A Truly Classic Line — The Cleaver, Elk Mountains, Colorado

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | April 23, 2008      

When you’re driving up HWY 133, south from Carbondale, Colorado this big mountain ski line pulls your attention like finding a $100 bill on the street. I can’t believe it’s taken me several decades to pick up the money.

I teamed up with Lynn, Chad and B.J. for the 4,100 vertical foot climb and descent. Though whipped from yesterday’s fun with “two lap Bob,” I still managed to keep up with B.J. and make the climb in 2:45 — perhaps the past five months of backcountry skiing are starting to improve my cardio? Let’s hope so. In any case, rest day tomorrow.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Chad near the summit, 3,500 vert of perfect corn snow waits below.

View of Cleaver from east, high peak is Chair Mountain. Click image to enlarge. Locals also call this the “Frog.”

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Lynn and Chad just below the top.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
What the Cleaver/Frog looks like from HWY 133. Pick up the C-note some time.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Easy to find on the USGS map.
Summit GPS UTM WGS84: Zone 13, 303375 E — 4326797 N
Trailhead GPS UTM WGS84: Zone 13; 305825 E — 4328625 N

Skiing is car-to-car with no flat approach walk or dirt hiking. The lower part does melt off early, so timing is everything — late April during a corn cycle being the ticket. Trailhead marked on Google Map below.

Cleaver ski touring line viewed from east.

Cleaver ski touring line viewed from east.

Now, how about some trivia? The reason why this run is so stupendous is that a gigantic avalanche on January 12, 2005, mowed down a large expanse of aspen forest at the bottom of the route, thus creating much more aesthetic ski terrain. If you zoom in on the Google map as far as possible, you can see the knocked over aspens looking like combed hair. The slide was so huge it got honorable mention on the Colorado Avy Info website. God’s lawnmower, indeed.


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18 Responses to “A Truly Classic Line — The Cleaver, Elk Mountains, Colorado”

  1. Carl Detwyler April 23rd, 2008 2:59 pm

    Hi Lou-
    I am dreaming of next winter’s powder and the best AT powder skis. What do you use? I ski in the Tetons and these boards are for backcountry powder only. I am thinking of a ski wider than my 122-94-112 Rossi T4’s. I really like the soft flex of the Rossi’s.

    I fit in the AARP skier category so mach speeds and big air are not part of my ski day!

    Thanks for your thoughts,

  2. Lou April 23rd, 2008 3:09 pm

    My favorite full-on earn-your-turns powder ski is the Dynafit Manaslu. For a less specialized more all-around ski, I like the K2 Baker SL, that’s what I’m on this spring so long as I need something that will hold me up. Once on firm compacted snow, I switch to something like the Dynafit 7 Summits or Trab Free Rando.

  3. Marblehead April 23rd, 2008 8:07 pm

    I have ridden elk bare-back from the car as to not leave a skin track anywhere near this one. It is hard enough to lasso one of those elk, let alone hop on its back while carrying skis. Lou, you are killing me !

  4. Jon F April 23rd, 2008 10:25 pm

    You’re killing me too! At least you didn’t give up the real trailhead.

  5. Mark April 23rd, 2008 10:37 pm

    Way cool lines! Should hold for awhile.

  6. Paul Beiser April 24th, 2008 6:11 am

    Awesome, Lou, you are giving me lots of great ideas. Now, c’mon legs :-

  7. Marblehead April 24th, 2008 7:35 am

    Mark and Paul,
    NO, NO ,NO. You guys got it all wrong. The bottom of the cleave is very steep at a low elevation. It is already rotten beyond belief. It sits on top of a very warm shale with no anchors to hold the snow. The window for skiing this one has already come and gone. If you are gonna still give it a try, make sure you are on top of mcclure pass super early on a super cold morning.

  8. Lou April 24th, 2008 8:19 am

    The middle part of the route does warm fast and has a steep section where you could set off a wet slab. Thus, a sufficiently early start is a good idea. The middle part can be bypassed by heading to the trees and ridge to skier’s left, then skiing timbered terrain around and down to the avy runout.

  9. adam olson April 24th, 2008 8:32 am

    My friend Josh and I skiied “The Clever” Tuesday! What a great line. It took us like 4hrs to get to the top. You guys were cruising! We did fight the wet slides on the last steep pitch, but were out by 1:00. This line will be “in” for quite some time this year! In fact we stumbled across some NICE powder along the south ridge of the bowl. What a great view of Chair Mtn & the Elk Mtns from the Raggeds.

    see you out there


  10. Lou April 24th, 2008 8:57 am

    Adam, I’d heard Josh was up there but didn’t realize you were with him. Nice to see your tracks, but yeah, you might have been up there a bit late. The middle part was even getting punchy when we were there, which was about 3 hours before you had hit it. So everyone, watch your timing. No need for any fubar stuff from folks taking time for breakfast instead of getting to the climbing!

  11. adam olson April 24th, 2008 9:42 am

    The snow seems to be in transition still. Any northerly aspects seemed to be layered. The wet slides were sliding on a defined bed surface about 4-6 inchees below the surface. We might have seen a little stronger freeze Monday night too. None the less the skiing was superb!

    ps: I am the proud new owner of Dynafit Freeride boots! (06 model) Now I have to see if that Dynafit binding lives up to its reputation! lol


  12. Ron Rash April 24th, 2008 2:40 pm

    Hey Lou, Its good you were with 3 working guides of Aspen Alpine Guides so they could take care of you if you got into trouble on yesterday’s outing. Don’t tell me you dropped Chad and Lynn on the climb?

    Ron Rash, owner of Aspen Alpine Guides

  13. Lynn April 24th, 2008 3:00 pm

    Yes Lou put on the afterburners and dusted me. I could come up with some lame excuses like…….., but I will just take my medicine. It is a fantastic outing, impressive place to be.

    Ron, does this impact my guide status, I mean Lou is a legend, you have to cut me some slack.

    sole group tele skier, also the last one down the hill:)

  14. Lou April 24th, 2008 3:14 pm

    With the years I have over those guys, I figure if I can catch them tired then use all sorts of cheating, getting up ahead is not only a privilege, but actually a right that the founding fathers wrote into the constitution. How to cheat? First, start out first from the car, even only a few minutes of advantage can translate to keeping your ego swollen for the rest of the day. Second, have the lightest ski gear of the group — by a long shot (I even have titanium race toes on my Dynafits). Third, take a light pack that’s mostly 2 liters of Cytomax in a Hydropack hydration bladder. Third, prehydrate, get enough sleep and remember a shot from the inhaler to prevent occasional exercise induced asthma. Fourth, be acclimated unlike Lynn who’d just come from Texas. Ah, with strategy like that you don’t even need to be in shape!!

  15. Dave April 24th, 2008 3:24 pm

    Fifth: Set them up with a behemoth sled on a 6.5 mile hut trip approach. Tell them that it’s easy, and that people will even want to help them carry it up anyway. Wreck their back for the season.

    Lou, who knew you were planning on sand bagging me so far out!

  16. Lynn April 24th, 2008 4:09 pm

    Wow, Lou is sharing all his secrets. Thanks for blaming Texas, however, I was only there for a week.

    I think my slowness may have been linked to the gigantic first aid kit and defibrilator that I was carrying:) Oh yeah, there is also the filming aspect that may have contributed to me being at the back. I mean aren’t shots of people’s behinds skinning the best shots?

  17. Lou April 24th, 2008 4:21 pm

    What really slowed you guys down was when you stopped to climb and huck that 70 footer for BJ’s new flick. Oh, and I forgot to thank Lynn for carrying my choice in defibrillators.

  18. Walt April 25th, 2008 1:42 pm

    Did any of you guys ski “the pencil?” Very steep!

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