Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spring Never Summer Skiing

After skiing Nokhu Crags last year where we topped out on Breakfast Couloir and looked South into Snow Lake and the Never Summer range, I decided I needed to explore the area(and do a ski traverse). 

I recently had been planning the traverse and had two buddies to come with, so we went for it. 

West ridge up Richthofen
We had planned to ski from most of the peaks in the range, camping half way at Lake of the Clouds. However, slower than anticipated travel speed and severe warming early in the day conspired to change our plans.

Dropping in the SE pitch
Mark on the East aspect below the ridge from Teepee to Richthofen
Instead of skiing a couloir from the summit of Richthofen to the East, we opted to ski from the junction of the South and West ridges. This initially faced South and was nicely firm. It was quite steep, and I had forgotten which line through the rocks below didn't cliff out, so instead we traversed right to a more open slope. This curved around to face East. At this point it was a bit after 9am, and this pitch was very wet. I descended a line on a red dirt surface, and skiing it sounded like running water as the slough ran below and around you. This being my first trip of the year like this for me, and first descent of the day, I was very conservative and nervous. 

We got to the bottom and were nervous for the rest of our traverse as we were to spend the rest of our day primarily on East aspects and it was already very warm and incredibly wet. We dropped below Teepee and then set a high traverse to Lead. 

We skipped the peak of Lead(which was a good thing, cliffs on the SE face would have forced us to bail anyway) and skied the South pitch from the saddle.

We also skipped Cirrus(we had planned to ascend the NE pitch to the summit and ski the SE pitch to the lake), opting instead to take the easy traverse to the Lake of the Clouds. 
Our fortress on Lake of the Clouds looking at Howard

We got to camp at 1pm and had plenty of time to relax and build a massive fort to reinforce my tarp. It was a good thing we built the walls up, as it spat snow, graupel and hail off and on all afternoon, and in the middle of the night it snowed with significant wind. 

We set alarms for 3:30am, to try to beat the heat for the rest of the traverse, but we all slept through. When we woke to a light sky we decided to adjust our plans again and skied an aesthetic line off Howard with blessedly light packs.

Make and Travis booting up a NE couloir on Howard
Traversing into the desired couloir. Directly below ends in a cliff
First turns in our line
Travis skiing ENE couloir off Howard
We then packed up and skied out to the Grand Ditch. When we hit the Red Mountain Trail junction we pointed it down that drainage. After some fun skiing on the stream bed, it started to get steeper(both in the stream bed and the hillsides on either side) and we decided bailing to the left was the wisest decision. In retrospect, following the trail was likely the wisest decision.

We had to initially hike a loose hillside, but quickly found snow again. The descent then became finding ways to connect the snow patches down this steep hillside to get to the bottom. Often times this involved side slipping with the entire snow patch sliding below me and my skis on wet dirt and logs. 

Eventually we made it down and then traversed until we came out of the trees. We then came up against the river and found a few large logs to cross over. 

Finally we made it out to the trail and quickly to the Colorado River Trailhead where we were able to hitch a ride to our car a few miles down the road.