The route, click to enlarge.
Last Saturday, Anda, Christy, and I went on a little St. Patrick’s Day ski tour that circumnavigated our local Star Peak.
The 20-mile loop is a pretty obvious linkup of established local trails. Start at Ashcroft and head up towards the Tagert and Green-Wilson huts, following the snow covered jeep road all the way to Pearl Pass. From the 12,705 foot pass, descend into the Crested Butte zone of the Elk Mountains, towards the Friends Hut. From the vicinity of the hut, make your way up to Star Pass, along the same route used by the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. Descend from Star Pass and continue along the Grand Traverse route, heading across Taylor Basin to Taylor Pass. A five mile descent down Express Creek Road will bring you back to the trail head at Ashcroft, closing the loop.
The high point is Pearl Pass, the next peak to the right is Star Pass, and the third, more drawn out climb finishes at Taylor Pass.
Which direction is better? It depends on what you want from the day. Since the Grand Traverse (GT) is coming up, we followed the route counter-clockwise to get a look at the mid-section of the course (Friends Hut to Taylor Pass) in the direction we’ll see it. Had we gone in the clockwise direction though, we would have passed by the Pine Creek Cookhouse, a real convenient beer-stop, as we finished. We ended up going there anyway, but it added a short skin up the road after we finished the loop.
As an added bonus to the day, as we got ready to start, Murray Cunningham dropped off two haggard-looking skiers who were heading back to the Butte via our same route. Our friend Pat O’Neil and Dave Penney, both prior GT winners, had started in Crested Butte at 9pm and completed the whole GT course, arriving in Aspen around seven. The 45-minute shuttle up Castle Creek Road was all the break they would get before heading home via Pearl, along with us. They were thrilled to have a couple of blond “domestiques” and a little peloton of sorts to help them back over the mountains. It’s an annual trip for those guys, one that we figured measured about 60 miles in length. That should explain why I called our day a “little” tour in the introduction. It’s no wonder the Traverse winners are usually from CB, they really put in the effort.
About 5 miles in, Dave says hello to some CB lady-friends staying at Tagert Hut. Pat had already invited himself in to use the outhouse. Anda switches skins for the climb up to Pearl, and Christy, as always, smiles.
The weather's been beautiful and we haven't had new snow in about two weeks, so the conditions were pretty ideal for ski touring in this style.
Cruising up through the Pearl Basin "Oberland" with the pass up ahead.
The East Face of Castle (in the background) is still really thin. It was around this weekend last year that the three of us and Adam M. skied it with great coverage.
Pat and Christy atop Pearl Pass. Pat's about 50 miles and 13 hours in to his effort today, so we'll cut him some slack for his overall look at this point.
Holy March Madness, that girl can jump. It's gotta be the shoes!
Pat O'Neil heads down his side of the hill. Friends Hut is just out of the photo to the right, at treeline. These guys probably had about 15 miles to go, mostly downhill, before they were done. It was great to catch up with them.
After a little lunch break, we headed up to Star Pass. Star Peak, 13,521 ft., and its namesake chutes are in the background. There was a lot less snow than usual.
At Star Pass, 12,300 feet. If the cloud cover and winds weren't enough to keep the south facing snow cool and safe on this warm spring day, the dozens of snowmobile highmarks everywhere around us signified fairly stable snow conditions.
Christy and Anda drop in. Taylor Peak stands behind.
Christy and I descending below Star Pass. The snow wasn't completely in spring mode yet up here, and there were a lot of old slides visible, but the area had been hammered by snowmobiles and showed little evidence of current instability.
Found it! There were actually two trail signs we had never seen during the race, probably because most years they would normally be buried.
Heading across the flats of Taylor Basin, the final pass is out in the distance to the right.
It was pretty nice, at least compared to the usual state of affairs at this location in the race, i.e. dawn with freezing temps and wind. Thanks for the pics, Anda!
Christy and Anda approach the pass at 11,928 ft., as Taylor Peak stands behind in the distance. It's five miles or so between Star and Taylor passes.
More than seven hours after starting, we finished at Ashcroft. Having forgotten to bring any beer for the finish, we decided to skin up to Pine Creek Cookhouse for a few to end the day. It's all a matter of how bad you want it.