OUT: Ann Driggers Column April 05, 2009

It’s big: 4 skiers, 2 ascents and 5,000 feet of vertical

Ann Driggers makes the first descent down a freshly-powdered peak near Highway 550, shown below. Photo by Jack Brauer Special to the Sentinel

big adjective, big-ger, big-gest, 1. large, as in size, height, width or amount; 2. of major concern, gravity, importance or the like; 3. outstanding for a specified quality.

Saturday, March 21, was a big day.

My ski buddy Jack Brauer and I, along with friends Parker and Aimee, skied two big lines that added up to around 5,000 feet of vertical. The recent storm had refreshed the relatively consolidated snowpack with a foot of powder, allowing us to center punch north faces in fantastic conditions.

We left early to be ahead of the pack of backcountry skiers jostling for first turns in fresh powder. From Red Mountain Pass, with the glorious peaks of the northern San Juan Mountains providing the back drop, we skinned toward our goal, a prominent thirteener, whose north face has captured the attention of many a drooling skier driving U.S. Highway 550.

After two hours of climbing, we received our reward, the first descent of the day. The others graciously allowed me to take the prize — first tracks down this epic line. After perusing the damage we had inflicted on the 1,000-foot face, we swooped into a natural half pipe for another 1,500 feet of descending before arriving back at the highway and our previously stashed vehicle.

Our second ascent of the day started with a little creek-jumping, which was accomplished without mishap. Through dark and thick timber, we climbed for another two hours, until our objective came into view. The giant face was almost 2,000 feet long, before converging into a massive funnel carved into the forest by countless avalanches.

Words cannot adequately describe the magnitude of this descent. We were left speechless. As the powder sprayed from beneath our boards and roiled around our ears, the thin mountain air was pierced only by yells of joy and gasps for air.

We leap-frogged each other down the mountain as there were no islands of safety, the typical protocol for skiing avalanche terrain. The mighty mountain gave us safe passage and kept on giving. Upon reaching the base of the face, the valley curved around for even more descending and it was a couple of miles before we hit the road.

After almost eight hours and with barely a break, we reached the car exhausted but exhilarated, a combination that is surely achieved after a big, big day.

Follow Ann Driggers’ adventures in her blog, The Outdoor Junkie, at GJSentinel.com.


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