Peak: Mount Democrat, Mosquito Range
Partners: Carl Dowdy, Brian Miller, Marc Barella
Route: Ascent of Democrat‘s main North Face Couloir (aka “Nordwand”) from Montgomery Reservoir, summit ski descent of ascent route
Numbers: 3,188‘ climbed, ~2,400‘ skied, 10 miles, 7 hours
It‘s clear from the lack of information about this route that Democrat‘s North Face is one of the lesser traveled 14er faces in the otherwise popular Mosquito group, particularly for a ski descent (Dawson even states that, as of 1999 when his book was released, there were no recorded ski descents of the face). Although it certainly sees multiple descents every year (more and more as the sport becomes more popular), the face caught my interest as a unique line for the reason that it is certainly a lesser skied route on a 14er. I was out for a spring climb of Democrat‘s North Couloir (climber‘s far right on the face) last year and took note of the gigantic snow strip leading off the summit, stretching down the length of the face and ending in a sweet looking dogleg gully, and I thought to myself, “that would be a sweet ski descent”.
Well when Carl and I were discussing the weekend plans on Thursday night, I mentioned the face and read him the description from Dawson‘s book, and he was sold. Partners for this climb and ski were to be Carl‘s neighbor Marc, and Brian Miller from this site. We geared up and set off from the Montgomery Reservoir trailhead (actually about 1/4 mile lower) at 7:45am on Saturday morning. The hike/skin up through Platte Gulch was relatively painless as the terrain gains elevation gradually over many miles. The weather was holding nicely for the time being although the forecast showed an 80% chance of snow, when are we ever going to see a sunny spring weekend this year?
With Traver dead ahead and the entirety of our line visible to the south, we contoured towards Democrat and began the gradual ascent of the wide snow ramp leading to the base of the face, I think the hike from the TH to the face is 4.5 miles and 1,700‘ vertical. We regrouped and refueled near the base of the gully at the bottom of the Nordwand, and started booting up a nice hard crust.
The first hundred feet of climbing through the choke was decently steep, I was having a blast getting into some steeper terrain. There was another group starting up below us that waited until we were through the choke and out onto the face before they headed on up. We traded leading a few times to give everyone a fair shot, the booting was exhausting at times given the different snow conditions we encountered.
After a good 2 hours of climbing we ran up against the rock formations guarding the summit. We were all pretty sick of booting snow and therefore keen on the idea of a scramble up rock to the summit.
Once over the rock formations it was a short walk to the top, it came abruptly, I liked summiting Democrat in this fashion.
Carl and Marc were interested in a gully they spotted to the west of the Nordwand off the summit, the only issue was it required a short downclimb off the summit before a descent could be had. Brian and I were more interested in skiing off the summit and getting a continuous line, which was only going to happen by traversing east and dropping in roughly a hundred feet lower. Ultimately we took our separate lines and met up in the Nordwand a few hundred feet below the summit.
Brian and I skied windboard down to the first feasible entrance onto the face and took it, the top section was steep powder snow followed by a fifty foot wide talus band. We took several turns and removed the skis for a traverse through the talus back to continuous snow. With the skis back on, we were able to ski the rest of the face continuously.
We met up with Carl and Marc a little lower down and skied out the rest of the face, making big, nice turns to the top of the choke. The snow was excellent for a majority of the ski, this was one of the more satisfying descents I‘ve experienced. The choke gully was the most interesting section of the ski, the narrowest portion is about as wide as my skis are long. Given that this was at the very bottom of the face, we were able to sort of let it rip without having to worry about any fall consequences.
We regrouped and released the bindings for the ski out, which was just barely not steep enough to keep up any momentum without poling and skating. It went quick though, we were back at the car by 3pm for a round trip time of a bit over 7 hours, after that it was beer and tacos in Breckenridge. This is a great way to experience Democrat and a great ski if you‘re interested in long lines with easy access.