Who is Len Shoemaker?

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 7, 2008      

On the ridge south of Colorado’s Pyramid Peak, a beautiful curving cirque leads to a 13,631 foot summit I’ve always known as Len Shoemaker Peak, after what’s marked on the map as “Len Shoemaker Ridge.” For years, while climbing and skiing the Maroon Bells, I’d looked over to Shoemaker and thought it would make an excellent alpine ramble, or perhaps a ski descent. Turns out my frequent ski partner Bob Perlmutter had been thinking the same thing since his early days on the Bells, so when he mentioned Shoemaker was on his list, I signed up.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
Crew for the day was a name dropper’s feast: Neal Beidleman (in photo above, on Shoemaker), alpinist extraordinaire and no stranger to extreme ski descents such as his and Davenport’s first on Capitol Peak east face;Ted Mahon, who just completed skiing all 54 Colorado 14ers; Doug Rovira, who worked at Outward Bound when I did back in the 70s, and is now a doctor; Michael Kennedy, man of the mountains who needs no introduction; Bob Perlmutter, Aspen Skiing Company powder guide who’s ALWAYS got another backcountry ski route on his list. Len Shoemaker was along as well, in spirit (more about him below.)

Neal is coming off an injury. It’s always special when a mountaineer gets out for their first big day after a forced layover, so the trip and this blog are dedicated to Neal’s quick healing!

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
After an early morning snowmobile ride up Maroon Creek, we did a quick skin about three miles up West Maroon Creek. Alpinglow lit the Maroon Bells like a giant fire burning over the horizon, casting warm light upon the welcoming arms of the Elk’s high peaks and aretes.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
You swing left about 1 1/2 miles past Crater Lake, and enter the sinuous cirque that winds down next to Len Shoemaker Ridge, with the eponymous peak at the head of the Cirque. We expected the mountain would be a bit more loaded with snow, but it was plenty skiable. We climbed and descended the sunlit face as shown above.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
Ted and myself demonstrating our fashionable boot color choice. I asked Ted how his Dynafit Green Machines were working out, he says he loves ’em.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
If anything, this ski tour and climb are about views of Colorado’s amazing Elk Mountains. That’s South Maroon on the left, with North Maroon to the right. Ted and Neal doing duty as shadow models.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
Yours truly above, near the summit. As seems to always happen in the Elks, once above 13,000 feet the mountain presented us with various difficulties. In this case, some moderate post holing and a bit of rock scrambling over some steps on the ridge. Bear in mind that when you say “scrambling” and “Elks” in the same sentence, you’re also talking 2,000 pound blocks of limestone perched above you, ready to roll with the slightest provocation.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
Neal tops out. Thunder Pyramid in the background.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
A little blog love for Ted.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
Mahon exiting Len Shoemaker cirque.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
Perl on the upper face.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
MK enjoys.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
If anything, this ski tour and climb are about views of Colorado’s amazing Elk Mountains. That’s South Maroon on the left, with North Maroon to the right. Ted and Neal doing duty as shadow models.

Elk Mountains backcountry skiing.
Myself, Ted, Doug, Michael.

So, who is Len Shoemaker? In the early day’s of Colorado, Shoemaker was a Forest Ranger for the White River NF during the 1930s. His job included quite a bit of rambling in the Elk Mountains, during which he became an expert on the history of the USFS along with this area of Colorado (Roaring Fork Valley). He ended up penning a number of history books, one of which is our local classic “Pioneers of the Roaring Fork Valley.” During my own historical studies, I’ve run across Shoemaker’s name numerous times, frequently associated with descriptions of primitive wilderness pack trips that I can only imagine were equally as adventurous and fun as any modern climb or ski descent. Most of the trails and roads we use to access central Colorado mountains were established early, frequently during the mining era around a century ago. But it was men such as Shoemaker who kept the access open, and established the stupendous transportation network that allows us to enjoy the backcountry as we do today. When you’re riding your snowmobile up Maroon Creek road, or skiing down the West Maroon trail after a climb, thank Len and his ilk.


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15 Responses to “Who is Len Shoemaker?”

  1. db May 7th, 2008 10:35 am

    Looks like a pretty fun spring outing. Always wanted to hit that peak, but never have enough time when I’m there. How was the snowmo ride up the road? Snow the whole way? Hoping to make one more trip up that way soon. Thanks for the cool history behind this peak Lou!

  2. Lou May 7th, 2008 10:49 am

    Dave, I’d say the road will be sled ready till sometime next week, or longer if you have wheel kit and some way to lube your hifax for the pavement. I rigged up a sunshower with a tube to squirt water on mine. Didn’t need that on the snow as my new ice scratchers worked well, but for pavement I’d melt my sliders without lube. I probably need to lower my bogey wheels for the spring, so they take more of the weight. The snow is quite dirty, which can make it hard if you’re being towed on skis.

  3. Bill Hunt May 7th, 2008 2:35 pm

    Nice photos; looks like your snowpack is holding up well.
    When does the Maroon Creek road normally get plowed?

  4. Geof May 7th, 2008 2:48 pm


    Great adventure. Gotta get into Aspen!!

    Per your request on the “contact us page” I’d like to ask a route opinion of you. A few friends are discussing a Democrat climb/ski this weekend and are trying to decide between the South side that Chris did VS the West Face route listed in your guide. Thoughts??? Which would you choose?

  5. Lou May 7th, 2008 3:02 pm

    Geof, the choice of those routes is a matter of snow conditions more than anything, assuming you’ve got the ski and climbing skills for steeper skiing. The West side is going to hold up better to sun damage. Access is also a factor. If the road on the south side isn’t open, it’s a long haul. The route up from the mining area for the West is quite short. Hope that helps.

  6. Lou May 7th, 2008 3:07 pm

    Bill, thanks to the USFS the Maroon Creek road is kept gated till around Memorial Day, even if it’s plowed or dry. Needless to say, that’s one of the absolute worst things that goes on around here in terms of road access. ATVs are allowed, and that’s probably the solution. Or a bicycle if you’re strong. Or a motorcycle. Best is to write letters to USFS and complain. Amazing how they gate our public access. How can they do that!?

    I noticed there is no gate on the road at the moment. They probably go up there and click the padlock once the snow melts. Certain elite indivduals have keys to the gate, as is also the case with the Independence Pass road when it’s gated and dry.

  7. Michael May 7th, 2008 4:50 pm

    Lou, when you were postholing, why not use ski crampons? My understanding of when ski crampons are useful is when it is too steep to skin and too soft for booting up (with or without crampons).

  8. Lou May 7th, 2008 5:14 pm

    Michael, I felt like it was getting too steep, and there might have been some wind/glaze that one could take a fall on. But main thing was I figured with Ted and Neal there, the trail would get broken no matter what. It’s sometimes a hard call, but in Colorado I’ve found that if it’s steep, for the last summit pitch it’s usually best just to get the skis off. That is unless it’s super deep or winter conditions, then the skis stay on longer…

  9. Geof May 7th, 2008 6:02 pm


    Thanks for the info… It will be a bit of a tough call on conditions as I don’t think the South side is too visible from Alma/closure, and it’s sort of an unusual spring seemingly. Maybe we could score some snowmobiles (wink)! The plan is a bit of a recon and decide from there. Have you skied that west face line? What did you think overall? I don’t know anybody that has skied it. Would it get a potential “classic” from you? Just curious.

  10. Lou May 7th, 2008 6:09 pm

    I really liked the westerly face line, probably did the first descent of it way back when, have heard of people doing it now and then. It’s a bit more intricate than that NE line, and perhaps has more reliable snowcover than the southerly stuff.

  11. ted May 8th, 2008 7:47 am

    Lou- That was a good time up there. My biggest thanks should probably go to Louie for being in school and freeing up a spot on the sled! I’ll look for you guys at 5 point tonight.

  12. Lou May 8th, 2008 8:25 am

    Burritos and beer at 5:00, we’ll be there.

    RE the sled, with Louie there to drive it, we could have made two trips, though the thought of him driving the Nytro full throttle down the Maroon road does put ice in my veins (grin).

  13. jerimy May 13th, 2008 6:01 am

    Any chance you could get Neal to do a guest review on those Coombas?

  14. skunkbear March 18th, 2012 10:18 am

    There’s a book of poetry by Len Shoemaker called Welcome To Colorful Colorado (1965) that should resonate with mountain people. Though corny (in a good way) it ‘s a fun read. You’ll know many of the places he was inspired to write about.. A kindred spirit..

  15. Summer September 21st, 2017 9:01 pm

    Len Shoemaker was the brother of my great-great-grandmother.

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