Williams Peak – Summit Ski Descent

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 11, 2008      

Bob Perlmutter and I have been looking at this peak for years. As the highpoint of the Williams Mountains (subrange of the Sawatch east of Aspen), Williams is not a huge bulky 14er but rather a craggy granite arete that involves less vertical than its bigger brothers, but is more involved than most 14ers because of the somewhat remote location and cliffy granite topography. Reminiscent of the Tetons.

Colorado ski mountaineering.

Above is the view you get of Williams when you’re on just about any peak north of Independence Pass. I’m fairly certain the couloirs shown in the photo have been skied, but not from the summit as they’re actually on the face of a ridge which connects to the summit via a knife ridge (at upper arrow).

We used the visible couloirs for our ascent route (Louie climbed the right hand, the rest of us took the left), but noticed they were indeed impossible to connect from the peak top so we dropped another route on the northeast side of the peak (descent route not shown in photo above). We’re thinking this may have been the first summit ski descent of the peak, as it was somewhat tricky to put together.

Colorado ski mountaineering.

You need good strategy to do a peak such as this in a day, while keeping it relatively enjoyable. We knew the most direct approach would be the Lost Man drainage, but also knew Lost Man would involve early morning torture skiing/walking up a pack trail with intermittent snow. Instead, we opted to leave from a higher trailhead, stay above timberline, and skin over Geissler Pass (see map below).

This proved to be an excellent choice that quickly brought us to the base of the peak. On the return, we did head down Lost Man. That was a brutal slog. Better would have been to slug it out back over Geissler Pass (provided the snowpack had not become dangerously gloppy — which it did not during this trip). In photo: Bob to left, then Anda and Louie. at Geissler Pass.

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Early start was required. We left Carbondale at 3:00 A.M., and got this alpinglow view of famous Grizzly Peak while we ripped skins at Geissler Pass a few hours later.

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Heading down from Geissler Pass, Williams on horizon. This would be the first of 4 climbs/descents we’d do throughout what proved to be an amazing day of covering ground and enjoying perfect weather (add a couple more laps for Bob, who did a few hundred bonus vert to ski from the summit of South Williams).

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Figures in the landscape — Bob and Anda approach Williams southeast ridge.

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Anda in the southeast face couloir we used to gain the knife ridge.

Colorado ski mountaineering.
The terrain got spicy once we exited the snow climbing. We ended up on a rocky knife ridge with somewhat scary fall potential. Not technically difficult, but I was thinking a rope would be handy just for peace of mind. In photo above, Louie rests in a secure position after we’d handed our packs to each other so we could wriggle through a chimney. Without as much snow, perhaps there is an easier way. But then, we wouldn’t have been there.

Colorado ski mountaineering.

At any rate, we end up on a tippy summit that reminds me of Pyramid Peak. We can’t see any obvious way to ski down, an only one route leads off the top. Luckily, I remembered having once seen the usually hidden northeast side of the peak, and knew there was a a skiable line that involved working around some cliffs. So Bob went first to see if we could make it around the corner.

Bob gave it a thumbs up, but waited till I explored another option to skier’s right. A few weeks prior, with more snowcover there may have been another route where I looked. Instead, I had a 10 minute climb-out back to Bob’s position. While climbing, I passed over a glide crack that was at least 10 feet deep and similar to a smaller bergschrund on a glacier. The snowpack in this area is beyond “thick,” and way more copious than normal.

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Our descent route. The slopes were your basic 45 degree terrain, with some steeper bulges and a bit of technical stuff getting off the summit. I’d rate our descent route as Grade IV D13 R4

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Anda opens it up on the apron at base of face. We were feeling pretty energetic at this point. Next up was an 800 vert slog over a ridge so we’d be back in a home drainage. We got that done and felt pretty good, so we skinned up to Trooper Point (see map below), where we waited as super-fit Bob climbed a few hundred more vert and skied off the summit of South Williams. Trooper Point is where you end up on the last climb of the Trooper Traverse. Last run, we dropped a beautiful bowl off Trooper Point, then did our duty as slogsters by stumbling down Lost Man Creek to the Independence Pass Road.

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Bob crashes out while Louie thumbs a ride to retrieve our wheels. Well deserved! Yep, those are Garmont Axons.

Colorado ski mountaineering.
Beware, after a day with Bob your route might look like the trail of a hungry coyote.


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13 Responses to “Williams Peak – Summit Ski Descent”

  1. backcountry skier June 11th, 2008 1:04 pm

    That peak does have some Teton-esque qualities, except for those blue skies:) Snowing in town today in Jackson!

  2. Lou June 11th, 2008 1:40 pm

    Hey, it snowed in Aspen this morning as well, and they’re opening the Aspen ski area this weekend for a few days. All that bio diesel they burn in the groomers must be halting global warming .

  3. Chad June 11th, 2008 3:12 pm

    Nice line Lou! I have been looking at that one for a few years now. I pointed it out to Dave last week, but he said he was done skiing.

  4. Lou June 11th, 2008 3:24 pm

    If Dave doesn’t go lift skiing this weekend one day, and ski touring one day on the Pass, I will lose my faith in the new school. I mean, how much effort does it take to build a kicker near our barbecue setup (hint, that’s a trick question)?

  5. Chad June 11th, 2008 4:01 pm

    Lou, in the picture of the peak with the red arrows on it just below the second highest arrow point, there is a little sliver of snow that brings you lookers left of the summit. do you remember if that was skiable?

  6. Adam June 11th, 2008 4:17 pm

    Nice line, Lou! I had that same view of Grizzly while up on Blarney Peak this past weekend. It looks fantastic! Any idea when they will plow Lincoln Creek road?

  7. Lou June 11th, 2008 4:18 pm

    Chad, we looked down that and it looked like something could be done on skis. Didn’t go from the summit so we were not interested, but it looked like some fun stuff to play around with. Everything there is on a smaller scale than it looks in the photo, so it’s a good place to fool around. The several hour approach means pretty early start times, however.

    The photo was taken about a week ago, so everything is quite a bit thinner now. In mid May or early May there are a lot more options. Snowmobile or ATV access to Indy during that time would be the way to get it in the best conditions.

  8. Lou June 11th, 2008 4:37 pm

    Lincoln Creek road is plowed, the question is when they will open the gate (grrrrrrrr). Sounds like perhaps this coming Monday.

  9. Mark Worley June 11th, 2008 10:09 pm

    Keeping the ski mountaineering alive is what you guys do best. The season ends when we say it ends, right?

  10. Cody June 12th, 2008 6:57 am

    Lou, looks like a fun trip! Do you think that the southwest flank of Blue Peak will still be in tomorrow (6-13)? I am looking to hit something fairly mellow as, I’ll be solo on this one. Thanks.

  11. Lou June 12th, 2008 7:25 am

    Hi Cody, I’m sure Blue will be fine tomorrow. Snow surface on that aspect can be a bit rough, but still fun. Hint, in my book I say to follow that creekbed/couloir up from the road, but a better route for later season is to simply go up the slopes from parking at the hairpin turn. If you do that, just be careful to stay a bit right of the Blue Peak bulk you can see above, so you end up wrapping around to the southwest flank. It’s pretty obvious once you’re up there.

  12. Lou June 12th, 2008 8:17 am

    All, I emailed Tim Lamb at the USFS to get the lowdown. I wish they’d just leave the roads as primitive and open them up, but they feel like they need to keep them closed for various reasons, though it does sound like they at least try to open them as early as they feel appropriate. Here is the official word:

    “Currently Lincoln Creek Rd. has a bunch of road damage between the gate and the reservoir. There are a few places where the road is very wet, washed out with melting snow, and single lane with avalanche debris. If the caretaker at the reservoir was not good with a grader and plow the road would be closed for much longer.

    Pitkin County won’t plow it. The road is joint management between the county and FS. The reservoir has not started releasing water yet and with the water already high there could be flooding across the road. Many campsites are still snowed in as of a few days ago.
    Finally, Pitkin County is planning on putting down the final layer of road base on the first 1/4 mile of road next week and they wanted the road closed while they do the work with heavy equipment. However, knowing people are champing at the bit I plan on opening it Monday June 16 and people will have to wait/experience delays while the road is repaired once the work starts. My June 16 is the seasonal average for opening this road.

    With our road closures, bicycles, foot, horses are allowed but motorized uses are not, which includes atv’s and motorcycles.

    This spring has been challenging to our roads and trails. We have two
    roads completely washed out due to high water – Fourmile Park Rd at mile 12 and the Lead King Loop above the Outward Bound School. The first Conundrum bridge has also washed away.

    Tim Lamb
    Dispersed Recreation/Wilderness
    Aspen/Sopris Ranger Districts
    White River National Forest”

  13. Sky June 12th, 2008 11:15 am

    sounds like a good adventure

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