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Peak(s):  Lookout Peak  -  13,669 feet
Date Posted:  04/19/2024
Modified:  04/20/2024
Date Climbed:   04/16/2024
Author:  Jorts
 Locked and (Wind) Loaded Lookout   

Start/Finish: Ophir Pass TH (Silverton)

Start Time: 9:08a

Duration: 5:25

Total Distance: 12 mi

Elevation Gain: 3858'

Weather: 25 to 40 F, cloudy, wind 8 mph NNW

Partner: Solo

Paradise Basin’s reputation precedes it. I first heard about Opus Hut in 2012 after staying at a drafty, mouse infested hut in Summit. A friend said his hut experience included catering and skiing in every direction. In the ensuing years I also learned of a spate of avalanche accidents in the area. After moving to Durango and skiing around Silverton, Paradise remained an area I kind of tiptoed around. It has a relatively long approach and there is plenty of slide terrain to navigate.

Lucky for me, the avy hazard had been easing and a Summit friend fell into a mid-April reservation at Opus. I decided to drive in ahead of the rest of the group and aim for a ski and summit of Lookout. But said Summit friend blindsided me by volunteering my company that morning to his girlfriend who was staying in Telluride. After some back and forth texting about the plan and the differences between backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering, she still wished to join promising she’d keep up. And revealed that she was a splitboarder. In soft boots. Hmm.

We met that morning at the trailhead. Girlfriend beat me there and was raring to boogie. A flat skin quickly leads to a short downhill skin. Girlfriend wiped out and removed her boards to navigate the downhill. When she caught up I asked if she was comfortable with a tempo approach. Receiving an affirmative, I then dropped her in 5 minutes. After skinning up the road about a mile she was completely out of sight. I doubled back and explained we would not have time for Lookout. Girlfriend was a good sport kindly telling me just to go ahead. I skinned alone along a solitary skin track in a couple inches of fresh snow for the first few miles. Below Opus I encountered a group of 8 fumbling with kick turns atop the dust on crust. I revealed I was going to Lookout and they told me it doesn’t have good skiing. I shrugged and moved on.

I angled north of Ophir Pass beyond Opus and started climbing an eastern bowl toward the ridge. The previous day’s storm left the summits cloaked in cloud cover. After several kickturns in surprisingly soft snow I gained the ridge at about 1130. I stubbornly and futilely tried to continue climbing in skins only to find myself struggling with kick turns as much as the party I passed earlier. I sat down to trade out the skis for crampons and found my boots entombed in sticky spring snow. Instead of removing the snow I impatiently put on the crampons haphazardly and started ascending again. It wasn’t more than 5 minutes before the snow came off my boots and the crampons started loosely wiggling. Such a gumby. I sat down again -now more in the wind- to readjust them. What took minutes felt like hours on the exposed ridge.

Looking back on Lookout's south ridge on the ski out

I started moving again and nearly jumped at the sudden appearance of a cairn half buried in the snow. There was no trail to follow so I continued up the ridge through some short icy steps. Soon my progress was halted by a blocky wall and a snowy amphitheater. The amphitheater was steep and I found the new snow caked in it to be suspect. I navigated a rocky ledge along the wall gaining a position high in the amphitheater above the snow patch.

The Rocky Ledge

Here the upward options forked. Leftward was a dihedral free of snow. Rightward was a snow choked chimney. I chose the chimney. It was over 60 deg so I expected the snow to be firm in there. Instead I immediately started post-holing more deeply with each step until the snow was mid-hip most of the way up. The snowpack here was unconsolidated to the ground halting my progress. To get out of the chimney I did an awkward stem landing myself on a rocky outcrop. Suddenly the corniced summit was in view only a couple hundred feet above. From tortuous route finding to an easy walk up a snow covered scree field I found myself on the summit at 1p.

Looking down into the chimney
Summit selfie

I was pleasantly surprised to find nearly full cell service. Sheltering on the lee side, I let my friends know I’d be back down to the trailhead before 3 while inhaling a half frozen Muir gel. With the gravity assist I quickly made my way back through the chimney and down to my skis. Route-finding was simple with my fresh uptracks still exposed.

Crampon-ski transition looking toward Ophir

Jump turns atop the chalky cornice put me right above my initial ski-crampon transition point. Here I could either navigate the teetering cornice skiers left or take soft turns skiers right. I wanted to go right but the new snow was on a meltfreeze crust at this lower elevation. With a short ski cut the whole slope released on the interface. A powder cloud erupted as the snow cascaded over the cliffs below. Instead of powder turns I got meltfreeze survival skiing.

The upper ski along the ridgeline
Windslab release
Lower bowl ski out

Soon I was able to drop into the bowl I skinned up earlier making east facing soft turns all the way down toward Ophir Pass and Opus hut. Despite the cloud cover, it was corn o’clock below 12k. And hot soup o’clock on the road back to the trailhead. I found my friends at the lower creek bridge at 2:30. Girlfriend was grateful she hadn’t joined me. After the gamey climb I was ready to enjoy some tamer shenanigans at opulent Opus.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Look out
4/21/2024 7:10am
From the looks of it, this Lookout doesn't have particularly good skiing, perhaps the gumby party was correct. ;) And I do recognize the wind slab release photo from CAIC website. However, you should check out the South Lookout, especially the Magnum couloir on the west side. Had a good look at it from V3 last spring and it looked very tasty. Approach from the town of Ophir.
P.S. I still haven't been to the Opus hut, the cost seems a bit too much for me. Even drafty 10th mountain huts are nowadays creeping towards $50/night, ouch!

The BEST skiing
4/21/2024 8:31am
Chalky ridge lines and touchy wind pockets, what more would any self-respecting ski mountaineer ask for?

Nat, I agree, the better skiing is along Paradise Ridge on South Lookout. I went up there with friends from Opus. I couldnt sell them on Magnum (Opus) or Labyrinth. Labyrinth actually slid the day we were up there. Looked like loose wet triggered a slab release.

Opus Hut has a strict policy against allowing guest use of WiFi and theres no service so the hut master submitted the avy ob for me. She submitted it as South Lookout instead of lookout and didnt communicate that it was AS/u. Oh well. Bilbreys forecast was accurate.

Opus is a little pricier but I found it to be worth the splurge.

Labyrinth Slide
4/21/2024 7:38pm
For reference. I didnt submit it to CAIC because I didnt want to bother the hut master to submit another one.

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