Winter Mountaineering Around Boreas Pass

Winter Mountaineering Around Boreas Pass

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Feb 16, 2014
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Winter


Kessler (my 11 year old son), Shaylee (my 9 year old daughter), Kimberly (my wife), and I had planned to go to the Section House (cabin) on Boreas Pass for some peak climbing over Presidents Day weekend. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was for another blizzard! It seemed to be a common trip this year whenever we planned a trip!

We had hoped for a good trip anyway and hoped that we would have reasonable conditions enough that we could climb a peak or two. Bald Mountain, a high 13er in Colorado was to be the main goal.

It actually turned out to be a good, but challenging trip!

Bald MountainKimberly with Bald Mountain in the background. If you look close you can pick up our tracks all the way along the ridgeline.

February 14

Although the weather forecast was bad, we decided to head for Section House Friday night anyway. We could at least try it and turn back if necessary.

We didn’t reach the trailhead until 6 PM and we still had 6.5 miles to go on snowshoes. It was actually raining in Frisco, so the weather was actually mild, even though it was snowing heavily and was very windy. It was going to be a long evening.

Once we snowshoed 2 miles in, I remembered that I had forgotten something very important back in the car! I sent Kim and the kids ahead while I backtracked to the car. They would wait for me at Baker Tank, which is 3 miles from the trailhead.

I nearly ran and snowshoed as quickly as possible back to the car. I didn’t leave the car until 7:30 PM. The return two miles and then additional mile to the Baker Tank left me very tired. We sat down at Bakers Tank and had a snack before pushing on.

After Bakers Tank, there was quite a bit of trail breaking to do because of the recent storm. Kessler was out ahead and breaking trail. It was a full moon on this night, but with heavy snow, it was almost always behind the clouds. The wind was quite strong and we struggled up to Boreas Pass and thus to the Section House. Just before reaching the cabin, the moon did break out briefly, but was quickly swallowed again by the clouds.

We arrived at the Section House at 10:40 PM, but that was in good time considering the conditions. The only rest we took was the one at Bakers Tank.

Section HouseThe Section House which is located at 11,490 feet on top of Boreas Pass. It would be our home for three nights between February 14-17.

February 15

We were all tired from the late night before, so we didn’t plan a big day. The blizzard was still continuing on and off throughout the day as well. It was a very warm night though and never dropped below 18F. After a very late start, I did climb Madonna Dome (12,331 feet/3759 meters) to the west of Boreas Pass. Kim and the kids decided not to try the climb in order to save up energy for the next day’s climb. The weather was OK with light snow and cloudy skies. I had to break the trail most of the way up to 12,000 feet, but the ridge was windblown after that. Avalanche danger was high, so I had to make my way by using a winding and non-direct route that avoided any avalanche danger.

From the summit, I had a good view of Bald Mountain, which would be our destination for the next day. The climb looked reasonable and I could pick out the route to the saddle and then along the ridge to the summit.

After climbing Madonna Dome, I returned to Boreas Pass and the Section House. With the trail already broken on the ascent, the return back was much faster.

Bald MountainBald Mountain as seen from near Madonna Dome on February 15.

Madonna DomeMadonna Dome as seen from the ridgeline above Boreas Pass.

February 16

Today was our big climb. The temperature got down to 9F (-13C) early in the morning and the weather was a mix of clouds and sun. It was windy, but this is to be expected at such elevations in the winter time, so the climb was a go.

We decided to climb Bald Mountain, a 13,684 foot/4171 meter peak which was the highest mountain in the vicinity of Boreas Pass. With the recent storm, we knew that avalanche danger would be high, so we would have to choose a route carefully.

Bald MountainBald Mountain looms ahead as seen from just above Boreas Pass. The mountain is bigger than it looks in the photo!

We would follow the patches of timber and then wind swept bare ground (it had snowed a lot, but the wind strips the snow off the ridges and slopes in places above timberline) and hopefully reach Black Powder Pass (12,159 feet/3706 meters) without running into avalanche danger. If we found any dangerous slopes we would abandon the route and return to Boreas Pass.

We set off towards Black Powder Pass, with Kessler in the lead to break trail (even though 11 years old, he is the strongest trail breaker in the family). We stayed in the trees whenever possible even though trailbreaking was more difficult. Once in the heavy timber, I set off a fracture line. We were safe since we were in heavy timber, but it was yet another sign that avalanche conditions on open slopes would not be stable. We also say some pure white ptarmigans in the timber and we took some photographs of them.

PtarmiganA white ptarmigan as seen en-route to Black Powder Pass. Ptarmigans are brown in summer, but turn to pure white in the winter.

We found a safe route up to Black Powder Pass, although it was strenuous, especially through sections of willows where I would constantly sink down to my waist in the willows and snow. The last part of the route was across a mix of windblown bare ground and very shallow snow.

Quandary PeakQuandary Peak as seen en-route to Black Powder Pass.

The wind was really howling on the pass, but we took a break anyway. We still had a lot of climbing to do. There was once slope above the pass that I was worried about and we thought that we might have to turn back at that point. The route was steep, but we found the slope to be surprisingly stable, It was all stable windblown snow.

Above Black Powder PassJust above Black Powder Pass while climbing in high winds.

ClimbingClimbing above Black Powder Pass in high winds. Boreas Mountain is in the background.

The ridge was a straightforward climb, but the weather was windy, so it was challenging. Most of the time we were on hard snow, but there were sections of bare rocks and boulders to cross. Bald Mountain is a mountain where even the false summits have false summits. We took a rest on some of the false summits. We couldn’t bypass them since we stayed on the ridge top to avoid any avalanche danger.

RidgeHigh on the ridge of Bald Mountain.

False summitClimbing over the first false summit of Bald Mountain.

The weather was pretty good and the views were fantastic. To the west, it appeared to be quite stormy, while to the east it was mostly clear. We kept waiting and expecting to get slammed by the storm, but it stayed to the west. It appeared that it was even snowing at times down at Boreas Pass.

Bald MountainHigh on the ridge of Bald Mountain.

RestingResting on a false summit of Bald Mountain.

High on the ridgeKessler and Shaylee climbing high on the ridge of Bald Mountain.

KesslerKessler high on Bald Mountain.

KesslerKessler high on Bald Mountain.

It was challenging, but we thoroughly enjoyed the climb. It was a great experience for the family and it is sad that more families don’t climb mountains in the winter time.

KimberlyKimberly sitting near the summit of Bald Mountain. It was cold and windy, but not bad for February at this elevation.

Eventually, it was time for the long journey back to Boreas Pass. It was still windy, but the storm seemed to still stay to the west. Climbing back down the ridge was faster than ascending and we even got a good butt slide in since the snow was so stable.

DescendingDescending the ridge on Bald Mountain. Boreas Mountain is in the background.

RidgeThe kids on the ridgeline of Bald Mountain. They are well ahead of us, but waited at the point. Boreas Mountain is in the background.

RidgeDescending the ridge of Bald Mountain.

Butt SlideThe snow was stable enough to get one butt slide in.

Once we were below Black Powder Pass, the wind tapered off a bit, but the storm decided that it had been held at bay for a long enough and the mountains disappeared in a mist. The storm finally slammed us. Since the trail was broken, it was still fairly fast going where we could find the trail, though we lost our broken trail several times and had to break a new one. At once point we had to climb 100 feet higher in order to reach our old trail (which we knew provided a safe route).

The storm was short lived and quickly passed over. It was fairly sunny once we were back at Boreas Pass. We settled in for a well-deserved rest and could be proud of our winter ascent of Bald Mountain.

We played games and I made some Chicken Noodle Soup for dinner.

February 17

We awoke to clear and cold skies. Because of the recent storm and clear skies, it was much colder in the morning that it had been for the previous mornings. My thermometer indicated that it dropped down to -15F (-26C).

There was a little breeze, which made it feel chilly, but we sure enjoyed the sunny weather. It was a good shoeshoe back to the trailhead. Once we were down in the trees it was pleasantly warm.

It was a great trip and we could be proud of what we accomplished.

Bald MountainBald Mountain under sunny skies as seen from near Boreas Pass on February 17.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-9 of 9

harbor - Mar 8, 2014 9:46 am - Voted 10/10


Nice job. Especially for the kids. I agree more families should get up to the mountains in the winter.


Scott - Mar 10, 2014 7:00 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome!

Thanks for the comment. It is good family time for sure.


silversummit - Mar 8, 2014 3:44 pm - Hasn't voted

So what did you forget requiring those extra miles?

Interesting reading and I like that it was family outing in a beautiful place.


Scott - Mar 10, 2014 6:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: So what did you forget requiring those extra miles?

I was too embarrassed to admit it in the report, but it was my heavy down coat. I started with a jacket since I was going to be doing some strenuous trailbreaking and then when it got colder, I found out I had left my coat on the seat of the car. I don't know how I spaced that one, especially in February.


silversummit - Mar 11, 2014 8:29 am - Hasn't voted

Re: So what did you forget requiring those extra miles?

I figured it was something like that :)

Don't be too hard on yourself though. Once my son went winter camping with the Scouts and forgot his too! I had to drive back and get it. His excuse was: "Well, it was warm in the car and I didn't need it." And then there's the Scoutmaster's son who forgot his sleeping bag and had to sleep in the unheated restroom with a thin car blanket!

Thanks for sharing your story!

alpineair - Mar 10, 2014 8:30 pm - Voted 9/10

Nice report!

Great to see another trip with the whole family. Way to get out there!


ZeeJay - Mar 12, 2014 4:06 pm - Voted 10/10

Happy day

It is a happy day indeed when your kids start breaking trail for you. I don't remember how long it's been for me, but it's been great!


Scott - Mar 17, 2014 2:38 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Happy day

Indeed. It's also nice when they carry more stuff! The parent's packs are getting lighter as time goes on.


billdawg - Jul 29, 2014 4:29 pm - Hasn't voted


My oldest son adn I did Boreas Pass several years ago in the winter and stayed next door at Kens Cabin. My wife and I just did Mt Bald last week for a nice summer day.

Viewing: 1-9 of 9



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