Descent Route: Southeast Face And Couloirs
March 28, 2006
Jon Hagman and I had a really easy and fun day on Mt. Democrat yesterday. Democrat (14,148') lies at the western side of the Ten Mile/ Mosquito Range, basically smack dab between Breckinridge and Leadville. It shares a high, connecting ridge with Cameron Point (14,238') Mt. Bross (14,172') and Mt. Lincoln (14,286') Cameron is not considered an official 14er, but from a skiers perspective it should be for its amazing West Face ski lines.
There are several ways to approach Democrat, and all of them are quick, easy, and high. The West side of the mountain can be reached from Highway 91 just below the Climax Mine on Fremont Pass.. Climbing this side is quite steep, but for spring skiing it is really excellent. The North Face ski routes are long and sustained at just over 40 degrees on top. (see photo) These are probably the best pure steep skiing routes on the mountain, and again are easily reached from the Montgomery Resevoir trailhead. Dawson's guide rates this face as Extreme, but with good snow any expert skier would have no problem with these wide routes. Jon and I chose the south side of the mountain for two reasons. First, it is easily reachable from the funky town of Alma. Alma sits at an elevation just over 10,000 ft. and you can drive up Buckskin Gulch to Kite Lake at 12,000' , leaving only 2000+ ft. to the summit. In the winter and spring the road is closd below Kite Lake, but is an easy five minute snowmobile ride. The second reason we chose this route was corn snow. With the warm temps we have been having, and the nice southerly and easterly aspects of this side of Democrat, we knew the snow would be transforming in late morning into perfect spring corn.
The alarm went off at 4:30. I met Jon at the Old Snowmass Conoco at 5 a.m. We were in Breckinridge at 7:15 and at the tailhead by 8 a.m. We unloaded the sleds and zipped up the road to Kite Lake. We were skinning at 8:40 under clear skies and not a breath of wind. Our skis crunched thorugh the refrozen sun crust as we climbed into the grand amphitheater created by the high ridges connecting Democrat, Cameron, and Bross. There were moments when we would stop and admire the complete and total silence, a sensation only broken by the thumping of our heart beats. Jon did some filming on the way up, panning shots across the wide expanse of mountains and climbing shots up the steeper East Ridge of Democrat. We stood alone on the summit at 10:40, two hours after starting out from Kite Lake. I have to say that after climbing many crowded 14ers in the summer and fall over the last fifteen years, one of the great pleasures of this project is that there is never anyone else around. Solitude is rare and precious in our world today.
The snow on the south and east aspects was doing its daily transformation as we stepped into our skis. I hooked up my helmet camera and Jon dropped in diretly down the South Face to film from the bottom. I chose to ski a steep snow arete that led to a narrow couloir splitting a cliff band on the upper section of the East Face. The route benched out a bit in the middle, then steepened again for the last 500 feet to the lake. (see photos) The snow was like a cold frappucino under our feet, smooth, silky and supportive.
For me, this was one of those runs where I let out a big "Yeeehaaaaa!" at the bottom and high fived Jon. We laughed at these ease with which we had skied this high mountain, up and down in three hours.
My original plan was to try and ski Mt. Bross as well. Bross is a horrible pile of scree and rubble and is not an interesting mountain from any perspective, especially a skier's. I wanted badly to knock it off, but its wind-swept brown bulk holds no snow, so i'll have to come back after a spring snow storm and hope that some snow has stuck on this big pile of manure.
We are getting some weather today and tomorrow here in the Central Mountains, so today is another day off. I'll be heading to the San Juans tomorrow to hopefully ski some of the powder snow they are getting right now.
Website News: We are building a Route List/ Chronology Page on the site right now so that you can see which peaks we skied on which dates, and by what routes. Thanks to Dougald McDonald for inspiring me to get it done now.
Thanks for reading!
View a chronological Route List