This past Saturday Brian, Bloomy, and I made the short drive to Summit County with a pair of Gore Range ski lines in our crosshairs. We had a hunch that north and northeast aspects were going to deliver, so we decided to check out two inset couloirs with eastern access points – the Silver Sneak (aka “Elvis Crotch”) on 12er Buffalo Mountain, and a rarely skied line off 13er “Peak N” from Brush Creek. The Sneak wound up being a great warm up for the more challenging day on Sunday, which I’ll get into later. First, the highlights from Saturday’s ski…
Silver Sneak is a neat little line that drops north from the top of Elvis and empties out into the lower portion of the Silver Couloir. It’s very inset with high, aesthetic walls on both sides (like a shorter version of Big Eyes Couloir off Red). Considering the short approach and straightforward skin out from the base of the Silver, the Sneak can make for some great bang-for-your-buck skiing if you hit the conditions right.
A little uncertain about where the entrance to the line was, we made sure to bring a few photos along from existing TRs. Turns out it was pretty easy to find – just head up the standard route to the top of the prominent sub-point roughly 400 ft below the summit, contour to the northwest across the slope towards the Silver, and look for a prominent rock tower that marks the entrance to the couloir.
We looked down the line and immediately knew it was going to be good. Six to eight inches of crossloaded storm snow from the previous evening lined the chute and made for some fantastic skiing top to bottom. Not only that, but it was untouched. We started late and I was half expecting the line to be tracked out by the time we got up there. We wound up getting a little lucky I suppose.
After several hundred feet of blissful turns down the line we came upon the Silver, which required a small workaround to ski into. Later in the season with less snow coverage I could see there being a discontinuity where the two lines meet.
The routine skin and ski back to the parking lot went quickly, after which we headed into town to stock up on some supplies for the evening. From there we motored on up Highway 9 to the small parking area near the bottom of the Brush Creek Road and threw down the grill, cooler, and camp chairs, just in time for dinner under a spectacular Gore sunset. After that we hit the sack in preparation for an early start.
Sunday’s 2am wake up call came all too quickly. The plan was to head up the Brush Creek Road and follow the Lost Lake approach to the base of of “Peak N”, then climb and ski the northeast couloir. I had been intrigued by this line for years ever since seeing it mentioned on Stan Wagon’s site. Beyond his short description we were unable to find any other info on the route, which lent an exploratory feel to the outing.
For those who may be interested in trying to ski this peak, it’s good to know that the Brush Creek road is gated at the very bottom through June 20th (apparently this is a relatively new development as Brian was able to drive to the upper-trailhead in May of 2012). We managed to get going at 2:55am, easing our way around the gate with skis and boots on our backs to begin the dry road walk. We hit snowline after a mile and a half and skinned from there to the upper-trailhead. A half-mile of dry south-facing slopes along the Brush Creek trail required us to once again carry skis for awhile, after which we entered the thick forest along the Gore Range trail.
We knew going in that dealing with downed timber was likely to be the crux of the approach. Beetle kill and wind events have really done a number in the Brush Creek forest. After nearly giving up and turning around 3 hours in, we made the decision to split off from the summer route and head straight for Lost Lake. This turned out to be what saved the day because ironically enough, upon leaving the summer trail, we encountered significantly less deadfall and were finally able to make some real progress.
Eventually the downed trees began to disappear under the deepening snowpack as the peak drew near. Around 9:30am we broke treeline and came upon N’s eastern ramparts. Our intended line looked incredible and a thick fog rolling through the area only added to the drama.
Switching over to crampons was a welcomed change of muscle groups after a nearly 7 mile skin. With nothing but a thousand feet of booting between us and our goal, and the weather keeping things nice and cool, we finally felt like we had the line in the bag.
From the col, the rest of the route revealed itself around the corner. A short snow traverse into the southeast bowl led to the final 300 ft ascent up to the summit. Brian had already summited N and Bloomy doesn’t really seem to care about summits, so they informed me I was on my own and that they’d be happy to wait while I topped out. Ok guys, whatever you say…
On my own now with the guys waiting for me, I tried to make it quick. I was happy to find continuous snow all the way to the top. Once on the summit I got a few glimpses of “Peak L” and Guyselman Mountain to the south, which of course looked spectacular.
Off the summit and back down the southeast face I went, traversing hard left back towards the col. A short 20 ft climb had me back up to Brian and Bloomy. With my summit antics behind us and the sun now out in full force, it was time to get down to the real skiing…
Once below the apron we turned around and admired our tracks from afar. This is a classic Gore Range couloir no matter how you slice it. Perfect steepness and a good length with aesthetic walls on both sides and some great safe zones to tuck into if necessary. I’d highly recommend checking it out sometime if you’re willing to put up with the approach.
On the way out we managed to find a slightly more logical route through the forests back to the Gore Range trail. It’d be pointless to try to describe but if anyone is interested in our GPX file, hit me up.
Some more skiing, then walking, then skiing again, followed by another stretch of walking had us back to the car at 5pm. Stats on the day were something like 16 miles, 5,800 ft, 14 hours.
Brian, Bloomy, thanks for an awesome weekend up there. Looking forward to whatever else the spring has in store…