We finally skied Treasure Mountain. The massive 13,528 foot summit outside of Marble, Colorado can be seen from high points all around the Elk Range. It’s unmistakable, a hulking presence with a summit ridge that seems to be miles long. Anyone who’s been up high in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness has no doubt found themselves staring at it, often with some amount of wonder.
Treasure Mountain is an interesting one. It’s not too often that we talk about intriguing geology here in the Elk Mountains. But deep in the valley on Treasure Mountain’s northwest side there’s an active marble quarry that’s provided the marble for some noteworthy clients including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the outside of the Lincoln Memorial. On the flanks of the quarry is Treasure Mountain which has its own unique history for geology buffs:
A mountain as big as Treasure offers several options for climbing and skiing. The northeast side has several large bowls that descend more than 4,000 vertical feet to the valley floor and leave you somewhere on the road between Crystal and Marble. The west/southwest side offers just as many options, and all the routes there lead to Yule Creek. Access to the mountain can be made either from the northwest out of the town of Marble, or from the southeast via Crested Butte and Yule Pass.
Sean, Christy, and I naturally opted to start outside of Marble. We made our way from the Marble Peak/Mount Justice trailhead area up into Yule Creek where we began the long 4000+ foot climb up Treasure Mountain’s west side. The skinning was pretty smooth, recent storms had refreshed the snow so the surface wasn’t firm, it was powder. As we ascended east, the length of the mountain’s ridge was apparent, it seemed like we were nearing the top for hours. Only when we reached a high point on the long summit ridge were we able to see the actual summit, which was several sub-summits farther away to the east.
We crossed the summit plateau which was wide and flat in parts, so much so that at times it felt like we were making some sort of polar crossing. We had to be careful not to venture too far to our left because the summit plateau drops off the northeast side dramatically, and there are huge cornices to consider. Don’t get too close if you don’t know exactly where you are.
Once on the summit we had a good view of Crested Butte, and we pondered the options. A direct ski descent from there would put us near Yule Pass, and we would have a bit of work to get back to the trailhead. Instead we opted to return along the summit ridge, in the direction we came, with the goal of skiing a big cirque we scouted on the way up. We pulled our skins and began making our way back.
The skiing was fantastic, the recent storms left a foot of new snow everywhere and the temps were cold enough that the snow wasn’t being trashed by the heat. We figure we had about 3600 vertical feet of powder to the valley floor. Once down at Yule Creek it was a little work to get back to the car, you can’t just descend the creek directly or you’ll end up at the quarry.
Treasure Mountain delivered. It was worth the wait.