Trooper Traverse 2006 – Part Three

Post by blogger | May 17, 2006      
Navigation in Hunter Creek.
Once down Trooper Couloir we start the toughest navigation of the trip. Scott studies the map because he knows from experience that Hunter Creek is chock full of dense timber and brush, but has no defined trail-cut for winter travel, so you have to analyze the map and try to piece things together. We skied a few miles downvalley then set up the nicest camp of our trip, with open water and a dry rock outcrop for cooking.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Camp in Hunter Creek, night 3.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
The strangest thing about this trip was how cold it was for May. Normally early evening below timberline would be balmy, instead I’m going for the sleeping bag. We used Backpacker’s Pantry meals for all our dinners and we’re highly impressed (not to mention stuffed by the ample portions — take my word for it, 3 BP dinners feed 6 people, especially if you’ve got snacks).

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Sure enough, we wake up in the morning and my thermometer says 9 degrees F.!! That was a real groaner as we had decent equipment, but had not designed our layers and such for mid-winter temperatures. Nonetheless we toughed it out, brewed up and got moving (sitting around was not an option). It took an hour for my toes to warm up.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Another shot from the morning. The cold had cleared the sky to ultimate blue. The granite cirques of the Williams Mountains look like a mini-Chamonix and are quite different from most of the Sawatch mountains, which are usually more eroded and rounded. That’s Louie trying to make a serape out of his Marmot Fusion sleeping bag — just laugh at the cold…

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Getting down Hunter Creek was tough. The snow had melted enough to form large pits and bumps in the dark timber that made the skiing resemble traversing the biggest moguls you can imagine, only with trees every three feet. On top of that, much of the southern exposures were dry so it was either the gnarl snow or a dirt hike. To skiers, snow always looks better than dirt — even so, nobody was talking much after a few hours. Perhaps that’s becuase after a point we all ended up walking anyway as we got lower in the valley, as the snow was too rough and patchy to ski. Once we were totally whipped we left the drainage and skied through Hunter Flats and Slab Park to our final highpoint, Bald Knob. I’d like to say it was good to be back on the planks when we did our final downhill skiing of the trip off Bald, but I was too tired to notice.

Lou and Lou on Bald Knob.
Bald Knob is a timbered bump near the 10th Mountain McNamara Hut. It’s a traditional destination Scott and I had both been to numerous times — but the view of the jagged Elk Mountains always inspires. It was Louie’s first time at this spot, and I felt like I was really passing something on to the next generation as we stood there gazing over the hills.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
After a break on top of Bald we skied the classic tree run down north to the McNamara Hut, one of the two first huts built for the 10th Mountain Hut System. My wife Lisa and Scott’s wife Debbie had hiked and skied up that afternoon with fresh vegies and a few Tecates, all of which we imbibed with gusto. After a mellow night at the hut (a mattress never felt so good), we did a part ski and part hike descent to Aspen. Along the way we saw bear tracks that indicated Lisa and Debbie had been followed by a hungry critter who probably sensed the Tecates. Tracks indicated the bruin had turned around before the hut for some reason, probably smelled a beehive or something.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
We ran out of snow above Aspen, and did the classic walk through forests and meadows into town, just as the 1943 troopers did.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Louie and Steve enter glitter city, burgers at the Hotel Jerome were beginning to sound heavenly.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Once at the Jerome we met up with Nate, a reporter from the Aspen Times. One of my agendas with this trips is to share them as much as possible, with the hope folks will be inspired by what the troopers did, and perhaps even try the route themselves if they’ve got the skills and gear. Small newspapers like the Aspen Times are fun to deal with, as they usually cover trips like our’s with a positive slant. In this case, Nate concentrated on David’s connection with his father. That got me thinking about my own dad, who I hadn’t visited in a while. He lives near enough for a spur-of-the-moment visit, so I think I’ll make that happen. Always good to connect with the dad, and in my case, he’s the guy that got me interested in backcountry recreation, so it’ll fun to see him.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Tradition dictates that once at the Jerome, thou shalt drink an Aspen Crud — basically a milkshake with plenty of bourbon thrown in. Here the bartender concocts the concotion. Louie got one without the booze, of course.

Backcountry skiing Colorado Mountains.
Toasting our trip with cruds at the J-bar, a tradition started more than seventy years ago by young 10th Mountain Division soldiers.

So, that’s it, another Trooper Traverse, and as we’re nearing the end of our Colorado spring ski season, a fine cap to an amazing year of skiing and blogging!

And remember, for details about the Trooper Traverse look no farther then here at!


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One Response to “Trooper Traverse 2006 – Part Three”

  1. Steve Lipsher May 18th, 2006 9:30 am

    Fantastic write-up and photos, Lou! You’re making it difficult for me to find something original to say for my own account! Thanks to you and all of the rest of the gang — David, Scott, Mike and Louie — for just a great spring trip.

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