Date: January 18, 2010
Partner: Carl Dowdy
Route: East ridge ascent, ski descent of ascent route
Time: 8 hours
Carl and I left Golden early for a winter ski descent of Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in the lower 48. Despite being the tallest, it’s one of the easiest 14ers to climb and ski via its trade route, the East Ridge. We were pretty set on skiing the ridge rather than going for the more adventurous Box Creek Chutes due to the avalanche danger which was likely present on steep slopes in the Central Sawatch. We pulled into the South Elbert TH around 6am, geared up, and started skinning the 2.5 miles to the summer TH.
We made good time up this section and past the summer TH we had a trench to follow, this route sees a lot of traffic even in winter.
Above treeline the wind picked up, but it was still fairly warm out for mid-January. Elbert’s East Ridge goes for a long time, knowing this I tried to keep in mind the summit was still a long ways off despite looking relatively close. Eventually we took the skis off and began booting through a talus band around 13,000′, we elected to keep the skis on our packs for the remainder of the ascent.
Around 13,500′ the weather took a noticeable dive; the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. Huge snow plumes were blowing south off the summit, occasionally we got a blast of ice crystals to the face. Fun stuff.
Above 14,000′ we continued to be battered by wind and cold, there was nothing that was really gonna stop us though at this point. Elbert isn’t really about climbing to 14,000′, but rather more like climbing to 14,500′, the difference is noticeable.
Neither of us wanted to stay on the summit longer than we had to, my fingers were chilling down at an alarming rate so out came the Mercury Mitts. After putting on some more clothes we switched our boots over to ski mode, locked down the Dynafits, and skied off the exact summit at noon. Once on the East Ridge, we were able to pick our way through the talus without removing the skis, coverage was decent for this time of year though although the snow quality absolutely sucked. For me the skiing was solely about getting back to the car and bagging the descent.
We didn’t really bother taking many photos due to our cold hands, this ski descent has already been documented enough times already anyway. After a traverse along the top of the South Face chutes, we were on the lower ridge and then skiing powder through the trees. We skied down and across the bridge, the road ski was one of the fastest I’ve ever done, Carl and I skied roughly 2 miles in less than 5 minutes. Back to the car at 2pm, we were both happy to check another ski descent off our lists.
This is a decent winter route but I’d recommend waiting to ski Box Creek on a stable spring snowpack.