Crested Butte 12,162'
Crested Butte 12,162'
|Return to the Alpine on a Classic Elks Scramble|
Return to the Alpine on a Classic Elks Scramble
DISCLAIMER: The access to this route has been up in the air before, due to ownership by CBMR, jurisdiction under Irwin Guides, and plant life. Right now in April '22 it is open, just not during ski season. Mountain Project lists it as closed but that is incorrect. Make sure that you are not trespassing before getting on this.
4 weeks ago, I busted my ass really hard. Like, laughably, embarrassingly hard. I started competing in freeride/big mountain skiing when I was 13, and I've pretty much been hooked since. Every winter up until now I've enjoyed the hell out of its beautiful and honestly quite dangerous conglomeration of gravity, snow, adrenaline and rock. However, when I really started to get into mountain climbing in the summer of '21, I knew that it was in my best interest to take it easy over winter so I could pursue my new favorite activity with as much vigor as possible in spring/summer '22. The underdeveloped teenage brain in me got the best of me, and I did not take it easy. I don't necessarily regret skiing hard this year, but eventually I made a stupid mistake. Paradise Rock is this sweet little naturally formed jump right under the Paradise Lift at Crested Butte that will send you a solid 30+ feet out and 20 feet down if you take her with some speed. The takeoff is a perfect ramp that seems as if it were formed by the same people making the jumps in the terrain parks. The landing is usually super smooth and wide open. I hadn't scoped it out in a while when I hit it for my last time of the season, just assumed it was still good. Big mistake. The takeoff is very blind - as in, you don't get to see your landing until you're airborne. The landing had since gained some nasty ruts and bumps, and as soon as I took off I knew something was going to hurt on impact. I hit a very flat patch with impressive force and it was a complete yard sale, except for one key piece of gear, my left ski... BAM, partially torn meniscus. Booooo!
It could have been a lot worse. My recovery is going great, and I am quickly getting back on the horse. Yesterday morning I went for a pain-free jaunt up one of my favorite ridge scrambles that I've done to date, reassured my confidence in my knee a bit, and took a few pics. Guide's Ridge on Crested Butte is a short and sweet low 5th class route to one of the best summit views I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Most of it is technically below treeline - it starts somewhere in the low 11's - but it feels very alpine as it is almost totally devoid of trees. It's characterized by extremely thin, sharp and artsy-looking fins and gendarmes that complicate some of the movement along the path to the summit. It has a weirdly deceptive nature - looks like a near-vertical choss fest from some angles, but cruiser class 3 from others. Looks mellow at the base of the route, then eventually bears its fangs. In reality, it is almost all class 3 and 4 with one section containing a healthy sprinkling of low class 5 traverse moves. There are a ton of alternates that will get you more low 5th, especially if you try to stay on top of the crest the whole way. The peak may only be a measly, lowly 12er; but it's got aesthetics, prominence, character, notoriety, etc...so I thought I'd share it here, so long as you don't mind Elk Mountain geology, it really is a classic!
I knew that I didn't want to take skis or snowshoes and I also didn't want to posthole too much. With it being late April, that definitely implied an early start. I had to make it to work at 10 AM anyway, so it would have to work out. I knew that the approach would likely be packed by snowcat to the top of the Silver Queen Lift, and the techy sections would likely be dried out, but I had ax/crampons/spikes in the pack just in case. I left my dorm around 3:50 AM and made the quick drive up to Mt. Crested Butte, very excited to get back onto some alpine rock. I've really spoiled myself, a month away from the mountains felt a whole lot longer.
I parked at a deserted paid parking lot for free and wasted no time getting to it, enjoying walking without a headlamp for a while as the lights from the shops lit up the pavement. I had been a little worried about access, what with it being in between ski and bike season, and with CBMR's base area technically being private property. Luckily there was nothing discouraging uphill travel, so onto the cat-tracked snow I stepped. (I would also later bump into some employees at the base who didn't care I was there, and a guy and his dog skinning up.) There are many ways to approach, the easiest of which is taking the lift for a small fee, but it was 4:40 AM in April so I just booted it up the service road. One could also just skin straight up one of the groomers. Everything was super nicely packed, and I cruised along the snow at a summer pace, awaiting the sun.
The sun's arrival was spectacular and much appreciated, as the brain fog from the dark approach was growing a bit. The Raggeds and the Ruby Range were looking especially delicious under the cotton candy clouds. By the time it was coming up, I was finally nearing the top of the Silver Queen Lift and not far from the base of the ridge. From the top of the Silver Queen Lift, you follow 100 feet or so of trail through the woods on "skier's left" (towards the peak) and then pick out your route through a short boulder field to the base of the ridge. Lots of big loose chunks here, and some awkward steps to be made, especially with snow between the rocks. Once through the boulders, there are a couple obvious class 2+ weaknesses that will get you on top of the ridge crest. Looking up at the difficulties from there had me psyched, but admittedly a little concerned. I had started to realize that I had likely sold the difficulties of the 5th class section short when I did it last summer in approach shoes, and that my clunky mountaineering boots with their super thick and stiff toe rubber would not perform the same. Oh well, those are problems to worry about later. Up I went.
I could tell it was going to be dry for all of the key sections by now and that success was likely. I bumbled up the talus, shifting a few things around on the way, somewhat annoyed that I had worn mountaineering boots since I had barely done any postholing and now really doubted I would need to use crampons for anything. Better safe than sorry. Anyhow, I have no intention of providing a truly detailed route description, so rather I'll hit on the important bullet points of each "section" and throw in some pics.
Section 1: Choss
Section 2: "The Shark Tank"
Section 3: Summit Push
The wind had picked up pretty hard, so I only hung out for maybe 6 or 7 minutes before I dipped down the snowed-in standard summer ascent trail. I quickly lost it in the interest of staying on frozen snow and picking the shorter route, so my GPX isn't accurate there for a summer climb. The temps rose very quickly and I could feel spring springing as I cruised back to the base area with some good tunes in my ears and a smile on my face. It's gonna be a fantastic season in the alpine.
Thanks for reading if you got this far! You really should go check it out, the rock quality is damn good for the range it's located in. To read more about this route and check out some more pics, read this excellent report from Brittany Walker Konsella of 14erskiers.com here.
Happy trails, and remember: don't die, have fun!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
|Comments or Questions|
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