skiing and snowclimbing Sopris

skiing and snowclimbing Sopris

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 39.26125°N / 107.16474°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 18, 2014
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring

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We gave this a shot Memorial day weekend four years ago(2010), so thought I'd write it up, now that i've done it successfully.

 Despite the warmforecast, we found the snow to be mostly frozen at the surface in the morning -maybe because the sky cleared out and the surface was able to radiate to spaceovernight. The weather was mostly sunny during the day, i.e., a thin wave cloudformed east of Sopris over the West Elk and Sawatch mountains. At least thecloud kept the temperature and sun-burn down. The wind at the summit wasdefinitely understated in the forecast. Sopris really sticks out, and itslocation on the west end of the valley -- that is often going be really windy!By the time we got to the summit ridge, there were lenticular clouds forminghigh above in the distance, probably in the wake of Sopris. The drop point (opening)in the cornice on the ridge to Sopris was minimally windy, however. And the NEbowl was calm too.

Be careful at the top: it felt as much like sail-boarding asit did skiing coming down the ridge from the summit to the drop point into theNE bowl. It gets narrow in a couple places and it did make me worry not to getblown-off- or too-close-to-the edge. A good portion of the snow near the edgeis overhanging cornice, which is more prone to collapse in the heat of the sun.

After 2 feet of new snow on Mother's day, Neptune's store inBoulder put out an A.P.B. on Facebook warning everyone against ambitious skiingor snowclimbing plans for the Front Range. I believe that, based on what i sawdriving from Denver. The snow definitely seemed more settled further west(where it also had not been cloudy all week like in the Front Range). The snowwas solid in the pre-dawn and early-morning. It did warm, softening even at thetop, by late-morning. Typically steps sank in a couple inches then, but thesnow had adequate hardness for kicking steps with crampons. By the time weskied down, the snow in the bowl resembled a layer of wet snow, about 6''thick. There was a steep section about half-way down where we skied through afield of giant pinwheels. I can't say i have previously skied in the wetavalanche while it was happening. Just localized stuff though, that roughenedthe surface or pinwheels that kind of bumped you a little off balance. The snowat the bottom of the bowl also had a wet surface layer, but was much stickierthan at the top. So we did not find true corn snow, but if there had been aharder freeze overnight, i could imagine Sopris as a cornshucker's paradise.There was about a mile difference from where we took our hiking boots off onthe way in (in the morning) and where we took our skis off (on the way out) inthe afternoon (see maps).

We originally thought about climbing the Landry chutes in2010. But both times i've been to Sopris in spring, there have been giantcornices at the top. If these collapsed while you were climbing, you would bedead. No question. I don't know when they usually fall (although seems like itwould have to be about when the snow in the couloirs is mostly melted). Weheard the idea this time to rappel into the chutes (presumably to ski down). Isuppose you could deadman a wooden anchor or something biodegradable to be niceabout it. But with the risk of the overhanging cornice, i would not recommend.

All other groups on Sunday climbed the NE bowl itself.Approaching 40 degrees at the top, i suggest packing your skis and usingcrampons. Groups did tend to stick to the shallower climber's right on the wayup, followed by the steeper skier's right on the way down. It seemed likeeveryone made the short trek from the drop point (opening) in the cornice andthe E Sopris summit, to ski the entire mountain by starting with the narrowcorniced ridge at the top.

In 2010, we started up the NE bowl, but then snow-climbedthe even steeper far right. I would not recommend this unless you want to takea look down the Landry chutes. The cornice at the top of E Sopris blocks thefinal part of that route. Instead climb up and to your left to find a lowpointin the corniced ridge above the bowl.

This time, we went up the standard summer route. It is safer(with two sections maxing out at 27 degrees), longer in distance, and arguablythe most scenic. At 27 degrees, we found our skins would stick to the frozensurface snow if you went straight up, but would slip if you started to angleoff of that. So just ski straight up like Paula Abdul then. The slope near thetop of the traverse approaches 40 degrees, however, so bring crampons. There isa short downclimb at the top of the traverse, which offers the most scenic viewof E Sopris.

We started from the lot at 5 am. Seems like most other groupmust have started 30-60 minutes before us. We got to Thomas lakes at 7:30 am.We got to the top of the traverse at 10:45, E Sopris summit at 12:30. We skieddown at 1:15 and were back at the car at 4:30. I consider my pace average for Colorado,i.e., I stop to take pictures and we also stop to have short food breaks.

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