Bob Perlmutter and I have been looking at this peak for years. As the highpoint of the Williams Mountains (subrange of the Sawatch east of Aspen), Williams is not a huge bulky 14er but rather a craggy granite arete that involves less vertical than its bigger brothers, but is more involved than most 14ers because of the somewhat remote location and cliffy granite topography. Reminiscent of the Tetons.
Above is the view you get of Williams when you’re on just about any peak north of Independence Pass. I’m fairly certain the couloirs shown in the photo have been skied, but not from the summit as they’re actually on the face of a ridge which connects to the summit via a knife ridge (at upper arrow).
We used the visible couloirs for our ascent route (Louie climbed the right hand, the rest of us took the left), but noticed they were indeed impossible to connect from the peak top so we dropped another route on the northeast side of the peak (descent route not shown in photo above). We’re thinking this may have been the first summit ski descent of the peak, as it was somewhat tricky to put together.
You need good strategy to do a peak such as this in a day, while keeping it relatively enjoyable. We knew the most direct approach would be the Lost Man drainage, but also knew Lost Man would involve early morning torture skiing/walking up a pack trail with intermittent snow. Instead, we opted to leave from a higher trailhead, stay above timberline, and skin over Geissler Pass (see map below).
This proved to be an excellent choice that quickly brought us to the base of the peak. On the return, we did head down Lost Man. That was a brutal slog. Better would have been to slug it out back over Geissler Pass (provided the snowpack had not become dangerously gloppy — which it did not during this trip). In photo: Bob to left, then Anda and Louie. at Geissler Pass.
|Early start was required. We left Carbondale at 3:00 A.M., and got this alpinglow view of famous Grizzly Peak while we ripped skins at Geissler Pass a few hours later.|
|Heading down from Geissler Pass, Williams on horizon. This would be the first of 4 climbs/descents we’d do throughout what proved to be an amazing day of covering ground and enjoying perfect weather (add a couple more laps for Bob, who did a few hundred bonus vert to ski from the summit of South Williams).|
|Figures in the landscape — Bob and Anda approach Williams southeast ridge.|
|Anda in the southeast face couloir we used to gain the knife ridge.|
|The terrain got spicy once we exited the snow climbing. We ended up on a rocky knife ridge with somewhat scary fall potential. Not technically difficult, but I was thinking a rope would be handy just for peace of mind. In photo above, Louie rests in a secure position after we’d handed our packs to each other so we could wriggle through a chimney. Without as much snow, perhaps there is an easier way. But then, we wouldn’t have been there.|
At any rate, we end up on a tippy summit that reminds me of Pyramid Peak. We can’t see any obvious way to ski down, an only one route leads off the top. Luckily, I remembered having once seen the usually hidden northeast side of the peak, and knew there was a a skiable line that involved working around some cliffs. So Bob went first to see if we could make it around the corner.
Bob gave it a thumbs up, but waited till I explored another option to skier’s right. A few weeks prior, with more snowcover there may have been another route where I looked. Instead, I had a 10 minute climb-out back to Bob’s position. While climbing, I passed over a glide crack that was at least 10 feet deep and similar to a smaller bergschrund on a glacier. The snowpack in this area is beyond “thick,” and way more copious than normal.
|Our descent route. The slopes were your basic 45 degree terrain, with some steeper bulges and a bit of technical stuff getting off the summit. I’d rate our descent route as Grade IV D13 R4|
|Anda opens it up on the apron at base of face. We were feeling pretty energetic at this point. Next up was an 800 vert slog over a ridge so we’d be back in a home drainage. We got that done and felt pretty good, so we skinned up to Trooper Point (see map below), where we waited as super-fit Bob climbed a few hundred more vert and skied off the summit of South Williams. Trooper Point is where you end up on the last climb of the Trooper Traverse. Last run, we dropped a beautiful bowl off Trooper Point, then did our duty as slogsters by stumbling down Lost Man Creek to the Independence Pass Road.|
|Bob crashes out while Louie thumbs a ride to retrieve our wheels. Well deserved! Yep, those are Garmont Axons.|
|Beware, after a day with Bob your route might look like the trail of a hungry coyote.|
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.