Assymptotically Approaching Eccles Pass

A month ago, Michele and I made our first exploratory trip into the mysterious and dramatic Southern Gore Range. It was not an unmitigated disaster, but it was definitely a bit of a slog. The plan then was to flank Buffalo Mountain from the north gaining Eccles Pass from the South Willow Creek drainage. There were complications (such as a lack of trail) and we turned around several miles shy of our goal.

This time I tried a flanking maneuver on Buffalo Mountain from the south via the Meadow Creek Trail. I checked the satellite images carefully and the trail appeared obvious from the well-marked trailhead just off I-70 in Frisco all the way to the pass in 4.9 miles. Should be a piece of cake, right?

Sorry, no.

Leaving the trailhead right off Exit 203 on I70 in the shadow of Peak One.
Sun and snow on aspens on the way up.

The problem this time was certainly not lack of trail; it was a nice gradual climb through aspens and lodgepoles to treeline in a couple inches of fresh snow on top of who knows how much old snow. The sun was bright, the temperatures warm, and the day as beautiful as you could ever want. The problem was, it was so warm, the snow stuck to my climbing skins like… well, a lot of analogies come to mind, few of them fit for print on a family website such as this. I ended up taking off the skis and just hiking up the well packed trail for a while… until the tracks ended and I started postholing. I needed the skis for flotation, but they wouldn’t glide. They were essentially very long, heavy snowshoes which were constantly encased in about five pounds of snow each. Progress was slow and exhausting despite the beautiful weather and easy terrain.

There’s a ski in there somewhere. Heavy wet clinging snow made my skis into long, thin snowshoes.
Beautiful weather, even at 11,300′. I’m just happy to be turning around.

I dutifully trudged onward getting closer and closer. After three hours on the trail, I reached a spot in a high cirque below the impressive face of East and West Demming Mountains and (straight line) 1/3rd of a mile and 500′ below Eccles Pass. It looked reasonable enough, but I was facing the possibility of another 4 miles of high-friction snowshoeing back to the car. Plus I was exhausted and couldn’t face the thought of another 500′ of climbing. I stripped off my skins and their attendant snow encrustation and prepared for the worst on the way back down…

East and West Demming Mountains, Eccles Pass, and the slopes of Eccles Peak from my high point on the Meadow Creek Trail at 11,300'.

 

Great view of the Tenmile Range from the north west.

…except that it wasn’t! I glided down the low-angle slopes for a mile or so, only occasionally having snow sticking issues. Bliss! Where the trail got steeper and narrow again in the trees, I switched into downhill mode (cable bindings deployed, helmet on, boots tightened, extraneous pockets on pack and person battened). There were a few nice glades I managed a few decent turns on before encountering the next stage in crappy snow, the bottomless, unconsolidated “sugar”. Even with skis on, I was sinking up to my thighs. Thrashing back onto the trail, I found it a bit easier going, but very inconsistent and very slick. I’m a mediocre skier under the best of circumstances, and floppy leather boots in cable bindings on a narrow and moderately steep trail… well, there was a lot of strategic and accidental falling. But I eventually made it back to the car two hours after turning around.

Bliss! Actual low-friction travel as I start the descent. My high point and Eccles Pass are just behind those trees there

I got a chance to do some real thinking on this trip. First of all, it’s clear that winter is nearing it’s end. As usual, I’ve gotten a chance to do a lot of fun things this season, but there are several items on the to-do list still hanging fire. Second, I’m really not a very good skier. I can survive most terrain in one way or another (even if it means taking off the skis and walking), but no one would accuse me of grace or style. So clearly I’m not going back here into the unknown to either improve my skiing or get in some sweet turns, maaaan! Finally, and most importantly, it’s all about the exploration. When given the choice between exploring the unknown and getting in some known good skiing, I’ll take the unknown as often as not. The maps show obvious trails, but I’ve seen no mention of skiing the Meadow Creek Trail, Eccles Pass, or really much of anything in this area. That means it’s either been tried and is crappy or it’s undiscovered (good or bad). So now I know. It’s a beautiful area with easy access, though not the most fantastic skiing terrain.For the moment, I’ve attempted Eccles Pass from both sides in the winter and I will give it a rest for now. But it looks like a fantastic trail run or backpacking jaunt once July rolls around. I’ll bet the flowers are as spectacular as the views.

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One Response to Assymptotically Approaching Eccles Pass

  1. Pingback: Aesthetics Over Athletics | The Wilderness Journal

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