Skiers: Ben, Brian, and Rick. Footed accomplices: Jason, Becky, and the ever lovable Taj.
The objective: Ski Ouray’s predominantly east facing bowl known as, “The Devil’s Armchair”, by any of the several likely couloirs that dominate the view from Poncha and Marshall pass.
Stats: 8 or 9 miles, fantastic views, some minor bushwhacking, skied some fresh, skied some not so fresh, skied some mashed taters below treeline, got a little sun, and oh yeah, got to spend 8 hours climbing and skiing with friends.
I don’t normally write trip reports (well this being the first, I guess I don’t write any) as I find that there’s nothing I’m usually climbing or skiing that hasn’t been previously documented on the interwebz (not that there’s anything wrong with the 5 bazillion TR’s of Quandary). Plus, when you have climbing and skiing partners that command the written word as well as Ben and Brian (among others), coupled with the effort writing a TR can take (I’m generally lazy), I usually just let these kinds of things pass. I’m sure Salida locals have climbed and skied this behemoth of a peak (thought I don’t personally know of any), but there’s not much, if any, documented ski descents of the east face of Mt. Ouray (edit – Ted Mahon’s short TR came up yesterday on centennialskiers.com). Also, given the fact that my ex-wife and I tried to climb and ski the peak several years ago, I think I’ve finally found an experience worth sharing – so here we go.
At a first glance at the topo, Ouray’s east facing bowl seems reminiscent of Elbert’s box creek cirque. However, after carefully scrutinizing the map, a few photos, and of course the first person experience, the devil’s armchair is quite a bit more exciting and fun than Elbert’s cirque.
Ben and I drove down Friday after work finding the Marshall pass road to be dry and snow free. We found the Gray’s creek trail head that would be our launch point in the morning. As we were the first ones there (Jason and Becky would arrive a little later, while Brian and Steve arrived last) we decided to see just how far up the road we could go. After 2 or 3 more miles, we were forced to turn around by a small rock slide that had deposited half a dozen 1000 lb rocks on the road making further progress impossible – the idea of a car shuttle from the top of the pass was quashed before it was ever really born.
There’s nothing more I can add to the ascent of the peak from the Gray’s creek TH (snow covered or not) that hasn’t already been covered in previous accounts, except maybe a conditions update – there’s a lot of dead fall on that trail, so be prepared for some very minor bush-whacking to get around the downed timber.
We made our way up the basin until we cleared tree line and scoped the potential lines that had recently received a good refresh of snow.
We took more time to scope the lines as a few of the chutes are difficult to determine if they are continuous from a head on view – some are most certainly not, so either be careful and selective or be willing to huck your meat.
We then made a climber’s left and headed up the more north facing terrain of the south-east ridge.
The cloud behind Brian in the photo below never left the summit of Shavano all day. It was as if mother nature knew that a massive herd of people from 14ers.com were violating her flanks on this particular Saturday.
We took a break at the small saddle feature along the ridge, and then proceeded up the ridge to the summit. We were able to skin 99% of the ridge, well 100% in Brian’s case, which helped spawn the new nickname of the lone stallion.
We stopped periodically to view and reassess the chutes that were in our near future.
As we neared the summit, a few small clouds began to move in over our heads. Becky and Taj waited for Jason so they could summit together…..awwww, how sweet!
The summit views from this peak are phenomenal. Definitely one of the better summits I’ve had to date (perhaps partially due to the fact that no one else was on the mountain this day?). A few summit shenanigans and tom-foolery ensued.
After the typical summit lounging and caloric intake, we shoved off the summit a little before 11, roughly 5 hours after leaving the car. 11 is probably a tad late, but the snow wasn’t yet showing signs of significant warming. The skiers headed towards the east face while the hikers descended the ascent route. Prior to pictures showing the descent, let me first say that there are literally a dozen or more ski lines on this peak. The three of us could have easily skied our own line. There was a little mix up in communication, and Brian headed far skiers left to find a more continuous line while Ben and I checked out the ‘S’ shaped central line on the face.
Further into the mouth of the dragon…
It rolled over fairly steep at this part of the face. We didn’t measure, but it felt like a good 40-45 degrees.
A cool shot Jason took of Ben and me in the middle of the face…
Brian snapped a couple good “beta” pictures of the terrain in the bowl from below. Most of those more northerly facing couloirs are not continuous and I imagine it would take a pretty big year to fill them in.
A few of the more easterly chutes are continuous….but not all of them.
We tried to stay on snow for as much of the descent back to the car as possible as the trees on the south side of the creek were still holding a respectable amount of snow. But sometimes it’s just faster to pack the skis and hoof it back down over dry ground instead of trying to ski mush through tight trees. In fact, and I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but Jason, Becky, and Taj beat us skiers back to the trail head. I don’t recall how long they sat there enjoying the sun and their own beers before we showed up, but I do know that it felt good to sit down and have a beer after we got back to the cars.
A quick look at the peak from marshall pass road as we drove away. Our tracks are clearly visible….along with some point release activity and one larger….oops.
I hope this report provides some useful information for future descents of Mt. Ouray. My sense says it’s a tough peak to get in condition and while I won’t say we had phenomenal snow conditions, I will say I think we lucked out skiing this peak with the coverage we experienced.
Ben and Brian – it’s always fun getting out with you guys. Jason, Becky, and Taj – it was great to meet and climb with you guys. Let’s do it again soon!
Thanks for reading.