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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)