Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,105 feet
Date Posted:  03/16/2017
Modified:  03/17/2017
Date Climbed:   03/12/2017
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   mbourget
 Jekyll and Hyde Weather on Snowmass   

Jekyll and Hyde Weather on Snowmass

Dates: March 11-12, 2017
Distance: ~23 miles
Elevation gain: ~8,200 ft
TH: town of Marble @8,100 ft
Time: 5 hr approach to camp, 11 hr summit day, 3 hour ski out (19 hours combined)
Avy rating: green below treeline, yellow at and above the treeline
Participants: Matt Bourget, Jaaron Mankins, Jennifer R, Natalie Moran

Day 1 - the approach to camp via Crystal River drainage
~7 miles, 2,000 ft gain, 800? ft loss, 5 hours

After a fulfilling breakfast at Village Smithy's in Carbondale, we drove to Marble and finished packing at the TH. The starting point was around 8,100 ft and only snowmobile or foot traffic was possible after this point. We started off just before 11am and after a brief discussion, took the Crystal River route. I tried to remember why the upper Lead King basin route is not the standard approach in winter, but decided to figure it out when we get to camp. The first 5 miles were a slog with lots of ups and downs and even melted out patches, but once we saw the Crystal Mill, all woes seemed to be forgotten. The approach was worth taking just to see the mill. In addition, it was very hot. We were sweating in base layers, everything unzipped and guys were giving me hard time about the "winter ascent". Well, they jinxed it ;)

Steep sidehilling above the creek

Photo by Jennifer

Signs tell the story

Traversing with the view of Hagerman

After traversing another steep hill, where we went one by one just to practice good protocol, we soon arrived into the Lead King basin. We saw Jim and Jeff's tents by the running creek near 9,500 feet, and decided to stop there as well. I was short on fuel, so having running water instead of melting snow was huge help. We arrived at 4 pm, set up the tents, cooked our meals and retired into the tents around 6 pm and asleep by 7 pm.

I could hear Jim and Jeff return from their missions, but was half asleep to say anything. It had to wait until the morning.

Wet skins had to be dried off

Day 2 - Snowmass summit from camp
~10 miles, 4,700 ft gain, 11 hours

First thing in the morning I received bad news. Jaaron and Jen were not going to join us for the summit bid. But at least Matt was still on board. With the work schedule and stuff, we couldn't join Jim and Jeff the day before. For several reasons I wish we could. Two of us set out under the headlamps and bright moonlight in the direction of the Geneva lake by 4.20 am. We loosely followed Jim and Jeff's tracks from the day before, more for orientation, as the snow was very supportive, icy and we were not punching through on skins. I was really happy to have brought ski crampons for the approach, as we encountered a lot of steep icy sidehilling, some even above the cliffs. Matt managed to keep up without ski crampons, but on several occasions he had to take skis off. By daybreak, we were approaching the final headwall before the Snowmass West slopes.

After watching a meager sunrise under gradually darkening sky, we were growing more concerned. The last time I checked the forecast, it called for a weak storm arriving around 11 am or noon. With an early start from camp we thought we had a decent weather window. After stashing our skins around 12k, we decided to carry skis and see if we could ski anything. Matt really wanted to ski the peak, and I wasn't ready to give up on the idea (yet). We decided to take the summer route, which I've done before, and once we arrived there, we could see Jim's tracks up the couloir, so we followed them for a while.

Weather just wasn't look very promising

I think the tracks soon went up the rock rib, but we liked the snow - very firm and supportive. I didn't trust the trapdoor snow between the rocks, so we stayed in the broad snow gully. We carried skies to about 13k, when it started snowing, and winds picked up. Matt and I had a short discussion - skiing icy hardpack which would never warm up, is a dicey proposition. The summit was still possible, but we had to be quick and efficient. With that, we found a good flat perch (not an easy task on the rock rib), stashed the skis and made a waypoint on Gaia, as usual. Fast and light, here we go.

After 9 am, weather was looking peachy. I don't think Matt was having a particularly good time - after all, he was promised a ski of Snowmass!

Once we reached the top of the gully and saw the summit ridge, I was both relieved and disappointed. There was no snow to ski, it was all rock. I was glad we didn't carry our skis all the way to find out. Still, with a steady snowfall, I was thinking we might be able to ski some pow after all!

We found one tricky spot on the ridge, which was ok going up, but I later had trouble getting down. It was a bit reachy.

Approaching the summit

Matt on the summit

Photo by Matt

We got to the summit around 11 am, and although there were no views, I was glad we made it. As long as we kept moving, I wasn't cold. It was disappointing not to have any views with visibility probably 50 feet. So after 5 minute break, we headed down.

Our tracks had all but disappeared in the new snow

Brief break in clouds

Descent went quicker than ascent (as it always does), and fairly soon I was looking for our ski stash near 13k. Hmmm, where is it? I must have went right past it the first time, because we spent next 10-15 minutes looking for it. Our 2 sets of skis were almost completely covered with snow.

With skis finally located, Matt was looking forward to skiing, while I was slightly dreading it. Ice sheet covered by couple of inches of poorly bonded snow above the cliffs? Mmmm, sounds tasty.

Matt is one of the best skiers I know (and I've skied with some incredibly good skiers), so he made it look easy. Again! Seriously, that guy should be a pro.

Making turns above rocks in variable snow? No big deal.

Even the apron was variable conditions

With fewer turns and more sidestepping for me, I got down. I was happy about it. The ski route is very reasonable, and with better snow and coverage, it will be doable. Good dress rehearsal for spring. With the hard part over, we located our 2nd gear stash without much trouble and skied out.

By Geneva lake on the ski out

I was a little nervous about skiing the headwall below the Geneva lake, but with warming temperatures, snow was creamy corn and skiing was a breeze. We got back to camp by 3pm.

Day 2 - Ski out via Lead King basin
~6 miles, 1,500 ft gain, 2,800 ft loss, 3 hours

Throughout the day, we were thinking about our exit strategy, and finally got to discuss it back at camp. Crystal River route definitely didn't look appealing to us - lots of ups and down, especially at the end, - and gasp! - we'd have to take skis off a few times. No bueno. Shall we risk the upper route? After examining and re-examining the contour lines, we decided to give it a go. Although it meant gaining 1,500 ft off the bat, the lure of the 5 mile, 2,800 ft uninterrupted downhill ski was just too strong. After eating a quick cup of Ramen noodles and packing up the camp, we set off by 4pm. We will have to gain elevation as high as Geneva lake (10,900 ft).

Snowmass and Hagerman on the skin out

Slowly, but surely we did just that, enjoying great views of the basin in all directions. After about 2 hours of skinning, we saw our first snowmobile tracks. This was looking promising.

After reaching the highpoint of 10,900 ft, we took the skins off and were back at the car an hour later, arriving by 7pm.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
rob runkle
03/16/2017 11:01
Nice Circumnavigation of Sheep Mountain.

03/16/2017 11:11
Good work in less than ideal conditions. It seemed like it was just this side of safe.

Great Trip
03/17/2017 11:31
All things considered, it was a great trip! Thanks for letting me be a part of your Winter 14ers project

03/20/2017 15:20
Nat this is a monster trip. Way to get at it!!

04/18/2017 06:46
- Rob - Sheep? What sheep Arkansas mountain looked mighty impressive.
- Reverend - conditions were kinda safe. Just glad it didn't dump a foot on us, that would have been some sluffing over the cliffies. But it would have improved the skiing.
- Matt, hmmm, don't believe you. Bummed the weather didn't work out for us, but with your adult lifestyle and responsibilities, good weather windows are hard to nail. It's been a privilege to climb and ski with you last few years. I just don't understand how can you ski so well when all you do is mountain bike??? P.S. But at least we nailed the exit, we totally did.
- Jmanner thanks and congrats on a Massive snowflake.

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