Annotated condensed and lightly edited account of the Trooper Traverse, Leadville to Aspen, 1944
by Richard Rocker, participant [edited by Louis Dawson]
For those of us lucky enough to be “invited” (assigned) to this venture of February 1944, it was one of the most memorable occasions of the Camp Hale experience. 24 to 25 [editor’s note: there were actually 33 men on the trip] officers and men were in the group, all ski instructors at Cooper Hill, all assigned to Mountain Training Group (M.T.G.), but otherwise between specific assignments.
Objective was to put our training and experience to the test in route finding, group cooperation, safety, self-sufficiency, etc. It was a four-day trip, each man carrying his own rations, sleeping bag, clothing and personal gear. We carried no weapons, but the packs were probably 50-60 pounds without them.
Our route was up Halfmoon Creek between Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive to Mt. Champion, then bearing right and climbing and skiing on high ridges most of the time. For two days after leaving the Halfmoon Drainage I doubt if we were under 12,000 feet at all.
We were able to stay high, mostly above timberline, because the weather was clear and relatively windless until the afternoon of the 3rd day, approaching the Williams Mountains, which we expected to be our most hazardous part of the trip — and it was. We came up to them easily enough with only a moderate climb on the northeast side. But by then it was 3:30 P.M., wind rising, clouded over, getting cold and beginning to snow. The map indicated a possible pass 3 miles north, but it was too late to get there before dark.
We decided to climb to the lowest part of the mountain above us, then hope for the best on the other side. We were lucky. From the top of the ridge we looked down a very narrow, very steep rock-studded gully that disappeared from view in 200 yards due to snow and growing darkness [The Trooper Couloir], but it looked possible, and better to risk it than stay where we were. Everybody, even our best skiers, cautiously side-stepped down the first narrow pitch, then made cautious traverses and kick turns. The snow was too crusty to allow any decent turns — no one really enjoyed it as “skiing,” but everyone made it safely out of the gully. The last 1/4 mile down into timber was safe skiing, but still snowing and too dark to see much!
Once in the timber we pitched tents, cooked supper, and hit the sleeping bags early. In the morning the weather cleared again after snow most of the night. All that was left to do was a 3-4 hour gradual downhill glide down Hunter Creek to Aspen. There was just time for a traditional Aspen Crud at the Jerome Bar before a truck arrived to take us back to Cooper Hill in time for supper.
It was a good trip, well handled by all, and a memorable one. There were a couple of other similar trips to Aspen from Hale (I know the 10th Recon made one in the fall by a different route (Homestake Creek), but I believe our M.T.G. trip was the only one in the dead of winter [that is correct].
[complete text for this account can be found in the 10th Mountain Collection at the Denver Public Library]