It was a slow start for us skiers this Fall. Up until now we had only received a few storms and most of the states’ snowpack has been well below the seasonal average. There was, however, one special area where the early season storms filled the deepest inset couloirs that the State of Colorado has.
My dad told me stories of climbing steep snow in August (in perfect conditions) in this area and my friend @40mikeymike skis in this area all summer long. So this got me thinking, “Could this be the zone that never melts out?” A gift for skiers if you will. Could this be the hidden gem for the most dedicated, or was it just a legend, conceived a long time ago on that one day in August?
Needless to say, this piqued my curiosity, and after the first few storms I went out to recon the area. After finding the road in tact and the approach manageable, I set my sights on the actual line and sure enough, it was caked with snow top to bottom! I quickly called the usual suspects and a few days later off we went on the nearly 20 mile mission.
The Middle Saint Vrain has always been a love – hate relationship for skiers. The long and unforgiving road serves salt to the wounds after retreating from unsuccessful attempts beyond the 4×4 road. Usually driven in the dark with worn legs, an empty stomach, and still hours from home. Starting up this road we are always filled with anticipation. Will the car get us through yet another time and get us safely to the trailhead?
It should be noted that several sections of this road are washed out and not maintained. It is a jeep road, so come prepared and leave enough time to get through some of the obstacles. This drive in itself is an adventure. If you can’t make it past the first 100 feet or have trouble doing so, bail. It only gets worse.
Reaching the bridge and the start of the Saint Vrain Glacier trail we quickly changed gears and shouldered heavy packs ready to hit the trail ahead. The wilderness quickly closes in as the ridges to the north and south steadily rise above us. Right from the beginning, this mission is tight and steep. For brief moments we catch glimpses of Elk tooth, towering near the end of the valley and finally Ogalalla, the reason we came this way.
We set camp in a pristine location and were able to catch a few hours of sleep before that familiar pre-dawn pink hue engulfed camp. We knew that morning would follow and quickly suited up with the possibility of a near perfect, untouched ski descent on the backs of our minds.
The fire of dawn erupted over our heads and soon echoed from the high, jagged walls around us. First light slid swiftly through the chill of the morning as we moved methodically through the high alpine. With the warmth of the sun behind us and the glowing walls ahead we slowly made our way through an ugly maze of boulders and talus that guards the upper basin. On either side of us, long and beautiful couloirs filled with snow seemed to ripple across the massive rock faces. It was hard to stay focused.
At the foot of Ogalalla, and the start of Dalkes couloir, we were faced with our first obstacle. The apron was bare and a small cliff guarded the snow above. Was this the right line? Maybe the next gully? That familiar twinge of doubt began to arise, but I had done enough scouting of the area to squelch such emotion. There’s snow up there, lets find away to get to it. A quick ledge traverse in ski boots got us above the cliff and onto snow. Here we took a brief minute to refuel and assess the situation.
We had found our line and were standing on good snow. Now that the sun was up, we were racing against the impending melt and needed to be efficient. Looking up at long fields of snow dog legging back and forth to the summit I thought, damn, this might happen. Jesse grabbed the lead and steadily kicked steps up the couloir.
The walls of this line were amazing as they rose up and wound their way up the mountain. We were engulfed in a deep set couloir and blinded to anything on our peripheral. It was a bit of a surreal experience, but helped the crew focus of moving up. Soon we topped out and the summit was within reach.
After a handful of failed attempts, standing on Ogalalla’s summit seemed unreal. And there we were on top, with skis, in October, with 1500 feet of powder below us.
The ski down was nothing shy of amazing. The pitch and density of the snow worked in harmony under our skis and the early season conditions were rare. We savored every minute of it.
We slowly made our way back to camp, trying to hang on to the high of the descent. When we found the tents, we took a minute to transition, packed up and with tired legs, began the hike out.
Driving out on the road finally had a different feel. With celebratory brews in hand with beaming grins we bounced our way back to the peak to peak highway in the dark.