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Trailhead: Colorado River, RMNP
Elevation Gain: 4,094'
Route: East Bowl
It should be little surprise that the end of ski season can be a tough time for us ski mountaineers. When do you call "last ski"? My last 2 years have been rather rough in that respect. I didn't get the opportunity to decide when I was done. I was really hoping this year would be very different! Many skiers have already called it. Skied with quite a few of them on Carl's GBSF on Torrey's Tuning Fork on June 18. Still... I didn't want to call it. I was holding out hope for another ski or two. Was planning on a last day of June and July 1 ski, but it rained both days. Tough to motivate. Partner bailed, can't blame him. Get up early for cloudy, icy snow and then rain. Unpleasant at best.
Then while driving home from the western end of RMNP on July 5, I saw the light, the light strip of snow coming down Mt Cumulus in the Never Summer range. Here's my last ski! It's about 1,000' of continuous snow off the summit. If I'm going to put the effort to summit a peak, I want the snow continuous, directly off the summit and down for a decent distance. I ain't no JoKe ski mountaineer!
With summer snow, I knew an early start would be wasted, so why not watch sunrise from the overlook? Quite peaceful morning with only a few other fellow sunrise types in the park that early. I'm a little mad I forgot my other camera lenses, but my standard hiking lens didn't do too badly. After a long weekend of hiking photography, I got used to carrying the full assortment of lenses. But with the skis that just wasn't going to happen. As I sat waiting for the sun to rise, I started to realize a few other items I forgot to bring with me, like a mid layer. Good thing it was going to be hot today. I'll just have to wear my shell if I get cold.
Started up from the mostly deserted trailhead sometime after 6am. Shortly after starting, I got my first animal spotting, a young buck scratching himself with his rear leg. After last week's animal proliferation, I wondered how many I would see today. My route today would not be long in the lower meadows, so I doubted many at all. The hike up to the ditch was easy, but long with the giant switchbacks. A couple good views, but mostly woodland hiking.
Once at the ditch, I was hoping for a crossing where I needed it. It looked quite deep! Thankfully after about 0.6mi there was a bridge right where I wanted it to go up opposition creek. After that I found a human/game trail that went in the general direction from some beta I found online (Front Range skimo beta). I would go up opposition and then turn right to get to the east bowls. I figured the horrid bushwack would be short, if painful. Ha! It started off ok, but then the deadfall became numerous. Dense trees too. With skis on the pack, pitched to the left, I was hitting trees all over. I had the choice of staying in the trees or making my way up to the talus slopes above. After fighting deadfall, I went uphill and started contouring. When I saw it was time to turn uphill, I found a nice talus slope from a previous rockfall event. At times it was nice, others it was steep and wobbly talus. I didn't relish the thought of coming down this. Not one bit! The ascent was taking forever. Good thing I wasn't rushing snow warming or weather today.
After what seemed like an eternity, I got out of the trees. I had the choice of following the drainage up, or going via the ridge. The lower basin looked nasty with loose talus, as most of the snow had melted. Guess the easy skier approach is over - time to think like a hiker. (How do I do that again?) So I went with the hiker route and gained the ridge and made my way up till I hit the snow. It was soft at the edges, so I decided to put on my ski boots, and not get my hiking boots too wet, since I was going to be using them 90% of the day today. The snow was quite soft at the edges at my oh so late time of 11am-ish, but the center was quite supportable and I made decent progress through the calf high suncups. Progress was slow going up, but that was because I didn't want to put on my crampons. It was only like 200-300' of snow to the summit ridge!
Finally got up to the summit around noonish, and was immediately hit by a very cool wind that thoroughly chilled me. On with the shell, as I took a short break enjoying the views.
There was quite the impressive cornice up there, so I decided to carefully cross country ski over to where I was comfortable dropping. With the nasty approach, I was now firmly on board with the -last ski of the season- plan. Bittersweet, last drop!
I made my way under the cornice wave area and then dropped through the thicker part of the snow, not wanting to get too close to the soft edges and hit rocks. But once on the lower angle snow, the monster suncups got angry! One ate my ski and I had to punch it through. Safety skiing to the extreme! Yeah - very much last ski of the season time. (Minus my usual every month ski of course )
I made my way over to the steep section of the line. How would this go with the monster suncups? But as I looked down the rollover, they looked tame enough. So I had the best skiing of the day here, as I milked the last turns of the season. Just soft enough that I didn't feel the roughness, but supportive enough to ski well. An easy contour over, and drop to my last transition spot... and it's over!
Fairly easy traverse back over to the ridge. I had been spying a better way down, by going to the north of the ridge, and contouring around. The bushwack section should be considerably shorter this way, only about 0.4mi instead of the eternity on the south side of the ridge. The ridge had plenty of wobbly talus to cross, but at least I didn't have trees to contend with! A bit tough to say good bye, so I turned around and looked at the last ski line of the season from every ridge bump along the way. When I finally got down to the descent to the valley, I found a good line where the slope angle wouldn't be bad with the talus, and then I was back into the trees.
The trees were fairly devoid of deadfall for the first section, but then picked up and became just as annoying as the other side. I was an avid GPS watcher, as I counted down the feet till I got to the game trail and bridge to the easy walking. Hit it pretty close to the exit. Had to remove my boots and remove all the woodland detritus. I had another ~4 miles out to the truck now. Met a park ranger just as I was about to leave the ditch and get on the trail downhill. A friendly grilling about what I did, and plenty questions trying to see if I day tripped and if I was heading down, since it was late. Guess ya gotta have those BC camping permits!
Those last miles were tough. Instead of wearing my usual stiff hiking boots, I wore the trail runner high tops I picked up a few weeks ago for Peak C. I felt every rock under my feet. And after the number of miles I did in them, that was too much! Not sure how ya'll in trail runners do this. I'm going back to my stiff boots for all future talus jaunts on 13ers. Must be the easy super highways up popular 14ers that they work well on. 13er and other bushwacks don't work well. Not at all.
Not many tourists by the time I got down to the main trail. But I got all the stares I've come to expect when carrying ski gear. One little kid even asked "Are you a skier?". Yep - see these skis and boots on my backpack? "The snow must have been too hard to do anything!" No, it was soft. The usual quarter mile from the trail head convo. But it's all part of the fun!
The 2015-2016 season ends with 104 days! 49 resort, 55 BC (10 ski to work) for a total of over 1,558,000' skied (140K BC). 14 resorts visited, with 6 new ones. 24 peaks skied (sadly only 1 new 14er this year) Thank you to all my partners (resort and BC) for a fun season!
Till the snow flies again, as I will always dream of a Never Summer.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
it's all about the pack I'm carrying, if I'm carrying a heavy pack with skis, I'm wearing my boots, light pack, I got my trail runners on, and I do sick, obscure, out of the way, super on the down low peaks too!
Had to call it on June 30th this year. After two 13er hikes, I am still adjusting to hiking downhill. It seriously sux! Even in trail runners. Nowhere near your ski #s, but it's been a good ski season for me. It's been missed terribly
Abe - yes yes, climbing. It is featured as a plan for this summer. The trail runners are just a super lightweight Columbia brand. My others are better
Shralp - If I'm on talus, I need more support. I had hoped the snow ended after a nice woodland hike. Season is done!
Lodgling - Without that schwack I could see going up here yearly! Late line.
Nat - The first few hikes are rough. That down hill hiking but, just unnatural!
MtnHub - thanks, great flowers out there now
Koeffling - glad I could remind you of an awesome area!
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