Replacing deep snow for high peaks, skiing in the Elk Range continues with a summit on Taylor Peak (13,435ft)
Chason Russell and I set off from the town of Ashcroft at around 7am with a goal in mind. Taylor Peak. Although we weren’t sure if we would be able to ski anything do to avalanche conditions, we looked forward to the views and a safe, low risk ridge line skin/climb. If not for an the opportunity for a ski, we were grateful for a morning in the wilderness and an opportunity to get up high while avoiding surrounding avalanche terrain.
By utilizing an old mining road, we were able to easily access the ridge line that would allow us to eventually make a final push on Taylor Peak. The ridge meanders for miles with incredible views into the Elk Mountains. Cathedral, Star and Castle, three more prominent peaks within the area caught our eyes throughout the climb.
The long ridge line kept us safe from adjacent avalanche paths and would bring us within reach of the summit.
When traveling into the backcountry I always bring more gear than think I will need. Besides the essentials like a medical kit, extra food, water and sunscreen, I prefer to always travel with my whippet in case I need to self arrest when skiing steep terrain where a fall will send you to the bottom. I also prefer to carry my ice axe and crampons with me for steep climbs and icy ridges. I also bring my helmet, on this day my Smith Maze, as well as googles (I/O7) and sunglasses. This season I have preferred touring on the Fat-ypus D-Sender, 184cm for its shorter length and normal camber. This allows me to have more control in steeper, variable snow conditions. For outerwear, its my Flylow Lab Coat 2.0, which breaths well and protects me from winds but doesn’t keep me to hot. Underneath, the Corbeaux Recon Hoody. I love this hoody because the hood keeps the sun off most of my face and neck and it keeps breathing when I working hard on the uphill. All this fits inside my Snowpulse Guide 30 ABS pack.
With the Summit within reach it was time utilize a whole different skill set.
I have never been on a climb and traverse as exposed or as terrifying at this one. Falling is not an option here. Every step calculated, every rock grasped with uncertainty as many are only loose rotten scree. We took our time climbing until we again gained the final ridge to the summit.
The Elk Mountains will Humble you
Once we were able to regain the ridge we moved on toward the summit. Being able to stand and walk instead of climb reduced the pucker factor and we moved on with confidence.
Taylor Peak (13,435)
We took in the views and started discussing our descent
After reviewing the situation Chason and I opted on dropping into a westerly facing couloir that was just down the ridge from the summit. The snow was firmer, chalkier and considerably less sun exposed than other aspects. Even though we wouldn’t be skiing the softest line out there, we were most comfortable with this descent because the snow was firm, had already slid previously and was not sunbaked.
Another fantastic day in the mountains. However, it is still really early to be climbing and skiing most peaks in Colorado. With no real freeze thaw, especially in lower elevations, a lot of risk remains. Our snowpack is thin, complicating approaches, Everyone be safe out there!