Peak(s):  Crested Butte 12,162'
Date Posted:  04/23/2022
Date Climbed:   04/22/2022
Author:  -wren-
 Return to the Alpine on a Classic Elks Scramble   

Guide's Ridge

Return to the Alpine on a Classic Elks Scramble


  • Distance: 8.82 miles
  • Ascent: 3,161'
  • Difficulty: Class 5.easy
  • Trailhead: Crested Butte Mountain Resort (Paved 2WD)


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, I thought I'd share it here, so long as you don't mind Elk Mountain geology, it really is a classic!

Jack and Aidan at the base of the route in August '21.

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.

Teocalli, Castle, etc. at first light.
The skier in me lusts for Gothic Mountain's East Face.
Emmons leads the show while the Rubies & Raggeds back her up. One fine looking Red Lady!

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.

The route is the rib coming down to center right from the top.
Glorious sunshine!

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

  • Bottom 200 or 300 feet of ridge is quite loose everywhere
  • Very straightforward route-finding
  • Stays around class 3 with maybe a couple class 4 moves
  • Exposure is very chill here still
Going up.
5.7 crux section on neighboring Sunset Ridge. Can be easily bypassed at 5.easy from what I hear, but in a way that sort of defeats the purpose of the route.

Section 2: "The Shark Tank"

  • Some of the coolest gendarmes you will ever see
  • 2 class 4 knife-edge sections each about 10-15 feet long
  • A few sporadic 5th class moves outside of the cruxes (did not register as class 5 in approach shoes)
  • Crux 1: a solid flake on the right side of the ridge about 4-6 inches wide that you must toe your way across for 15 feet or so without many handholds. If you are comfortable on any kind of technical slab climbing this will feel like walking sideways with exposure but if not you will probably be super gripped.
  • Crux 2: a fin about 6 inches wide and 4-5 feet tall (it's solid enough) that you must mantle up and swing your legs over to move to the right side of ridge, utilizing 2 footholds that are trustworthy but only about an inch wide to get down to your next good hands and feet.
  • Exposure off of the right side of ridge is pretty severe for most of this section. Definitely don't fall.
Standing on the flake while taking this one. Do I hear the "Jaws" theme playing?
Hero pic of yours truly taken by Jack from our first climb in August.
Hero pic I took of Jack in August.
The same Gendarme in April '22. The big chunk on top is barely balancing on the rocks under it. This thing belongs in the Louvre...

Section 3: Summit Push

  • One steep 20 foot section (70 degrees?) that felt class 4 in approach shoes but definitely felt like low 5th in the clunkers
  • An optional squeeze that you have to take your backpack off for, can be avoided with some class 5 to the left
  • Just a lot of super fun and cruiser class 4 with exposure to the summit!
Jack topping out the steep bit in August.
Aidan making his way to the top in August.
Looking back right before steeping onto the top, with the High Elks still very much dressed in white.

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.

Zoom of Bells, Pyramid, Thunder, Lightning, Len Shoemaker, Belleview etc.
Zoom of Castle + Teo
I have a knack for really bad summit selfies.
Upper ridge from somewhere below the peak on the way back.

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 here.

Happy trails, and remember: don't die, have fun!

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

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

Comments or Questions
04/23/2022 22:52
Glad your knee is feeling better! Looks like a fine outing!

04/25/2022 14:53
thank you, getting stoked for summer to start setting in!

Nice report and photos
04/25/2022 21:57
Thanks for posting. It looks like a beautiful day, though of course it's hard to tell how windy it was from the photos.

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