Trip Report — Colorado Spring Backcountry Skiing 2003


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 5, 2003      
Handies Peak 14er climb and ski. Louie Dawson braves 60mph winds on Handies Peak, Marmot Paclite shell gear keeps him cozy.

Handies Peak 14er climb and ski. Louie Dawson braves 60mph winds on Handies Peak, Marmot Paclite shell gear keeps him cozy.

06-6-03 to 06-8 Friday my son Louie and I drive down to American Basin in southern Colorado, a good jumping off point for a couple of 14,000-foot peaks.

Saturday we ski Handies Peak from exact summit, with a short 100 foot walk across tundra part way down, but otherwise continuous snow down to timberline.

We then drive over Cinnamon Pass to Ouray, 4-wheel up to Yankee Boy Basin. Sunday we climb Mount Sneffels, and ski from just below Lavender Col. More to come about this excellent father/son adventure.

The snow surface is getting heavily sun cupped, and it’s melting fast, so this was probably our last weekend of attempting summit ski descents. Even so, I spoke with Louie about possibly skiing every month of this year as a fun goal, so we’ll see how that goes. In a few days we’ll post an article about our Handie/Sneffels weekend — It was incredible. Stay tuned.

San Juans Sean Crossen approaching Rock of Ages saddle, "Wilsons" massif, San Juan Mountains.

San Juans
Sean Crossen approaching Rock of Ages saddle, “Wilsons” massif, San Juan Mountains.


05-31-03 Friday afternoon Carl and I drive to the San Juans, Silver Pick Trailhead We meet Sean Crossen and Chris Webster and start up the trail today at about 2:00 A.M. Our goal is El Diente Peak, and perhaps South Mount Wilson?

Conditions are weird. No morning cloud lift and no freeze. But we’ve got what’s nearly a summer snowpack. So we switch our minds to Sierra snow judgment, and keep climbing in inky black to Rock of Ages saddle. It gets weirder. Snow begins falling.

We’re quick to the saddle. El Diente rises in the black, the clouds spit. We sit and wait for more light so we can at least check the snow surface on the peak. It looks to me like it might be all avalanche debris, or sun cupped to the point of worthlessness.

Shivering in the dark, we wait. The sky lightens. Out of the dark the huge tooth of El Diente draws our attention like landfall for a sailboat crew. Could it be skiable? We continue….

Sixth annual Party on the Pass Memorial Day Barbecue.

Sixth annual Party on the Pass Memorial Day Barbecue. Independence Pass. That’s the Dawson family blue Suburban we had for quite a few years around this time.

05-28-03 Back to, where else, Independence Pass. Things are a bit sun cupped but coverage is still good. Timing is everything. Too early and you’re on frozen sun cups, too late and you’ll drop through the snowpack once in a while.

05-26-03 What a day on Independence. Skied north of pass with my family and friend Ron, had a nice run then set up the barbecue and hung out in the alpine, enjoying the views, fellowship and sunshine.

Dawson family and Ron Lloyd (right) at summit of Blarney Peak, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Dawson family and Ron Lloyd (right) at summit of Blarney Peak, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Snow conditions are good, exceptional in some areas, funky around timberline. Some of the easterly runs are a bit sun damaged. Good corn on westerly and southerly.

North facing terrain condition varies with elevation and is worth exploring. More afternoon avalanche action is showing, so be off your runs by 11:00 A.M.

Weather for the rest of this week looks good, but beware of nighttime clouds keeping the snowpack from cooling.

Ptarmigan, something you often see during spring skiing in Colorado.

Ptarmigan, something you often see during spring skiing in Colorado.

05-24-03 Up on Independence Pass AGAIN this morning, did Blue Peak again with my son, saw a few friendly people and generally had a great day.

Many people were up enjoying the Pass, most skiing being done on southerly side of Highway 82.

If weather holds we will Memorial Day barbecue Monday on Pass summit at about 11:00, so stop by. We’ll have our funky blue ’87 Suburban and gas barbie.

Louie Dawson on Blue Peak, Independence Pass, photo taken looking SW.

Louie Dawson on Blue Peak, Independence Pass, photo taken looking SW.

05-23-03 Up on Independence Pass this morning, as good as expected, did Blue Peak with an extra bit of skiing to the west. Saw a few people enjoying the area, all nicely spread on the various routes.

Looking forward to Saturday and Monday. If weather holds we will barbecue on Pass summit at about 11:00, so stop by. We’ll have either our funky blue Suburban or a white Cherokee.

We’ve been doing our “barbecue on the pass” for a few years now, is it six? Amazing how time flies. Thing is, there really is nothing like Independence Pass for spring skiing in Colorado.

The terrain is so vast you can find a whole lifetime of lines, with quite a few classics you won’t mind repeating as many times as you find the time and conditions.

Independence Pass backcountry skiing, looking southwest from Blue Peak. Click to enlarge.

Independence Pass backcountry skiing, looking southwest from Blue Peak. Click to enlarge.

On the west side of Blue Peak, Independence Pass, 05-23-203 -- best coverage in years.

On the west side of Blue Peak, Independence Pass, 05-23-203 — best coverage in years.

Lou on Raspberry Peak Yours truly on Raspberry Peak.

Lou on Raspberry Peak near Marble, Colorado.

05-21-03 Last Saturday Bob Perlmutter and I spent a 15 hr day on Mount Wilson (S) in the San Juans. Didn’t make the summit, but got up high on a 14,000 foot technical knife ridge, did a big ski descent, and a huge amount of hiking. Getting to know the area better (or so I told myself).

Today Carl and I did a double up in the Marble area. We climbed Marble Peak, then continued west to Raspberry Peak, then descended both on the return. Perfect corn above timberline, okay down to about 10,000 feet, and melting out in places below that. There was a big avalanche cycle in the Elks last Saturday and Sunday, and a bunch of huge ones ripped. Warm nights and days were the cause, and it was a typical May event. Things are okay now that we’re getting some clear cool nights. Independence Pass opens this Friday, and if the clear nights continue it should be incredible. But latest reports say that it’s best to get a visual on what you’re going to ski in case it has ripped out or been trashed by snow rollers. -Lou

Moonset on Raspberry Peak, east ridge. Raspberry Peak

Moonset on Raspberry Peak, east ridge. Raspberry Peak

Elk Mountains, May 2003!
05-15-03 Getting ready for a big weekend, back to Marble today for a dawn patrol. Didn’t freeze last night below 11,000, but the snow is compacted enough to climb and ski, albeit not perfect corn. Plan on getting up higher this weekend.

Looking at Raspberry Peak from the summit of Marble Peak.

Looking at Raspberry Peak from the summit of Marble Peak.

05-13-03 Did a short climb and ski this morning at closed Highlands ski area. Was still able to ski to base of mountain. Amazing.

Carl in Marble during a storm day.

Carl in Marble during a storm day.

05-10-03 Been storming a huge amount here in the central Elks. Was going to head for something big, but storms were heavy today so we returned yet again to Marble. Did 2 laps in stable powder, and explored some new tree skiing down lower. Snowpack is about 2 feet deeper than the last time we were there, with all sorts of layers.

People were skiing lots of lines, and things appeared pretty stable, but who knows what will happen when it warms up. We need a few days without snowfall so things can compact. Sounds like we’ll get that this coming week, so plan on some incredible skiing if you’re looking for turns in Colorado. — Lou

05-06-03 Did Marble Peak again last Saturday, and hiked up and skied closed Aspen Highlands Ski area yesterday, snow still connects to base lodge, incredible.

Corn season and low elevation melting has been retarded by unstable cloudy weather, with a fair amount of snow. I hear the snowpack is a month behind the usual compaction and melting. With that in mind, there should be some good descents to be had, but avy danger is much higher than normal for this time of year.

Penn follows his wife Kirstin down the Marble Peak corn bowl, May 2003.

Penn follows his wife Kirstin down the Marble Peak corn bowl, May 2003.

05-01-03 We did a dawn mission up in the Marble area. Full-on corn season has hit.

Cold nights and cloudy morning skies are keeping things frozen and retarding melt action. I’m optimistic that this May could be the best corn season in years.

Out the door at 5:30 A.M, back at the desk by 9:30 A.M. — mountain life.



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