Jordan White: Skiing the 13ers of Colorado's Elk MountainsTuesday, November 22, 2016
While taking landscape photos this past March during a ski tour in the Elk Mountains of Colorado, an alluring north face caught my eye. I went home, consulted the map, and found that it was West Tellurium Peak (13,074 feet). Plans were formulated for the next morning and a few friends and I were off. Riley Soderquist, Anton Sponar and I skied the peak’s north face, and of course, as it often works in the mountains, we took a look around and found about a dozen other lines we wanted to ski. I consulted the map again and an idea started to toss in my head.
Eventually I sat down and tried to figure out just how many skiable peaks there are in the Elks. After a few hours of tracing county lines and using a list of Elk 14ers (as well as a few in the Sawatch Range), I had a list. That list developed into a goal to ski every 13er of any significant prominence in the Elk Mountains as well as Pitkin County, since half of the nearby Sawatch Range provides some seriously awesome peaks too. In all, I think the project will entail skiing about 88 peaks.
My ski partners and I got a pretty healthy start on the project this spring, so I’d like to share some highlights from skinning and front pointing our way up some of the peaks on my list.
Like many projects that don’t have the required beta posted online in some forum, there is going to be some trial and error. Late in March, Nate Rowland and I toured around the backside of Truro peak to take a look at West Truro (13,140 feet). While I think there are a couple of lines to ski from the summit, we settled for a really fun powder-filled couloir. To call my project complete I will almost certainly find myself back in that basin again, but none the less, it was a truly inspiring and motivating day.
The next day another rush of storms appeared to be heading into Colorado. Nate, Greg Strokes and I decided to squeeze in a lap on Anderson Peak (13,631 feet). In deteriorating visibility we settled on a couloir that was narrow enough to keep the “ping pong ball” conditions out of play until the apron.
One of my favorite places to ski around Aspen is the long ridgeline of Anderson Peak, which is home to couloir after couloir—all of them starting above 13,000 feet. Tyler Christoff and I headed out to play in them and found some fresh powder.
Raoul Wille was an Aspen mountaineer, skier and outdoor enthusiast who died in 1998 in Nepal of altitude sickness at the young age of 45. Mount Raoul (also called Castlebra or point 13,803) has since carried his name. With Greg, Nate, and Anton, I headed out to ski the peak’s north face. Despite finding it a tad thin at the top, we found good turns on the way down, making for one of my most memorable days of the winter. I’d go ski this peak every year.
A few days after skiing Mount Raoul, I was off to Alaska for about three-and-a-half weeks. By the time I got back to Colorado, the approaches had changed a bit, but the high country was still loaded with snow ripe for the spring corn harvest. One of my first objectives when I got back from Alaska was the Sleeping Sexton (13,460 ft). The mountain shares a long ridgeline with the Maroon Bells and I’ve probably taken thousands of photographs in that direction.
Usually a chossy pile of rock, the Sleeping Sexton is fairly straightforward when covered in Ice and snow, and luckily provides some pretty darn good skiing.
A few days later, Blake Gordon, Anton and I went after Thunder Pyramid (13,932 ft). Just like the Sexton across the valley, Thunder Pyramid is a rather difficult and imposing climb in the summer. With the peak covered in snow, the ascent proved to be a test of endurance. Standing on the summit for my first time, I was treated to a truly unique view of peaks that I’ve literally spent hundreds of days on.
Over the next couple weeks, I bounced between availiable partners who weren’t “over it” and we knocked out another nine peaks before I too was eventually “over it.” I found myself in new valleys, at new trailheads and new heights. I’m already scheming for next season and can’t wait to jump right back into the project.