The Ascent from St. Mary's
The main thing to note about this area is that is gets insanely crowded on the weekends. People park everywhere, and many illegally. If you get a "alpine start" this should not be a problem.
Car To the Glacier
We got out of Boulder a bit later than expected, 4:45am vs. our intended 4:00am departure time. Making pretty good time, we arrived at the St. Mary's Glacier parking area around 6:00am or so. This parking area is a large turnout on the left side of the road just after passing the trail to St. Mary's Lake/Glacier. At this time of day, we were the only car in the lot and had our choice of spots.
By 6:40 am, we were finally on trail. A short hike down the road brought us to the trail leading to the lake. The trail to the lake is beginning to resemble summer conditions. The first section is rock and dirt with some sections of drifted snow. Most of these drifts were still nice and frozen from the night before. After about 15 minutes, we arrived at the lake, where we afixed our climging skins and snapped a couple of pictures.
Glacier to Summit
The above picture is our actual route as recorded through GPS. From the base of the glacier(now 7:10am), we ascended straight up the center of the glacier to about 11,460' where the snow stopped. I paused(7:33am) to wait for my partner and shoot some video from this location. We removed our skis at this point and continued north and west toward James Peak. We passed the large rock pile to the south, and picked up a trail that continued north and west. Due to intermitent snow, we periodically lost this trail. Continuing on to the base of James proper, I held up again at about 12,000'(now 8:35am). I noted a group carrying snowboards to the south, taking a different angle at the peak. Once my partner re-joined me, we decided he would stay at this point and rest. We reset the radio channels so he could keep tabs on me. This was only his second time ski mountaineering and he is still building the tolerance for pain.
I continued on solo(8:55am), now heading mostly west looking to intercept the route that the snowboard group was on. I caught up to them at 12,550' and ascended the grassy slopes back to the north west with them. This section was a bit irritating due to postholing through the few small snowfields that had to be crossed. Once on the ridge, now 12,750'(9:28am) I coninuted north and west, picking up the summer trail. Along the route, I noted this awesome looking chute (pictured below) that looked like it was recently climbed. I may need to make a trip back to this one. The entrance(from the top) was about an 8' vertical drop.
From this chute to the summit of James was about 15 minutes. Once on top(9:52am), I shot a bit more video, and set up my tripod in an attempt to capture images for a panorama. I called my partner on the radio to tell him to head a bit south as that was where I would ski out. I spent a good 30 minutes on top, taking pictures and de-skinning my skis. The other group showed up about 10 minutes behind me. Below is an attempt to create a panorama. I know, I know, I need to keep my day job and keep working it. None the less, a great view.
The Ski Descent
The Upper Bowl
The summer like weather caused me to divide the ski descent into roughly three sections. I have been calling these the upper bowl, middle bowl and lower slopes.
Knowing the coast was clear below, I skated hard towards the summit edge from the empty summit register. This speed combined with the edge made for a very nice air into the upper bowl. The snow was perfect, hard underneath with about one inch of corn on top. This was almost 450' of the best ripping snow I have skied this spring. The GPS recorded a max speed of 41 mph on this pitch, so it is safe to say it was fast snow. At right around 12,800' I had to traverse slightly into the middle bowl. This involved skiing nearly due east through a level area littered with boulders.
Once in the middle bowl, I again put the screws to it, pounding out some really fast turns on awesome snow. My run through this portion was interupted by me hitting something...my radio?? Some how in one of my turns it flew off and I ran over it. Putting on the breaks, I climbed back up to retreive it and zip it in. Back on it, I continued down to my next traverse. This section was about 500' of good vertical.
After a slight ascending traverse through some rocks, I was onto the lower section. I called my partner on the radio who was now in sight. Some people on snowshoes gave me strange looks as I took off for the final pitch. The snow got pretty soft and grabby toward the bottom, but excellent for the most part.
The descent back to the flats required only 1.5 ipod songs to complete. Needless to say a bit faster than the ascent, and I was guessing the people climbing hated me at this point.
Dropping the Glacier & East Face
We headed back to the top of the glacier on a trail flagged by small blue wire markers. Arriving at the glacier, we were pleasantly surprised to find fairly frim snow. The glacier skiing was slow, but nice. For the finale, I skied the steep east face section(skiers right) off the cornice. This pitch(probably 40 degrees) makes the final 150' or so to the lake(literally). This was very slushy with the Feburary dust layer really coming through. Five or six turns, losing about 15 feet of elevation on each, and I was back to the lake where my partner joined me.
We packed up our skies and headed down into the circus of cars and people at the parking area.
Great weather, great snow and a great day!