Yesterday we had one of those days of ski alpinism when everything seems to go right. The goal was Montezuma Basin, the cirque on the east side of two 14,000 foot peaks (Castle and Conundrum). First order of the day was a fun drive up the 4×4 trail to the base of the snow. This is always a bit rough just after snowmelt, but nothing a well driven stock SUV or 4×4 truck can’t handle (you do need a gear low enough for crawling, so we’re talking vehicles with a two-speed transfer case). The drive is just challenging enough to keep you awake after an alpine start. Snow blocked the road at about 12,000 feet elevation so we parked and hiked from there.
We were amazed at how good the snow surface was — coated and evened out by some sleet the evening before, firm but not icy. Our first goal for backcountry skiing was the north couloir on Castle, but it was partly melted out and looked like a rockfall fest as these mountains are nothing less than gigantic rock piles. (Later in the day, we watched a loud rockfall tumble from near the summit of Castle down the couloir.) Across the cirque from Castle is another worthy ski descent, the Conundrum Couloir, which I was excited to see in near perfect condition. Since a couple of our group weren’t ready for that kind of descent we split into two groups. Luke, Louie and I did the Couloir, while Jason and Collin made a few laps on the headwall in the upper basin and worked on their tans (actually, everyone was eventually working on their tans — like I said, it was a day when everything went right.)
|Luke in Conundrum Couloir, just above the steepest section. At about 45 degrees steep it keeps your attention, but it’s not terrifying. The walls of the couloir keep the choke in shade for most of the morning, however, so just when you hit the steepest section you’re skis are chattering on ice instead of spooning through buttered corn. That’s Collin, Jason and Louie watching from down in the basin.|
|Louie entering Conundrum Couloir. Highly recommended. Should be good for a few more days.|
|Conundrum Peak as viewed from Castle Peak. Snow coverage is frequently about 50% of what’s shown in this photo.|