Winter on San Luis, Spring in the Yawner

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San Luis Peak and the Yawner Gullies seen from the west.

Partners: Sarah Thompson, Dwight Sunwall, Kevin Baker, Matt Kamper, Brian Miller, Prakash Manley
Route: Approach from the Equity Mine TH (11,400′), ascent of San Luis’s Southwest Face to West Ridge from 11,100′ in Spring Creek, summit ski descent of the North Yawner Gully
Stats: 13 miles, 5,200′ climbed, 5,200′ skied, 11 hours RT

Matt, Brian, and I pulled into the Equity Mine Trailhead at midnight, Jetboiled up a Cup O’ Noodles for dinner, and bivied underneath a clear, starry sky. The rest of the crew had pulled in earlier in the afternoon, hoping for a 4:30am start. I was excited at the thought of skiing San Luis and happy to be finally getting out with Sarah’s group. It seemed Colorado had lent us one of those perfect late winter windows, we just hoped the snow had stabilized enough for a ski descent of the west-facing Yawner Gullies.

Sleep didn’t come easy to me but it rarely does in the backcountry, the characteristic sound of tents unzipping at 4:15am was like music to my ears…time to start hiking. We departed around 5am as a group of seven and headed for San Luis Pass.

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Sunrise over the La Garita Wilderness. Photo by Brian.

After 3/4 of a mile we contoured east and began climbing towards the saddle just south of Point 12,540′. I remembered this section quite well from my summer hike up this peak back in 07′.

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Onwards and upwards.

We had little to no info on snow conditions or coverage going into the day, the most recent TR that I could find for this peak was Kiefer’s from early January. As soon as we got a view of the peak it was clear that the North Yawner Gully would go from the summit. On long, committing peaks like this one that also happen to be wind-prone, it’s nice to know early on that the ski descent is in.

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Photo courtesy of Kevin Baker.

Now it was time for us to drop back below treeline, it’s generally a good idea for any aspiring winter summiter to avoid the north-facing avy bowls which guard San Luis to the south.

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Matt making his first turns of the day off the 12,300′ saddle.

We quickly descended a thousand feet down towards Spring Creek and regrouped to chat about our game plan. Our goal was to break treeline on San Luis’s Southwest face and climb a nice looking gully we spied from between the trees.

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Photo courtesy of Kevin Baker.

At this point Brian, Matt, Prakash, and I skied on ahead of the rest down to 11,100′ in the Spring Creek Drainage before starting a climbing contour around Point 12,562. As we transitioned back to touring mode, Kevin, Sarah, and Dwight caught up with us in the trees.

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Breaking treeline above Spring Creek, now we’re officially climbing San Luis.

The gully we used for our ascent is north of the North Yawner and tops out on San Luis’s West Ridge around 13,000′:

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Those on snowshoes reaped the benefits of their built in crampons, we skiers eventually had to throw the planks on our backs and boot up the couloir. The snow was generally booter friendly, though we each did our fair share of postholing.

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Prakash.

A little above 13,000′ we gained the West Ridge:

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A winter conga line. Photo by Brian.

We summited at noon and took a long break to enjoy the views offered up by a winter day in the San Juans.

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Prakash summits.

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Photo courtesy of Kevin Baker.

After 30 minutes on the summit the snowshoers started back down the summit ridge, intent on descending our ascent route. Matt, Brian, Prakash, and I clicked in and got ready to ski. We dropped in directly off the summit down the southernmost Yawner, then traversed north. Brian and Matt hit it first and skied around the corner, Prakash and I followed…

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Photo courtesy of Prakash Manley.

After a short traverse to the north, we had a nearly 2,800′ foot continuous run to the valley floor. We made sure to savor it…

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Brian making turns down cream corn in the Yawner Gullies – a true classic.

The top 800′ or so was primarily breakable crust, but down lower we had spring corn to play with.

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Matt making turns.

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Photo by Brian.

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Prakash.

And one last one of Brian down lower.

We skied down to 11,100′, regrouped, and re-skinned. Within ten minutes of wandering through the woods we joined back up with our trench from earlier in the morning.

We ran back into Sarah and company lounging in a meadow on the west side of Point 12,540′. They found decent glissade conditions in our ascent gulley and made good time on the way down to the creek as a result. From here we had to ascend 1,200′ back to the saddle at 12,300′. Everyone just took it at their own pace, we had no reason to rush at this point.

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Dwight and Prakash approaching the saddle.

Brian, Prakash, and I regrouped at the saddle after having some serious globing issues down below treeline. I had a small piece of ski wax in the bottom of my pack that we applied to our skins, afterwards the going was easier. The wax worked just fine, GlobStopper is indeed a ripoff. Be sure to check out Prakash’s account of the glob problem over on Summit Post. Upon gaining the saddle we were happy to be able to transition into ski mode and ski out the rest of the approach. We had a decent run down to the car…

We pulled in at an average time of 4pm for an 11 hour round trip. Having nowhere to be in a hurry, we lounged around at the Equity Mine and enjoyed gorp, noodles, and beer. After awhile we drove down to Creede and had dinner at a local pizza joint before going our separate ways. This was a great day out crew, let’s do it again sometime.

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A parting photo, Creede is a unique mountain town.

Thanks for reading!

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