North Chute of Jicarilla Peak, or Our Worst Backcountry Ski Day So Far

North Chute of Jicarilla Peak, or Our Worst Backcountry Ski Day So Far

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.01849°N / 105.64153°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 3, 2009
Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring


Jicarilla Peak (12494') is an unranked peak in the Pecos Wilderness, which is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of NM. It is at the north end of a high ridge extending northwest and then north from North Truchas Peak (13024'). Even though Jicarilla is unranked (rising only 274' from its saddle with "Sheepshead Peak", 12696'), it is an imposing looking mountain from the north with quite a complex topology (distinct NW, N, and NE aspects)

Ever since I missed out on a ski trip to Jicarilla with Hugh and gang in 2005, it has been on my backburner. It made it onto my frontburner for this spring, and all indications suggested that today was the perfect day to go for it. There was supposed to be a few inches of fresh snow after several days of warm sunny weather to set up the base nicely. We were supposed to get a hard freeze with forecasts indicating a low of 22 F at 12000' the night before. It was supposed to stay fairly cool during the day with partly cloudy skies so that we'd have time to make the summit and enjoy a nice ski descent before the snow got too slushy.

Well, none of that happened.

Approach and climb

We left Los Alamos, NM, around 6AM and arrived at the Trampas Lake trailhead (~8950') around 7:30AM. This TH is located at the end of Forest Service Rd 207 (~8.2 miles SE of the turnoff from NM 76; the turnoff is ~1.1 miles north of the town of Las Trampas). FS207 is a good dirt road such that any passenger car should make it to the TH.

We got our gear together and hit the Trampas Lake trail (#31) at 7:55am. Already, we noticed that it didn't feel very cold, and water on the trail was not frozen. The trail is a good one that maintains a gentle steady grade. We hiked about 2 miles (just past the first creek crossing, ~10000') and then started to skin (~9:25AM) up toward the prominent north chute, an obvious avalanche path. The lower section right after leaving the trail was horrible bushwhacking. Fortunately, it didn't take too long (~20 minutes) before we broke out of the aspens and started ascending the chute, which got steep quickly. The snow clearly had not frozen overnight, and in fact we quickly started to suspect that it had gotten rained on. Nevertheless, we were able to alternate between skinning and bootpacking all the way up the chute. Thanks to Andy and Sarah for setting a heroic and exhausting bootpack, and for remembering to bring the skin glop-stopper which Amy and I both needed badly.
Amy, Sarah, Andy at Trampas Lakes THAt the trailhead.
BushwhackingBushwhacking through aspens.
Amy climbing Jicarilla s north chuteAmy ascending the chute just above the bushwhacking.
Andy and Sarah bootpackingAndy and Sarah bootpacking higher up in the chute.

We made it to ~12000' on Jicarilla's north ridge around 12:25PM. The climb up the chute took much longer than expected due to the difficult skinning, postholing, and multiple transitions, and I think we were all feeling pretty spent. We were also worried about the really wet snow. Although the sunny skies from earlier in the morning had turned to partly cloudy, which helped preserve the snow a little, we were disheartened to see how much farther we still had to go to reach the summit.
Amy and Jicarilla PeakAmy on the north ridge around 12000' with Jicarilla's summit in view.

Thus, we reluctantly made the decision to stop here and ski back down the north chute.

"Ski descent" and hike out

We transitioned once again and got ready to ski (~12:50PM). There was a good view to Trampas Peak (12170') to the north.
Ready for the skiReady to ski.
Trampas Peak from Jicarilla s north ridgeTrampas Peak to the north.

Even up at 12000', the snow was extremely wet and grabby. It was difficult to make turns in the steep trees, so we merely skied our skin tracks back down toward the open face of the upper north chute. To add insult to injury, Andy got a core shot. At least we were all able to get a few turns in the upper half of the chute. Notice the roller balls, etc., in some of the pictures. The top few inches of wet glop were easily sliding several feet with each turn, but the snowpack underneath remained firm, at least in the upper half of the chute. The lower part of the chute was a different story (more below).
Andy on JicarillaAndy on the upper slopes of the north chute.

Amy in Jicarilla s north chuteAmy in the middle portion of the north chute.

Sarah and Nina in Jicarilla s north chuteSarah and Nina.

Where s Waldo?Where's Waldo?

Then the real fun began. Down low in the chute, the snow was ROTTEN. We were postholing on our skis. It took us about a full hour to descend no more than a couple hundred vertical feet, first stepping down on skis, then finally just crashing and postholing down the forest carrying our skis.
Sarah, Andy, and Nina on rotten snowSarah, Andy, and Nina descending rotten snow.

Tired after descending rotten snowRelieved and exhausted.

We started our hike out around 2:45PM and made it back to our cars around 3:50PM, for a total car-to-car time of just under 8 hours. We climbed a total of ~3000' with a total roundtrip mileage of ~6.5 miles.
Amy crossing the Rio de Las TrampasAmy crossing the stream.
One final insultOne final obstacle.
Best part of this dayBest part of this day (part 1).
Need saltBest part of this day (part 2).

Useful links

Northern New Mexico Avalanche Exchange
Carson National Forest website for the Pecos Wilderness


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-3 of 3
Bill Kerr

Bill Kerr - May 4, 2009 1:16 pm - Voted 10/10

Isothermal snow in trees

Not much worse than rotten isothermal snow in the trees. We did a peak(fossil mtn) in the cdn rockies yesterday and the snow in the trees on the way out was the same. The general ski season is almost over - except for glaciers.


scotthsu - May 4, 2009 11:07 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Isothermal snow in trees

Thanks for the vote and the comment! They're still killing it in Colorado, where the snow above treeline usually stays pretty good into June. I think it's time I start heading up there.

Denny Cicak - Feb 24, 2019 1:49 pm - Hasn't voted

That chute

had a big avalanche that went up the other side (the Trampas side) and took out big trees. Before it got new growth It used to be a lot more clear. By the time I got around to skiing it it was already getting grown in with small trees as in your photos. That was also in May after a fresh warm storm and in the 1990's, I would say. In fact, my experience with it was a lot like yours, only I got scared the rotten snow was going to slide and climbed up the chute only about half way to the ridge, where it got really steep. I really enjoyed seeing your report and photos and I commend your effort making it down from the north ridge.

Viewing: 1-3 of 3