couloir

Joel getting tight into the rock cave

Collapsing after a leg burner of a climb and ski


Parting View

We got to the base and both of us essentially collapsed. A great day, but an exhausting one. And it wasn't over yet. The drainage was a lot more up and down than I remembered from the morning. Then came the stream crossing... I wanted to do a belly flop, but I just didn't have the legs to jump anymore. Joel had to take off to get to work, while I slowly and carefully followed his track down to the base.

Tick one line off the list, add 10+ more onto it...

Back at the car, I get a text from Zach - Wheeler Peak NM - tomorrow. The road trip continues!

Wheeler Peak - New Mexico

Trailhead: Williams Lake / The Bavarian
Mileage: 7.8
Elevation Gain: 3,047'
CAIC Level: Green
South of the CO border Partner: Zach

Neither Zach or I wanted to go all the way down to Taos without some form of beta on the route and snow conditions. Thankfully after Zach gave ski patrol our skimo resume, they relented and gave us the information we needed. It was full-on spring conditions in New Mexico right now. With the winter snow pattern hopefully changing to bring more of the fluffy white stuff, now was the time to hit Wheeler.

Driving south by the Sawatch and the Sangres, it was two different stories on snow conditions. The east faces of the Sawatch looked horrid - not skiable or even worth bothering with. While the west faces of the Sangres looked almost worthy of skiing! After some 5 hours of driving and then waiting, Zach shows up and we head up to a campground along the road to Taos Resort that was actually open with no snow - and no gate.

The next morning is relaxed as we slowly get ready and got on our way in daylight. Not having researched this route other than reading a TR and checking out summitpost, I didn't want to miss an important sign in the dark. Plus with a west facing line, we were in no hurry. We carried our skis until we got to the Kachina lift by The Bavarian, and transitioned to skinning. Lots of tracks permeated the valley, but we followed the well packed down trail all the way up to the lake.

At the lake we got our first view of Wheeler. It looked drier than desired. We had some options, but we hoped a summit descent would still be a possibility.

We dropped down to near the lake and then started heading up the western slope. At first the skiing was reasonably steep, but then eased up as we got to the bench halfway up. Here we started to look at our options. We had been eying a NW gully that dropped off the summit, but the snow wasn't continuous. To our left, was a smooth slope that looked like it would corn up nicely. So we decided to go near the NW gully and see what we thought about it. Our initial excitement quickly turned into disinterest. The line was rough and steep. It wouldn't be that enjoyable. Whereas the line to the north, seemed like we could get 800-1000' of fun skiing in. Painful rough skiing or fun corn... Guess we can decide on the summit.

First view of Wheeler

Potential lines...

Skinning up the lower slopes

Pano looking up at our potential lines for the day

Who knew New Mexico had such skiing potential

Contemplating our original line choice

Walking the ridge line to the summut

Final summit push

Looking at a more corny fun line

Summit selfie via wifi iPhone app

On the summit, we decide to go with the more enjoyable ski. But how to get there? We can ski the ridgeline, since the east side has a nice cornice we can easily stay to the edge of. But can we get down from the ridge to the top of the line? From below, the gully dog legged, and we couldn't see if there were cliffs. I spotted a game trail that looked like it traversed right to the top of the line. Not wanting to be stuck back tracking, we go with the game trail traverse. Only a couple unknowns on that path, but there were escape options at least.

The first part of the traverse was pretty easy, then we got to a more rocky area that required a bit of scrambling. Nothing too bad, and overall kinda fun! From there it was just some steep snow and more talus till we reached the top of our desired snow. There we could look up and see snow almost all the way up to the ridge. Guess we could have gone that way, and gotten another unranked 13er. But better the guaranteed way, than finding yourself having to go down cliffs or return the way you came.

The upper snow field was still icy sustrugi, but very quickly went to transitioned corn snow. It was thinner than what we saw from a distance, but if you stayed in the center of the line, it was more than thick enough to make some quality turns.

Skiing down the summit ridge

Putting the Mountaineering in Skimo!

Game Trails

Zach looking over at our line, summit in background

Looking up to the ridge at the skiable snow

Zach starting down the more enjoyable line

Looking up towards the ridge


Zach skiing with the summit behind

Zipping down the line - Photo: Zach

Oh that view

Me enjoying the corn - Photo: Zach

Squiggles in the corn

Back to our midway point of the climb, I'm pretty pleased with the ski so far. I think we chose the more quality line. The skiing down to the lake starts off with pretty nice corn, and then becomes a bit more variable in the trees, until the final slusher down to the lake. I go full German stubborn and refuse to take my skis off for the uphill, while Zach carries his skis and boots up. My hip flexors need work anyway. From that point, Zach sticks to a speedy descent down the trail, while I stay skiers left and enjoy colder and fluffier snow. We meet up again nearing the closest ski trail at Taos. We zipped down the groomer - cat track, and arrive at the base and walk over to the Bavarian. I think we had everyone's eye as we chose a table outside. What? You never seen an ice ax or Avy beacon before? Classic. I wonder how many stories we made it into that day! You can't ski in Taos without apres at The Bavarian!


Dropping into the lower corn zone

Corny goodness

Toasting a successful trip to New Mexico's highest Peak - at The Bavarian.

Tick one line off the list, add 10+ more onto it... I'll never run out of things to ski at this rate!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
3/11/2016 4:23pm
Wow, most excellent work in the hills. This is quite a remarkable feat in mountaineering and outdoor recreation. Be super jazzed up about the accomplishment! Way to inspire, cruise up those slopes like the wind, and reach that summit!!!

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