Peak(s):  Mt. Sneffels  -  14,155 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,004 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,037 feet
Handies Peak  -  14,058 feet
PT 13,795  -  13,795 feet
Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,021 feet
Matterhorn Pk  -  13,590 feet
San Luis Peak  -  14,023 feet
Date Posted:  06/21/2017
Date Climbed:   05/28/2017
Author:  SnowAlien
 Glory of the San Juans   

After the Pacific Northwest ski tour, I was anxious to get back to Colorado to ski some peaks, but a late season snow storm struck. I decided to bide my time in Zion where one day it rained all day - from 8 am to 6 pm, which was unusual for the desert. I was hoping the storm will fill the lines on the peaks that were starting to look boney. After climbing for couple of days in Escalante canyon with Brandon & Co, I decided it was time to stop being lazy and go ski some peaks in the San Juans that had been on my wish list for years and years. Typically I would make my drive to Lake City for one or two peaks at a time, often missing the short ski window, but this time I decided to camp there for a few days and get the remaining peaks I needed. But first, I didn't want to drive by Sneffels.

Mt Sneffels

Date: May 23, 2017
Distance: ~ 4 miles RT
Elevation gain: ~2,600 ft
Route: Birthday chutes
Time: ~6 hours (4.5 hours to the summit, 0.5 hours on the summit, 1 hour descent)
TH: 0.5 mile below upper 4wd TH @11,300 ft

Apparently crack climbing is hard on an unconditioned skier's body, because when I woke up at Angel Creek campground next morning, I could barely move. Low hanging clouds and evaporating moisture from the overnight storm also didn't spell any urgency. Day of R&R in Ouray was in order. Take Two. I woke up the following morning in the same spot at the same time (5 am) with a bit more energy. As I was putting ski clothes on, another car drove by in the direction of Yankee Boy. I followed them a little bit past the turnoff for the Governor basis, getting increasingly nervous about the snowy road. Two guys were from Durango and going for a direct route on Gilpin, hoping for some ice. We also saw a couple people heading up for a technical-looking route on Stoney mountain. Clouds were doing the same thing as yesterday - low hanging, still burning off in the morning after couple inches overnight, so I took my time gearing up. Finally around 7 am I started heading up, putting skins on at the lower 4wd TH. I had so many ski objectives in that basin that I had to tell myself to stay focused. I was hoping to add at least Cirque mountain to the outing, but the clouds were starting to burn-off, I was still feeling sluggish, and I didn't want to be late for Sneffels.

Early morning clouds on Teakettle

A bit later

I made the familiar trek past the upper summer trailhead, noting the progress of the two guys in the Gilpin couloir, and to the bottom of the wide gully where I had stashed skis on prior trips. But not today. I did stash the skins there, put the skis on the pack, crampons on and .... immediately plunged to my knees. U-huh. I quickly dug a hasty pit to see what I am dealing with. 3 inches of freshies overnight, thin suncrust from yesterday, another 3 inches from the night before, another layer of suncrust and 2-3 feet of heavy pow from the prior big storm on an old firm base. Daym. Hope this structure doesn't go down on me on a steep angle. From the beginning, I had every intention to go up and down the birthday chute, not least to check out the snowpack and steepness. But which one? The left one didn't seem to go through the cliff band, so I decided to go up the middle one.

Heading up the apron in deep snow

Higher on the face

The upward progress was very slow. I tried to stick to the old(ish) wet avy debris, but even pinwheels were soft and I kept plunging through. The apron took awhile. Finally in the couloir, I found a bit more consolidated snow near the rocks and the upward progress resumed. The couloir was steep with consistent pitch, narrow and very aesthetic. There was a still icy choke that looked to be about 47 degrees and then the couloir widened up to the steep upper face. I reached the summit later than expected, but it was mostly due to the struggle on the apron. After admiring the summit views and poking down towards the Snake, it was time to ski.

I pushed off the summit, still unsure which chute to ski. I really wanted to ski the one I came up on, but it was quite steep for a solo ski. I skied down to the one on the left, and it looked more mellow, but with more avy debris in it. Before I knew it, I traversed to the one on the right and the jump turns commenced. The difficult part was to manage the 3-4 inches of freshies on top of the firmer base, which tend to move with every turn. The apron though rewarded me for my earlier efforts and skied like pow. Very pleased I skied down to my skins and lacking energy for anything else, out of the basin. Sneffels as usual makes for a grand adventure. Yankee Boy Basin, always a pleasure.

Peeking down towards the Snake - next time

This view never gets old


Heading back into the chute

Narrow and aesthetic, with good snow

My line is seen clearly in the center


Date: May 24, 2017
Distance: ~ 9 miles RT
Elevation gain: ~4,600 ft
Route: SE face on Sunshine, West dogleg gully on Redcloud
Time: ~10.5 hours
TH: Grizzly Gulch TH

Next day, Wednesday, looked perfect for a long duo - not too warm, with some wind and partially sunny, so I hightailed from Sneffels pretty quickly, only stopping for food and gas and making my way to Lake City and the Grizzly gulch trailhead at dusk. Next morning I woke up around 5 am again, with the goal to start around 6 am. This was the first time this spring I decided to hike in trailrunners, as the trail looked dry. The snow materialized around 11.4k, just as I was about to make a right turn into South Fork creek basin towards Sunshine.

The top part of the mountain was still cold and windy as I arrived on the summit around 11.30 am. I poked around the east face, and the snow still looked good. After quick rest and transition, I dropped in and made big arching turns down the face. After a few minutes of bliss there was a part I was dreading, but also mentally preparing for - an uphill to Redcloud.

Heading up towards Sunshine the next morning

Heading up through the weakness in the cliffs - I'd need crampons in the little shaded section

Sunshine creek basin


Heading down the SE face of Sunshine

Heading back up

Traverse - aiming for the low point of the ridge with Redcloud

Could have skinned up, but I just booted up the ridge to Redcloud

The afternoon snow was still miraculously supportive as I gained the ridge. From there, I put skis back on and contoured my way to the low point on the saddle with Redcloud. From there, I put skis on the pack and booted the dry trail, wondering if there's still snow on the summit. Thankfully, there was, but melting quickly. Ready for the downhill, I clicked in and skied a bit down the ridge where I spotted a connecting patch to a western gully. Snow skied very nicely that late in the day (3pm). In the PNW, they'd call it a hero corn and high five each other all the way to the bottom, but here in Colorado we would call it a nice, slightly oversaturated corn on a mellow angle slope/gully. I managed to milk the turns (which became more dusty/grabby lower in the gully) all the way to the creek crossing and my shoe stash. From there, there was a long hike on mostly dry trail admiring the spectacular views of Handies which would be my next ski goal.

Redcloud summit

Looking back towards Sunshine

Ridge skiing

Heading towards the gully

Gully entrance

Sundog steals the show with some interesting-looking lines

Dogleg gully opens up

Some good skiing for late in the day (after 3 pm)

Skiing out of the basin

Handies and UN 13,795

Date: May 26, 2017
Distance: ~ 7.5 miles RT
Elevation gain: ~4,600 ft
Route: NE gully on Handies, North couloir on UN 13,795
Time: ~9 hours 45 minutes
TH: Grizzly Gulch TH

After taking a rest day in Lake City, I was back at Grizzly Gulch TH, this time for Handies. I had already skied Handies into the American Basin on a very dry year (2012), and been meaning to redo it ever since. Last year I came to ski it on Memorial Day weekend only to find it half melted and ended up skiing American Peak instead. This time I decided to start from the Grizzly Gulch and explore the north-facing lines. Handies looks really aesthetic from this basin and the approach is not that long. Fairly soon I identified a dogleg couloir up the face and started making my way towards it. But throughout the basin and on flat terrain I kept hearing weird whoomps (it rained overnight again at the trailhead, but snowed up high) which kept me on my toes. Thankfully, as I got on steeper terrain the whoomping stopped. The couloir was very aesthetic and short, reminding me of Boxcar on Mt Wilson. Fairly well rested, I made good time to the summit, arriving around 10 am, and stopped to admire the glory of the San Juans, all the way to the Weminuche. I was very excited for a ski - the timing was perfect, the couloir was steep, but not too steep to sketch myself out, and the snow looked great. It was a glorious ski, but ended too quickly.

Back at the base, I felt enough energy for another peak - UN 13,795, which for several seasons was my highest unclimbed peak in the San Juans. From Handies, I identified the correct couloir I needed to catch the top of the heavily corniced ridge and to bypass most of the ridge difficulties. The couloir was very beautiful, a mirror image of Traitor on American peak, and I felt sad I wouldn't get to ski it (too much of back-tracking), but the biggest surprise of UN 13,795 still awaited. I slowly made my way up the couloir and up the ridge towards the summit. There I found the register with a hilarious note from Mike who skied it in mid-March. After a brief rest, I considered my ski descent options. I *could* backtrack down the ridge a bit to the mellow corn from a ~13,600 point, or.... what's here just immediately north of the summit? I very slowly and carefully slid down the shoulder to get to the entrance under big corniced ridge. Hmmm, this looks like pow, but also very steep. The positioning, the angle and the conditions were very similar to Crystal's North face, which I had a fortune to ski last year with Brittany and Scott. Well? I carefully dropped in and after the first "heart-in-the-throat" jump turn, got to enjoy still cold, wind-buffed, very steep pow to the base of the line. Daymn, UN 13,795, how dare you to upstage Handies? I skied out from the basin, still trying to process what I just skied - it felt amazing to stumble on something like that when you're not expecting. This one, along with the Sneffels ski were my favorite days of the bunch.

Skinning through the trees in the Grizzly Gulch in the morning, after another few inches fell overnight

Handies makes an appearance

Skinning through the basin

By the time I got to the couloir I heard several weird whoomps on flat ground, as the new heavy snow was settling

Stashed skins at the bottom of the couloir and headed up

Boxcar on Mt Wilson got a twin

From my position on Handies it was easy to see which couloir to take to gain the ridge with UN 13,795

Ridge to the summit

Summit around 10 am

Probably my first (small) cornice huck in the backcountry - getting rowdy!

Sweet line

Really good snow

Amazing snow

Powder(ish) turns on the apron

Heading up for more

Still supportive snow

Other ski options on Handies' face

Steep and aesthetic


Straightforward hike to UN 13,795

Approaching UN 13,795 adorned by cornices

Looking back at Handies

Good luck Mike!

Skirting under the cornices

Powder calls


Amazing line

Looks like the only viable entrance in the basin

More turns

Handies shines on the ski out

Wetterhorn and Matterhorn

Date: May 27, 2017
Distance: ~ 7.5 miles RT
Elevation gain: ~4,000 ft
Route: East face on Wetterhorn, South ridge on Matterhorn
Time: ~9 hours
TH: Matterhorn Creek 4WD TH @10,400 ft

Of course, the next day had to be a downer, and something I wasn't expecting. I was looking forward to skiing Wetterhorn for a long, long time. The forecast was good - some chance of storms after noon and a great freeze - it read 25 F at the trailhead. I woke up early, and for a change was on trail early, by 5 am. For motivation, there were other hikers around, and even a skier. However, soon after starting, I felt a major drag. After making the treelline, I started fantasizing about making a nice long break. Higher in the basin, the cold stiff wind made its appearance and the tops of both peaks - Wetterhorn and Uncomphaghre - were engulfed in clouds. Yay, rest time.

Time to take a nap

I found somewhat wind-shielded area, put a down puffy on and at 7.30 am settled in for a short nap. It was blissful. Somewhat energized after a 15-min nap, I made my way to the bottom of the East face and immediately realized something was wrong. While I was napping, the face was cooking in the sun, apparently shielded from the wind! Gosh, this 30 min break is gonna cost me! I quickly stashed skins and other stuff by a large rock and went into the overdrive mode. The apron was barely holding up past 8 am, and a bit higher I started to punch through. The skier who passed me on the way up already topped out by the Prow and skied down by 9 am, so at least I had his bootpack to follow. Couple times I punched through really deep, which wasn't comforting. By the time I reached the high point of the snow, I knew it was too late to ski the face. I couldn't believe it - the strong freeze that had absolutely everything locked up on the mountain had no power on the East face. Very concerned and disappointed, I stashed the skis at the top of the snowfield by the Prow and headed up to tag the summit (which the earlier skier apparently skipped). Up and down the familiar gully in ski boots, and in stiff wind. Almost immediately I had to put a down puffy back on.

Clouds burned off

Heading up the face before postholing started

Uncompaghre from the bottom of the Prow

A little bit of snow on the ledges

Approaching storm over Coxcomb and Redcliff

Topped out on the summit - and what's this? A storm from the west is quickly approaching, and it's only 10 am. What happened to the noon forecast? But it got me thinking - the quickest way to descend is to ski the East face, as the postholing down the ridge would take too long. Maybe the stiff wind and the clouds would cool the face to prevent the wetslides? I hurried down back to my skis and decided to test the snow. I made a few tentative turns, no slides. Snow was still rotten, but it wasn't sliding. Maybe the earlier skier already kicked off everything needed to slide? I carefully made my way staying close to his tracks. Nothing. Flat light as the storm's approaching, but no releases. Feeling like I am getting a pass, I bombed down the apron to the perfectly corned up basin. Strangely enough, the best snow was in the basin and at the base.

Looking down the line

Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn from high up on the face

Storm is approaching

Skiing away in flat light

Thirty minutes after leaving the summit, I collected my skins at the base and plodded my way over to Matterhorn. Fatigue or no fatigue, this was another 13er too close to pass up. Weather and snow conditions didn't matter as Matterhorn has mellow exit options. I transitioned back to skins in graupel and sleet and skinned up the SW face until I was able to get to the dry section of the ridge. From there I got to observe the multiple waves of storm rolling over the Wetterhorn and Uncompaghre. Taking advantage of a weather window, I made the summit around noon. After clicking into my skis, I skied the perfectly refrozen corn down the south ridge back to the basin. Despite the striking appearance of those peaks, skiing them left something to be desired.

Wetterhorn from Matterhorn

Approaching the summit of Matterhorn ~ noon

Knife-edgy type of snow on Matterhorn

Skiing the South ridge in moody weather

San Luis peak

Date: May 28, 2017
Distance: ~ 11 miles RT
Elevation gain: ~4,400 ft
Route: Yawner gullies
Time: ~10 hours
TH: West Willow creek/Equity Mine TH @11,100 ft
Partner: Mike Miller

I was really concerned I could pull off 3 big days of skiing in a row, but surprisingly, I felt stronger on San Luis than the day before on Wetterhorn. After seeing plastered San Juans, I bet that San Luis would still be in. The top was still in and fat, but we were a bit surprised by the lack of snow below 12k, seemed a bit early for it. We were able to make it all the way to the Equity Mine (myself on a donut as a passing truck forced me to pass on a curb and I shredded a tire). After starting around 6 am, we made the summit in 5 hours, skinning and skiing the standard route. I was able to skin up all the way to the summit, while Mike chose to carry his skis. We ran into 2 group of hikers in the basin who were already descending trying to beat the sun. After watching the shade and waiting a bit on the summit, we dropped in around 11.30 am. The snow for the first few hundred feet was still pretty firm, but nicely transitioned to corn down lower. We skied almost to the creek, but not quite, as the apron was melted. From there we had a brief discussion which route to take out of the basin. Concerned about late-in-the-day cornice collapses above the standard route, we chose the *winter* route again. Although safer, it turned out to be pure misery as the snow was very slushy and unsupportive. In addition, it drenched the skins, making skis extremely heavy, so it took us about 2 hours to bust our way back to the pass. At least we were able to make a few more turns by taking the snow gully back to the Willow creek, followed by a long hike on muddy roads back to the car. After skiing 8 peaks in 6 days, I was ready to head back to civilization, albeit on a donut tire.

Early morning on the pass

Mike hikes up the San Luis ridge as 2 hikers already head down. Phoenix group in the background

Still a lot of snow on the upper mountain

Mike nears the summit in perfect weather @11 am

14er #40 on skis for me

We started skiing by 11.30 am on still firm snow

Mike's cruising

The gully went for about 2k feet before getting thin at the bottom

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

Comments or Questions
06/21/2017 18:49
I always love your reports and pics, Natalia. Makes me very jealous and envious of your youth and fitness level. Please keep these reports coming!

Great pics and writeup.
06/22/2017 15:18
And thanks for the Matterhorn beta (after climbing Matterhorn, Natalie informed me she viewed a possible ski line on Matterhorn's NE side).

I skinned around the north east side of the base, in hopes of climbing or at least viewing the line. I could see most of it, but a part of it was too northerly and sunken into the rocks to see. I ended up hiking the SE ridge (like you did). When I got to the top, I could see the line, but it got so steep that I couldn't tell, from the summit, if it went all the way through (thankfully it did). But, damn, that was a steep line! In any case, it was a successful summit descent, thanks to your beta.

A worthy achievement indeed
08/11/2017 08:10
This trip report was very interesting to me since i have been where you were but only in summer conditions. My compliments to your fitness level and mountaineering skills. I had to take a deep breath when I read you climbed the class 3 on Wetterhorn in ski boots. Whew!

07/20/2018 10:49
your picture captioned "the view never gets old" is absolutely gorgeous. I was wondering if you would share it with me for an avid back country skier friend of mine. It really is like sitting on top of the world there. Your description of the whole trip was wonderful. Thank you for posting.

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