Peak: “Rain Peak” (13,130 ft.)
Trailhead: Willowbrook (Silverthorne)
Distance/Vertical: Approx. 14-15 miles / 4800 ft.
Group: Me, Ben, Rick, Marc, Brandon, J
Back in April of 2013, after a ski of the infamous and elusive “What Big Eyes You Have” Couloir off East East Red, Ben and I took notice of a striking cirque to the northwest, which seemed to hold a number of options for ski routes. The most obvious of such routes, from our vantage point, was Graupel Gully on unranked 13er “Rain Peak”. East Thorne is more or less the monarch of this region, being so visible from any vantage point to the east. Anyone who has driven west down from the tunnel on I-70 has probably noticed this striking, pyramidal peak rising over the shoulder of Red Peak. Its ranked relative, Silverthorne, is nothing more than a large, broad shoulder, hidden from view in most instances other than the most secluded ones. The forgotten step child of the area, Rain Peak, doesn’t receive a ton of attention from an individual climb perspective. This is an easy class 2 ridge run that is accessed straight from Salmon Lake in the summer, which seems to serve as a consolation prize for the uninitiated backpacker looking to just get a little higher than the lake. The fact of the matter is Rain holds quite a few alpine climbs, in all seasons. The ridge from Silverthorne is one of the finer, most exhilarating ridge runs in the entire range. The North Face looks to hold some technical routes, as it is nearly vertical, and then you have good skiing potential on the South Face, which is plentiful and easily grouped with the other lines of the cirque.
Mother Nature always has a way with putting a knot in everyone’s plans. What looks to be a feasible window on a Tuesday somehow deteriorated quickly to an apocalyptic nightmare by Friday afternoon, making for hasty alternatives. NOAA doesn’t make this any easier with it’s inaccurate 5 day forecasts, but that’s nothing new and who has ever been able to pinpoint long range forecasts in Colorado? Joel does a decent job on OpenSnow.com, but that’s more geared towards snow. One of the plights of the weekend warrior ski mountaineer is being at the mercy of the elements. So many things have to come together at the right moment, it’s almost a miracle you ever get a single decent ski descent at all. The weekend before when we were touring around in Dry Gulch, the forecast looked promising and the sun was on the verge of shining all morning only for a thick cloud plume to stand its ground on the horizon over the Continental Divide, keeping the exact aspect we wanted to ski from softening. We lucked out due to abnormally high surface temps, but it was just an example of how precise this sport can be at times.
On Rain we kind of had the opposite problem. Too many times have we underestimated the arduous approaches of the Gores during snow season. Being such a popular trail in the summer, I figured there would be a defined skin track all the way to Salmon Lake and Lord Gore awaiting our arrival with peppermint patties, springs of fierce grape Gatorade and a magic wand, paving our way to the summit ridge. In reality, we had to use our brains and we had to do so right out of the gate. Soon enough, we realized we were in a race against the sun and we didn’t have much time to waste putzing around in the woods around Willow Creek.
There was a new coating of around 5″ of new snow from the night before. This required some wax application, which fortunately seemed to work. It was HOT on the approach and we were all melting.
After gaining, losing, regaining and then re-losing the trail all morning, we finally found the gradual East Ridge on Rain and started elevating the heels to tree line, which seemed to take forever to reach. Once things opened up though, we were reminded why we had this line on our radar for so long. The views gave you a tingling sensation in your grundle.
After refueling before the final push to the summit and applying 70 SPF sunscreen for the third time, we clicked the heel elevators up a notch or two and grunted the final 1,000′ to the summit as the winds and overcast increased. All in all the weather treated us pretty well for 90% of the day and the overcast on the final segment of the climb helped keep the snow from softening too much.
The summit ridge was skinnable but flirted with the sheer north face, which kept things interesting. We were all able to keep skins on until the very top, which is always a plus.
After stripping our glob riddled skins off our skins, decreasing their weight by 30 pounds, we were ready for the ski. There was mild concern of the sun baked snow re-freezing, but our options for skiing were pretty limited so there wasn’t much we could do. The skiing ended up turning out to be solid – a fun line top to bottom sans a few shark fins and chicken heads. It also Graupel’d on us the entire way down, which seemed fitting.
The lower we went, the rougher the skiing got. Fortunately, for Ben and I, we own Ski Logik Howitzers, aka “The Grundle Busters”. There are all-mountain skis, and then there are “all-condition” skis. Some skis excel in certain categories, Howitzers excel in all categories, most notably grundle textured snow. Mother Nature has made it abundantly clear this season that skiing grundle is the way to go, cause that’s all she provides for us. Corn or powder has been designated for people who either A – don’t work or B – don’t work on weekends. As I was skiing down the chicken head infested slopes in the lower regions of the face, I nailed 3 or 4 ice hard wet slide debris, and the Grundle Busters performed admirably, like an Icebreaker ship in the Arctic. They’ve even helped me forget what breakable crust feels like.
We enjoyed a few more hundred vert of milky turns all the way down to Salmon Lake where we were able to pole our way along the northeast shore. Upon reaching the eastern end we took a nice long lunch break, admiring our line and preparing for the long out. Big Eyes was towering over us to the south which made life seem that much sweeter. After 100% of the Pringles, Lays Stax, candy corns, and Gatorade was consumed, we attempted to find the path of least resistance on the way out. On a scale of 1-10 from a pain standpoint I’d give it a 5 overall. It wasn’t terrible but it certainly wasn’t a bowl of cherries. Snowline was much higher this year than 2013 amazingly enough. We didn’t start skinning until we hit the Wilderness Boundary sign a solid mile from the trailhead, as opposed to late April 2013, when we started skinning 50 yards from the parking lot. We had a great winter in terms of snowpack in 2013/2014, but in reality it was nothing more than slightly above average. Not complaining, just pointing out an overlooked fact.
We all made it back to the trailhead in one piece, having made it through the entire day without running in to another soul up there. That’s a win in my book. We parted ways quickly in search of post climb gluttony – with Marc and I having little motivation to look anywhere other than Chipotle. Graupel is a fun line in of itself. It’s a long way in there for a relatively small amount of skiing, but still worth the effort on the binary scale.
Thanks for reading.