Leading into day 2 of Aspen Expeditions ski mountaineering program this April the weather got a little bit tricky. Nathan and I decided to go out for our second day on Wednesday the 5th of April 2017. A potent little storm system rolled in late Monday night.
Snow had dropped to the valleys Tuesday morning and my wife Ella and I skied the upper end of green trees in Maroon bowl early Tuesday in 8 inches of blower mid storm snow. There was wild rippled texture across the NW face of Maroon bowl but it actually didnt ski slabby in the trees at all.
Tuesday into Wednesday I was pretty keyed in to the increase in snow / wind load and the potential increase in avalanche hazard. I frequently searched upper elevation weather stations for snow totals and wind speeds. Nathan and I were in communication and we had several options for our tour.
Ultimately we decided we would go up into the South Hayden Zone and take a look at the Tri Hayden Traverse. This is a traverse I have always wanted to complete, linking north facing shots from South Hayden to Ski Hayden. The Snowmass and Highlands wind readings had only bumped into gusts of moderate and showed single digit temps at 330 am on Wednesday so we were hopeful the new snow might not be slabby and we would have an epic day.
We met at the Snomass park and ride at 430 and dropped a car at the Conundrum Creek pull out because we hoped to hit the long NW finish off of Hayden into Conundrum valley to end the day. By 5 am we skinned south toward pine creek and made our way up aspen forests into the mellow alpine basin north of Leahy Peak.
But alas, when we reached the basin the snow was thick and drifted. Nathan and I traded trail breaking as we remained hopeful, staring up into the beautifully coated alpine peaks.
But as we climbed further we noticed streaming plumes of wind blown snow feathered off the peaks and when we attempted to climb the east ridge of South Hayden we were beaten back with blasting wind and snow. The overnight low temperature on the Snowmass weather station had read 5 degrees fahrenheit and as we pushed up the ridge I was worried for the potential for frost bite. We even had a small pocket of wind slab crack apart on the ridge under our weight. With a quick discussion we decided to drop mellow SE slopes from low on the ridge and make our way down the basin. The wind slab was isolated to the ridge and the SE slope skied well with blown in powder.
We were perplexed by the isolated upper elevation wind speeds and we decided to ski the lower elevation Monument peak to the parking lot. Funny enough with only a short descent to Monument peak the wind had all but died completely. We looked back up into the alpine at the pluming and speculated that the upper elevation winds might die with the warming of the day. Regardless we decided to drop monument to the parking lot to salvage a lift access run at Highlands. The Monument drop skied pretty deep off the first few pitches but the new snow warmed up in the sun and we were careful through some steep rolls lower in the elevation bands and stuck to the tight trees. In the spring time when you get significant new snow and it warms up with above freezing temps and sun it is instantly suspect for wet loose slides or even soft slabs.
As Nathan and I drove back down Castle Creek to grab my car at Conundrum road we discussed the option of east verse west drop off of Highlands. We decided the northwest aspects would be holding out the best against the warm low elevation temperatures. The summit of Lodge peak on Highlands is close to 2000 feet lower than where we spun around on our Hayden attempt. As we rode the lift up around noon I looked down at the north facing low elevation snow in the ski area and noticed it was staying dry from cold temperatures in the shade. I knew that the drop would be incredible.
We dropped northwest from 12000 feet in a bowl called Desolation Row just south of Maroon bowl off of the highlands ridge hike. It had been many years since I had been in Desolation Row. It is a bowl I skied a handful of times with my friends during our first season out here, the deep 07 / 08 snow year. The snow was not wind effected at all and it skied beautifully 4000 feet down to Maroon creek. We had no cracking in the storm snow but some significant sluffing in the new snow as we skied steep NW slopes below tree line on top of a firm melt freeze crust. It was fun skiing technical little double fall line chutes and ridge and managing the sluff.
When we reached Maroon Creek Nathan and I put skins on and skinned north a long the creek to find the standard log crossing at the base of Maroon Bowl marked by a hoolahoop. We lost and found the t lazy 7 summer horse riding trail as we skinned down the creek. It brought back memories of running a long the same trail up to Maroon Lake years ago when I lived at the T lazy 7 ranch. I remembered running in the fall during some of the first snows of the season and seeing mountain lion prints in the snow. I still have not completed the tri Hayden ski traverse. As we skinned in the warm April sun along the bubbling Maroon Creek I was happy we backed off of it that day.