Peak(s):  Emma, Mt  -  13,581 feet
Date Posted:  05/30/2010
Modified:  02/11/2012
Date Climbed:   05/30/2010
Author:  scotthsu
 Mt Emma snow climb & ski descent   

Itinerary: Yankee Boy Basin TH (~11400') to summit of Mt. Emma (13581') back to TH
Who: scotthsu & Nice Axe
Stats: ~2200' climbed & skied; 5.75 hours & ~5 miles roundtrip

After skiing frozen mini-suncups on the birthday chutes of Sneffels the day before, we were hoping for better skiing today. With so many of CO's high 200 peaks surrounding YBB, we picked Mt Emma being that we hadn't done it yet and it would allow us to set foot in 3 drainages (YBB, Governor, Mill Creek), not to mention this would be the first Mt Emma TR on! With our 5.5 month old baby daughter Esme in tow and grandma kind enough to fly in from Chicago to watch Esme while we skied, we stayed in Ouray for the holiday weekend. It's nice to have a shower and a bed each night, but we're still getting used to the idea of shelling out $$$ to enjoy some ski mountaineering.

We pulled up at the outhouses around 5:45am and started hiking along the road around 6:15am. After about ~1/4 mile, there was enough snow to start skinning.

Moonset, Mt Emma

We found a nice place to cross Sneffels Creek and headed up the mini-drainage north of Stony Mtn. Everything below about 13000' is covered by a layer of dust (bring your old ratty skins). We headed for the saddle (~12300') between Mt Emma and Stony Mtn.

Amy skinning toward the saddle with Cirque (13686') and Teakettle (13819') Mtns in the background

From the saddle, we did an ascending traverse across the upper NW reaches of Governor Basin. We skinned to about 13000' and then snow climbed up a moderate slope (right of center in next photo) to the ridge separating Governor and Mill Creek Basins.

Summit block of Mt Emma from upper Governor Basin

Amy snow-climbing with Governor Basin in the background

Once on the ridge, there were a few short sections of steep San Juan scree, but front-pointing on the scree worked great (had crampons on from the snow climb); I might start lugging my crampons along for summer scree routes Soon we were on a snow-filled upper bench (~13400') on the NW slopes of Mt Emma and sure glad to have had our crampons still on. It was pretty steep, and the snow was still firm due to the aspect. We headed SW and then started up the first steep couloir we saw that was filled in with snow to the summit ridge.

Amy on the upper bench with Cirque and Teakettle in the background

I started bootpacking (more like crawling) with my whippet pole dug in for dear life. A fall here would not have been good, as the couloir was steep, probably the steepest snow climb I've ever done (didn't stop to measure it, but my guess is it topped out well over 50 degrees for maybe 50 ft.), the snow was still firm and slick, and there were cliff bands not too far below. With concentration and very deliberate movements, I made it to the top and mantled onto a narrow snow ridge, and got a few pictures of Amy following up.

Amy near the top of the steep couloir


The weather was perfect with no wind (a far cry from the day before when we were getting blown over on the summit of Sneffels), and we enjoyed the magnificent San Juan views accompanied by some leftover pizza. Can't ask for a whole lot more.

Gilpin (13694') and Sneffels (14150') from Mt Emma

We were both nervous about skiing down the hard-snow-filled couloir we just climbed, but luckily we found a more moderate one just west of the summit. I managed a few turns down it. Here's Amy in the moderate couloir and then skiing back across the bench toward the ridge.


We packed up the skis again, and walked NE along the ridge until just SW of the point separating Mill Creek, Yankee Boy, and Governor Basins. This was a bit challenging in spots with ski boots. We put on the skis, traversed NE a bit in Governor Basin, then dropped into YBB and enjoyed a pretty good ski (despite the dust) most of the way back to the car.


It was definitely great to get back to skiing some CO peaks after a very sleepless winter of a lot of inbounds skiing and watching our little baby girl grow. Soon hopefully she'll be on top of her first 14er (out of the womb)!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

 Comments or Questions

05/31/2010 01:29
Thanks for the pic and description of Sneffels. Is it still worth a visit this spring?


get it quick
05/31/2010 01:47
if you‘re after some style, i‘d say wait til next season, but you could probably get a continuous summit ski descent via the b-day chutes for another week or so. I tried to peer over into the Snake but the high winds kept me from getting a good view.


back at it
05/31/2010 19:35
Good to see you guys back at it. That pic of Amy topping out looks friggin‘ steep. Nice work.


06/01/2010 01:45
I‘m glad somebody finally posted a TR on Emma.
I‘ve been wanting to pay homage for some time.


Back in the Saddle
01/19/2011 03:38
It‘s good to see a report from you all again. What a way to resume...your steepest snow climb ever (?) and front pointing the San Juan scree. Amy looks pretty relaxed on the steep stuff.


Prominent Obscurity?
01/19/2011 03:38
You‘re on! My summer list has some of this down south, including several 13ers in the Sangres.


hey guys
02/12/2012 00:03
Matt, it was great to be back on a few high summits in CO. Yes, that snow climb was short but steep. Front-pointing scree is probably familiar to others, but it was a welcome revelation for me How about meeting up for some obscure peaks with lots of prominence this summer?

Andy/Sarah/Nina, eagerly awaiting a TR from your weekend adventures! I got the sneak preview on picasaweb; all I have to say is yours was an itinerary only Halladay could come up with. Let's get together soon!

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