Baldy Mtn A - 13,155 feet
PT 13,244 - 13,244 feet
Baldy Mtn A - 13,155 feet
PT 13,244 - 13,244 feet
|Unranked & Unnamed|
The West Willow Valley & I have a long running history. My first season (13 years ago) living in Snowmass Village
friends had shown me the ease & access of sidecountry runs with "Mr. Magoo's", "Gaper Bowl", & "Bobbitt's Cut Off".
Before we go any further - I'll show you the map that lives in the Wapiti Wildlife Center at the top of the Elk Camp
Lift on the Snowmass Resort. The aerial shot shows 13,244 in the upper left, Snowmass Mountain is clearly visible
above the "5", Baldy Mountain's summit is lookers up & left from the "3". "Widowmaker" is a run a few of my friends
dropped last season (low on the picture, just above the words "She's Easy"). I use the word "run" loosely... another
sign from patrol in the warming hut states that these are the names used to describe common avalanche slide paths.
Those first eleven seasons 10-12 were the only drops I would attempt off the south side of the resort. Starting last
season, now armed with B/P/S & more knowledge of the terrain, some friends & I decided to take a stroll to the top of
Baldy Mountain. I wanted to check the remaining route to 13,244 so I charged out to the western end of Baldy's ridge
(only about 15 feet lower than the summit). I was able to get this shot of my friends & Savage Peak (poking out to the
right of Baldy's summit).
I returned to the summit, enjoyed the views, & joined my friends strapping in for the descent. The stoke was high!
"Novias" was our run of choice that day. It starts with a traversing move along the south side of Baldy, then cuts back
to an aesthetic north facing slope... on this day loaded with unbelievably soft powder! The rest of the day went
smooth (even with snowshoes having to go on) & we made it to Gwyn's for a few drinks from the bar by mid-afternoon.
This January during the massive dry spell across most the state & with favorable CAIC forecasts - we got to thinking
... time to delve into the West Willow Valley a little more? Many routes that required little or no hiking awaited us off
the south of the resort. The summit took a back seat to the efforts of exploring more lines.
"Juan's Way" was one that caught my eye many years ago. It has a distinct row of trees high on a flanking ridge -
making it easier to spot from above. If you missed these trees and entered the basin lower - you would soon be
standing on top of some sketchy fifty foot cliffs. We entered with caution & luckily found some wonderful turns! As
luck would also aid us - we had supportable snow on the hike out, no snowshoes needed... always a plus!
"Hair Balls" was the next line to the west... we went for it later that week. It sits at the other end of the band of
trees, high in the basin. Albeit less visible from the Elk Camp lift - we felt confident we could pick a line down its
treed slopes (& we did). The lower powder meadows alone made this day a hit.
A few days later down "Hair Balls" was a scary one. We dropped skiers right, into a more open section, closer to
"Featherbed". My friend, Eric, went first without issue. I slowly rolled in off the cornice, knowing to minimally disturb
cornices is a safe practice. A few feet down from the cornice I popped a small ollie off a bump (waist-high drop, 10
feet distance). I had two choices around a small patch of rocks; right or left. I chose right & continued making turns
down the slope. Two turns in I saw moving snow a few feet to my left... my small air had started a slide. I threw on
the brakes & quickly assessed the situation. Eric was safely farther left in a small stand of trees. I too was safely at
the side of the carnage. The initial break had been shallow (approximately 4 or 5 inches deep). As it worked down the
slope it kicked up more moving snow; gouging out as much as a foot in spots. Viewing the aftermath; we decided this
had definitely been a storm slab - produced from a light snow & heavy winds a few days prior. It took us a few
moments to calm down from the event. We rode down - finding solace in powdery turns.
We all took a couple days away from it... the scare had got us all good. Inbounds had trouble keeping me entertained.
Later that week cooler temperatures, a promising CAIC update, and the idea to ride the lowest angle run - "She's Easy"
all fell into place. The weather was moody... but the couple pits we dug showed signs of stability. As far as the riding
went - it was easily the worst conditions we'd experienced in the WWV during our January adventures. The caveat -
"Better to have safe conditions than fun conditions" (a saying I've been saying more and more often lately). This final
trip into the basin for the month had us wishing we'd brought snowshoes... We jokingly decided that our variant of the
route should be called "She's Easy... Sometimes"!
February came, we finally got the snow we had so desperately needed, & a few of us decided to give South Wilson a
go (that's a whole 'nother story, & trip report!). Then it didn't stop snowing... not that we complained! Some of my
fondest memories on my snowboard ever; & on inbounds terrain to boot! Late March rolled around & we decided it
was time to test the waters (frozen of course) again. As per the normal protocol; we tried "Mr. Magoo's" to get a
taste of the conditions on the backside.
It's been almost a year... why don't we try for the top again? So "Novias" round two went down that same week.
A bomber pit & chilly temperatures on the mostly north facing run led to a safe adventure. The snow was possibly the
best I've ever ridden (that or the prior year, same run)!
After the stoke of a powdery summit descent... My friend, Chelsie, & I decided to "break her in" to the happenings of
the WWV the next day. Our first run down "Mr. Magoo's" was fairly uneventful on solid snow. The day was heating up
... we decided to try a second lap; this time down "Juan's Way". The cornice was more menacing than in January (we
had scoped out a low point the previous lap). Below the cornice I dug a pit; a strong base slab... with a few inches of
wet snow on top. Just how wet - we would soon find out. She moved to our first safe spot after she worked past the
cornice. I was working along the ridge of trees toward safe spot two when I saw some of my wet sluff take off to my
right. About this same time I heard the call - "Avalanche"! I looked to my left and saw the real movement; a twenty
foot wide section of the gully moving. Due to the wet nature of the slide; this one looked like it was happening in slow
motion. After the initial adrenaline wore off - we discussed options. I would ride down the slide path to the third safe
spot (a lower angle slope, near exposed grass). We both carefully made the safe spot & viewed the carnage. It had
only been about five inches of wet snow - the width & length it ran left quite a debris pile at the bottom though. Both
a bit spooked - we didn't waste any time getting back inbounds.
Two & a half weeks passed. Between the fears associated with the slides I'd started & the busy finish to our winter
season; I hadn't found the time or energy (emotional or physical) to get back out beyond the ropes. Sometimes you
can't find the time; you must make it. So a week into April plans were made... Baldy with the possibility of "Do It
Again" (an unranked 12er) as our goals for the day. You start the run from the summit just as you would for "Novias".
As you near the section that contours north - you stay on the ridge, more or less proper. A short 15 minute hike later
& we were on top of "Do It Again" (12,796 on most topo maps). Care must to be taken; both Malley & I almost fell into
a trance (& off a cliff!) staring at Pyramid & the Bells! This vantage point is my favorite view of these peaks I've yet
found! Continuous snow didn't start for 20 or 30 feet (some years you will get lucky and have it). This wasn't a
problem as we both were happy to take in the views & enjoy our turns soon enough. The snow this day was definitely
stable, but again not as enjoyable as we'd been hoping for, a sastrugi variety for sure! We still made sure to enjoy
ourselves! The pipe traverse is now completely dry... ahhh - nothing like an Elk Mountains scramble to end your
After viewing 13,244 & its Waterfall Basin from Baldy Mountain in April 2014 I knew it was just a matter of time before I
made my way back one more basin to stand atop this Elk beauty. Its east face has a variety of lines, suitable for an
assortment of riding levels. The biggest problem is getting out... the bottom of the valley is private property (T Lazy 7).
Some of my earliest ideas had us going down to the junction with West Willow Creek, then climbing back toward the Elk
Camp Lift (about 1500 vertical feet, on questionable terrain). After reviewing Futhermore's report of 13,244 - I felt
I saw an option through the cliff bands just south of "Novias". This would surely be an efficient route back to "home"
terrain. I spoke with my friend Bone about this peak... he said he had a friend that was in too! So that same week -
the three of us - Bone, Jeff, & I headed up the mountain again. We made quick work of Baldy & managed to ride a
traversing cut off the summit toward the ridge to 244. With much rolling terrain along the ridge - we all 3 booted our
way to the top of the false summit of 244. The views here were getting better & better... a short downclimb followed
by a quick ridge hike & we found ourselves on the summit! We all smiled our fullest smiles... this was a very special
place to find ourselves at on a beautiful spring morning! On the days leading up to this climb - Bone & I had discussed
other bailout options from the bottom of this run if we didn't all like the looks of the route through the cliff band. The
one we discussed and had agreed on from the top would give us about 600 feet of a run down a nice wide "rock free"
(from what we could tell) section of the east face. We would then boot it up 500+ feet to again traverse Baldy's south
face - this time west to east toward "Novias". After the typical pictures, food, & water... we knew we would need to
dig a pit. Jeff & Bone quickly & carefully positioned themselves about 20 feet below the summit. I stayed above...
knowing that if anything went wrong - I'd have to play the part of the hero. Luckily the pit was only about 3
or 4 feet deep before they hit rock. The layers were much as to be expected; graupel near the ground with a rather
solid layer through most the higher snowpack. After a few different weighting techniques produced favorable results -
we all three agreed we were happy enough to give the Waterfall Basin a run. Okay... hikes over, game plan figured,
pit dug, only thing left to do is put the planks to the snow! After reclimbing the short bit to the summit we went down
- one at a time - enjoying the wonderful snow! At the bottom of the 600 feet we all felt content to get back toward
the ridge & enjoy our "home" basin & get back to the safety (& beers) inbounds would offer. The skiers kept the plastic
boots on the snow. I, on the other hand, had another option - dry rock! My section of rock went most the way to the
ridge... and I do love scrambling! Our paths eventually crossed as we had to top out on a cornice... my axe came out.
I debated getting the crampons on too; it seemed silly though - the top of the cornice was only 30 or 40 feet above
me. I asked Jeff if he would mind leading - ski boots do kick such nice booters for us snowboarders! He graciously led
us toward the low point of the cornice (maybe 2 feet tall). Here he asked to borrow my axe to surmount it... I replied
"Its tethered to me". Without a second thought he flipped his poles upside down and jammed them into the snow as
far back as he could reach. A couple more kicks and he was up. Bone had went around the ten foot tall section of the
cornice to the west. We anxiously waited for him to top out. Once all reunited we made our final hike toward Baldy's
southwest ridge. Once high enough for the traverse to "Novias" we knew we were more or less in the clear from this
further basin. The run out was again very fun... and the drinks afterwards tasted good - both just as predicted.
The following Monday while at the employee party on Snowmass Resort I had a chance to sit & reflect about many of
the adventures this season & my life in general. I was waiting for Bone & his friend John to drop Garrett Peak (12,808,
unranked). Without a splitboard we'd decided it was a better idea for me to sit this one out. I sat outside the ropes
- at an area known as "West Sneaky's". I had people with me out there at times, but ultimately had almost an hour
just to myself. Risk & reward was definitely on my mind. I knew from my various adventures my risk tolerance was
high. Even with the two slides; I feel the rewards of playing in the backcountry are worth it. These aren't even the
first slides I've started - they were just the largest. Other thoughts entered my mind: friends riding without helmets
or people living in cities (car accident death is not how I want to go!). At the end of the day - we all make decisions
- and mine is to continue this mountain passion! Its been one hell of a ride - I doubt I could stop now - even if I
A huge thanks to all my sidecountry friends (excluding the first 11 years - too many names to remember!): Adam Lay,
Eric Kincade, Kenny Hoffman, Kyle Raymond, Augustus Hoy, Matt Pine, James Harvey, Jonah Derflinger, Matt Seaver,
JR Wang, Chelsie DeMarco, Aaron Malley, Michael Bone, Jeffrey Pitts, and I'm sure there are others I'm missing... or
they are missing out there... Just kidding!
Oh... and one final thing... stay safe out there my friends & keep climbing!
|Comments or Questions|
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