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