Last Call at Mount Sneffels

Posted By: The Ski Channel on October 18, 2012 4:46 am

There’s always time for “one last…” Right?  That last beer, that last kiss, that last run of the season.  The temptation is irresistible.  It seems like such a great idea at the time. 

With May closing out and the meager snow we had this season dwindling fast, I was definitely feeling the pressure to get that one last, good descent of a big peak.  14,157-foot Mount Sneffels in the San Juan Range of Colorado seemed like a perfect way to button up the season.  Sneffels has a big, mostly north-facing line called the Snake Couloir that runs from just below its summit.  It is steep, narrow, and makes a big dogleg turn at about halfway that gives it a little more appeal.  I have wanted to ski the line for years, but the timing has never worked out.   It seemed like I would have my chance this Memorial Day.


Looking up from below Blaine Basin.


With a solid freeze up high, and the forecast calling for cold temperatures, we were able to get a very casual start.  No alpine start for the last day?  It seemed almost inappropriate.  The approach to the Snake could not have been more pleasant.  We easily drove to the trailhead, just a few miles from my buddy’s house, and then followed a well-worn, well-marked trail for about three miles to the Blaine Basin.  Most of the snow was melted out, and the streams were running low.  We had our skis and boots on our backs, but the walking was easy.  At the top of the Blaine Basin we found our way onto the snow.  As we transitioned to ski gear, my friend revealed that he had not brought crampons.  I knew the day couldn’t go perfectly.

 To me, forgetting crampons is like forgetting your lunch.  It can happen, so there’s no reason to get hopping-up-and-down-mad about it, but it deserves a little heckling for sure.  

The snow really wasn’t softening up, so I almost threw in the towel there.  Typically, if you wait until you absolutely need your crampons before you to put them on, you’ve waited a little too long.  “One last step…”  The last thing I needed to see was my buddy rattling down the couloir.  But we decided to give it a go and see if I could make good steps for his ski boots.  It actually worked out.  Between the old steps and me giving an extra couple kicks, I was able to create just enough platform for him to keep plugging away.  As we got closer to the top I had to use my piolet to make steps, which definitely slowed us down, but we kept climbing to the summit.


Crampons would be nice.

Chris making his way up the small steps I have made for him. Crampons would be nice.


When we got the top of the couloir, we decided to forego the summit.  We have both stood on the top before, and you can’t ski from the summit back to the line, so we went for the ski and tried to beat the incoming storms.  Unfortunately, it was still cold.  The snow was bulletproof.  The skiing would be terrible.  Luckily it is not ridiculously steep.  It’s a little over 50-degrees for most of the couloir, but that’s not a terrifying angle.  We would have to go slowly, but there was no hurry to get home. 


Careful Hop Turns

Making calculated turns on the hard snow up high.


The skiing was so bad that we just laughed the whole way down.  We would kind of skid, and make little hop turns and hope all our teeth stayed in our head.  When we got to the bottom we knew ski season was finished for us.  Like that last beer, or that last kiss, it wasn’t the idea we hoped for, but it gave us something to laugh about later.  It also seems like a good time to take a little time off. 


We’ll laugh about this later.