Descent Route: East Face
April 27, 2006
For the past two days we have been based camped outside of Capitol City, a ghost town that lies 9 mile up Henson Creek Road from Lake City. The RV is positioned in a small meadow, next to a creek, with a big fire pit and lots of space to lay out all our gear. We have a big team now, eight people, so we need the space. First we were four in the RV, Christian, Will, Nick, and myself. Then Danny and Adam joined us from Boulder. Two nights ago Ben Galland and Jon Hagman drove down from Aspen to climb, ski, and film with the group for a few days. So now it is quite a production, keeping everyone fed and making sure to have plenty of drinking water, luckily, the RV is very accommodating.
This morning we awoke at 3:00 a.m. Everyone was out of their sleeping bags, dressed, and in the RV eating granola, yogurt, and fruit. At 4:00 a.m. we all piled in my pickup (minus Will?blisters) and drove up North Henson Creek Road one half mile to a huge snow drift that blocked the road. From here we walked another mile and a half to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead. Seven headlamps lit up the trail as we approached Wetterhorn Peak. The night was cold and still, and the snow firm and grippy under our skins. By 6:00 the sky began to show signs of the new day, and we hit tree line at 11,800?. The approach to the Wetterhorn is quite easy, and the entire team made it up above tree line in the Matterhorn Creek basin in time to see the sunrise touch the summit of the Wetterhorn. The face looked so inviting bathed in that soft, golden light. We all agreed that we would try and make a fourteener summit to watch the sun come up one of these days. By 7:30 we were at the base of the East Face, switching skins for crampons and putting our skis on our backs. The mood and energy in the group was radiant. Everyone could not wait to ski this classic line.
We began the climb kicking easy steps up the right side of the face. The East Face is not quite as big as it looks from farther away, and we made good time up the lower half. Then Nick took over and fired several hundred feet of steps in the snow in no time. We mad it to the top of the face at 8:30 a.m. The Wetterhorn is probably the one fourteener that is not possible to ski from the summit. A hundred-foot-high block of rock caps the face, and requires hand and foot work to climb. We left our skis at the top of the snow and enjoyed some fine scrambling up to the top. On the summit Nick and I discussed whether or not the peak could be skied from the top, on a big snow year. We both agreed that one line might fill in just enough to allow a small air to let you reach the East Face. After Nick and Danny did their requisite head and hand stands on the summit, we climbed back down to our skis and got ready to ski and film this sweet line. Christian skied down the face to shoot next to Ben, who was rolling the 16mm camera. Jon and Danny both filmed from different spots on the face. I skied first and took the skier?s right side of the face. The face is big and the soft corn snow allowed for fast, big-radius turns. In twenty seconds I was flying out the bottom of the face, pumped to have ski descent #28 in my pocket with such a fine run. Nick skied next and ripped the center of the face, catching air over a rock outcrop and landing going fifty miles an hour.
Adam skied last and made a fine run out skier?s left. We all regrouped on the flats and admired the East Face of the Wetterhorn once again. You might think that with such a large group we would move slowly or someone would have some sort of issue. But that was not the case with this crew. Everyone was fast, strong, and motivated. I could not imagine having a more solid group of partners, something I have been lucky to have all along on this project.
One thought I had proposed when we all sat around in the RV the night before and discussed our plans was to attempt to ski both the Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peak in a day. I was not sure if it would be possible, in the interest of not skiing to late in the day when it?s warm out and the snow loses stability. But after finishing the Wetterhorn at 9:00 a.m. and looking across the wide valley at Uncompahgre, I decided to go for it. Jon, Nick, Danny, and Christian were keen as well. We ate some food and prepared to approach our second fourteener of the day. Ben and Adam skied back down Matterhorn Creek to pick up the truck and head back to our base camp. We would climb the West Face of Uncompahgre, hit the summit, then ski down the south and east sides of the mountain, descending into Nellie Creek and the summer jeep road that descends it. I was pretty certain we could pull of this grand, point-to-point tour of two fourteeners, and with that motivation we headed towards Uncompahgre Peak.
To continue today?s report, click the Uncompahgre page link.
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