Mt. Adams East Face Ski

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The line on the east side of Mt. Adams, seen from Horn Lake.

Mt. Adams (13,931 ft) is a high 13er that resides just north of Kit Carson in the Sangre de Cristo range. The mountain is comprised of four distinct, triangular faces which rise up from four different drainages to a single point. Its pyramidal profile makes it a striking peak from just about every angle. Being one of my favorites of all the “Centennial” 13ers, I was excited about the idea of revisiting Adams on skis. Ricardo and Bloomy were equally interested and agreed to a midweek adventure, which came to fruition this past Thursday.

From what we were able to find, the only existing info out there on skiing Mt. Adams entailed an approach from South Crestone Creek, then up and down the peak’s west face (detailed here as part of Davenport/Mahon’s Centennial ski project). In the spirit of trying something somewhat “exploratory”, we decided to check out the slightly steeper east face from Horn Lakes. Given the impressive snow coverage in the Sangres this spring and armed with photos of the southeast side of the peak taken in summer, we had a hunch that a cool line might exist. Turns out one does, although I’m not sure it would be as reliable from year to year as the west face route. Just to reiterate, the Sangres have a ton of snow right now.

3am, Horn Creek trailhead. Two ghost-like figures ready their gear while a third messes around with the camera.

We set off up Horn Creek at 4:30am after a routefinding error straight out of the gate took us well south of our intended tail split along the Rainbow Trial. After working things out, we hiked for a mile or so up the correct trail and transitioned to skins when the dirt gave way to snow. Along with the great coverage up high we also had the benefit of an unusually low snow line for the Sangres in May.

Sunrise in Horn Creek.

Following the creek, we eventually popped out above tree line to an entirely different scene from the dry desert in the valley below…

Into the alpine, with 3 to 5 inches of fresh snow on the ground.

UN 13,580 (right) and its southern neighbor.

We skinned around the corner we got our first glimpse of the lower portion of the line. Past snow season photos taken from Humboldt obscured the bottom half of the peak, so we weren’t positive that a viable route through the lower cliff bands would reveal itself. Thankfully one did, and before long we were working our way up through the constriction that grants access to the upper-face.

The gully that connects the lower snowfields to the upper-face of Mt. Adams. This is the section I’m not sure would go in leaner snow years, as the top of it was quite thin and narrow with lots of rock bands around to accelerate melting.

Above this gully we were in the clear with the bulk of Adams’ east face rising up above us. The day was heating up fast so we did our best to kick it into high gear up the face. The few inches of new snow in the valley below translated to 6+ inches of fresh powder high on the face, so the booting was tiring to say the least.

Above the gully and onto the east face. Photo by Rick.

Snow ran continuously right up to the summit ridge and then to the true summit after that. To our delight, we were in for a direct ski straight off the top of the peak.

Taken from the summit with Rick and Jon finishing off the ascent. The steep entrance to the line falls away to the right.

On the summit we enjoyed 360 degree views of the awesome terrain all around Adams. One of the best things about this peak is its location in the middle of the best part of the range (in my opinion at least).

Kit Carson and Challenger to the south.

The Needle (left) and Peak (right). Crestone Peak’s north couloir looks to be in.

We transitioned, then dropped into the line. Steep turns off the top quickly relented to a comfortable 40 degrees or so. The snow had stayed just cold enough for some nice powder turns down the face. Some pics of the ski…

The initial few turns off the top were exhilarating. Here’s Rick taking a picture before dropping into the line while I wait down below. Photo by Bloomy.

The picture Rick was taking.

Rick into the gut of the line. The summit is up and to the left.

Rick again. Photo by Bloomy.

Bloomy’s turn.

Lower down, heading towards the top of the gully. Photo by Rick.

At the bottom of the face we traversed into the gully and quickly skied the rapidly warming snow to the bottom.

Hot powder in the gully. Good form Bloomy.

My turn. Photo by Rick.

Looking up the gully from below as Rick comes down. We skied this about as late as we safely could have done.

Another nice one of Rick.

Below the gully, a short traverse to the east had us enjoying another few hundred feet of corn-like snow down to the shore of Horn Lake, which capped off the 2,000 ft descent.

Bloomy skiing out the lower slopes with UN 13,580 looming large.

We admired the line for a long time from the safety of the lake, watching numerous point releases and ice sheets peel off the rocks high above. Eventually the pull of beer at the trailhead won out and we were on our way down the valley. Thankfully the snow below treeline was still supportive enough for a relatively easy ski out to the shoe stash, after which it was down to a mile or so hike through the woods back to the Rainbow Trail and then the trailhead.

On the hike out – a tale of two elevations.

Chairs, Happy Camper, chips and salsa put a sold exclamation point on a near perfect day in the Sangres. Rick and Jon, thanks for making this one happen!

And happy corn harvest to all 🙂

8 thoughts on “Mt. Adams East Face Ski

  1. bloomy

    What, no love for the Keystone Light or pretzels? Don’t worry, that doesn’t tarnish my memories of a sweet day.

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      You’re right, I shoulda mentioned the pretzels. Keystone Light on the other hand…don’t push it…

      Reply
  2. Zambo

    Haha….the tenacity at which you guys get after these spring peaks cracks me up. Good for you guys being so passionate and getting after it! Looks like a great day. Does a bad view of the Crestones exist?

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Zam! Nothing beats spring peak season IMHO. Gotta get em in while the gettin’ is good. And no, I don’t think so re: Crestones. They’re always just sweet looking 🙂

      Reply
  3. Brian

    Some nice shots and what looks to be a cool, interesting line. Its too bad the coverage isn’t like this every year in the Drygres. And thanks for not polluting the TR with Stone Light. Only thing worse is Stone Ice!

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      Yeah, Sangres are awesome for skiing when they get good snow every half decade. No problem re: Stone Light. Bloomy is trying to convert me but he’s got an uphill battle ahead of him.

      Reply

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