Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wolf Creek Pass - January 2012

Last Tuesday Jordan and I headed down to the San Juans with the intention of spending four days exploring and touring in new zones. After spending a day at Silverton the previous weekend we knew to expect wind and sun affected snow. So, we initially headed further south to Wolf Creek Pass, where we knew winds had been less significant, and the snowpack was deeper. 

As our good friend Max, who has been busy in med school in New Orleans for the last two years, would be joining us on the second day, Jordan and I spent the first day sledding around looking for a zone that we could lap with our sleds. We started lower down on the east side of the pass and found a generally shallow and faceted snowpack. But, boy the terrain was rowdy there, I wish there had been more snow!

Jordan 10 miles from the trailhead and stoked about it:

Knowing that we would find better snow, but less vertical and more people at the top of the pass, we waited until last to check that out. And we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset from above the summit of the pass:

Alpenglow to the southeast:
 
Satisfied that we had found some acceptable terrain for the next day we enjoyed the sunset before heading down in the growing darkness:

Max and Josh joined us at our hotel in South Fork in the evening, and on Wednesday morning we headed back up to the top of Wolf Creek Pass:
 
After shuttling the crew and the sleds up the pass we dropped into our first lap. Its been three and a half weeks since Wolf Creek last received snowfall, and the upper, more visible pitches looked like a ski area. Still, the snow was remarkably good. Josh:

Below the upper pitch we dropped into a north facing old growth forest and quickly left the other tracks behind, finding instead awesome untracked creamy snow below perfectly spaced trees. After two laps in these amazing trees, we headed just south to a different basin where Jordan and I had seen some cliffs the day before. This lap proved just as fun as the previous laps, with the added bonus of some airtime on the way down.
 
We finished off the day with this awesome little cliff band that dropped into a small meadow followed by more pillows:
 
Originally, we had been considering heading to a different part of the San Juans on Thursday, but the skiing and snowpack on Wolf Creek Pass was just too good to pass up. So, Jordan, Josh, and I headed back up for another lap in the zone we skied the previous afternoon. Josh warmed up with this little number:

Then followed it up with this drop, before ripping another 200 vertical feet through the mushroom pillows below:

I was all the more impressed with Josh's line when he called up from the bottom to report that he had lost part of his ski pole on the way down:

The sun was quickly warming the easterly aspects, so we headed south to check out a different north facing zone that we had seen in the morning. Here we found shorter but steeper runs. Josh wasted no time sending this drop into the chute below:
 

Locating the new zone and finding its best terrain took a fair amount of time, so we had to call it quits for the day after one run there. That evening Josh headed back to work in Northern Colorado. Grete, on the other hand, after hearing our positive reports from the last three days, headed down from CB to join us. Friday morning we headed back to the zone where we had finished the day before. Jordan dropping into a window of sunlight:

After a lap here we sledded south to the base of Treasure Mountain, a funny little mountain that stands all by itself below the larger peaks in every direction. An easy skin brought us to our lunch destination at the summit. Looking southeast:

Jordan stoked:

Looking northwest:

The ski down the wind-scoured flanks of Treasure Mountain did not provide the best skiing, but the views were unbeatable! Grete:

To finish off the day, we headed northwest to another zone we'd seen the day before. We found some large to really large cliffs there, all of which were a bit big for the current snow conditions. I'd definitely like to hit these when the snow is a bit softer though! Avoiding the cliffs, we skied soft glades and gnome trees back to the sleds. Another fun set of pillows:
 
Overall this trip was incredible!!! I can't believe how well the snowpack has been preserved with no new snow in nearly a month. Without a snowmobile the touring options are great, with one they are endless. Further, I had no idea how incredible and accessible the backcountry around Wolf Creek Pass is: there is everything from perfect glades to pillows to cliffs to, well, everything.