TR: Mt. Buckskin 2/13/2016
If skiing pow is your thing, 2016 hasn't been the best year for Colorado. After a dry January, we had a good storm at the start of February... followed by nothing. But the plus side of a lack of snow and warm, mild weather is decreasing avalanche danger.
Though a few people were starting to venture onto the shady side of the compass in the alpine, Rick and I weren't quite comfortable with conditions there yet. Fortunately a CAIC forecaster toured up towards Mosquito Pass and posted some helpful photos, confirming that the SW face of Mt. Buckskin (13,872') was surprisingly holding snow. This aspect has been mostly free of the nagging persistent slab problem, so despite knowing that the snow quality was likely to be horrendous, we decided to go have a look.
Buckskin is not a well known or frequently skied peak. It's overshadowed by four nearby and popular 14ers - Lincoln, Democrat, Bross, and Cameron - and is often regarded as a somewhat boring mountain. While the side that faces Kite Lake, the main 14er trailhead, is indeed a bit boring, the NW and SW sides of Buckskin are actually quite a bit more interesting than the more famous neighbors. The SW face is steep, fluted, and aesthetic and offers a fine 1400' descent down to Mosquito Creek.
We parked where plowing ended on Mosquito Pass, a few miles below the base of the face. A quick skin brought us to our first view of the peak, where I contemplated whether there is more to life than being really, really, really, ridiculously good looking. And also how we might want to climb and ski this thing.
We elected to boot up talus and thin snowfields out of frame to the right in the above photo, then run the ridge to the summit. It was annoying.
Though it appears sunny in the photos thus far, in actuality we had a lenticular cloud cockblocking us from the sun for the majority of the climb. That combined with powerful and soul-sucking cold winds made the climb a bit less than enjoyable. Here is that pesky cloud as viewed from the summit.
It was cold, so Rick showed off Blue Steel.
While I looked confused.
Views to the west did not suck though.
The skiing was, well, about what we expected. Which was not very good. At least the cloud cleared the sun just in time for us to ski. Rick made it look much better than it actually was.
We intentionally hugged the more westerly aspects of the fluted face, as they had clearly received less windloading during the last significant storm. It turned out that these aspects also held the best snow, which was occasionally soft. Ish.
The bottom part of the face, however, was pretty much bulletproof.
After a bit of searching, traversing, and second guessing, we found a reasonable exit chute. Rick riding the wave. It was hard, unpleasant, and unforgiving, like most of Rick's women.
Inexplicably, the snow got even worse once off the face, as we navigated a maze of burly sastrugi.
No complaints though. It's not every year that you can ski a big line in February in Colorado. And while I like skiing powder as much as the next guy, I love these big, steep, complex alpine lines. Can't wait to do it again.