Trooper Traverse Colorado — 1st One Day Crossing!

Post by blogger | May 23, 2016      
One day Trooper Traverse crew 2016.

One day Trooper Traverse crew 2016 at the Hotel Jerome finish line, Aspen, Colorado. From left, Joe Risi, Matt Hickey, Max Taam, Jessie Young, Jesse Morehouse.

This past Saturday (May 21, 2016), a small group of skiers repeated the historical “Trooper Traverse” across the Colorado Sawatch mountains in an astounding record time of just over 11 hours (from the North Halfmoon Creek crossing on the Leadville side to Jerome Bar in Aspen). The ~30 mile route usually takes three or four nights. The crew of 5 comprised world-class skimo racers Max Taam and Jessie Young setting pace, joined by Matt Hickey, Jesse Morehouse, and Joe Risi.

Enjoying alpine terrain in the highest altitude region of Colorado,  on Trooper Traverse route.

Enjoying alpine terrain in the highest altitude region of Colorado, on Trooper Traverse route.

Max told me the skiing in the route’s alpine, which crosses three high passes at around 13,000 feet elevation, was “excellent,” with the “slow” part of the journey being about eight hours into the epic, when they exited from Hunter Creek via a last climb up through soggy snow to a long winding trail that follows the Hunter Creek Valley north rim into Aspen. As it’s been for other groups on the route, the “heinous” portion was the alternating snow patches and dry spots on the rim trail that require guessing whether to keep skiing or switch to foot travel. According to all participants, visual highlight was the gigantic full moon illuminating the alpine during their nighttime start.

The trip began at 3:17 am at the North Halfmoon Creek crossing, which the group waded. Finish line: Jerome Hotel Bar in Aspen. Max’s GPS recorded 32.05 miles, 6,409’ gain, 11:16:17, that’s with “every switchback” as well as a mile of road walking from parking to the Half Moon Creek crossing.

(I’ve been thinking quite a bit about where we should “officially” begin the modern Trooper Traverse. Since the road to Halfmoon Creek varies quite a bit in snow closure and is now mostly an improved county road, rather than endless bantering about where folks begin the trip I propose we make the official start as the North Halfmoon Creek crossing, with the finish being Hotel Jerome bar after walking down Red Mountain, a residential area behind Aspen.)

For the soldiers in 1943, Jerome Hotel Bar was the goal. As it should be in 2016 -- including walking down the pavement of Red Mountain.

For the soldiers in 1943, Jerome Hotel Bar was the goal. As it should be in 2016 — including walking down the pavement of Red Mountain and gulping an Aspen Crud milkshake. Note, a “Crud” includes a few shots of bourbon, libation of choice for a 10th Mountain Division trooper. From left, Jesse Morehouse, Jessie Young, Matt Hickey, Joe Risi, Max Taam.

I had no doubt Trooper Traverse could be done in a day instead of the traditional 3 or 4 nights out, since it’s actually shorter than some modern skimo races. On the other hand, unlike racing, a speed traverse such as this requires optimal conditions and a high level of mountaineering judgment, not to mention a “guide” level skill set. Max and his friends put all that together and pulled off a clean, efficient crossing. We met at the Jerome Bar afterwards, just as the soldiers did in 1944, and just like we did after re-creating the route in 2001.

Original Trooper Traverse 1944, soldiers on the Red Mountain road getting set to head down into Aspen.

Original Trooper Traverse 1944, soldiers on the Red Mountain road getting set to head down into Aspen after skiing from Leadville in February. The guy with the sunglasses in the foreground is Ralph Ball, a neighbor of ours here in Colorado until has passed away a few years back. Ralph was known as a sr. ski racer who simply would not quit on into his 80s — even after a heart attack during a race and subsequent bypass surgery. I interviewed Ralph a few times about the Trooper Traverse, he didn’t remember much about the route as they were “just following the officer’s directions,” but he remembered portions that helped us in reconstructing the trip years later. Clearly, the group of 10th Mountain Division soldiers had not a clue their ski trip would achieve somewhat mythical proportions around 70 years in the future, but such is the stuff of legends. Try carrying one of their primitive frame packs with 80 or 90 pounds, and you’ll know the legend is real.

Max and Jessie at the parking spot, Halfmoon Creek, about 3:00 am.

Max and Jessie at the parking spot, Halfmoon Creek, about 3:00 am.

Our final GPS version of Trooper Traverse route, if anyone cares to repeat.


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