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What better way to enjoy the snow than to go check on some new zones in my old backyard of Salida, Colorado?
I gathered a crew of Will Colemen and Lawrence Housley to go tick off a few lines that I had been looking at for years. We all have crazy schedules, so we settled on three full days of skiing. After pouring through guide books and trip reports, we decided on three peaks: Mt. Aetna (13,745 ft.), Mt. Hope (13,993 ft.), and Mt. Clover (12,955 ft.).
Trailhead: Boss Lake // Round trip mileage: 7.5 // Elevation gain: 4,000 ft.
On a Friday in mid-April, the alarm went off at a casual 5:45 am. While Will and I had driven to Salida from the Springs the night before, Lawrence rolled in to Salida at 7 am — right on time — that morning to meet us. We loaded up the car and cruised up to Monarch Lodge, where the trailhead for Mt. Aetna is. After a brief false-start up the wrong road, we got on track and made quick work of the 2-mile approach to the base of the Grand Couloir.
From there, the skinning was easy and straightforward until it got a little steeper at a small choke point near the bottom of the couloir. The sun hadn’t softened the snow yet causing us to slide more than we wanted. Luckily, I had my new G3 ski crampons on and continued straight up the couloir. We ascended the middle of the couloir until about 13,000 ft. where we cut up to the shoulder and boot packed the last 700 ft. to Aetna’s summit. Like most summit days in Colorado, it was way windier up top than what had been forecasted. Greeted by 50 mph winds at the summit, we didn’t linger for long.
The descent seemed it would be far more committing from the view on the way up than it actually did when we looked at it before heading down. The upper face has a double fall line that wants to pull you right, back to the shoulder, but the best turns are straight down from the summit. The upper 1/4 of the face was icier than I would have liked, but it still made for easy turning. After that, the slope opened up to great corn turns all the way back down to the road and we were able to ski all but the last hundred feet or so to the car. Great start to the trip. A run like that demands good food and even better beer, so we headed to Moonlight Pizza in Salida for beer, pizza and more sunscreen.
Trailhead: Sheep Gulch // Round trip mileage: 7.5 // Elevation gain: 4,700 ft.
The next day, Saturday, we drove up CR390 outside of Buena Vista and headed for the Sheep Gulch trailhead. Our goal was the Hopeful Couloir on Mt. Hope. It was going to be an interesting day for logistics because we choose to go up the south side of Mt. Hope, but the couloir descends to the northeast into a different drainage. This would require us to ski the line, then climb back up to Hope Pass and back into our drainage to get back to the car.
The day started off smoothly with all of us covering the first few miles to treeline in our running shoes (HOKA Challengers for me). From there, we switched into our ski boots and started skinning towards Hope Pass, where we planned to gain the ridge and follow it to the summit. When we got close to the pass, we noticed the ridge was narrow and didn’t hold consistent snow. None of us felt like boot packing, so we chose to ascend the southeast face of Mt. Clover, that offered very mellow skinning except for the last few hundred feet to the summit that required us to boot pack.
Just like Mt. Aetna, the weather was gorgeous until the summit. Again, we were welcomed by 50mph+ winds. After tagging the summit, we decided that the near vertical drop into the steep couloir was not worth the risk. Therefore, we descended about 30 ft. down the ridge to a spot where we felt more comfortable dropping in. The upper section held some soft wind-drift snow on top of a hard crust. The upper half of the coulour ended up being more “skiing for survival than “skiing for pleasure.” Alternatively, the lower half had softened up and provided some good corn turns. From there, we contoured around to our right to minimize our climb back up to Hope Pass. (I plan on coming back to ski this in better form and condition.) From the top of the Pass, we were able to “ski,” with some shenanigans in the isothermic slop, back down to where we had left our shoes. There, we transitioned and enjoyed the “slip and slide” trail back to the car.
Trailhead: Boss Lake // Round trip mileage: n/a // Elevation gain: 3,250 ft.
On our last day, Sunday, we agreed to mellow out on Mt. Clover, which sits directly across from Mt. Aetna. Since we had just been in the area, we were able to look at the line and figured it would be an easy day. Like any good trip, you need a little adventure to keep things spicy. Our ascent route took us by Boss Lake, which required some steep skinning through the trees to the large, frozen lake. We were able to contour around the edge of the frozen lake to save some time. (However, little did we realize at this point that we had actually taken the long way to get up Clover.) From the lake, we contoured around the entire basin behind Clover, past Hunt Lake on the southeast side. Then, we ascended up Pt 12,535 to gain the ridge on the Continental Divide up to Clover. Being mindful of the large cornices on our right side, the ridge made for easy skinning. Mt. Clover was the only pleasant summit of the trip, with very little wind making for a good break and a pleasant transition.
We ended up skiing the northeast face. We timed it right that day with corn turns from the summit all the way back to the road, except for a few flat areas that required skate skiing.
The trip was a great success and allowed us to scout a ton of new lines for next year. We’ll be going back to bag some of those lines, however, next time we might just stay at the Lost Wonder Hut to save time on the approaches. Although, I will miss my Cranker Yanker IPA.
GEAR USED ON THE TRIP
Dynastar Mythic Skis 177
G3 Ion 12 Bindings with Brakes
G3 Ski Crampon
Black Diamond Whippet ski pole
Camp Speed 2.0 Helmet
Millet 30L Pack
Scarpa F1 Boots
G3 Alpinist Skins
Kola Mo Mix skins
Hoka Challenger 2.0 running shoes
Ibex skull Cap
Rab Alpine Glove
Outdoor Research Strormtracker Sensor Gloves
Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody
Outdoor Research Uberlayer
Outdoor Research Trickshot Pants
Mountain Equipment Squall Hoody