Peak(s):  Silverheels, Mt  -  13,822 feet
Date Posted:  04/12/2016
Modified:  04/13/2016
Date Climbed:   04/07/2016
Author:  bergsteigen
Additional Members:   joelmpaula
 Starting Spring Skiing off with some Silver Heels   


Trailhead: Gold Dust Trail
Route: Ascent - East Gully, Descent - South Face
Mileage: 10.97
Elevation Gain: 4,262'
CAIC Rating: Moderate (yellow), trending green
Partners: Joel the Birthday Boy, Max the Mountain Herding Border Collie and Zach (a new to me Zach)

After a day of skiing a new line with Fritz, and hitting up a Butler Gulch lap as bonus, I raced out to Fairplay to get a eye on the south face of Silverheels. Can't ski a line that's not in! Thankfully I arrived just before sunset to see that it was marginal. Then while I waited for Joel's reply, I was treated to a spectacular sunset.

The next part of the night was a little less fun. Rather chaotic and frustrating. Finding trailheads in the dark with very limited bandwidth over my phone. I drove up the road from Boreas Pass. Not finding an obvious TH, I went to search for the south access point (Current Creek Rd or 669) I could see on my map in my car. That ended 5 miles from the base of the route. Way too far, and most of it looked dry. So I drove back to the Boreas Pass road and found my usual campsite, and told Joel to meet me there in the morning - I'd had enough searching. It was about the time I got out of cell service again, that I realized I had my suite of Trails Illustrated maps in my car. So I got out the appropriate map, and then I could see where the trailhead was supposed to be. Phew! It does exist! It should be easier to find after a good sleep

Sunset over Silverheels

Sunset over South Park and the Lost Creek Wilderness

Since Joel was a little late due to forgetting his special birthday lunch, I drove back into cell range to wait. That's when I got bombarded by texts of maps and the like. A bit late, but still useful. So we then drove down the road to where we expected the TH to be. Nada. So I turned on my handheld GPS and went with that. I could then see where the trail intersected the road. So we kept driving. After a bit, I still didn't see anything that screamed TRAILHEAD! My GPS showed we had passed it somehow. So we turned around and went back slowly. Ahhh, the trail marker. A simple small metal pole in the ground. Sure to be missed in the o-dark thirty of caffeine deprived brains... so beware!

This is the trailhead... better use a GPS!

Now that we knew where we were and could see the trail, we threw the skis on our packs for what we hoped would be a short booter. Being pretty dark out, seeing snow on the trail right away doesn't always mean continuos. Plus we had a stream crossing upcoming. Thankfully there's a mini bridge for that, once we found it. We didn't go very far after the stream crossing until Joel and Zach postholed, so on went the skis and skins. The trail was reasonably packed down by snowshoers, when we could find it in the dark. Meadows seem to eradicate tracks, while denser forrest canopies seem to preserve them better. We made pretty decent time along the trail until the junction with Silverheels Creek. We decided that it would be better idea to skin up a lower angle gully than to go up the gut on the south face. We could test conditions without being below the danger areas, as well as have a backup option or two. The skinning up the drainage wasn't too bad, though the recent snow did make things a bit slower. Nearing treeline, Joel took over trail breaking duties. It was nice to finally get a view of something on the mountain, but where we took a nice break by the pretty tree, was still low enough to give us the feeling of great distance from the summit.

Joel is a tree hugger

Zach making his way up

The tree

Once we turned the corner and got a view up to the ridge, we knew we were on course to be able to skin most of the way up to the visible ridge. Thin but in. Even got treated to a huge herd of animals using a summer trail up the east ridge. While the angle increased, it never got beyond the ability to skin straight up it, so that's my signal that the slope angle is low enough to typically be safe (~27-30 degrees is about my comfortable straight skinning max). From the upper saddle, we got a view of the NE face and some of the ridge up to the summit. We had a short portage over some rocks before we were back on snow again. Here I could tell that some of the snow hadn't exactly lost all it's winter characteristics. Not fully spring isothermal snow above 13K, but rapidly approaching it.

Skinning up the east gully

The herd using the trail

NE Gully looking a bit out up top

Looking down from near the ridge of east gully - Photo Credit: Joel

Further up the never ending ridge, we could finally see the final approach to the summit ridge. Fairly wind blasted and we would have to switch from skinning to booting to the final skin to the summit. If we had to use our backup options, it wouldn't be a continuous ski. But Silverheels isn't exactly known for being in very often, and it is typically wind blasted. And wind is what we'd been feeling all day since we left the protection of the trees. No real rush to the summit, but also no reason to break for too long and get cold either.

Looking at remaining east ridge to summit - oh look! a cairn

Skinning on the ridge

Zach booting up upper ridge

Joel skinning to the summit

View back east on the ridge of Zach skinning over

Joel and I reached the summit at my upper estimate for time of arrival. We didn't exactly rush with the wind, and we also had a skimo noob with us. Zach is very familiar with slack country and backcountry, but had never done ski mountaineering before. The final push up the ridge got him, after pacing us pretty well all day. He also had his heavy BC setup with him, and when he had to carry the skis, it wasn't as much fun as skinning.

Too bad the summit was still pretty windy, so we hid just below it as we ate and relaxed for a short bit. The snow would stay cold up high, but we knew the lower basin would be baking. Nothing to be done about that.

Summit Pano

Let the Birthday summit celebration commence - or we just want to get out of the wind and ski down

We decided to drop off the eastern most portion of the summit ridge. With the recent snow and likely wind loading, I didn't like the closest line off the summit. The farther line looked much more wind scoured, no roll over and slightly lower angle as well. I dropped first as Joel held onto Max. I had to drop most of the upper face till I found a suitable safe zone at the side. Then Zach comes flying down, making half to a third less turns as either Joel or I. Guess his huge powder boards were treating him well on the variable snow we saw! Too bad I had my camera on over exposure for the first set. Mucked up a few good shots otherwise. From there we leap frogged down the line, with Max chasing after the skier going to the lowest point. He was having a fun time trying to herd us around on the mountain. Tough to play chicken with a determined herding dog! Zach even found a place to jump off of. Below in the trees he even did a nice 360. Shoot, gotta up my BC ski game now!

Do you think Max is happy to be running downhill?

Me skiing down the upper face - Photo Credit: Joel

Zach tearing down the slope - Photo Credit: Joel

My perspective of Zach the speed skier

Joel skiing past

Looking back up the slope

Zach ripping the low angle - Photo Credit: Joel

Zach jumping over rocks? Say what?!

Zach skiing

Joel Skiing

Zach enjoying his first skimo experience!


View down the lower drainage

I do like my figure 8's

Once in the lower drainage, we went through an old bristlecone pine forrest. The snow was getting pretty thin, but we managed to keep the skis on for a long time. We tried to traverse back to our trail as much as possible, but soon we were presented with collapsable snow, and dry patches. We had a few options on path as well. We could go up a nice snow ramp, gain some extra elevation gain, and possible have some cooler north facing snow off the ridge, or we could traverse over patchy snow to where the trail was. Somehow after deciding on the patchy traverse, we just seemed to migrate over to the more elevation-ridge option. Oh well. It should be a good ski right? And we'll get a good view of the SE gully on the way up.

A final look back on the South Slopes

The SE gully

Soup. Heavy, gloppy almost unturnable snow awaited us on the other side. It started off fun on the ridge. Guess where the snow will collapse! Find where the snow stayed a bit cooler game commenced. Till the trees. We tried angling to our right, but it got steeper with denser trees, so we backed off and went back to our left. Turning was almost impossible. The heavy heavy snow built up on top of our skis and boots, and once I almost got launched out of my boots. Out of my boots that were tightly strapped in ski mode... I managed to make it to within 50' vert of the valley below staying on top my skis. That last turn though... I decided it was better to fall. But then I had trouble getting up, and my skis were pointed perfectly downhill, buried in the heavy gloppy snow. Uggg. Now what?! So I sat on the tails of my skis and rode them like a sled down to the base. My knees didn't like it, but I didn't see an option without finding out where the "bottom" of the snow was.

After that, it was a slooooooooooow descent to the valley below, where we hoped joining up with the snowshoer trail would allow a break from the collapsible snow and mashed potatoes we were experiencing. We had to put on skins before we got to the regular trail, just to keep going. So now our skins started to weigh 3 times what they normally do, as they soaked up all the water from the snow that they could. When we reached the cabin with the short downhill to the lower trail, we still kept the skins on. Our legs were done from fighting the snow, and unburying our skis. Zach's skins were failing by that point, and he struggled on the way out to the trailhead because of it. Somehow we just managed to beat our ascent time by 30 minutes on the way out... yikes. Poor Zach is going to have to ski an easy peak (like Crystal or Quandary) just to not be too discouraged by this outing! But on the other hand, if he does want to get into ski mountaineering, not all ski descents are easy, and not all of them have simple approaches/deproaches. Hopefully he comes back out with us again, since he was a very impressive skier on the downhill!

Sometimes you just have to figure 11...

Parting view of Silverheels

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Great ski
04/12/2016 19:02
Great ski! Did this same rout/ski last April. Saw 50+ bighorn sheep on the way up.


Nice Work
04/13/2016 08:24
That's a fun line despite it being a little bit of a PITA to access. Happy bday to Joel!


04/13/2016 09:20
Thanks for the TR! Regarding the approach: looking at your map, I wonder how far up Crooked Creek Rd one can drive up to. Only because it looks like, from that side, it might be possible to avoid some of those ups and downs? Anyway, just wondering.

Crooked Creek Rd
04/13/2016 10:02
Berg - Your trip reports always get me so stoked for the upcoming climbing season, and keep me drooling over big lines at my desk at work - keep them coming, please!

AlexyD - With respect to your approach question, that was immediately what crossed my mind as well, since I'm wanting to ski this peak in the near future. Check out the MVU map for the Fairplay Ranger District:
Crooked Creek Road - FS 669 - is closed 2.4 miles north of 285 until June 16. Which makes for a loooong approach


Great summit & ski
04/13/2016 15:01
Thanks for the trip report. An excellent read. Mt. Silverheels is a beautiful mountain. Sincere congratulations on reaching the summit and having a nice, safe ski as well. Also, very good photography. Love the quality picture of the figure 8s


04/13/2016 15:11
Thanks for the MVU link. Interestingly, the road that I'm referring to is actually labeled as 194 on that map, and marked as a dashed line - i.e. "open to all vehicles". I suppose it's something to reconnoiter if one is passing by the Fairplay area and has time on their hands...


Thanks All!
04/13/2016 16:44
GerryRigged - I remember you skiing this last season. Must be the resident herd!

benners - It was a lot more fun than I was imagining!

AlexeyD - I just updated my tr to mention that I tired the Crooked Creek Rd. It was a ~5 mile one-way approach from the gate. There are a few jeep roads around the peak, so checking out before it's dark is helpful!

eskermo - I'll do my best to keep skiing fun lines! Hopefully another tomorrow

jasayrevt - Thanks. Safe skiing is what I aim for!


04/14/2016 14:37
Aha - I knew there was a catch

Thanks for the info and TR.


Comments retrived
05/19/2016 13:57
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