As we slept, a little bit of weather rolled in throughout the night, dropping graupel and rustling the mega-mid every so often, enough to warrant busting out the ear-plugs in order to get some good rest. Morning came as predicted and Brian and I got prepped to head out for another ski, as Reed packed his stuff up for the slog out. I felt bad we didn’t get to ski anything that rad with Reeders, but I also liked the fact that he would be doing his part, by grooming and packing down what most likely would be lots of isothermic snow on the way out, making our exit that much more pleasant the following day.
Though there were so many lines to set our sights on, Brian and I decided on one of the North Couloirs on Ellingwood Peak (aka, Harrower Peak) for our last day skiing on this trip. Many sweet shots line the northern aspect of Ellingwood, but we thought the first one, lookers right of the summit was the most aesthetic, mainly because it appeared to be the longest of them all. There was one cruxy section about two thirds of the way up the 2k’ couloir, but after zooming in on some pictures taken from a few days ago, it looked to be skiable.
A leisurely skin into Indian Basin brought us to the base of the apron below the couloir and I felt like I was underneath the Eiger or something, as the north side of Ellingwood rose up from tarns and creeks still buried under multiple feet of snow. The North Couloir was still in the shade when we switched over to crampons, but after consulting photos taken from on Fremont Peak, we determined that it would be in full sun, and hopefully soften up, around 11am. Knowing this and the fact that is was only 9am, we took our time, relaxed and soaked in the view before we started booting.
Once on the move again, we ate up vertical quickly as we were both feeling strong again after yesterday’s sluggishness, and we stopped once below the crux in order the pull out the ice axes, since things looked to get quite a bit steeper as we approached it. We weaved our way through the rocks and it seemed like it would be doable on skis on the way down. Continuing higher into the upper section of the couloir, we transitioned into the sun as we neared the ridge.
A stout wind greeted us when we emerged from the couloir and we proceeded around to the climber’s left and up the west ridge towards Ellingwood’s summit. The views of the head of Pole Creek and Faler Peak were fantastic, and something you would never see unless you were high on Ellingwood. About 2-300′ down from the summit, the West Ridge began to get a little spicier than we hoped for, with no rope and softening snow above decent exposure on either side, we called it good, scoped out the line from the ridge and then skied down to the notch above the couloir and waited for the sun to really hit it with it’s full strength.
As we chilled on the ridge for about 20 minutes, partly cloudy skies kept blocking the sun’s rays, but the snow looked to be transitioning to corn quite nicely, so we decided to drop-in. The upper couloir skied great, even though it was littered with some debris, most likely rime that had come down from the rocks above. Slowly, we approached the crux, positioned ourselves for success and then negotiated the zig-zag maneuver that allowed us passage through it.
It felt good to be through the crux and the snow in the lower couloir was nice, but the corn on the apron was even riper for harvest and we milked it, making as many turns as possible since it was the last of the skiing for the trip. On the ski back to camp it was tempting to jump into and cool off in one of the many sections of creek beginning to open up from under the snow, but I was to chicken since the water was no doubt very chilly.
Back at camp in the early afternoon, we decide to pack up and get some of the miles out of the way on the exit, to make things easier on us the next day. Once again the wind was picking up and we made our way to Seneca Lake, where we spent the night. The next day we tackled the rest of the trek, but had to deal with about 20 transitions on the way out. Meaning…we had to take our skis off, walk for a bit, and then put our skis back on 20 times…literally. Not to mention all the sections of dry (and wet) ground we just walked over with our skis still on our feet. It’s hard not to get frustrated with these kinds of conditions, but with the right attitude, one can pull through it.
Once again, this was an amazing trip and adventure skiing in the Wind River Range, and I look forward to many more as my Winds tick list just keeps getting longer and longer. Live…to SKI!!!