14er Ski Descents – Crestone Peak – March 1, 2008
Route: South Couloir
Team: Christy, Ted
One of the things I learned from Chris Davenport’s amazing one year push was that you can ski these peaks all season long. For years I always waited for the stable spring cycle to arrive, thinking that descents made any earlier would be either dangerous or lacking enough snow. Considering spring typically arrives early to the Sangre de Cristos, Christy and I figured we should pay Crestone Peak a visit.
Christy and I cruised up the South Colony Lakes Road via snowmobile. Forty-five minutes of skinning and we were at the lower lake, and another hour or so and we were atop Broken Hand Pass. Even in summer, the Crestoness have a remote feel. When we clicked into our skis and descended the other side of the pass (~800 vertical feet) to Cottonwood Lake, we felt like we were really out there. After traversing under the awesome Crestone Needle, we grabbed a snack and readied for the climb up the prominent South Couloir of Crestone Peak. It looked rather filled in, at least as good or better than any pictures I had seen recently. The first 14er of the season is always tough. Altitude is noticeable (I often find myself with a headache), and as we skinned to the base of the 2000 vertical foot steep couloir we were both hoping the snow was firm.
Lucky for us, it was. We kicked a trail up the gradually steepening couloir, counting steps, taking turns, until we were there. It was cool to catch an absolutely perfect day, while still in calendar winter and in such a remote place and on a super challenging peak. We were ecstatic.
There was a bit of wind on the summit so we decided it would be best to be quick and get going, we had a long way to go to get home. The summit is airy, and with little snow. About twenty horizontal feet to the east starts the South Couloir– some billy-goating atop precipitous cliffs could get you from the benchmark to the snow, or a long reach with a probe pole. We discussed the ethics involved with starting at the edge of the snow and ruled it in the best interest of safety. The edge of the summit is still technically “the summit” and even that had some tricky maneuvering to get through.
We made our way down, skiing cautiously on the firm snow so as to avoid any falls. Firm snow is great for climbing, but would be slide-for-life conditions were there to be a fall. Christy had recently decided that in hopes of tackling some of the more challenging peaks this spring, should switch from her tele’s to an AT setup, opting for a bit more control on often encountered variable snow. She had descended 27 peaks on her telemark skis.
So down we went, threading through some narrow sections down low, eventually finding ourselves back near the lake where we scarfed down a late lunch and put our skins back on for the return grunt over the pass. On the other side we found some real snow, and a short while later were back at the truck for the five hour trip home. Another great day and only two peaks left for me to finish! If the weather looks good we might head to Culebra next week.