| Northeast Face Survival Ski
Photo provided by Bill Middlebrook
Cronin Peak – Northeast Face
Climbers/Skiers – Myself and Ben
Mileage/Vert/Time – 13 to 14 miles, 4400 ft, 8 hours flat
Food Rations – Triscuits and Red Peppers Hummus, Peppermint Patties, Kroger Fruit Snacks, King Soopers Sweet and Spicey Trail Mix and lots and lots of Vitamin Water
I just finished digesting what hopefully was the meal that replenished 50% of the calories I burnt over the weekend during a quest for Couloirs in the Sawatch Range and now am ready to write a TR. A 12” Buffalo Chicken sandwich from Peppino’s in Frisco, 32oz Mountain Dew, leftover half sleeve of Salt N’ Vinegar Pringles, breakfast burrito, hot pockets, leftover trail mix and then a rather large bowl of Fettuccini Alfredo have made up the brunt of my feasts since stepping off Cronin yesterday afternoon. To date, I don’t think I’ve burned more energy in my entire life, or at least sweat more. To put things in perspective, I sweat straight through my softshell jacket. I honestly didn’t know that was possible. When you are forced to follow your 26 year old determined and in better shape partner, these things tend to occur.
First things first, the intermission feast :
The Intermission Feast
On Saturday, a solid group of us skied the Hopeful Couloir on Centennial Mount Hope from Sheep Gulch. It was the best line of the year and it was reminiscent of the quality experienced in 2011 and that is no lie. Ben and I were looking to keep the momentum going and moved camp South to CR-162 that evening, nabbing a solid free site about a half mile from the Baldwin Gulch TH. With a fire ban in place, we put on a few more down layers and replenished ourselves with 10 brats between 3 people (Elliot, from 14ers joined us for the feast after skiing Hope, but decided to sleep in the next morning due to too many days in a row of couloir searching).
We hit the trail around 5:45am with the anticipation of a somewhat leisurely day, specially since NOAA had forcasted 20-30mph winds and the occasional 45 mph gust. This would hopefully cool the Northeast face we planned on skiing that day.
One thing we underestimated was the length of the road. Ben set a rather grueling pace throughout the entire approach.
A free clinic on river crossings with skis
The skinning on the road was problematic for your mental and emotional well being, not to mention physical. What started out as smooth skinning, quickly turned to post hole hell. Now I have a number of friends who are snow shoers and, after years of reflection, have come to terms with the fact that there are people out there who simply don’t care, know how or want to ski. I’ve never given anyone an earful for slaughtering skin tracks for fear of being “that guy”, nor am I some TGR forum assbag who lets stuff like that bother me. With that being said, Ben and I witnessed some of the more impressive and haunting post hole tracks to date. At one point, during a quick rest, I noticed a post hole so deep, there was a chest imprint. The poor guy then proceeded to try and find a way around to the left but found a hidden downed log, probably holed again, banged his knee, thrashed some tree branches, looped back around, only to find a similar fate on the other side of the road, then sat there hopeless in disbelief. I only know this cause Ben and I both experienced this numerous times throughout the day, even on skis.
We reached a point where the shoer track went left towards Antero and then a faint skin track went right in to the trees toward Cronin’s Northeast Amphitheatre. Not 50 yards after the turn off, the fun really began. There is a force at work in the hills of Colorado this year, I’m convinced. Every outing I’ve experienced below treeline has been a clinic in anger management. I turned 30 last year. One of my new decade resolutions was to try and control my childish, impulsive frustrations (i.e. complete mental breakdowns) usually experienced when travelling in the backcountry. I don’t always act this way, but as most mountain folk hopefully realize, it ain’t always a bed of roses experience. Looking at it from a glass half full perspective, I look at those experiences as a way to enrich one’s view when you finally reach that ridgeline or mountain pass or summit or pristine mountain lake. I also view “losing your shit” in the mountains a positive thing, cause if one was to act that way in an urbanized environment with other people around, you would probably be branded a bonafide psychopath.
With that being said, the travel through the trees was borderline nightmarish. The snowpack could not and would not support 1/10 of our weight. In fact, at one point, Ben took off his sack and when he placed it down in the snow, it sunk. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
After a grueling pace up the road and through the trees, we finally reached a clearing and took a short break. At this point, following a 4700 foot day at Hope, I personally, was somewhat spent. Realizing though, that this was still “early season” I decided to just push through it.
Here is a good example of my average posture displayed from tree line on throughout the day :
getting worn down
From treeline, we had an open clearing of mostly grass and some mellow snow lines to gain the NE ridge of Cronin. We enjoyed the consistency and stableness of the terrain and made up for lost time.
Heading in to Amphitheatre of NE Face
Checking out the face a little closer
We gained the ridge around 10am and had around another 600-700 feet to go to the summit. It was nothing more than a class 2+ ridge run and we were trying to beat the clock before it melted the entire Northeast Face to its summer form. The views were sweet and we scouted out potential ski lines for this rapidly ending spring season.
Solid line for 2012
even better. Anyone know which peak this is?
close up of the face before summiting
We topped out around just before 11 on this fine April spring day (felt more like summer to be honest).
Most of the Sawatch 14ers were looking more or less unskiable from our vantage point. Other than maybe the Box Creek Chutes, Massive, a boney line down La Plata and a very very creative and courageous line down the North Face of Tabeguache, there is pretty much nothing else worth, or even feasible, to consider. With that being said, we scouted out some lines and hopefully with a little research, will be able to hit them before the season is up.
Anyways, we began the ski around 1130am. The conditions up top were above average, reminiscent of the Hopeful the day before. Some chalky powder turns were even experienced down the most aesthetic and exciting section of the face. As we got down lower, conditions deteriorated rather quickly. The snow got heavy at times, but then would quickly turn to stalagtite, sun crusted, rotten snow and this made consistent turns problematic, and at times, frustrating, not to mention physically exhausting. I, personally, had to take a load off after each round of turns to catch my breathe.
Some shots of the face and the ski :
Tabeguache's North Face
Antero in the backdrop
The lower one fourth of the face was completely bare and required a ski release for 20-30 feet before skiing out the “apron” to the valley below. We both felt fortunate to be skiing on Ski Logik’s, as anything lighter or less stiff would’ve been made the Northeast Face’s bitch on this day.
Ullr Chariot's smiling back at the melting face
Naively thinking the worst was over, we casually skied out towards treeline. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure what we were expecting when we entered tree line, since the colder snow in the morning couldn’t support us, not sure why we thought the heated up snowpack would fare any better. Lots of expletives were tossed around, and the amount of downed branches that came victim to my ski pole looked eerily similar to the Ardennes Forest after the Battle of the Bulge.
We reached the road and it was all downhill from there (99% of it at least), only problem was the consolidated snow was a narrow 2 foot wide strip of post holes. Ironically the very post holes I cursed all morning would now serve as our only feasible way out of there, as the snow on the sides couldn’t support our body weight, even leaning back on our tails, resulting in us sub-marining in to the depths of god knows what. Throw in exposed rocks, blue ice, huge puddles and 4 miles of it and I don’t think I need to explain any further.
One positive came out of the descent down the road. When we reached the car and hesitantly went to look at our bases, we both noticed there wasn’t a single core shot or even a noticeable ding. Ben toting the Ski Logik Ullr Chariots and myself the Howitzers, we were in total shock, as both of us hit some serious rocks, and hit them hard. At one point, as I was skimming along the road, unable to find a chance to slow my progress, a rock kindly did so for me and I nearly flipped forward from the friction. Any other ski and that would’ve ripped over 50% of the entire base right off the ski. The Howitzer and its panther design simply ate it and went about its business. One tough ski, all I’ve gotta say about that.
All in all, a great weekend of skiing in the Sawatch. With this snowpack and not much hope for storms in the future, this season is going to be over very soon, for climbers and skiers. Go get em while you can and make em count. Thanks for reading.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):