Peak(s):  Cronin Peak  -  13,870 feet
Date Posted:  04/02/2012
Modified:  04/03/2012
Date Climbed:   04/01/2012
Author:  lordhelmut
 Northeast Face Survival Ski   

Photo provided by Bill Middlebrook

Cronin Peak - Northeast Face
Climbers/Skiers - Myself and Ben
Mileage/Vert/Time - 13 to 14 miles, 4400 ft, 8 hours flat
Food Rations - Triscuits and Red Peppers Hummus, Peppermint Patties, Kroger Fruit Snacks, King Soopers Sweet and Spicey Trail Mix and lots and lots of Vitamin Water

I just finished digesting what hopefully was the meal that replenished 50% of the calories I burnt over the weekend during a quest for Couloirs in the Sawatch Range and now am ready to write a TR. A 12" Buffalo Chicken sandwich from Peppino's in Frisco, 32oz Mountain Dew, leftover half sleeve of Salt N' Vinegar Pringles, breakfast burrito, hot pockets, leftover trail mix and then a rather large bowl of Fettuccini Alfredo have made up the brunt of my feasts since stepping off Cronin yesterday afternoon. To date, I don't think I've burned more energy in my entire life, or at least sweat more. To put things in perspective, I sweat straight through my softshell jacket. I honestly didn't know that was possible. When you are forced to follow your 26 year old determined and in better shape partner, these things tend to occur.

First things first, the intermission feast :

The Intermission Feast

On Saturday, a solid group of us skied the Hopeful Couloir on Centennial Mount Hope from Sheep Gulch. It was the best line of the year and it was reminiscent of the quality experienced in 2011 and that is no lie. Ben and I were looking to keep the momentum going and moved camp South to CR-162 that evening, nabbing a solid free site about a half mile from the Baldwin Gulch TH. With a fire ban in place, we put on a few more down layers and replenished ourselves with 10 brats between 3 people (Elliot, from 14ers joined us for the feast after skiing Hope, but decided to sleep in the next morning due to too many days in a row of couloir searching).

We hit the trail around 5:45am with the anticipation of a somewhat leisurely day, specially since NOAA had forcasted 20-30mph winds and the occasional 45 mph gust. This would hopefully cool the Northeast face we planned on skiing that day.

One thing we underestimated was the length of the road. Ben set a rather grueling pace throughout the entire approach.


A free clinic on river crossings with skis

The skinning on the road was problematic for your mental and emotional well being, not to mention physical. What started out as smooth skinning, quickly turned to post hole hell. Now I have a number of friends who are snow shoers and, after years of reflection, have come to terms with the fact that there are people out there who simply don't care, know how or want to ski. I've never given anyone an earful for slaughtering skin tracks for fear of being "that guy", nor am I some TGR forum assbag who lets stuff like that bother me. With that being said, Ben and I witnessed some of the more impressive and haunting post hole tracks to date. At one point, during a quick rest, I noticed a post hole so deep, there was a chest imprint. The poor guy then proceeded to try and find a way around to the left but found a hidden downed log, probably holed again, banged his knee, thrashed some tree branches, looped back around, only to find a similar fate on the other side of the road, then sat there hopeless in disbelief. I only know this cause Ben and I both experienced this numerous times throughout the day, even on skis.

The Road

We reached a point where the shoer track went left towards Antero and then a faint skin track went right in to the trees toward Cronin's Northeast Amphitheatre. Not 50 yards after the turn off, the fun really began. There is a force at work in the hills of Colorado this year, I'm convinced. Every outing I've experienced below treeline has been a clinic in anger management. I turned 30 last year. One of my new decade resolutions was to try and control my childish, impulsive frustrations (i.e. complete mental breakdowns) usually experienced when travelling in the backcountry. I don't always act this way, but as most mountain folk hopefully realize, it ain't always a bed of roses experience. Looking at it from a glass half full perspective, I look at those experiences as a way to enrich one's view when you finally reach that ridgeline or mountain pass or summit or pristine mountain lake. I also view "losing your shit" in the mountains a positive thing, cause if one was to act that way in an urbanized environment with other people around, you would probably be branded a bonafide psychopath.

With that being said, the travel through the trees was borderline nightmarish. The snowpack could not and would not support 1/10 of our weight. In fact, at one point, Ben took off his sack and when he placed it down in the snow, it sunk. I've never seen anything quite like it.

After a grueling pace up the road and through the trees, we finally reached a clearing and took a short break. At this point, following a 4700 foot day at Hope, I personally, was somewhat spent. Realizing though, that this was still "early season" I decided to just push through it.

Here is a good example of my average posture displayed from tree line on throughout the day :

getting worn down

From treeline, we had an open clearing of mostly grass and some mellow snow lines to gain the NE ridge of Cronin. We enjoyed the consistency and stableness of the terrain and made up for lost time.

Heading in to Amphitheatre of NE Face

Checking out the face a little closer


We gained the ridge around 10am and had around another 600-700 feet to go to the summit. It was nothing more than a class 2+ ridge run and we were trying to beat the clock before it melted the entire Northeast Face to its summer form. The views were sweet and we scouted out potential ski lines for this rapidly ending spring season.

Solid line for 2012

even better. Anyone know which peak this is?

The Ridge

close up of the face before summiting

We topped out around just before 11 on this fine April spring day (felt more like summer to be honest).



Most of the Sawatch 14ers were looking more or less unskiable from our vantage point. Other than maybe the Box Creek Chutes, Massive, a boney line down La Plata and a very very creative and courageous line down the North Face of Tabeguache, there is pretty much nothing else worth, or even feasible, to consider. With that being said, we scouted out some lines and hopefully with a little research, will be able to hit them before the season is up.

Anyways, we began the ski around 1130am. The conditions up top were above average, reminiscent of the Hopeful the day before. Some chalky powder turns were even experienced down the most aesthetic and exciting section of the face. As we got down lower, conditions deteriorated rather quickly. The snow got heavy at times, but then would quickly turn to stalagtite, sun crusted, rotten snow and this made consistent turns problematic, and at times, frustrating, not to mention physically exhausting. I, personally, had to take a load off after each round of turns to catch my breathe.

Some shots of the face and the ski :




Tabeguache's North Face

Antero in the backdrop



The lower one fourth of the face was completely bare and required a ski release for 20-30 feet before skiing out the "apron" to the valley below. We both felt fortunate to be skiing on Ski Logik's, as anything lighter or less stiff would've been made the Northeast Face's bitch on this day.

Ullr Chariot's smiling back at the melting face

Naively thinking the worst was over, we casually skied out towards treeline. In hindsight, I'm not quite sure what we were expecting when we entered tree line, since the colder snow in the morning couldn't support us, not sure why we thought the heated up snowpack would fare any better. Lots of expletives were tossed around, and the amount of downed branches that came victim to my ski pole looked eerily similar to the Ardennes Forest after the Battle of the Bulge.

We reached the road and it was all downhill from there (99% of it at least), only problem was the consolidated snow was a narrow 2 foot wide strip of post holes. Ironically the very post holes I cursed all morning would now serve as our only feasible way out of there, as the snow on the sides couldn't support our body weight, even leaning back on our tails, resulting in us sub-marining in to the depths of god knows what. Throw in exposed rocks, blue ice, huge puddles and 4 miles of it and I don't think I need to explain any further.

One positive came out of the descent down the road. When we reached the car and hesitantly went to look at our bases, we both noticed there wasn't a single core shot or even a noticeable ding. Ben toting the Ski Logik Ullr Chariots and myself the Howitzers, we were in total shock, as both of us hit some serious rocks, and hit them hard. At one point, as I was skimming along the road, unable to find a chance to slow my progress, a rock kindly did so for me and I nearly flipped forward from the friction. Any other ski and that would've ripped over 50% of the entire base right off the ski. The Howitzer and its panther design simply ate it and went about its business. One tough ski, all I've gotta say about that.

All in all, a great weekend of skiing in the Sawatch. With this snowpack and not much hope for storms in the future, this season is going to be over very soon, for climbers and skiers. Go get em while you can and make em count. Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Comments or Questions
food rations
04/03/2012 04:00
Agree w/ Caroline, the culinary aspects of your TRs are always a treat. Salt & vin Pringles are now a backcountry staple for Papi and me, thanks to you and Ben.

Sounds like you guys had some ”interesting” conditions up there (a chest imprint??). Way to persevere and make the most of it.

Thanks for posting.... it's been too long since we had a good helmut TR!

Nice work!
04/03/2012 04:16
Funny how Cronin has proven testy to a number of parties. Last year, Adimmen and I followed up two separate TH finding blunders (skinning three miles and 500 vert up the wrong drainage's) before glopping up the road and basin beneath Cronin. If you would like to go back for the peak in question, I'm in! I believe it is Grizzly/Bear, and is a BiCentennial Summit.

Boggy B
so it wasn't just me
04/03/2012 05:42
Thought I was getting soft and/or fat when I assessed ”snowshoeing” out from Mt Arkansas as the worst ever, in a rare lucid moment between fits of rage and despair. Apologies to whomever may attempt to skin the aftermath of THAT.

Re: peak, I also think it's Grizz. If you find a camera in that couloir, it belongs to my friend Kylie.

Nice report!

04/03/2012 13:43
lol. Brian, days like that remind us how much we really do like to ski big mountains! Hours of post-holing will certainly test a person's limits, both physically and mentally.

good stuff

The food ...
04/03/2012 14:12
Now, we're talkin', my friend! You know I always enjoy the gastronomic aspects of a trip (wish more people would provide that information). And, what a trip, huh!? Looks like you guys had a great workout, beautiful weather, and most of all ... SUCCESS! Thanks for posting. Happy trials .. err ... I mean Trails!

Way to find some lingering snow in March.
04/03/2012 15:04
Looks like you could have used some snowshoes though. Biggies Sub Challenge beckons this month, you in?

Way to go Brian and Ben!
04/03/2012 15:28
I'm glad there's something skiable out there, though it does sound like the Sawatch is extracting its usual pound of flesh and then some as the price of passage. Thanks for an entertaining writeup!

Nerd Rage...
04/03/2012 19:38
I think that is your term for those ”moments” we occasionally have when things are not going ideally or as planned.

What's with that knife in the lower right corner of photo #2? Were you guys hangin' at camp with Crocodile Dundee?

love it
04/03/2012 20:05
Hell of a recap. Glad to hear neither of you (or your skis) became Cronin's bitch. That pic of Ben where the road crosses the creek is a stark reminder of how crappy the snowpack is because I remember having to dig through the snow and use my whippet to break the ice to access water in that same spot in May last year.

Nice Report Brian
04/03/2012 20:09
Not the best conditions but for 2012 I'll take it. All in all a great weekend, thanks for making it happen!

Kevin - We used the 10 inch knife to scrape brat grease out of the bottom of the pan. Overkill?

04/03/2012 20:12
Kevin - nerd rage is a polite way of putting it. Had I the Paul Hogan blade on me, I would've chopped that entire forest down so it could get some sunlight and actually consolidate so it can hold weight worth a damn

Carl - May 2011 vs. March 2012. Stark reminder indeed.

Floyd - I could've used a food challenge sunday. The ”Chuffalo” in Peppino's has your name written all over it.

KB and Boggy B - Thanks for the beta on Grizz.

Presto/Caroline/Woody - Food rations are half the fun, thanks.

Piolet - plenty to ski, just gotta go find it and its tough to find on the 14ers. Matt, lets get out before the year is done.

Bill - definately could've used your sled.....

04/03/2012 21:26
One of the greatest feelings is looking at your skis after hitting rocks and seeing no core shots. Nice work!

Nice work guys!
04/04/2012 00:14
Great perseverance and an excellent line. The aesthetics of a modified Porsche, not stock.

Good stuff dudes!
04/04/2012 01:55
So the nerdy 30 birthday party was a good alternative?? Sounds like you guys still had fun - nice job.

Chuffalo in Frisco, huh?
04/04/2012 03:50
Sounds like a challenge fit for our May trip since the 5# burrito was merely an appetizer. It'll be tough to pass on those Smokin' Yards coupons though.

Speaking of calorie replacement, are you ready for the Biggie Challenge this month? I need to have a heart-to-heart with the owner about lettuce/tomato/mayo on a cheesesteak. As someone with Philly ties, that's just gross. I think I can fight through it though.

Well done boys!
04/04/2012 03:58
Every time I'm in that area, that face just keeps looking more fun to ski, but when there's better conditions. Great TR Brian. And I like the ”food rations”!

Mayo is for sick mofos...
04/04/2012 04:12
I agree with Floyd on this one. It made me queasy just looking at the menu in there. The guy who runs it is from Buffalo, NY so he should be on the level. But you never know these days.

I knocked one down in October and could've probably gone 1.5. Two feet might be a stretch. I envision wooderson helping me to the car afterwards and both of my legs giving out. If I do get to witness this, it will be as a bystander.

Worst-case scenario is you pay for two, leave your trash on the table, plug the toilet and leave.

04/04/2012 13:58
Read the section on ”Making Mayonnaise” on the wikipedia page. It makes my stomach churn.

Where is this Biggie Challenge taking place Scot?

04/04/2012 15:41
”Bill - definately could've used your sled..... ”

Yeah, sorry about that but I couldn't pass up the chance to get back to Kirk. A helicopter might have been a better option.

04/05/2012 04:38
You guys have it. I would have thrown in the towel for sure, especially after Hopeful the previous day. Also, I can totally relate to your anger management aspirations. I was thinking the same thing after losing my cool in the skin track last weekend. BTW, the snow in the NM Sangres is holding up really well, especially after Monday's storm (Ski Santa Fe got 14” and Taos got 20”).

The helicopter option
04/06/2012 04:15
Dude, sorry it was such a bitch but it made for one helluva entertaining story.

You eat better in the backcountry than anyone I know. I wanted to move in on your hummus and triscuits up at Mummy but that knife kept me in check. I'm sure that mean piece of steel isn't meant only for four-legged opportunists.

All in all, nicely told, Brian. Well done on the ski with Ben.

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