What if we had an incredible snow season and it fills in the blanks just enough… Nahhh, keep dreaming. That’s too far out there…”
We often ski around our home range in wonder, “Could you imagine if that mountainside could ever hold enough snow? What would it take for that face to fill in enough to ski? The spring skin track ramble often rattles of how snow and ice sticks to more formidable faces in some of our favorite backcountry ski destinations like British Colombia or Chamonix. What would it take for some local dream lines to hold snow in this continental snowpack?
April 9th, 2019
Epine D’ Argent Ski descent- Baldwin/Holmes
1540’/470m in .34mi/1800’ *50+ with one or two *60+ degree 1m-5m segments of dry-ski, or air.
North Face East Ridge of East Thorn 13,333
Mount Silverthorne Willow Peak Gore Range Summit County Colorado
Six or seven years ago as I rolled out from skiing on Willow Peak and it’s col with its East Thorn, The East Thorn shoots into the sky and is the most prominent peak viewed from the north end of Silverthorne and is the towns namesake. To shred a line on it’s unskied north face would be incredible. I looked up at its hectic and formidable North Face, and I asked these questions. It was more of a fantasy daydream rather than considering a real ski line with some shred of probability. “If this range could ever see a maritime snowpack, the line might go!” “What if we had an incredible snow season and it fills in the blanks just enough… Nahhh, keep dreaming. That’s too far out there…”
Colorado,s Gore range alone has over 100 prominent summits, 1400 square miles, and thousands of couloirs, faces and ski lines. But we are always dreaming. It’s the creativity and mystery of snow and weather that keeps us searching for a fun new combo enchainment or that new way to ski another summit.
A waking dream…
March 31st Jason Killgore, Chris Baldwin and I Skied what we thought should be called the Precipitation Traverse from Willow Brook in Silverthorne. We started out with two lines on Rain Peak, Hail, Sleet and snow Peak and out to the Gore Creek Trail Head in East Vail. While ascending the east ridge of Rain I noticed the north face of the Thorn for the first time in many years since that daydreaming exit out that valley below. I asked the guys to have a look and snapped some photos. My eye was immediately drawn to the straight line slot, bookended below with a geometrically leaning cliff that formed a semi hanging panel of an escape. I thought it too narrow to fit skis through. Jason eyed it up and had hope. Otherwise, there was a skiable option around the lower portion of the keyhole slot. Options. I fell off the pace to the summit of Rain as the face and possibilities captivated my eyes.
Snow conditions had become very stable. We had been skiing the range all season and more specifically in this zone for the last few weeks. After getting on the significant lines of the Precip Peaks we had a very good sense of the snowpack in the zone. A week later with moderate temps, mostly high pressure and a couple of light refreshes, it was time to have a look at The East Thorn.
Baldwin and I left the trail head at 7 am and mate our way into the Eagles Nest Wilderness along North Willow Creek to Salmon Lake. After about five miles of peaceful forest, we got a good look. It was so interesting and improbable. So many moves in unknown terrain. The first major feature of the line was to bypass a few hundred-foot gash and cliff above the apron. We started up the apron and then trended right up the hanging snow panel, over the cliff and into into the gash. This would be the second to last move on the descent. From here we were established in the lower couloir. The entire face and lines above are fully exposed above this cliff and the additional series of cliff bands of the North Face to the West. We continued booting the line and found consolidated settled cold powder without any wind skin. We were gaining even more confidence with each step. As we ascended we took note of slight ski variations for the descent, and safe’ ish zones to hide from slough on the way down. Getting caught in any amount of moving snow was not an option as the exposure anywhere on this face is inescapable.
Once we made it to the East ridge, we enjoyed an elegant knife edge scramble on reasonably sound stone. 6 miles, and 4500’ and 4 hrs after leaving Silverthorne we were on the summit.
The East thorn is one of the more aesthetic and prominent looking summits of the Southern Gore. It pokes out in the sky behind, and in contrast to the East Summit of Red Mountain when viewed from the Town of Dillon. It surely is the namesake of the Town of Silverthorne.
We found a reasonable place to clip in and took care to clean the tech divots and get the clean crisp heal snap and locked out the toes for certain. I skied along the exposed ridge to a 1.5-meter ledge that I was able to pass with dry ski and some hand-foot match down mantel moves. This way I could drop in on the line a bit more direct without the exposed wild card traverse below. Chris dropped in direct on a wildly exposed panel, trusting that he could find a way through to pass under this cliff band and he did without incident. Our turns off the ridge onto the North Face were memorable as the terrain viewed down through our skis here on the Thorn is a cross-hatched pattern of mostly stone and meager snow panels tilted significantly further on the inclinometer. My visual experience and feelings at that moment were new to me in my home range. We were originally drawn to the Couloir from the ridge that narrows to a keyhole slot, dropping straight to the lower choke and cliff band. We were able to open it up here as the angle backed off to about 45+ and the snow was incredible. I charged in staying ahead of my slough until ii could pulling out to dive left under a rock to watch it rip by and funnel into the second and very narrow stage of the keyhole slot. Chris ripped down to me all smiles. From here, Chris chose to bypass the slot for a more skiable and fluid experience. I was drawn to the directness and tight challenge of the slot. It rolled over and narrowed. I used the axe for security in the slough zone and dry-ski chimney technique to lower into the vertical walls of the slot. I moved as decisively as a could and was hit by a small but unnerving slough. The snow was generally still dry but it was warming up and I was in the barrel of the gun. It opened just enough that I was able to make a few precise peddle hop turns grazing the wall with tip and tail until it narrowed again and it was back and hand against the wall with ski bases pasted against the opposing wall. The slot finally let me go and I emerged to some more open skiing down to Chris who was perched above that major lower choke. Chris, once again, more reasonable than I, simply down booted the final choke while I chose some tight turns to my third spot of dry-ski before finally skis off to down boot the last 5 meters as to not keep Chris waiting with my dry-ski antics. From here I took direct creamy warm turns to a 5-meter hover-move air, over the thin cover and small cliff to exit the lower hanging apron back into the lower main couloir. As we ripped hero turns together out to the moraine below it felt like the gravity of the line lifted and the unbridled joy of completing the process poured over. “Well Chris, we made it to Chamonix for one day this season!” We laughed involuntarily as we looked back up at a new adventure in a near-vertical world, discovered right in our own back yard.