The attempt to descend the “50 Classic Ski Descents of North America” continues with #25 deep in the Holy Cross Wilderness.
Last May I checked in with my main Coloradan co-conspirator Adam Moszynski about giving the Cross Couloir a try. I was thinking of writing a bunch of sacrilegious stuff about Christ and crucifixion on the cross and such throughout this trip report, but decided against it, so you’re welcome for that. Close call.
Apparently I’ve been ticking off the “easy” lines first because the approaches just seem to be getting longer and harder the deeper into the book I go. It’s an 8 mile dirt road passed a closed gate to gain the trailhead of this holy line. Adam called around to see if anybody had been in and knew what we’d find for road conditions. The best guess from the forest service was that we’d find dry road for a few miles until we encountered snow. Perfect chance to use bikes!?
Bad news is that I don’t own a mountain bike. My dad let me borrow what he claims is a “mountain bike”, which I laughed at when I first saw it. It’s some kind of hybrid between an around town and trail bike, but it ended up working just fine. I haven’t done many bike to ski outings, but with a few well placed ski straps this is what I came up with.
The plan was to bike in as far as possible then ditch bikes for skinning once we hit snow. Adam had the brilliant idea to tow along his kid carrier (without the kid) and load it up with his gear instead of carrying it in his pack. He was kind enough to portage some of my stuff and beers for the crew! Adam’s buddies Chason Russell and Ben Luck joined us on the mission to check out this rarely skied Colorado “classic”. Chason had an e-bike with fat tires and I must say that is THE WAY TO GO!
Matthew 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Things went smooth except for a few northerly bends in the road that still held enough snow to force us off the bikes. Despite what you might think from seeing his bald spot (yeah you can zoom in if you need to), Adam is not getting too old for this, he’s just hitting his stride!
The pedaling came to an end about 5 miles in. We stashed the bikes in the woods, downed some of that beer to save weight and skinned in the remaining 2 miles.
We made it to the trailhead before dusk and set up camp on some open ground right by running water. It was a warm night and we slept well in our light camping gear. We had a big day ahead and hoped to catch the route in good corn snow conditions so we rolled out of bed in the dark. We skinned through the trees towards half moon pass lit by headlamp. Adam and the fellas nailed the navigation by GPS. From the pass there is a long traverse and then a tricky descent through some cliffs and trees. The sun was rising to help guide us and we nailed this crux descent through one of the only possible openings. I ate shit skiing through some semi-supportable snow and gave my ski pole the chop. It’s carbon fibers didn’t stand a chance against my 200 pounds of meaty fibers. Some skit straps to the rescue and we continued on our way.
I guess some folks work up the drainage and boot up the couloir itself, but we opted to climb the ridge which seemed more straight forward. It was easy going, but being a low-lander from the Wasatch I started feeling the altitude as we neared the 14,005 foot summit.
Another perfect day up high in the Rockies! Adam and I don’t ski together much, but we’ve had a great run of great runs together lately. Here he is on summit approach with his home town Elk Range in the background. Mount Holy Cross is in a really centrally located in Colorado and pretty much every other major mountain range in the world is visible from here on a clear day (you might want to fact check that), at least it seemed that way.
Chason and Ben having no issues finding the giant opening to the couloir.
The first turns were mellow and then it rolled over to near 50 degrees. Our timing was spot on and the ski edges sliced and then sprayed perfect corn shavings all the way down!
The slope angle backed off to mid and lower 40’s for the rest of the line. We played leap frog in good fashion while snapping pics.
The bad thing about skiing with good skiers is that it makes you look bad.
The couloir combined with runout to the lake is around 2,000 feet long. We milked it, but it skied quickly and we were left wanting more. It’s called the “Bowl of Tears”. I guess it’s named so because once you’re down in it you’re sad the run is over, or maybe you’re going to start crying because of the shitty exit ahead of you. Not sure which it is, but we cried for both of those reasons.
The exit down the valley includes some side stepping, traversing with a few interesting moments and moves.
One short patch of dry trail, but other than that we skied and skinned all the way back to our camp.
Mark 15:30 – Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
Adam, all smiles after bombing down the road and safely back to the car. Spring in Colorado is about as good as it gets!
So that’s halfway through what’s already been an incredible project. To be honest I don’t really imagine that I’ll ever actually tick off all 50 of the lines. There are a handful that rarely come into good condition and have only seen one or two descents. BUT, it’s been such a fun way to force myself into unexplored areas that I’ve avoided, or overlooked. It’s also been a fun way to meet up with folks outside of my inner circle of available partners and trust new relationships. Looking forward to trying to finish up the 7 lines that remain in the lower 48 this winter and make a move into Canada where I’ve only got one tick. There’s no such thing as luck, but wish me luck, I’m going to need it.