Weminuche Redemption — Colorado Backcountry Skiing Adventure


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Wham Ridge, crown jewel of the Grenadiers.

Rushed packing and distributing of gear on a tailgate in the dark before a big trip is never a good idea, especially when doing so leads to forgetting water bottles, crampons, booties, the right skins, and a day’s worth of food.

“How many days? 9? Oh man, I think we only have enough for 8.” I realize as I count my fingers over and over while slogging up the Elk Creek Valley.

The day heats up, we’re soon post holing to our knees with our skis on. We started out well enough with frozen snow allowing us to ski all the way down to the Animas River, but high temps have turned things soupy. As we come to the beaver ponds, the Grenadiers come into view like impossible ramped fangs. This is the view I’ve been salivating to see for years, and to add to the drama of it all, wet slides begin to rumble down the cliffs. Guess we’ll sleep here tonight and wait till morning.

Skinning in past the beaver ponds. We made camp the first night in the shelter of the trees ahead. Arrow Peak dominates the view ahead.

The Weminuche is one of the most humbling places I’ve ever been. Getting back there is just not as simple as it looks on the map. Yeah, in early May, when they finally have the tracks cleared, you can take a train in to drop off some miles, but by then much of the snow is gone. After being sent home bruised and broken last year, Ben Sanders and I were eager to go back for another chance. At last, here we were, with Jordan White joining us for a week of Weminuche ski exploration.

Ben scrambles towards the summit of Graystone with the Needles in the background. A sea of mountains stretches off in every direction.

The next day dawned stormy but warm, time to get on with the inescapable skinning in slush up to our nuts through the woods and over wet slide carnage. What appeared to be a steep hillside turns out to be a massive icefall blocking our path. The only way into the basin is through the creek, or just barely above it on a steep sidehill–an exciting prospect while watching our sluff pour into grottoes of ice water below. But soon we’re through the gateway and into the promised land at last. It’s puking snow. This is going to be awesome.

The rest of the week was a blur of couloirs, summits, booting, corn, windbuff, faceshots, cards, butter, tequila, more butter, rationing our dwindling food, starving, saying to hell with rations and going for extra helpings of bacon, sunbathing, snowgaritas, mom jokes, avoiding getting up to pee at night, cursing the wind, watching fiery alpenglow in awe, watching trees nearly fall over in the wind, losing track of the days, taking in the massive expanse of where we were, and at last – Wham! The Wham Ridge. In Blower Pow. Unreal.

Skiing into camp with Vestal behind. Lots of water ice in this valley.

Jordan sends a couloir on Electric Peak. This was our breakfast line, we then headed up to the right for a couple more couloirs on Graystone.

Near the summit of Graystone with the line of Grenadiers going off into the distance. L to R: Arrow, Vestal, the Trinities, Storm King, Silex, and The Guardian.

Pow on our first of two descents on Graystone.

Yet another round of cards and tequila. I don't know how many hands we played, but I still suck at shuffling. Our front door opens up to the big north face of lower Arrow, one of our favorite descents of the trip.

Sunrise start for Arrow Peak. We figured we could at least get to the top of the snow ramp, but ended up going to the summit. On our descent, we stopped short of the bottom of the ramp and wrapped around to the north face on the right, out of sight.

Ben scrambles up the deep facets and talus of Arrow's summit in alpine boots sans crampons. Wham Ridge in the background.

Jordan rappels off the summit of Arrow Peak. We probably could have sideslipped this part, but with the exposure and our remote setting, we weren't taking chances. The lower portions of the line are visible in the upper left.

Skinning up the Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak. We felt somehow guilty to be skinning up a classic rock climb.

Pow on the Wham! West Trinity in the background.

The clouds part to illuminate our tracks on the Wham Ridge of Vestal.

Lots of fresh snow makes the lowers fun. Jordan lines up to straightline this tight shot. Ben and I found lines in the cliffs.

On Friday morning it dawned on us that we had pretty much skied everything in the immediate area, and seeing how the wind and snow continued to pound our tent, the conditions were quickly getting out of hand. Time to retreat while we still could, two days early. What we’d learned in humbleness on our way in and during our stay was tested on our hardest day yet. The Weminuche doesn’t let one in easily, but once there, it won’t let you go. We spent hours bushwhacking and descending through sloppy snow and mud, all with the awful knowledge that we’d have to regain all the vert we were losing to get back out of the Animas. Sprawled with our gear across the train tracks like hobos, we devoured as much of the little remaining food weight we could and fortified ourselves with the last of the tequila. Soon we were buzzed, crawling and giggling up the waist deep slush, dreaming of hamburgers in Silverton.

Heinous. This was one of the more open sections on our escape. We ended up getting caught in a steep gorge and had to hike back up a ways.

Beaver ponds, almost there! Ya right. Unbelievably, we were swarmed with mosquitos here. There is a serious amount of life in that green sludge.

A buzzed Ben stumbles down the tracks. Mt Garfield (Gnarfield) looms above.

Almost back to the car at Molas Pass. You can see the Trinities, and where we were, in the far background.

To sum up, it was an incredible trip that felt more like Alaska in its remoteness than Colorado. We didn’t see anyone, and I’m not surprised. The Weminuche gets few winter visitors. We’ll be back for sure.

(Editor’s note from Lou: Um, if this place ever gets crowded with skiers I’ll eat my shorts. Thus, map is presented below.)


View Larger Map

Jordan wrote up good day by day reports on his blog. Check them out:
Days 1 & 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7

Comments

14 Responses to “Weminuche Redemption — Colorado Backcountry Skiing Adventure”

  1. Andrew April 22nd, 2011 8:28 am

    Wow, great trip report guys. This is my backyard but I’ve never ventured in so far in winter. Nice work. Most of us Silvertonians are too lazy to charge that hard into the Weminuche.

  2. doug April 22nd, 2011 9:19 am

    wow! one of the coolest postings i’ve seen on your website, what a trip and what incredible country i’ve only seen in the summer.

  3. art burrows April 22nd, 2011 10:04 am

    What a great trip. I have to show that to 90 year old dad. He had the first recorded ascent of Wham on Vestal in 1938 with Werner Schackenburg. After he sees this he’ll wish he skied it too!… although summer in that basin is incredibly beautiful with incredible wildflowers. Wiidflowers or Wildsnow. Both great choices!

  4. Tom April 22nd, 2011 10:38 am

    Are those Coombacks I see on one of you? If so, how did they do in such variable conditions?

  5. Forrest Thorniley April 22nd, 2011 12:05 pm

    Nice one fellas! Looks like a great bunch of descents. Here are a couple pics from the North Face of Teakettle and the Snake last weekend if you are interested:

    http://www.forrestthorniley.com/Sneffandteak.htm

    Some day I’ve got to get into the ‘Nuche in the spring.

  6. Nick April 22nd, 2011 12:16 pm

    Forrest- sweet photos and nice lines! Potosi looks good too. We had the Snake in mind a few weeks ago on a hut trip at the Blue Lakes Hut. Ended up being super windy so we stayed low. Going to have to try to make it down there again. You ever ski the Trilogy?

    Tom- Jordan and I were on BD Kilowatts- perfect balance of weight and width for this trip. Ben was on some custom Birdos Ghetto Chickens – super light except for the Dukes, but no complaints from him.

    Art- That must have been an incredible adventure in ’38!

  7. Caleb Wray April 22nd, 2011 12:22 pm

    Great write-up Nick! You guys did a great job down there. Wish Jordan could have talked my wife into letting me join. Perhaps next year.

  8. Lou April 22nd, 2011 12:32 pm

    Art, I’d forgotten that about your Dad, thanks for mentioning.

  9. John Mattson April 22nd, 2011 7:18 pm

    Way to go kids. That’s what life is really about!

  10. Darin April 22nd, 2011 9:04 pm

    I was up on Molas today and saw 3(!?!?!) snowshoers. Thanks a lot for letting the secret out!

  11. Lou April 23rd, 2011 6:22 am

    OMG!

  12. pioletski April 23rd, 2011 7:53 am

    Not bad, gents, not bad at all!

  13. Louie April 23rd, 2011 1:52 pm

    Cool!

  14. Sharon Bader April 24th, 2011 2:15 pm

    epic!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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