Summertime Skiing in Holy Cross Wilderness


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | July 24, 2015      
July turns at 13,000 ft on Notch Mountain, Colorado.

July turns at 13,000 ft on Notch Mountain, Colorado. Click images to enlarge.

What could be more ridiculous than a ski report in late July?! Okay, here goes…

Mount of the Holy Cross sits picturesque above Eagle Valley, a paragon of the Colorado 14er. Visible from Vail ski resort, namesake Cross Couloir (along with well known Angelica Couloir) is the ski mountaineering prize of Holy Cross. However, stretching south from there and once a national monument, the Holy Cross Wilderness holds many wonders of the Northern Sawatch. This range, shorter and sharper than typical in the Sawatch, stretches from Holy Cross to Mount Massive. Couloir skiing at its finest.

Gotta keep those skis tuned for summer turns.

Gotta keep those skis tuned for summer turns.

Whenever my alarm clock goes off before 5am it seems to do so with a grin. July 19th the bells rang gleefully at 4 and I was out the door, skis in hand. I picked up Tom Judge and drove out Turquoise Lake Road in Leadville, Colorado to the base of Galena Mountain.

I was a bit surprised the day before when Tom didn’t think I was crazy for suggesting a ski, so up we went.

I’ll get back to that silliness in a minute, but first, my hopes for Galena were inflated by a superb day of skiing a week back with my friend Nick Vincent. Vince and I headed up Notch Mountain, the southerly neighbor to Mount of the Holy Cross.

Driving towards Tennessee Pass from Minturn, Colorado there are no views of Holy Cross; instead, Notch Mountain, rising to 13,237ft, impresses upon the valley. Our line was the obvious shot off of the left shoulder.

Driving towards Tennessee Pass from Minturn, Colorado there are no views of Holy Cross. Instead, Notch Mountain, rising to 13,237ft, impresses upon the valley. Our line was the obvious shot off of the left shoulder.

Much of the Holy Cross Wilderness is a lesser-traveled gem in heart of Colorado.

Much of Holy Cross Wilderness is a lesser-traveled gem in the heart of Colorado.

Notch Couloir for which the mountain is known, splits the northeast face offering a popular ski mountaineering objective in the area. This melted out back in June. However the Northeast Couloir, a narrow inset cleft on the mountain’s shoulder, was in shockingly fine shape.

40-degree corn snow with very few rocks or runnels made for an awesome outing.

40-degree corn snow with very few rocks or runnels made for an awesome outing.

A couple hours up the trail, we dropped over the shoulder of Notch and found ourselves skiing down the mountain, ear-to-ear grins all the way.

Type-1-fun skiing on Notch gave me high hopes for another outing into the Holy Cross Range.

Type-1-fun skiing on Notch gave me high hopes for another outing into the Holy Cross Range.

So, after such unexpected success, I figured the storage wax could wait.

Galena stands guard over the head of the Arkansas River Valley at only 12,893ft, relatively short given its neighborhood. Nonetheless this proud peak maintains a sufficient degree of grandeur, rising steeply from the valley below in an uncharacteristically craggy fashion.

This is the southern end of the Holy Cross Wilderness. A view known well to anyone who has visited Uncle Bud’s Hut; the east face of Galena houses several steep couloirs strikingly visible from Colorado Highway 24 as well.

The most commanding line splits the face from near the peak’s summit down to St. Kevin’s Lake. It is known as Rabbit Ears Couloir (along with a second branch, the couloir forms the shape of a rabbit’s ears).

The most commanding line splits the face from near the peak’s summit down to St. Kevin’s Lake. It is known as Rabbit Ears Couloir (along with a second branch, the couloir forms the shape of a rabbit’s ears).

Because of its prominence above the valley, Rabbit Ears Couloir makes for what I like to call a ‘town line.’ Sitting in Leadville drinking coffee, eating pizza, or admiring the high peaks’ sunset, this line immediately catches one’s eye; it has been on my list for some time, and though Galena looks quite dry these days, a squiggle of silliness remains.

The line is southeast facing, so by all accounts it should have melted out months ago. Somehow it has held a diminutive grip on the inset, narrow, upper section of the route.

The line is southeast facing, so by all accounts it should have melted out months ago. Somehow it has held a diminutive grip on the inset, narrow, upper section of the route.

The hike into St. Kevin’s was a beautiful meander up an unmarked trail to an all-but-forgotten alpine lake that only took an hour from the summer trailhead. Another hour and a half and we were on top of Galena.

The snow climb was in perfect shape in the partly cloudy cool morning air.

The snow climb was in perfect shape in the partly cloudy cool morning air.

I was increasingly skeptical of the descent the higher we got.

I generally assume that any line of snow I can spy from a good distance grows with proximity. Rabbit Ears did not. In fact it seemed to shrink the closer we got.

The upper pinch in the line held plenty of snow, as was made very visible from the 20+ ft deep melt crack bordering one edge of the couloir. The problem was not in depth, but in width. I was on a pair of 176cm Black Diamond Carbon Aspects, and at its narrowest point I would say the couloir was 175cm wide at best. This made for a very scary bit of skiing.

Ice axe in hand I slid, managing only to make the occasional jump turn down the narrows of the Rabbit Ears. How Tom managed to slide through on a split board, I don’t know.

Ice axe in hand I slid, managing only to make the occasional jump turn down the narrows of Rabbit Ears. How Tom managed to slide through on a split board, I don’t know.

The line itself was super cool, with epic views of Leadville and the upper Ark, though after wiggling down the 400 or so vert that still held snow, I would not say the line was ‘in’.

Tom and I decided the day’s adventure was the best type of bad idea.

Skiing, like most recreational activities, is a useless pursuit. But, therein lies its beauty. To slide down mountains with boards strapped to our feet is freedom, fun, and fantastical. Why restrict such silliness to ‘ski season’?

I figure winter is primarily a state of mind, so might as well keep those edges sharp and glisse on.

(WildSnow.com Guest Blogger Alex Lee lives in Leadville, Colorado in the winter and Denali, Alaska in the summer. He is currently working towards a Ph.D. in the ethics of conservation at the University of Colorado. He works part-time as a naturalist in Alaska and as a ski guide and photographer in the Colorado Rockies. Like his pictures? Check out more at his website, MountainDinosaur.com.)



IF YOU'RE HAVING TROUBLE VIEWING SITE, TRY WHITELISTING IN YOUR ADBLOCKER, OTHERWISE PLEASE CONTACT US USING MENU ABOVE, OR FACEBOOK.

Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


Comments

One Response to “Summertime Skiing in Holy Cross Wilderness”

  1. Bobby July 24th, 2015 8:11 pm

    Prost!





Anti-Spam Quiz:

 

While you can subscribe to comment notification by checking the box above, you must leave a brief comment to do so, which records your email and requires you to use our anti-spam challange. If you don't like leaving substantive comments that's fine, just leave a simple comment that says something like "thanks, subscribed" with a made-up name. Check the comment subscription checkbox BEFORE you submit. NOTE: BY SUBSCRIBING TO COMMENTS YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO STORE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INDEFINITLY. YOU MAY REQUEST REMOVAL AND WE WILL REMOVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITHIN 72 HOURS. To request removal of personal information, please contact us using the comment link in our site menu.
If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.

:D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
  
Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after approval. Comments with one or more links in the text may be held in moderation, for spam prevention. If you'd like to publish a photo in a comment, contact us. Guidelines: Be civil, no personal attacks, avoid vulgarity and profanity.

  Your Comments


  Recent Posts




Facebook Twitter Google Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed



 



  • Blogroll & Links


  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version