Mount Toll – Was it worth it?

      15 Comments on Mount Toll – Was it worth it?

Mount Toll and its classic SE Face.

Distance: 12 miles (winter closure – Brainard Lake)

Vertical: 3500 feet

I’ve been meaning to ski Mount Toll’s classic South Face for years now. Toll can be easily previewed from a number of vantage points around Boulder and the Front Range, as well as its neighbors, which saves the aspiring skier a lot of gas money on wasted reconnaissance. Ron Haddad’s “Front Range Descents” includes a number of routes from the Mitchel/Blue Lakes region and Toll seems to get the most raving reviews. When you get up there, it certainly steals the show. Before the toll road opens to the summer trailheads, its a bit of a trek to get back in there, but can be worth your while, depending on your tolerance threshold for longer(ish) approaches. There are couloirs galore on all aspects of the basin, with numerous lines stemming off the Pawnee Traverse on your left, a couple wide couloirs off the South Face of Audubon, the most popular and prominent being the Crooked Couloir and finally the Curvaceous Couloir winding off the southeast face of Paiute. Around the bend in the Lake Isabelle region are a series of SW facing couloirs off Shoshoni (arguably one of the finest summits in the IPW), Apache Couloir and Queens Way off Apache and then the steep snowfield of Navajo Peak. Needless to say, there is a lot of potential in this area that is relatively close to home.

The winter closure adds around 3 miles each way on the approach, so we met a tad earlier than usual, since a storm was moving in later in the afternoon. The group today was Rick, Marc, Hugh, Jason, Becky and Taj the retriever. We made quick work of the currently snow covered road and reached Mitchel Lake TH within a hour and 15 minutes.

Lane lines help prolong the life of your skins.

There is a well used skin/shoe track most of the way through this basin, as its a moderately popular area for touring. Mitchel Lake is around 1 mile from the summer trailhead, Blue Lakes 3. Just before we reached Blue Lake, Hugh’s binding snapped in the toe and he was rendered immobile soon after. Becky had some nasty blisters with her new Asolo’s, so she, Jason and Taj turned around the same time as well. This was unfortunate, but gear issues can be frustrating and demoralizing.

Making our way up the Mitchel Lake Basin.

Toll looming over from Blue Lake.

Rick, Marc and I rested on a rock outcropping near the SE end of Blue Lake, woofing down some food and marveling at Toll’s rocky East Face. It’s amazing to think that year in, year out, no matter how low the snow year, the SE Face serves as a catchers mitt for snow, snatching up enough to provide an 1800 foot descent for the touring enthusiasts. This year is no different – its completely caked.

Toll in B/W.

Rick forging on.

Marc skinning across frozen Blue Lake. Looks like Antarctica.

We skinned across the well frozen Blue Lake and made way for a series of benches beneath Toll’s SE Face. It was around this time the glob monsters came out of their caves and added pound after pound of undesired weight. I hate to make excuses, but I had been trying to kick a nasty, borderline-bronchitis cough that had pinned me down for the week prior. This was starting to give me pretty serious setbacks on the final 1500 feet ascent. Stubborn resilience and seemingly good snow quality had me forcing one foot in front of the other with methodical breaths. We reached the summit around 2pm and slugged as much water as humanly possible (Marc packed 6 Nalgenes for Denali training weight).

Audubon’s Crooked Couloir.

Toll’s Southeast Face.

Some crazy looking line off “Hopi” and the Hopi Glacier.


What Lone Eagle looks like from afar or above.

Paiute and the Curvaceous Couloir.

We all just skied it top to bottom, great snow conditions throughout and a perfect, continuous pitch. Here is a short vid of Rick heading down:

The out was a little trying on the emotional psyche, as we couldn’t find consistent downhill momentum to the Mitchel Lakes TH. I’ve seen much worse deproaches, but it certainly didn’t help that we knew the section from Brainard Lake back to the car would be completely flat. Rick and I lost Marc early on in the woods and decided to rest at Brainard to wait for him. Silly splitboarders…

I call this “waiting for splitboarder”.

The road out actually wasn’t that bad. We didn’t even put our skins back on and were able to carry more momentum than we thought. It was arguably the least brain damaging part of the day, dare I say! We got back to the car with Hugh patiently waiting, making for a little under a 8.5 hour day. I got home, ate a full pizza and konked out. Great day in the Indian Peaks!

15 thoughts on “Mount Toll – Was it worth it?

  1. Floyd

    If it wasn’t for these pesky Spring snow dumps, this report would have me in there on Friday. I often forget about the snow potential in that basin. That’s going to need to change in the very near future. Thanks for the read Brian and I hope your *cough* excuse gets better.

    1. Brian Post author

      Thanks for checking in Scot. Lots of potential, I think you can camp in the basin when the road is closed to a certain date (before the hoards arrive). And I wish the cough was an excuse…

    1. Brian Post author

      Hey Nick – Thanks for the comment. This would be a decent winter objective in stable conditions of course. And Toll is said to have one of the better summit views of the IPW, and I can’t refute that.

  2. Rick

    Nice write-up B!
    Those snow conditions weren’t the best but it wasn’t bad either!
    Get yourself healthy dude!

  3. Brandon Chalk

    Nice write-up, Mr Miller. Indian Peaks look pretty darn cool. I have yet to venture in there. But with all you kids in Denver area, maybe I can make a trip down there at some point. Looks like a pretty nice ski even in mostly cloudy conditions. Well done to you, Rick, and Marc.

    1. Brian Post author

      Mr. Chalk – its time you are brought out from your slumber over on Melody Lane (Edwards) and see how the other half lives (Frangers). There is hope for us after all! Thanks for checking in.

  4. Jason Blyth

    great day with a fun crew, but that road sure does suck ass. It was topped off by some great brews at Upslope; their Imperial IPA is the BOMB! Let’s get again soon.

    1. Brian Post author

      Jason – gear issues suck, specially blisters. Glad you were able to enjoy yourself at Upslope. Always good to get out with you, Becky and Taj.

  5. David Rahbany (@LyonsLeo)

    Late on the comment thread, but does anyone know if the road to Brainard is bikeable from the Winter gate now? Usually they have at least a swath plowed. Would much rather pedal those three miles than ski them.

    1. Dillon

      David, I may venture in there after work one day next week. If I do, I’ll check back. Enjoy the long weekend and thanks for the comment!


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