Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  06/28/2009
Date Climbed:   06/18/2009
Author:  pioletski
 Elbert via South Halfmoon Creek   

Mt. Elbert - climb and ski West couloir from South Halfmoon Creek
Crew: Jeff, Pioletski
Hike: 7.5 miles, 4100'
Ski: 2800' vert

Here's an oddity for you: a ski trip report that should be of more interest to the hikers than the skiers...

June 18th was a precious day off work, and I wasn't ready to declare the spring skiing season over just yet. However, it seemed that all my partners had either moved on to mountain biking and kayaking, or had to work. Finally, on the evening of the 17th, my neighbor Jeff knocked on my door and asked if I was still planning to go out the next day. Jeff is an avid climber, kayaker and snowboarder; we had been talking about getting outdoors together for some time, but until now had never connected.

The adventure began with the drive to the South Halfmoon Creek in my Audi A4. Sweet ride on pavement but not the best clearance (I measured it at 3-3/4") - I have to gun it for speed bumps because if I don't get air I end up high-centered. Still, we barely scraped bottom on the way in, and we were saddling up at 6:30 am:


South Halfmoon Creek trailhead. Photo: Pioletski

The first obstacle was crossing the somewhat swollen creek. Dawson mentions a broken down bridge. Evidently the trolls have finally left and taken the remains of the bridge with them. There was a log about 50 yards downstream, however.


The first crossing. Photo: Pioletski

We hiked up a completely dry 4WD road into a spectacular valley, and our couloir, snow and all, gradually came into view:


First view of the west couloir. Photo: Pioletski

At 11,200' one takes a left off the jeep trail. Here's an old favorite gaper game: taking pictures of people taking pictures:


Jeff at the turnoff. Photo: Pioletski

And here's what Jeff was photographing:


View up the couloir. Photo: Pioletski

The turnoff is located by a large cairn:


At the trail turnoff. Photo: Jeff

At this point Jeff made a decision he later regretted a little. Hikers take note: this is an awesome ascent route - it's nice and direct, and secluded from the crowds one often encounters on Elbert - but for those of us that like to slide down, the snow looked dirty and past its prime. Jeff had brought along his brand-new Burton splitboard and didn't want to shred the base, so he decided to leave it and glissade down. We later found that the snow was great down to about 12,500 feet. He had a ball on the glissade, but would have preferred to ride...

Anyway, the climbing gets serious from this point. We strapped on crampons and set to:


Jeff on the way up. Mt. Massive behind. Photo: Pioletski

and were on top by 10:30.


Jeff at the top. Photo: Pioletski


Pioletski at the top. Photo: Jeff with Pioletski's camera

The weather remained good, with a few gusts of wind. There were clouds around, but not really getting organized into a storm.

Jeff's descent was a combination of plunge-stepping...


Jeff on the skyline. Photo: Pioletski

... and glissading:


Jeff going for a ride. Photo: Pioletski

There was plenty of snow at the summit:


Pioletski skiing off the top. Photo: Jeff

Things were rather thin on the upper part of the west face, however, so I skied down the ridge to the south, then dropped onto the face. With a little hopping and billygoating, I reached the open snow and enjoyed some turns:


Skiing free! Photo: Jeff

The best snow and most interesting terrain was to be found along the south wall of the couloir:


Another @#$% ski pic. Photo: Jeff

Though dirty at the bottom, the snow made a continuous ribbon all the way down to 11,600 feet, as shown here:


The route to the valley floor. Photo: Jeff

Looking back up from the point where I took off my skis, the snow shone in the late morning sun:


Looking back... Photo: Pioletski

We changed back into trail shoes, returned to the car, and headed to Casa Blanca in Leadville for lunch. Thanks for a great day, Jeff, it was about time we got out!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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