Winter Skiing In RMNP on Mahana Peak.
Partners: Geoff Richards, Austin Porzak and Scott Benge
Wild Basin in the winter!
In January we received some rare windless storms that caked the high peaks more so than in previous seasons. These storms lead me to Copeland first, however, on the summit of Copeland I noticed Mahana’s long east ridge had a beautiful continuous ski line. Could Mahana be in?!
I find it interesting how growth happens, especially in this project. From the summit of one peak, we can usually see 5 or 6 others and this helps to bring all of the hours looking at maps to full realization. We wouldn’t be able to ski in these areas safely, however, without taking the time to learn the other peaks and study all aspects of them.
Mahana may be an obscure peak rarely skied, if ever, but there will come a time when skiers will know the peak well and I hope that they will have the same appreciation for this Park. As my understanding of the Park evolves, so do my personal reasons for wanting to keep this place protected. Wild places like this keep us grounded and focused on the larger picture. No matter how important where we are may seem, there’s still a lot out there we have yet to experience.
The morning began at the winter closure for the Wild Basin TH. This closure adds 2 miles roundtrip, but the skin up to Ouzel Falls is very fast. What a beautiful place in winter and one could have literally skied down the falls as it was caked in snow. From the falls we made quick work to the area of the 1978 fire.
“ON AUGUST 9, 1978, a bolt of lightning struck near Ouzel Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and started a fire in a subalpine spruce-fir forest. In accord with a new philosophy that recognized the ecological significance of natural fires, Park rangers monitored the fire continuously as it carried out its “cleansing” role. For days the fire behaved as expected, spreading slowly and casting only an occasional puff of smoke into the sky. But then on August 23 and again on September 1, gusts of wind caused the fire to intensify and spread rapidly. As public pressure grew Park officials decided that the fire could remain wild no longer and assigned firefighter crews to control the blaze. With the help of snow and rain, containment seemed assured by September 11.
However, on September 15 winds exceeding thirty miles per hour swept out of the west, whipped the fire back into life and pushed it eastward toward the Park boundary. Residents of nearby Allenspark were alarmed at the rapid progress of the fire. People living in a housing subdivision even closer to the Park boundary found themselves directly in the path of the fast-approaching fire. Nearly 350 people prepared to flee or fight for their homes. Facing this emergency, some 500 firefighters scrambled to prevent the “Ouzel Fire” from escaping the confines of Rocky Mountain National Park. After days of strenuous effort, the fire crews successfully controlled one of the wildest elements of nature and kept the Ouzel Fire within the Park.”
-From Rocky Mountain National Park- A History
You can still see the effect of this fire almost 40 years later. Burnt dead trees litter the east ridge and in the summer this route would be pretty slow going, however, in the winter one can easily skin up this route. The skiing on the lower east ridge is really fun and we actually saw someones tracks lower down in the trees, so apparently, someone else has discovered the allure of this area, and with good reason. Once we got above treeline we came to a huge step and in classic RMNP fashion, the winds started to absolutely blast us. We covered every inch of skin and put our heads down and pushed on. The ridge seemed to go forever but it’s actually just around 3 miles. When the wind would stop for a second I couldn’t help but notice how awesome Eagles Beak looked. There are two lines that I could see that need to be skied…
Eventually we gained the summit! Wow! The line we skied a few months prior on Ouzel looked so close that it felt like you could touch it and Isolation stood tall commanding our attention.
The ski down the east ridge is very straight forward. My favorite section was the last 500 feet or so before you are off the ridge and almost at treeline. It was steep and offered up some wide open fast turns. We regrouped at the first area of trees and exchanged some high fives. Skiing the burn zone down to Ouzel Lake was a real treat. Some great pitches in this area and even a really cool looking couloir on the south face of Mahana. The entrance looked very steep so it should only be skied under the proper conditions. I have seen this couloir hold snow well into summer so if you are ever looking for some summer turns this could be an option. From there it was a quick 6 miles or so back to the trailhead.
Like everything in Wild Basin a one day winter summit is hard earned and a real treat, so off to Rock Creek Pizzeria in Allenspark we went.