Last weekend Jordan White, Ari Adler, and I went for a nice three day slog, with a bit of skiing thrown in.
We started out with our skis on our packs, but that only lasted for a quarter mile. For the next 7 miles it was skis on for a hundred feet, then dirt hiking for the next hundred, with a few debris piles thrown in for good measure.
After 9 hours of hiking (that’s less than 1 mph), we made it to the lake, and set up camp. We used the energy we had left to build a nice snow kitchen, then set about making a massive dinner. The rice, beans and chicken filled up each of our 1 liter mugs, and soon our stomachs.
The next morning we woke to a few inches of new snow, and it was still snowing heavily. We ate a quick breakfast, and then set off into the blizzard. We had to navigate around the lake to the other side where the climb to Snowmass basin begins. It was debatable whether having your headlamp on helped or hurt, and either way you could only see a short ways ahead. I figured as long as I wasn’t on flat ground I was on the shore and not the ice. We eventually turned up toward Snowmass Mountain, or so we thought. Once it got light, we noticed Snowmass peak was on our right, instead of our left. Oops. We traversed back toward the lake, and got started up the right slope.
We hiked for a while longer, untill we made it to the base of the couloir on Hagerman Peak, our objective. What looked like one diagonal couloir from far away was actually two, with another one splitting them in half. We skinned as high as we could, and then commenced postholing to the base of the couloir. Once we got to the top of the first section of the chute, we decided it was too risky traversing the loaded avalanche slope to get to the next section, so we clicked in for the ski down. It was short, but full of deep powder. I ski cut it, then Jordan dropped in.
We skied out onto the apron, where the powder was even deeper. Ari decided to take a nap in the sun, while Jordan and I switched modes to boot up another couloir that led to the top of Snowmass Peak (different than Snowmass Mountain, the 14er). The clouds from the morning were nowhere to be seen, and the deep powder booting was a nice way to cool off as we made our way to the top.
We eventually reached the top, waved to Ari, and enjoyed some spectacular views of the Elks. We hiked a bit along the ridge, and got the top of a cool mini chute, that led into the big one we climbed up. I went first, and found some nice powder, as well as some icy snirt. This couloir was quite a bit longer than the first, and was a blast to ski.
We made our way back to camp, and got ready to go back to the trailhead. Not wanting to slog back down Snowmass Creek, we decided to head over Buckskin Pass, and then down to Maroon Lake. It would be about the same distance, but less dirt and less slush, hopefully. We traversed down to the bottom of the valley, and then started hiking up to the pass. The route finding was difficult, and the unfrozen snow topped with 6 inches of fresh made for difficult skinning.
We made it to treeline at about 6:30, and decided to set up camp. We were tired, and didn’t want to navigate the potential avalanche terrain on the other side of the pass in the dark. We dug a hasty campsite, and pooled our remaining food for dinner. We each got 3 slices of cheese, and 3 slices of sausage, yum! We had brought the sat phone to practice using it for Denali, so we called a few people to let them know we would be late. When I talked to my Dad, he informed me that there was a winter storm warning with 20 inches of snow forecast for that night. With this news, we went to sleep hoping we didn’t have to turn around and go the 11 miles down Snowmass Creek the next day.
The next morning we woke to only about 6 inches of new snow, although it was still snowing heavily. We decided we could still go up to Buckskin Pass, since there looked to be some scoured patches we could piece together on the way up. We slowly made our way to the top.
We stopped at a patch of rocks on top of the pass to put on our skis. Jordan shuffled over to the slope and tapped it with his ski. The new snow sluffed off, and went a little ways down the slope. We all felt relieved, none of us would have wanted to venture out onto that slope if it wouldn’t have slid. We enjoyed a few nice powder turns down to Crater Lake. It started snowing harder as we hiked to Maroon Lake, where my Dad was nice enough to pick us up and do the long shuttle back to Jordan’s truck at the Snowmass Creek trailhead.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.