Peak(s):  Huron Peak  -  14,003 feet
Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  05/23/2016
Modified:  05/27/2016
Date Climbed:   05/21/2016
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   mkmiller, mbourget
 Finishing Sawatch Off on a High   


Date: May 14, 2016
Trailhead: Just past the creek crossing at Rockdale
Route: NE couloir on East face
Distance: ~10 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,000 ft
Vertical skied: ~3,500 ft
Time: Just over 8 hours
Difficulty rating: Most difficult/D15*
Participants: Matt Bourget and Natalie Moran

Huron's East face as seen from Missouri in March of 2016

Huron peak. Where to start? I first learned about the East face a few years ago. To say that I was intimidated, is an understatement. But with a couple steep descents under my belt I thought I might be ready. Matt, of course, got all excited when he heard about Huron. It would also be his birthday ski. I was pretty jazzed, so the sleep didn't come easily. With some wind in the forecast, we thought we had extra margin for this NE line. In retrospect, we should have started an hour earlier. Up at 3am at Missouri gulch TH, which looked like a slumber party for skiers. First lucky break - Clear Creek, which can be difficult to cross with snowmelt, was no match for Matt's truck. The snow drifts blocked the road thereafter, so we started hiking soon after the creek crossing by 4.20am. Dry patches alternated with snowdrifts all the way to the Clohesy lake. Lake was still snow covered, but thawing process was apparent. We reached the lake at first light around 6am and skinned up the obvious gully to Lois lake. Due to the decent freeze in the trees, parts of this section duly qualified as "extreme skinning". We took a short break at Lois lake. Matt was visibly worried about warming temperatures, and I agreed, so we had to book it to the summit.

Matt accelerates past the Lois lake

Impressive avy debris from the previous storm cycle

Approaching the saddle - in warming snow it was skinnable

Matt started booting a ways up and I was able to skin all the way to the saddle with Browns. At this point, Dustin and Josh S from Crested Butte caught up to us (they started around 5.30am), and they informed us there was a 3rd group behind them, also from Crested Butte. We all transitioned at the saddle with Browns and booted from there to the summit, where I arrived about 30 minutes behind the guys.

Looking back - Dustin and Josh are catching up

Traversing under the line

Wind indeed materialized on the saddle, but didn't really translate to the East face

Boney standard route

Summit with some aesthetic looking tracks

Looking down towards Clohesy lake

Not a bad place to have a birthday party - Matt


Matt, we need to ski this one next

Big summit cornice

The line

As disappointed as I was to let another party jump in front of us and "steal our corn", I was actually glad to let them go first and test the waters on such a committing line. We watched Dustin and Josh drop off the summit, while Matt waited for me to make a transition to the ski mode. It was go time. We dropped in at 9.50am, slightly late, but snow was holding up fine, a bit on the heavy side. The initial section off the summit looked inviting. After watching Matt drop in with ease, I followed the suit.

Matt drops in

and takes it away

My turn:

Off the summit, giving the cornice a wide birth

It gets steep quickly

This doesn't come easily (yet)

The scenery was spectacular. After the initial section we approached the first 50 degree crux. Snow was getting heavier, but still manageable. A few measured jump turns were required, and my legs were feeling shot from a quick approach and heavy corn snow. Birthday boy seemed to really enjoy the steep line. Another crux, and we jump turned our way out of it.

Matt makes the crux look easy

Jump turn is my only way out of here

Here we go

After the 50+ degree crux, we were able to breathe more easily and Matt really opened it up.


Birthday boy takes it away

and finishes it off

Looking back at the line

We noticed some fresh-looking avy debris on the apron, likely released by the first party. We later heard that the 3rd group of skiers also made the summit and descended about an hour behind us. The ski out of the basin went pretty quick. We later commented how straightforward the whole approach was. From the lake, we leisury walked and skied down back to the car, arriving around 12.30 pm. So happy to ski (without sidestepping) such a steep and aesthetic line, and with a great partner.

Missouri-Iowa-Emerald in the background on the ski out

Mt. Harvard

Date: May 21, 2016
Trailhead: Cottonwood Creek
Route: South face couloir
Distance: ~14 miles
Elevation Gain: ~4,600 ft
Vertical skied: ~4,000 ft
Time: just over 11 hours
Difficulty rating: Intermediate/D6
Participants: Michael Miller and Natalie Moran

And then there was one left in the Sawatch. Not surprisingly, I "saved" it for last. It is high (at 14,420' it is 3rd tallest peak in the state after Elbert and Massive), far, and a moderate ski descent. Thankfully, I was joined by Michael Miller, who appears to like a good Sawatch sufferfest. It was sort of a Groundhog day for us - seems like every year in May we find ourselves in North Cottonwood creek drainage - 2014 for Yale, 2015 for Columbia, now Harvard. Given it is such a long approach and a South-facing line, a brutally early start was mandatory. Clear overnight sky and forecasted breeze were supposed to be in our favor, providing and maintaining a freeze, so we were shooting for 9-10 am summit window. With 1am wake-up call and a few "snooze" buttons later, a bit of catching up, we were on the familiar trail by 2.20 am -- ughh! At such early hour, the brain is still half asleep, but is registering familiar landmarks. The trail is well tracked, but lacks a freeze under the tree canopy. After a couple miles I got tired from an occasional posthole and put skis on. Michael stubbornly perseveres to about 11k, but then also capitulates to skins. By 5am we found ourselves in the upper basin, and I steer us away from the tracked up Columbia trail. We are going further this time. We stashed some water near the end of the treeline for the return. I am feeling sluggish from the prior day of skiing with Brittany and Scott (although it wasn't a huge day - 3,300 ft, 7 miles and 5+ hours of moving time). Not feeling hungry, but trying to feed myself at every stop. Michael is feeling great and is charging ahead full speed. While slushy in the trees, the snow becomes frozen solid in the open, thanks to radiant cooling and a steady breeze.

Approaching the South face

We contemplated taking the ridge and a standard summer route, but climbing up our intended ski line appeared to be a more direct route, and we wouldn't be able to skin up without ski crampons on still frozen crust. I stashed the skins and even the crampon bag at the bottom of the run (weight management was the name of the game today) and threw skis on the pack. The cool breeze continued to keep the snow frozen and we set into a steady pace - there's no need to rush.

Perfect cramponable snow

I am finally feeling a bit more energy, and couloir ascent goes better than expected on firm crust. By 9.50 we reach the summit, bumping again into Josh S and Eric Sullivan @aspensully from Crested Butte who came over Columbia. They are on a mission, and disappear quickly. In steady wind, we take some photos, and began the transition. Unfortunately, while walking on the summit, I punch through the snow, while simultaneously hitting a rock with my right knee. Ouch! Now both of my knees are hurting and I am looking at a 7 mile descent. I do my best to block out the pain and to concentrate on the task at hand. Crampons off, skis on, now get off the summit. I slide the still frozen crust down to Mike.

Mike and his new skis

#31 and the hole that got me


Still frozen icy crust near the summit

I fully expect Mike to suggest we wait for snow to warm up, but he is anxious to keep going. It's been a long day already (7.5 hour summit push) and waiting another 45 minutes to an hour will only prolong it. We traverse to the top of the gully and Mike takes off even before I am ready to take any photos.

Traverse from the summit

The couloir is in low 40s degrees, so it's not too bad even on still frozen corn. Conditions start to improve slightly as we go down, but the stubborn breeze is keeping the snow locked. We are able to open up the turns and get down in no time.

Michael skiing




Last look at the face

On the ski out

Yale on the ski out

We anticipated the exit through the basin to be quick, and it was. We lost a bit of time trying to find our stashed water bottles near the treeline. Both of my knees hurt and I am dreading the difficult skiout through the trees on mushy snow. In a couple hours (3.5 hour total descent time), it is finally over, only with one pretty spectacular wipeout on my part. Michael was able to milk every little snowpatch, and I am only too happy to let gravity do it's thing. Back in the parking lot, icing both knees by 1.30 pm. This one didn't go down without a fight, but so very happy to be done with the Sawatch on skis.

Sawatch 14er ski timeline

Favorite ski lines: North face couloirs on Missouri, North face couloirs on La Plata, Holy Cross couloir on MHC and NE couloir on Huron peak.

Peak Route Date Difficulty Rating*
Mt. Shavano (Angel couloir) - 5/11/2013 - D3
Elbert (Box creek couloirs) - 5/25/2013 - D6/Intermediate
Missouri (North face couloir - Main) - 5/26/2013 - D8
Missouri (r) (North face couloir - Main) - 3/11/2016 - D8
Mt. Massive (SW gully) - 6/8/2013 - D6
Mt. Massive (r) (East face from Fish Hatchery) - 3/8/2015 - D6
La Plata (North face couloir) - 5/3/2014 - D8
La Plata (r) (Main North face couloir) - 6/8/2015 - D11/Difficult
Yale (North couloir to Cottonwood creek) - 5/17/2014 - D8
Mt. of Holy Cross (Holy Cross couloir) - 6/22/2014 - D11/Most Difficult
Mt Princeton (East face) - 5/3/2015 - D6
Columbia (SW gully) - 5/26/2015 - D4
Antero (West face) - 5/31/2015 - D9
Mt. Belford (NW gully) - 6/6/2015 - D5
Mt. Oxford (NW gully into Belford gulch) - 6/6/2015 - D5
Tabegauche (North face couloir to Browns creek) - 6/14/2015 - D5
Huron (NE couloir on East face) - 5/14/2016 - D15/Most Difficult
Mt. Harvard (South face couloir) - 5/21/2016 - D6

Bill Middlebrook/
Otina Fox/
Ben Conners, Brian Miller/exploringtherockies.coom
Matt Kamper/pioletski

Better formatted spreadhseet is here:

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

 Comments or Questions

Very Cool!
05/24/2016 08:39
Nice climbs and skis Nat!


Nice Job!
05/25/2016 14:29
Finishing the Sawatch 14ers on skis... good stuff! Great pictures and storytelling.

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