Wilson Peak - 14,017 feet
El Diente Peak - 14,159 feet
|Additional Members:||Pagibb, mattr9, mtnbikerskierchick|
Wilson Peak - 14,017 feet
El Diente Peak - 14,159 feet
|Additional Members:||Pagibb, mattr9, mtnbikerskierchick|
|Highs and Lows in the San Juans|
Wilson Peak (Coors face)
May 14th, 2019
I was so happy this was NOT a backpacking trip. After several backpacking trips in a row, I was getting pretty tired of them. Sure, it is the most efficient way to minimize driving and to get all the neighboring peaks, but boy, it is a lot of work! I was very happy to have a lighter pack as well as to drive down to town after each ski and have normal meals and a hot spring soak at Orvis Hot Springs after Wilson. Awww, life's little luxuries.
For the Wilson peak ski I was very fortunate to recruit my best partner, Brittany, only one of 2 women to have skied all the Colorado 14ers. I talked to her a year or two ago about being intimidated by Wilson, and she offered to repeat it with me. Many people would promise something like that but would back off later since they didn't really mean it. But not Brittany. When the time came, I reached out to her about wanting to ski this peak, and she promptly offered to set aside a date. We picked Tuesday a few days after the most recent storm, giving some time for the snow to settle and the potential instabilities to subside. She would drive down to the TH after finishing a day of work from Crested Butte, while I arrived earlier in a day after climbing some cracks in Escalante canyon by Delta (whenever possible, I am trying to feed my crack addition and the spring time is the perfect time to bounce between skiing and climbing). I texted her about not being able to pass the snow drift @9.500 ft and my parking location, since I had reception at the TH. She arrived around 10.30 pm and we promtply fell asleep in our cars. I was pretty excited about the ski, so had to take some sedatives, getting almost 4.5 hours of sleep.
Our plan was to start around 4.30 am, but we didn't get ready until 4.50 am. We were making great time on the approach though. Brittany commented that there was much more snow on the road than in her previous trips to the basin. The skinning was very efficient. Another side note - I've skinned with a lot of people, but know very few who can skin as well as Brittany and her husband Frank. I consider skinning to be an essential skimo skill, as much as skiing itself, and if you're efficient at that, it will save you a lot of time on the up. I watched her in awe going up 35 degree slope without ski crampons, but would pick a line just a few degrees less steep. In that manner we were able to skin up to the base of our chosen NW couloir @13,000 ft.
We made the only transition, putting skis on the packs and switching to crampons, and we were off. Although it was a repeat for her, Brittany offered to switch leads, which was a great help. I started out first, but quickly ran out of steam trying to boot up the breakable crust. She took over while I ate the gu, and we leapfrogged in that manner until the ridge. Booting was fairly strenuous due to unsupportive snow and breakable crust (and should have given me a clue for the next route 2 days later). The snow was continuous, with a steep, thin and rocky section near the top. I was relieved to realize we completely bypassed the false summit and the infamous downclimb. In current snow conditions it didn't look like anything fun and would have been a huge time drag.
With our efficient approach we topped on the summit by 10 am, covering ~4,600 ft in 5 hours, right on schedule. Again, it's not too common to have an estimate of how long the ascent should take, and then hit it exactly, but it happens more often than not when you hike with Brittany. We were early. Although all surrounding peaks were in the sun, we had a big cloud above the summit and everything was still in the shade. But I cannot think of a better place to hang out for an hour than the summit of Wilson peak. We hiked down the ridge a bit to find a good entry point, and determined that the best way in would be on skiers' left side. I was definitely a little nervous, but thought it looked doable. After making the ski transition, we started the ski at 11 am. Brittany let me do the honors and go first. I felt as if I am taking the AMGA ski exam - can she skin? can she ski? how's the pace? how are the transitions? how's the route finding? My examiner was strict, but fair, and ready to step in if needed :)
Getting into couloir was the hardest part. I didn't measure the angle, but Moneymike measured it at 55 degrees on his ski. It felt about right. The coverage was good, but windslab was the complicating factor. As I started across the face, my downhill (left) ski kept kicking off the pieces of the slab. Since the snow was pretty soft and powdery, my whippet didn't feel like much of a crutch. Slow and steady I made my way into the central couloir. Deep breath. Brittany made across without issues, managing to kick off some more windslab. Once in the couloir, we took off extra layers (it was getting hot) and it was finally time to ski.
Snow was great. We had to manage the sluff, but the snow was dense powder without any prior tracks. We leapfrogged the face, taking multiple photos (it was hard not to in this setting). I preferred the right side of the couloir, and Brittany liked the left side more. We descended about half the face and I picked a spot above the lower cliffband. Time was almost noon (it took us approximately half an hour or less to get into the couloir and about half an hour to ski the upper face). Just after Brittany skied down towards me and we began discussing our descent options, I noticed a wet slide coming down behind her. At first it looked like a trickle. I said in a matter of fact voice: "Avalanche!" It took her a second to notice what was happening. The trickle almost instantaneously became a pretty big slide cascading down fast. I instinctively dug into the slope with the whippet, but we were truly in a "safe" spot - the avalanche passed right next to us down the chute we were considering. Let's get down this mountain, it's getting late, was Brittany's reaction. I couldn't agree more. As much as I wanted to ski the lower chute, I knew the time has passed, and in all likelihood, the snow was negatively affected by the slide. Brittany took the skiers' hard left and I followed the suite. In the process we crossed several other slides that looked very fresh - the mountain was shedding its layers fast. On the apron, I was skiing oversaturated corn between slowly moving wet slides and giant pinwheels. How did it get warm so fast??
Needless to say, we didn't take many photos at the bottom. The exit was fairly straightforward, albeit long. We took the hard skiers left and tried to stay as high as possible on the traverse. After crossing a couple of gullies (the snow held up pretty good actually), we hit the road. We were able to ski almost all the way to the car.
After hanging out at camp, we loaded our stuff and made our way to Ridgeway. Burgers at True Grit hit the spot. After that, sadly, it was time to part ways - Brittany drove back to Crested Butte, while I stayed in Ridgeway. R&R was in order - Kate's Place for brunch the next day and later Orvis Hot springs fit the bill. I drove back to the same trailhead, finding the lower snowdrift busted and were able to drive a bit higher to 9,700 ft. As I was getting ready for bed, Pat showed up and we were expecting Matt around 2.30-3am in the morning.
El Diente (Luttrell line)
May 16th, 2019
This was the last weather window before the next wave of storms was supposed to move in. Weather forecast called for a weak freeze, if any at all, mostly cloudy skies and strong SW winds with gusts up to 50 mph. With expected high of 45 F by noon, CAIC was warning about wet slides. This spring this is called the weather window. Matt showed up around 2.30 am, we all got ready and departed around 3.10 am. There was another truck parked just in front of us and a solo skier set out just before us. As forecasted, there was no freeze below the treeline, and steep sidehilling which we did 2 days ago, wasn't an issue. But once we got above the treeline, everything was still frozen. Again, I was making great time with those 2 fast guys. I brought ski crampons for the ROA saddle and used them, while guys simply booted up to the saddle once it got too steep and icy to skin. We all got to the pass around 6.30 am, quickly transitioned in strong winds (a preview of what's to come) and started skiing down to the base of the Luttrell line on El Diente's north side.
Everything was still frozen solid and the wind was pretty strong, although it gradually got less fierce once we got into the couloir. Matt and Pat were switching leads while I was bringing up the rear. But they stopped to check in with me when they were not sure about the route :) We correctly figured out where to turn left and soon the Fox traverse was in front of our eyes. Since Matt had prior cornice experience from Crestone Needle, he chopped off part of the cornice and started on the traverse. After the traverse, the guys raced to the summit, where we arrived around 10 am, covering almost 6k vert in under 7 hours.
Once on the summit, we had some decisions to make. Matt hoped to also tag Wilson peak from the ROA saddle, so he wanted to start skiing down soon. Thinking about our Wilson peak day, I was concerned about wet slides, but today was much colder. I wanted to wait and give the snow a chance to warm up a bit. Eventually we all started skiing down at 10.30 am. Pat went first and made some great looking turns (he is a coach in Utah for the ski racing team). But we could still hear him scraping the ice in the couloir. Matt was next, and me last. I struggled the most of the three, since I haven't skied ice all season, and kept overshooting my turns (didn't have that problem on Wilson!). Was glad to have fresh edges on Crows, but still didn't feel like I was in the zone at all. I did hip check at least twice and the exposure above the traverse kept me on my toes... But I made it down to the traverse in one piece and even managed to take some photos of the guys on the traverse. Thankfully, the mountain saved the best snow for the traverse (a bit of a sun exposure I am sure had something to do with it). The rest of the line was NW facing and hasn't properly consolidated or warmed up for us.
Time was just after 11 am. Just like with Wilson, shenanigans at the top took some time, especially with 3 people. Matt was anxious to ski down. Pat also wanted to ski Wilson peak, but he didn't want to leave me behind to ski El Diente solo, and we also didn't think the WP conditions would be prime. So Pat and I decided to give the snow another hour to warm up, while Matt skied down. He radioed back to us that the skiing was still very firm and the debris on the apron was the worst. So Pat and I settled in to wait. We would get some sun from time to time, but the wind kept the snow cool. Around noon, Matt radioed us that he reached the ROA saddle and was definitely still going for Wilson peak (and I could actually see him making his way up the pass from my vantage point). Just past noon, we clicked in and Pat skied down first, once again making some good looking turns in breakable crust.
I resigned to the fact that the middle gully would still be firm, but harbored hopes that we may get corn below 13k. Alas, once I made my way out of the middle gully down to Pat, my hopes were dashed. Lower gully was still firm, even around 12.30 pm with no sign of further warm-up. We didn't want to wait any longer, so it was time to suck it up and get down. I didn't ski well - I kept trying different sides of the gully hoping to find some skiable surface, but no luck today. There was no corn or powder, just breakable crust, and at some point, grabby breakable crust, and my confidence in making decent turns just evaporated. This was my 87th ski day of the season (still hoping to get to 100 days this spring), and officially this was the worst snow I skied all year.
Finally, we were at the apron, and the skiing got better just a tad. We still had to do some acrobatics to get around the wet slide debris, but I eked a few decent turns on the icy surface to the left. We collected out skins and made a few more turns in half-decent corn down to the basin. Too soon it was time to put the skins on and to crank out the remaining 1k feet back to the pass. Matt radioed to us that he made the summit of Wilson peak and would meet us back at camp.
Pat gained the pass first, but managed to lose one of his skins to the 50 mph wind gusts during the transition. On my skin back to the ROA saddle I kept envisioning the glorious corn on the other side, and this was my main hope to salvage such a lackluster ski. Well, you guessed it - there was no corn. By the time we got to the pass, the wind already took care of the corn snow, refreezing it. I couldn't see Pat's ski tracks because he zigzagged down the slope looking for his lost skin. He didn't find it. Time was past 2pm and we booked it down to the trailhead, wondering what other snow conditions we may encounter today. Near the treeline we ran into the steep snow that never froze the night before and Pat set off a mini-wet slide. Eventually we made our way to the road, and ran into Matt at the end as he just finished his Wilson peak ski. Any further potential ski trips were canceled due to the incoming storm and we traded our horror stories from the day at Taco del Gnar in Ridgeway. Almost 7k feet of uphill netted just a few hundred feet of decent skiing, not a good hike/ski ratio from my perspective. Immensely glad to have this peak ski done, but won't be repeating it any time soon. Pat summed it up pretty well: "everything was really fun besides the skiing".
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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