Descent Route: Southwest Slopes
February 4th, 2006
After a weeks haitus for the Winter X Games in Aspen, I was back at it today with a ascent and ski descent of Mt. Massive (14,421 ft.) in the Sawatch Range outside of Leadville. Mt. Massive, with its long summit ridge, dominates the views of the upper Arkansas Valley, and provides for some great skiing opportunities. We actually tried Mt. Sherman (14,036 ft.) the day before, but the weather was heavy snow with 50 mph winds and way below zero temps. Needless to say, with almost zero visability, we had to retreat, at 13,300 ft. on the summit ridge.
So we headed to Massive and chose the Southwest Slopes route from North Halfmoon Creek trailhead. The team consisted of my film crew Tom Z and Ben Galland, and California photographer Christian Pondella. The winter closure on this road is over 5 miles from the summer parking, so we snowmobiled in to the big summer parking lot. Normally, high-clearance vehicles can make it another 2 1/2 miles up the road, and we tried to snowmobile this part, but the snow was super deep and unconsolidated, and we just kept getting stuck. We decided to leave the sleds at the main parking area and skin up the road and into the base of the Southwest face. The snow on the approach was quite unsupportive, so the long road/ trail slog took almost four hours. I was pretty tired by the time we reached the base of the face, mainly from lack of sleep from the previous two nights.
Tom and Ben climbed a sub-peak across the valley to set up the super-16 Arriflex camera for some shots. Christian and I continued skinning directly up the Southwest Face, circumventing many avalanche slopes by sticking to higher ground in the center of the face. The skinning was a bit slippery, especially on the steep traverses across hard wind slabs. I may get some Fritschi crampons for my Freeride bindings soon. At 13,200 ft. we put the skis on our packs and began climbing on the summer trail, which we found emerging from the snow north of the bowl we would ski. Approaching the summit, I remembered the long, broad ridge that makes up the highest points of Mt. Massive. Indeed, as we crested the ridge, we relaized that the main summit was almost a half mile to our north. Fortunately the ridge walk was fun and straight forward, and the snow on the east side of the ridge was quite filled in, so we would be able to ski on snow down to the saddle that would drop us back onto the Southwest slopes.
So we finally made it up to the main summit, and by this time the wind had died down enough that we were able to spend some time taking pictures and enjoying the great views. The Elk Range outside of Aspen looks completely buried in snow, while the rest of the Sawatch to the south of Mt. Massive looks pretty well scoured by the winds. We took the necessary "skiing off the summit" photos and continued on soft new snow down the ridge to the top of the Southwest face. At first I was a little nervous about the stablity on this big face, but after a few ski cuts and some hard turns, I started feeling more confident in the snow and we moved out near the center of the face. The skiing was great, with nice, wind-deposited powder in the center and firmer stuff on the sides. At one point Christian dropped a 28-70 2.8 Canon lens down the face and we watched in horror as it cartwheeled through some rocks, only to emerge totally unscathed out in the center of the bowl.
The sun had set by the time we began skiing out the trail. Skiing down through the forest in total darkenss and quite is always a great experience, and we arrived back at the sleds in an hour. Our total elevation gain was just under 4000 ft. and distance covered was around 11 miles.
On another note, many of you have asked what equipment I am using. Right now I'm on Salomon 174 Foil skis and Salomon E2 boots, with Fritschi Freeride bindings. These E2 boots ski great (better than any rando boot I've tried)and have a solid ski/ walk mode and a nice soft sole for hiking. I'm also using Black Diamond skins and poles, as well as their Avalung. I use a Dakine Poacher pack and Giro helmet as well.
Thanks for checking in... stay tuned for more next week.
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